They find the pirate, Picard, in a cargo bay, his ship in the wake of the great flagship. He looks at Kathryn's costume and raises an eyebrow.
"New friend, Will?"
"This is Kathryn Janeway, she's the one who found those ghost ships you were looking for."
Picard shifts his disruptor to his left and extends his right hand. "Jean-Luc Picard, I've been an admirer of yours for awhile now."
His hand is strong.
"The Empress has Beverly." Kathryn has one task.
Will nods. "She was in the throne room."
Picard hands her a tricorder from his pocket. "She should be all right. The Empress has no reason to kill her."
There's one Terran life sign in the throne room. Picard's is new, but there's one missing. One of the Terrans is dead.
"How do you know?"
Picard's voice is soft and heavy. "I know the Empress and Beverly's death would serve no purpose. She's not needlessly cruel. If we're at transwarp, she'll be on the bridge. The throne room should be empty. Go, find her. Meet us here and we'll beam off. Dressed like that without a weapon, no one will stop you. Fifteen minutes."
Will nods. "Can you find your way back here?"
Kathryn clutches the tricorder. "Cargo bay eleven, shouldn't be difficult. You'll find Chakotay?"
They share a look that means there's more going on than she knows, but she doesn't care. She ties the clinging silk of her dress up so she can move.
"Fifteen minutes," Picard reminds her and she nods.
They head down another corridor and Kathryn has to remind herself not to run. Running won't get her anywhere because the damn dress will probably just fall off. Not running makes her less suspicious and the slaves ignore her. They must have numerous tasks and duties; Kathryn has one. Find Beverly, get off the ship.
Calling Silence a ship takes away some of the majesty. The vessel is full of long, sprawling corridors with ceilings that reached up enough to be part of grand cathedrals. Other species built starships for efficiency or strength in battle, El Aurian vessels were designed to be beautiful and the idea that there were more of them in the galaxy nearly made up for the suffering involved in finding them.
What would it be like to take a ship like this and see what's out there? Kathryn clings to that idea, imagining Beverly with her on the bridge of a ship that goes on forever. They could go anywhere, provided they are together.
She's never had that. Kathryn hasn't cared for anyone; she barely knew her family and she's never been close to anyone. Intendant Ro is her master, the other Terrans she's known are slaves given to her nights at a time as a reward for her service. Beverly is different.
She doesn't have words for the knot in her stomach.
Her necklace gets her through three checkpoints and the final door into the throne room. It's a great circle of stone that rolls open with a hum. The lighting is low and the guards are gone. The great pool of water is still and looks like a mirror set in the stone floor. The air reeks of blood
The body's on the floor, his face up towards the ceiling.
Beverly sits on the steps, her hands on her knees. A young Klingon sits next to her, her face soft. It's possible she's never seen tears. Beverly's run quick and silent down her face.
Kathryn nearly slips when she comes to a stop in front of her. She crouches in front of her, looking up at Beverly. There's blood on Beverly's hands, drying against her skin. There's some on her clothes, but they aren't as saturated as her hands.
Beverly sees her but stares through. "She showed me what was in his mind."
Kathryn catches the Klingon 's eye as she reaches for Beverly's wrists, trying to avoid the blood.
"The High Inquisitor."
"She saw something in his mind?" Kathryn strokes the back of Beverly's wrist, trying to bring her back.
"They had him."
Beverly rubs her eyes on the back of her arm, forcing herself calm. Her body stiffens. "She put it in my head. Thousands of minds all speaking at once. Wesley was, I mean, they did something to him. He wasn't Wesley."
Kathryn wants to give her time, but they have a deadline. "We need to meet Picard. You have to come with me."
Beverly can't take her eyes off the body. "He got so tall."
Grabbing her bloody hands, Kathryn wipes them on the metres of useless fabric making up her skirt. "Beverly, I need you to come with me, now."
Meeting Kathryn's gaze with dull eyes, Beverly clutches her hands. "We can't let them find us. The voices- Kathryn, the voices are evil."
"Okay. We'll stay away from them."
That gets Beverly on her feet. "You're almost naked."
"Tom." Kathryn fights back the urge to blush.
The Klingon watches them for a moment, then gets up to follow. "They're the Borg, aren't they? The voices she's talking about."
"How do you know about the Borg?"
"I saw it in the database. Cybernetic organisms, a hive mind. They fought the El Aurians, hundreds of years ago."
This girl is the first Klingon Kathryn's talked to who hasn't sneered at her. Maybe it's her age.
