All's Well That Ends Well
Voyager loses a couple of her passengers and the ship is stolen along with her newest crewman.
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 email@example.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.
This story is rated PG13
©R Gower 2002
"When are you going to name the baby?" Chakotay enquired hopefully, falling into step with Lieutenant-Colonel Samuels as he quick marched down the corridor. The Samuels' baby had been in the galaxy for three days and was still sans a name, it was causing concern in several quarters.
Politely the Colonel slowed to allow the commander to keep up. "Do you want your candidates listed with the rest, Sir?" He asked sourly, reaching into his breast pocket for the habitual notebook. "I'll supply them all to Ms Nine. I'll let her choose when she starts talking to me again. If she doesn't, perhaps I can put them in my hat and hold a prize draw?"
"No," Chakotay appeased quickly, realising he had hit a raw nerve. Then, almost anything said to the soldier hit a raw nerve at present, no matter how sympathetic. "Are you still having trouble with Seven?"
"She thinks I'm the lowest form of life in the Galaxy at the moment, Sir," the Colonel admitted sadly. "I don't think she's forgiven me for milking her 'probes."
"You know if there is anything we can do?" Chakotay began.
"It is something we have sort out for ourselves," the Colonel snapped.
He eased a little at Chakotay's ashen face. "It's like having a house of cards knocked down and having to rebuild it again," he explained wistfully. "The only trouble is, I haven't a clue how I built it to start with."
"And everybody is more worried about the baby, than they are about her mother," he added under his breath as together they entered the Mess.
"And you?" Chakotay asked shrewdly.
"I get pitying looks and things go quiet," the Colonel observed with a grim smile. "Voila!" Around them the mess did indeed go quiet as they were noticed.
Except on one table where the occupants were slower than the rest. "Why doesn't the stupid idiot accept she's gone tap. She'll never be a mother. Takes over from hers!"
The silence became a lot deeper and ten degrees colder as the Colonel took the five strides that separated him from the table and the utterer of such malicious words.
"Crewman Jorrack," the Colonel whispered. Four fingers took the crewman under the chin and lifted, forcing the terrified crewman to stand, raising him on to his toes. "The only reason I am not throttling you with your own tongue," the Colonel continued. "Is because you are only repeating what a number of others in this fine company are saying. Unfortunately for you. You were stupid enough to say it in my hearing."
His voice rose to allow everybody hear his next words. "Mrs Nine. WILL RECOVER! SHE WILL BE THE BEST MOTHER ANY CHILD EVER HAD! I know she will. She's got to..." His voice faltered to a whisper and he dropped the crewman to the deck before turning and heading blindly for the door.
"Let him go!" Chakotay snapped as two security guards attempted to intercept. He turned an unsympathetic glare onto the gasping crewman. Unable to find anything to say he also turned for the door. Something was going to have to be done, the Colonel was starting to come apart.
The same problem was on the mind of Captain Janeway as she faced Thirteen of Twenty-Eight and the Doctor in her Ready Room. She was characteristically blunt about it. "Is there a fault in Seven's new node?"
Thirteen of Twenty-Eight and the Doctor looked at each other helplessly before admitting. "We do not know!"
"The new node is of a different configuration to any in my experience," Thirteen of Twenty-Eight explained. "Nor does it match the designs of the previous unit. We are attempting to chart the system. Though Seven of Nine is proving uncooperative."
"It is possible that Seven's own natural systems will start to take over eventually," the Doctor suggested optimistically.
"By that time I may not have a ship!" the Captain hissed. "You've seen the Colonel? And the delay isn't doing her or the baby any good either!"
"I know," the Doctor agreed hurriedly. "My Psychological Assessment suggests he should be confined to quarters and receive counselling. But I require your order to begin treatment. He won't accept voluntarily."
For a moment the Captain looked nonplussed. "The other day you were telling me that he was Seven's best chance," she observed quietly. "I also know that he dotes on his baby. It may be the cause of his state, but it is also the only thing keeping him under control. I think he has even emptied some of his pockets for diapers. Now you are saying I should split him away from both?"
"We can allow him visiting rights," the Doctor suggested.
The Captain clasped her head in her hands as her patience wore thin. Given the soldiers history, the Doctor's recommendation, no matter how correct, would be the last straw for the Colonel, tipping him very firmly from whatever perilous edge he was on. "No! Find another way to help all three, together," she drawled. "And I want to know why the baby has so much Borg anatomy."
"We are being hailed, Captain." Commander Tuvok's warning sounded, dragging the Captain to new problems.
"Who are they?" She sighed heading for the door.
"Single vessel, Captain," Tuvok affirmed as she strode onto the Bridge. "No weapons." Even he sounded surprised at that. Very few ships sailed the Delta Quadrant without some form of protection. "The vessel purports to be a private yacht from the planet Trafoil 3. They are requesting to communicate with somebody called Xenyacath?"
An elderly and obviously excited figure appeared, sporting the tulip shaped ears of Seven of Seven and Fourteen of Twenty-Eight, though the Captain guessed he was closer to Seven of Seven in stature.
"I am Captain Kathryn Janeway, commander of the Federation Star Ship Voyager. Can we help you?"
The figure seemed surprised for a moment, then rallied. "Yes. Yes. So silly of me. Forgive me. I was so excited by the news. I had to come and see for myself. Please, forgive me."
"See what?" The Captain asked in bewilderment. "Who are you?"
"Oh Yes. Introductions first. Forgive me. My name is Zerrathkal. I am the father of Xenyacath. She was taken by the Borg, you know. Then they said there was a strange ship in the sector that claimed to have a Borg refugee from Trafoil. I am praying she is aboard your ship. Please tell me it is true?" He babbled on.
At last the Captain had something to work with. "We have two people from Trafoil," she offered with a grin. "But we don't know who they were before they were assimilated."
"I have her medical records and a doctor," Zerrathkal responded immediately. "We can do the tests. Please, let us dock. I have to know!"
"We will beam you over," she offered. "Our Doctor will help with the testing. Voyager out!"
She turned and shrugged at Tuvok. "Bring Seven of Seven to my Ready Room. Then escort Zerrathkal up. The Doctor can compare the records while we wait."
Seven of Seven looked up at Captain Janeway, nervously gripping the hand of Fourteen of Twenty-Eight. "You believe you have found my father?"
"We think it is possible. The Doctor is comparing some medical details," the Captain grinned.
"He won't split us up will he?"
The Captain's confident air slammed into a brick wall. "I don't know. Why? Should he?"
"Fourteen is from a different planet. We don't think it is acceptable. Please. You won't let him?" Seven of Seven pleaded.
"What does Fourteen think?"
"If it is permitted I wish to stay with Seven, please, Captain," Fourteen rumbled.
"Well I can't do very much," the Captain pointed out gently. "But I'll help if I can." She placed an encouraging hand upon the young Trafoil's shoulder and squeezed fondly.
Behind them the Doctor entered with Zerrathkal . "I can happily announce that Seven of Seven is Xenyacath ," the Doctor declared standing aside. "Seven of Seven, meet your father, Zerrathkal."
For a moment there was silence as the two Trafoils regarded each other.
Slowly Zerrethkal held out his arms and stepped forward. "Xenyac. I thought I had lost you." He lunged forward and gathered her up in his arms. "They said the Borg ship and its crew had been destroyed, the navy had hunted it down. Your mother and everything and.." he sobbed.
Embarrassed the Captain gripped both the Doctor and Fourteen firmly and marched out of the room to leave them alone.
It was a full forty minutes before the door to the Ready Room opened again to reveal Zerrathkal.
"Thank you, Captain Janeway," he exclaimed and hugged her tightly. "For my daughter. There must be a means to repay you for your great kindness?"
Taken by surprise she attempted to pull away, embarrassed again. Finally she managed to wheeze, "No problem. I think Xenyacath wanted something?"
Zerrathkal released her and turned to regard Fourteen with a more serious face. "Xenyac claims you cared for her after your vessel crashed?"
Fourteen nodded slowly.
"You know she is not of age for another two cycles. Yet she wants you for a mate? And such matches are not normally permitted?"
Again a slow nod.
"You are prepared for the wait?"
"If you were to permit it Master."
The old man nodded solemnly, then grinned. "I need a stockman for the Habero. Would that be adequate employment for the wait?"
A slow grin formed on Fourteen of Twenty-Eight's own face. "Master."
"Excellent. I'm sure things will work out well. I will endeavour to find any of your living relatives."
"I can find similar accommodations for your other Borg, Captain. If that is what they wish. I also owe them a share in my fortune," Zerrathkal turned back to the Captain. "And I know how I can repay you for your kindness. It is Festival on Trafoil. Time of celebration. You and your crew must join me as guests for the festival. I will see to the legal niceties. I will have a docking prepared at the orbital station."
"I don't know," the Captain pondered thoughtfully. "We need to keep going."
Zerrathkal was not going to be deterred. "We have a beautiful planet. Your ship is many cycles from home. Surely you can spare a few tens of days to rest and celebrate my good fortune. Then I can provide supplies to help your journey."
"It's very kind. But.." The Captain began.
"You think I cannot afford my boast?" Zerrathkal challenged laughingly. "I own fourteen industrial plants on Trafoil 3. Forty farm units on 7 and eighty cargo vessels. I am rich. But all I have of value is Xenyac. For the next twenty days, everybody is on holiday, we make Festival and everything is free."
"We'll stay a few days," the Captain agreed. "There are always a few repairs to make."
"You need repair? Good. My yard is at your disposal, after Festival. It is settled," Zerrathkal declared. "Come Xenyac. We make preparations for our guests. Your suitor should come to. We must find a good name for him, in case we cannot find his sires?"
His arm linked in Xenyacath's he stepped for the Turbo Lift, Fourteen of Twenty-Eight following closely, squeezing in beside them.
"Well there at least is a happy ending!" Tom Paris observed from his seat. "Follow them, Captain?"
"It looks like it," the Captain agreed taking her seat. "Carry on Tom. A few days off might do us all some good."
In Sick Bay the Colonel was again attempting to reach Seven of Nine. "Miss Nine, would you permit me to escort you to regeneration?" He asked quietly.
She continued to read the screen in front of her.
"Won't you even acknowledge my presence?" He pleaded.
She did look up then. "Your presence is unnecessary," she informed him. "I do not require regeneration at this time. Captain Janeway has designated security personnel to escort me to Cargo Bay 2. You should attend to your child."
"It's our daughter!"
"Irrelevant. Borg do not have offspring. You will leave now."
The Colonel's shoulders slumped in his defeat. Today had yielded the same response as the day before and the day before that. He grabbed the baby from its cot and a feeding bottle and left silently.
If the Doctor had witnessed the event he would have detained the soldier. The tears rolling down his face were too obvious.
Seven of Nine returned to studying her logs. The content was troubling her. They were undoubtedly factual, just illogical. They told her she had suffered at various times the ailments love and desire, even the comment from the Captain not to try and analyse the feelings made little sense. The Captain was normally quite precise about measuring events. Somewhere there was an error. She was beginning to wonder how far back the error had occurred.
"Please, Ma'am. I need some help." The Colonel's wanderings, daughter in his arms, had led him to Science Lab 1 and the lair of Doctor Erin Hansen, formerly One of Three, Secondary Adjunct to Unimatrix Zero-One.
"The subject?" Doctor Hansen demanded curiously. The Colonel's demeanour, clutching his hat in nervous fingers, was not what she had come to expect.
"Miss Annaka Hansen, Ma'am," he offered. "I want to learn more about her and her parents?"
"You have seen her records?" The Doctor suggested.
"They don't convey feelings, Ma'am."
