Days of Open Hand

by CaptainKatie

Rating: NC-17 for language, homosexual content, violence, and other such things

Pairing: J/7

Uber Setting: the year 2047; a healthy dose of X-Men and Voyager

Summary: A woman with extraordinary abilities realizes she knows very little about life, the universe, and everything when she is rescued by a group of metahumans led by a particularly captivating team captain.

Disclaimer: Paramount owns anything relating to Star Trek, and the writers and actors/actresses own a few of the words. I own the angst!

Feedback: Yes please!

PROLOGUE

The pain was hot, searing, it started in her chest, radiated quickly out and paralyzed her entire body with its intensity… there wasn't even time enough to scream before the darkness engulfed her.

CHAPTER 1

"Hey, are, are you okay?" The voice was quiet, fragmented by uncertainty and worry. The hand on her shoulder was just as hesitant.

"God, what happened?" she groaned as she slowly and painfully lifted herself into a seated position on the hard, unforgiving floor. Her hands didn't know whether to go to her midsection or her head as the effects of her unwise movements were sharply felt. Mercifully the various points of pain began to dissipate to just dull aches.

She finally opened her eyes, the icy blue locked on to her loan companion. At her side sat a young man, perhaps in his twenties, with unruly brown hair and youthful, albeit apprehensive, dark eyes. Those eyes now flitted from her face to seek out the dark places in the room they were in.

She also took in their uninviting surroundings. The room was dank and tiny, so small that there was barely enough room for her long frame to lie down or to stretch her sore muscles. The floor was cold cement, dirty and hard on her aching body. There were no windows; nothing existed in the room aside from herself and her companion… her cell mate. The thought made her shiver. Her eyes quickly moved to the young man. The single light source from the ceiling cast an eerie green light on the entire room and made his face, which was covered in dirt and what was probably dried blood, appear gaunt and sickly.

"Where are we?" Her voice was hoarse; her question came out raspy. Her slim, pale hand went to her neck unconsciously, but it didn't touch flesh. Her palm touched metal. She felt around the metal band that encircled her neck before a hand abruptly ended her investigation.

"Don't!" It was urgent, a warning. "If you thought the other pain was bad, trying to take that thing off is worse… trust me."

And she found that she did. He let her wrist go quickly; it was then that she noticed he too wore a metal collar.

"Thanks." She figured he had just saved her from another pain induced blackout. "I'm Annika, Annika Hansen." She let that trail off. Introductions first, and then an escape plan to get them the hell out of wherever it was that they were.

"Billy." He smiled a bit, a humorless grin. "Now that the introductions are over… no, I have no idea where we are, or who captured us, but I have a fairly good idea if these things," he touched his own metal collar, "are any indication. 'The Friends of Humanity' or 'The Human Unity League' or some other anti-metahuman bunch of crazies."

"Shit." She had been so careful hadn't she? She hadn't even used her powers in the last year and a half, the last time was when she had been hit straight on by a drunk driver whose truck had completely crumpled her beloved VW bug. And that hadn't even been a conscious use of her powers, it had been automatic self-preservation.

As she sat on the cold floor with Billy, she tried to forcefully eject the metal that would protect her from whatever anti-metahuman group it was that had captured them. She cursed again when she found she couldn't, despite how much she tried. She realized suddenly and with a start that the matching metal collars were responsible. The cold trickle of fear ran down her spine and settled in a frozen lump in the pit of her stomach.

"You can say that again," Billy touched her shoulder in comfort. "I've been here for… for a while. I… I don't even know what day it is…"

"It's Thursday," she replied, though suddenly she wasn't so sure, she had no idea how long she had been unconscious.

"I could never get the hang of Thursdays," was his dry reply. "So… I've been here for about two days now."

"Have they," she hesitated, she wasn't sure if she wanted to know the answer but she had to ask. "Have they… hurt you?"

"They've…" He caught his breath and looked away to the dirty floor. To Annika, Billy seemed to reduce in age as she looked upon his innocent looking face. "Let's just say they didn't take me out for drinks and laughs." Brown blurred eyes met compassionate, icy blue ones.

"I-" Her voice caught as tears welled in her eyes and in her throat. "I'm so sorry, Billy."

It was her turn to put a warm, comforting hand on the young man's shoulder which quaked under her touch. Tears never fell from his eyes, but perhaps that was because he had already expelled all that he had when he was enduring this imprisonment alone.

"Two days huh", he cleared his throat, the heaviness gone from his tone. "I… I want you to know that… They'll come for me. For us. They will."

His voice didn't sound desperate or unsure; the certainty in his eyes and in his voice warmed the cold fear that had made its way across every inch of her body. Billy's tight lipped smile was brief but she could tell it had been meant to be reassuring.

Just as the warmth of his words filled her with hope the clanking of sliding metal filled her chest with a fear she had never felt before in her life. She could hear the clinking of metal and the heavy falls of booted footsteps before she saw them silhouetted in the doorway. Three men, carrying rifles, dressed in well-worn fatigues and combat boots. They blocked out most of the light that came from the now visible hallway as they loomed in the doorway. She couldn't see their faces but knew hatred and other terrible things were etched on them. She felt Billy's abrupt movements behind her and then she was quickly behind him as his left arm pushed her body. He stood before the guards in a protective stance.

"Leave her alone." Billy's voice was low and dangerous, something Annika would never have expected from him. The three men laughed, awful laughs.

"What's wrong, freak?" One of the men moved closer to Billy. This man was dangerous and unafraid as he drew back his rifle and brought it down on Billy's head, hard.

"Billy!" Annika caught the falling man's body and brought it slowly to the floor. Her fingers held his bleeding head in her lap. The men's laughter burned hot within her with an anger that quickly engulfed her fear. "You bastard!"

She sprang on the man who had struck Billy so harshly, so cruelly. She had surprised them all, perhaps herself the most, as her lean but toned body brought the man down quickly and with force as her fist collided with his nose.

Before she could get another good solid hit to his now bloodied face, two pairs of hands roughly pulled her away from the swearing man on the floor. She felt herself fly through the air before she collided with one of the cement walls and the air left her lungs in a rush. Then the fists came. Her head, her stomach; the blows came fast. She didn't even have time enough to cry out as the fists and boots connected with her slim body. The pale blue t-shirt and the dark jeans she wore were quickly covered with the redness of her blood as she felt her nose break and probably other parts of her body.

The words they yelled at her were almost worse than the blows, sick, terrible things, filled with hate and sadistic glee, there was no humanity in them as they continued with the brutal assault. As the rifle came up to connect with her head as it had Billy's a low rumble sounded and the air seemed to vibrate around her. Finally the blows ceased as the men ran from the room. Her dark red blood stained their clothing and fists. The ringing in her ears ceased as she took uneasy breaths, yes her ribs, they had broken her ribs. Propped against the wall she could see men running frantically past in the well lit hallway as alarm klaxons rang out.

The pain in her body was so intense she wondered why she didn't black out from it Her reinforced skeletal structure came to mind despite the effects of the collar and she knew that was what had probably saved her life and her consciousness. Shouts, male ones of fear, mixed with the alarms. Annika couldn't move, didn't particularly want to move. Billy had told her someone would come for them. Hope began to fill her again but she was more cautious about it now than she had been before.

As it had been before her hope was swiftly extinguished when the man she had attacked stumbled into the cell. He looked much more agitated and less cocky than he had before she had broken his nose. Despite his frazzled appearance he was still dangerous. The rifle he had used to hit Billy was still in his hands, shaky as they were. He could still finish her and Billy and that was apparently what he had planned to do since his shaking arms lifted the rifle to point it directly at Annika. The screams of men and the blare of alarms left her ears swiftly as blood thumped loudly and sweat poured over her body. She was going to die, tonight, in this godforsaken place.

"Stop." The voice was even, male, and sure. The rifle fell as did the man who had been so close to ending Annika's life.

The owner of the voice came into view, he was dark skinned and tall, imposing but comforting. He had, after all, just saved her very existence with one word it would appear. His long fingers tapped a small star shaped piece of metal that was attached to his black outfit, the gold piece emitted a chirp when he touched it.

"I found our missing crewman and an unknown. I request the doctor's presence. We have injured." His voice was calm, calm and strangely polite to Annika's ears.

It comforted her, and a doctor! She knew she desperately needed one after the beating she had taken. And Billy! Sweet young Billy who had wanted so much to protect her and she had failed him by provoking an attack. No! She hadn't provoked those bastards! She had done nothing!

"Who are you?" Annika's breathing came in gasps due to the pain in her midsection. Her reinforced body must have been weakened from the inhibitor collar, she thought absently.

"You may address me as Psi, less formal introductions will have to wait until we are in a secure location." Her savior crouched before her, his face impassive as he looked calmly at her strained features.

She broke contact first when a bright purple glow appeared in the middle of the room and then slowly grew until it became the size of a refrigerator. Annika gasped in astonishment as two men emerged from the swirling light before the purple glow abruptly disappeared as if it had never been there at all. One of the men was slim with sparse hair and wrinkled features that gave him a perpetually annoyed look, or perhaps, Annika considered, he was perpetually annoyed. The other man looked to be about Billy's age, with the same boyish innocence in his caramel colored features. The sparse man quickly went to Billy's prone figure. As he crouched down he rested his hands over Billy's wound and to Annika's amazement the large, hideous gash on the young man's forehead disappeared before her eyes and she watched with relief as Billy's eyes fluttered a bit and then finally opened completely. There was a moment of confusion, then it was suddenly replaced by recognition and relief.

"Doc!" Billy sat up quickly, he almost laughed with relief and delight. "Am I glad to see you!"

Annika watched as Billy's hands pressed against his chest and sides. Apparently other wounds had been repaired as well. Quickly the doctor removed himself from the floor and came to kneel before her.

"Miss?" The craggy features were compassionate if not a little bit annoyed at the term "Doc". "I'm going to heal your injuries, so I just need you to relax and try not to move. Will you do that for me?" Annika could only nod her head. "Good. You'll feel a slight elevation in your temperature. Nothing to worry about." The last bit was said in a light tone and was accompanied by a closed lipped, though meant to be reassuring, smile.

"Don't worry, Annika." Billy's smile was bright as he wiped the blood off of his face with the back of his shirt sleeve. "The Doc here will get you healed up in no time."

She didn't worry as her body began to hum and heat from an invisible force which seemed to emanate from the doctor's hands as he rested them above her bruised and battered midsection. The pain that had taken the breath from her body disappeared as if it had never existed and the only evidence of injury left behind was the blood on her clothing and skin. She took large, grateful gulps of air.

"Thank you." Annika allowed the doctor's hands, so warm, to help her from the ground. She turned to Billy who was being helped to his feet by the young man who she reasoned had created the purple glow.

"Told ya they'd come." Billy smiled grandly and she laughed softly, filled with delight that he'd be all right, that they both would.

"We must go." The dark, impassive man didn't raise his voice, but everyone knew the urgency of his even words. The police sirens that sounded at an approaching distance hastened their agreement.

"Okay, you might feel a little dizzy." The caramel colored man looked intently at Annika as he grasped her forearm. She didn't tend to appreciate strangers touching her but she assumed it was necessary.

"I don't want you to get lost." He smiled sheepishly at his explanation for his touch.

The purple glow was back, much larger now, almost encompassing the entire room. She started a bit but calmed when her other arm was grasped gently by Billy, the doctor and Psi completed the chain.

"All right, let's go." And with that the leader of the chain stepped in to the purple glow he had created and pulled gently, but unnecessarily as the rest followed quickly behind.

He was right, she did feel dizzy. One moment she was in the garishly green tinted cell and the next she was in a brightly lit room where the floor beneath her hummed against her tennis shoes. The men beside her quickly dispersed from the center of the room and sat in chairs with large computer consoles in front of them. It appeared to be a move all of them had done many times before, it looked to be second nature. Annika ended up just standing in shock as she took in her new surroundings. It looked like one of those spaceships on those old cheesy sci-fi shows her father had liked so much. Large display screens covered the walls and beneath the screens were large panels of flat multi-colored buttons and lights that blinked at seemingly random interval, all of which made it seem very important.

"Miss, please sit down over here." It was the doctor that broke her out of her musings of how much her father would have loved to be where she was right now. Annika let the doctor lead her to a low cushioned bench in the aft section. She sat a few feet away from Billy who smiled reassuringly.

"Hi!" A small strawberry blonde haired girl suddenly stood before Annika. The little girl quickly placed her right hand on Annika's shoulder and her other hand on Billy's. Annika felt an unbelievable lightness in her usually heavy, metal frame. "Okay, Slider!"

The caramel colored man… Slider apparently, took hold of the two metal collars fastened on Annika and Billy's neck and quickly pulled back. Annika gasped as the metal band passed through her neck as if her flesh wasn't even there. The metal collars quickly disappeared in a flash of purple.

"Good riddance." Slider let a look of pure disgust cross his features before he turned a smiling face to the young girl who had let her hands leave Billy and Annika to cross behind her small back.

"Great work, Naomi. The Captain will be proud of you and your completion of this very important mission." His tone was professional, almost too professional.

"Thank you, sir!" Naomi seemed to attempt to be composed and profession but she grinned, almost beamed up at Slider. Pure pride was clearly visible on her small face at such a compliment. Suddenly she turned to Annika. "I hope that wasn't scary. I know sometimes it can be."

"N-no, I…" Annika winced as she saw Naomi's smile fade, now a look that resembled shame crossed the small girl's face. Annika felt a twinge in her chest, she knew that feeling well. "Naomi, is it? I am very grateful to you. It was not scary, it was astounding."

Now Naomi did beam, brightly. She bounced onto the gray cushion as she took a seat at Annika's side. "I don't usually get to go on missions. But I'm glad I got to. Those metal necklaces aren't… good for us."

How Naomi knew this pained Annika, she rested a gentle hand on the young girl's upper back. "No, they aren't. Thank you again."

"Billy!" The sadness in Naomi's eyes was extinguished quicker than Annika could comprehend from a girl so young. "Celes wanted to come on the mission too but she was too far away! Ms. Torres and Mr. Chakotay were going to pick her up in the Delta Flyer."

"It's okay. I know she was out of the country visiting her family." Billy smiled brightly and it complimented the look of adoration in his eyes. Whomever this Celes person was, Annika thought, definitely had Billy's heart. Annika smiled at the warmth of his look.

"Annika, you're in safe hands with Ms. Wildman. I'm going to go get us something to drink. Water?"

Annika nodded and Billy removed himself from the bench with a grin that didn't quite reach his eyes. He exited though a sliding door that Annika hadn't even realized was there. Yup definitely sci-fi stuff here.

"What can you do?" Annika's gaze went back to Naomi who had just asked the question. The little girl's curious eyes rested expectantly on Annika's somewhat uncomfortable features.

"Well, I can…." Annika tried to formulate a way to say it so Naomi would understand, then shook her head. Naomi was apparently in the company of men who could create purple glows to transport people and objects, heal on contact, cause grown men to become unconscious with a word, and Naomi herself seemed to be able to make people intangible. Annika decided a demonstration would be much more efficient. "I'll show you, okay?"

Naomi was almost jumping up and down, but remained calm. She wanted to act like a grown up, but she still fidgeted with delight at the thought that she would soon have new knowledge about the tall blonde lady who sat next to her. Oh how Mezoti would be jealous, Naomi's eyes sparkled.

Billy returned and handed a bottle of water to Annika. She quickly removed the cap and took several large swallows before she smiled thanks to the brown haired man who sat across from her in a chair next to a small computer console. Annika returned her attention back to the fidgeting girl next to her.

"Naomi, please move to the other side of the bench."

Naomi did as directed and curled her legs beneath herself as she watched Annika avidly, unconsciously she held her breath.

Annika inhaled deeply and looked away from Naomi. She turned her icy blue gaze to her own outstretched arm. A loud tearing sound filled the quiet cabin and Annika knew she now had an audience. Metal spikes, three inches long ripped through the epidermis of her forearm without pain but still it didn't lend itself to a very pretty picture as the skin they erupted from tore apart, most of it fell lightly to the floor like falling leaves. The spikes broadened and then bent to fall against her arm and secured themselves with tiny metal fasteners. Openings on the flat pieces of metal revealed themselves when metal bands erupted and encircled her arm loosely at first and then tightened as they were secured and flattened so the metal that encased her was as slim as her fleshy forearm had been. She didn't allow her metallic exoskeleton to extend beyond her elbow or wrist, she didn't want to scare the young girl with her four inch metal claws that formed on the ends of her fingers.

"Wow!" Annika looked from her metal arm to Naomi's awed face. "That's so neat!"

Annika laughed, perhaps more than she should have, but that was the first time anyone had ever referred to her transformation as "neat".

"I suppose it is." Annika smiled brightly. As quickly as it appeared the metal around her arm retracted itself in a similar, albeit reversed, manner in which it came until skin appeared beneath the metal, the rosy tone bespoke its newness.

Annika looked at Psi who merely raised one of his dark angled eyebrows. Then to the doctor who quickly inputted data into his computer console with avid delight. And then to Slider whose eyes were huge, not with disgust, but with awe and wonder.

"Wait till the Captain sees this!" His excited voice seemed to unnecessarily extend the length of his words.

"Who's the Captain?" That was the second time this man had spoken about this individual and it piqued Annika's innate curiosity.

"Captain Janeway! She's the neatest lady ever!" It was Naomi who had answered with her usual enthusiasm. "You'll like her lots! She's super nice. And smart."

"Well if you like her, then she must be pretty neat." Annika smiled, though nothing Naomi said really satisfied her inquisitive mind.

"Hey, guys," an unseen man's voice sounded over a speaker system and filled the cabin. "We'll be home in ten minutes. Make sure your baggage is stored, your tray tables are up and please sit back and enjoy the rest of our flight." The voice cut off with a small chuckle.

It suddenly struck Annika that she had no idea where this "home" was, she was so caught up in all the action and excitement that she had just allowed herself to go along for the ride, something she rarely did.

"Um, where are we going? I kind of need to get home." She looked from one face to another. It was Psi who spoke, even as always.

"I regret to inform you that you cannot… go home at the moment, it is no longer safe. It's likely that 'The Friends of Humanity' now have your profile in their records and may attempt to harm you again. It is therefore logical to bring you to our secure base." Psi didn't have a whole lot of emotion in his tone, but he seemed to be trying to ease the idea of Annika going somewhere completely unfamiliar to her.

Her profile? It wasn't over? Annika was now very glad she lived alone.

"Okay, but just for tonight. I do have to get home soon."

"The Captain will want to speak with you." Psi's sure voice didn't seem to allow for any argument. Though someone did just that.

"I think that Miss…" The doctor turned to her with an expectant look.

"Hansen, Annika Hansen." Annika sat a bit straighter, her hands rested on top of her thighs.

"I think that Miss Hansen could do well with food and a good night's sleep, perhaps a bath." He looked at her bloodied shirt with a bit of irritation and sadness, a feat he pulled off admirably.

