1-27 Origin of the Species

Origin of the Species

Home aboard Voyager again, Captain Janeway decides to investigate the claim that the Borg had more than a few allies. She also receives other news, some good, some more disturbing from closer to home....

Voyager and the characters aboard her (except the Colonel and additional characters) in this story are copyright of Paramount. No resemblance is intended to any person alive or dead.

The story line and the Colonel are my own.

Constructive criticism and comments are welcome on e-mail story@rgower.plus.com.

If like me you like to know why things occur like they do, I would heartily recommend you start at chapter 1-01 Castaway.

  1. This story is rated PG13

  1. ©R Gower 2001

Captain Janeway finished browsing Seven of Nine's additions to the records of their activities on the Unimatrix and on the planet Calhard. She yawned deeply, before looking up at the slim figure that was standing at ease, hands behind her back, on the opposite side of the table.

You are suggesting that the Calhards were not unwilling converts to the Borg cause? she asked tiredly. Compiling the notes into Voyagers computer had taken three days and she felt as though she had not slept for that time. Seven, she knew, had not.

The data from the Calhard computer system and its design suggest that they may have been party to the foundation of the Borg, Seven of Nine responded. There is no other logical explanation for its continued existence and maintenance of the system.

The Captain smiled tiredly. Perhaps we had better have a look at a couple of the other assimilated' planets as we pass them? she suggested. We might find proof?

That would be logical, Captain. Seven of Nine sagged a little as she answered, showing her own tiredness.

Okay, I'll arrange something, again the Captain smiled. Now you had better go and regenerate. I know the Doctor recommended 7 days and you haven't completed seven minutes getting this done. You must be totally drained. I'm surprised the Colonel didn't make you. Where is he?

He was working with the repair crew in Turbo Lift 2, Seven answered in concern. He has also failed to regenerate.

I'll deal with him as well! The Captain promised.

Seven of Nine nodded, turned and strode out of the Ready Room, staggering slightly as she did so.

The Captain turned briefly to the next item demanding her attention. The damage report, or the Butchers Bill' as the Colonel always referred to it. The title seemed to be warranted this time; Eight dead, 50 wounded, one hundred thirty Komodan prisoners returned to Komos to start rebuilding the planet after the Borg attack. Extensive damage to almost all the ships systems. It was a wonder Chakotay had managed to get Voyager to Calhard so quickly.

The fact that repairs had been hasty and incomplete had been proved by the transwarp coil rescued' from the Borg scout ship causing more damage to the ships already weakened shields. As soon as they tried to enter transwarp they failed. Voyager was again restricted to sub-warp speeds as repair crews battled with repairs to both shields and engines.

She lay the PADD aside with a shudder, thinking of how close the battle for Voyager must have been. She would have to take a close look at Chakotay's logs. But it would have to wait, she was too tired to look tonight.

The Captain stood and moved towards the door and her quarters. She had almost reached them before remembering her promise to Seven of Nine to make sure the Colonel also rested. With a sigh she turned and set off in search of her nemesis.

She did not find him with the work party in the lift shaft, as Seven had claimed. They had dispatched him to see the Doctor, they claimed, after he had been cut by a panel that had been dropped.

A little surprised, the Captain backtracked to Sick Bay. She needed to see the Doctor about Tuvok's injuries anyhow.

Have you seen Colonel Samuels? The Captain demanded immediately she entered.

Not since this morning, the Doctor admitted. He came in to do Tuvok's Vulcan Healing Calisthenics.

I don't approve of beating a patient up, Captain, he protested hotly. Especially in the name of healing.

We have been through this, the Captain sighed. The Vulcan Healing trance requires physical punishment to bring the patient around. But the damage is so severe it can't be repaired in a single session.

Despite her acceptance of that, she had been shocked by the level of beating Tuvok had deemed necessary to bring him out of the Vulcan Healing' coma, let alone the Colonel's easy acceptance of Tuvoks demand that he should provide it. She suspected that if the Commander had been paler he would now be black and blue from the bruises.

Is it having any effect? The Captain asked.

The Doctor shrugged. It is hard to tell, he claimed. Tuvok has been in his trance for three days. He now has some feeling at the bottom of his spine. At that rate he might know he has feet in a year?

Can you speed it up?

The Doctor shook his head. The damage to the spinal chord is severe, he admitted. Nobody can do microsurgery to the level required.

So our best chance for a full recovery, is Tuvok using the trance and having the Colonel bring him out of it every few days? The Captain asked carefully.

The Doctor nodded unhappily.

The Captain turned to approach Tuvok laying on the couch. You know the Doctors opinion? She asked.

Yes, Captain, he informed her dispassionately.

Can you rebuild yourself?

The damage is severe, Tuvok pointed out. I do not know if it is possible for the Healing' to effect the repair required. I am unaware of a previous success.

There was a silence as the admission sank in.

You should consider a replacement for Senior Tactical Officer, Tuvok suggested finally.

I'm not accepting that we won't find a cure for you! The Captain announced.

That maybe. However for the foreseeable future Voyager is without a Tactical Officer, Tuvok argued logically.

The Captain smiled guardedly. And you are going to suggest a logical replacement?

No, Captain, Tuvok dismissed the idea. The logical replacement is Ensign Kim, he is fully conversant with Star Fleet protocols and has the required experience. I wish to suggest a practical replacement. You should approach Lieutenant-Colonel Samuels. It would help him come to terms with our protocols, whilst we would gain from his unconventional approach.

And I always thought you were not a fan of his? The Captains smile was more open this time.

It is not a question of being a Fan', Captain, Tuvok opined dispassionately. The Colonel has a superior tactical aptitude, it will be a benefit over technical competence.

I'll consider your recommendation, the Captain assured him. Though I suspect he might disagree.

She turned away to continue her search for the elusive Colonel.

Miller, where is the Colonel? She commanded, not bothering with the standard computer tracking systems, but going direct to the core of Voyagers computer and the small Corporal.

You could try Holodeck 2, Miss? Miller responded immediately. St Christophers Church is running. I'll let you know when it is safe to enter.

Puzzled by the last comment the Captain went as directed to the Holodecks.

The door to the Holodeck was locked and firmly refused to open for her, even to her command overrides. Silently she cursed Miller and his dedication to his former commander as she kicked her heels for a full five minutes before they opened automatically.

Cautiously she stepped in and found the Colonel sat in a pew at the front of the small church head bowed in prayer.

It was an act that always puzzled her. With the exception of the Bajorans, worship of deities was not commonly practised by races that gained space flight, they found that gods had little meaning. Nor with the Colonels record, could she see how the God he prayed to giving the forgiveness he seemed to be seeking. Yet the Colonel persisted in offering a prayer and had made it one of the features of the periodic Mess' dinners he and Neelix arranged for the senior crew.

He sat up and turned as she approached. Good evening, Miss.

No She enquired in surprise.

With the exception of the Padre, there are no ranks in a quiet church, Miss Janeway, he explained, a slight smile playing on his face.

But still formality? She suggested lightly.

Of course, he assured her. What can I do for you, Miss?

I promised Seven I would make sure you went to bed, the Captain declared. I don't think you have slept much for weeks!

Wasn't tired enough to sleep, Ma'am. At least, not properly, he declared.

She looked at him quizzically.

Call it battle fatigue, he suggested sadly. I'm good at winning the war, getting to grips with the peace is more difficult. I can't turn off as quickly as I used to and our activities with the Borg really made me lose control.

Is that why you were working with the repair crew? Trying to keep busy to stop yourself thinking about what you did wrong? The Captain asked. And why you didn't go and see the Doctor with that? She pointed at a hastily applied bandage wrapped around his arm that had dyed red.

Only a scratch, Miss, The Colonel assured her. The only thing I think I did wrong with the Borg was to make it personal.

I think I need to offer you a few apologies though, he continued. My actions on Calhard exceeded my authority and allowing you to come with me in the first place?

The Captain demanded in surprise.

I assumed control without permission. There was no need.

You were within your rights! The Captain exclaimed. I didn't know what to do at the time. If Tuvok hadn't been hurt, or I had my ship in orbit above me, then perhaps I might have argued more. As for coming with you, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. The removal of a serious threat to peace in the Galaxy is quite a feat.

They will be back and I doubt if it will bring peace. There is no universal threat for a while. I suspect it will make it less stable, the Colonel observed mildly. However right or wrong, it is done and I will undoubtedly pay later.

How do you reconcile your actions with your religion? The Captain asked suddenly. Your bible doesn't say make war.

It doesn't say make love either, Ma'am, the Colonel pointed out. Sergeant Major O'Neil used to claim God loves soldiers, he picks up so many'. I think he might be right, so I work on the principle that somewhere down the line he does need us to look after those that take his word too literally.

With that he stood. Good Night, Ma'am. I'll just go and wish Mrs Nine good night as well then I will follow your instructions and get some sleep.

Good Night, Mister Samuels, Captain Janeway tried the phrasing to the Colonels rules as applied in a church, it made her giggle. The term Mister just did not suit the man.

I don't think I will ever be able to call you Mister anything, she guffawed an explanation to the puzzled look. It doesn't suit you. But I would like you to go over the logs that Seven and I have produced tomorrow, if you can spare the time?

Don't think I could keep up Miss Janeway either, Ma'am, the Colonel admitted marching through the door.

The Captain lingered in the church for a while, taking the time to examine some of the small details the Colonel had started to include in the programme. The details of the stained glass windows, even a few of the markings on the worn tomb stones. Finally she flicked at the pages of the bible on the pulpit. Nothing in the book caught her eye, but she did feel the peace offered by the quiet venue. She sighed and returned to her quarters.

The Colonel made his way towards Cargo Bay 2 at a pace that was more than a quick march, but less than his normal crisp double, to bid his wife good night. He had, as the Captain had observed, barely slept since they had been aboard the captured Borg scout ship. He had been living largely on hastily taken cat-naps and he had more than caught up with himself, he was ready for bed. Until now anything longer than a couple of hours and he would wake with a start, shivering with cold, whilst his face had been drenched with sweat. It was, for him, not an unusual state after an extended conflict and he was not unduly worried that he could find no reason for it, though it had taken longer than normal to subside. If he were more sensitive to such things, he might have been more concerned by the fleeting images that had lingered when he awoke.

All he felt now was a need to lay snuggled close to his beautiful bride, feeling her warm body close to his. That was not going to be possible, he knew, as he regarded her solitary elegant form in the Borg regeneration alcove. He wanted to tap in and caress her using the small implant in his neck. But resisted the urge, it would disturb the fragile link she had with the alcove as it busied itself regenerating her implants, downloading, correlating and uploading her thoughts.

Cautiously he stepped up in front of the pad she stood on, rose on tip toes and kissed her gently on the cheek. Good Night, Love, he whispered. Sweet Dreams.

Seven of Nine twitched slightly but made no sign of having heard or recognised him. He sighed and turned for the door, his quarters and bed.

He awoke in a cold sweat four hours later, cold and feeling alone. The last visions of the dream rapidly receding from his memory. For a few minutes he tried to work out what it was. There was pain there for somebody, he knew that, but he recognised nothing else. He sighed and dressed himself, finally picking up two small rolls and made his way back to Cargo Bay 2. There he carefully unrolled the first, a blanket, forming a thick pad to sit upon on the cold deck. The second was his greatcoat. He fastened the buttons and slid himself in, his legs seeking and finding the arms as he formed a primitive sleeping bag from the heavy coat. Now suitably attired he propped himself against a stack of containers and settled to sleep a dreamless sleep.

Captain Janeway gazed fondly upon her senior staff as they trooped in for the morning briefing. She did not know why, but she was feeling exceptionally happy again this morning. It was a feeling that she had had for sometime and she was not about to lose it by looking for the answers.

We'll get straight to business, she declared as they made themselves comfortable.

I have read the logs regarding Voyagers activities while I was away, and noticed nineteen commendations. I am endorsing them and adding another four. One for Chakotay, Tuvok, Seven of Nine and this time you don't get a choice, Colonel, you are being entered as well, she declared seeing the Colonel start to object.

The damage reports suggest that we will need a couple of weeks to bring the warp engines and shields upto standard to use the salvaged Transwarp Coil again, she continued quickly. It will give us some time to do what Voyager is supposed to do. Explore this sector and gather more data to justify Seven's assertion that a number of races in this sector may have voluntarily joined the Borg. I want to know why. I want two shuttles to do long range reconnaissance patrols of the M' class planets to see how many do have any form of technology and what level. Any questions?

Which shuttles do you want out and who will be the crews? Tom Paris asked quickly.

The Captain smiled. I think you can arrange the flight rosters, Tom. I recommend you use the Valoria and the Flyer as much as possible. They are the most difficult to detect and have the best chance of looking after themselves. You and Harry can plan out flight paths for the shuttles and Voyager. We also need to return Lieutenant Vesa to Komos. I want the plans on my desk by tonight.

Anything else?

Our fresh food stocks are getting low, Captain, Neelix offered. If we are going to dawdle for a while and there is a planet we can land on to gather more, it would be appreciated?