The Colonel sighed and settled on a table. "Mrs Nine was with me when I delivered a baby on a refugee ship. We only had it for a few hours, but she grew quite attached to that child. Then when she described the first time hers kicked to me, it did something new, or simply grew another inch, I used to laugh at her excitement. She even refused to let the Doctor tell us what sex it was going to be, so she could experience the anticipation," he explained. "There was no detached scientific interest in it, no matter what her logs look like. It was pure wonder and delight. She was a scared at times, granted. Like when it didn't do a double flip for a whole day. She was over the moon to be pregnant, Ma'am. It made her feel human. She was as desperate for that baby as I was. Now we've put the clock back ten years. I want to know how to correct it again."
"You believe I will be of assistance, or that I wish to be. You are irrational, impulsive and emotionally damaged. I consider you inadequate."
"Please, Ma'am," the Colonel pleaded. "I'm not asking for your sympathy. This ship is awash with it and it isn't helpful. I have a daughter without the most important member of her family. Her mother. I'll give up everything for her to have a parent, even more for her to have a mother. If there is anything left after that, then I'll ask for me."
Doctor Hansen still did not look impressed. "Perhaps there is a reason for your problem?" She suggested. "I have reviewed a number of the ships logs. You make suggestions, yet you expect others to carry them out as if they were orders. Borg require explicit orders. Annaka is unable to decipher your suggestions. Perhaps you should order her to care?"
"I have never and will never order Mrs Nine to do anything against her will!" The Colonel protested. "All I want to do is to remind her she wanted to be a mother. That she has become one and before it is too late and my daughter has to make do with me!"
"I am in agreement that the baby's development is in danger, unless it is permitted to enter proper care." Doctor Hansen admitted, "Its well being is also of scientific interest. However I fail to comprehend the value of explaining Annaka's life before assimilation to you."
"Don't know if it will," the Colonel admitted. "But Mrs Nine would have told you, 'a problem shared, is a problem halved'."
"It is an expression she learnt from you," Doctor Hansen observed. "Perhaps you should explain your interaction with Annaka. Where do you wish to start?"
"Perhaps you should feed the baby and return it for regeneration first?" She suggested as the babe started to grizzle.
The Colonel's distressed face softened. "Actually. If you could hold her for a mo. I've got everything we need here, in my pockets?"
He pushed the small bundle into her arms and started to pull baby implements from cavernous pockets.
Lunch time the following day saw a jubilant Voyager crew.
Zerrathkal had been true to his word in arranging freedom for his out of sector visitors to spend time upon Trafoil.
Just for once, there were no essential repairs to be made either. So the Captain, after gentle prompting from Neelix and Chakotay, had agreed to two weeks liberty for the crew.
Thus Captain Janeway was in benevolent mood, as yet another party from Voyager's crew waited patiently to take their place on the transporter to enjoy their good fortune. It allowed her to hide some of her own concerns.
The visit to see Seven of Nine the previous night had rocked her.
Seven of Nine had accused her of being irrational and demanded an explanation of comments she had made years ago. It had ended in an argument, as she had retorted that the errors were Seven of Nine's, not four years ago, but four days ago. The Captain had even tried pleading with her, not that that had ever worked either. In the end she had walked out. Seven of Nine was simply not the Seven of Nine from a week ago, or even four years ago. The Colonel's task looked unsurmountable.
A quick check of the time and she left the Transporter Room, heading for Sick Bay. He had a high hurdle, perhaps he would appreciate some moral support.
The Colonel found the Captain waiting for him when he arrived outside Sick Bay. He slammed to a halt, his foot rising high and crashing to the deck, right hand streaking to the salute. "Ma'am!"
"Stop doing that. Please!" She pleaded.
"The coming to attention and saluting!"
"Ma'am. Regulations require correct address to a senior officer in uniform, Ma'am."
In a fit of temper, she tore her jacket off and threw it to the floor. "Now I'm not in uniform and you can come off your official high horse!" She snapped.
If he relaxed at all, she could not see it. Perhaps the shoulders dropped a little, but he remained silent.
"I want to help," she said quietly.
"Don't know if there is anything you can do, Ma'am," The Colonel observed. "I've even tried talking to Doctor Hansen, just to see if I'm missing something."
"Hansen! What made you go to her for help?" The Captain exclaimed. "She doesn't like you and I know she hasn't been to see Seven."
"Don't like her particularly either," The Colonel admitted. "But she isn't into awkward silences and sympathy either and she told me what she thought of me. Apart from being told I'm second best as both husband and parent. I don't think anything new turned up. I'm giving it until Voyager leaves Trafoil, Ma'am. If I've not got Mrs Nine to accept the baby exists, then I'm staying there."
The comment took a moment to sink in to the Captains mind, then she exploded. "But you don't want to leave Seven!"
"No, Ma'am. I don't. I promised my life to Mrs Nine and I couldn't think of anything then that would make be break that vow," the Colonel admitted bitterly. "But it is a matter of who needs most. If things go badly today, I will have to look after the baby. I can't do that and stay here, it's too dangerous. If there was trouble, I'd have to refuse. That means I will outstay my welcome aboard Voyager. Mrs Nine has all of you to look after her. Perhaps even her mother will take an interest. If I'm out of the way. But I want my baby to be guaranteed at least one parent."
"So you are going to give in?" The Captain snorted. "The man that doesn't know how to lose?"
"I know all about losing," the Colonel assured her miserably. "It happens when you don't know how to win. I lost this battle three months after joining Voyager! This is my last stand. If I fail, then I'll do what I have to do. I'm going to break my word. Not just to Miss Seven of Nine, but to you and Her Majesty. Please don't make it anymore difficult for me? But can't you see. I've got to look after my child?"
The Captain stared thoughtfully up into the pain filled grey eyes of the soldier. Finally she nodded. "I don't think I could stop you," she admitted. "I won't make it difficult. You will do what you think you have to do. But we will miss you. If you have to go. So will Seven when she realises."
"If it's quick, perhaps you could come back, Ma'am?" The Colonel suggested, the tone belying the fact that he thought it unlikely.
He stooped to pick up the Captains jacket, brushed it off and held it out for her to put back on. "Captain is improperly addressed, Ma'am. It will never do. Even in the Royal Navy."
The Captain tried to suppress the grin, as she shrugged her way back into her jacket as the door to Sick Bay opened and they entered.
"Any improvement?" The Captain demanded of the Doctor as the Colonel peered into the alcove containing Seven of Nine.
The Doctor shook his head in the negative.
"Well never mind," the Colonel breathed. "Now I believe you wanted to take Miss Twenty-Eight to see the sights. I think I can hold the fort if you wish?"
"I am not due to.." The Doctor started to protest.
"I'm sure the Captain will correct the roster," the Colonel assured him, gently pushing both the Captain and the Doctor towards the door.
Before either realised the Sick Bay door had closed behind them.
Irritated, the Doctor turned to re-enter to be caught by the Captain. "I think he wants some time with Seven," she suggested quietly. "He is going to make some sort of last attempt with Seven. Take Thirteen of Twenty-Eight out for a few hours. Trafoil is a major cultural centre, you may find some trace of her people. If something comes up the Colonel will call for help."
The Colonel heaved a sigh of relief as the door closed. He was the veritable drowning man grasping for straws. His pride meant he didn't want his last desperate stand witnessed by anybody. He grabbed the baby, bottle and nappy from incubator and headed for Seven of Nine's bay.
Seven of Nine was standing at a console reviewing Astrometrics logs. She looked around at his approach. "Lieutenant-Colonel Samuels. The reason for your presence?" She demanded in annoyance.
"Actually I thought I would spring you from your cell, whilst the Doctor looked after my daughter. Perhaps give you the chance of roaming the ship, possibly even your quarters," the Colonel offered.
"Actually. I still am," he continued. "I've cleared my gear from quarters, so everything is ready for you? Unfortunately the Doctor has been called away. So I hope you won't mind if I bring the babe?"
Seven of Nine considered the statements for a moment. She was finding residence in the Sick Bay restrictive, and the doctor, with his constant measurement of her new Cortical Node, looking for an error that was not present, was becoming irritating. Otherwise the only time the Captain permitted her to leave was for regeneration. "Acknowledged," she accepted almost gratefully.
She pondered some more before observing. "My records show that we have been joined in the act of marriage. There was a reason for this union?"
"You thought you were in love with me," the Colonel answered quietly.
"Love is illogical. Define its purpose?"
"Need," the Colonel suggested. "The need for the comfort and company of somebody that is special to you. The desire for somebody to share what you have with, for good or bad. To make them happy."
"You experienced this need?"
"Give me your left hand," the Colonel ordered softly, by way of answer, placing the baby on the couch beside them.
Silently she proffered the required hand.
He took it gently and slid the wedding ring from her finger, before kissing and releasing it. "I still am," he admitted softly. "I am in love with you, Miss Nine. So much so it hurts. But for the last few days you've made it patently clear that the last thing you want is me, or what we produced. I'm not going to try and hold you in some trap, simply because some computer says we are matched. So I'm releasing you from any promise you've ever made to me."
She watched curiously as from around his neck he withdrew the small leather bag on its string. Carefully he undid the string, threaded the ring on to it, then returned the ensemble back inside his shirt.
"When and if you are ever ready and you want it back. Ask," he said quietly. "You wanted me once. I have never worked out why, but you did. Perhaps one day you'll want us. Until then, you are as free as you were when you left the Collective. Now may I show you to your quarters?"
"Perhaps you could you carry the babe for me?" the Colonel asked, coming to life again. He scooped the baby up and placed it in her arms before she could object. "You carry her. Then I can carry the luggage."
Twelve of Twenty, still resisting the Doctor's and Captain Janeway's offers of removing his Borg implants on religious and ethical grounds, looked out of place almost anywhere, even on Trafoil, where a whole gambit of races lived. He was standing watching web footed creatures paddle on a lake. He did not know what they were and was not particularly interested in them, or the infants feeding them morsels. He was waiting.
His wait ended with a figure appearing beside him. "Your mission was a failure."
"There was insufficient time for the Phalm to develop. The vessel we visited was a success," Twelve of Twenty observed, not looking around to see his acoster. It would have been of little help if he had, the speaker was not so very different in outward appearance to the Trafoil's.
"It was noted in your report," the figure agreed. "There were external factors involved there also. The vessel you arrived on was one. It is possible they are a threat to Brannen."
"They are not interested in Brannen," Twelve of Twenty assured him. "There are technologies aboard Voyager that may be of interest."
"The breeding Borg and its infant. Yes, they are of interest. We will take measures for its procurement. You will return to Voyager and ensure the measures succeed." With that the Branag disappeared, leaving Twelve of Twenty alone again.
Nine of Fourteen darted into an alleyway and examined the contents of his bag with some satisfaction. Despite nearly a year as a Borg and the subsequent conversion back to a Lathran again, he had lost none of the skills bequeathed by a long prehensile tongue and a lizards sharp eye. If anything the eyesight was sharper than before, no doubt because of the artificial eye that had replaced the Borg ocular implant. He doubted if he would have spotted the green Malachite ring in the grass before, which would have been a pity. On some planets the pretty little trinket would fetch an excellent price.
Not that the Trafoil's were a particularly difficult race to steal from. They seemed to delight in leaving valuables around, just waiting to be picked up by the enterprising and observant.
Besides his need was going to be greater than theirs when the 'Family' caught up with him. And they would catch up, Captain Janeway was already negotiating a passage for him with the Lathran Consul and he had seen others of his race on Trafoil. Some were bound to be members, the family all but controlled Lathran from behind their visibly legal trading agreements. Freelancing cost money, or lives, sometimes both.
He was startled from his lugubrious reflections by a shout.
Two humanoids had entered the alley behind him. He knew they were not Trafoils, even in silhouette, with the sun setting behind them, the ears were wrong. It was equally obvious they were not there because they were lost. They were moving purposefully, a few metres apart towards him, effectively blocking the exit. Cautiously he turned and strolled nonchalantly, but quickly, up the alley, hoping to find an opening into which he could dart.
He was out of luck. It was a cul-de-sac and both the doors leading from it were locked. Slowly he turned to face the two trackers. He supposed they could be of the same race as Twelve of Twenty, they bore a similar ridge and boney nose combination. Though why they were following him, he did not know.