Yup, perpetually annoyed, Annika thought.

"The inquisition can happen tomorrow. I'm sure the Captain would agree that Miss Hansen has gone through quite a harrowing ordeal and needs her rest." There was a certain smugness to his tone that just about challenged someone to disagree.

"A logical conclusion, Doctor. I was not stating that the Captain would wish to speak with Ms. Hansen this evening. Though perhaps a talk with Kes would be beneficial." Psi hadn't seemed particularly put off by the doctor's words. His voice as impassive as his face.

"A bath sounds wonderful and I am sort of hungry. I—I don't even know how long I was down in that… place." Memories of the past few hours made her shudder with a chill that she alone felt. Sympathetic eyes rested upon her and she had to look away. She didn't need sympathy, she needed to feel safe and secreted away again.

"All right, gang," the disembodied voice sounded again. "We're here."

Annika was startled, something she was quite tired of being, when a loud hissing sound preceded the opening of a door and the lowering of a ramp at the opposite side of the ship from the bench she sat upon.

"We're home!" Naomi grasped Annika's forearm, the same one that had been encased in metal moments before, and led her down the ramp.

Two women were the first visions to greet Annika as she descended the ramp with Naomi, the others not far behind. Slider and the doctor nodded politely at Naomi and Annika and then at the two women who had greeted them before they exited through a large sliding metal door on the other side of the room. Psi remained unobtrusively by the aircraft.

Annika regarded the two women before her with curious blue eyes. One was a petite woman dressed in a dark purple and pink dress with short cropped blonde hair and elfin features that held a warm smile. The other was a tall willowy woman with long chestnut colored hair and wide brown eyes, her worried eyebrows crinkled the skin between them. She was slim built and just an inch or two shorter than Annika, her frame shook as she fidgeted.

Annika felt a displacement of air beside her and quickly realized it was Billy running down the ramp. The slim brunette was lifted off the ground when Billy hugged her. Ah, Celes, Annika grinned.

"Billy! I was so scared!" Celes had tears in her eyes but they were held tight.

"I know, I'm okay though." Billy didn't loosen his hold on Celes, but he did let her feet touch the ground. "Let's just go home, okay." Celes only smiled.

"Billy…" The elfin blonde seemed to hold back a bit.

"Sure," Billy only glanced quickly to the small blonde before he turned his attention back to Celes. "But later, okay?"

"Of course," The blonde didn't shrug but it was close to it. "Just call me… anytime."

"Okay, sure, thanks." And with that Billy and Celes, arm in arm, didn't exactly run out of the cavernous room.

The petite blonde sighed contently before she turned her violet eyes to Annika. "Hello, I wanted to welcome you to our home," her voice was as warm as her smile. She appeared so young to Annika but there was something about her voice and in her eyes that seemed to give the small woman an air of wisdom and agelessness.

"Thank you… Captain Janeway?" Annika stuck out her hand for a shake. A small hand accepted it readily. Amusement filled the almost violet eyes that regarded her. This woman really did look like an elf, Annika thought, the only thing missing were pointed ears.

"No, I'm not Captain Janeway. My name is Kes. I was hoping to speak with you for a bit, if you'd like? I'm the resident counselor."

So, this was the Kes that Psi had mentioned earlier. "Maybe," Annika couldn't believe her own words. In all her years she had never given much credence to therapy. The idea of telling a complete stranger her fears and desires and things that should be kept secret, especially her abilities, had always been unappealing to her. "But first, I think I'd like to clean up a bit."

"Of course. We've set up guest quarters for you to use."

Kes' voice was smooth, silky, deeper and more full bodied than her appearance would seem to indicate, thought Annika. It had a calming effect on her that she hadn't really realized until the tension from the last few hours dissipated.

"I'm sorry I didn't get your name."

"Annika Hansen." They should all just wear name tags, it'd be more efficient.

"She can do the coolest thing, Kes!" Naomi piped up, she had endured as much of this interaction as she could.

"I'm sure she can, Naomi," Kes looked down upon the strawberry haired girl, though that was only a few inches. "But I'm sure Ms. Hansen is exhausted so how about we wait to see tomorrow, okay. And I believe you have a certain, rather anxious, roommate waiting up for you."

"Oh!" Naomi ran to where Billy and Celes had disappeared a few moments ago before she seemed to remember something. She turned back around quickly and waved. "Bye, Annika!" And then she was off.

"How about I show you to your room?" Kes waved her hand absently as if to stop someone from approaching. Annika hadn't noticed that Psi had stepped a little closer to the two of them or when he had stepped back per Kes' action. "Before Tom gets done with post-flight protocols and volunteers to be your tour guide."

Annika shrugged and followed Kes to the metal doors that stood a few hundred feet away from where she had disembarked. When they got to the doors, Annika looked back once to check out the aircraft she had just been in and almost tripped. It was amazing. Black and sleek, almost like a stealth bomber but much smaller. She was surprised when she saw a blonde man in a black outfit, exactly like the other men who had rescued her, as he jumped rather recklessly from the open hatch near the nose and landed soundly on the ground. Roguish… Annika didn't exactly roll her eyes as she followed Kes through the sliding doors.

CHAPTER 2

Kes regarded the woman who walked next to her with level violet eyes. This Annika Hansen was slim, yet feminine, and tall, so tall that Kes felt a bit like an elf next to her. Annika's blonde hair, narrow features, and icy blue eyes gave the woman a cool yet very attractive look, despite the fact that there was some dried blood on the lower part of her face. The bloodstains on the woman's light blue t-shirt would probably never get clean, Kes thought sadly. She wasn't saddened at the thought that the shirt was destroyed, but the means by which it was so irreparably ruined.

"What is this place?" Annika's voice held awe, laced with a hint of trepidation.

"It's a school." Kes kept her voice light. She almost laughed at the wave of incredulity that hit her.

"A school?" Annika looked behind her once more with disbelief as she thought about what laid behind the large sliding metal doors they had just passed through. "What kind of school has… those?" A pale hand gestured in the general direction of the two shuttlecrafts.

"A special school." Kes felt the small wave of annoyance that radiated off the tall woman and decided she shouldn't push her luck. "The main purpose of this institute is to provide a safe place for metahumans to learn more about their abilities and how to control them. Aside from powers training, this is a fully functional, albeit small and secluded boarding school. You've already met some of the faculty."

Kes stopped in front of a control panel and punched in her access code. A pair of metal doors whooshed open, it almost sounded like a sigh, Kes stepped in followed by Annika.

They rode the lift silently. Kes allowed the silence knowing the turmoil of emotions that churned in the seemingly calm and cool woman next to her. Terrible fear, frustrated anger, relief, curiosity, fatigue…

"Here we are," Kes broke the silence as the doors opened swiftly and revealed a brightly lit hallway, inviting with its warm toned color palette.

Dark beige walls and rich burgundy carpeting was offset by small low mahogany tables set on either side of the wide hall with comfortable dark chestnut colored leather chairs. The two identical looking tables each had small vases of white flowers, tulips, set upon them. The appearance was that of warmth and comfort along with expense and order, the large spaced out chandeliers provided the hall with bright light, but not overly so.

"These are the guest quarters." Kes gestured towards the six closed doors, three on each side.

The petite blonde haired woman moved to the first door on the right and entered a code in to the access panel next to the dark wooden door, it slid open just as readily as the metal ones did. Kes led Annika into the room that automatically brightened when the two entered.

The room had the same feel as the hallway, warm and rich, soothing but efficient. Covering the large, main room of the guest quarters were hardwood floors, dark beige walls with mahogany borders and large windows on one side overlooked the gardens. The living room was furnished with a plush burgundy leather couch and a matching recliner. On the glass coffee table in front of the couch sat a vase full of multicolored flowers. A large cabinet filled up the wall next to the door, while across from the couch and chair there was an entertainment system. Taking up a portion of the room were a small kitchen and a dark wooden table with four chairs that sat beneath a small chandelier. There was a partition that blocked the view from the door to the bedroom and bathroom.

"I'll let you wash up. There's clothing in the bedroom closet and everything you need is in the bathroom." Kes made her way back to the door as she left Annika to take in her new surroundings that were much different than the sterile backdrop of the shuttle bay. "The fridge is well stocked, but if you want something else just call the kitchen. The number is indicated on the phone."

"Thank you." Annika's reply was soft and distant to Kes' ears.

"Annika, I'll be back in an hour." Kes smiled one last time at Annika's now relaxed back and left.

CHAPTER 3

"Oh, gross." Annika took in the blood that had crusted around her mouth and on her chin with disgust. "Why didn't anyone tell me I looked like the other guy?"

Annika tore her gaze away from the mirror above the small sink and started the removal of her stained clothing. She tossed her ruined blue shirt into the garbage, angry that those bastards had ruined her favorite comfy shirt. The jeans dropped as did her dark blue panties and bra, the bloodied bra also went the way of the t-shirt. She regarded her trim waist in the mirror and turned so that she could see different sides of it. No bruising or marks at all, just the memory of the attack. She pulled herself away from the memories and sighed before she turned the shower on as hot as it would go and stepped in. She enjoyed the slight sting and the reddening of her skin as the hot water flowed over her hair, face, and body. She lowered the temperature to a more comfortable degree before she squirted purple colored shampoo into the palm of her hand and started the process of becoming herself again.

A thick lavender scent filled the steamed up bathroom and lingered on Annika's body as she wrapped a fluffy blue towel around herself. She stuffed one end of the material between her breasts to keep it secured as she padded out of the bathroom into the shocking cool air of the bedroom. She opened the small closet that stood unobtrusively in one corner of the room, most of it had been taken up by a large four poster bed. Whoever designed this room was decadent, Annika smiled in appreciation. She pulled out a large terry cloth robe, the same blue as the towel she had just dropped to the floor. After she had the robe secured she scooped up the discarded towel, along with the rest of her clothes and dumped the lot into a hamper next to the closet. Annika didn't feel like getting into clothing just yet so instead she made her way through the hall to the kitchen.

Kes had been right, the fridge was packed. Annika pulled a few items out and set them on the gray marble counter next to the refrigerator. She looked at the orange and fat free soy yogurt, thought better of it and placed them back in the fridge. She opened the freezer and pulled out a gallon of soy vanilla ice cream and placed the unopened container next to the plastic box full of lush strawberries. Now I just need a spoon, she thought happily.

Warm and clean, Annika sat at the table with her ice cream, strawberries, and pomegranate sparkling juice and started in. So avidly did she enjoy the sweetness of it all that she didn't hear the chime until the third ring. Kes probably, Annika looked up at the clock that read ten minutes until eight, right on the dot.

"Just a second." Annika looked guilty at the half eaten container of ice cream before she reluctantly replaced the lid, put the carton back in the freezer and the plastic dish now devoid of strawberries in the recycling unit. The spoon was licked clean before it was placed in the sink. Annika approached the door but stopped when she realized there was no door handle or locking mechanism on the door. The only noticeable marking was a small lit square to the side that had a small star symbol and a keypad. She took a guess and pressed the lit star. The door slid back with a sigh.

"Hello, Annika."

"Hi. Come on in." Kes followed Annika to the couch and sank comfortably on the opposite end from the tall blonde.

"So…" Annika wrapped her arms around her legs and turned more fully towards the small blonde woman who seemed to radiate comfort and wisdom just from her steady violet gaze. "What do you want to talk about?"

"Let's start with what you want to talk about and go from there." Kes regarded her with patient eyes until the realization that Annika had no idea where to begin dawned on her. "How are you feeling?"

"Right now?" Annika pulled her legs closer. "Angry, confused, pissed off that I'm so scared. I've never felt so… unprotected before."

"Because of your powers?" Kes was curious as to what abilities this woman possessed, her natural inclination would have been to ask Annika to demonstrate, but she stamped down the urge effectively.

"Yes." Annika looked down at her pale hands that were crossed a top the dark blue of the robe on her knees. "And because… I don't really ever use my… powers. The last time was about a year and a half ago. To save my life. And before that, I don't know, five years maybe? I don't really find a need to become a big metal box in my day to day life, you know. I guess I felt safe. That no one knew my secret. That I could lead a normal life." She looked at Kes with troubled eyes. "How did they know?"

The warmth in Kes' features faded for the first time since Annika first met her in the shuttle bay. The certainty was gone and was replaced with confusion touched with fear.

"We don't know for certain. Their computer banks were completely destroyed, self-destruct, and the men who held you captive were mercenaries for hire by the Friends of Humanity group. They didn't apprehend you, they were merely hired to hold you. Why, we don't know." She shook her blonde head, the fringed bangs shifted a bit on her forehead. "But we will find out how they located you and for what purpose," the resolve and assuredness was back. "And you are well protected here."

"I do feel… safe." Annika looked around the comforting room a bit before she looked back at Kes. "I'm very grateful to you, to Billy, to everyone, I probably would have died in that cell."

"I am truly sorry that happened to you, Annika." Kes let the sympathetic words wash over the tall blonde.

Annika straightened, the tears started to form but she held them back. "I am too. But it did, and now I'm okay, and Billy's okay. But some other people out there won't be so lucky… will they?"

"No, they won't be." Kes decided not to tell Annika about the two deaths that had already been claimed by the Friends of Humanity, a terribly inappropriate name for such a vicious group. "But we're going to try to prevent anyone else from going through what you just did."

Annika merely nodded her head in response. "Kes, I think I'd like to go to bed now."

"Of course." Kes rose quickly but gracefully to her feet. "Annika, if you need anything, just call." She indicated the phone with a wave of her hand. "Anytime."

"All right." Annika had stood too and she followed Kes to the door and pressed the star. The door slid open with another sigh. "Good night, Kes, and thank you."

"Good night." Kes offered one last smile before she turned and the door slid shut.

Annika looked at the pad and pressed the "Lock" button. She turned the lights off that had illuminated the kitchen/dining room and living room and used the moonlight that pooled in from the large bay windows to direct her way to the bedroom. She allowed the robe to drop to the floor in a heap before she moved to the small closet and pulled out an oversized navy blue t-shirt with a large "V" imprinted on the left breast. She pulled back the bedding and climbed in. As she lied there her gaze rested on the moonlit view from the large window in the bedroom. She had just resigned herself to the fact that sleep would not come when the darkness swept her away.

CHAPTER 4

She woke with a start. Sweat beaded on her brow and ran down her neck. She looked around the room quickly, where was she, she didn't know at first and then she remembered. She had gotten coffee after lunch and then there had been the burning pain. She had awakened in a green lit cell with Billy, a collar around her throat that had prevented her from using her abilities, and then Billy and she had been beaten by the guards, anti-metahuman bastards.

"Well hell," breathed Annika.

She whipped the blankets from her overheated body, the remaining evidence of her nightmare. She swung her long slim legs around and settled her feet in the softness of the rug. Water, she needed water, she padded to the kitchen and downed a glass, and then another, with visible movements of her throat. She glanced at the clock and her eyebrows furrowed at the time. 3:37.

"Damn."

Annika placed the empty glass in the sink with an audible thunk. She debated whether or not to just begin her day, but there wasn't anything she could really do here, it wasn't her apartment after all. She decided to make some nice warm tea to help soothe her back to sleep, at least she hoped it would.

As she set the large metal teapot on the stove to heat, she contemplated her rather odd situation. She had taken a two week sabbatical after her work had been completed. She had intended on catching up on some reading or perhaps she would just sit in front of the television with plenty of Vid Chips on hand. But it hadn't quite worked out that way, so now, after having been kidnapped and beaten, she was here at a school, for people like her. She had never given great consideration to the idea of anyone being like her. She had never had metahuman friends, or none that she had known about at least. It was strange to consider being some place where all the people were metahumans. Imagine not having to hide.

She pulled the string of the tea bag as she poured the boiling water in the large white ceramic mug. Satisfied by the aroma, she made her way to the large bay windows that took up most of the outer wall of the living room. The moonlight bathed the expansive garden that she gazed down upon in an ethereal light and she decided this place was quite beautiful and well taken care of. More like a home than a school, or at least any school she had gone to. She had never attended those stuffy boarding schools the children of the people her father worked with had attended, and she was always glad for that. She thought of the garish red and blue plaid skirts and sweater vests and almost shuddered. She had preferred her torn jeans and band t-shirts, thank you very much, not to mention her dyed hot pink and purple hair when she had been a teen. She smiled at the memory until something suddenly caught her eye.

Annika's eyebrows created a crease between them as she squinted in a rather futile attempt to extend the range of her eyesight. Something had been falling from the sky. No, not falling, floating, and it was coming closer. Quickly, Annika flung herself against the wall so as not to be seen by whatever it was that had been drifting closer to her. Was it a person? Annika's curiosity won out over her self-control and common sense and she took a peek out the window. It was a person. A woman more accurately. Annika hid her body as she craned her neck to look out the window at the woman who dropped slowly and gracefully to the ground from quite an impressive height. Annika couldn't see the woman's face very clearly as it was now turned away from her, however she couldn't help but notice how the silky pink robe accentuated a slim petite frame rather attractively. Annika watched in appreciation as long slightly curled hair drifted in the wind, as if the woman was still in the sky. The woman appeared to contemplate the gardens before she turned her gaze to the bubbling fountain. Hands went to the silky waist of her robe before the woman dropped them to her side and pushed gently off the ground. She quickly floated out of Annika's sight, high above the second story window.

Annika had to take several deep even breaths before she was composed enough to emerge from her hiding spot behind the large curtains, she turned fully in front of the window again. Her neck craned up to try to catch a glimpse of the woman who had just stopped her heart. She sighed in disappointment that she could see nothing but the stars in the sky. She left the window and moved towards the couch. She set the half empty mug on the coffee table in front of her before she relaxed her tall frame against the soft, cool cushion of leather. Her mind still reeled from the sight of the woman who had descended on the garden like an angel, bathed in moonlight. When she had turned towards the fountain Annika had gotten her first clear view of the woman's face. It was a beautiful face with high clearly defined cheekbones, a strong chin, an elegant nose, and above all the most startling eyes that seemed to glow with energy. The pursed lips and furrowed brow gave the woman a sad expression that Annika wondered about. Before she had gotten her fill, the woman had gently left the ground just as gracefully as she had descended upon it and was gone.

Annika pulled the afghan that was laid across the top of the couch onto her as she settled into the couch cushions that were warmed by her body heat. Her thoughts remained on the woman in the garden before the warmth of the cushions and the blanket caused her quick unconsciousness.

CHAPTER 5

BOOM!

Annika jumped, startled, and fell in an ungraceful heap on the floor between the coffee table and the couch she had just been so nicely and happily sleeping on.

BOOM!

"What the hell!"

Annika whipped the now irritating and twisted up afghan off of her body as she tried to get untangled and stand up at the same time. She finally managed to get the blanket off and stomped towards the large windows that now streamed in bright sunlight. Her hands were braced on the window sill as she took in the scene in front of her.