If Voyager passes one and it is safe we will send out the type 2, the Captain agreed.

The Captain asked seeing the commander stir

Only the possible danger of a stray Borg vessel that hasn't got the message it is supposed to be dead, Chakotay suggested.

I think they have more on their plate than us, the Captain assured him. From Seven's scans, we appear to have done more damage than we could or should have realistically expected. They appear to be involved in something of a civil war. We will take precautions. Any positively identified Borg signals are to be avoided at all costs.

With that the meeting disbanded, the crew puzzled by the Captains exceptional mood.

The Colonel delayed his departure as was often his want. You may wish to consider this before you do anything as rash as throwing around commendations, Ma'am, he said quietly, sliding an envelope across the conference table towards her.

What is it? You're not asking me to brig you for destroying the Unimatrix? She asked suspiciously, pulling it towards her and opening it to reveal several sheets of paper.

A Get Out of Jail Free' ticket, Ma'am, he explained as she read them. They are my notification of deputising two Star Fleet crewmen into Her Majesty's Forces, for covert operations against the Borg and a copy of my own report. When you get home, after the euphoria dies down, there will be questions asked about whether it was an appropriate action; to take them on so blatantly. There certainly would be in my time. I'll not let others take a hammering for a personal action.

The Captain smiled up at him, then carefully folded the paperwork up, slid it back in the envelope and pushed it firmly back at him.

You worry too much! She declared. I've told you before. We aren't like that anymore and if there are any comebacks I fully intend to stand beside you. Tuvok and the rest of the crew will do that as well!

Besides, in a way I enjoyed it, she added reflectively.

The task of producing crew rosters and flight plans proved to be equally difficult for Tom and Harry, for the same reasons but from different perspectives.

Come on, Harry, Tom encouraged. It is only for five days, and you know that there are only five people on the ship that can fly the Valoria?

I will have to fly the Flyer, B'Elanna has the ship to repair, Seven of Nine is in regeneration and the Captain won't go out immediately. That leaves the Colonel. Then there is the even shorter list of those that actually understand the sensor suite. You are the only one available.

I don't want to be alone with the Colonel! Kim protested. I always feel as though he is judging what I am doing. Like when he tried to teach me to play the piano?

Be fair, Harry! Tom protested. You tried to show off and impress him by trying to show him what you had learnt from the Holodeck tutor. You know the Colonel doesn't read music and he tried to make it up by asking you to write a tune for him!

Then there was the Dilithium expedition I commanded, Kim continued.

You fell from a rock and the Colonel caught you before telling you off for being childish, Tom Paris recalled with a grin. Are you going to bring up the Trilite expedition'?

Don't you see? he continued quickly before Kim could offer more Colonel catastrophes. You've been trying to impress him in his own backyard, Harry. It doesn't work. In those situations we are never going to impress him by trying to be better than him, because he doesn't have to work at being better. He is impressed by people getting on with what they are good at! It is why the Captain asks his advice.

Tom added confidentially. The Captain is going to need somebody to take on Tuvok's post. I heard Tuvok describing you as the logical choice in the sickbay, but she will ask the Colonel for his opinion. Tom carefully avoided saying who Tuvok had actually recommended.

But the Colonel doesn't like me! Kim wailed.

Tom Paris sighed, shook his head and leaned back in his chair. You're wrong, Harry. The one thing B'Elanna and I have found out, is that the only people he dislikes are those he has to fight. And that is only while he is fighting them. He doesn't even dislike the Borg particularly, unless they are trying to get at Seven, he declared. Or us!

Besides. We haven't had to fire you from a torpedo tube, so it is fair to say he doesn't actively dislike you! Tom suggested with a crooked grin.

Kim sighed deeply. Okay! I'll go, he agreed reluctantly. Until Seven is available. We don't need to land anywhere, so I might survive.

The Captain also had qualms when she read the proposals when she was presented with them. She looked up from her desk and studied both officers carefully.

If she wore half frame spectacles like Cavendish at the Academy, Kim reflected, they would be at the end of her nose and she would be peering over the top of them as she dissected him.

Are you sure, Mr Kim? She asked pointedly. I know you don't get on particularly with the Colonel?

There is nobody else that can work Seven's sensor suite properly, Kim pointed out guardedly.

I'm glad you aren't going to let your personal differences get between you then. The Captains smile was genuine.

Let me give you some advice, Ensign, she added brightly. Don't try and impress him. It doesn't work. He will accept requests for action, but ask for and listen to his advice. If it is something he can give he will offer it and it will be right, otherwise he'll tell you. I've learnt that the hard way, you don't have to.

The plans are approved, the Captain declared finally, handing the PADDs back. Start in the morning.

I hope you know how that pile of electronic Doings' works, ensign? The Colonel greeted Kim happily the following morning. Because apart from the cameras I haven't a clue! It is all Mrs Nine's department.

Kim grunted a reply that sat somewhere between non-committal and distaste. It was 08:00, breakfast had been all but inedible and it had been a bad night. He had spent most of it struggling to understand the finer points of Seven's modifications and enhancements to the complex sensor suite. The one thing that had become evident from his study, was that Seven had picked up some of her husbands distrust of computer controlled and automated systems. All but the most basic sensor sweeps seemed to be controlled by a vast set of small, manually applied computer programmes. All were no doubt strictly regimented and ordered, but all were listed using strictly efficient Borg encoded files. He knew he was going to struggle to understand them quickly.

The Colonel, noticed the wild look Kim was giving the console that surrounded him and grinned, under no delusions as to its reason. I suggest you give it a good work out when we are airborne, he suggested mildly. Mrs Nine's shorthand means nothing to me either and her manual went the same way as the gold plated ashtray. All I can say is that there are enough tweaks in there to smell out a pot of fresh tea at a range of a dozen light years and can warn of Mr Neelix's cooking from twice that. Shall we go? He led them into the ex-Valorian fighter.

Silently Kim nodded, sealing the hatch dutifully as the Colonel brought the pilots station to life.

Satisfied that all was well with his instruments, the Colonel looked back at Kim. All instruments and engines report ready. Permission to launch, Ensign?

The question jolted Kim. He had not expected the Colonel to ask for permission to launch. It's your ship, he growled.

And I am responsible for you and its safety, the Colonel admitted. But you are sat in the mission commanders seat. I go when you say we are ready.

I'm ready, Kim agreed.

Gently the Colonel eased the craft from Voyagers hanger, then experimented with the controls to satisfy himself with their response before checking with Kim again for course details. Dutifully supplied by the surprised Kim. The Colonel seemed to be going out of his way to show a subservient role.

It was a role that plagued his mind and he challenged the Colonel on it again as he settled himself for the long flight ahead.

Look, Ensign, the Colonel explained patiently. My brief is to simply drive where I'm told and keep you safe for whichever of the Delaney's is talking to you at the moment. Yours is to tell me where to drive to, have a peek at whatever is there, then tell me where to go next. I could simply fly rings around Voyager for the next five days and I will be doing my job and to be honest it is about all I am capable of on my own and want to do for personal reasons. But we have things to do, places to go and as you are the only one here who can work the navigation system properly. This is your mission. He nodded gently towards Vesa where he sat quietly in the spare seat.

With that he leant back comfortably in his seat and seemed to drop off into a light doze that precluded further conversation. Reluctantly Kim settled to decode the command routines that Seven of Nine had added to the sensor systems.

From the ready room view screen the Captain watched both shuttles wink out of existence as they went into warp on their respective missions with some misgivings. She did not like sending shuttles on long range missions without Voyager being able to support them. But it was necessary if they were to fulfil her decision to find out more about the history of the Borg while her ship was crippled.

The Valorian ship was a particular concern. Not that there was any imminent danger in the mission. She trusted the Colonel not to allow himself to fly into obvious danger without reason. It was that Kim and the Colonel were not a good partnership at the best of times. Five days alone together was going to be hard, even for the generally equitable Colonel.

Reluctantly she turned away to other matters and Chakotay who was sat comfortably in an easy chair. We need to find a replacement for Tuvok, she declared. At least until he has recovered. Tuvok suggested the Colonel, I think he is right, but I doubt the Colonel would accept. She smiled ruefully.

There is Harry, Chakotay pointed out. He has the experience.

But not the drive, the Captain added sadly. Everything used to be so easy. Perhaps we should discuss it tonight over dinner?

Chakotay looked embarrassed. I have a date tonight, he confessed.

Oh? Who with? She asked quickly in surprise.

It was Kathryn Janeway, not the Captain, that asked the question. Chakotay sensed that immediately. It made him change the subject quickly.

B'Elanna wants to take the mains off-line to carry out some reinforcements on the power couplings, he said quickly getting to his feet. I told her at 10:00. I'll look at the crew logs and get some proposals together for potential replacements for Tuvok.

He turned for the door and fled, leaving the Captain a little hurt and pondering reflectively.

The Delta Flyer hissed low and quietly over another silent planet as it scanned for signs of civilisation. It was the third day of the five day mission and this was the sixth planet Tom Paris and Megan Delaney had surveyed. It was starting to look as though it was going to be as big a wash out' as the other five. All had failed to show any form of life, civilised or otherwise, and Tom Paris was getting bored with the trip.

With her ability to talk the hind leg of a donkey, Megan Delaney was not a perfect partner for a two man expedition. He yearned to get back to Voyager and B'Elanna's broody silences. Even a non-communication match between Tuvok and Seven of Nine, where they simply did what they had to do without saying anything at all, would be better company than the constant gale from the back seat.

I'm sorry, Lieutenant, she said contritely. I'm certain I picked up a signal this time!

There had been three signals' so far. The first had proved to be from a Lithium eruption on a K class planet, it had thrown up so much signal clutter that it could be excused from a cadet, but not from an experienced ensign. Delaney had apologised profusely, citing her unfamiliarity with the Flyers sensor suite as an excuse and lack of Away Mission', experience as another. The second had been an atmospheric Ion discharge, again almost unpardonable. The third had been more promising, he had seen the brief signal himself. But after nearly two hours fruitless scanning of the dead planet that the signal had seemingly originated from they had given up.

I'll do one more pass, Tom Paris decided gruffly. If there is nothing more positive, we'll mark it as another planet wiped out by the Borg. It does look as if there might have been life there once.

Again he pitched the flyer down for another low pass. At two hundred metres he levelled out and they skimmed over the surface. This pass was over a slightly different course to the previous two. From the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of something from the cockpit window. It prompted him to turn the Flyer sharply to get a better view, the manoeuvre eliciting a loud complaint from his co-pilot as she was pitched from her seat.

it was Toms turn to apologise. I caught sight of that. He pointed from the window at a rectangular patch on the ground. It can't be natural it's too regular. It can't be a ruin, otherwise it'd be overgrown like everything else.

It looks like green painted concrete, Megan admitted, peering over his shoulder. But there is still nothing on the sensors!

Tom Paris thought for a moment. I'm going to set us down, he decided. We might get a better idea as to what it is at closer quarters. So saying he brought the Flyer to land within 100 Metres of the pad.

If he had been as cynical, or as cautious, as the Colonel, he would have landed further away and examined the target and its surrounds with more circumspection. He would then, perhaps, have seen the markings and realised what they meant, he admitted that much later. As it was, the sensors showed no intelligent life and it was difficult to give up on a life time of trusting instruments and the Delta Flyer landed across the marks, effectively hiding them from view. He might have stumbled across a number of other, better disguised, features as well.

Megan Delaney examined the concrete pad carefully with a tri-corder. Sand, lime, alluvial gravel and metal reinforcement, polyurethane traces. Possibly about ten years old,, she declared finally. In short, your ordinary reinforced concrete pad, measuring twenty by ten metres, painted olive green. Nothing exciting.

Then who put it here and why? Tom Paris demanded in frustration.

Megan shrugged. It was her sister, Jenny, that had the imagination.

They spent another two hours, carefully examining the strange pad and its surrounds but found nothing that would explain it. Finally Tom Paris decided that he had enough. They were not going to find an answer on the planet and elected for a last sensor sweep from the Flyer before they continued the mission.

It was a mystery that he decided not to bring up on Voyager unless there was something more positive. Otherwise, with the Captain in her current mood, she would insist on bringing all of Voyagers sensors to bear on an otherwise uninteresting ball of mud. It would, he decided as he kicked a blackened sod, be a waste of time.

Only Megan's scream of alarm made him look up. Outside the Flyer stood a dozen small creatures.

They were comical, almost insignificant, bald, barely two feet tall, as thin as match sticks and vaguely humanoid, their skin almost translucently white. More noticeable were the eyes, or rather the dark holes where the eyes should be, he found that un-nerving. Tom Paris could have stepped over, or on them. As it was, both sides stood and faced each other, both unsure as to what they should do.