"B'Elanna." She picks up the knife Beverly used on the boy. It's thin and sharp, elegant like the ship and must be El Aurian design. B'Elanna tucks it away.
"Kathryn." She takes Beverly by the elbow and leads her towards the doorway and the corridor beyond.
B'Elanna follows, jogging to catch up. "I want to come with you."
"With us?" Kathryn almost wants to laugh. "We're running away on a pirate ship."
"You're stealing an El Aurian ship, one of the big ones. You stole the command codes."
That revelation stops Beverly too.
"Someone stole the command codes for one of the vessels. I found it in the database."
Kathryn doesn't even know where to look for that and she's impressed. "Okay, why come with us?"
"I can help you. I'm good with technology, I know transwarp coils and computers."
Nodding, Kathryn starts walking again, letting the girl follow them. "But you can work on those here."
"I can't. The Empress has engineers, real engineers. You don't have any."
Beverly shrugs. "She has a point."
"It's nicer here." Kathryn argues but before she can finish, the girl shakes her head.
B'Elanna frowns, typing in a code to open one of the doors. "Only until some Intendant decides I'm a threat."
"We get shot at."
"Kathryn-" Beverly looks at her and ends the debate. "Let her come. We need the help."
"All right, B'Elanna. You're the new chief of transwarp of a ship we don't have."
Beverly's wan smile is a small victory and they try not to look conspicuous. Two bloody slaves and a Klingon isn't too out of the ordinary. B'Elanna growls two Ferengi out of the way and they're back in the cargo bay with three minutes to spare.
Kathryn holds Beverly's shoulders, resting her chin on one. Beverly's still stiff with grief but Kathryn likes to feel she's helping, that there's a way through. Beverly squeezes her fingers and that's enough for her to believe.
Her mother's mind is full of grey darkness, something that crawls beneath her thoughts like insects. It's an unsettling sensation and she pulls her thoughts back, focusing on the cold, unreadable mind of the Empress and the familiar warmth of Ro's thoughts. Will's here. She can feel his proximity but he might be working, so she pays it no mind.
Transwarp stains the viewscreen green and gold and she glances down at a console as space flies by. They're out past the rim of the Alliance, further than she's seen on a star chart. Laren's thoughts are a tangled mass of speculation and they slide over each other like silk threads.
Kathryn was taken for this and the boy died for it. This secret has been buried in the mire of the universe long enough.
"Scan for other transwarp activity."
The Ferengi at the console shakes her large head. "None, Empress."
"Recalibrate for caeliare waves and scan again."
The Ferengi scrambles to find the right frequency in the database but the Empress is patient. Her aura of fear extends to simple tasks yet Deanna's never seen her execute anyone for failing to complete one. It's a level of restraint some of the lower ranks could benefit from.
"Caeliare waves detected, three-four-eight by one-one-nine, and closing on the target coordinates, Empress."
"Time of arrival?"
"Two minutes, eighteen seconds. The source of the caeliare waves will arrive approximately fifty-three seconds later, Empress."
Her mother nods at that, shutting her eyes and lifting her hands from her lap. She touches the arms of her chair and they open, revealing two small devices, crystalline and carved with ornate writing. Deanna's too far away to read the symbols, but she can hear her mother's thoughts.
Psionic resonators: they've been illegal on Betazed for centuries and all of them were supposed to be destroyed in the last great mind war.
She's heard it whispered that the Empress can find anything, seeing these makes it true. Her mother attaches the devices to her temples, keeping her eyes shut as they send tiny crystalline channels into her mind. As powerful as her mother is, these will amplify her thoughts geometrically, turning a mind capable of storming a ship into one that can reach across the void.
The moment of connection sends a palpable wave of psychic energy through the ship. The Ferengi don't feel it, but Laren shivers.
Laren leans in close. "How would the Empress find those?"
"That's what they are."
Lwaxana's mind expands, looming over Deanna's like a shadow of a tree, grown long in the fading sun. A tree becomes a mountain, then the sensation of darkness is more like an eclipse. Something that is not Deanna is between her and reality, letting only a fraction of it pass through. Deanna fights, struggling to establish the best shields she can.
"No, Little One." Lwaxana's voice vibrates through her, as if she were talking inside her cells, creating sound with DNA. "You can't fight and trying will only weaken you. Let me in."