The rather roguish blonde haired man, Tom, Annika remembered, from the shuttle bay flew past her window in a rather haphazard way. Each time he veered quickly, it was always quickly, a loud BOOM sounded, and it was starting to royally piss off Annika who still had the residual feelings of her dream, a rather sensual one if the condition of her body was any indication. Annika creased her brow with frustration and opened the window with force.

"What the hell are you doing?" she shouted. Not the most brilliant question, but damn it Annika was pissed off and the afterglow of her dream was now becoming uncomfortable and annoying.

"Huh?" Tom skidded to a stop, visible fiery orange and yellow energy crackled and laced around him which gave the dark black and red suit he wore, similar to the one he had sported the night before, an appearance of being on fire. He smiled slowly as he bobbed in front of the open window. "Oh. Why, hello."

The tone of voice just annoyed Annika further.

"You know some people are trying to sleep around here and don't appreciate you…" She cast her hands about in the air. "Booming around."

"Sleeping? It's 11:30!" Tom smirked, seemingly not put off at all by Annika's brusque behavior.

"I didn't realize it was so late." Annika almost blushed. She realized that she had been atrociously rude, but this smirking man had interrupted a rather pleasant dream.

"No problem." Tom grinned brightly, he looked to be around Annika's age but he had a boyish look to him that seemed to make him look more innocent than Annika figured he was. "It's almost lunchtime, if you're hungry. I would be honored to escort you. You can even meet some of the others."

Annika's thoughts went back to the woman in the garden. "Sure, just let… I'm gonna go get changed."

"I'm sure no one would mind if you just wore that." And with that he boomed off leaving a rather seething Annika.

Annika hadn't particularly appreciated the once over she had just received. Who was this guy, he was like one big hormone flitting noisily around. Not at all as graceful as… Annika sighed at the thought of the star of her dream. She shook it off as she made her way to the bathroom to brush her teeth and find something a little less comfortable to wear.

She had just pulled on a blue fleece sweatshirt when her chime rang. She slipped into black flip flops and smoothed the bottom of the pullover against the dark blue yoga pants she wore. They didn't quite fit and ended at her calf, but they'd do. She made her way to the door as she tied her shoulder length blonde hair back in a ponytail. She pressed the star and stepped back as the door slid open to reveal Tom.

"Hi," his voice was bright and friendly and not just a little bit cocky. "I'm Tom Paris, your escort to our illustrious mess hall."

Annika had the urge to pop him one but reined it in, instead she looked him up and down and smirked at the agitation it caused in the cocky blonde man. "I was warned about you, Paris."

"Little ole' me?" Tom's face was a fake look of innocence and insult. He stepped back into the hallway to allow Annika to exit the flat. He walked next to her silently as he contemplated how to handle this woman. "So…"

"I'm a lesbian." Annika grinned as she continued to stroll down the hallway and left a gawking Tom in her wake.

"Oh," Tom quickly overcame the initial shock and caught up with the tall blonde.

"That's not a problem is it?" Annika continued to smirk.

"What?" Tom's cockiness actually subsided as he attempted to ascertain if this woman was needling him. "Course not. Homophobia was so 2008." He shrugged. "Sides, when you see a guy rip off his own arm and grow another in a matter of seconds, things like lesbians aren't such a big deal, ya know?" He pressed the star to open the elevator they now stood in front of.

They rode the elevator silently, though not uncomfortably. Annika allowed Tom to lead the way as they exited the lift after a few moments. It hadn't felt like they were going down so much as they had gone down quickly and then had gone sideways for a while until they had stopped.

Annika took in her new surroundings as she followed Tom down the wide hallway. On the right side she could see a large library though the windows that ran along the wall. On the other side she could see a gym. All standard looking stuff for a school that housed metahumans, Annika thought.

Tom and Annika activated the automatic doors and stepped through. The chattering of voices greeted them as Tom led her to a table that held several people she had already met and a few others she hadn't yet, but none of them were the woman she saw in the garden. Had she dreamt the whole thing?

Annika eased into an empty chair that was between Psi and the doctor. Tom Paris plopped down in a chair next to a rather surly looking woman with dark hair and eyes and smooth dark skin. On the other side of Paris sat Kes. Annika again had the urge to roll her eyes.

Tom helped himself to the large bowl of rice and steaming bowl of green curry tofu before he indicated for Annika to also help herself. She happily complied as the gurgling in her stomach became more pronounced, perhaps she should have had something a bit more substantial than ice cream and strawberries the night before.

"Ms. Hansen," Annika turned to the monotone voice of the large man that sat next to Kes. "I'm Chakotay." He waved an annoyed hand at Tom. "You've obviously already had the pleasure of meeting Paris. And Kes. Tuvok." Chakotay indicated Psi, the dark skinned man merely nodded in greeting, "and Dr. Lewis Zimmerman." The sparse haired man with the healing touch didn't smile but he did give her an even look before he turned back to his palm sized computer. "And this is B'Elanna Torres." The dark featured woman didn't smile either, but gave her an appraising look before she turned back to her own palm sized computer.

"Please, just call me Annika, I-" her voice was cut off as a bustle of noise erupted in the room from the now open doors as a flustered looking Slider and a half dozen children followed loudly behind. Annika immediately recognized Naomi and smiled in recognition.

"See, there she is!" Naomi didn't point exactly, but she might as well have.

Annika stood up and smoothed her pullover down before she walked over to the group of children. Three teens followed Naomi. One of them was a rail thin brown haired boy who appeared to be a bit broader in the back than she would have figured he would be with his lanky frame. The other two looked similar enough that Annika figured that they were probably sister and brother. Beside Naomi was a small girl with long curly cinnamon colored hair and a skeptical, rather unimpressed look on her young face. The last of the group were a pair of twins who had the same exact expression of complete indifference on their features.

"Hello, I'm Annika." Introductions were made quickly. The teens were Icheb, Beatrice and Henry Burleigh, the skeptical looking girl was Mezoti and the twins were Rebi and Azan.

"And I'm Harry, Harry Kim." Annika drew her attention away from the kids who were now in the process of clamoring to their table to rest on Slider. His look wasn't as cocky as Tom's but no less appreciative.

Honestly, thought Annika, these men are so hormonal. At least Tom and Harry were. She gained absolutely no attention from the doctor and Psi… Lewis and Tuvok. And this Chakotay guy seemed to be as unemotional as a block of wood.

"Nice to see you again, Harry." He beamed and led her back to the table, his hand didn't touch the small of her back but she knew it was pretty close. She sat back down and devoured her meal with relish, it was really very good. She said so and Kes smiled back at her warmly.

"Neelix will appreciate that." Annika watched as Kes looked around the mess hall before her gaze settled on the man that approached their table from the other side of the room. Where the kitchen was, Annika supposed.

A stout balding man dressed in almost obnoxiously bright colors of orange and blues sat in an empty seat and helped himself to the meal he had just prepared. Before he took his first bite his eyes locked onto Annika. Annika figured he had probably just noticed her presence.

"Who do we have here?" Neelix extended his freckled, chubby hand over his full plate to Annika. "I'm Neelix. The resident chef here." His voice was high and pinched, but warm and friendly as well.

"Annika." She shook the offered hand before he let go and began to eat. "Your food is quite good."

With his mouth full, Neelix merely beamed happily, a blush faintly colored his rather bulbous nose and cheeks. And with that, Annika finished the large potion that had only resided momentarily on her plate.

A chirp interrupted the satisfied food haze Annika had been in as she had silently taken in the idle chatter of her eating companions.

"Chakotay, here." The burly man had touched the same type of metal star she had seen the night before, but now it blended in better with regular clothing than the black suits her rescuers wore. She suddenly wondered where Billy was. Probably with Celes still. Annika smiled.

"Chakotay, is Ms. Hansen there?" A warm husky voice filled Annika's ears as heat trickled down her throat to rest in the pit of her stomach like whiskey. Had her last name ever sounded so sexy?

"Yes, she's actually sitting right here." Chakotay's dark eyes rested on Annika. The intricate tattoo above his black left eyebrow crinkled as he regarded the blonde.

"Ms. Hansen," the voice hit Annika with another wave of heat. She was certain her name had never ever sounded as sexy.

"Y-yes?" Annika shifted uncomfortably in her seat as all conversation seemed to cease around her.

"This is Kathryn Janeway, would you please come to my office? I would like to speak with you for a bit, if I could." The voice was friendly, but held a hint of command, as if the request wasn't particularly optional.

"Sure, yes, of course." Annika had already stood up.

"Thank you. Janeway out."

Annika stopped, she suddenly felt a bit light headed. She was going to meet the enigmatic Captain Janeway.

"Just take the elevator or the stairs one floor down. Her office is at the end of the hall, well actually right below us really." Tom smiled at the look of consternation that graced Annika's narrow features. "I know. It feels like you're being called to the principal's office huh? Don't worry; she's a big ole softie." The last part was said in a secretive whisper and ended with a wink.

"Uh huh." Annika moved quickly, albeit unsteadily to the door. She turned quickly around and waved nervously. "It was nice to meet you all." The doors to the Mess Hall slid closed as she departed.

"Wow." Harry's eyes had followed the retreating form with ill-concealed appreciation.

Tom laughed. "Oh, Harry, Harry, Harry." The man was going to be crushed again, Tom thought sympathetically. He had been a bit disappointed that he and the tall blonde would never be anything more than perhaps friends. Tom also wondered at the look of panic that had graced the tall blonde's face. He shrugged and went back to his tofu filled plate, what he wouldn't give for a damned pepperoni pizza.

CHAPTER 6

Tom had been right, Annika did have the distinct feeling that she had just been called to the principal's office. She descended the stairs swiftly and pushed open the door at the bottom of the stairwell. The hallway that greeted her was similar to the one she had just been in with Tom. Though on the side that had housed the library the space was taken up by a rather formal looking ballroom and on the opposite side was a room that appeared to be conference room.

She proceeded forward before she stepped in front of a desk that sat a rather bored looking young man with a receding hairline and a slouched posture. He barely acknowledged her presence before he tapped a button on the side of his desk.

"She's here." He slouched back in his seat, even more so now. He lifted a small computer closer to his face as he tapped a few buttons on it and appeared to be done with Annika altogether.

"Thank you, Mr. Harren." The husky voice that emanated from a small speaker on the desk seemed to hold a tone of patient irritation.

Annika quirked an eyebrow at the man's rather rude behavior but decided it wasn't really her problem. She was nervous, nervous to meet the woman who embodied that sensual husky voice that Annika had already begun to appreciate. As Annika moved in front of the large doors a beep sounded before they slid open to reveal a large office with two comfortable looking brown leather couches on one side, a closed door on the opposite side, and an ancient looking cabinet next to the huge bay windows that overlooked a large patio.

Annika stopped cold when her gaze rested on the large rich colored wooden desk that had several small items set upon it as well as a large computer console and a metal mug that had steam wafting out of it. Or more accurately she froze as the air rushed out of her when she took in the petite woman who sat behind the desk and who had yet to look up. The woman's eyes were focused on a thin metal display that had information scrolled across the flat surface. Rich, auburn hair was swept up in a French twist and revealed the elegant face Annika had caught a glimpse of early that morning. The look of sadness it had held was now replaced with concentration. The rectangular red rimmed glasses set on the end of the small slightly upturned nose and her pursed lips gave the woman a rather studious air. Annika felt the air leave her once again when the woman looked up. Blue-gray eyes, the most intense eyes Annika had ever seen, regarded her with keen intelligence. The woman set her glasses on the surface in front of her before she stood up and pushed away from her desk to come around and stand in front of Annika.

"Ms. Hansen," Kathryn Janeway held her hand out to Annika. "As I said before, my name is Kathryn Janeway, but most people around here call me 'Captain'. Please have a seat."

"I prefer to stand." Whoa, where did that come from? Annika wondered.

Oh no, she had it bad if she was already becoming contrary. Her natural defense mechanism when she was faced with a beautiful woman was to become impassive and defiant, not exactly endearing but it helped Annika feel protected. That elegant, fine boned hand that seemed to hold some sort of unseen power felt too good in her hand, brief as the shake was and her palm still tingled from the contact.

"All right," The husky voice of Kathryn Janeway held a bit of a question and Annika had caught the quick look of annoyance before it was replaced with an impeccable appearance of authority and professionalism.

Annika didn't feel too protected by her preference to stand as Janeway leaned against the front of her desk. Her arms crossed over a modest chest that was covered in a soft burgundy mock turtleneck, the long black skirt stopped at the woman's ankles which were crossed over one another, Annika wondered how far up those high healed leather boots went before she brushed the thought aside feeling slight heat in her cheeks.

"I'm not sure how much you know about what this place is but I thought I could answer some of your questions, if you'd like." Annika regarded the open features before her as she attempted to keep an impassive expression on her own.

"Kes told me this place was a school, for metahumans." Annika looked away from the rather intimidating and intense gaze the other woman had fixed on her and instead took in the rest of the office.

"Yes, that's right." Janeway's eyes never wavered even as she retrieved the mug of coffee, if the aroma was any indication, from her desk and took a long drink from it. "At the present there are four primary students and three secondary. We have a diverse curriculum here including art, mathematics, biology, music, literature and anthropology. You've already met most of the staff, the faculty at any rate, and of course… Mr. Telfer, Celes, and our Mr. Harren."

"How is Billy?"

Annika thought she saw something dark pass over Janeway's eyes before they became impassive again.

"Mr. Telfer is recuperating from his ordeal." This time Janeway's eyes did flicker away from Annika as she set the now empty mug back on the desk. "How are you feeling, Ms. Hansen?"

"How do you think I'm feeling?" Annika couldn't stop herself as much as she hadn't meant to lash out or raise her voice at the petite auburn haired woman who she noticed hadn't even flinched at the tone. "One minute I'm enjoying my holiday with a cup of coffee and the next minute I'm a prisoner being beaten to near death for no reason whatsoever other than being… different."

"I know it must have been very… difficult."

Annika's grunt was ignored as Janeway went on. "But I want you to know that we are doing everything in our power to find out who or what they used to find you and Mr. Telfer and put an end to it."

"I'd like to just go home. Return to my normal life." Annika made a move to the door as her emotions were beginning to bubble within her. She was about to cry in front of this complete stranger and there weren't many things that made Annika feel more foolish than to cry in front of someone, or really just cry in general.

"I'm sorry but that's just not an option right now." Janeway had removed herself from the desk and now stood in front of Annika. Despite the height difference, Annika felt that the other woman had all the power and that also made her blood boil with anger.

"Now I'm a prisoner here too?" Annika knew it didn't really make much sense to lash out at this woman but she was convenient and it kept her from thinking of Janeway in the manner she had that morning.

"No, not a prisoner, but we do want to make sure you're safe, Annika." The husky voice rose at the end. Annika figured Janeway was as surprised as she was that her first name fell from the other woman's lips.

"I'd feel safer if you found out how those bastards found me in the first place." Annika's voice was dangerously low, but quivered a bit as she reigned in her emotions as well as she could.

"I assure you, we will."

If Annika had thought her voice was dangerous it was nothing compared to how the husky usually warm tones dropped a few octaves and became cold hard ice, the blue-gray eyes shifted to a stormy gray before they lightened again to a slate gray.

"Would you be willing to stay until we do?" Again, there was enough of a hint of command that Annika felt she really had very little choice in the matter.

Annika looked into blue-gray eyes filled with hope and made her decision. "I'll need to retrieve some things from my apartment, the office won't be expecting me for another week or so…"

Annika's anger and frustration began to ebb a bit. This woman, these people, had saved her life, and seemed to genuinely just want to keep her safe. She almost apologized, but her stubborn pride prevented the words from forming.

"I suppose a short excursion could be in order. I'll send Ms. Torres and Kes with you, if you approve."

Annika nodded in agreement.

Janeway smiled, grateful that she had the tall blonde's cooperation. The gray now had more pronounced traces of blue. Annika wondered if this woman knew how easily her shifts in moods could be read from her eyes rather than the actual expression on her face that always seemed a bit cool and impassive.

"I'm about to lead a class if you'd like to have a look at the less conventional courses we provide here?"

Intrigued, Annika merely nodded her head. She followed the petite woman from the large office and past an oblivious Mr. Harren. Annika wondered how such a direct, authoritative woman could stand to have such an obtuse secretary. She couldn't help but pull a face as he continued to study and press buttons on the small computer console that rested on his outstretched legs.

Once they got to the elevator and well out of earshot of Harren, Janeway broke the silence as she pressed the star to hail the lift.

"Don't mind Mr. Harren." The auburn haired woman quirked one side of her mouth up into a wry grin and Annika felt heat rush through her body. "He might look a tad… unperceptive and lazy, but he really is handling a dozen or so things for me at this very moment."

"I see."

Annika was surprised. She hadn't even meant to make a face at Harren, who in fact she did think was dense as a stump and lazy as well. Not a good combination in her keen mind. Annika took note that not much probably got past those blue-gray eyes of her lift companion. Despite this note, she took the opportunity to unobtrusively observe 'Captain' Janeway.

Kathryn Janeway, who stood silently next to Annika in the lift, radiated a commanding presence and a barely contained energy that almost sparked off of her and surprised Annika that she didn't catch on fire from standing so close. She could smell a subtle perfume, or perhaps it was just soap. It was rich, spicy and tickled Annika's senses. She unconsciously took a deep breath. The ding of the elevator broke the silence.

Annika followed Janeway closely as she took in the hallway that looked very similar to the metallic walled hallway she had been in with Kes after they had left the shuttle bay. The huge doors that matched those doors of the bay opened, but instead of seeing the small sleek black ships it was a cavernous room devoid of anything except for yellow grids that ran across the steel gray walls, ceiling, and floor.

"What sort of class is this?" Annika looked around the impressively large and dull looking room with skepticism.

"It's a training session. Many of us on staff instruct students in the use of their abilities according to our own capabilities. For instance, my course focuses on energy conversion and distribution." Janeway moved away from Annika to a panel on the wall and the tall blonde watched as the other woman pressed a series of codes. The gray lined metal walls, ceiling, and floor began to shimmer and she was suddenly in the middle of a sandy beach, she could almost smell the salt from the sea.

Annika had heard of holographic simulations used by the military for training purposes but she had never seen one herself and was surprised and impressed that this school had one… Who financed this operation, Annika wondered in awe. She turned as the metal doors suddenly reappeared and opened to admit three children before the doors disappeared once again.

"Professor Janeway, I'm sorry we're late." Annika recognized Mezoti. The small girl was dressed in a thick looking black suit that covered her from her lower neck down to her booted feet and gloved hands. Mezoti looked annoyed as she took in her two companions, the twins, who for the most part looked sheepish. They too wore black suits.

"Let's begin our lesson then." Kathryn Janeway's voice was warm to the children but still held a tone that deterred any deviation from her command. "Rebi, I'd like you to begin. Protect us and contain the threat."

Annika only had a moment to be confused about Janeway's words before a group of twenty soldiers materialized on the beach all bearing menacing looking rifles. Rebi stepped up so that he had a protective stance in front of Janeway, Annika, Azan, and Mezoti. Annika gasped as the small boy calmly burst into flames, his outline still clearly visible but where there had been black fabric and skin tone there was nothing but white hot color. The heat that radiated off of him caused sweat to break out over Annika's body.