Finally Tom moved, trying to force a path through them, then staggered as he felt a sharp pain in the calf. He fell, dragging Megan with him, as his leg went dead and failed to support his weight anymore. As soon as he hit the ground he struggled to sit up and was set upon by more of the small creatures. Feebly he struggled to brush them off, sending several flying, then his arms started to suffer the numbness of his legs. He slumped to the ground for a final time, limbs too numb to move. From there he watched mesmerised as both he and Megan were trussed in fine rope and dragged, feet first, into a passage that opened for the small aggressors as they approached. From there it was dark and the only guide he had for distance was the number of bumps his head received as he was dragged.

It felt like a long way. Long enough for Tom Paris to wonder if he was going to have hair on the back of his head, before both of them were pushed into a small room and left, still bound, on the floor.

Laying trussed as he was, Tom found that there was some light. A thin pulsing phosphorescence emanated from the walls, it allowed him to make out dim indistinct shadows of shape and colour as his eyes adjusted. From his trussed position he could just make out the wide and frightened eyes of Megan Delaney laying beside him and watching him. He suspected his were just as large and round.

It was at this point that some feeling started to return to his limbs and he wished that it wasn't.

The creatures, whatever they were, had been efficient in the task of binding him, the bindings linked the elbows tight together behind his back, wrists and thumbs bound tight together, then to the waist. From there intricate lashings bound his legs together, also tightly. Altogether it prohibited movement and was designed to start uncomfortable and become more so as time went by.

"Megan, are you with me?" he whispered.

He saw her nod. "Yes," she whispered.

"Are you bound as tight as I am, I can't move at all?"

"I didn't struggle like you. They're not cutting. I'm trying to ease them," she claimed. "But if we get free what do we do?"

"Get comfortable," Tom grunted.

Voyager will come for us. Won't they? Megan asked in a frightened whisper. I mean the Captain and the Colonel won't leave us here, will they?

Tom said sharply. It was the only thing he was sure of.

Captain Kathryn Janeway stalked quiet corridors, her good mood of several days ago had vanished, as did almost every crewman when they saw her approach, partly in embarrassment but mostly in fear of the fixed scowl she was wearing. She was now fluctuating from irritability through despondency and into plain jealousy. The reason for the change was obvious to most of her officers, she had discovered who Chakotay's date had been the other night, Ensign Llinos Abbott.

It was not as though there was anything indecent or wrong about the fact that Chakotay had invited Abbott to share an evenings entertainment on the holodeck, she had done it herself with other crew members. Though the Captain thought that the venue Chakotay had chosen could have been better selected when she had surreptitiously investigated the holodeck logs. Brains' was, in her estimation, too cosy for a simple friendly meal. The fact that he had used it several times did not help either.

She accepted Abbott's uncharacteristically brave performance during the combat with the Borg deserved much praise and encouragement, but not, she felt, with secluded dinners with her second in command.

Chakotay was hers, just as soon as Voyager returned to the Alpha Quadrant and she no longer had to be strong for her crew. She had promised herself that, as soon as her fiance Mark had told her that he could not wait for her return. She had never told him of course, even private secrets like those soon became universal knowledge on Voyager. But she thought he had managed to magically sense it and accepted it as being right for the ship.

It was unjust, she decided. She had been almost forced to watch the Colonel and Seven as they actively displayed their love for each other on Calhard. That had hurt in itself. The fact that her previously unemotional Borg, was now so clearly prepared to make an exception for the Colonel and openly show affection for someone. A woman that had been so isolated from feelings, she had been able to openly make a running diary of Tom and B'Elanna's activities as mere scientific observations. Then had dismissed the whole concept of love as an irrational and inefficient use of time, despite the Captains assurances otherwise, before finding the real value of the subject when she had run head-on into it with the Colonel.

That opened the spotlight on Tom and B'Elanna. Their marriage was still somewhat stormy, but they still seemed to be making it work. Then came Harry Kim and his off and on relationships with the two Delaney's. Winston and Kala, a whole raft of names flitted across her mind as examples of her crew that were finding solace and comfort in each others arms. The only names that she could think of that weren't involved, intimately or otherwise, were Naomi Wildman, Neelix and Kathryn Janeway.

Her mindless wanderings led her into the Mess. It was late and the only other occupant was Neelix.

he acknowledged her cheerfully. I was just closing up for the night! Can I get you anything?

She demanded, her irritation showing. Strong and black!

Ohh! I've just emptied the last of the pot down the recycler, he apologised.

I'll have to replicate a new pot. Are you sure I can't get you something a little stronger, or something to eat? He offered picking up the Captains emotions with a practised yellow eye.

Just the coffee, Captain Janeway hissed. Then forced herself to add. as she hid herself away at a corner table.

Seemingly oblivious of the Captain's sharpness, Neelix busied himself with the replicator, bringing the resultant pot of coffee to her. The Captain's hopes that Neelix would disappear again, to leave her in peace with her misery were quickly dashed, as he sat himself opposite her and poured two mugs.

A penny for your thoughts, Captain? he asked gently.

She looked at him sharply. The expression was one that the Colonel was fond of. If it had been said by the Colonel, she would now have been faced with the quietly concerned and expectant stare that caught her eye and held it, no matter where she looked. The steel grey eyes silently digging through the most stubborn defences until her nerve broke and she was forced to admit to whatever was causing her concern. It seemed to work on even the most difficult of subjects, witness Seven of Nine. Thankfully Neelix was not that good. He shrank from her glare.

I'm sorry, Captain, he apologised quickly. But you seem to be preoccupied. I thought you might like somebody to talk to?

The Captain gave the Talaxian a wan smile. Are you trying to be like the Colonel as well? She asked.

He hasn't got the monopoly on knowing when people are upset, Neelix commented, and the whole crew knows you are unhappy.

Again the Captain gave a tired smile. I've been feeling a little under the weather, she excused.

Perhaps you would like me to call the Doctor? Neelix offered innocently. We can't have the Captain ill, can we?

I don't think the Doctor can do much for me at the moment, the Captain sighed sadly.

You know, Captain, Neelix said, suffering from one of his rare glimpses of inspiration. I once thought I had lost something important. In fact, I was sure it had been stolen and I worried about it for months. Then I went and actually looked for it and found it was where I had left it all along. After I had accused everybody I met of stealing it, as well! Perhaps you should try looking?

The Captain stared at him, deciphering the meaning until it dawned on her. She swallowed the remains of her mug quickly. Thank you, Neelix, she declared stonily, getting up. I'll bear the advice in mind. She left the Mess hurriedly heading for her quarters. The idea that Neelix had planted, seemingly so innocently, also hurt.

Chakotay peered around the door frame of his quarters guiltily as he opened it in response to the incessant chimes. Whoever it was, he knew he was going to regret it sooner or later. He cringed when he saw Ensign Llinos Abbott. What had started as a small act of encouragement and care for a shocked and dazed ensign, had started to take on a whole new world and meaning and he was not certain if it was appropriate.

Not disturbing anything am I? Ensign Abbott asked confidently but quickly.

I was just about to turn in, Chakotay admitted sheepishly. I'm on the early shift tomorrow and I keep expecting the Captain to turn up at the door. What can I do for you Ensign?

I was bored. I thought I might come and benefit from more of your experience, she explained hurriedly. Chakotay did not miss the nervous lick of the lips as she stepped past him, it made him nervous.

I thought you had been trying to avoid me? She suggested. After our dinner the other night. I never realised that you were as lonely as I was. I always thought you and the Captain were getting together. But now?

In my dreams, Chakotay admitted under his breath.

Look, Llinos! He tried to explain. You are a lovely girl and I think I could get very attached to you. But I am not as quick as that. It takes time!

I don't want to lose the time! She hissed. I'm not Seven of Nine, but... Suddenly she was upon him, arms around him, her mouth seeking out his in a passionate kiss.

For a few moment Chakotay resisted, then sank into it, before breaking away again, embarrassed.

He held her at arms length in mild shock at the actions of the previously timid ensign. From the ships Mouse' to wanton ships Vamp' almost overnight was too much.

Llinos, stop! He urged. You don't have to try and catch somebody like that!

It worked for Seven, she claimed petulantly, struggling to release herself.

Yes. But you aren't Seven. You didn't have her upbringing and haven't had to struggle to be accepted, he pointed out. And I'm definitely not the Colonel. I'm not as inhibited or as scared of my feelings as he was! Hell! I even know what they are!

He could see the lip quiver and eyes water in hurt.

She might be becoming a vamp, but she did not have the control for it yet, or perhaps she was a good actor. Tears can break a mans heart no matter how hardened, Chakotay relented.

Just for company, he agreed, and not too long. I really do have an early shift. Can I get you a drink? Coffee, tea?

she declared with a smile and wrapping an arm around him. I have the rations!

Any reply that Chakotay could make was made irrelevant by his communicator bursting into life with Ensign Carver's calm and controlled voice. Captain to the Bridge. Commander Chakotay to the Bridge. Immediate!

Simply for Carver to be summoning the senior officers, there had to be a problem, Chakotay realised. He had seen the unruffled Ensign calmly and quietly piloting the ship without a word of command while flames flared around him, panic was not his style. He released Abbott and ran out of his room and for the turbo lift. The Colonel had some answering to do when he got back, he decided as he ran.

He almost collided with the Captain as they both hit the lift together. What is happening? She demanded, a flash of anger in her eyes as she glared at him.

I don't know, Chakotay admitted breathlessly. But Carver wouldn't call us if there wasn't something serious.

They emerged from the lift and diverged as they paced quickly towards their respective seats.

Partial SOS received from the Delta Flyer, Ma'am! Carver announced, briefing them quickly with clipped monotones. The signal was interrupted. Course set for last reported position at full impulse. Estimated arrival eight hours. Engineering advise six hours before full warp capability. Requested long range Astrometrics and Tactical scans for the region. All stations report ready.

Valoria and the Colonel? The Captain asked through gritted teeth. This was the worst scenario possible. A shuttle in distress and Voyager not in a position to help them immediately.

They have been advised, Carver agreed. Both shuttles were at the extremes of their flight paths. Valoria will be about two hours behind us at maximum warp and they will be at the extremes of endurance. I have asked them to hold for further instructions.

The Colonel offered to get out and push if something broke and you thought he was required? he added, managing to extend a little lightness into an otherwise bad news day.

Thank you, Mr Carver, the Captain managed between still gritted teeth, then allowed herself to relax a little. The ensign had predicted and executed her orders perfectly and it didn't help. Advise the Colonel of our new heading and arrange best course for intercept.

She hit her communicator. B'Elanna, how much can you reduce the time to warp by? Remember it is Tom we are trying to save? It was a churlish statement, but she was still in that sort of mood.

I know, Captain! B'Elanna hissed in her fury. We are working on it. Out!

Anybody else you want to upset, Kathryn? Chakotay asked reproachfully. You know it won't make a difference to what B'Elanna will do to get warp drive back?

The Captain glared at him. One of my prime deck crew is in Sick Bay, a cripple. Another is in a far corner of the sector. The third has disappeared and I can't get to him. Who's upset? She snarled.

On the other hand, Chakotay observed. You have just upset the best engineer in Star Fleet and the crew around you are second best to nobody.

She glared at him again, her hand reaching for her communicator. It stopped as she fumbled with it and changed her mind. Then she silently rose to her feet and stalked towards her Ready Room. For a few minutes the bridge crew stared at each other in disbelief at the display. The Captain had been unusually sullen for a couple of days, but they never imagined she would be like this. With a quick nod Chakotay stood and approached the Ready Room, releasing the Bridge to Carver again as he passed through the door.

Captain Janeway entered her Ready Room breathing hard. Normally there was the simple and easy confidence of the Colonel, or a couple of quiet words from Chakotay. Both could give her everything she needed to maintain control of herself when one of her family' were in trouble. Now the Colonel was half a sector away and she was not sure that gentle words from Chakotay would go far.

I didn't here you knock? She snapped as Chakotay walked in.

Would you have answered? Chakotay countered. What is wrong, Kathryn?

I've known you too long, Kathryn, Chakotay observed. You aren't like this over

There is a crew out there that is wondering why you ran out on them. You almost ripped B'Elanna's head off on the intercom and you haven't said two words to me for the last three days?

Yes! I mean. No! I mean, I don't know! Kathryn Janeway sank into a chair and covered her face with her hands.

"Everything is going wrong!" She blurted suddenly. "My Security Officer is a cripple and two of my crew are in danger. On top of that I think I am losing something I never appreciated I needed!"

"What is that?" he asked gently.

"Time!" She declared.

Chakotay was surprised by the answer. It was not the one he expected. Not that he knew what he had expected, he reflected. He waited hoping for something more, but finally asked. "Time for what?"

"Time to get my ship and crew home safely, then have the opportunity to be something other than 'Captain Janeway'. I'm tired of this journey, waiting for it to end!"

"Then why wait?" The question was quickly asked but softly spoken.

"Because I can't do both and it might be too late!"

"I don't see why?" Chakotay opined.

Kathryn Janeway looked up at him, her brown eye's now soft with tears. "Is it?" She asked. "We've been out here seven years and it doesn't feel as though we are achieving anything, except one narrow escape after another. I'm beginning to think you might be right, we will never get home!