The two followers also stopped. "You are Shazzar," one said. "Formerly the Borg drone Nine of Fourteen?"
If Nine of Fourteen had an idea of denying the charge, he was quickly discouraged when both figures brought up small pencil like objects and aimed them at him. Instead he nodded.
"It is wise not to lie as well as steal," the obvious spokesman of the pair continued. "The Lathran Family are not pleased with you. It is said you owe some taxes."
"I'm going to pay!" Nine of Fourteen declared hurriedly.
"It is of no consequence to us. We do not think you can pay the 15,000 Krada's from your small takings today. The contract has been drawn at the usual 10% commission."
"15,000!" Nine of Fourteen swallowed. The amount was more than he could steal in a cycle.
"We can offer you a small contract that will pay your tax and commission?" The spokesman offered conversationally.
"What do I have to do?" Nine asked hurriedly, anxious that a chance to solve his debts in one easy throw should not go astray. Though easy might be too much to hope for from two aliens holding obvious weapons.
"Steal something. It is what you do, so it is a small problem."
"What?" Nine of Fourteen asked in resigned fashion. So far nothing was offering him much future.
"The new child on Voyager and its breeder is of interest. You will obtain it."
"I am not expected to return to Voyager. I have been given quarters in the Consul," Nine of Fourteen quavered. There was also the problem of wresting the child from Colonel Samuels and that would be very dangerous.
"We will arrange for your return. There will be an incident aboard the ship in approximately six clicks. Should you attempt to double cross us," the spokesman slapped a medi-spray against Nine of Fourteen's neck and activated it, then continued mildly, "it will be a painful experience. You will receive the antidote on completion. Leave the alley now and walk towards the carnival."
Not liking anything he had heard so far, Nine of Fourteen complied.
The focal point of the Trafoil Carnival was, effectively, a traveling fair that plied its various constituents between planets taking amusements to all and sundry. Once a cycle it assembled its four thousand attractions together for this one huge celebration. To some it was a strange mixture of old and new, mixing amazing laser and holographic effects, old fashioned carousels and side shows during the day and glorious cabarets through the night. It was the natural convergence point for Voyager's holidaying crew and several knots of them were doing the rounds of what was on offer, generally finding the more childish the attraction the better.
"I think you are supposed to knock the brown balls off of their stands, Harry!" Tom Paris, member of one such knot, laughed, as Harry Kim tried his luck and poor throwing on a shy.
Harry Kim threw his last ball at the array of targets, missing by a good 200mm, then turned on Tom. "I don't think you can do better," he smirked. "I saw you trying to throw a ring around the soft toy."
"It was for B'Elanna!" Tom Paris protested.
"Perhaps we should get her to try?" Kim suggested. "She nearly got you the other day with her mug. Where is she?"
"She wanted to try some of the rides. Claimed she needed to test them with Naomi."
"I'd have thought that was the Neelix's job," Harry Kim grinned.
"He went with her. But you know Neelix. He is scared of thrills?" Tom grinned back. "But perhaps it is time to collect her, then we can find something to eat and perhaps a show?"
They collected both B'Elanna and Neelix from a 'Waltzer', then, with Lieutenant Joe Caerey and Ensign Torrick in tow, they formed a laughing gang of six as they wandered towards the edge of the fair and a small cafe that was doing a roaring trade from the Voyager crew.
It was as they passed out of the strongest lights that they came across the body of Nine of Fourteen. In alarm they glanced around for his attacker before stooping to inspect the ex-Borg.
"Paris to Voyager," Tom Paris whispered. "Medical Emergency. One to Sick Bay. Somebody has stabbed Nine of Fourteen."
"You go on," he urged the others as he dematerialised with the victim. "I'll join you later."
"Where's the Doc?" Tom demanded on arriving aboard Voyager and finding only the Colonel and Nine of Fourteen in Sick Bay.
"Gone courting," the Colonel responded, grappling with the regenerator. "Do you know who stuck Mr Fourteen?"
"No. We just found him."
"Well whoever it was, he was an amateur of the worst water," the Colonel offered, giving a professional opinion. "See, short blade and they just jammed it in under the shoulder," he pointed out the small entry wound just below Nine of Fourteen's left shoulder blade. "It bleeds, but not 'life threatening' as such. Probably hurt though. We'll find out in a mo'. Can I leave you to wake him up? Mrs Nine has run off with the babe and it is coming upto feeding time again."
"Yeah sure!" Tom agreed good naturedly, picking up a medi-spray. "You getting to her?"
"Probably not," the Colonel admitted. "She protested quite noisily about being left with the baby when I got the call. So I'd better rescue the perisher."
In fact Seven of Nine had been vociferous in her complaints about a number of things in her quarters. Like the combined cot and regenerator that had been set up in one corner. Her opinion of the wallpaper that the Colonel had decorated that corner of the room in, was also harsh. In the end he had removed it.
"Please! No!" Nine of Fourteen screamed as he awoke, then settled again as Tom Paris gripped his arm.
"You're okay. You're aboard the ship. You're safe here."
Nine of Fourteen settled back as his memory returned. They had been correct about returning him to Voyager. Any doubts he may have had, about them not carrying out their threats and tracking him were also dissipated. Now he had to find the baby and quickly, before the other measures hinted at came into action.
Silently he took a medical spray from the trolley beside the bed and slipped quietly behind Tom Paris.
"Hey! What are you doing?" Tom exclaimed turning around.
Too late, Nine of Fourteen had slapped the spray against his neck and activated it.
Tom Paris slumped to the deck.
Quickly Nine of Fourteen pulled the unconscious form into a bay and secured him to a couch before slipping from Sick Bay.
From the weapons locker he selected a phasor and set off for Seven of Nine and the Colonel's quarters.
The small warning light went unnoticed by the small maintenance crew in Engineering for several minutes, until the sharp eyes of Vorik noticed a tell tale reading. "Increase cooling to of the Anti-Matter plasma containment coils," he demanded, his mind skimming through frequently read procedures. "Check for system error," he added. The containment field generators should not be causing problems. But a few precautions worked well.
"No effect, Lieutenant. Temperature is rising. No system errors reported."
"Transfer anti-matter to secondary containment," Vorik continued, manual still firmly in mind.
"Transfer system's not responding. Backup is down. Trying to bypass."
Vorik's Vulcan mind raced, this was not in the standard manuals and improvisation was not his strong point. The meter was starting to show an in-execrable climb into the danger zone. If lack of cooling caused the containment to fail, anti-matter would escape. The result would be devastating. Not just to Voyager but the planet as well.
"Engineering to Bridge!"
Tuvok listened to the young Vulcan Engineer in silence and made his own decisions. "Break orbit, ahead one half impulse," he ordered quietly of the Ensign at the helm. "Lieutenant Vorik you will attempt to vent antimatter plasma once Voyager is out of the system. I will also remain. All others abandon ship."
The alarm sounding, prompted the Colonel to leap to his feet. "Come on!" he urged, holding out a hand to help Seven of Nine to her feet. "That doesn't sound good. Grab the babe and stay close behind. I'll make sure you get in a pod."
He opened the door and found himself face to face with the waiting Nine of Fourteen, who, before the Colonel could recover from his surprise, shot him with his phasor.
The sight of the Colonel crumpling in the doorway brought Seven of Nine up short, then she backed away slowly as Nine of Fourteen stepped over the heap.
"The ship is about to fail," Seven of Nine observed. "We should make for the escape capsules. Or we will perish."
"I don't think that will happen," Nine of Fourteen stated. "I have friends. You will carry the baby," he added, waving the phasor threateningly. "If you attempt to escape, I will shoot you. Sit down. We will wait until the crew have evacuated."
In engineering Twelve of Twenty ensured his deception would not be found, for a while at least. Laying the unconscious engineer carefully behind a console.
Attaching the system jamming device inside an inspection hatch had proven easier than he had imagined possible. The three man maintenance crew had happily accepted his offer to help in their rounds. He had then simply slipped out of sight, when they noticed that something was going wrong.
He had expected a general evacuation, but not that the ship would be taken out of orbit. Though that was a benefit. The interception would be less risky.
Now content, he slipped from Engineering and headed for the transporter room, calling for the baby to be delivered there by his accomplice.
On the Bridge, Tuvok was still unaware of what was occurring on the lower decks. Only that Voyager was now a safe distance from any planets to start releasing anti-matter plasma, if needed. The engineering repeaters on the Bridge suggested that the situation had stabilised. The temperatures were dangerous, but no longer climbing. Lieutenant Vorik had been supplying an almost continuous report of what he was trying, the results and the results of testing Tuvok's own suggestions, but there had been nothing from Engineering for over half an hour. He could only assume that Lieutenant Vorik, had found a means to start to bring things under control and was simply too busy to respond. Tuvok, in the meanwhile, had had his own problems.
Like informing the Captain that her ship was in danger of blowing up.
Captain Janeway had taken the news remarkably well, Tuvok decided. Secretly, he suspected that Chakotay had been holding her down after the third exclamation, or else she would have demanded more forcefully to be beamed back to the ship. She was now racing around Trafoil, collecting her crew and begging a ship so that she could attempt to reclaim Voyager.
The second problem was the ship that was taking station with Voyager. It was not a recognisable vessel and was ignoring his repeated warnings of the danger it was entering. Scans of the vessel showed an inferior weapons and sensor system to Voyager's own, not that it mattered with only two crew aboard. Dark feelings of piracy loomed large on the mind.
Still watching the unidentified vessel, Tuvok tried to obtain a status report.
Receiving no reply was disconcerting. Instead he tried the computer.
"Lieutenant Vorik is in Engineering."
An indicator lit on the console. "Who has transported from the ship?" Tuvok demanded.
"Seven of Nine plus two other life forms."
"Identify crew complement and location?" Tuvok could feel the confusion descending upon him. He and Vorik were supposed to be the only crew aboard.
"Crew compliment five. Lieutenant-Commander Tuvok, Bridge. Lieutenant Vorik, Engineering. Lieutenant Paris, Tom, Sick Bay. Lieutenant-Colonel Samuels, Deck Three. Ex-Borg drone, Nine of Fourteen, Transporter Room 2," the computer helpfully catalogued.
From the fog of confusion a dim light of realisation started to dawn, if not answers. Tuvok headed for the door.
"Hold still! I'm not finished with this!" Tom Paris scolded, waving the regenerator in front of the Colonel.
"Hold still be damned!" The Colonel spat, struggling into a sitting position. "Where's that bastard Nine of Fourteen. I'm going to wring his ruddy neck!"
"Tuvok's got him, over there," again Tom waved the regenerator, this time in the direction of the Sick Bay office.
Silently the Colonel stood and staggered in the direction that Tom Paris had indicated, ignoring the Lieutenant's protestations and holding his chest gingerly where the phasor had struck. Entering the office he caught hold of the ex-Borg and slammed him hard against the wall, bringing his forearm up to pin him by the throat. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't rip you into pieces?" he hissed, his face less than 300mm from the drones.
"The use of violence will not solve the problem," Tuvok intercepted. "Nine of Fourteen has confessed to his part in the kidnap."
"So I can hang him?" The Colonel snapped, lifting the struggling ex-Borg from the deck.
"There is no statute for that punishment," Tuvok observed. "You will stand down."
"Watch me. I'll hang him."
"You will stand down!" Tuvok repeated, bringing his phasor up. "We will require Nine of Fourteen's assistance. If we are to recover Seven of Nine."
The Colonel dropped Nine of Fourteen and glared at Tuvok, then at the phasor as he calculated the probability of the Vulcan using the weapon. It was high, he decided. As were the signs of the Vulcan increasing the power of the weapon to the maximum permitted aboard ship.
Behind him Nine of Fourteen began to speak. "I was told to steal the baby," he whined. "They injected me with something to force me to do it. They promised to supply an antidote and clear things with the family. I know who they are and where they'll go. I was double crossed! Please! They are going to kill me!"