Annika watched as the flaming youth took a few steps closer to the soldiers who began firing their weapons at the five metahumans. Annika gasped in amazement as a wall of fire formed quickly between Rebi and the firing squad. The bullets sizzled before they melted away completely. The fiery wall pushed forward and caused the now frightened soldiers to back away quickly and into the ocean. The flames twisted and curved around the retreating men and caused them to huddle together so as not to be touched by the flames that held them captive.

"Computer." It was Janeway, her voice clear over the roaring fire. "Freeze program." As it did the soldiers froze in whatever position they had just been in, mostly ones of fear. "Rebi, that was very well done."

As the boy powered down the wall of fire and the flames that had encompassed his own body, he merely nodded in acknowledgement though his usually indifferent expression had a ghost of a smile on it.

Janeway's clear voice sounded again. "Computer, program F42Alpha3." A bleep of acknowledgement sounded before the ocean scene and soldiers disappeared. The towering inferno of an apartment complex, took their place. "Azan!"

Azan stepped forward, like his brother his transformation was quickly accomplished, though instead of fire he turned to ice. He held out one small hand and a large layer of ice formed beneath him. As he moved his hand up the ice continued its ascent. He settled his feet onto the forming ice sheet and rode it until he was above the fiery building. The icy discharges that formed the slide turned to blasts of snow and water as he began to extinguish the fire. He skated quickly on the ice he now created with his feet and went from window to window to douse the flames.

There was a crunching of metal before Annika saw a section of the building come away, it was falling quickly towards the ground where a group of people now were, they all screamed in fear. Azan seemed to suddenly realize the fire would have to wait and sped towards the debris that was only a few stories away from crushing the twenty or so people on the ground. His small hands shot up as his slide lifted his body towards the falling brick and metal debris. The ice blast and the leverage from the ice slide angled the huge piece of wreckage so that it fell against the building and shattered into a few billion pieces of harmless ice.

"Computer, end program."

The empty yellow lined gray room formed around them again.

Azan had iced down the entire area and wasn't even damp as he returned to a more normal appearance. He turned his even dark eyes to Janeway. He seemed to wonder with an upturned eyebrow why she had ended the program.

"Azan, did you check to make sure there weren't any people in the building?" Apparently he hadn't because his face fell. "Assess all aspects of the situation before you act."

"They're just humans," Mezoti's voice was soft but unmistakable in the quiet room.

"Mezoti, all life is precious. It doesn't matter if it's a human life or a metahuman life." Janeway's tone was compassionate but hard. "You shouldn't judge a group of people by the actions of a few. That's prejudice and we don't appreciate when people make assumptions about us, do we?"

"No, Professor." Mezoti's voice was humbled but unrepentant as she uncrossed her arms and moved closer to the auburn haired woman. "I'm ready to begin."

"All right." Janeway presented Mezoti with her outstretched arm. Mezoti took the older woman's hand in hers and looked up at the smiling face rather anxiously. "You'll do just fine, Mezoti."

Annika watched as Mezoti began to flicker in and out of view. She appeared to turn invisible at will and Janeway's hand where it held onto Mezoti's also began to flicker.

"Concentrate, Mezoti. I'm right here." Janeway's voice was soothing and encouraging which helped the little girl to cease flickering before she regarded her feet. Gradually she and Janeway began to rise from the floor from an unseen force. "That's very good. I can feel the field under my feet. Now, do you want to see if you can move it sideways?"

Mezoti nodded her head and sweat began to bead on her small face as her brows knitted with the force of her concentration. It was unsteady but she accomplished her task. Just as Mezoti began to grin at her accomplishment she felt dizzy and promptly fainted, which sent herself and Janeway into a free fall.

Annika had been watching Janeway and the little girl in amazement as they moved close to the high ceiling of the room. Janeway's mouth kept moving which seemed to ease the jerkiness of their movement with each passing word until they both suddenly dropped towards the hard ground. Annika instinctively took a step forward to catch them, despite the fact that her frame would probably have broken their bones on impact. Just as suddenly, the two women's dangerous descent stopped and Janeway held the unconscious form of Mezoti in her arms as she drifted gently down to rest next to an anxious Annika and the twins who didn't appear to have noticed anything amiss. The moonlight wasn't on Janeway this time, but Annika still thought she looked majestic and ethereal, an angel.

"She's okay, just a bit of a strain." Janeway had seen the anxious expression on Annika's face and had wanted to reassure the young woman. She turned her slate gray eyes to the little girl in her arms. "Mezoti?"

Mezoti's eyes flitted a bit before they opened fully. Janeway gently placed the girl's feet on the ground before she straightened as she stood.

"I failed." Mezoti's voice was soft and disappointment laced the two words.

"It'll take some time, but you've made excellent progress today, Mezoti. We have only just begun to use your invisibility fields to enable you to levitate." Janeway put a reassuring hand on the small shoulder of the sullen girl. "You know, it took me quite a bit of time to get the hang of flying myself. We'll try again next week, okay?"

"Okay." Mezoti's voice was still soft, but held hope.

The smile on Janeway's face formed gradually and seemed to brighten exponentially as it completely transformed her face. Annika didn't know if Mezoti would be the only who would faint this day. She felt altogether too warm and was partially glad that the smile hadn't been directed towards her or she would have very well ended up on the floor from the sheer brightness of it. Though a part of her felt silly for feeling envious of the twelve year old Mezoti.

"Perhaps we should try a slide approach like Azan's for next time, instead of a small disc." Janeway pulled back her hand and rested it on her chin. "Yes, I think that would be more stable. But remember, do not attempt to levitate without supervision, Mezoti."

"Yes, Professor." Mezoti sounded resigned and she nodded her head in agreement.

"Well, I think that's enough for today." Janeway followed the students out of the room with Annika close behind. "Ms. Ballard is most likely waiting for you at the lake."

The trio waved before they walked to the lift that would take them to their rooms. They needed to change before they set off toward the lake and the park that stood before it.

"They are… impressive." Annika broke Janeway's steady look that had followed the children. Bright blue-gray eyes regarded her with a mix of pride and regret, an odd combination, Annika thought.

"Yes, they are." Janeway's voice had gotten huskier and was a mere whisper before she breathed deeply and smiled. "I was wondering, Ms. Hansen, if you'd be willing to show me what your abilities are?"

It was a shy question and Annika felt warmth fill her chest as she looked at the inquisitive blue eyes that gazed hopefully up at her. "Um, sure, but how bout we go back in there… I need some space."

"Oh, of course." Janeway turned happily away and strolled briskly to the large metal door. Near tangible excitement sparked off of her. She was a scientist after all.

As the doors slid behind them, Annika felt apprehension grip her as she considered how much to show the other woman. Janeway generated a lot of emotions and reactions in Annika and one of the strongest was the feeling that she could trust the other woman. She took a breath before she turned back to the petite woman who stood against the wall, her level blue-gray gaze never left Annika.

With a sigh, Annika turned away and walked about twenty feet before she stopped and removed the pullover and tank top from her body in one swift motion. The rubber band from her hair was tossed on top of the clothes. Now naked from the waist up Annika began to concentrate and felt the shifting of her bones, a sensation she hadn't felt in nearly two years.

The tearing sound set her teeth on edge and the gasp she heard from the other woman in the room made her feel more ill at ease but she pressed on. The only sound now was ripping of flesh and the grinding of steel. Suddenly, five spikes measuring at around eight inches tore from her metallic spinal column. The gasp now could hardly be heard as the shifted metal began to turn and flatten against her back as did the metal spikes that had erupted from her shoulders, arms, and upper chest. The spikes all turned and flattened to Annika's body as bands of metal erupted from the sides of each. The bands of hard metal encircled her arms, her torso and her back, she allowed the metal to reach her fingertips and it ended in thick dangerous looking points. She debated whether to cover her face and thought she might as well, so her hair fell in clumps as her skull and face were being covered in metal. The final transformation was that of her eyes, which were now solid sheets of icy blue metal. She took a deep breath before she turned to meet Janeway' gaze.

Janeway's eyes were large and her right hand covered her open mouth as she regarded the half metal woman who stood before her. The metal that encased the blonde woman created thick armor like panels across her torso and shoulders, the muscles of her lean arms were striated from the metal bands that had sprouted from the spikes. But she didn't appear bulky, the exoskeleton seemed more like a metallic solidifying of her already lean tall frame. It was also the most painful looking transformation Janeway had ever witnessed, not even Chakotay's seemed as painful as Annika's had looked.

"Annika, that was…" Janeway, perhaps for the first time in her life, was rendered speechless.

"Disgusting, horrible… neat?" Annika folded her metallic arms across her ample metal chest as she regarded the flustered woman before her.

"Remarkable. Extraordinary." Janeway's speech returned in a hoarse whisper. "It didn't, it doesn't hurt you?"

"No, I know it sounds horrible but actually it feels a bit like stretching, relief that I can finally be in the form that is usually hidden beneath my skin." Annika had felt a flash of warmth in her still flesh covered lower section at the whispers that had left Janeway's mouth.

"So, your entire skeletal structure is like this?" Janeway's intelligent gaze took in every centimeter of the metal body that stood in front of her. "This is merely an exoskeleton, an extension… fascinating."

"It's all right, I guess. It's not like I can fly or anything." Annika smiled, her metal lips just as full as her human ones. She took in the amazed blue gaze that still rested on her.

"Would you like to?" The question came out faster than Janeway had time to consider it.

"I think I'm a little heavy for you." Annika knew Janeway couldn't see how her gaze took in every inch of the petite compact figure before her with naked appreciation. The light blue metal optical plates hid the gaze well.

"I'm stronger than I look." Janeway quirked one side of her mouth and Annika melted a bit more as she tried not to fidget.

"Well, perhaps I'll take you up on that offer… someday." Were they flirting? Annika panicked. She was, after all, half naked here. "Um, I think I'm going to power down now…"

Janeway looked a bit confused until she realized suddenly that Annika didn't exactly want an audience. "Oh! Of course."

She turned quickly around and marched towards the door to wait for the tearing to begin anew. Janeway didn't turn around despite the deep curious-laden desire to do so. She started when a warm hand touched her shoulder. A rosy skinned Annika, her golden hair framing her flushed face, smiled at her.

"Amazing." Janeway shook her head as she smiled in return. Then she led a blushing Annika down the hall to the lift.

CHAPTER 7

Kes attempted to hide her grin as she sensed the emotions that emanated thickly from both women seated stiffly in the front seat of the dark green hover car, which was presently speeding quickly away from the large iron gates of the Voyager Institute.

She mused over what she had felt from Annika in the parking garage where she had met the tall blonde and the Headmistress after being summoned by the latter to run 'a quick errand'. Kes had sensed a vague sort of excitement emanating from the older woman, but Janeway was nothing if not controlled, especially in front of Kes. After asking Kes to go with Annika to retrieve some of the woman's personal belongs, Janeway had excused herself to answer a conference call. As the auburn haired woman walked briskly away, Kes had turned her violet eyes to Annika who she noticed had watched the departing Headmistress with keen interest.

"So, Annika?" Kes had maintained a perfectly even voice. "How was your session with Professor Janeway?"

The abundant amount of emotions that had bombarded Kes at that moment had almost caused her to burst into melodic laugher. But she had learned to suppress such immediate reactions.

Annika had, for the most part, been successful in maintaining an impassive expression though the blush that had formed had made it obvious she wasn't so controlled as the woman who had just left.

"She's…" Annika hadn't known exactly what to say. "Formidable."

Kes had laughed then, a light laugh. "That she is."

Her gaze had shifted from Annika to the rather huffy figure that had been advancing steadily to their location. Speaking of formidable, Kes had thought to herself when she had taken in B'Elanna Torres in all her fiery glory.

"Now I'm a damned chauffer." B'Elanna hadn't exactly waited for the two blondes to secure themselves before she had peeled out of the parking garage with a burst of acceleration.

Now they were on their way to Annika Hansen's apartment to pick up her personal belongings before adding her to ranks of the Voyager Institute. Kes sighed happily knowing the woman felt comfortable and relaxed, most likely due to the fact that she didn't need to hide who she was from anyone on the grounds of the institute. Acceptance like that after a lifetime of hiding had to take a massive burden off of one's shoulders. Not to mention the added emotions she sensed from Annika regarding a certain auburn haired woman.

But aside from bursts of warm emotions anytime Janeway's name was mentioned, Kes sensed a growing irritation in the blonde regarding the rather annoyed brunette that drove quite recklessly down the narrow streets of San Francisco.

"Take a right up there." Annika's voice was icy and commanding. She had to grip the armrests to prevent herself from falling against the console as the car turned sharply and sped up as it bounced the passengers inside. She gestured towards a large red brick apartment building. "Okay, it's this one."

After Annika leapt gratefully out of the car, she used her code to enter the apartment complex while Kes and B'Elanna followed closely behind. She scaled the two flights of stairs easily and stopped in front of her door and pressed her hand against the scanner. It beeped its acceptance but before she could turn the knob B'Elanna's strong rough hand stopped her. Annika had been about to make a rather loud complaint, but the finger to B'Elanna's mouth which told her silently to be quiet had stopped her. B'Elanna seemed to be straining to hear and with a sniff of her nose she let Annika's hand go. Bemused, Annika turned the knob and sighed in relief at the comfort of her own apartment.

"I was wrong. Someone's been here." B'Elanna's rough voice took on an urgent, warning tone. "Looks like they ransacked the place."

Kes laughed lightly. Annika had begun to decide that the elf woman had an uncanny sense of perception, because she laughed a bit herself.

"Actually," Annika shrugged, "This is how it always looks."

B'Elanna turned her incredulous expression from the two blondes to the small apartment that looked as if a small bomb had gone off in it. Papers, books, various laptops and palmtops were strewn about as were many plates and cups and eating utensils, all of which seemed to have life growing on them. Pieces of clothing in various dirty stages were also littered liberally across the room. Even the ten speed had a few dirty socks and running clothes draped across it. The brunette didn't know how anyone could live in such a mess, not to mention the unpleasant odor. Though it might not be as readily apparent to the other two women, B'Elanna's nose wrinkled in disgust.

Off of B'Elanna's look Annika decided to get moving. "I'll just go grab a suit case from my room."

Annika managed to make a clear trail with the nudging of her feet as she shifted her way past empty pizza boxes and Vid cases. In the solitude of her room, Annika started to stuff clothing in one of her large metal suitcases that were to be used to house all of her personal items. One large suitcase was closed with a bit of effort, pieces of clothing poked out in a few places but she was satisfied that it was secured, at least for the duration of the trip back to the Institute.

Thoughts of the Institute automatically shifted to thoughts of the compact auburn haired woman who radiated a sense of command, energy, confidence, compassion, and strength all housed in a small feminine body and a lovely and elegant face. Annika could get lost in those eyes alone, not to mention those lips and that husky voice.

"Are you almost done?" B'Elanna's voice was annoyed and deep, Annika shook herself away from her musings of elegant, fine boned hands to the smaller silver suitcase that would hold all of her photo pads, palmtops, and laptops.

She rolled the larger, clothing filled, suitcase out behind her and carried the medium sized one into the living room. She set the smaller one on the couch and started to drop electronic equipment into it. Satisfied by the final drop of her stereo system and micro discs, she closed the case with a click.

"Finally! Took you…" B'Elanna's nose crinkled and she turned towards the window quickly. "Get down!"

The three women had just enough time to duck behind Annika's couch when a large gray cylindrical capsule whizzed in from the suddenly shattered window. But before it could land in the middle of the room and go off, Kes had stood up and stretched her right arm out. The cylinder hovered for a split second before it flew back from where it came. A flash of blinding light and then screams of men filled the afternoon air. The sound satisfied Kes and put a small grin on her lips.

"Let's go!" B'Elanna pulled Annika quickly up from the ground and shoved her none too gently towards the door.

Annika didn't have enough time to be surprised by the strength B'Elanna had just demonstrated before a metal suitcase hit her hard in the chest. She grabbed it before it fell to the ground and ran out of her apartment of the last two years, Annika never looked back.

Kes and Annika shoved the suitcases in the back of the vehicle before they quickly strapped in. If Annika had thought B'Elanna had driven fast getting them to her apartment, she thought they were perhaps breaking the speed of sound at this point. Her knuckles were white as she gripped the armrests of her seat.

"What the hell was that thing?" Annika looked back behind her, but gratefully did not see a vehicle in pursuit.

"A flash bomb." Kes' voice was even, but low as she explained. "When it goes off anyone in its vicinity is rendered unconscious, painfully so."

"So you can…" Annika lifted her hand, unable to find the right words.

"Yes, I have telekinetic abilities." Kes looked away as she said the next part. "And I can sense the emotions of others."

"Oh…" Annika's voice was small, so Kes probably knew that she… "OH!"

"I'm a counselor, not a voyeur." Kes smiled, somewhat guiltily. She had, after all, gained quite a bit of delighted pleasure in feeling the woman's emotions in response to the Headmistress.

"And what can you do?" Annika turned her attention to a seething B'Elanna instead of the knowing gaze of Kes.

"I'm just not someone you wanna mess with, okay?" B'Elanna hadn't taken her eyes off the road.

B'Elanna was furious that she hadn't sensed the men before they had been able to shoot that damned flash bomb through the ice princess' window. And now she had to tell Janeway that they were involved in an incident, in daylight, with how many witnesses. She seethed a bit more as she heard sirens from a distance. All this because of the icy blonde who sat next to her.

B'Elanna sighed. The tall blonde just rubbed her the wrong way but the manner in which the other woman had pulled her knees against her chest and despondently contemplated the dashboard made her break just a bit. "I possess superhuman strength, agility, speed and stamina, I have heightened senses and I heal real fast." The last part was said in a flippant manner.

"She can take down Chakotay in his full wolf form, it's quite impressive." Kes smiled happily at the darker shading that graced the brunette's cheeks.

"Wolf form?" Annika shook her head. "God, this is all so crazy."

"I heard you turn into metal." B'Elanna shrugged.

"I just meant…" what had Annika meant? "I've never known anyone else like me… like us, before, I always just kept my abilities secret and now… being surrounded by people who also have powers is a bit overwhelming." Annika smiled at B'Elanna, despite the fact the woman stared at the road in front of them. "And it's kinda nice… to not have to hide, you know?"

"Yeah, I know." She didn't smile, though her voice was lighter than it had been before. B'Elanna had turned once again towards Annika. Perhaps not such an ice princess, she considered. The rest of the car ride went by in silence.

CHAPTER 8

"This is pretty daring, even for them, a daylight attack. We're missing a piece of the puzzle here, people." Janeway sipped her coffee as she paced in front of the large oak table, a feat that had been perfected over time. She stopped her pacing in order to look at each person intensely. "I want to find out what that particular piece is."