That was over five years ago! Chakotay protested. We had barely crossed a thousand light years and it looked as though we were doomed to spend the rest of our lives together on a planet. Look at what we've achieved, the data that has been amassed. We are over halfway, Kathryn!

But you still think we won't. That is why you are courting, isn't it?"

Chakotay almost laughed. "If you mean Llinos Abbott. Yes, she has become a surprising woman," he declared with feeling. "And yes I am tempted. But it is nothing like the rumours claim!"

"It isn't?" She challenged cautiously. "You are within your rights to date or otherwise engage with the crew. It isn't as though you are the Captain and need to keep a distance for appearances."

"No!" He assured her gently. "She needed help to come to terms with things. We've had a couple of dinners together, some were in a romantic setting and I was tempted. But I'm not sure we have anything, despite how it looks. I am not the Colonel, I can make my own decisions as to who I care for."

There was a weak smile forming on Janeway's face, a smile of relief. "No, you're not," she admitted.

"But perhaps you and he are not so very different?" Chakotay suggested.


"You are still scared of letting go your emotions, accepting them then acting on them. The Colonel has learnt, why not you?" He asked. "Don't remind me that he doesn't have command, because that doesn't work. I think half the crew have tried to impress him, one way or other and that includes the Captain. It is time she learned to relax properly and not carry everything on her shoulders."

I don't! She started to protest.

Not as much as you did, Chakotay admitted quickly. The Colonel simply lifts it off of you when he can deal with it, sometimes leaving you dangling.

"And the Second Officer?" There was a more confident smile on the Captains face this time.

He does many things that I am supposed to do, better than I can. I'm not sure if the converse is true," Chakotay admitted with a shrug. "But I am trying to learn. He doesn't want my job and wouldn't take it if it were offered."

"He doesn't think he can do yours either," he added. "And I agree with him."

"He could do it with his eye's closed," Kathryn Janeway laughed, suddenly breaking from her misery. "Anything he couldn't do, he'd simply pass to somebody who could. That is his definition and it works. He simply doesn't want to because we're friends."

Chakotay's smile also broadened considerably. "Perhaps," he agreed. "But shall we resume our stations, before we find Carver and Winston decide to demonstrate how good they are?"

He led her back onto the Bridge.

"What are we waiting for?" She demanded resuming her seat. "Chakotay says you are second best to nobody, let's find my nobody's!"

It elicited a scowl from Winston in the pilots seat, which broadened into a smile as he saw the Captains own smile. It restored the confidence that had been dented before by her hurried departure. "Aye, Ma'am!"

Some hours later Voyager slowed to quarter impulse as she entered the system that housed the Delta Flyer's last known coordinates. At this point caution was considered necessary, there were no detectable emissions, not from the Flyer or whatever had attacked it and its crew.

"I am picking up some debris, Captain?" Kala reported uncertainly. "It doesn't belong to the Flyer though?"

"What does it belong to?" The Captain demanded.

"I don't know," Kala admitted. "It looks like depleted Uranium?"

The Bridge looked at her in surprise. Uranium had not been used in the Federation for hundreds of years, it was too weak and dirty for continued use for power or weapons. She shrugged at the attention. "I only interpret the readings," she commented defensively. "They say it is Uranium! And this is the Delta Quadrant!"

The Captain smiled. "So what is it from? Could the Flyer have been attacked, if so, is it possible that Tom managed to escape or destroy the attacker? Keep scanning."

"There is no warp trail out," Kala responded a short while later. "Not enough debris for a ship to have been destroyed, there are some small traces of tritanium alloys, but again not enough for the Flyer."

"No sign of the Flyer on the surface of any of the planets," Carver chimed in. "At least not at this range, the atmosphere on the Class M is reflecting most of my scans. We need to get closer for something concrete, Ma'am?"

"Very well," she decided. "Shields and phasors up. I want continuous full spectrum scans run for problems. Take us in to high orbit, please, Winston."

No sign of the Delta Flyer, Ma'am, Kala announced after Voyagers third orbit of the small planet.

In fact it looks thoroughly innocuous, Ma'am, Carver added in disappointment. Largely grass plains, small shrub like trees. No oceans for the Flyer to crash in, at least none deep enough to hide in.

Then where has it gone? The Captain demanded in frustration, ready to tear her hair out.

There are some pretty deep craters on the fifth planet, but there is no atmosphere. We may have missed something in those? Carver suggested.

Set course, we'll have a look, the Captain agreed.

I have an un-natural structure, Captain! Kala almost screamed as Winston turned Voyager for the short interplanetary trip. It just appeared! She added as way of explanation.

What is it? The Captain demanded, now close to bouncing in her seat.

I don't know, Ensign Kala admitted. It just flickered as I swapped the sensor arrays. I'm trying to duplicate it.

Sensor glitch, the Chakotay decided. I'll have Seven do a full diagnostic when she is up.

NO, Sir! Kala protested. It was real! Please, Ma'am, two minutes?

The Captain nodded a cautious agreement and watched as Winston turned Voyager towards the coordinates Kala had silently provided.

Got it! she declared a moment later. Concrete! There is a concrete structure on the planet!

Winston, take us into orbit. Chakotay, I want a full Away Team. The Flyer is down there and I am going to get it and them back!

The next words Kala uttered were ones of alarm. Small object has been launched! Intercept course! Her hands were now flying over her console as she struggled to identify it. she offered initially. No sensor readings, she dismissed the solution just as quickly.

It's a missile! Carver interrupted.

Avoidance pattern Delta-Foxtrot, Winston spat instantly thumping the pilots console and rolling Voyager into a steep climbing roll. Sorry, Ma'am! He added. He had pre-empted a command from the Captain. The Colonel..

I know Ensign, she assured him unthinkingly as she watched the dark form take shape on the view screen. It did look like a missile, she decided, long and thin with control fins. As she watched it started to turn, propelled by an as yet unidentified force.

Three more have been launched, Kala advised, settling down to the task of tracking the hostile items.

Permission to release weapons, Ma'am? Carver prompted.

Do it!

A thin phasor beam struck out at the nearest missile. It missed and the Captain looked back at him reprovingly.

The phasors are too slow, Carver exclaimed. I'm having problems targeting, their flight is non predictive!

A broader beam shot out as he tried to adjust for the errancies of the small missiles flight path. It missed again.

They are picking up targeting sensors and making radical course changes! Kala expostulated as she continued to track the incoming missiles.

A slight rock was the only herald of the next bad news.

Breach, Deck 9. The missiles are able to penetrate our shields! Kala cried in alarm. Emergency bulkheads are holding!

Get us out of here, Winston! The Captain demanded quickly. We can't keep twisting!

I need a level course first. They'll score again! Winston hissed as he continued to work at avoiding the missiles. I need four seconds!

If you can't get them in five I'll take the hits! The Captain snapped.

With some relief Voyager lurched into warp, but not before another two of the strange and effective weapons struck near the sensor suite and near engineering.

Damage reports? The Captain sighed as the ship returned to ordinary space again five minutes later. And what were the weapons and how did they get through our shields?

Three hull breaches, Damage Control are working on them, Captain. Kala reported a few seconds later. Repairs estimated in about three hours. Three injured. There are the remains of a missile in Engineering. Lieutenant Caerey is checking them out now.

One was in Cargo Bay 2, Captain, she added gently.

The Captain span in alarm at the news.

Lieutenant Paris is waking her now, Ma'am. She doesn't think there is any harm, the emergency forcefields went up too quickly to loose anything, but she was thrown across the bay.

I'm on my way! The Captain declared in alarm. Where is the Valoria?

She will be here in thirty minutes, Ma'am. Do I let him in? Carver asked cautiously.

Ask me when he arrives, she said unhappily. Seven of Nine hurt was potentially more devastating than losing a shuttle, visions of the Colonel in a fighting rage on her ship defied imagination.

Seven of Nine opened her eyes and found herself on a sickbay medical bed. She had no idea how she got there but she ached and her stomach felt as though it was trying to crawl up her throat. Her own self-diagnostic routines automatically scanned across her Borg accessories and advised that she was mechanically functional, if bruised. They were unable to define the reason for her stomach.

A wave of nausea hit her. It prompted her to roll and retch over the side of the bed.

Only then did she notice the legs.

She followed them up to find the Captain's and B'Elanna's worried faces. Seven, are you okay?

The worried question became a shout of alarm as Seven of Nine retched again.

I will regain control shortly, Captain, Seven of Nine panted between retches. I am uncertain for my presence in Sickbay. Or the nature of my condition.

You were in the cargo bay regenerating, when it received a puncture, the Doctor explained humourlessly as he appeared beside her. Now lay still until I've finished my medical scan.

Dutifully Seven of Nine tried to lay still, swallowing her bile as the Doctor ran his tricorder over her quivering body.

He closed the tricorder. Well apart from the bruises I was already aware of, he declared grandly. I can tell you you are a perfectly healthy mother-to-be of six weeks pregnant. Perfectly normal Morning Sickness. Congratulations! You should rest before telling the father!

Seven of Nine's eye's were not the only ones to open wide in stunned surprise. So did the Captain's. The cry was one of delight as she wrapped her arms around the still bemused Seven of Nine and hugged her tightly.

Seven said quietly, quickly regaining some of her normal composure as she analysed the Doctors statement. For me to have conceived six weeks ago, the Colonel and I would have disobeyed your instructions.

It doesn't matter! I don't care! The Captain declared happily, pushing herself away but still holding Seven of Nine firmly by the shoulders. You have the chance of what you wanted. The Colonel is going to be over the moon!

We did not disobey your instructions, Seven continued blandly. Until we were docked with the Borg vessel. That was under four weeks ago.

Don't worry about it. Scans are never that accurate, B'Elanna whispered encouragingly. I can't wait to see his face!

Captain, Valoria is on approach, Carvers voice distracted the Captain.

Let him in and have him escorted to Sickbay, she responded happily.

I do not wish him to know! Seven declared quickly.

Why ever not? The Captain protested in surprise.

I do not wish to be protected to the level he will deem necessary, it will interfere with my duties, Seven observed. I wish time to prepare him.

There was sense in that opinion, the Captain reflected and she knew why. If there was a fault in the marriage, it was the degree to which the Colonel would go to protect Seven. News that his wife was pregnant would make him more protective still, as his previous experiences haunted him.

He'll find out himself soon enough, she said at last. If you haven't told him by then, it will be a lot worse. I'll give you a fortnight if you haven't told him by then I will. She turned and led the still grinning B'Elanna firmly from the Sickbay

Thus it was that Seven met her concerned husband on her own, still sat on the bed.

Leave you in bed in the safest place in the galaxy and you start sleep walking! He scolded as he lifted her firmly against his chest in a bone cracking hug.

It was not intentional, Seven of Nine claimed. The damage was superficial and has been efficiently repaired. You may carry out an examination if you wish? She offered him the Doctors tri-corder, knowing full well he would not pick up the small signals the Doctor had on close examination.

You know I prefer close physical inspection, he whispered, kissing her ear. Until we've sorted the Captain's little problem I'll trust the Doctor not to have missed anything important.

What were the weapons? Captain Janeway demanded crisply, she glared around the staff meeting waiting for a response. It had been three hours since Voyagers ignominious retreat, two since Seven's happy news and her worries for her downed shuttle had returned with vengeance.

Not that she was the only one. She could almost see the Colonel steam as his own anger simmered.

B'Elanna sighed. It was her turn to enter the lions den of the Captains anger. It appears to be some form of depleted radioactive material, she said cautiously. We are still having difficulty getting close enough to examine it because it is so hot'. I've four people in sickbay from radiation poisoning.

What are you doing to make it safe? Chakotay interrupted.

Caerey is encasing them in forcefields until we can work out how to move them, B'Elanna admitted. We can't even lock transporters on the debris.

Sounds like old fashioned armour piercing shot. We used to use a lead and glass impregnated resin for dealing with things like that, the Colonel offered. Would that help?

Captain Janeway glared at him.

I'll have a look, B'Elanna promised. But it is very dense, in the region of 25000 tonnes per cubic metre and has a shell harder than diamond. The pellets that are lodged in the hull weigh almost a tonne.

Why did they penetrate the shields? The Captain demanded.

Defensive shields are designed to cope with modern energy weapons, Carver commented. This weapon is older than the Colonel. They are effectively cannonballs. The mass is too much for both the meteorite shielding and integrity fields. The hard shell fragments as it penetrates the hull leaving the radioactive centre. I don't think they are designed to destroy a vessel, though they can do that, more to poison its occupants?

We've found a few shell fragments, B'Elanna offered. They aren't unlike Borg body armour.

So there is a Borg influence, the Captain hissed. How do we protect ourselves? I needn't remind you I am not leaving until I get my crew back!

I'm trying to enhance the meteor shields, but it will need all the power we have to stop a rock weighing 2000 tonnes and doing half impulse, Carver admitted. And they are too small and erratic to hit with phasors.