"Well the good news is they won't kill you," the Colonel assured him turning back and lifting the drone to his feet again by the collar. "I am! I can do it very painfully, or very quick. Now who are they?"
"They must be Branags," Nine of Fourteen gabbled. "They are experts in genetic manipulation. It's why they are all so different, The one that stabbed me looked like a Trafoil! They want a Borg, they genetically build one. They want the baby's nanoprobes! Please! I'll help! Just don't kill me!"
"Then we had better get after them," the Colonel growled, the voice quiet and full of promise. "But cross me. Then the first to get it will be you. Understand?"
Nine of Fourteen nodded vigourously.
"We are unable to pursue them at this time," Tuvok observed calmly. "There is insufficient crew to operate this ship."
"Don't see a problem," the Colonel hissed. "Lieutenant Paris, drives. Lieutenant Vorik, keeps the shovelling coal at the engines. Mr Fourteen here navigates. It leaves you to fire a whizz bang or two and me to do anything that is against your gentle and logical nature. No great problem considering the alternatives."
"There are no alternatives," Tuvok argued. "We have insufficient resources to overwhelm their ship."
"By the time there is enough crew for you to feel safe, Mrs Nine and my daughter could be anywhere in the Sector and dead. The alternative is I break your neck now and go after them. I am looking for the lives of my wife and daughter. What happens to Voyager is irrelevant," the Colonel snapped. "We go after them. Now! Come along Mr Paris. Mr Vorik is vertical and doesn't have to go far." He grabbed the Commander by the arm and propelled him toward the door.
Seven of Nine glanced around as she materialised aboard an unknown vessel. It seemed a reasonable assumption that the vessel was not as advanced as Voyager. Twelve of Twenty had made Nine of Fourteen operate Voyager's transporter to bring them here and there appeared to be no similar device present. The large room they had been transported to was also poorly lit, though she could clearly see the weapons that were being touted by the six people that were waiting for them. The poor lighting also failed to disguise that they all appeared to be from different races.
She had contemplated attempting to escape from Nine of Fourteen whilst they had been enroute to the Transporter Room. It would have been easy enough. He had clearly been nervous, frequently looking around for threats. She wondered if he believed some of the outrageous stories aboard Voyager regarding the Colonel's recuperative abilities. Certainly there was little reason to fear what remained of Voyagers crew. They were either busy trying to save the ship, or had already abandoned the ship to its supposed fate. In the end she had rejected the idea. It was unlikely she would have got far with the baby in her arms.
Finally she turned on Twelve of Twenty. "Who are you? Why have we been brought here? Why did you leave Nine of Fourteen?" She demanded. "He is your accomplice."
Twelve of Twenty shrugged but said nothing. Instead a swarthy figure spoke. "He had served his purpose. We needed an agent to assist in the acquisition. Your Borg technology is of interest to us. We will examine you later. Remove her to the holding unit."
"You would be wise not to resist. We can obtain enough probes from your dead body to ensure the survival of the infant for an adequate period," he added as Twelve of Twenty pushed Seven of Nine forward. "Leave the infant. You will not need it."
"You were Borg and rescued by Voyager," Seven of Nine argued with Twelve of Twenty as he pushed her into a small cell. "Who are you. Why are you repaying them by stealing the baby?"
"I was never a Borg," Twelve of Twenty admitted from the doorway. "I am Branag. I was modified to appear as one to all but the closest examination to test a genetic weapon. My mission failed. The baby's implants and nanoprobes are unique. They will assist in our own genetic improvements. As will yours."
"Harm to the baby is liable to a violent response from Voyager," Seven of Nine called back in alarm. The door between them rolled shut, closing off her protestations, leaving her to study her small surrounds.
It quickly became evident that escape was not going to be viable from this cell, so she settled in to an easy stance to await the outcome.
In the few hours she had allowed herself to be in close contact with the baby, she had discovered a number of things, both about the baby and herself. It was not a monster, in fact it looked remarkably fragile. It was bewitching her and she was falling into the spell of wishing to care for it. Some annoying part of her mind was allowing her to do so, undoubtedly the biological part. It was also making her concerned for what the Branag's were doing to it.
"Fascinating! Most instructional!"
"The subject, Kathalaw," Professor Hynn explained to his young female assistant, indicating the display panel of the machinery. For the last five hours he had been examining a sample of the baby's blood. "As you know. We have nine distinct blood cells," Hynn continued, the crest running down the back of his neck glowing white with enthusiasm. "Three more than most organics, because of our improvements to our genetic structure. They make us almost immune to most infections, allow us to breath in both Methane and Oxygen based atmospheres and so on. Borg, normally carry some three million nanoprobes, in a mixture of three basic patterns in their systems, in addition to their native cells. The ratio's depending upon their function. Some repair their implants, others for assimilation, some for monitoring and suppressing natural reactions."
"And the child carries more?" Kathlaw suggested quickly to overcome the threatening lecture on advanced pathology. "Perhaps they will help stabilise our genetic structure?"
"Wrong! It has combined them into six enhanced bio-mechanical cells," Hynn put her down firmly, ignoring the question. "Each of the four natural cells contains a nanoprobe core that enhances its performance. The two other types are mechanical, but with a biologically enhanced power source. Now watch. If I drop an equal volume of its feeding material in to the phial. You will also notice that the parents probes present in the feed are typical Borg pattern?"
"But they are being overwhelmed!" Kathlaw exclaimed, peering at the screen as two miniscule armies went to war for her amusement.
"They are being assimilated to produce more probes," Professor Hynn observed patiently. "However, the infants are modifying the organic matter for use also. It is this facet that is particularly interesting in the new Borg technology. They are capable of building organic tissue. A physical laceration to the baby is healed in a few minutes, far faster than natural means. These tests suggest that the subjects immune system is far more efficient and less susceptible to Borg mechanical assimilation. If we used them as the core of our biological weapons they would be almost impossible to overcome. We need to test them on a larger scale. We will test them on the female drone."
"If we destroy the drone we will no longer have a source of probes for the baby, Hynn Professor," Kathlaw observed. "There would be benefits to the Branag Breeding Centre?"
The professor looked surprised. "Of course," he accepted mildly. "We will find another subject. Perhaps one will appear, or we can use you. In the meantime we will acquire a stock of probes from the drone and carry out some comparative tests. Fetch the drone."
"You are becoming attached to the test subject," He observed as Kathlaw turned to arrange for the transport of Seven of Nine. "It would be an error on your part. It is there for our use. It will die eventually."
"Of course not, Hynn Professor," Kathlaw refuted quickly, glad that she did not posses the Professors Gornadd war crest. "It is my duty to keep specimens alive for as long as possible."
"I have observed you are spending an unusual amount of time caring for the specimen? You do not have sympathies with the Naturelles?"
"No! It benefits from close contact, Hynn Professor."
Seven of Nine inspected the apparatus she was expected to lay herself upon with some sceptisim. "I do not require to be reclined to administer nanoprobes for the baby's feed," she opined stoutly.
"It is for safety," Professor Hynn offered. "We wish to conduct some comparative tests."
"I do not wish to be the subject of 'tests'," Seven of Nine stated. "You will release both the child and myself."
"To whom?" Twelve of Twenty mocked quietly in her ear. "By the time your vessel has sufficient crew to get underway we will have disappeared. Your only hope of survival is to cooperate."
He pushed her forward roughly, forcing her to grasp the couch. "Lay on it," he demanded. "Comply."
"I refuse!" Seven of Nine twisted, trying to release her arm from Twelve of Twenty's grip and succeeded in striking him a wild blow to the chest plate. He staggered, but held on. Struggling to force her onto the couch, using his greater weight to push her down.
Even so, it might have gone badly for him. Seven of Nine managing to lever his hands away from her shoulders; Had not the Professor lent a hand, snatching up a hypospray and jammed it into the sinews of her neck. Seven of Nine's muscles went limp as the sedative did its work and Twelve of Twenty finally managed to slide her powerless body onto the slab and snap the restraints down.
"We will have to wait for the sedative to wear off!" Professor Hynn fumed, turning away in disgust. "Kathlaw. You will advise me when it has recovered."
It was nearly an hour later that Seven of Nine recovered enough to take some interest in her surrounds again. She found that her assimilation lines had been extended and the female assistant, Kathlaw was gently releasing nanoprobes from them into a phial.
"Desist," Seven of Nine demanded weakly. "Removal of nanoprobes will affect my ability to recover."
"We need them to feed the infant. It must survive," Kathlaw said apologetically. "You would not wish your infant to suffer."
"The fate of the infant is of importance to some," Seven of Nine admitted guardedly.
"But not to you?" Kathlaw challenged in surprise.
Seven of Nine considered the challenge before venturing, "I am uncertain. Its survival appears to have an effect on personal events."
"But you gave birth to it!" Kathlaw protested. "Didn't you want it?"
"I was defective."
"What was it like?" Kathlaw asked hopefully. "Being pregnant?"
"It interfered with efficiency," Seven of Nine reported with certainty. "You will undoubtedly find this, should you also give birth."
Kathlaw shook her head sadly. "We are unable to breed naturally. We have modified our genetic structure so widely that breeding causes unstable mutations. Offspring have to be genetically developed."
"It is efficient," Seven of Nine suggested. "The Borg use a similar means to develop infants when they are assimilated."
"You are as bad as the Hynn Professor!" Kathlaw exploded in frustration. "All he ever thinks of is creating the ultimate weapon to defeat our enemies. But nobody knows who our enemies are anymore!"
Seven of Nine looked confused. "Explain?"
"How many people have you seen aboard this ship?" Kathlaw asked.
"And how many races?"
"But they are all the same race. Branag!" Kathlaw hissed desperately. "Yes. They look like Trafoils, Borg, Carracks and any one of 500 other races. But they were bred in vats on Brannen. If our scientists see another race that has a potentially useful genetic faculty, then they genetically recreate them in us. I'm a Branag genetic construction of a Thorran, a race with a high abstract intelligence quotient. Hynn Professor is a Gornnadd mixed with the genes of a Thorran. The ultimate in scientific knowledge blended with a genetic xenopath, created for the express purpose of creating the ultimate in genetic weapons. He is good at it too. We have weapons that can destroy Borg ships. Even your own, despite the fact your weapons look technically more destructive, because they won't realise how they are being attacked until their ship disintegrates."
There was silence as both considered the prospect.
"If you do not agree, why assist?" Seven of Nine demanded eventually.
"Because it is our only chance. Eventually something will be found that will help Branags. Because I was bred to assist Hynn Professor."
"Hynn professor wants to test your baby's nanoprobes on you," Kathlaw said softly after a few minutes reflective silence. "He thinks they will destroy you. He is very rarely wrong. But that would mean the baby will perish as well, because we cannot create nanoprobes."
"Why are you telling me this?" Seven of Nine asked warily.
Kathlaw bent close to Seven of Nine's ear. "I am a member of an organisation that is trying to find a way of letting us live naturally. They call us Naturelles, because we want to breed naturally," she whispered. "Please. I wish you no harm. But your baby might be the key to helping us to find a way to stabilise our genetic structure. I've seen how the baby's nanoprobes can modify and stabilise the natural structure of existing cells in the Hynn Professor's tests. They may do the same for us. But without the baby surviving I cannot get enough of the nanoprobes for my organisation to test. If I help you stay alive, will you help me to get some nanoprobes home?"
"Agreed. You should attempt to contact Voyager," Seven of Nine suggested. "They will be attempting to trace me."
Kathlaw's attitude switched quickly as Professor Hynn rejoined them in high spirits. "As I suspected," he chortled happily. "The addition of nanoprobes to the embrionic enzimes of the Phalm mix has shown a 25% increase in development. You have a new supply of nanoprobes for the baby to adapt, Kathlaw? We need a good supply. The Borg's ship is following us. They are unlikely to attack with only a handful of crew, but they can test the modified weapon for us!"