Seated around the large rectangular table were Chakotay, Tuvok, Tom, B'Elanna, Kes, Dr. Zimmerman, and Annika Hansen, who had been the only person who had visibly fidgeted under the intense gaze she had just received.

"I may have an explanation." Tuvok turned his eyes from the again pacing woman to the tall blonde who seemed to be attempting to blend in with her surroundings, despite the fact that such action was illogical since she did not possess that particular ability as far as he knew. "Ms. Hansen, what is your profession?"

"I work at Global Tech." Annika shrugged. "Why, what's that have to do with people attacking me?"

Tuvok rose one of his dark slightly angled eyebrows. "Would you please tell us the project you are currently working on?"

"All right." Annika shifted to sit straighter in the high backed chair. "About six months ago the company won a military contract to manufacture a subdermal tracking device in conjunction with an orbital array that would be able to pinpoint a soldier's exact location. It's called the Finder Project. Military personnel would have an implant just beneath the skin of their upper arm which would not only have a microchip that linked to the satellite but it would also contain genetic information on the soldier in case of disfiguring death. The implant itself would give off a homing signal if the temperature of the soldier reached lower than ninety degrees Fahrenheit. Assisting in any-"

"So, wait…" Tom interrupted with a raised hand, a look of confusion on his boyish face. "What you're saying is… the government could know exactly where every person who has one of these… implants inside of them is? Any time they want?"

"Well, yes." Annika shrugged as she continued. "It really is quite ingenious. The people on the ground and in the air would know exactly where one another were at all times. Less chance of death by friendly fire." She smiled, but the expression was not shared by anyone else in the room.

"God! Don't you realize what this means?!" The outburst came from B'Elanna, who had gotten up from her seat to stand, braced against the table with her outstretched hands.

Annika was now fairly confused and irritated that yes, apparently she didn't realize what it meant. "What are you talking about?" The annoyance directed toward herself laced her words.

"What do you mean, what am I talking about?" B'Elanna demanded. She straightened abruptly and threw her hands in the air in frustration. "You don't even get it do you?" The reddish hue on the light skin of the tall blonde ice queen gave B'Elanna the answer.

"B'Elanna," the voice was low, husky and commanding.

B'Elanna sat down with a huff, her arms crossed. She looked anywhere but at Annika. Janeway turned her attention to the blushing blonde and her gaze held extreme patience, which embarrassed Annika even more.

"Ms. Hansen, are you aware of 'the Protection of Humanity Act'?" Janeway's voice was controlled, but even she let sarcasm drip off the name of that particular contradiction in terms.

"No. Why, what is it?" Annika looked around the room. Why did she feel like she was the only one who had no idea what the hell was going on here?

"It's a piece of shit." B'Elanna mumbled the words, but not quietly enough that it was difficult to hear. Reponding to Janeway's look, she hastily added, "What? It is." She shrugged and then quickly went back to her crossed arms, slouched position.

"This particular… charming piece of legislation was introduced by our good friend Senator Hayes to Congress last week." Janeway's voice had taken on a sharp, acerbic edge. She explained further in a low voice. "Under this Act all metahumans would be required to register with the government or find themselves incarcerated as a threat to national security."

"Registration today, 'a shower and a hot meal' tomorrow." Dr. Zimmerman sighed, exasperated as he shook his head in disgust.

"Doctor," Janeway's sharp tone forstalled any more pessimistic comments from the man. She still had faith that the Act would never get approved and didn't appreciate the allusion to concentration camps, though if the legislation did go through she might have more reason to not appreciate the idea of those camps than she already did.

"Actually," Janeway turned towards Chakotay, his dark eyes were filled with anger though his voice was calm, even soft. "If this piece of… legislation were to be passed the doctor wouldn't be too far off the mark. First registration, then inhibition, research, genetic repression and destruction. Hell, they'd probably send us all off to a deserted island somewhere so we can kill each other off with our… disease."

"Oh my God!" Realization finally dawned on the usually brilliant Annika Hansen.

"Finally!" B'Elanna huffed.

Annika ignored B'Elanna for the most part as she addressed Janeway. She had risen from her chair, her icy blue eyes alight with apprehension. "You think they'd use the Finder Project on metahumans, on us?!"

"Imagine if the government knew the exact location of each and every metahuman just here in the United States." Janeway's right hand was raised, her index and middle finger pointed out to punctuate her words. "That's almost five hundred people under the watchful eye of a not so friendly government body if this Act were to be passed. And it wouldn't be a stretch to say that other governments across the world would adopt the same type of registration and tracking system." Janeway leaned in, her voice dropped to emphasize her next point. "Now, imagine if a group like 'The Friends of Humanity' somehow gained access to that tracking information. They would hunt us all down, one by one."

"Oh God!" Annika shook her head.

Why couldn't she have just gotten coffee and lived her life in blissful ignorance, why had she been captured by those bastards and then saved by these people, why? It wasn't fair. She didn't even particularly like to use her powers and had only done so a half a dozen times in her life. She didn't want this, she didn't want any of this. She hadn't asked to be different, to be a metahuman. And now the government wanted them and the company she worked for might have an insidious agenda or the military could. And what was she supposed to do? She wasn't some advocate or superhero, what was she expected to do now? She had kept her powers secret for so many years, hidden herself away, a solitary, but safe existence and now her whole world was turned upside down and she was plopped in the middle of perhaps the biggest civil rights shakeup ever. Metahumans transcended things like gender, race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, ability, age, size, ethnicity, class, education, everything. It rendered people either human or not.

Annika hadn't even realized she had run out of the room until she ended up in front of the fountain and the vast, beautiful gardens. Her breathing came in ragged gulps, either from the exertion from her sprint from the large brick building or from an anxiety attack, or both. She was bent over, her hands on top of her thighs and her head hung low, she was just getting her bearings again when a warm hand touched her shoulder.

"LEAVE ME ALONE!" Annika whipped around and the blonde hair that had escaped her ponytail flew around her flushed face. She hadn't meant to lash out, nonetheless her reinforced metal boned fist connected solidly. With Janeway.

CHAPTER 9

"Oh my God!" Mortified, Annika quickly crouched down next to a very winded Kathryn Janeway. "I'm so sorry! I… I didn't mean to! I'm sorry, are you okay, of course you're not okay, you just got beamed by a piece of metal, I really didn't mean to, I'm sorry, I-"

"Annika." Janeway's voice was a whisper. She held out one of her elegant hands and looked at the tall blonde expectantly. Annika shook her head before she stood up quickly and assisted Janeway to her feet. "Well, that didn't go quite how I planned."

Janeway touched her stomach cautiously. There would probably be a bruise tomorrow but nothing serious enough to call the doctor, despite the fact that he would rant on and on if he was aware that she didn't go to him for every little injury that befell her.

She looked over to her companion whose reddened face was turned away from her. She took a few cautious steps towards the blonde, not from fear of getting the wind knocked out of her again, but because Annika looked so vulnerable with her deceptively strong arms clutched around her torso as if she were cold.

"I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to." Annika's voice was soft and sad, filled with regret.

It sounds like she's sorry for more than just the glancing blow that knocked me on my ass, thought Janeway.

"Annika, it was an accident, it's already forgotten." Janeway took another step closer. "I wanted to talk to you, if I could. I realize that… this is all new to you. We've been doing this for so long it seems like old hat to a lot of us."

"They hate us so much." Annika still didn't dare to look at the auburn haired woman that exuded such comfort and compassion with just her mere presence. "The government. Those groups. They all do. Does that get any easier over time?"

"No. It doesn't." Janeway shook her head, a sad smile on her face. "I've been involved with this Institute for twenty-seven years now, I've seen many students come and go through these grounds, assisted many families in disappearing from the world at large. I've witnessed legislation after legislation to either regulate us or destroy us make it to a congressional vote. Obviously none of them made it through, but some just barely."

"How do you keep doing it?" Annika slowly let her eyes find the other woman.

Janeway stood in front of the fountain, much in the same way she had stood the first night Annika had laid eyes on her. Hands on her small waist, chin up, expression covertly sad, introspective, and resolute.

"Because I'm an optimistic pragmatist." Janeway gestured towards a park bench. She sat down and crossed one slim leg over the other as she waited for a hesitant Annika to join her before she continued. "I know, at this moment in time, it's necessary to keep this Institute a secret. The students, the faculty, everyone here knows that their safety rests upon the fact that no one knows we're metahumans. And that's sad and unfortunate and everything else, but it's the truth. I also know that some people, some families want to be hidden away, their extraordinary abilities never used. That's their choice and I'm also involved in a group that helps them do just that. But invisibility isn't a solution to our problems. We must affect policy on a grand scale. I truly believe that there will be a time when fear and hatred towards people like us won't be as prevalent and open as it is today. A time when there will be peaceful coexistence between all people. It'll be a hell of a fight to get there, but I believe it's worth fighting for."

"Some would say you're an idealist." Annika had never really considered the possibility of coexistence. She had resigned herself to the fact that she would just always have a secret no one else could ever know about. But as she took in the determined look on the woman next to her she felt somewhat like an idealist herself. If Janeway could create that bright future from just sheer strength of will, Annika had no doubt she would see it tomorrow. Alas, the reality of the situation was what it was, that future might as well be a hundred years from now.

"I've been called worse." Janeway smirked, that half grin Annika had grown to love so much in such a short amount of time.

"I'm sorry I ran out of there like that." Annika shook her head ruefully. "I just felt like such an idiot. I still do. I had no idea. I guess I hid myself away from the world a little too well."

"You've never discussed metahumans with anyone before?" Janeway's voice held a note of skepticism, it was, after all, the hot button issue of the last several decades.

Annika turned her face away as a blush of shame reddened her cheeks. "Yes, but I never said much, I sort of thought it would give me away. I… I've said things… I didn't mean them. I'm sorry."

"You were trying to protect yourself, you don't need to apologize to me." Janeway's tone was sincere, but Annika had to chance a quick look to make sure. Yup, definitely a bit of blue to soften the slate gray along with a pardoning smile.

"Thank you." It wasn't enough, but it was all Annika could think to say. The warm brilliant smile she received in turn was enough for Annika's heart to beat a bit faster.

"Well." Janeway startled the tall blonde with her abrupt movement off the bench. She stretched her right arm out towards Annika, who readily accepted it as it helped her to her feet. "It's been a long day. How does dinner sound? I believe Neelix has prepared his world famous eggplant parmesan for this evening."

"Sounds great." Annika's hand still tingled as she and Janeway walked past the bubbling fountain enroute to the dining room. "So, you said you've been here for twenty-seven years?"

"Yes, I was a student here." Janeway almost laughed at the one raised eyebrow that received. "Then I left to go to school in England, then I conducted my work, and about seven years ago I came back here. I took on the position of Headmistress shortly after that."

There was so much information packed in those few sentences that it took Annika a bit to sort out what she wanted to ask first. How did Janeway come to be a student here? School in England? What kind of work had she done? Why did she come back? Headmistress…

"What sort of work did you do?" Annika had figured she'd garner the rest of the answers she wanted from asking that one question.

"Genetics. During my time at school I became very interested in genetic diseases, how to cure something when it's imprinted in the person's genetic makeup. My focus was on diseases that cause mental degradation. Alzheimer's primarily, but also…" Janeway trailed off as she noticed that Annika was no longer beside her. "Annika?"

"You're Dr. K. E. Janeway?" Annika looked at the other woman like she had never seen her before in her life.

The light pink blush that was beginning to form on the nose and cheeks of the auburn haired woman would have been appreciated more by the tall blonde if she hadn't been completely floored with the information she had just been given.

"Yes. I am." Janeway shrugged as she attempted to ignore the astonished look on Annika's face.

"But you, you're so… You cured Alzheimer's!" Annika looked at the petite, rather humbled looking woman that stood uneasily before her.

Of course she had heard of Dr. K. E. Janeway, you would have had to be living under a rock for the last sixteen years to not have, but Annika hadn't put two and two together until this very moment. The world renowned geneticist who had single-handedly unlocked the cure to the terrible disease, a cure that had helped millions of people all over the world, not to mention the youngest person to ever receive a Nobel Prize at the tender age of twenty-four, now stood with her hands on her hips and a slightly self-effacing look on her elegant features.

"You're brilliant!"

"Yes, well…" Janeway looked away from the tall blonde to the heavy doors leading to the dining room. Annika now very much appreciated the deep blush that covered the other woman's cheeks hotly.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass you." Annika didn't feel particularly sorry as the blush on the other woman occupied her attention. "Though I'm surprised, I would think people would be singing your praises wherever you went. You've helped countless people all over the world."

"Well, I..." Janeway straightened her shoulders and willed the blood to stop rushing to her face every time she received a compliment from Annika. She looked up at her tall companion and smiled a shy, but bright smile. "Shall we?"

Janeway pushed open the doors to the dining room.

CHAPTER 10

Tom watched the two women as they made their slow approach to the large, oval shaped dining room table that seated all nine of the faculty members and one more for Annika. When no one appeared as if they were going to comment on Annika's rather dramatic exit from the conference room, the tall blonde seemed to relax as she took a seat next to Kes and across from B'Elanna. The two women served themselves from the platters on the table and began to enjoy Neelix's eggplant parmesan.

Tom turned his blue eyes towards his Headmistress. He wondered at the reddish hue that was just now starting to dissipate from Janeway's cheeks.

"Are you blushing?" He said it quietly, but it still garnered a few curious glances from those closest to him including Kes, who looked like she had a secret and he was going to have to convince her to tell him what it was somehow.

"Mr. Paris." Janeway gave him one of her patented death glares. "Do shut up."

That received a laugh and a quick nod from Tom. "Yes, ma'am!" He almost saluted but thought better of it. "So, Headmistress, what's on the agenda for the weekend?"

The manner in which he said 'mistress' was emphasized as it always was with him, he knew her dislike for the term so it was his way to needle her every chance he had.

"Well, I do believe the shuttle bay could use a good scrub down." She smirked at the look of disgust on Tom's face. "No, I think a bit of combat training would do us all some good. Once the congressional hearings over Hayes' bill begins I have a strong hunch many people won't be too happy."

"Do you believe the Obsidian Order would attempt to interrupt the proceedings?" Tuvok raised an eyebrow at the thought.

"I spoke with Jean-Luc earlier today, he had heard some rustlings about the Order forming again after the disaster at Reykjavik." She shook her head at the thought of how many lives had been lost in that single incident. "I wouldn't put it past them to have licked their wounds by now and return to the States once this news breaks."

"So, combat training it is!" Tom could almost feel the rush of air across his body at the thought. Not to mention knocking a few people on their asses while he was at it.

"Why, Mr. Paris, are you really in such a hurry to get knocked out of the sky?" Janeway had a sweet smile, but it didn't hide the mischievous twinkle in her bright blue eyes.

"Bring it on. I can take you out in ten seconds easy." Tom sat back in his chair, cockiness radiated off of him as he grinned at the look of complete defiance on the woman's features.

"The day you take me out is the day I step down and hand you the title of Headmaster of this school." Janeway also leaned back in her chair, it wasn't quite cockiness that radiated off of her but close to it.

"Then that day will be tomorrow because I intend to see you on your ass, Kathy." Tom's grin grew as the face that regarded him now bore a deliciously angry expression at being called "Kathy".

"Thomas Eugene Paris, you are going to be sorry." The energy inside of Janeway began to surge through her body, but she swiftly prevented it from escaping.

They continued to trade barbs as Annika leaned over towards Kes. "Are they always like this?" she whispered.

It was B'Elanna who answered with a roll of her eyes. "Yes, always."

"B'Elanna's right." Kes' violet eyes sparkled with mirth as she took in the two competitive individuals baiting one another.

Annika was surprised. "And she takes it from him?" Insubordination came to her mind. But Janeway didn't seem to mind Tom's behavior because her eyes were a bright blue, filled with amusement.

"Don't worry," Annika shifted her icy blue eyes from Kes and B'Elanna to Chakotay, who had spoken to her but was looking more in Janeway's direction. "Kathryn dishes out much more than she ever takes, especially from Paris."

This was the most emotion Annika had ever seen from the inexpressive man and she didn't think she cared for it. No, she definitely knew she didn't care for the warmth in the man's eyes when he smiled as he watched Janeway laugh, unimpressed at the cocky challenge in Tom's voice. Nor did she much care for the way he had said "Kathryn" like it was a privilege only he was accorded, in fact he was the only person she had heard call Janeway by her first name. As her eyes narrowed, Annika quickly decided she didn't care for this man, Chakotay, no she most definitely did not.

"Do you wanna race right now, let's go then!" Tom stood from his seat and crossed his arms as he challenged Janeway.

"Tom," Kathryn didn't move, nor did her voice change from the false sweetness it had first adopted when instigating the challenge. "Not everything requires speed, some things require finesse to reach the proper conclusion. I know that's a concept foreign to you."

"You're just scared you'll lose." He was smirking now.

"You should know better than anyone…" The delighted energy was nearly visible, but the forever controlled Janeway kept it reined in. "I rarely lose."

"Prove it." Tom relished in the warm glow he felt emanating from Janeway. One more little push. "I'll even give you a head start."

The patronizing tone was what did it. Janeway removed herself gracefully from the table to stand defiantly in front of the taller Tom Paris though it was hard to tell who had the advantage.

"You are going to regret this. I'll see you in a crater, Tom, before the day is out. Count on it." Janeway held her right hand up, index finger extended to emphasize her words. "Meet me in front of the fountain in fifteen minutes."

She departed from the dining room in a few quick determined strides, which seemed characteristic of the diminutive auburn haired woman.

"She's gonna kill you." Tom turned towards Harry whose dark eyes were sympathetic.

"Thanks, buddy, I appreciate the overwhelming support." Tom's voice was sarcastic but not unkind.

"Just don't damage any of the property this time." Chakotay recalled the last time Paris and Kathryn had engaged in a race. They had to replace one of the walls to the gymnasium.

"Hey, that wasn't my fault!" From Chakotay's skeptical look, Tom continued, softer now. "Well, mostly it wasn't my fault. She pushed me into that wall on purpose!"

Tom remembered the amused laughter that had emanated from Janeway when he had careened into the side of the building trying to get the advantage on her during their last race.

"Well, I guess I'd better be there." Doctor Zimmerman sighed at the plights in his life. "Inevitably someone is injured and I'd rather just be there than be called out of the lab for a medical emergency."

"A most logical decision, Doctor." Tuvok's voice was even, but there was a suspicious tone to it that bespoke a joke.

Annika once more leaned over towards Kes. "How often do these races happen?" Again she was surprised, it seemed like a strange thing for the somewhat aloof and professional Headmistress Janeway to engage in.

"About once a month. Sometimes more, sometimes less." Kes' expression was one of amusement, though her lips only quirked up minimally.

"Who usually wins?" Annika thought she knew the answer but she wanted to know for sure.

"Let's just say, Tom hopes today will be the day when his confidence is justified." Kes looked over at the man who was listening intently to the advice being given to him on how to finally best Janeway.