The Colonel said suddenly.

The Captain turned on him angrily.

he said mildly. But a twelve bore used to have a destructive area of about 20 feet in diameter at 15 yards, he explained. As long as you pointed it in the right general direction you were almost guaranteed to do some harm. Mr Carver, you said these things fragment on impact. What would they have to hit to do so?

Don't really know, Sir. The head is so hard it shouldn't have to be big, just solid.

You have another of those ideas, Colonel, Captain Janeway speculated. Lets have it?

The Colonel refused to be drawn quickly, he was still thinking, witnessed by his fingers stroking his chin. The stubble was itching. Lieutenant Paris, how much shrapnel could you put in say one of Valoria's warheads?

You mean big enough to destroy a missile? B'Elanna asked. Perhaps two dozen and you want some form of bang to spread them? She continued without waiting for the expected nod.

Then we have a plan, the Colonel commented simply.

One you intend to share? the Captain demanded impatiently.

I'll take the Valoria in and parade for them, he said. I would appreciate somebody for the backseat, Ma'am?

You mean Seven of Nine? She is still in Sickbay, but I will get her, the Captain agreed. What makes you think you can get through?

Mr Kim will be enough, Ma'am. If he's game? the Colonel responded. Valoria is smaller, more difficult to detect and a whole lot more difficult to hit.

And Voyager? Or aren't we part of the solution? Captain Janeway fizzed, fighting the grin and feeling the pressure release as some sort of a solution started to show.

Valoria only carries twelve missiles, Ma'am. I might deal with a couple of their whizz bangs, even avoid another couple. Voyager needs to take out the launcher before they send a second salvo.

Anything else?

In the absence of troops and Commander Tuvok, then a security team to hit the ground running? They are likely to be pretty pissed.

Captain Janeway nodded slowly accepting the rudimentary plan. B'Elanna how soon can you modify the Valorias weapons?

I'm on it. Forty minutes, B'Elanna declared reaching for her communicator.

Harry, you want to go?

Harry Kim grimaced and swallowed, Valoria was not going to be a comfortable place and he had seen the levels of performance the Colonel placed on his crew. He suspected he might well not meet the Colonel's exacting standards.

There's nobody else who can use the sensors, except Mrs Nine, the Colonel whispered, and I won't want much, direction and distance.

I'll go, Kim agreed quietly.

We go in an hour, Captain Janeway announced, closing the meeting.

Thank you. For volunteering Colonel. But you know Tom and Megan might not be alive? Captain Janeway commented quietly to the Colonel as the others left the room.

The Colonel shrugged. You think they are, Ma'am. Therefore they are. I will get them back. Besides this is getting personal again. Somebody shot at my wife!

He grinned suddenly, But if you will excuse me, Ma'am. I need a good pot of tea and a shave. Mr Kim is a clever chap, but he cannot make proper tea! He saluted and turned smartly for the door.

I hope Harry can cope, Chakotay mused. He struggled last time.

He'll cope, the Captain announced confidently. The Colonel will make sure he does!

An hour later Valoria took wing again and twisted back to the danger zone.

What am I going to need to do to persuade them to fire at us? The Colonel asked. I don't want to mess about doing orbits like Voyager.

They didn't shoot until Voyager saw the concrete, Kim volunteered.

Excellent! We'll take interest in it as well. A very close interest. Hit it with every detection beam in the book and any others you can invent in the next twenty minutes, the Colonel decided. We'll see if that wakes them up.

You can come out now, Mrs Paris? He called more loudly. Mr Kim is going to need some extra help and you will be safer and not say a lot more comfortable in a seat!

From the head B'Elanna appeared, blushing furiously. How did you know? She demanded taking the seat beside Harry and activating the console at he side.

You didn't wave us off, the Colonel offered. But Klingon blood must be getting to you Lieutenant?

She looked at him blankly.

If it was Mrs Nine down there and I was given the opportunity, I would have been knocking seven bells out of the place two hours ago and damn the consequences, the Colonel explained with a grin.

There are better ways, she offered sweetly. I'm sat behind one!

Okay people. I want that launch site spotted before they launch. A full salvo of torpedoes, don't wait for the command, the Captain demanded as she paced the Bridge. She was under no delusions as to how long a weapon fired from Voyager was going to take to reach the planet. Too long. From their station it was going to take a full five minutes for a torpedo to reach it. Voyager could fire eight complete salvoes in that much time. And at the extreme range they were operating at there was not going to be a great deal of power in them when they arrived either.

Winston, as soon as the torpedoes leave the tube, warp us in. In case we need to shoot again. That wasn't in the plan, but the Colonel would be expecting it and they had a landing crew to put down. The sooner they were in position the better.

Anything yet? The Colonel demanded as he drove the Valoria lower over the vicinity of the concrete pad for the third time.

I'm trying a tacion stream, B'Elanna announced.

They really don't seem to want to play, the Colonel complained. Most uncivil of them. I wish we hadn't replaced all the missiles. Perhaps a sharp knock on the door would have done something?

We could be too close? Kim suggested nervously. Voyager was much higher. Perhaps they need time to gain control?

Think so?

Kim shrugged non-commitally.

You're the boss. I'll try it, the Colonel agreed readily, pulling the shuttle into a hard climb.

They've launched! Kim screamed five seconds later as the Valoria breasted the atmosphere. Impact five!

Immediately the Colonel hauled the Valoria around into a steep dive. How many? Get the launch point?

Two. No! Kim and B'Elanna screamed in unision.

Catch the next salvo, The Colonel shouted back as he hauled Valoria around for the second time, the air frame screaming in protest at the G-forces as he added power again to send it rocketing into the sky.

This time they reached space before Kim called. Two more. Impact 9 seconds.

I saw where they came from! B'Elanna shouted in jubilation. Relayed to Voyager!

Mark it! The Colonel demanded, already hauling the ship into a tight turn to run down the missiles.

We're closing too fast! B'Elanna screamed.

There was a flash as the two missiles sliced past the wing of their ship.

They're turning!

So was the Colonel, as hard as the ship could, trying desperately to turn and face the threat.

They are trying to come from different directions! B'Elanna exclaimed. The first two are approaching from above!

Range! I'll try and take those out!

15,000 metres. Up thirty, left 15.

Obediently the Colonel complied.

B'Elanna screamed as he approached the mark.

The first two missiles shot away from the ship like glowing darts to explode with a dirty red plume. Not waiting to see the effects the Colonel was pitching the craft around again to meet the next onslaught.

Voyager has fired! Kim screamed.

Hit anything?

Try again! Make sure they fly into the explosion! No deflection shots!

Right forty, down ten! B'Elanna called desperately.

One coming up under us! Kim screamed. Two seconds!

The Colonels desperate roll coincided with B'Elanna's firing, flinging the missiles wide. Forcing even more radical aerobatics to avoid the two oncoming missiles. Once again he was turning hard.

One on our tail! B'Elanna shouted.

It prompted full reverse on the shuttles engines, now screaming at the extreme overloading.

100 Metres! B'Elanna shut her eyes at the impending hit. It was going to be the destruction of their small ship.

Got you! Fox two! The Colonel cried in jubilation as the missile slid under them and he launched another brace of missiles.

He called, again turning hard as his missiles blossomed in the path of the receding threat.

Got it!

They've spread, coming in above and below! Harry Kim screamed in excitement. Five seconds!

Roll, bank, climb, skip and turn, for thirty long seconds, the Colonel trod, pushed, pulled and prodded every control within sight, sending the Valoria skittering around the sky in a desperate attempt to avoid the incoming missiles. How they missed the increasingly frantic missiles he never knew. But it ended with the Valoria chasing all three as they started to arc around. He chose one and turned with it, activating the ships pulse cannon to pepper the night sky around the target as it wobbled.

Do your best, Lieutenant! He called. Before they are on our tail again!

Two more of Valorias missiles left the rack. Again he did not wait for a result but was turning harder to find the next target.

Dead ahead! B'Elanna screamed. Automatically firing.

Got the last one! Kim cried in jubilation. Then groaned. They've fired again. Two more inbound!

B'Elanna screamed, the third was right below them and coming up fast.

There was a clang as the missile struck them a glancing blow. It sent the Valoria tumbling, as the missile that hit them fragmented after its collision.

Impulse is out!

Missiles not responding!

No power!

Another launch!

The cries went up in desperation.

I need engines in thirty seconds or less! The Colonel demanded as he finally stopped them tumbling.

No chance! B'Elanna declared.

Then sixty and a prayer! He snapped turning the shuttle ponderously with just thrusters.

If there had been an iron sight' for the pulse cannon, the Colonel would have been crouched over it as he waited for the missiles to come in range. As it was he settled lower in the seat and thumbed the fire button, letting the vibration from the cannon fire rock and roll his small ship to provide a fire cone' for the missiles to fly into.

The leading most missile did and exploded into fragments that rattled mightily on the crafts skin, the second hit the wing of the Valoria, sending it tumbling again.

Where are my engines, Lieutenant? The Colonel asked in resignation, after three seconds futile waggling of controls. He turned carefully in his seat as he felt his weight disappear and viewed his white faced crew. I've used the last of the charge in the canon and the thrusters are buggered. The next one does us in. And I hate being weightless!

Silently B'Elanna moved to the access hatches to start work.

Mr Kim, would you be so good as to get one of your little boxes and make sure we are still in one piece. There is a bump under my foot and I'm sure it wasn't there before we started?

Kim looked up in alarm. Computer doesn't think so, he said hurriedly.

Computer doesn't appear to be saying a lot of anything at present. So please, humour me?

Did you get the launch point? Captain Janeway demanded as Kala announced the first salvo of missiles.

Within a hundred metres, Ma'am! Carver commented. We need better for a torpedo strike at this range.

Winston. Get us on course full impulse, she snapped, turning her frustration to her pilot instead. They can't last forever!

Got it! Carver expounded as his instruments clearly pinpointed the launch point. Torpedoes away. Impact four minutes.

Split screen. I want to see what happens to the Valoria!

Breathlessly they watched as the ex-Valorian fighter twisted, turned and bucked ever more violently as its pilot desperately attempted to out manoeuvre the missiles as they swept ever closer.

That is some flying! Winston breathed to himself, as the Valoria suddenly stopped and leapt upward to allow missiles to slide underneath. He carefully made a note of the manoeuvre as another trick for the armoury of avoidance techniques. The Colonel often claimed he could achieve anything in a panic. It was not a belief Winston thought likely, to him the Colonel was simply calm and inventive in a crisis. He preferred that concept and tried to emulate it.

They've launched another two! Kala reported. I don't think they can control more than four in the air at a time! It was a pointless observation, four missiles were more than enough to contend with.

There was a collective groan as a missile struck and sent the Valoria tumbling out of control.

Valoria has lost propulsion!

The new missiles have locked onto target, Captain! Carver exclaimed.

In dumb dread they watched as the two newly launched missiles adjusted course and headed directly for the small craft as it turned ponderously to face them. Then in surprise as its cannon started random fire and destroy one of the incoming.

There was another collective groan from the assembly as the ship was struck another glancing blow and tumbled out of control again.

They can't gain control again! Winston shouted as they collectively realised the situation the Valoria was now in.

Other missiles? Captain Janeway demanded.

One is trying to track it, Carver responded. If they level out it will strike.

Torpedoes have struck! Chakotay had never taken his eyes off of either screen and reported the detonation of Voyagers own weapons.

Winston, get after the Valoria. Carver, prepare a cluster torpedo and a jamming probe. We have to kill the missile after the Valoria. Get their assessment. Kala, check for success of our strikes. Try and lock on for transporters, Captain Janeway spread her orders with crisp snaps of command.

If we use a cluster we will hit Valoria, Chakotay gently reminded her.

Valoria reports numerous dents, Captain. Impulse is out, repair not possible. Thrusters are also dead. Inertial dampers are out. They cannot regain control, Carver reported calmly after a few moments, a slow grin forming on his face. The Colonel asks if it would be too much trouble if we could pick them up at some point, if we aren't too busy? He is running out of sickbags and the tea won't stay in the cup.

I can't lock on with Valoria tumbling like that, or at that speed, Captain! They are doing more than 30 revolutions a minute in both axis! Kala announced.

The Captain nodded, stifling her own grin. The crew of the shuttle were safe for the time being, if all the Colonel was worried about was tea. Winston, overtake that missile. I want to snatch the Valoria as we pass and it hauled into the shuttle bay. We can take the hit better than they can, if we have to. Carver, deploy the decoy as a mine as we overtake, then do the same with the cluster torpedo.

Aye, Ma'am! Winston responded hunkering down over the console.

He knew the procedure, had seen it done successfully, once. It was a means of rescuing shuttles in distress quickly. The ship would swoop low over the shuttle, lining the craft up with the open shuttle doors. A tractor beam would then pick up the shuttle and drag it into the bay. In good conditions, with a good pilot and crew operating the tractor beam it was straightforward. The problem here, was that they would be approaching at near full impulse, the shuttle was tumbling uncontrollably, in every direction imaginable and if they missed then the inbound missile would certainly hit something, there would be no second chance. If Valoria hit Voyager, then the crippled shuttle would be destroyed. If the impact was hard enough it would do significant damage to Voyager, even destroy her. He and Kala were going to have to be not only good and but exceptionally lucky.