Kathlaw help up a phial to the light and shook it gently. "About half, say four Keps" she admitted. "But we'll need them for the baby. The drug has slowed the production of nanoprobes, Hynn Professor. The Borg will require more time to recover."
"Quite," the Professor accepted. "I'll keep some to keep the baby happy. Say one Kep. You may decant that much into a syringe?"
"Yes, Hynn Professor," Kathlaw accepted meekly, reaching for a medical syringe.
Captain Janeway regarded her Chief of Security frostily.
It had taken her nearly an hour to gather her crew, then another thirty minutes to find a ship. The latter had been aided by Zarathkal offering his own yacht. She had been annoyed then, but had eventually accepted that the Vulcans actions were correct, considering the danger the ship and Trafoil were in.
That was before she knew of Voyager's other troubles.
Now she was livid. Tuvok could tell, her lips had narrowed to the merest line of pink. "You mean these people simply appeared and stole Seven and the baby and you did nothing?"
"We were not capable of responding, Captain," Tuvok argued calmly.
"And now. Why are you chasing them?"
The conference call had been Tuvok's idea, hoping that the Captain would be able to persuade Colonel Samuels to await the arrival of reinforcements, before attempting to overwhelm the alien vessel. It was a mistake. The Captain's visage now dominating the central screen of the Bridge, was if anything less in control of her emotions than the Colonel.
"Nine of Fourteen has supplied limited tactical details of the Branag, Ma'am," the Colonel chimed in. "It appears Twelve of Twenty was a spy, engaged in testing a genetic based anti-Borg weapon."
Tuvok glared at him. Until now the Colonel had been quietly sat at the back of the Bridge. The accouterments of primitive warfare laying beside him, taking little interest in the proceedings as he slowly and meticulously slid a stone along the edge of his bayonet, seeking that impossibly fine edge. The sight was unnerving, even to a Vulcan. In Tuvok's experience, humans tended to pace when they were impatient or nervous. The Colonel's actions were ominous. He had decided what was going to be done and nothing would deflect him. His input now would inflame the Captain.
"It is distinctly possible they may try to conduct similar experiments upon Seven of Nine and my daughter, Ma'am."
The Captain shuddered visibly, as the horror in the suggestion struck her.
"There is no reason to suppose a civilised race will conduct such experiments!" Tuvok protested.
"Of course not," the Colonel accepted sarcastically. "The fact that one may look like a Trafoil, another like a Borg, they injected Nine of Fourteen with some sort of virus and have kidnapped my wife and child, has nothing to do with them being insane despots. Wake up and smell the humus, Commander. They haven't take them for an intensive course in flower arranging!"
"I agree," the Captain accepted quickly. "What are your intentions. Can you get them back safely?"
"Or everybody goes with me, Ma'am," the Colonel promised.
"We have them on long range sensors," Tuvok attempted to reason. "We do no believe they are aware of our presence. We can maintain contact until suitable reinforcements arrive."
"We are a good five hours behind," the Captain observed impatiently, "and apart from personal weapons the ship is unarmed. The Trafoil Navy is at least another two hours behind us and may not catch us at all."
"Voyager would be capable of disabling the vessel," Tuvok assured her.
"Unless they reach where they are going," Tom Paris interjected quietly.
"Then finding Mrs Nine and baby will be impossible," the Colonel opined. "I will get aboard that ship, whether I'm helped or not. They can surrender, or I'll cut a path through. Don't care which. I'll get Mrs Nine and my daughter out."
"You will not be able to overwhelm their crew," Tuvok repeated stubbornly.
The Colonel glared at him. "Over there, in the corridors, I outnumber them 600 to 1. Everybody I hear and see is a target and I've 600 personal scores to settle. They haven't got that luxury. They've got to check before shooting, or they are doing my job for me. And I'm not squeamish using this on anybody!" The blade so carefully pushed into its holder a few moments before, flashed and reappeared less than an inch in front of the Vulcan's face.
The Captain could read the danger signs, even from the small viewscreen. She shivered again. If she let him loose without some control, there was going to be a massacre. "Okay," she said quickly. "How long do you need?"
It was a stupid question and she kicked herself for asking.
"As long as it takes to find the last one and persuade them not to fight," the Colonel snapped, supplying the dutiful stupid answer.
"I'm not having a massacre, Colonel," the Captain snapped. "You can attempt to rescue them. But no more than minimal force. If you won't accept that, then Tuvok and Tom will detain you. If you try and harm them, then you will not be able to find the other ship, let alone rescue Seven. Do I make myself clear?"
"Combatants and threats only. Rules of Engagement noted, Ma'am," the Colonel muttered. "Just remember they may make the same mistake as the Vulcan. Thinking I'm out numbered."
"This is what you will do," the Captain instructed, not entirely reassured by the Colonel's muttered acceptance. He was likely to be liberal in his interpretation. "Take Voyager in and disable their shields and weapons. If you can identify Seven and the baby, beam them out and disable their ship for the authorities. If not, the Colonel goes in to keep them safe. Tuvok, you had better go with him to try and control him. Tom, once they've beamed across, move Voyager to a safe distance and wait for their call to fetch them. You will have to take the pilots seat from Tom, Colonel, until ready to transfer. Tuvok will need help from Operations for weapons, shields, sensors and transporters. When everything is secure Voyager collects. Take a transporter beacon. Any questions?"
"If the ship is damaged it will not be able to assist further without additional crew to carry out repair," Tuvok observed.
The Captain grinned evilly. "Don't get damaged."
"I'll not need you, Commander," the Colonel whispered as the Captain's face disappeared. "If you get in my way, you will get hurt."
"The Captain's orders were explicit," Tuvok reminded. "I will accompany you. You should take the place of Lieutenant Paris. We will be in a position to engage shortly."
"Keep her on this course," Tom Paris recommended, releasing his seat to the Colonel. "Notch the power up a step or two and we'll catch them smoothly."
The Captain stared at her blank screen for several moments as she came to terms with what she had ordered and the dangers that faced her ship and crew.
She had ordered her ship into battle, without enough crew to operate between planets, without being there to judge the situation for herself, but on the recommendations of a man with enough personal involvement to be regarded as unstable.
If Voyager was lost, then her crew would be stranded in the Delta Quadrant. Then she realised if she had been there she would have ordered exactly the same thing and would have led the charge, probably with less chance of success. It would also have been for exactly the same reasons as well and nothing to do with Star Fleet philosophies.
She rose slowly and left. Zarrathkal would probably not be entirely happy about taking his ship into a war zone. She might have to break a few more regulations to get it there in time.
She suddenly envied the Colonel. His rules and regulations were stricter, but far less restrictive and just at the moment she doubted whether he cared about them.
"I've found Seven," Tom Paris reported thirty minutes later. "Quite a few others. But there is no trace of the baby."
"That is my jump off point," the Colonel called from his seat at the front.
"They have detected us," Tuvok observed. "Their shields and weapons are powering up. Prepare for evasive manoeuvres. Use avoidance pattern Omega Delta."
"Dive, roll right, then turn hard left," Tom clarified, as four red orbs arced from the target. "They are firing. Probably spatial charges."
The orbs bloomed into dirty grey clouds as they detonated well ahead of the ship.
"If that is the height of their reliability then I'm not worrying," the Colonel muttered as Voyager plunged through the smoke.
Four more orbs launched in their direction and again they exploded well short of Voyager. As did the third salvo.
"If I didn't know better. I'd say somebody has sabotaged their weapons," Tom Paris suggested brightly. "This is going to be easy."
It was then that the Operations Panel went haywire. "We're losing shields!" He yelled in alarm. "Diverting emergency power!"
"Modulate frequencies on a random pattern," Tuvok ordered.
"Trying. Reversed the polarity as well," Tom hissed. "But its no good. We are still losing them!"
"Tuvok to Engineering. Reasoning for loss of power to shields?" Tuvok demanded.
"Unknown, Commander," Vorik reported. "Power is being passed to the Shield Generators."
"Would it have something to do with that?" The Colonel asked, pointing at the screen.
A blue bloom had formed on the screen and was appreciably increasing in size as they watched. With rapid fingers, Tuvok bent the sensor suite upon the phenomenum. "It is a primitive life form," he declared at last. "It appears to be feeding off the power supplied to the shields."
"Great. What are you going to do about it?" The Colonel demanded.
"Uncertain," Tuvok confessed. "The creature will need to be studied. We will break off pursuit until a solution can be found. The shields may fail before we are able to attack the Branag vessel."
"We aren't breaking off," the Colonel snapped.
"The Captains instructions were."
"To get us aboard that ship," the Colonel turned in his seat in a flash of fury. "Remember I can see the buggers now. I don't need whining Vulcans to tell me which way to go, just to get me aboard."
"Your attitude will not save Seven of Nine!" Tuvok protested.
"I am in the drivers seat," the Colonel observed hotly. "I'll resist any attempt to get me out of it. But I'll try to miss their whizzbangs. Will that do you?"
"Very well," Tuvok agreed slowly. "Your insubordination will be recorded."
"If it will make you happy," the Colonel agreed. "I'll put myself in your custody. But afterwards. Now do your job, Commander. Take your potshot and get their shields off-line. Then I can do mine."
"We've lost all shields," Tom Paris ventured. He had spent the moments of the confrontation attempting to become invisible as the Colonel's anger crackled around the Bridge. He had no doubts about the outcome of any confrontation if it boiled over and was afraid to be in range of the explosion. "The 'life form' is starting to attack the structural shields."
Tuvok dragged himself back to his displays. "It may be too late to nullify the effects of the life form with our limited resources," he admitted. "We will have to find a remedy aboard the Branag ship. I will target their shield emitters."
Professor Hynn was less than happy.
The old Phalm missiles had worked. Voyager had sailed unknowingly through the debris as they were intended to and the Phalm was feeding off her shields as intended, growing exponentially as power to the shields was increased. In a matter of hours it would be of a size to crush both the shields and hull. But from there is was going wrong.
To start, Voyager was not behaving as normally expected of an enemy ship.
Normally, ships that found their shields going down for unknown reasons withdrew. Voyager had not and was still approaching. She would be in range of Hynn's own ship in a few seconds.
The next problem were the nanoprobes. The three Keps of nanoprobe solution Kathlaw had decanted from Seven of Nine, had allowed him to breed more of the ultra fine nanoprobes. But they had not developed as quickly as he had expected. Quite simply the stock that had been developed in phials did not show the same level of industry as nanoprobes fresh from the baby.
In desperation he had drawn new supplies and the child screamed its disapproval. The quantities were not enough to prime a missile and he was frantically mixing the fresh supplies with bred stock in a desperate attempt to perk the mixture up. The nanoprobe enriched Phalm's, he confidently predicted, would achieve the same effects of the older weapons in minutes.
The lights flickered, a sure sign that the ships power systems were being interrupted by power being drawn for weapons and shields. Obviously Voyager had commenced its attack. It was too late for creating new long range tactical weapons. Professor Hynn sighed and began downloading data to pods ready for ejection.
"Breach Deck 8!" Tom screamed. The Bragan vessel was not being as defenceless as he had so confidently predicted and whilst Colonel Samuels had not left Voyagers vulnerable areas open to serious damage, without the main defence shields every strike was scoring damage.
"Sorry about that," the Colonel apologised, too cheerfully for Tom Paris. "But somethings bent here. The ship keeps wanting to roll left."
"Lateral stabilisers are off-line," Tuvok corrected, launching a third phasor salvo. "Seal Deck 8. Their shields are down. You may commence transport."
"Don't forget the rest of my kit!" The Colonel demanded as the transport caught hold.
Being beamed from a chair was a mistake. As he materialised the Colonel was struggling to maintain his balance. He failed and fell backwards, losing his phasor in the process.
It did mean that when the security guard fired his weapon, the beam whisked harmlessly over his head.
The Colonel rolled desperately to his feet and lunged at the guard, taking him in a rugby tackle, arms around his waist, ramming them both firmly against the wall.