Annika felt an unaccountable amount of pride at that. She couldn't wait to watch Janeway beat the cocky Paris at his own game. She stood with the rest as they took their dishes to the cleaning unit and proceeded in various degrees of anticipation out of the dining room.

Annika walked near the back of the procession with Kes, who had become her unofficial confidant since the elfin blonde woman already knew all of Annika's feelings. Including those about a certain auburn haired woman, she surmised. She felt she could speak freely to Kes, with no fear of judgment and with a sense that her secrets would be safe. The woman was a counselor after all.

It surprised Annika how much she had already warmed to these people… okay some people more than others. It helped that she didn't feel like she had to be so securely guarded with her abilities. The fact that she didn't have to hide who she truly was lifted a heavy burden off her shoulders she hadn't realized weighed so heavily on her until it was no longer there. The camaraderie she felt as the people who walked with her both needled and offered advice to Paris gave her a sense of belonging that she hadn't truly felt before.

"I'm just saying you shouldn't go full throttle right at first." Harry had both his hands out, palms up, as he tried to convince his best friend that his advice was the most worthy of the blonde haired man's attention. "You aren't as maneuverable when you're going that fast."

"It's a race, Harry." Tom's tone was dismissive, but not entirely unkind. "The point is to go fast, so you win."

"I'm just saying. You might want to switch tactics." Harry grinned as he added, "How many times have you won exactly?"

"Oh, shut up, Harry." Tom's tone was light.

Harry merely shrugged in response.

"You might want to take his advice, Paris." Chakotay's dark eyes sparkled with amusement. "Maybe you wouldn't crash into so many things that way."

"Yeah, Yeah. Everyone's a critic." Tom shrugged off the comment with a wave of his hand. As he walked backwards he smiled broadly, pure confidence in his eyes. "I have a feeling, ladies and gents, today will be my lucky day!"

More than a few pairs of eyes rolled at this.

"I wouldn't take bets on that." The husky tones were definitely bordering on cocky.

Annika looked up, her breath caught as she watched Janeway descend from the skies like she'd never seen her before. The form fitting mostly black outfit, similar to the ones the others had worn during their mission and the children in their training class, clung to Janeway's small frame in such a way that Annika couldn't help but notice how toned and slight the other woman's body was. As opposed to Janeway's previous attire, this outfit was sleeveless and showed off well-toned upper arms and wiry forearms that distracted Annika for more than a few moments. Her eyes drifted over the red band of color that spread from one bare shoulder to the other and to the top of the high necked outfit. The rest was black and sleek right down to the calf high boots. The auburn tresses were tied into a braid and made the woman look less studious and a bit younger, or it could be the carefree expression and the bright blue eyes that did it.

It took Annika a second or two to realize that the bright glare she shielded her eyes from with a hand was not due entirely to the sun but also the woman who was suspended in midair with her arms crossed over her chest. Janeway was glowing, literally. Bright golden light not only surrounded Janeway, it sparked off of her in little tendrils of visible energy, like the rays of the sun.

Energy conversion and distribution, Annika recalled Janeway saying that was her area of expertise when it came to training the students in their abilities but she didn't really know what that could mean until now. What exactly were Janeway's abilities?

Transfixed, Annika watched Janeway as she touched ground and the golden glow that had surrounded her faded until it was only an invisible energy that emanated from the petite woman.

"Is the Dome up?" Janeway looked at the forever even features of her dear friend.

"Yes." It was a simple reply from Tuvok.

The question was more of a formality than anything else since Janeway knew Tuvok was always one step ahead of everyone else despite the fact that it wasn't always obvious. He did things swiftly, quietly, drawing little or no attention to his actions. He could quickly take in a situation and deal with it logically faster than anyone could respond or attempt to counter. That's what made him so decisive in the field. His emotional detachment made him extremely efficient. It was also what Janeway envied most, since she expended a great deal of energy to rein in the emotions she believed made her look vulnerable and uncontrolled. It seemed that Tuvok was inherently impassive, though Janeway knew that he cared for her very much and others as well.

"What dome?" Annika looked around her and didn't notice anything different.

"It's a holographic lattice that forms a false image of normalcy around the school when we are outdoors training so that no one outside of this Institute is the wiser. It also acts as a security barrier." Janeway decided that Annika needed to be brushed up on the aspects of the Institute among other things since she could tell that Annika didn't appreciate feeling as though everyone knew what was going on except for her.

"I see." Annika looked up, but still saw nothing to indicate anything amiss in the blue sky.

When she heard voices coming toward them she looked back at the main building and saw the children along with Harren, Billy, Celes and a petite woman with wild, fiery red hair that stuck out from her head in the epitome of disarray walking toward the faculty and Annika. Billy and Celes stopped in front of the tall blonde, their hands entwined.

"Hey, Annika." Billy smiled at Annika first before he turned towards Celes. "I don't think you two have been properly introduced. Celes this is Annika Hansen. Annika this is my fiancée, Celes Tal."

"It's nice to meet you, Annika".

"You too." As they shook hands in greeting, Annika was struck by the way Celes' brow crinkled and how she had an appearance of a deer caught in headlights with her large bright brown eyes. Annika then realized that was how the woman always looked because she looked about the same when she turned towards Billy with a huge smile.

"I hope Tom doesn't run into any of the trees again." The large brown eyes held an even amount of concern and amusement.

"I'm sure he learned his lesson the last time." Billy hugged the woman to his side before he turned towards Annika to explain. "Celes caused one of the mighty oaks out there to severely impede his flying."

Celes merely smiled proudly.

"So, Annika, I have been meaning to come see you today, but I, anyway, how are you? I hear you're going to be staying with us. At least for a little while?" Billy had stepped closer not wanting the others to be privy to their conversation. Though the rest were too busy discussing who they thought would win and more importantly, what object they figured Tom would crash into during this race.

"Yes, that's right. And I'm doing fine. Thank you. A bit overwhelmed by everything but I think I'll adapt… eventually." Annika let a small grin grace her lips before she turned serious. "How are you, Billy?"

"I'm okay, you know…" He shrugged not wanting to dwell on the past. He had already done enough of that with Kes all morning. "So, what do you think of the Institute?"

"It's quite impressive." Annika had wanted to say more but was caught off guard by a loud BOOM!

She turned to see Tom as he was engulfed in fiery orange energy before he lifted off from the ground like a rocket. She caught a quick eye roll from Janeway before she too left the ground, just as quickly but not as obtrusively. Annika turned back to Billy and Celes.

"What kind of a race is this?"

"To see who can ground the other one first." Billy smirked as he watched the fire show from the safe distance of the ground.

He thought Tom was a nice enough guy, though he had no idea where his cockiness came from regarding their Headmistress and this almost monthly exercise of theirs. The thought of Doctor Janeway getting knocked from the sky by Tom was not only unlikely but distasteful to the young man. Billy knew that everyone at the Institute, even the antisocial and brusque Harren, respected and admired their Headmistress and Team Captain. The diminutive auburn haired woman seemed to radiate authority, compassion, confidence, and a wry sense of humor that attracted many people to her and elicited the trust of all of them with uncanny ease.

Seven years ago, it had taken Billy a few weeks into his friendship with Celes to admit that he was both extremely intimidated by Dr. Kathryn Janeway and also had a bit of a crush on her, as juvenile as it seemed at the time. Celes had just laughed kindly in understanding and had told him that she figured everyone had a bit of a crush on the aloof, yet warm woman who commanded the school with her husky voice and pointed blue-gray looks... Celes included. He almost laughed aloud at the memory of how nervous they had both been when Janeway had enlisted theirs and Harren's help on a mission to retrieve an errant metahuman who had been playing havoc with the electrical systems of New York, draining it of its power.

Billy felt a pang of guilt when he thought about the meeting he had with Janeway that followed his session with Kes earlier in the day. The Headmistress had been cool, but compassionate as Billy had relayed the story of his capture, his abuse at the hands of the guards, of Annika's arrival, and his eventual blackout due to a well-placed rifle to the head. The stormy gray eyes that had met his after he had finished told him all he had needed to know despite the fact that the expression on her elegant features had been sympathetic but not overtly emotional. He had seen the guilt and anger and sorrow, all of it had been plain for him to see and again he had wondered if she knew how her eyes gave her away. Perhaps it was an ace up the sleeve that no one wanted her to be aware they had regarding how to read the enigmatic woman.

He had wanted to tell her not to feel guilty for his capture, it had been his fault and his alone, though he hadn't really done anything but go into town for a movie while Celes had been in Ireland visiting her parents. He hadn't though, he had known that she wouldn't have accepted his words so he had kept silent and she had dismissed him with one last look of apology and regret. He had left feeling horrible and had told Celes how much he regretted not being able to tell Janeway not to feel guilty. Celes had held him and told him that he could do nothing, it was how the Headmistress was, taking on the whole world without asking for assistance from anyone.

All of this was why whenever a race between Janeway and Tom took place everyone was in attendance despite some subterfuge as to the reasons why since the doctor, Tuvok, and especially Harren never admitted to anyone that they enjoyed seeing their Headmistress carefree and laughing as she always did when challenged by Tom. Billy's esteem for the cocky blonde haired man suddenly shot up as he realized with a start that these races always seemed to follow some sort of crisis in which Janeway felt particularly guilty or responsible. He hadn't realized it before since he had never been so directly involved in said crisis. Who knew Tom could be so caring… and perceptive?

CHAPTER 11

BOOM! Tom had veered off quickly to avoid the bolt of heated energy that shot his way from Janeway's hand. The energy splashed hotly against the domed shield that both camouflaged their institute and protected them from outside forces.

"Come on, slowpoke, if you're gonna hit me then hit me!" Tom laughed as he veered off again when another blast of fiery energy came his way.

He gulped when he saw the sparks of energy that emitted from her eyes. Oh, she was really mad now. He needed to end this now or he was as good as done. So he went from defense to offense.

With a resounding BOOM! he flew straight towards Janeway, his arms outstretched and fists blazed with the heat of his propulsion. He looked not unlike a comet as he raced towards the hovering, gold lit woman. His forward momentum stopped abruptly as he collided straight on with her energy produced force shield. Though he was slowed down quite a bit, the momentum of his flight still knocked Janeway back as she held her arms crossed in front of her and her legs curled up to try to slow the force of Tom's collision. She couldn't stop her backwards movement but she could expand her shield and did so quickly and with extreme force. She broke the energy barrier as Tom was propelled backwards. He recovered quickly, too quickly. She had to fly directly up to avoid being barreled into. She turned as quickly as Tom did when he missed his target.

The energy that blasted against Tom's chest probably would have killed a normal person but he was not a normal person. His thermo-chemically produced flight also manifested itself as an impenetrable blast field that protected his body from injury. Despite this fact, he still dropped like a stone from the sheer force of the impact. On his back, Tom was making a quick descent to the ground with no little help from Janeway who at the moment had expanded her energy field to barrel into the torso of the falling man. She was coming at him hard and fast, and Tom couldn't hold his gaze on the woman as he chanced a look at the ground before they collided with it.

The BOOM that shook the very grounds of the Institute knocked every single spectator off their feet and to the ground, hard.

"Holy shit!" B'Elanna recovered first and was already sprinting towards the cloud of smoke that was only partially hidden by a clump of large trees.

Annika, along with the others helped the children to their feet. The doctor had quickly assessed that no one had been hurt and then he too made a dash towards their fallen comrades. After they brushed themselves off, the rest followed swiftly.

Annika hadn't truly recovered from the sight that she had just witnessed. Janeway was even more formidable than she could have imagined. The force that it must have taken to ground the human comet known as Tom must have been immense and Annika was struck with a sense of cold worry as she thought about the harm that could have befallen the auburn haired woman.

The worry was gone immediately as she heard the husky chuckling of a very smug woman. Annika let the breath out that she hadn't realized she had been holding as she took in the sight of Janeway, bent over a rather immense crater, as she laughed happily at the pouting man seated at the bottom of it.

"I almost had you." Tom's arms were crossed over his chest and he took on the appearance of a petulant child.

"Perhaps." Janeway's laughter had vanished and was replaced by a bright grin.

"Well, since my services don't seem to be needed I'll be in my lab." The doctor huffed a bit at the display of recklessness.

"Actually, Doc." Tom stood up a tad unsteadily as he rubbed his backside, feigning injury. "If you wouldn't mind?" His tone was entreating but teasing.

"Hmph." Unamused, the doctor stomped away.

"Captain?" the tone didn't sound concerned, but Janeway knew it was.

"I'm fine." She smiled reassuringly at Tuvok and patted him on the shoulder lightly before she turned to Tom who had finally scrambled his way out of the crater. "I have to admit, your recovery time has improved immensely since last time, Tom."

"Well, I just know that if I let you have any leeway you won't be grounded easily." He shrugged, his eyes alight with success despite the fact that he hadn't taken this woman down. The laughter in her bright blue eyes was enough for Tom to feel suitably cocky. His voice took on a teasing tone. Filled with innuendo. "One has to come at you hard and fast to take you down."

A few people shifted uneasily at Tom's tone. Janeway merely quirked an eyebrow before a bark of laughter erupted followed by a soft punch to Tom's shoulder.

"Keep working at it. Perhaps persistence will pay off for you, eventually." She didn't exactly wink.

Janeway's attention was diverted when the children gathered around her as they asked her a series of questions about how she put so much force in her energy fields to cause the unstoppable cannonball known as Tom Paris to fall to the ground so fast and if they could race one another. Annika noticed that Janeway was startled but diffused the issue quickly with her calm, commanding voice that allowed for no argument. Annika appreciated the way the tight thick looking material surrounded Janeway's petite form in an attractive yet modest fashion. She blushed faintly as thoughts of how such a garment was removed entered her mind's eye. She shifted her attention away from the mesmerizing woman.

Paris held his head high as Harry and B'Elanna teased him about being the one to land on his ass and how he made an impressive dent in their grounds while he did it. Annika noticed that she had never seen the dark featured woman smile as she was now. Whether it was from the presence of Harry or Tom, Annika didn't know.

Tuvok and Chakotay discussed how to expand the energy shield to broaden their illusion and also to absorb more of the energy impact than it currently was able to. Annika couldn't help but seethe a bit as Chakotay's dark eyes kept trailing over to look at Janeway's compact form, slightly glistening with the exertion of her race with Paris. Annika felt a cold trickle of worry make its way to the pit of her stomach as she wondered what Chakotay and Janeway's relationship was exactly. And if these warm gazes were only one sided. Janeway did seem oblivious, though perhaps she was just more discrete than the large tattooed man who was on the top of Annika's list of people she didn't particularly like.

Annika chanced a quick look at Kes, but the elfin woman seemed to be in deep conversation with Neelix and the fiery red-haired woman that Annika hadn't yet been introduced to.

What Annika didn't notice was the way Billy and Celes were regarding her with knowing smiles on their faces. Another one bites the dust, was what their looks seemed to say.

"Annika?" The hand on her shoulder along with the warm, husky tone made Annika's whole body tingle. She slowly turned to face Janeway, whose eyes were still bright blue, though her face had shifted to a more professional manner. "I was wondering if you would like to take a look at our databases. Ms. Ballard could show you tonight if you'd like?"

"Of course." Annika was grateful for the offer. She felt out of the loop and stupid, something that she loathed. "Thank you."

Janeway merely nodded, though a ghost of a smile still graced her lips. The tall blonde almost sighed happily, that was until the small woman moved over to the large mass that was already Annika's nemesis, Chakotay.

"Chakotay?" The burly man turned, a large grin crinkled the tattoo above his left eyebrow and creased his face to display large dimples on either side of his mouth. Annika supposed he could be considered darkly handsome if one was impressed by that sort of thing.

"That was some fancy flying up there, Kathryn." Again with the first name basis. Annika could feel the metal itching under her skin. Even more so when his warm tones elicited a blush and a shy smile from the auburn haired woman.

"Yes, well, thank you." Kathryn's blush faded right before she returned her blue eyes up to lock onto Chakotay's dark ones. "I'd like to shower first but then we can start on those reports, tonight, if you'd like."

"Of course." The dimples grew even more pronounced, if that was even possible. Annika gritted her teeth as the big man continued. "I'll bring the wine."

Annika felt like she needed to scream and then pound this man into the ground with her metal fists, but she held back. She figured Janeway would probably be less than impressed by that. Though it might make Annika feel a whole lot better.

With a soft pat to Chakotay's shoulder and a smile, Janeway lifted off and flew towards the dormitory that stood off to the side of the main school building. Many pairs of eyes watched the departing figure before conversation resumed once again.

If looks could really kill, Chakotay wouldn't have known what hit him as he died a quick death from the one Annika shot at him. Oblivious to the seething look, he and Tuvok resumed their conversation regarding the holographic shield emitters as they walked towards the dormitory.

The four younger children were now ice skating on the thick solid ice that Azan had filled the large but relatively shallow crater with. The three teens sat next to the ice rink and were in the midst of discussing how Tom could have better defended himself from their Headmistress' attacks.

"Annika?" Kes' warm tones brought the tall blonde out of her rather explicit musings of how exactly she would kill Chakotay. The elfin woman had a bit of an alarmed look on her features before her violet eyes became calm again.

"Yes?" Annika tried to make her voice even and hoped she had accomplished it well enough despite the fact that it probably didn't matter since Kes already knew her mood.

"I wasn't sure if you had a chance to meet Lyndsay yet." Kes gestured to the fiery redhead who stood next to her.

"No, I haven't. It's nice to meet you. I'm Annika." They shook hands, the shake was firm and energetic.

"Same here, Annika." Lyndsay had a palpable energy that sparked off of her, alighted hazel eyes bored into Annika's icy blue ones. "How 'bout we get on with those databases, get you all caught up. Then…hot totties all around!"

"What are…" Annika crinkled her nose at the thought of having to actually repeat the words.

Lyndsay smiled grandly and knowingly. "Cocktails, spirits, alcoholic beverages. They really teach you kids nothing these days!" The tone of voice made Annika think of her Great Aunt Irene. "All right, let's get going, not getting any younger."

And with a flourish the spunky red head was off, not exactly waiting to see if Annika followed her. Though with a shrug to Kes, she did.

CHAPTER 12

"So!" It seemed that everything Lyndsay Ballard said was a yell to Annika's ears. "What the hell do you do, huh?"

"What do I do?" Annika wasn't sure how to react to this woman who had condescension in her tone that wasn't exactly unfriendly though a bit offensive to the proud Annika Hansen.

"Yeah, your gifts, or powers, or whatever you call them."

When they stopped in front of the lift, Lyndsay took off the metallic control panel that Annika hadn't even realized could be removed until that moment. The redhead punched a few quick codes in the revealed keypad and stepped away from the lift as she took Annika's arm in her hand, an instruction to also step back. Annika was about to say something in response to the question and the touch when the floor gave way and she gasped as she moved quickly down through an elevator shaft.