Range to missile 5000 metres. Intercept thirty seconds, Carver started to call the ranges as Winston started to flick his control panel, struggling to match the shuttles erratic flight. Ignoring the weapon he was closing upon. That would be Ensign Carver's problem, there was no time to worry about that and the shuttle.

Bring us up 500 metres, Ensign, Kala instructed as Voyager swept past the weapon. I want to use the forward tractor beam to start to steady the Valoria.

Obediently Winston complied. On the view screen they watched the thin blue marker from the beam seek out and lock on the Valoria. The beam wavered and bucked as if the Valoria was fighting it and Kala fought to bring it under control, without it breaking up.

Mines deployed and activated, Carver announced a few seconds later. The missile is steadying course upon Valoria.

Will it hit anything? Janeway demanded.

Carver shrugged. I think it has an optical lock. The jammer was never designed to cope with that, Ma'am.

I have a proximity detonation. The inbound has veered, he claimed a few seconds later. Recalculating impact to greater than 50 seconds.

I can't damp the axial rotation in time, Captain. Valoria will break apart if I try!

Carver, help gain a transport lock. Kala, damp it out. Winston, hold your course. You are the Colonel's watch, he says you work as a team, do it!

They smiled uncertainly at her. This was a scenario that even he had never thought of.

The thirty seconds required for Voyager to catch the errant shuttle were tense, as both Winston and Kala battled to match and correct courses.

Kala screamed as Valoria passed out of sight at the bottom of the screen. I'm losing it again! She'll hit us!

Instantly Winston struck his panel sending Voyager bouncing upwards.

She apologised. She bounced! Valoria is 200 metres behind, still doing five revolutions axial. Docking fifteen seconds. Crash crews ready in shuttle bay. Spin clockwise please, Ensign.

Again Winston complied to the demand from behind. Can't do better than 4.5 without taking dampers offline, Ma'am.

Do it! Janeway snapped.

100 Metres, more spin!

50 Metres, point two less! For fifteen long seconds Ensign Kala fought with both ships in her desperate juggling act as the Valoria entered the shuttle bay.

Valoria is in the hanger. Doors closing, Captain! She exclaimed happily, then sagged in relief.

Winston get us out of here before that missile hits us! The Captain demanded, taking control of her ship again.

Chakotay, the Bridge is yours! She headed for the lift, then stopped and turned when another thought hit her.

At times like this, she announced. Only the Colonels words ever seem to fit. That was damned good work. All of you!

With that she was in the lift and heading for the shuttle bay, leaving a beaming Bridge crew.

ETA for orbit twenty minutes, Sir! Winston called bringing things to order again.

The silence of their cave had become oppressive for Tom and his imagination was working overtime over their probable fate. They had lain there for what seemed like an eternity, but he knew it was probably no more than a few hours. Even the muted grunts and pants from Megan Delaney's breathing had eased now she had stopped fiddling with her bonds. Her chatter would be almost heavenly now.

He became aware of a presence as if there was something in the room with them. In the dim light of the cavern his eyes played tricks with sliding shadows. He closed them, desperately trying to let his other senses do the work. After a while he could hear Megan's breathing as she continued to gently twist with her bonds trying to find a more comfortable position, he could hear his own shallower breath as well, but that was it. Smell. He could smell sweat. That was him he decided. But there was a damp earthy smell there as well.

he tried in desperation. His words echoed in the darkness, playing back at him.

What do you want?

The echo responded faintly.

He tried again modulating his voice to a horse whisper. Who are you?

Not even the echo responded. He had almost given up when a thin buzzing came to him. He listened hard and snatches of words came through the buzz.

Male and female. Small snatches of some form of whispered conversation possibly between several somethings, none helpful. Then there was silence again.

We aren't Borg! He tried hopefully in the darkness.

The silence descended again.

Who were you talking to? Megan demanded.

Didn't you hear them? Paris asked in surprise.

No. What did they say?

Tom Paris was as short of an answer as he had been hours before. He still did not want to alarm her with the words he had overheard, her imagination would frighten her. All he could do was admit to ignorance again. He wondered if he had imagined it. He certainly didn't want to tell her what he had heard. His own imagination was putting more than enough definitions to them, none were pleasant.

He tried to put them out of his mind by creating a new topic of conversation.

When are you and Jenny going to stop playing with Harry? He asked. A fit of inspiration on a new topic of conversation hitting him.

Her surprise at the question echoed through the corridors. We don't!

Yes you do, Tom argued. You both come on' strong, then drop him like a stone.

We are twins, Delaney pointed out. We've always done things together! Besides Harry is such a prude and a prig, he can never make his mind up!

That at least was true, Tom admitted to himself. But the choice between the twins would be a difficult one for anybody. He gave vent to that opinion.

We aren't that similar! Jenny's maths is better than mine and she is left-handed! Megan claimed quickly. She's even won a prize for painting.

Any other earth shattering differences I can spot from a range greater than a micron? Tom asked caustically.

I suppose there aren't that many, she admitted thoughtfully. But it doesn't change the fact that Harry is a prig!

He is a decent guy! Tom Paris resolutely tried to defend his friend.

But he isn't, Megan declared, now warming to her subject. You know when Harry tried to get Seven in bed and she told him to strip for her?

In the darkness Tom smiled in recollection. Harry had arranged subtle lighting and soft music to entertain the then almost all Borg Seven of Nine in his quarters. She had been nowhere near ready to recognise the signals. Her blunt response of acceptance of what she thought he was proposing, sexual intercourse, would have frightened far braver men than Harry. He had teased Harry about that one for several weeks.

Well, Mary Beth in Security had a similar experience. She got out of it by using almost the exact same words as Seven, telling him to strip for her. If he hasn't got the bottle to go through with what he started, then he deserves to be played with, Megan opined.

He hasn't got the Colonel's style, she added with relish and warming to the theme. Any one of us would have thrown our knickers at him, if it would have prised him away from Seven. He is so genuinely decent, gentle, patient and vulnerable. If we could have got him in Harry's position, we would have had him. It was a challenge to try and corrupt him!

Then why didn't you? Tom asked in fascination. The conversation was proving to be revealing enough to divert his mind from their predicament.

Because it didn't work! Megan giggled. Jenny tried, we all did, even the Captain in her timid way. But we couldn't. The Colonel is a one woman guy and Seven isn't as naive as she seems, she sighed regretfully. She learnt exactly how to play him. He was lost to us the day he was brought aboard. We didn't stand a chance!

This was news to Tom. Not that the Colonel was dedicated to one person, Seven of Nine, everybody knew that. But that Seven of Nine had actively hunted' him. The more male dominated circles would have it the other way around and the Staff thought it had been the Captain's manipulation of both.

I still think you should give Harry a chance of at least coming out even, he muttered reproachfully.

He needs to grow up first, Megan declared with feeling. He's like a kid in my grandparents sweet shop trying to decide which sweet he'll have first. Perhaps we'll feed him to Llinos Abbott. That will cure him.

But she and Chakotay..! Tom started to protest.

Delaney sighed. Why are they all so two faced and blind. No they aren't. She's simply making up for lost time and Chakotay volunteered.

Further discussion proved impossible as numerous small feet thundered past and the sound of excitement drowned their muted conversation.

I think, Tom speculated cautiously. Voyager has arrived.

The Colonel stepped off of the Valoria and slumped heavily upon the step looking green. I need an aspirin! he croaked. I had no idea we were spinning like that until Voyager appeared.

You should have shut your eyes like we told you to! B'Elanna laughed, as she sat unsteadily beside him. But I admit it was pretty wild and overall I'm glad you didn't.

So am I! The Captain drawled as she entered the bay. Otherwise I'd be down five crew not two. Now are you up to taking the landing party?

How long do I have before I have to say yes', Ma'am? The Colonel asked mildly.

Do you ever need time? She asked in concern, You've never asked before?

Probably not, he agreed. But I left my stomach out there somewhere and I'm hoping it will find its way back. I'll stagger along in a minute or two, as soon as Mr Neelix stops hovering with the teapot, he nodded at Neelix standing behind the Captain holding a tray of steaming mugs.

It is good and black, just as you like it, Neelix bubbled, pushing forward and thrusting a mug at the Colonel.

May the Good Lord bless you, Sir, the Colonel declared with a grin and taking a sip of the mixture. You may not be a brilliant cook, but you are getting good with the tea!

He climbed slowly to his feet and saluted the Captain. Permission to come aboard, Ma'am?

I'm about to push you off again. But for the interceding fifteen minutes, you are welcome, Colonel! Janeway laughed in relief. It was surprising how that small formal display and request could put the world to-rights.

Enough time to say hello and goodbye to the wife then, the Colonel decreed. I'll be ready, Ma'am. He saluted again and set off for the door and Sickbay.

Fifteen minutes later the Colonel's briefing of the security team in Transporter Room 1 was interrupted by the arrival of the Captain. I'm coming to stop you doing anything rash, she remarked cheerfully. Then noticed the presence of Seven of Nine with the rest of the crew.

He requires protection, Captain, Seven answered the unasked question nonchalantly.

Never do anything rash, Ma'am! The Colonel protested. Dumb, yes, I would have to agree. But never rash! Certainly not as rash as the Captain leaping into a fire fight. Are you sure, Ma'am?

She fired back.

He nodded wearily. Very good, Ma'am. I am intending to beam down about 800 yards from the concrete pad they launched the missiles from. There shouldn't be any problems at that point, he confided. But in case there is we will go in two waves, hundred yards apart. Ensign Talbot at the panel assures me he can put us down to catch any nasties in the cross fire.

Are you expecting any trouble? Captain Janeway asked mildly. There is no sign of anybody on the surface.

The Colonel shrugged nonchalantly. No, Ma'am. But I'll be damned if I'm going to walk slap bang into it. Would you care to take the second squad with Mrs Nine?

The landing site proved to be as expected. Quiet. Barely a breath of wind stirred the knee length yellowing seed grasses. The Colonel muttered absentmindedly as he plucked a stem and tasted it. If we get time we can mow some of this for Neelix.

He continued to scan the horizon as the Captain and her team appeared. They met in the centre ground between them.

Spread out in two's, circle the target. Approach to 50 metres light style and wait for the signal to attack.

They are too obvious to be real soldiers, the Colonel moaned easily to the Captain as they watched them dart away. This is all basic stuff. Shall we go? He set off striding towards the plume of smoke that marked the detonation point of Voyagers torpedoes.

Aren't you going to crawl in like the others? The Captain asked in surprise as she and Seven darted after him, the Colonel was acting as if he owned the planet.

Good heavens no! They won't shoot. I'm British! the Colonel exclaimed indignantly.

Besides the sooner they start shooting, the sooner we'll know where they are hiding, he added more quietly.

The landing party gathered to peer into a twenty foot deep hole in the ground that had previously been covered by the concrete pad that had been the cause of their problems. Of the pad there was now no sign, instead there was the hole full of twisted metal, several missiles could be seen laying on their sides, but otherwise and thankfully undamaged.

I don't like small holes I haven't dug, the Colonel mused. There tends to be unpleasant things living in them.

We go in, Janeway urged, starting to clamber in. She was stopped by a burly arm.

If we must, we must, Ma'am! The Colonel announced. But somebody expendable goes first. Me!

Quickly the Colonel climbed past the Captain and into the gloom.

The party waited as he scanned the surrounds. Nobody here. The Flyer is under some of the iron work, must have been dragged and lowered on a lift, the Colonel reported. Looks as if there is a rat hole running that way. The others saw him point and start off.

Just wait! The Captain shouted after him, hurriedly descending.

She found the Colonel crouching by the opening of a low tunnel viewing down it with a night scope.

Hands and knees job, Ma'am! The hole is barely three feet high, The Colonel grunted. Whoever used them has pulled right back. Bad news if we have to fight.

We aren't here to fight, the Captain reminded him quietly. We came for Tom and Megan, don't forget that!

I haven't forgotten, Ma'am! But the locals aren't queuing with tea and crumpets, so they may have other ideas and this is their patch, the Colonel observed. Two to stay and guard this end of the hole. They can set transponders so Voyager can take the Flyer back. The rest of you follow me, and keep the torches off!

He headed down the tunnel on his hands and knees, not waiting to see who followed.

Do you know where you are going? The Captain asked after thirty minutes crawling and feeling claustrophobic from the closeness of the atmosphere.

came the honest and disconcerting reply from in front. But we've not met any significant alternatives.

No pitfalls or traps either, he added after a few moments. Whatever they have planned is going to be big and nasty!

In their cave Tom and Megan had settled into an uneasy silence again as their conversation petered out. The were startled into life again as they heard the muffled thud of detonations and they were dusted liberally by grit from overhead.