The guard struck back with a blow that struck hard between the shoulders, winding him and forcing him to the deck. The Colonel rolled quickly, only then did he realise what he was facing. The guard was a Hinari of similar size to Thirteen of Twenty-Eight. He had heard of the Hinari from Seven of Nine, apparently tough and competent in hand to hand fights.
He rolled hard again as a foot came crashing down, finally making enough ground to regain his feet and check for other dangers.
There was a figure cowering at the back of the room, clutching his baby to her, Seven of Nine was on a table and the Hinari look alike was coming for him, but otherwise they were alone.
The Colonel ducked as the guard took a swing, then launched himself upwards, bringing both hands together in a crashing blow that located under the guards chin, sending him stumbling back. He followed on immediately, the sole of his boot taking the guards knee, forcing him to topple.
Blowing hard the Colonel stepped back and watched in surprise as his foe started to rise, almost anything else would have been out for the count. He went in again with a kick to the face and found his foot caught and pulled from under him. He lashed out with the free boot as he fell, catching his victims face.
Free again he paddled backwards, but not quick enough to avoid the guard lunging on top of him to grasp him in a bear hug and stagger to his feet, lifting the soldier off the ground like a rag doll, crushing him. The Colonel responded by jamming his thumbs into his opponents eyes. With a scream of agony the guard dropped him again. He did not see his aggressor coming for him, until the foot caught his knee and he crashed to the deck. Before he could move the Colonel had stamped on the small of his back and was dragging his head back, the blade of a knife pressing against his throat.
"I've been told I have to give you a chance to surrender. Would you like to surrender?" He gasped. "I assure you I know a lot of very dirty moves. Or perhaps I can slit your throat?"
"I'll take that as a yes," the Colonel suggested, smashing the head down on the deck until it stopped struggling.
Unsteadily he rose to his feet and kicked the unconscious form to make sure. "Who's next?"
He spotted Kathlaw, baby still in her arms and cowering beside the door.
"Put the baby down. Now!" He yelled, rising to his feet, ready to spring.
"Do not harm her!" Seven of Nine called urgently. "She will not harm the infant!"
"Please! I was feeding it!" Kathlaw begged. "See?" She held up a feeding bottle. "I wouldn't harm her. Please! Ask Seven of Nine?"
"I suggest you put the baby down very carefully love?" The Colonel recommended again, "and come away from the door!" He stooped and recovered the hand phasor he had dropped when he fell and coughed violently, spitting a little blood on the deck. The Hinari had done some damage.
Behind him Tuvok appeared alongside the Colonel's equipment.
"Panic over, Commander. The nasty has had his go and I haven't killed him," the Colonel commented easily waving in the direction of the fallen Brannen. "Doubt he'll wake for a while, or he'll see too good when he does. Can we go while we're ahead?"
"The ships transporters are operating on limited power due to the effects of the organism," Tuvok observed. "It was the reason for my delay. We require a solution to the problem before we return."
"You have been damaged?" He continued as the Colonel coughed again, with another dollop of bloody phlegm.
"Not badly," the Colonel assured him. "It doesn't hurt. Henry there shook us about too much, that's all." He turned to face Kathlaw. "Who do we see to get the medicine?"
"There is no antidote to a Phalm," Kathlaw explained warily. "Your ship will be destroyed within a few hours."
The Colonel picked up his equipment. "Time to create one then. Who do we see?" He asked casually.
"Only Hynn Professor could create one in the time. But he won't!"
"Oh? Won't he? We'll have to convince him then. Won't we?" The Colonel snapped back. "Lead us to your professor. Come along ladies and gentleman. Miss Nine if you could bring the baby." He caught Kathlaw by the arm and pushed her towards the door. "And don't think you're safe yet," he whispered.
"But there will be guards and crew!" Kathlaw protested.
"If we meet any. I suggest you duck. Quickly."
In the event the short journey up the corridor to Professor Hynn's laboratory was uneventful. Tuvok, at least was grateful. Whilst his phasor was set for heavy stun, as per Star Fleet Regulation, he was certain that the Colonel's was not, and the projectile weapon he still preferred to the phasor did not have that option. The Colonel's bland assurance that less than one quarter of those shot actually died was of limited comfort. It was a primitive and uncontrolled form of warfare that rankled with his logical and generally peaceful Vulcan philosophy. Nor was he convinced that the Colonel was entirely in control of himself, or, if he, Tuvok, could, or should, attempt to stop him if he ran amok.
The laboratory was devoid of recognisable life forms. One wall was racked with a score of large tanks all filled with bubbling fluids in various shades of red, blue and green. The other walls being littered with all the laboratory equipment necessary for mixing and testing chemicals.
"Well where is he?" The Colonel demanded impatiently.
Kathlaw pointed silently towards another door above which a red light glowed, then grabbed the Colonel as he purposefully strode for the door. "It is the Cell Manipulation Room. We can modify the genetic structure of almost anything in there," she explained in a whisper. "While the warning light is on, the room is flooded with radiation. It is impossible to enter."
Tuvok made his own examination using a tricorder. "There is a surfeit of Theta and Gamma radiation," he agreed. "The levels are reducing. This is a shielded room we will not be able to beam from this site. What is the function of the tanks?"
"Embrionic enzymes. They allow our genetic adaptations to develop," Kathlaw said trying to be helpful under the impatient gaze of the Colonel. "The Phalm that is assaulting your ship would have been developed in that tank." She pointed at the third tank of thick blue solution.
"The function of the others?" Seven of Nine demanded, examining each tank in turn.
"They differ. But broadly, red solutions will produce Phalms designed to destroy organisms, but they need to be controlled and nurtured before they take a hold. We don't use them much, because the Blues can survive in almost any conditions, including space. The greens are used for our own genetic developments. But when we are creating a new organism they are all used in various combinations."
"The tank containing the child's nanoprobes?"
"They aren't stored in here yet. We have to formulate a new enzyme to encourage them to develop properly. At present we are using aqueous solution, milk compound and your nanoprobes," Kathlaw explained.
In the Manipulation Room Professor Hynn was busy. The alarm had interrupted his preparation of data pods and he observed the invaders carefully on a monitor before he made his own preparations.
The laboratory was a centre for creating advanced weapons of stealth. In a few hours, it could create viruses that could destroy cities in a few hours, lifeforms that could destroy planets in days, yet it was not well equipped to take on immediate threats. The thirty minutes awarded him by activating the radiation flood was nothing like enough to create anything suitable and he possessed nothing more conventional. Even if he had he suspected he would not have the skills to use them, certainly against the obvious warrior of the party. The latter, he noted sourly, had managed to disappear from the camera's view.
Instead he carefully loaded two small dart guns, then injected himself with a compound using a hypospray. The contents of the former would not kill his foe, but would incapacitate them. The latter would temporarily improve his own speed and strength.
His suspicions regarding skills were proved correct as the main door to the outer laboratory slid open and a security guard appeared cautiously. A Hirogen derivative, designed for close combat, he was instinctively looking for concealed combatants. There was a single report, clearly audible even through the closed Manipulation Room door and the guard toppled, jamming the door open.
The green human appeared threw something around the doorway and stepped back quickly. There was a flash that threw shadows even in the brightly lit laboratory and a deafening explosion, then he was through the door.
Professor Hynn did not wait to see how long it took. Instead he grabbed a bag and raced for the door. The others had made a mistake turning to watch.
From the door he shot at and struck Tuvok with a dart. The Vulcan slumped without a sound. Kathlaw opened her mouth to scream a warning, but she fell to the second dart. Seven of Nine started to turn and he caught her with a backhand blow that sent her reeling.
He was running out of time, the shouts from the corridor had stopped. In desperation he grabbed Seven of Nine by the hair and hauled her to her feet. Before the dazed woman could react he had locked both her arms firmly behind her using one arm.
She started to struggle. Even with his chemically enhanced strength, the Professor Hynn was not going to hold on for ever.
From his bag Hynn pulled a hypospray and held it against Seven of Nine's neck. "The syringe contains modified nanoprobes from your child," he whispered in her ear. "I was intending to test them on you. I believe they will prove painfully fatal. All I have to do is release the trigger."
Seven of Nine stiffened in alarm.
"Think they ought to do some sort of basic training before they paint a target on them," the Colonel declared re-entering. "You'll be glad to know Commander, I only killed eight. The others," he stopped short and dropped to one knee, rifle levelled, as he took in the professor. "Let her go!" He barked.
"Stand aside. Try to stop me and I will inject her. She will die painfully," the Professor promised edging forward.
"Not half as painfully as you will, Chum!" The Colonel did not move.
"There are many crew aboard this ship. You cannot prevent me and protect yourself from them," the Professor pointed out.
"I have plenty of time to deal with you first. Let her go and I might be encouraged to let you live?"
With a mighty shove, Professor Hynn pushed Seven of Nine forward, sending her reeling towards the Colonel, sending them both sprawling. He grabbed the baby's cot and sprang through the door before running down the corridor.
"He has released the spray!" Seven of Nine reported quietly as the Colonel rolled her off of him and checked her over. "The results are." She choked in sudden pain.
"You aren't dying on me!" The Colonel hissed, gripping her hand in his. "You can't!"
"I do not," again Seven of Nine grimaced in her pain, "know. Should go after the baby!"
"Can you manage this?" The Colonel asked, pulling a hypospray from his own pocket. "They are some of my probes. They may help?"
He slapped it into her hand as she nodded.
"Go!" Seven of Nine insisted.
He sprang away.
Through tears of pain, Seven of Nine attempted to press the spray to her arm. She dropped it as another surge of pain caught her, forcing her to arch and writhe in her agony. She grabbed for it again as the spasm faded, pressed it to her arm and dropped it again. The pain was too much to concentrate any further and she screamed.
The Colonel heard the scream, it whipped him up into greater rage, just as another posse of guards appeared in his way. He did not slow, simply hit them at the full charge, swinging his rifle like a club, smashing a path through.
The professor was in sight now, the cot was slowing him down. He glanced over his shoulder and saw death charging down upon him. His only chance lay in escape. The knowledge spurred him into a greater effort. If he could reach the escape pod he might have a chance.
He did not receive the chance. The Colonel crashed into him with the force of a charging bull, bringing them both down and the cot skidding away.
The professor was not beaten yet, the drug gave him the strength to throw the soldier off, regain his feet and administer a kick to his opponents face before making another desperate attempt at escape again.
What the drug did not offer was the fighting skills to make the last come true. He had made less than half dozen steps before he was caught by the arm and swung violently, face first, into the wall. Before he could recover from the impact he was spun heavily into the wall on the opposite side of the corridor, then back again. It required far more than enhanced strength to counter an attack of such violence and on the sixth impact he blacked out.
Satisfied that his opponent was not going to be a source of irritation for a few minutes at least, the Colonel stepped lightly over the prostrate figure, spitting a mouthful of blood on him and picked up his baby to pacify the squalling infant. "Hush!" He whispered soothingly, tucking it into one arm. "Daddy won't let people do things to you."
With his spare hand he slung his rifle, grabbed the professors foot then headed back the way he had come, dragging his victim after him.
Aboard Voyager, Lieutenant's Paris and Vorik were having severe problems. It had taken three attempts to scavenge the power needed to beam Tuvok and the Colonel's equipment across to the Branag ship. Then they had had to suffer the knocks from the Branag's weapons as they limped away.
Now it was a race with time to complete enough repairs to allow Voyager to pick up the away team, before the away team succumbed to overwhelming odds, or Tuvok tried to restrain the Colonel. The problem was neither of them had a solid idea of how they were going to achieve it.
Normally force fields were placed over breaches until permanent mechanical repairs were made. But the organism, now resting upon the hull, quickly found them and from there the amount of power required to maintain the seal increased exponentially. Thus they were forced to complete physical repairs immediately. Setting up temporary fields to allowed them to apply temporary mechanical repairs. Removing the temporary fields before they were overwhelmed. It worked, but was taking too long and the phalm was developing too well from it. Nor did the temporary repairs improve the ships ability to take damage. They simply prevented the inside of the ship being sucked out.