The only light was the floor panel that had descended from beneath. Another panel replaced it and cut off the light from the hallway as Annika and Lyndsay descended as fast as they could without their stomachs dropping. Annika was a bit unsteady when the lift stopped in front of a large metal circular door that looked heavy and impenetrable. Lyndsay punched a code into the panel next to the door, Annika wasn't able to catch a single number or letter the other woman's fingers moved so swiftly and with ease even with a code that was taking quite a few minutes to input.

"You haven't answered my question." Annika was both startled by the voice and the loud shifting of the metallic door. "Your abilities?"

Annika opened the palm of her left hand as she stretched her arm out in front of her. Within seconds the arm and hand were incased with metal, the long dangerous nails were held away from both women's bodies.

"Bitch'n." Lyndsay chuckled as Annika's hand returned to flesh. "You know, back in my day powers were much more defensive than offensive. But we have to change with the times huh?"

"Your day?" Annika quirked her left eyebrow. The redhead appeared to be several years younger than Annika's thirty years, but her tone made it seem like she had decades of experience on her.

"I'm one hundred and six years old." Lyndsay's tone made it sound like a punch line, which it quite possibly was for her.

"Oh." Annika kept her voice purposefully even. "I must say, you've aged well."

Lyndsay's hazel eyes blazed with mirth as she laughed loudly, the boisterous sound echoed in the underground cavern. The redhead still had laughter in her eyes as she led Annika through a narrow, brightly lit metallic hallway.

"So, you're just eternally youthful?" Annika watched as the redhead entered a small alcove built into one of the walls.

"Not exactly. I have the ability to shed my old body and replace it with a new one." She faced Annika as a series of purple lights passed over the entire length of her body until it bleeped with acceptance.

"Welcome, Lyndsay Ballard." The voice was flat, but feminine.

"Thank you, Computer." Lyndsay punched in another series of codes before she turned towards Annika. "Computer, one visitor, authorization Ballard Six Eight Nine Omega One."

"Authorization accepted. Welcome, visitor."

"Uh, thank you… Computer." Annika shrugged not really knowing if that had not been the right response but neither the computer nor Lyndsay said anything. The redhead was too busy punching another long series of codes. "A lot of security measures, huh?"

Annika wondered how much this tiny room alone had cost.

"You'll see why in a minute." Lyndsay punched in the last of the one hundred and eighty six key code string and stepped back as another large heavy looking metallic door started to grind loudly in its opening. "Stay close to me."

Annika did and knew exactly why in a second. The room was cavernous, dark, and vastly empty. The only thing she saw was what looked like a huge suspended platform a hundred feet above them. She didn't particular want to look down at the dark abyss below them so she didn't. Annika had no clue as to how non-fliers reached the platform since there were no stairs or much of anything that she could see. She heard a soft buzzing sound and as it came closer she could see that it was a small hover craft that one merely stepped onto instead of sitting in.

"Well, here's our ride." The clear alto of Lyndsay's voice filled the cavern.

She allowed Annika to step onto the craft ahead of her and secured the two of them with a lowered metal bar before she commanded the hovercraft to move upwards. The craft hovered next to the platform only long enough to deposit its cargo before it buzzed off again.

The computer banks that greeted Annika were the largest she had ever seen and she had seen her share of impressively large computer banks during her work with Global Tech. The display screen itself filled the upper portion of the cavern to the rocky ceiling. Annika estimated that it was a good two hundred feet long and just about that tall.

"Hot damn!" Annika was duly impressed.

"Majel here is the most advanced computer in the country." Lyndsay settled into the cushions of an oversized black leather chair as she began to press commands into the computer. "We're very proud of her."

"I would hope so!" Annika took the offered chair next to Lyndsay's, her bright blue eyes flitted around as she took in the expansive console.

"All right, where to start, hmm, we could start with, hmm no…" Lyndsay crinkled her nose as she tried to decide what to show Annika first. "Annika, how much do you know about metahuman history?"

"Not much to tell you the truth, I was…" Annika started to shift uncomfortably in her seat. She really had been an ostrich in the sand. No more, she vowed.

"In the closet?" At Annika's confused look Lyndsay grinned. "Never mind. Old phrase. All right." Lyndsay pushed away from the console to address Annika directly.

"Metahumans are an extreme minority occurring in only .0001% of the population, which means there's only about five hundred here in the United States and about eight million across the globe. Now, there are three classifications of metahumans that the UFM, which we'll get into next, have categorized: epsilon, theta, and omega. Epsilon classes are those metahumans who have low grade physical manifestations such as gills or a tail, things that make them very susceptible to anti-metahuman sentiment but don't rank high on the power scale. Theta class metahumans are those like me who have no external offensive powers but high enough physical manifestations to be considered pretty powerful. I don't die for instance. Okay, I don't stay dead at any rate. And last but certainly not least, Omega class metahumans. These occur in even less of the population than the other two classes though as I alluded before, they are occurring much more frequently now than they did when I was actually young. Omega level metahumans are what makes up most of the faculty and staff not to mention the student body at large here at the Voyager Institute. They are metahumans who manifest their abilities not only internally and physically but externally as well, and powerfully at that. There are varying power levels in each class. For instance, our dear Headmistress is a level nine Omega metahuman which is pretty powerful indeed. A level ten, which we've never actually encountered before, but theoretically, would be a metahuman that could simply destroy the world with a thought."

"I had no idea." Annika gasped at the thought of someone being capable of destroying the entire planet, with a thought. And then, not for the first time, she wondered how much power Janeway was actually capable of. She wanted to ask directly but faltered so instead she asked a more general question. "So, are there many level nine Omegas?"

"We don't know exactly how many, but there are two besides Kathryn here at this school." Finally, Annika thought, another person besides that tattoo bear of a man who called Janeway Kathryn. "Tom Paris and Kes."

"Kes?!" The warm, soft spoken petite pixie?

"Kes is very powerful, with mental abilities that rival any other person I've ever met, and I have met my share." Lyndsay thought about the elfin woman in question with sadness her in her hazel eyes. "Despite the fact that she could very well be even more powerful than a level nine Omega she doesn't dare allow herself to be. About six years ago she put mental barriers in her mind with the help of an associate that now prevents her from accessing her true mental abilities until she is ready to possess them."

"Kes is the theoretical possibility?" her voice was hushed. Annika already knew the answer but it still left her feeling shocked and not a little disturbed.

"Yes." Lyndsay didn't elaborate further as she tapped in a few codes into the console.

A three dimensional rotating image of the Earth appeared in front of the two women. Grids appeared over various potions of the forever shifting image. Bright pinpoints were scattered across the globe.

"There are forty-seven institutes including ours around the globe."

A few more codes and a block of images appeared next to the rotating earth. The first image that was brought to the fore was of a group of eighteen men and women all lined up into three rows as if they were in a class picture. Annika recognized Lyndsay among them though the woman had dark brown hair in the picture rather than the bright red she sported now.

"In 2011 there was an incident which brought metahumans to widespread public knowledge. A boy leveled his house when his abilities manifested themselves as a small, but destructive thermo-chemical blast. The boy was frightened and panicked, he couldn't control his abilities so when the police tried to apprehend him he protected himself and killed all of them. He was referred to as Demolition Boy in all the papers and news feeds."

Annika nodded her head, she had heard about this incident in vague terms from all of the televangelist and fundamentalist bigots who hated metahumans with fiery passions citing that their God had enlisted them to purge the world of all who had the "disease".

"A group of us tried to retrieve the boy to prevent him from doing any more harm but he had been unable to deal with his powers or the fact that he had killed his family along with dozens of others. He controlled his power enough to be shot down by a swat team. He was thirteen. The group of us who had failed decided that such failure in the future, especially since we had been exposed to the world at large in such a destructive manner, could not occur again. We determined that we needed a way to protect and teach burgeoning metahumans across the world so the United Federation of Metahumans was formed."

Lyndsay enlarged a few of the images and brought them to the fore. "These seven are the active members of the initial UFM: James T. Kirk, Montgomery Scott, Nyota Uhura, Hikaru Sulu, Pavel Chekov, Jean Luc Picard... and myself, of course. The other members are either retired or dead."

The images went back to the background as a set of new images appeared, all were three dimensional as if Annika could reach out and touch them they were so lifelike, despite the fact that they were suspended in the air and very large representations of people.

"The other five remaining chairs of the UFM are taken up by Julian Bashir, Benjamin Sisko, Lwaxana Troi, Alynna Nechayev, and our very own Kathryn Janeway."

Annika had tried not to make it too obvious that she had paid extra attention to the rather large and impressive image of Janeway; the woman's hands on her thin hips and her chin was raised as if to challenge anyone who would have the audacity to get too close.

"In addition to being chairs for the UFM, Nechayev and Janeway are the co-founders and co-chairpersons of the Metahuman Protection Agency for those metahumans and their families who need or want to go into hiding instead of utilizing the Voyager Institute or the many institutes around the world, these are usually Epsilon Class metahumans and their families or caretakers. There are currently two million metahumans in the MPA system worldwide."

"Amazing." Annika couldn't imagine two million metahumans, let alone that many hidden from the public.

"It really is." Lyndsay leaned back in her chair as she regarded the tall blonde next to her. "So the UFM and the MPA are the two main united fronts of metahumans globally and that's pretty much the gist of it. We try to help metahumans remain safe and learn how to use their abilities and we protect the greater public from threats, metahuman or otherwise."

"Despite the fact that a large majority of the 'greater public' would like to see as tagged like animals or worse." Annika's voice had a hard tone to it as she thought about children like Naomi being tagged and hauled off to concentration camps or the like.

"Yes, despite that." Lyndsay tried not to make the next part sound condescending though she wasn't sure if she had succeeded. "Annika. I've lived through ten decades of the majority hating the minority but I've also seen the easing of those tensions as well. I have hope that I'll see the day when anti-metahuman sentiment is something of the past, to look back on and feel shame for that and pride that we moved past it."

Annika could only nod as she bowed down to Lyndsay's greater life experience. She only hoped she would see that day in her lifetime as well.

"So, what else would you like to know?" Lyndsay's tone shifted back to her characteristic cheerfulness. "I'm sure you're dying with questions that Majel and I can answer for you in three dimensions!"

"I'd like to know more about this Institute and the people here, I always feel out of the loop and I'm kind of getting tired of gawking stupidly at everything." Annika shook her head ruefully. She had always been the best and the brightest, but here she felt dumb and naïve.

"All right, the Voyager Institute crash course, my specialty." Lyndsay quickly keyed in a number of codes. A large, three dimensional model of the rather expansive grounds of the institute appeared. The grounds rotated to give the viewer the different angles of the Institute.

"The Institute was established in the year 2020, being the third Institute to be created in the United States." Next to the Institute stood two figures with snowy white hair and friendly expressions on their faces, if they weren't stationary holograms Annika suspected they would be waving happily at the viewer.

"Oh my God!" Annika recognized the pair immediately.

Co-CEOs of Intrepid Enterprises, Owen and Lucinda Paris were multibillionaires several times over. Their company had, after all, developed the technology that revolutionized the automotive industry. Cars now ran completely on batteries, the refueling stations were powered by wind and solar energy, and they no longer needed rubber since the cars now hovered a few inches off the ground utilizing antigravity plating. Their company had also made major contributions to the medical field including the hypospray, an ingenious injection device that contained no needles, it was bloodless and not contaminated by use, so it could be used by many people and any medicine could be swapped quickly. They had also been responsible for the portable diagnosis tool known as a tricorder. Their company had also been a great contributor to the development of holographic technology. Though not for the military directly since Annika had it on good authority that the Parises never took military contracts.

It all made some sort of strange sense now. No wonder this place was so cutting edge state of the art, thought Annika, thoroughly impressed by the Institute's benefactors.

"Obviously you recognize the Parises." Lyndsay pulled up several more profiles. The people stood around absently as if they had much better things to do than pose unmoving for Annika and Lyndsay.

Annika noticed a blonde Lyndsay was in the mix as well.

"A surly bunch to be sure." Lyndsay laughed happily, she had enjoyed her time with these people immensely and was saddened when they all either retired, transferred, or died. One of the major downsides to being immortal and eternally youthful.

"The Parises were, as they often are, co-heads of the Institute from its inception until their retirement seven years ago. That's when Kathryn took over. Patterson and Ross were lost on a mission about ten years ago." The images of a rotund white haired man with a short white goatee disappeared as did a sturdy looking man with weathered features.

"Dr. Pulaski has long since retired." A smirking gray haired woman vanished.

"Lenara left to go to South America when she transferred to a new host." A slight sandy haired woman with spots that ran down the sides of her face and neck disappeared.

"And last but not least, Lwaxana …" Lyndsay smiled up at the voluptuous curly haired brunette that always seemed to have more energy than Lyndsay ever could, despite the youthful body she had. "She's tearing apart Australia as we speak, or drinking her staff under the table." The brunette was the last to vanish.

"The first graduating class…" Eight holographic bodies dressed in form fitting slate gray outfits with dark gray padded shoulders that matched their calf high boots started to shimmer into focus. "Kathryn Janeway, William Riker, Geordi La Forge, Deanna Troi, Reginald Barclay, Jadzia Dax, Mark Johnson, and Regina McQueen."

Annika paid little to no attention to anyone but the petite auburn haired youth that stood between a broad-shouldered boy with sandy blonde hair and a muscular figure and a tall lanky girl with long dark red hair. The eighteen year old Kathryn Janeway was pretty to be sure, but there seemed to be a dark cast to her features that leant the young woman a perpetually sad and reticent look even as she smiled broadly, arms linked with the two people next to her. Annika wondered what had happened in the young woman's life to give this holographic rendition of hers this affecting look.

"She was a heartbreaker even then." Lyndsay's words and the following chuckle shook Annika out of her musings with a start.

"What?" Annika looked quickly from Lyndsay back to the image of the first graduating class.

She realized suddenly that both people who flanked the auburn haired teen had possessive expressions on their faces as they gazed down at her. Annika felt the same icy feeling that she had felt when she had seen the way that Chakotay looked at Janeway; longing in his dark eyes. These two people, as holographic as they were, now followed the large tattooed man on her list of people to despise.

"Our illustrious Headmistress has broken more hearts than I've had lives." Lyndsay's voice took on a teasing, but chastising tone. "For four years, Mark Johnson and Regina McQueen were heated rivals when it came to the affections of one amazingly brilliant and ridiculously oblivious Kathryn Janeway." She gestured to the two teens on either side of the smiling Janeway.

"So…" Annika was insanely grateful that she had such an informative tour guide into the history of Janeway as she did with the indiscreet Lyndsay Ballard. "Who won?"

"That's the thing!" Lyndsay threw up her hands as she rolled her eyes. "Neither one did! They both finally got up the courage and asked her to the UFM ball their senior year and she said…" Lyndsay laughed heartily as she tried to continue with the story for her avid audience of one. "She said sure! To both of them! She had no idea, even perhaps to this day, that their invitations to the dance were romantic overtures." The laughing redhead was in tears at this point. "So, they all three went. I can tell you, it was quite the scandal for everyone involved with the exception of the instigator of the whole mess. I can still hear Lwaxana telling her own daughter to be that adventurous."

Annika couldn't help herself as she too was brought to tears from laughing at the unfortunate pair of would be suitors. Just as she thought she had it under control the thought of them both escorting Janeway to the dance while the petite woman was without a clue in the world that she had both fulfilled their wishes and dashed their hopes sent her in painful guffaws.

Lyndsay wiped away a few tears as she finally was able to control herself as she turned to a tear faced Annika. "Let me get something very clear. Kathryn is brilliant, scarily so, she's also single minded, headstrong, and confident as all hell… when it comes to her professional life. In her personal life she's as blind as the proverbial bat and basically has no clue how to go about having one. She was like that when she was a student here and she's like that now."

"But, how, I mean, why is she like that?" Annika's heart was thumping quickly in her chest as she wondered what one would have to do to garner the affectionate attention of a woman who, at the tender age of eighteen, had been seemingly completely unaware of the intentions of two people who didn't seem to have hid it well for four straight years.

"Because she's oblivious to that sort of attention. And… perhaps because her heart has never really mended." The mirth that had filled Lyndsay's eyes quickly faded to something akin to regret and protectiveness. The red head took a deep breath before her usually cheerful voice took on a somber tone that Annika would never have expected from the light alto.

"As you may already know, metahuman abilities usually manifest around puberty, and more often than not triggered by extreme emotions or physical stress. Kathryn Janeway's abilities manifested themselves the day her parents and her little sister along with a hundred and forty-two others were killed in a plane crash when she was eleven years old. Freak engine malfunction. She had been able to save herself when the stress of the drop caused her to unconsciously trigger her force field. She was the only survivor." Lyndsay looked up at the smiling, albeit painfully restrained holographic representation of the young version of Janeway she had known well.

"My God…" Annika's voice was a mere whisper as tears filled her throat.

Lyndsay cleared her throat as she continued. "It took rescuers four hours to get to the wreckage. Four hours. The authorities never did come to a conclusion about how one lone girl survived that horrible crash. Some proclaimed it was a miracle, God himself at work." She grunted at this.

"Two weeks after the accident, Lwaxana and I went to the home of Martha Janeway, Kathryn's aunt. Instead of the Seeker Technology we have now, we had a division of the UFM that monitored unexplained occurrences, that plane crash was one of them. Sometimes people are extremely reluctant to hear us out, but Martha wanted any help she could to get Kathryn to speak again, to eat again, to get her out of her closed up bedroom and outside in the sun where she said little girls were supposed to be."

Tears of a different kind than the ones before sprang to Lyndsay's eyes as she remembered that day as if it had been yesterday. Sometimes her eidetic memory, almost computer like, was a curse. She took an uneven breath before she began again.

"Lwaxana had wanted to go in to see Kathryn alone, she had thought her psionic abilities would be able to reach the mute little girl. I had stayed with Martha… until I heard it. I have seen Lwaxana Troi in tears exactly twice in our long lives together. The first time was when her beloved husband had been killed and the second was outside of Kathryn Janeway's bedroom door." Lyndsay reached her left hand out and captured the trembling hand of the woman seated next to her.

"I'll never forget how Lwaxana looked at me, tears in those dark eyes of hers… 'She's screaming!' is what she said when I reached her. Then she kept repeating the same two words over and over again, 'I'm sorry'. I didn't really understand the true meaning behind her words so I just held her as she cried. Martha had come in, frantically worried, but reluctantly left us when we asked her to. After what seemed like forever, Lwaxana withdrew from me and explained what she had discovered about the little girl we were there to recruit." The red head snorted in a self-castigating way.

"Smart as a whip, that eleven year old Kathryn Janeway knew exactly what she was and a bit of what her abilities were. And that's why she never went outside, you see the sun gives her powers, an extra boost as you saw earlier today, it replenishes and revitalizes and that little girl didn't want any of that. She was punishing herself for her perceived failure. For not using her abilities to save her family, her loving mother and adoring father and the little sister she had sworn to protect. She also blamed herself for not saving the other one hundred and forty-two men, women, and children on the plane. She had thought herself selfish for only saving herself, despite the fact that her manifestation had been completely unconscious on her part." Lyndsay's thoughts were transported back to that day, she could almost smell the strong scent of coffee that had been so prevalent in that brightly lit home in Connecticut almost three decades ago.