Must be missile launches, Tom opined. Strange we haven't heard them before.

Perhaps they decided they needed something bigger? Megan whispered hollowly.

Tom agreed. If the Colonel has arrived. They would need to launch planets to dent him!

I thought you liked him? Megan challenged, a little fire entering her voice.

I do, Tom hissed. It is impossible not to. It's just that he always seems so, he paused trying to find a suitable word,

Not that indestructible, Megan giggled. He is very fragile really!

Their conversation was interrupted by more running feet, then more silence. They strained their ears for any clue as to what else was happening.

Suddenly they were grabbed and dragged along more darkened corridors, before they were finally dropped unceremoniously in a much larger chamber. The fluorescence from the walls was much stronger here and amongst the shadows Tom could make out some fifty of the small creatures that had captured them. They, in their turn, were gathered around a much larger creature that lay at the far end, possibly even servicing it. It looked like an over grown and white slug in the limited light.

You are not Borg? The voice drifted at Tom, coming from no discernible direction, but crystal clear, powerful and female.

Who said that? Who are you? He demanded, his own voice sounding feeble as it echoed off the walls.

I have no name. I am the centre of Ichard life on this planet. I issue Ichards. You are not Borg?

No. We are not Borg, Tom agreed, moderating his voice to a whisper to stop it bouncing back at him.

Yet you examined our planet and have brought destruction? Even now members of your race are exploring our tunnels. They intend to exterminate my people. Why?

You fired at us and took us captive, Tom pointed out nervously, peering around trying to see what was happening around him. They won't kill anybody, if they can avoid it!

Fourteen were exterminated when they attacked our launch site!

We are peaceful explorers! We wanted to know how the Borg had affected planets in their sector. Tom found himself pleading. We had given up on this planet! We had thought you had been destroyed by the Borg. Then you appeared!

We exterminate life that discover us. The Borg would destroy us if they find we still exist. It is necessary to protect ourselves!

But we didn't know you existed until you shot at us! Tom repeated.

You found our launch silo!

The concrete pad! Tom guessed. We didn't know what it was!

You and your people cannot be permitted to escape to tell the Borg! The voice declared finally. You will be exterminated.

Tom pleaded in alarm as six small figures started to approach. Nobody needs to tell the Borg anything! The Unimatrix has been destroyed!

You lie. The Borg are invincible. We designed them that way! The voice thundered through his mind making Tom Paris flinch.

They were destroyed! He shouted back, his voice ringing around him. We destroyed them four weeks ago!

It seemed a lot less certain this time.

Tom insisted. People from my ship destroyed the Unimatrix!

Then you will exterminate us! The voice screeched in his head. We must exterminate the invaders!

As one the Ichards started to withdraw, disappearing into a tunnel at the far end, following the bulk of the slug, tenderly easing it into the tunnel. At the same time a new group started to approach from the sides.

Tom protested in futility. Please. Listen! We mean you no harm! Just let us go!

That is a sentiment I would concur with Lieutenant, a welcome voice echoed around the chamber. If you would be so kind as to ask your hosts to stop sidling forward. I will be a lot happier?

Megan cried happily, rolling over to see him crawl into the cavern. He slid to his knees and watched the approaching natives cautiously, they in their turn slowed to a stop as they watched the gently swinging barrel of his rifle.

Behind him she could see others emerge and in the middle of the group came the Captain.

Recommend you remain in the tunnel, Ma'am. Until the threat is contained! The Colonel snapped. His hand was feeling behind him for the sheath knife he always carried at the small of his back. I can hold them off long enough to pull Lieutenant Paris and Miss Delaney out the way and get a fair way down the tunnel.

Don't threaten them! Tom heard himself plead. They think we are going to exterminate them! Or bring the Borg down on them! Please, Captain!

Colonel wait! Captain Janeway demanded. Are you able to talk to them, Tom. Do they understand you? She asked quickly.

I think so, but she doesn't believe me, Captain, Tom whispered.

Who is she? She asked, watching the Colonel slide forward to greet the building throng.

I think she is some form of ruler. She claims she is the centre of life to these creatures, Ichards. She is scared we will betray them to the Borg, Paris explained.

Does she know what has happened to the Borg and who did it?

I told her, but it seemed to make her more alarmed! Tom admitted.

It was a tricky impasse, the Ichards were gathering courage and creeping forward. They were now within 5 metres of the Colonel. When they reached him the Captain knew what would happen. He would react violently, it was the only way he could continue to protect the landing party.

she tried to attract his attention.

His reply was instant, but he did not move from his position or take his eyes from the Ichards.

Free Tom and Megan, then retrace our route up the tunnel. Tom, I want you to stay here with me. I don't want anybody hurt.

For a moment she wondered if the Colonel was going to do as she requested. He certainly hesitated, then responded, cautiously crawling towards her bound pilot and set about the ropes that bound him. No sooner had he looked down to cut the bindings then four of the small creatures leapt at him.

Instinctively he rolled, bringing his legs up to kick them away, then rolled back to his knees, knife low ready for the next assault. His attackers retreated again. Cautiously he returned to the ropes that bound Tom Paris, still watching his would be attackers as they retreated to the tunnels.

Finished, he moved silently to Megan Delaney, leaving Tom Paris to massage life back into his cramped limbs.

We have what we came for. We will leave, the Captain declared to the now empty cavern. None of your people has been hurt and we will not hurt them, if we are allowed to leave unharmed.

She turned confidently towards the tunnel that led outwards, preceded by two of the landing party, until they were brought up sharp. Captain! The tunnel is blocked with nets!

An instant later the Colonel thrust his way past them and examined the net and the wall to which it was glued by the light of his pocket torch. Finally he shone it up the tunnel and caught sight of three Ichards busy working. He backed out again.

"Little buggers are spinning webs like spiders!" He complained quietly to the Captain. "Only it's a damned sight stronger. We can cut through, but not as quickly as they can make a new one."

"Suggestions?" She asked quickly.

How deep are we? Could we drill a hole in the roof with the phasor rifles?

Several hundred metres, the Captain guessed. We would be buried under rubble long before we reached the surface.

Seven of Nine joined them after making her own examination of the nets that contained them and the people building them. The net material is the same poly-metallic compound used by the Borg for armour, she stated simply. I was of the opinion that the material was unique to the Borg. The Ichards seem to generate it naturally from glands where sexual organs would normally exist.

Then why are they scared of them? The Captain demanded.

Perhaps we can ask when they come and gloat, Ma'am? Or I get bored and go looking for them? The Colonel suggested. I don't particularly want to, fighting underground is difficult. They will have to come and see us sooner or later, because Voyager is still sat on top of them and they will want to know how to get rid of it. The Commander will start getting bored soon. He'll start taking pot shots.

Of course what the Commander could do with is a beacon, so he knows what to shoot at? He added carefully. I don't suppose we could create one, Ma'am?

Communicators are non-functional, Captain Janeway pointed out.

They both looked at Seven.

Sub-space transmissions are being deflected, she observed. I will try to create a simple high power homing beacon using the tri-corder.

That's my girl! The Colonel declared proudly as she turned away to break down her tri-corder by torch light. Beauty and brilliance in one neat package! He settled to wait for events to catch him up.

Chakotay sat in his chair thinking carefully. The landing party had been on the planet below for six hours and had not reported for five of those. He knew that they had entered a series of tunnels and they had been able to track them for nearly a kilometre until the signals disappeared. He was getting worried. He barely acknowledged Kim's announcement that the Flyer had been beamed back into the shuttle bay that had been nearly an hour ago.

In desperation he had even sent a second away team to try and explore the tunnel that the Captain had entered. They had returned empty handed and reporting that the tunnel had been blocked.

That only left blind faith in the Colonel's ability to sense danger. Chakotay's Indian blood accepted that some people could be gifted like that, but it was difficult to accept totally.

Finally he turned in his seat. Harry, take Kala and Jenny Delaney to Astrometrics. Try and find where those tunnels go and prepare a solution to mine them open. Carver, maintain full spectrum communications scans. I don't see them not trying to find a way of signalling us unless they are in deep trouble.

"I think our hosts are coming back, Ma'am!" The Colonel whispered, suddenly snapping alert after sitting motionless for nearly two hours. "All four access tunnels."

It was an feat that the Captain had never managed to understand or emulate. The way the Colonel could simply turn himself off, but still be aware of everything that was going on well enough to know when it was likely to affect him. Chakotay could manage it occasionally, when things were quiet and he had attempted to teach her once. Getting her to concentrate on a small totem. It was harder than staying awake and certainly not something she could do if there was potential for real trouble. With the Colonel it was immediate, the only criteria seemed to be a lack of immediate danger.

Instead she had used the time to get a full report from Tom.

"How many?" She asked, wondering if he could supply an accurate answer.

"Enough," he declared. "But I think the hole that is of interest is that one." He pointed at the largest tunnel. "I think we are going to receive an audience with Queen Bee."

"The beacon is ready to test," Seven reported quietly as they settled to watch the tunnel the Colonel had indicated. "I have configured it to send simple repetitive signals on ultra low frequencies. It will take time for Voyager to detect the signal."

"Keep a hold on it," the Captain instructed. "I don't want to start a war and I don't think the Colonel is happy with the conclusion if we did."

Slowly and cautiously the Ichards reappeared and surrounded the Starfleet contingent as they sat and watched.

"Put your weapons on the floor," the Captain ordered.

There was a pause as the party looked at her in alarm. It was broken by the Colonel as he slapped his rifle on the ground hard. It was quickly followed by his heavy knife.

"Make sure they know you've put them down," he whispered encouragingly.

The Captain grinned weakly at him as the others followed the Colonels lead. "Tom tell them that our weapons will remain on the floor as long as they don't come within three metres."

"We understand your statement." Tom heard. "Your Captain cannot receive our thoughts?"

The Ichards stopped forming a ring almost exactly three metres from them.

"They got the message, Captain," Tom observed. "But I think I am the only one that can hear them."

"There is a Borg in the party. It is here to destroy us?"

"No!" Tom insisted. "Seven is not Borg anymore! She is human we rescued her!"

"They are worried about Seven, Captain," he whispered an explanation to the invisible question.

"And the other one?"

"Seven is the only Borg!" He exclaimed.

"The one beside your Captain bears Borg technology. He is Borg."

"No!" Tom protested. "He is human, like Seven. He has never been Borg."

"They are worried about the Colonel as well, Captain," he passed on. Secretly he was starting to enjoy the role of spokesman.

"The Colonel won't try to harm you, provided you don't try to attack us," the Captain reinforced.

"The purpose of his Borg technology?"

This question Tom found to be more difficult to answer sensibly. "He needed it to keep him alive," he offered.

"We will examine them." Immediately two Ichards started to move forward.

"They want to examine Seven and the Colonel," Tom passed on.

"Tell them I'm 6 foot 4, 15 and-a-bit stone and have an incredibly bad attitude to people I don't know, poking around my wife without reason or consent," the Colonel suggested evenly.

The Ichards stopped.

"Will the Ichards guarantee their safety?" The Captain demanded quickly.

"We will permit examination using your instruments," the Ichards offered.

Again Tom passed on the information. The Captain looked questioningly at Seven.

"My tri-corder is non-functional, Captain. I will permit examination."


"I'll be with her, Ma'am," the Colonel assured her. "If it does any damage I will brain the bugger doing it, then spread the big one across the cavern."

"It will not do damage."

"She says it won't do any harm, Captain," Tom reported quickly. "I think it is just a sensory thing."

Wearily both the Colonel and Seven of Nine moved forward towards the Ichard. They parted and allowed them to approach the larger white slug like creature they assumed was the 'queen'.

Three paces from it the Colonel stopped. "It's not much protection," he whispered. "But I'll go first. You can do your scans and report to the Captain. If it goes wrong scarper."

"I will not need protection," Seven argued. "I shall go first. You abilities to protect the others is greater than than my own."

She pushed past him, leaving him kneeling stunned, unsure of what had happened. Seven had never disagreed like that with him before. He sighed, shook his head despairingly, muttered "Women!" under his breath and followed.

Seven of Nine knelt up, bringing herself face to face with the queen, uncertain as to what was to be required next.

Normally she would have at least attempted to argue logically with her husbands suggestion, he should go first. He was a sound calculator of risk, she appreciated his abilities and his desire to protect her. It had not been for reasons of logic that she had insisted on being the first this time and had pushed past, more a petty need to remind him she could take risks as well. He was going to need as many of those reminders as possible before she admitted her current condition.

Now she was kneeling before what could prove to be a potentially lethal enemy, hoping she was not about to be proved disastrously wrong.

Small hands took her arms gently and guided her into laying down, face up, her feet and legs apart pointing towards the queen, arms by her side. She could hear the Colonel's grunt of alarm and briefly glimpsed several small Ichards interdict themselves between the two of them, but they did not seem to be offering any additional resistance. She did not see that Tom Paris had moved up beside the Colonel and was holding his arm firmly.