In desperation, Tom Paris had recovered some of the special weed killer developed for dealing with the seaweed infestation. Having to use environmental suits in its presence slowed them down even further, but the organism appeared not to like it either, giving them considerably more time to complete repairs.
The last jury repair made both of them adjourned to the Bridge to discuss possible solutions to the external problem.
Tom Paris was all in favour of replicating more weed killer, until the pragmatic Vorik had observed that there was insufficient spare power for the replication and that the organism had not been damaged. If anything it had been becoming more accustomed to the chemical. It had allowed them to work unmolested for much less time on the last repair.
"How about polarising the hull plating?" Tom Paris suggested.
Vorik gave the idea some thought. "It would require testing. It is possible to localise the effect to a small area for a test?" he offered.
"I don't think we've the time for that," Tom Paris commented. "Besides the chemicals worked best when it was a shock to the system."
Again Vorik considered the the suggestion. It was veering dangerously upon irrational behaviour, sacrificing the last of their power reserves on a gamble. A trait he did not own, but had observed the Captain and his Commander often relied upon with illogical amounts of success. "Very well," he agreed, rising to his feet. "I will require some minutes to complete the modifications."
"Janeway to Voyager. State your condition." The Captain's gravel voice had never been so welcome to Tom Paris.
"Captain!" He responded in relief. "I wasn't expecting you for a few hours yet!"
"Just say I've taken lessons. What state is my ship in?"
Briefly Tom Paris went over Voyagers plight.
"How long before you are ready?"
"Vorik should be about ready," Tom admitted. "If it works, I'll move Voyager away on thrusters. But we won't have warp until the repairs are completed properly."
Quickly he switched channels. "Are you ready, Vorik?" He called hopefully.
"I am ready, Lieutenant," Vorik assured him.
The lights dipped as power leaked into Voyagers shell.
"It's working!" Tom shouted in glee as the blue mass started to peel away. "If there's anything left put it into the hull. It doesn't like getting its feet burnt!"
"The organism does not possess feet, Lieutenant," Vorik observed patiently from the other end of the communicator. Never the less, he complied with Tom Paris's command.
Slowly Voyager gathered way as Tom Paris attempted to edge her away from the danger, then groaned as the danger re-established itself on Voyager's hull.
"It didn't work, Tom," The Captain observed gently. "How long before emergency power is exhausted?"
Tom shrugged helplessly. "I don't know. Perhaps a couple of hours. We blew pretty well everything on that stunt."
The Captain nodded her understanding. "There are no transporters here to beam you over, Tom," she said. "I don't think we'll be able to risk docking either. Do what you can. I'm going after the away team. Perhaps Tuvok has found a remedy."
Unhappily Tom watched the ship slide from sight, then turned back to the problem in hand.
Being all too aware of the problems facing Voyager and the limited time scales available to find the solution had left Tuvok a Vulcan in a hurry. "We wish a remedy to the Phalm that is infesting Voyager."
Professor Hynn for his part was proving uncooperatively silent.
"Your assistance in this matter will undoubtedly be of benefit in your subsequent trial," Tuvok offered.
"Trafoil justice holds no fears," Hynn finally broke his silence. "There is no terror in their punishments. They have not even used correctional methods for 60 generations."
"There are other methods," Tuvok observed calmly.
Aboard Voyager Tuvok would have had days and weeks in which to wear the prisoner down. He did not have the luxury here.
"Have the barbarian torture me," Hynn jeered. "Your race is as pathetic as the Trafoils. With your pathetic threats. You need a barbarian to do things for you If I'm damaged who would create the antidote. Perhaps my treacherous lab assistant? All she does is take care of the specimens."
From the other side of the room, where she was sat nursing the baby, Kathlaw looked up nervously at the mention of her name. But said nothing. The Professor was right, only he had the skills required to do what the strangers wanted.
"Your solution would be inefficient," Tuvok observed calmly, though the jibe had stung.
Also, having seen the Colonel's expression when he had cuddled the contorted and unconscious Seven of Nine on his return, he suspected that the Colonel would enjoy the task to the point of not stopping at the end. It was also a concern that the soldier had silently disappeared. The occasional explosion and animalistic scream that echoed through the corridors, showed that he was hunting down resistance.
Instead Tuvok kneeled beside Hynn's head and gripped it in classic fashion. "Your mind to my mind.."
For a moment Hynn's eyes opened wide at the intrusive meld. Then fought back, pushing the surprised Vulcan away.
Tuvok blinked in surprise, Professor Hynn's resistance was stronger than he had anticipated.
"We include the genetic details of several telepathic races," Hynn observed.
Tuvok gripped the head again using both hands. This time there was no subtlety in the meld. It was a genuine fight for supremacy, neither side giving ground and both giving vent to animal howls of pain.
Slowly Tuvok started to force his way deeper, smashing through the walls of defence his opponents mind sought to build. But he was also suffering from a similar attack from his opponent. With some relief he found the locked box containing the information, grabbed it and tried to withdraw. To be taken by the last of the Professors defences.
It started with a soft 'shhing' noise and what would have felt like a gentle breeze, that grew rapidly into a gale, finally to hurricane force dragging the air back with it. Only then did Tuvok realise what it implied. He clawed his way forward with greater desperation to make his own defences viable.
Mindstorm, was the term given to it. He had barely returned to the protection of his own mind before it struck. Deep in the Vulcan's mind something broke and he lashed out in an uncontrolled scream and response of his own.
Tuvok remembered nothing more until his eye's opened and he found the Colonel kneeling over him.
"You okay, old chap?" The Colonel asked quietly. "Here take a sip of this." He helped the Vulcan to sit, propping him against his knee and offered a small flask to his lips.
Tuvok choked on the fiery fluid the flask contained. "I do not drink alcohol!" He protested.
"This isn't drinking," the Colonel opined. "This is medicine. You need the colour. You've gone as white as a sheet. What happened? I saw you being thrown away from Professor wotsit there."
"I used a mind meld to obtain the information required," Tuvok admitted weakly, still dazed. "He was a difficult subject."
"Obviously," the Colonel grunted, gesturing at the glazed eyed figure of Professor Hynn, propped against the wall and humming to himself. "But I don't think you will ever look me in the eye again, when you complain about my rash, impulsive and uncontrolled nature. At least my victims die, or recover. I don't think he will do either. You didn't just do that mind stuff on him, did you?"
Tuvok shook his head numbly. "He attempted to resist with a technique known as 'Mindstorm'."
"Should I ask what that is in English?"
Tuvok considered the question. It was a difficult concept to explain, but he had a desperate need for understanding. "You are aware of tsunami? Destructive tidal waves, capable of destroying cities?"
The Colonel nodded.
"Mindstorm could be compared with such an event. It combines all the power of the mind in a single massive destructive force. The chances of survival of such an attack are remote. My response was.." He trailed off as he sought words to explain.
"Less planned than you would have liked," the Colonel suggested for him, guessing at the unusually tongue tied, but verbose Tuvok's hesitation. He was ashamed!
"I think we might be better off chatting about it later. Did you get what you needed. Perhaps more importantly can we put it into operation?"
"It will require the assistance of the assistant, Kathlaw."
"You don't want to do another meld, do you?" The Colonel asked hopefully. "After what I've seen, I wouldn't let your hands within three feet of me. I'm damned sure Kathlaw won't let you that close."
"I will instruct," Tuvok suggested.
"Okay. I'll chat with Kathlaw. Just take it easy. Until I can convince her you aren't going to fry her mind as well!"
An airlock door opened and two faces peered carefully around the jam. Why they had not been fired upon as they approached the Branag ship was less than clear. The yacht did not possess the same sophisticated sensors, so they were working blind, without even a tri-corder amongst them.
Satisfied they were not to be set upon immediately, the faces slipped back and let the small security detail ensure the corridor was secure, before addressing each other.
"I think the Colonel's been here before us, Kathryn," Chakotay commented, waving in the direction of the corridors only and deceased occupant.
The Captain gave a haunted smile. "I hope he didn't get too carried away. Take a team to the Bridge and put us on course for Voyager. B'Elanna, take your engineering team and find the engine room. Harry, sweep the ship for survivors. Carver, keep this corridor secure. We don't want surprises, or lose our way out. Doctor, you're with me. We're going to find Seven and Tuvok."
Thus it was that when Captain Janeway, the Doctor and two security guards entered the laboratory, they found the Colonel sat on the floor, his daughter in one arm, Seven of Nine's head on his thigh stroking her hair gently. He gave them a cheery wave, then signalled them to be quiet.
"Better late than never, Ma'am," he whispered. "Now if I could put upon you to keep reasonably quiet. They've only just dropped off. Doctor, could you check over Miss Nine, please? She got a neck full of 'probes earlier and I don't think she is right yet."
"Where's Tuvok?" The Captain demanded, ignoring his request for silence.
The Colonel looked pained and waved at the inner door. "Commander Tuvok is with Miss Kathlaw in there, Ma'am. I'm afraid you can't go in while the lights on. At least, not if you want to come out the same shape as you went in. Should be finished soon though. How is she, Doctor?"
"Physically, she looks fine," the Doctor admitted, completing a cursory examination. "But I will not know fully until we are aboard Voyager."
"Where is Twelve of Twenty?" The Captain persisted with her questioning, though more quietly.
"He won't get into anymore mischief," the Colonel assured her. "Nor will the ex head chap here."
"You killed them?"
The Colonel nodded. "They were experimenting with Miss Nine and my daughter, Ma'am. I'll provide my full report when we are home. As usual."
Behind them the door opened to reveal Kathlaw and a subdued Tuvok, bearing a glass container between them.
"We must prime a missile with this mixture," Kathlaw announced. "It must be detonated within 50 Kilometres of your vessel to be effective."
Tuvok scanned the Mess carefully. It was 07:15 two days later and he fully expected to find one particular crewman having breakfast. He was correct, the Colonel was alone, eating his habitual bowl of porridge and sipping at a large mug in the corner. It was one of those strange traits, Tuvok decided. Probably the most erratic and dangerously unpredictable human he had ever met, could also be one of the most reliable and consistent.
"I wish to offer an apology and appreciation," Tuvok said quietly, arriving at the table. "I believe you admitted to the deaths of Professor Hynn and Twelve of Twenty?"
"Mister Twenty fell from a balcony in their Engineering," the Colonel corrected. "That is what went in my report. That I dropped him, I will have to live with. Personally, I had much better plans. As for Hynn. It was a mercy thing. He wasn't going to recover, was he?"
Tuvok shook his head. "He would not recover. But you did not state why you killed him."
"Was it necessary? He was a danger to the Away Team," the Colonel observed. "It didn't save you from all of the Captain's wrath though, did it? Twenty-eight days restricted to quarters and six month seniority, for losing the ship?"
"The punishment will pass." Tuvok hesitated before continuing. "My reactions aboard the Branag vessel were unsettling," he said at last. "Vulcans are not given to wild and irrational behaviour."
"You did what needed to be done, Commander."
"It was excessive."
The Colonel stared thoughtfully into his mug. Commander Tuvok had obviously been rattled badly by the experience. He wondered how badly it was going to effect him in the future.
Finally he looked up. "Do you know what the real difference is between the training we had. You, in that Vulcan Monastery. Me, on my parade ground?" He asked quietly. "I was trained to use my wild, irrational impulses to give me the edge. You- to deny they exist. It means I just do what I can. I don't consciously think about the outcome until afterwards. Which can be good or bad. You on the otherhand think your way out of problems. There are fewer repercussions that way. But when you hit the limit, and there is always a limit, you can't control it, because it does not exist. It makes you far more dangerous than me."
"I think there is a place for us both, Commander," he continued. "Think of me as your safety valve. You may not like the way I behave at times, but it stops you having to find that Vulcan breaking point too often?"