CHAPTER 13

"Lwaxana!" Lyndsay held the brunette woman close to her as muffled "I'm sorry's" were pressed into her chest. "What is it, what's happening?"

"Oh my!" Lyndsay looked up at the startled and worried eyes of Martha Janeway. "What's the matter? What can I do?"

"I, I don't know, I think she's connected to Kathryn." Lyndsay was starting to become worried, she had never seen the usually vibrant but controlled woman like this aside from the day her husband had been killed.

"Kathryn!" Frantically worried for her niece, Martha stepped closer to the two women to get to Kathryn on the other side of the door, but was stopped by a raised hand.

"No, please!" It was Lwaxana. "She can't see you right now. You remind her too much of Edward." The break was over however and she resumed her mantra into Lyndsay's tear soaked chest.

"Oh… oh no…" Tears began to stream down the older woman's face as her hand came up to her mouth.

Of course, how could she have been so careless? She had been told all her life that she resembled her older brother a great deal. Sorrow, hot and heavy rested in the pit of her stomach. She had wanted so much to help, but she may have done nothing but inflict more damage on the already traumatized girl.

"Ms. Janeway… Martha, we're going to do whatever we can to help Kathryn, but I think that you might want to uh…" Lyndsay didn't know exactly how to tell the older woman to go away, but she knew she had to.

"No. No, I understand, I—I'm so sorry, I didn't, I had no idea that I…" Her voice failed as fresh tears streamed hotly from her slate gray eyes. "I—I'll be in the kitchen. Call me if…" She couldn't finish, who would need her anyway?

"We will." Lyndsay's voice took on a determined tone. "You did nothing wrong, Martha. You love Kathryn and would do nothing to intentionally hurt her, you know that and she knows that."

Martha Janeway nodded her head before she quickly escaped into the kitchen.

"Lwaxana?" She didn't respond. "Lwaxana Troi!"

Still no response from the sobbing woman. Lyndsay did the only thing she could think of to do. She pulled the crying woman from her chest and slapped her across the face. Hard.

That did garner a response. "You little blonde bitch! I could kiss you."

"You had me worried there." Lyndsay sighed with relief that whatever sort of trance the other woman had been in had now ended.

"She knows." Lwaxana sat against the wall. Physically exhausted from the crying and the powerful psionic connection she had just experienced.

"She knows what she is." Lwaxana's voice was soft and rough, nothing like its usual timbre. "She knows a bit of what she can do. She knows that she can absorb ambient energy especially solar energies to augment her powers. That's why she won't go outside or open the blinds even a millimeter. She also knows that she survived by creating a force field around herself. And she knows she can't tell the authorities that fact. But the thing that she knows, the thing that is filling her with so much guilt and self-loathing that she screamed inside my head with a pain I haven't felt in years, the thing that will no doubt haunt her all of her life is the sole knowledge that she could have… that she had the ability if not the know how to save them, her family, she knows, she could have saved them all."

Lyndsay had been, for the first time in her fifty odd years of living, rendered completely and utterly speechless.

"And you were right, Lynds. She knows her aunt loves her, but seeing her, seeing her father's sister, it's too much for her to bear. She believes her aunt would hate her, should hate her, for not having saved Edward Janeway, Gretchen and Phoebe." Lwaxana Troi pushed herself off of the hardwood floor, albeit unsteadily, but she needed to stop wallowing in this little girl's misery and do what they were here to do.

"So, how do we play this?" Lyndsay couldn't believe how perceptive this little girl was and how wrong she was about the whole thing.

"Kathryn Janeway has a sharp, analytical mind, she'll respond to cold hard facts more than emotionally charged words of comfort." Lwaxana tried to wipe her face clean of the wet mascara that had streaked across it.

Satisfied that she looked composed and tear free, Lwaxana knocked on the white door that lay in front of them. There was no response, at least not an auditory one.

Go away! Please, Aunt Martha, leave me alone!

Kathryn Janeway?

Who are you? What're you doing talking in my head? Leave.

My name is Lwaxana Troi, I'm a teacher at an Institute for children such as you.

Like me? What do you want?

I was hoping that I and my associate, Lyndsay, could speak with you for a bit. Perhaps we could come in?

Where's my Aunt Martha?

In the kitchen, she… knows that you are affected by her…

I didn't mean to make her sad.

She knows that, Kathryn. She loves you very much.

She'd hate me, if she knew.

I have it on pretty good authority that she wouldn't, Kathryn. She loves you very much, she wants only to help you. We also would like to help you.

I guess you can come in, if you still want to.

Thank you, Kathryn. I'm going to open the door now.

Lwaxana nodded to her blonde companion as she slowly turned the knob to the thin white door. The bright sunlight from the hall illuminated the pitch black room for just a moment before Kathryn Janeway yelled quite loudly in Lwaxana's mind to quickly shut the door, don't let the sunlight in. The older woman had complied, albeit reluctantly.

"Kathryn, I'm Lwaxana Troi and this is Lyndsay Ballard." The two women stood uncertainly in front of the closed door. They both felt intimidated by the little girl they had yet to lay eyes on. The darkness made the older women feel exposed and unsure of themselves as did the deafening silence.

They had to shield their eyes as a bright glow suddenly appeared in front of them. As their vision adjusted from the dark to the suddenly brightly lit room they finally saw the little girl they had come to Connecticut to retrieve.

Kathryn Janeway stood on the small rumpled bed ablaze with a golden glow that both engulfed and swirled haphazardly around her tiny frame. She was small for her age and looked painfully thin in the light pink t-shirt and gray pajama bottoms she wore. Her long red hair floated with the glowing tendrils as if she were underwater. Her eyes were large and energy sparked from them as she evenly gazed at the two women who had come into her self-imposed prison.

"Kathryn?" Lwaxana couldn't read much emotion coming off the glowing girl and that worried her.

I'm sorry, you let the light in, I have to let it out or it will stay with me.

The glow began to fade as did the agitation the two older women had felt when it had first appeared.

Kathryn, may we talk aloud?

I don't like to.

Why don't you like to?

I sound like my mother.

I'm so sorry for your immense loss, Kathryn.

Yes, everyone is. If they only knew.

None of it was your fault. You couldn't have saved them, Kathryn.

You don't know that. I saved myself. I could have extended the protective field to save my mother, my daddy, and little Phoebe.

But you didn't erect that field consciously did you?

No. But that was my fault. I knew I was different. If I had known more about my abilities I could have saved them all.

The pitch black darkness returned.

Kathryn, I can't alleviate your guilt over the tragedy of what happened to you and your family. That's for you to do. What I can do is tell you the facts. You are an eleven year old metahuman, perhaps the youngest occurrence to date. Usually it manifests late into the thirteenth year or early fourteenth year for girls and later in boys coinciding with puberty. But in your case, you manifested your abilities due to extreme emotional strain and unconscious self-preservation. You said you've known you were different. How?

Photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis?

Yes. I felt like a plant because I gained energy from the sun. I never got sun burnt, ever. I loved being outside in the bright sun. It made me happy and it made me feel like I could fly if I wanted to.

That's an internal physical manifestation of your abilities. Those are usually subtle and can exist from birth in a more latent form until puberty is reached. You've never had an external manifestation such as the one that protected you. Have you?

No.

It was not within your abilities or knowledge to have saved them, Kathryn. As much as you would like it to have been. That is the fact of the situation.

Then I'm stupid for not knowing.

Inexperienced and undisciplined. You are far from stupid, Kathryn. You are extremely perceptive. I don't know if I've met a metahuman who has been as self-aware as you before their external manifestation.

So, that's what you do. You teach… metahumans to use their abilities?

Among other things yes, our primary objective is to provide a safe place for metahumans to learn about their abilities and how to control them.

My mother was a teacher.

I'm sure she was a wonderful teacher and would be proud to have such a smart daughter.

I miss them.

I know you do, Kathryn. But they do still remain with you, in your heart and in your mind. They are a part of you, forever.

Lyndsay heard the muffled sobs before Lwaxana, but didn't respond first. The telepath was already at the bed when Lyndsay made her clumsy way there. She couldn't see in the darkness so she felt her way to the end of the bed and sat. The weeping was louder now, but even more muffled and Lyndsay's heart went out to the little girl who she imagined was enfolded in the arms of Lwaxana.

"Let's get you some sun, Kathryn, it'll make you feel better." Lwaxana stroked the long hair of the small girl in her arms that had just finished crying and was in the process of wiping the hot tears away with the back of her small hand.

When she heard Kathryn's thoughts, Lwaxana's voice became firm. "You do deserve it. So how about it?"

"Okay," Kathryn's voice was whisper soft and raspy from disuse.

Lwaxana gave the little girl a reassuring hug before she moved away from the bed to where the window was. Her ability to locate it aided by faint thoughts from Kathryn.

The long drapes were thick and heavy and were very securely duct taped to the window it covered, not a sliver of light escaped. Lwaxana ignored the wrenching of her heart as best she could before she carefully tore away the many layers of thick gray tape until the drapes hung loosely as they were meant to.

Light began to streak through the gap between the two long hanging drapes. Lwaxana took a deep breath and made the gap larger until the entire window was exposed and the sunlight spilled into the small bedroom, illuminating its content. She turned slowly around and found Lyndsay standing by the bed next to the pale little girl.

Shimmering golden light surrounded Kathryn Janeway as she, with a determined look on her small face, stepped forward.

"I'd like to go to your school."

"And we'd like to have you, Kathryn."

"So, she attended the New York Institute for Gifted Youngsters until the Voyager Institute opened and the three of us and a few others transferred to the West Coast." Lyndsay's voice remained relatively even as she wiped the last of the tears from her hazel eyes.

She hadn't thought about that day for so long and now she remembered why.

"I don't even know what to say." Annika, like Lyndsay, wiped the tears from her own cheeks.

"I say, we're done here for today." Lyndsay stood abruptly and held her hand out to Annika. "And that we need some good stiff drinks."

"I believe you mean 'hot totties'." Annika attempted a bit of levity as she allowed herself to be helped from the cushions of the chair. "And I say, bring them on."

CHAPTER 14

When the lift doors opened Annika was surprised to find herself not in the dormitories or the main building, but in the hallway that led to the training room she had been in earlier that day with Janeway and three of the students. She glanced curiously at her red headed companion.

"You'll see in a minute." Lyndsay grinned brightly as she led the tall blonde woman down the metal lined hallway. Large sliding doors opened with a whoosh as the two women approached the training room.

The sight that greeted them elicited a gasp from Annika. No one would ever have known there had been a cavernous rather dull gray room there as it was replaced by a dimly lit, almost cozy if not a bit divvy bar with three large pool tables in the middle of the room and tables with stools and booths scattered liberally around the wood lined walls with pictures of turn of the century movie stars and other celebrity pictures hung from them.

Annika didn't recognize the bartender, the pianist, or the older blonde haired woman in an almost scandalous purple dress who flitted about the room. She did recognize seven of the thirty or so patrons. Tom, Harry, Celes, and Billy were all at one of the large pool tables in the midst of a game by the look of the balls scattered on the green surface. Kes, Neelix, and B'Elanna were seated in one of the huge, red upholstered crescent shaped booths that had a clear line of sight at the game. Several glasses, empty and semi-full, were in front of them on the large circular table.

"This is remarkable!" Annika had thought the demonstration during Janeway's class was impressive but this detailed work of craftsmanship was truly awe-inspiring. She actually felt like she had just stepped into a real pub rather than a representation of it made with lights and magnetic fields. The place seemed alive with the chatter of holograms and the subtle sounds of the grand piano. She could even hear faint sounds of hover cars and passing people.

"Welcome to Sandrine's!" Lyndsay swept her right arm out in a flourish.

Annika blushed mildly when Lyndsay's declaration elicited the attention of everyone in the bar even the pianist.

"Hey!" Tom Paris waved his cueless hand. "Come on over, we're just about to waste Billy and Celes here."

With a skeptical laugh, Lyndsay led Annika down the short flight of stairs that went from the newly revealed glass doors to the main floor. They took their seats on two stools at a high table next to the game.

"Tom…" Harry looked at the balls and then at his cocky friend. "They're beating us."

"That's what they're supposed to think, Harry. We're setting them up for the big hustle." Tom's voice was sure but his blue eyes betrayed him. "Actually, why don't we just start a fresh game?"

"No way, Tom." Billy set up for his next shot. "I've got a wedding to pay for." He sank the ball with an orange stripe in a side pocket.

"Fine fine, I'd be happy to contribute to the almost newlyweds." Tom watched with dismay as another striped ball flew straight into a corner pocket with ease. "Damn."

"Paris, why do you insist on playing games that you aren't particularly good at?" Lyndsay's voice held mirth and a teasing tone that prodded the cocky man, without being unkind.

"It's at times like these," Tom watched as the eight ball was no more, "that I wonder."

When there were only solid colored balls left sadly on the green surface, Tom took out his money strip and pressed his thumb to the activator. The blue light indicated the account was opened and with a melodramatic sigh he transferred two hundred dollars to William Telfer's personal account, which bleeped in ill-concealed delight in the dark haired man's pants pocket.

"I need a drink." Tom put his cue back in its holder before he made his way to the bar, not quite pouting but close to it.

"Are you ever going to tell, Tom?" Celes looked at her fiancée with a mixture of admonishment and adoration.

"I was serious when I said I have a wedding to pay for." Billy's face was boyish with the large grin plastered on it.

"Why haven't you told him, Harry?" Lyndsay looked at the dark featured man who merely shrugged his shoulders.

"Told him what?" Annika, again, felt out of the loop. Tomorrow she would spend the whole day in front of that enormous display screen, just so she didn't feel so inept all the time.

"Billy uses his abilities to sort of push balls where he wants them to go." Celes now looked more amused than anything else. "It really is quite underhanded of him."

"Telekinesis?" Annika marveled at the idea of being to move objects with her mind.

"No, not really, I have control over gravity and density and can make the air move objects where I want them to." Billy demonstrated with the eight ball. The black ball moved slowly from the pocket to a few feet off the table. "It's a matter of making the ball light and the air heavy."

"I see." Annika followed the descent of the ball until it was once again nestled in the corner pocket.

"So," Billy turned his large, innocent seeming grin on Annika. "Wanna play?"

"I think I'm going to take Tom's lead and get a drink." Annika grinned at the faux look of disappointment on Billy's face.

"At your service, my lady." Tom would have bowed if he hadn't been holding a small circular tray full of an assorted array of mixed drinks and bottles of beer. He carefully set the tray onto the high table before any of the liquid found its way out of the various glasses.

"Thanks." Annika chose a small tumbler full of red liquid which turned out to be cranberry juice and vodka, the good stuff too, it went down smooth. As she took another sip she let her gaze move around the bar. "This place is amazing. Who designed it?"

"I did." Tom smiled proudly. If he wasn't all that good at playing pool or taking down auburn haired Headmistresses, he was very accomplished at designing holographic simulations. "Since we're sort of confined to the Institute, especially when classes are going on we have to create our own entertainment. Sandrine's was a place I used to hang out when I went to school in France."

"Did you go to an Institute like this one?" Annika found herself immensely curious about the history of those around her. Whose lives seemed to be less secretive and much more exciting than hers.

"Yeah, but it specialized in flight and propulsion." Tom took a swig of his beer as he shrugged. "But I think I spent more time in Sandrine's than in a classroom."

There was something in his voice that wasn't exactly light in Annika's mind, but she decided that if he didn't say more then she wouldn't ask. And he didn't so she didn't.

"How 'bout we go join the others?" Harry knew exactly what Tom's tone had meant and decided to intervene when the silence became a bit too heavy for his liking… which took about a second.

"Sure." Tom took another swig before he grabbed another beer and headed towards the large booth that sat in a corner a few feet away from the pool tables. The rest said nothing as they gathered their drinks and followed the blonde haired man.

Annika was startled when she felt apprehension at the sight of Kes. She was ashamed of the unease she felt towards what Kes was capable of, since that kind of fear was not so different than the fear humans showed metahumans. Annika felt even worse when she saw the violet eyes look away in understanding. Deciding not to allow irrational fear get the better of her Annika scrunched in close to the blonde pixie as the rest piled in on either side of the expansive booth, effectively trapping B'Elanna, Neelix, and Kes in the middle of the red cushions.

"So, Annika," Harry tried not to shift uncomfortably as those icy blue eyes rested on him. "What'd you think of Majel?"

He did shift in his seat when a delighted and radiant smile graced the blonde's narrow features.

"Amazing! I've never seen a computer comparable to it." If Annika was embarrassed by the attention she was receiving from the people at the large round table she didn't show it. "That display screen alone is a marvel. Truly impressive."

"Nothing but the best for the folks." Tom hadn't seemed to have spoken to anyone in particular as he took a distracted drink from his beer bottle.

Of course, the Parises are Tom's parents. Though there seemed to be a story there as well, thought Annika. Who would have thought the cocky flyboy would have a chip on his shoulder. What she did know about these people was unbelievably little.

"So, what brought you all to this Institute?" It seemed a fairly straight forward question, but it garnered a few uneasy movements from a couple of the people around the table.

"Well, we all have our recruitment story or something similar. So, would you rather hear the short or the long of it?" Neelix's voice was high pinched and friendly which seemed characteristic of the stout freckled man who always seemed to smell of a mixture of spices that didn't quite overwhelm, but close to it.

"I've got a drink in my hand and no place to be, so the long, I suppose." Annika leaned back into the welcoming cushions as she crossed her long legs. "Plus, I'm very curious about all of you."

"About us?" Harry's voice wasn't exactly unsqueaky.

"Well, yes. I have to admit the idea of sitting here, talking with you all about being metahuman and how you came to be here is very intriguing to me." Annika felt that she had to be truthful despite the fact that she wasn't always quite so open with people, especially strangers.

"Should we draw straws then?" B'Elanna's voice held its characteristic snarkiness, but she didn't seem that put off by Annika's words.

A smile didn't grace B'Elanna's lips, but neither did the almost snarl that had been permanently on it when they had gone to Annika's apartment. Had that just been earlier that day, Annika felt like it was a lifetime ago.

"Who's had the most to drink?" Lyndsay looked around the table and spotted who had the most empty glasses in front of them. "Why don't you go?"

Kes drank the last of her gin and tonic down before she turned her violet eyes to the tall blonde seated next to her. She had felt the apprehension in Annika's emotions but decided it wasn't her place to delve deeper though she could make a guess as to what had made the tall blonde woman uneasy. The idea of someone being capable of destroying the world was not something to be easily shaken off. Though, Kes smiled inwardly, Annika had attempted to do so admirably.

All eyes on her, Kes' melodic tones began her tale. "Well, it started off as many stories often do, the night was… sultry."