Then the queen moved, sliding smoothly, enveloping her body. Momentarily Seven tensed in alarm, as the mass of the queen pressed down upon her, then relaxed as its body moulded itself around her, following her contours as it cocooned her. She tensed again when it looked as if her head was also to disappear under the queen, her legs reappearing behind. It did not. Instead small tentacles licked out, gauging her face before latching firmly to her implants. Further down there was vibration, heralding a light wave of pressure that rolled up and down her body. Then a gentle scrabbling as more probes penetrated her suit to latch onto the implants on her arm and under her breast.

The vibration intensified, making her try to squirm, in surprise and pleasure, it tickled. She was too well restrained to move and had to lay and accept it with nothing more than a low moan escaping from her throat. She could hear the Colonel's moan of distress to that as well, then forgot it totally as images started to flash across her mind.

The life story of the Ichards flickered across her mind so quickly she could barely keep up with it.

How ten thousand years ago they had populated the surface of the planet as well as the subterranean caverns. How they had been part of a federation with the Calhards and another race, the Parahards. The long and bitter war waged by Drythions, that had only been defeated by the combination of what? She lost the story.

The images backtracked and replayed for her.

The creation of a mechanically enhanced race, using the Ichards natural ability to produce strong polymers, the Calhards advanced electronics and Parahards for the mechanics. The biological part was provided by volunteers from all three races and prisoners, then controlled by telepathy by more specially trained and enhanced volunteers. The Cyborgs were not deactivated after the war, Seven could feel the regret there. They were used to rebuild the shattered home worlds of Parahard and Calhard, then used as a symbol of Federation power. Until there was a cataclysmic event. The controllers of their cyborg army destroyed themselves in panic, the cyborg learnt to think for themselves and turned on their former masters. The Parahards had been destroyed totally, the Calhards, she knew, still struggled on in a pre-industrial state. It was something she was able to advise her host of. The Ichards had simply retreated below the surface of their planet again.

The flow of information slowed and stopped. Instead she could feel her own neural pathways being fired and her own life started to flash past her mind. She squealed in pain as the flow reached a peak and it slowed to a pace she could keep up with again. Finally it stopped, slowly flicking between images of the Colonel and the tiny feotus that was developing inside her.

"Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix 01. We apologise if the images were distressing. You wished to learn about us," the queens voice echoed disjointedly in her mind. "Many of your Borg systems are damaged. We have repaired them. Those that prevented your reproduction were severely damaged during your re-conversion. We were forced to remove the remains. We are uncertain as to the long term consequences. The Borg were not designed to breed. Do you wish the foetus to be terminated?"

"My designation is Seven of Nine, Primary Adjunct Unimatrix Samuels," Seven hit back, soundlessly mouthing the words. "The infant is not to be harmed!"

"Very well. The human with you is your mate?"


"He agrees with your assessment?"

"He does not know," Seven admitted. "He was not present when the foetus was discovered. He has not been prepared for the information. His response will be erratic. It is not desirable for him to know yet."

"He will be violent?"

"He will not be violent," Seven clarified, it was the one thing she was sure of.

"We will examine him," the queen decreed.

Seven felt the tingling vibration cease as the pressure was removed and the queen started to slide backwards. Allowing her to sit up.

"Are you okay!" An anxious Colonel was beside her, his arms enveloping her and pulling her close. "I was ready to spread a lot of things around when she crawled over you. I'll damned well brain Paris if you're not!"

"I am undamaged," Seven assured him quietly, shuddering gently in his arms as the stimulation from the vibration started to fade. She turned and kissed him firmly on the neck, unwilling to lose the sensation entirely. "It was interesting. We will compare examinations on the ship," she whispered.

More loudly she called out, "I am undamaged, Captain. I have been made aware of the answers to your questions. The Ichards are not dangerous."

Quietly the Colonel laid down as Seven of Nine had to take his place for examination. Seven of Nine positioning him carefully.

It was at that point Chakotay in Voyager lost patience with the unknown events below, letting loose a barrage of phasor fire in attempt to digout the catacombs under the surface. Causing a deep rumble and shaking to be felt.

The Colonel was the first to react, grabbing hold of Seven of Nine and pulling her down beside him and rolling over her as the first rubble from the ceiling started hit them. "Get down!" he yelled, as he continued to roll out from below the queen.

Above him an ominous groan signified more significant problems than the fist sized rocks that were currently falling. Automatically he reached up, his hands pressing against the low ceiling feeling it move.

The shaking subsided as Voyager ceased fire to take stock.

"Everybody out!" The Colonel hissed, feeling the ceiling move again and trying to take the strain. "The whole lot is going to come down!"

Around him there were groans from the Starfleet personnel. The Ichards seemed to be incapable of sound, but were staggering just as much amidst the scattered rubble and random torch light.

"Away Team to Voyager, respond. Away Team to Voyager, cease fire, respond." The Colonel could hear the Captain shouting at her communicator amidst the confusion and falling dust, desperately trying to prevent another bombardment.

"Seven, get that beacon working!" The Captain yelled, giving up on the communicator.

"Could somebody shine a torch and tell me if I'm really holding the roof up or just the last tile?" The Colonel demanded above the furore, his comparatively calm voice commanding attention and belying the force he was applying trying to support it.

It was the ever faithful Seven of Nine that responded. A quick glance at her improvised beacon showed it smashed unrecoverably. Gathering her wits she picked up a discarded phasor rifle and shone its light over the Colonels hands then made their way outwards from there. The beam picked up a crack which she followed, revealing he was in the centre of a slab nearly four metres in diameter. She gave a rapid appraisal of the situation as she turned the torch on him. He had taken position on his knees, his head and hands locked firmly against the ceiling, eyes closed, straining against the un-measurable weight.

"I can't hold this for long," he hissed on hearing the news. "Get everybody out, use the rifle if you need to."

"You will not survive the cave in," Seven argued.

"A lot will, if you get them out," the Colonel hissed. "Do it!"

In desperation Seven turned to the Ichard queen. "You have observed the actions of the Colonel? Your questions are answered as to his nature?" She demanded. "He is acting for the safety of everyone at the risk of his own life. You will supply assistance?"

"We have observed," the queen assured her. "The units here are disarranged. I have ordered replacements. You must prevent your vessel firing again. It will destroy your mate."

Unhappy, but with no further options, Seven turned to the task of herding the still dazed Voyager crew from the cavern and attempting to contact Voyager.

"Results?" Chakotay demanded after Voyagers twenty second phasor fire.

He had considered Kim's solution to tracing the tunnels for a full hour before finally ordering the solution to be enacted, putting it off because of the potential dangers that such radical mining would form. After ten hours of waiting he had finally agreed, all too aware that if the Captain had the situation under control then he was likely to destroy what she had achieved, but reconciling it against the last time he had not acted quickly enough. Now he was desperate to know the results.

From his console Carver looked up. "There is a cavern under where we were digging, Sir!" he reported. "There is more movement in the strata than we expected, it is confusing the readings."

"Keep scanning," Chakotay demanded. "Harry, keep scanning for more tunnels. If we don't find something here, we'll try again in an hour."

The command to fire again was choked in his throat as Carver announced in delight. "I have the Away Team, ten kilometres from their beam down site!" and the Captains equally desperate command. "Away Team to Voyager. Hold your fire! Three casualties for Sickbay immediate."

"Kathryn!" Chakotay exclaimed. "What happened?"

"No time. I want a geological team down here now to undo some of the damage and recover the Colonel and Seven!"

The only noises audible to the Colonel, after 30 minutes kneeling holding his load, were the small ones of gently settling stones as things settled. Thinking he was now alone he risked moving a little to try and release the stiffness. He stopped as there was an ominous groan above him.

"You stupid bugger, Samuels. You can't sit here all day holding the sky up like some demented tree," he chided aloud daring himself to release it. He did not want to, it seemed to mean certain death and he was not enthusiastic about the idea. "You have to let it go at some point!" He was not enthusiastic about the concept of being slowly crushed either.

He risked opening his eyes and blinked hard several times as the sweat from the strain ran into them. There were several phasor rifles still on the floor, their torches on. Their ghostly light revealing flickering images of Ichards scampering around. For the life of him he could not work out why. Then the larger bulk of the Ichard queen appeared, sliding over a fallen Ichard, engulfing it. It paused for perhaps two minutes, then a small satchel appeared behind her. Eggs', he decided.

"What are you still doing here?" He hissed. "Get out before I drop this lot!"

The Ichard stopped then silently approached him. Just as silently she started to engulf him, wrapping her body around him and he felt the tingling that Seven had experienced.

"You can stop that as well!" The Colonel hissed as the roof creaked.

Something brushed then attached itself to his implant.

"It was necessary," the voice of the queen echoed into his mind as she removed herself again. "I require a moments contact to lock onto your thoughts. Contacting the one you call Lieutenant Tom Paris remotely required much effort from several of us. We are stabilising the hall. You will be able to release the rocks safely."

"And the reason you are still here?" He formed the question.

"It is necessary to re-assimilate workers where possible."

"And if I drop my little load?" The Colonel asked carefully.

"We will die," the Ichard admitted. "It is of no consequence. There are others."

"Your Captain has reached the surface," she added conversationally.


"She is following Seven of Nine. She is intending to recover you, she is your loyal subject."

"They are their own people. I have no subjects," the Colonel fumed. "I'm sat here like a prat trying to stop people dying. Not to watch them die when I finally lose."

"Never the less it is my desire to be with you. You require protection," Seven of Nine announced crawling up.

"Get her out of here, please!" The Colonel begged.

"It is unnecessary, the Cavern has been secured," the queen assured them. "Your assistance has been of great service. Thank you. You may release your grip."

That led to a new problem. The Colonel had maintained his position for an hour, straining to keep the rock lodged above. His limbs and muscles had fused into position, he was physically incapable of movement.

Seven of Nine rose in front of him, kissing him firmly whilst wrapping her arms firmly around his shoulders and pulled hard toppling backwards as she did so. He fell on top of her with a distinct cracking of joints, his arms still above him and legs bent behind.

"Your examination will release his muscles," Seven instructed the queen Ichard, struggling to lever herself from under her husband.

"You may wish to remove yourself?" The queen suggested as she closed around them.

At first the Colonels eyes opened wide in alarm as the tingling vibration rattled through his body, then something akin to delight as they had their inevitable effect. Slowly his seized limbs started to relax and he found he could actually take hold of Seven of Nine's hand and grip it.

"I think that will be sufficient," he offered finally.

"Well that was fun while it lasted," he admitted as the sensations lifted, then pulled Seven down to kiss her gently on the nose.

"Have you thought about talking to somebody about these little fantasises?" He asked, as she helped him to sit. He turned, pulling her up and into his lap.

"They are inappropriate?" Seven asked innocently. "We will discuss them."

It was how the Captain's new landing party found them ten minutes later, alone and in each others arms. She shone her torch on their still flushed faces.

"I should have guessed you two would be safe, and you would be in each others laps," she moaned. "Where are the Ichards?"

"They have other damage to repair," Seven advised calmly. "I will complete our thesis after regeneration."

Twenty-eight hours later found Captain Janeway, Seven of Nine and the Colonel in her Ready Room. "So that is it?" She remarked, setting aside the last of eight PADD's. "The complete life story of the Borg and details of three other races. It almost makes the whole trip through this quadrant worth it. Assuming it is the truth?"

"They had no reason to lie," Seven observed.

"Anything else? What was their examination like?" The Captain asked innocently.

"It was stimulating," Seven admitted.

"As stimulating as your husbands?" Kathryn Janeway teased wickedly, watching the Colonel blush. It was all the answer she needed.

"It was different," Seven admitted stoically. "I have not completed my study of the comparisons. It will need to be rated with the 1400 other techniques used by other races."

"Then I'd better let you finish," the Captain agreed, the wicked smile still on her face. "Just make sure the report is kept private. Dismissed."

They turned and left, allowing Chakotay to take their place.

"Tom and Megans report was interesting, but I suspect not as comprehensive as Seven's," he offered settling himself into a chair to deliver the daily report. "Caerey and B'Elanna have managed to remove the last of the missile debris. We beamed those to one of the barren planets. Warp engines will be available in an hour, the two damaged shuttles in a week days. There is nobody left in Sickbay."

He looked up slowly. "I wish to add I'm not sorry for trying to dig you out. I was too slow last time. I wasn't going to let it happen again."

"How many regulations have we broken?" The Captain sighed wistfully, her hand tenderly feeling the bump on her scalp, the result of her injuries in the cavern. "If we were working to the Colonel's rules I'd probably be building gallows by now."

"I'll pass the reports to Tuvok and find out?" Chakotay offered. "It'll give him something to do. How did the Colonel hold up a million tonnes of rock?"

"He didn't. It's in Sevens report. He just balanced it. He could have let go and it would just have settled. Seven had other reasons for not telling him."

"But it was impressive," she added whimsically.

"Now about a replacement Tactical Officer for Tuvok, who have we got?" Deftly the Captain turned back to more routine matters.

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