"Doesn't mean I couldn't do better though?" The Colonel mused stroking his chin.
"Perhaps you should attempt Vulcan meditation techniques. I have sufficient time to instruct you in the rudiments during my confinement?" Tuvok offered, accepting the hint.
"17:00," the Colonel agreed quickly. "Now if you'll excuse me. I am due with the repair crew in Deck 8. There's some heavy stuff to shift and they find an ignorant unthinking ape useful for that."
"And what can I do for you young lady?" The Doctor enquired of Naomi Wildman, as she sauntered into Sick Bay, settling for a tone between cheerful and condescending. "You do not look ill and we have not got a lesson."
Naomi grinned. "The Colonel asked me to check on the baby, because he is going to be a little late. He doing something with Tuvok."
The Doctor smiled. Naomi had been his first cheerful visitor all day and her sunny disposition lightened the mood in Sick Bay.
"Well it will be time for her feed soon," the Doctor clucked. "So you can help me test for the required additional nanoprobes?"
Gently he lifted the small life from her resting place and knelt to permit Naomi to view it. The baby regarded them with passive blue eyes, content and comfortable. For the time being.
"Can I hold her?" Naomi begged.
"The Colonel lets me?" She suggested as if this was all the permission she needed and holding out her arms. "The Colonel said you might even let me feed her? I know how to do it. He let me feed her the other day!" She added proudly.
The Doctor was less certain about this, but handed the bundle over carefully and watched the result like a hawk.
"I love her little implant," Naomi giggled as the Doctor reached for his tri-corder.
"Now if you can avoid dropping her I will go and make up her bottle?" the Doctor answered, content that there was to be no spillage's.
Released from close scrutiny Naomi moved carefully towards Seven of Nine's medical bay.
Seven was sitting on the couch reviewing a pile of PADD's. The PADD's themselves were the same recordings of her logs that had confused her some days ago. At present her annotations from then made even less sense.
The problem was she had no clear recollection of either and that was annoying her.
She looked up as Naomi approached. "Crewman Naomi Wildman. State the purpose of your visit?"
"I thought you might like to hold the baby and talk?" Naomi offered, holding up the small form. "I think she's cute and looks ever so like you?"
The baby wriggled violently.
Naomi unprepared for the sudden movement fumbled in a desperate attempt to hold on, before two slender blue clad arms grasped it firmly and lifted it away.
For ten seconds two sets of blue eyes regarded each other solemnly.
Then the baby cried.
"You should be more prepared for the infants sudden movements," Seven of Nine recommended, offering the baby back to Naomi.
Naomi, terrified of what she had so nearly done, shook her head and backed away. "I'm sorry, Seven. I didn't mean to drop her!"
Naomi refusing to accept the baby back and with nobody else to hand the infant on to, left Seven of Nine with only one course of action. She cuddled it to her, trying to soothe the child's wails. As she held it to her bosom, the baby subsided, and as if by magic, the fog of memory started to lift.
Confused Seven of Nine held it away from her and looked upon it as if for the first time. The young life she held in her arms suddenly felt very important.
The Doctor, alarmed by the sudden noise, barrelled into the bay clutching a feeding bottle.
In an instant he took in the scene, slapped the bottle onto the bed beside Seven of Nine and ushered the still trembling Naomi out of the bay.
"I didn't mean it!" Naomi twittered.
"Didn't mean what?" The Colonel asked entering the room in high spirits. "Sorry I'm late. Commander Tuvok was more difficult than I anticipated. He'll probably need an aspirin in the morning, Doctor. That Vulcan Meld stuff gets heavy. Especially on a glass of Navy Rum."
"You attempted a Vulcan mind meld with alcohol?" The Doctor demanded incredulously. "Why not just step into an airlock without a suit?"
"Didn't touch a drop," the Colonel promised. "But it was the only way to get him to relax enough to test himself. I think I bored him to sleep. Now Miss Wildman?"
"I nearly dropped the baby!" Naomi wailed.
The Colonel glanced in the bay to see Seven of Nine concentrating very firmly upon the baby in her arms. "I think you have probably done me the greatest favour in the Galaxy," he whispered. "Now I have the dangerous part. Wish me luck."
Nervously he straightened his jacket and strode into the bay.
"Shall I feed her?" he asked.
"It is not necessary," Seven of Nine informed him. "I am capable of feeding my daughter."
For a moment he looked nonplussed, but gathered himself quickly to offer a grin. "You have no idea how glad I am to hear you say that!" he sighed, settling himself on the couch beside her. His right arm unconsciously encircling her waist and pulling her closer. "I think I may have been a little harsh on that Hynn chap."
His touch also fired small switches in her mind, making her want to snuggle closer, even respond in kind. He had been missing when she had awoken earlier that day. Now she realised that she had missed that small sign of companionship. Still confused, she tried to disguise it with a terse. "Explain?"
"Sorry, Ma'am!" the Colonel flushed and released her and slid away, mistaking her squirming for resistance. He had drawn a line and his unwitting action had crossed it.
The action and his embarrassment left her confused.
"I'm guessing, assimilation by those 'probes he stuck you with, have something to do with your sudden enthusiasm for your daughter," he explained. "As well as Naomi's little accident. Well. It is too late to say sorry and things did not go the way he intended."
He groped in the top pocket of his jacket, pulled out his notebook and offered it to her. "Perhaps you would like to choose some names for her. Now she exists?"
"The source of the names in your notebook?" Seven of Nine queried, deliberately sliding closer again.
"The crew," the Colonel confessed. "I didn't want to give her a name without your approval."
She was silent for several minutes as she scanned the list of names. It had been a subject, the PADD recordings of her logs had told her, she had discussed with the Colonel months before and that he had dutifully recorded all the names members of the crew had offered. But there were names they had liked, she remembered that for herself, if not what they were, until she spotted them. "These are acceptable," she decreed suddenly, pointing at two names.
"Sure you don't want Zarinray, L'Lreth or Diazesra?" The Colonel quizzed.
"She is human. She requires human names," Seven of Nine declared resolutely.
"Thank you!" He whispered. "Names I can spell!"
Before she could respond he had leant forward and dipped his fingers in a glass of water. "In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I christen thee Mary Kathryn." As he made the announcement he dabbed a wet finger on the child's forehead.
"Now that's done. I think we can predict the Captain's directions. May I escort you home? I'll bring the baggage, if you are happy with Mary."
"Now make yourself comfortable," the Colonel suggested as they entered her quarters.
"May I get you anything, Ma'am? A cup of tea, perhaps?" He asked, as Seven of Nine settled into a chair.
"My condition is satisfactory," Seven confirmed.
"In that case. I will wish you good night, Ma'am," he said quietly. Bowing before her, he hurried out, leaving Seven of Nine to ponder his attitude in continued confusion.
She had wanted his company. Yet he had denied it. She was almost certain he had never done that before.
Seven of Nine had never been good at understanding emotions. She knew she had suffered and sometimes enjoyed many of them, but still found it difficult to identify all but the most base and obvious in others. The Colonel was often the most difficult to understand. Hiding much behind an assurance that could carry others. Only afterwards did he allow those feelings to gain control. She had been allowed to help him on occasions, she remembered.
The mark on her finger where the wedding ring had been, finally reminded her of their discussion five days ago and hinted at what he was suffering. Nerves!
He had promised her time to decide. Freedom from him. If she wanted it.
The realisation snapped her own entries into her logs in place and she headed for the door.
She found him, as she had expected, laying on the floor of Cargo Bay 2, a thin blanket over him and his flak jacket neatly rolled and under his head, asleep.
Silently she removed the blanket, placed the baby on his chest, and covered both again.
She watched as a protective arm encircled it.
Spotting the string around his neck she stooped to pull it out. A hand appeared and gripped her by the wrist, stopping her.
"Do you know. I've realised. The one thing I've ever really wanted, is the one thing I will always be too scared to accept or ask for," he said sleepily.
"Love," he said simply. "I keep having this wonderful dream. I meet this beautiful woman, that I fall in love with and promise to care for until my dying breath. Except it turns into a nightmare. Either she is taken from me, because I failed in my promise. She realises it was all a mistake. Or sometimes I am just too scared to accept what I see and take her in my arms and it drives her away. Which one will it be tonight?"
"None," Seven of Nine assured him. "I wish the return of the ring."
His eye's snapped open and sat bolt upright. "Are you sure?" He demanded, more sharply than he had intended.
"It will prevent the third scenario in your dream occurring," Seven observed.
"And the other two?"
"I have noted you have rarely broken a promise. The second would be an error on the part of the female," Seven of Nine declared with conviction.
She finally managed to snatch the string and haul the ring into view along with the leather bag. Not bothering to untie the knot, she ripped the cord from the stitching where it joined the leather, retrieved the ring and slid it firmly on her finger.
"Your stitching was inferior," she chided, examining the reinstated ring with satisfaction. "It would fail catastrophically. We will return to our quarters and I will correct the defect."
The Colonel smiled. "Still the harsh woman, Mrs Nine? I'm coming as ordered. But don't bother about the goodies bag. I don't think you'd fit and I have something much better in mind."
The bruised and battered Voyager limped into orbit over Trafoil, ready to take the place still openly offered by Zarrathkal in his orbiting shipyards. It saw the Captain in the Transporter Room again, watching the small gaggle of crew waiting anxiously to resume their interrupted leave. But there were a few loose ends to deal with first.
There were three burly members of the Trafoil militia present to help with those.
First to arrive was Kathlaw, looking nervous.
The Captain smiled encouragingly. "You don't have to go back to Branag?" She offered.
"Your race is one of the most disgusting, conniving, evil minded and cruel species I've ever met. But I find it hard to think of you as one of them. You've done a lot to help us and others in this sector over the last few days," she continued. "The Trafoil authorities have agreed not to prosecute, now you've supplied details of how to combat the Branag weapons."
Kathlaw shook her head sadly. "They would find me," she said in resignation. "But some of the technologies I have found may help us to stop being so bad?"
"Perhaps," the Captain agreed.
The next to be brought forward was Nine of Fourteen, held firmly between two security guards.
"Please, Captain. Don't let them return me!" He pleaded.
Her face clouded at the memory of his treachery. "I'm not pressing charges against you for what you did to my crew," she hissed. "In fact I think I've done you a favour. I am preventing both the Branag and Lathran forces getting to you. Let alone some of my own crew! Now get off my ship!"
The lizard man was taken by the Militia and along with Kathlaw, they stepped upon the transport pad, ready to go.
"Hold Hard!" The Colonel's shout, as he entered the room, stopped the Captain's energise order in her throat.
"If you could spare a moment, Ma'am?" The Colonel requested. "Mrs Nine had something for Miss Kathlaw. She'll be here in a mo'."
"Not still thinking of leaving us, Colonel?" The Captain asked, spotting the pack on his back.
The Colonel grinned. "Not at the moment, Ma'am. Thought Mrs Nine and I could go on a picnic. I think we've found a nice quiet place. You are welcome to join us?"
"I'm not leaving the ship," The Captain declared. "There is nobody to look after it."
"There is lots of them," the Colonel chided gently. "You have a perfectly capable Second Officer in his quarters. Commander Chakotay, several Bridge Watches. If you can't find two to look after your vessel for a few hours, then shame on you."
Seven of Nine held up a small case to Kathlaw. "These are the nanoprobes you requested," she offered. "I was in error when making a statement to you aboard your vessel."
Kathlaw looked puzzled as she accepted the case.
"Pregnancy," Seven of Nine explained. "It was an interesting experience. Offspring are pleasurable."
Kathlaw's face broke into a smile as she dematerialised.
It left Seven of Nine with one other thought on her mind and she sensed a remedy amongst those waiting for departure.
"Crewman Naomi Wildman. I am informed that is usual for an infant to have at least one, 'God Parent'. I wish you to perform the role?"
"Acknowledged!" Naomi mimicked, then blushed furiously.
"Can Mommy be one too?" She stuttered, looking up at her mother.