Deanna drops her shields; obedience is well engrained. Lwaxana's mind remains over everything, darkening her senses. The Ferengi reports their arrival and the ship falls back into normal space. Four El Aurian ships hang listless in the void, like stone temples scattered by an earthquake. Orders fly around her, more scans and tests. The Empress orders her boarding parties.
One of the vessels breaks away, her engines flickering blue.
The Empress ignores it, focusing on the other three. Their shields drop and boarding parties of hundreds start breaming through the void to the lost ships.
JthellnRuk, the ghost fleet of the Listeners, that which was lost, has been recovered. Deanna shares her mother's wave of elation before fear finds her. Psionic resonators are of no use with technology, even Listener technology. Something else is wrong. Something else is that grey-green dark in the corner of Lwaxana's mind.
"We are the Borg."
There's another ship, another fleet of ships with six vessels, grey blocks of metal and conduit. They circle the Listener ships, scanning with bright green beams that sting her eyes.
"Lower your shields and surrender your ships." The voice is a mass of voices: twisted thousands all speaking as one. "We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own."
"No, you won't," her mother says simply. Her refusal is in her eyes and her mind, written on her lips and deep in her throat. Her mother speaks through her and into her.
Deanna's body trembles, readying itself as if to run a marathon. She can feel her mother's mind coiling, feeding on all the other minds on the ship. The Ferengi are immune to her mother's powers, but Laren and the Terran by the door both have 'no' on their lips.
Her mother buys time, turning it to chaos. The Borg have minds, tens of thousands of them, all working as one. If they were ten thousand individuals, Lwaxana could never control them, but they are one. One mind is well within her power, even if it is one composed of many. The purpose is the same.
That purpose is what Lwaxana corrupts. She spreads doubt, enflames fear, dredges up the emotions of the minds on those ships that they'd buried down beneath their technology. Deanna has just the strength to remain herself and watch the maelstrom unfold. Laren's eyes begin to water, then a stray drop of blood runs down from her nose towards her lip. Deanna watches it fall and shares the sensation of heat on her skin.
The Empress continues to command, three of the ships are righting themselves, preparing to go to transwarp. The fourth is crawling away, gaining speed as the engines wake from centuries of hibernation. The Empress pays it no heed, she wants the three.
The Borg fight their containment and their struggles feed the psionic field, making an ever-tightening noose that holds their minds still. Deanna's head sings with the effort of it, screaming within her skull as if her brain could resonate out of the bony case holding it. She gasps, throwing her hands up uselessly to cover her ears.
Her mother breaks concentration for a nanosecond, wasting precious control on saving Deanna's life. "Surrender, Little One." Surrender. Don't fight her. There's a key in that. Deanna drops her shields and welcomes the raw power of her mother's amplified mind into her own. Lwaxana washes over her, charges through like a comet illuminated by the sun. The pain that consumed her evaporates, fading into mist.
Deanna grabs Laren's hand, forcing her mind to surrender, first to her, then to Lwaxana. She's never forced Laren's thoughts before and part of her is vaguely aroused by the sensation. Laren is hers and she'll survive this because Deanna can make her surrender. The blood on her lip slows and the bleeding's stopped.
One of the Listener ships explodes into transwarp, leaving the others behind in a blaze of light. A second begins to glow, ready to follow.
Small minds are drowning. Beneath the deafening roar of her mother locked in the maelstrom with the Borg, there are Terrans, Will among them. She'll always hear him, a fluke of her developing abilities when she made him hers. She reaches out to them, confident in her ability to navigate the rushing around them.
"Surrender, let it wash over you. Don't fight. She won't hurt you." She doesn't know if they can hear her; Terrans are notoriously dense of thought. They need not die if they open their minds.
A second ship goes to transwarp, leaving the last two, one of the Alliance and the one be ing stolen. Her mother's control falters and the storm rages even louder, a hurricane of pent up rage from ten of thousands of terrified minds. The Borg are a wealth of powerful emotion all denied release until her mother found them.
"Surrender. You can't fight her, she'll win."
They beamed to the bridge, just having a chance to touch the gleaming consoles before their minds weren't their own. The bridge is full of corpses, long mummified at their posts. Some catastrophe took this crew and now death is reaching out of the void for them. She recognises Lwaxana's mind, but it's Lwaxana magnified and enhanced until she's a primal force. Her mind overpowers Beverly's and that of everyone around her as if they were insects to be crushed.
They're all down, curled around themselves hands impotently on their heads. Will's whispering something but she can't make it out. The universe is only Lwaxana and the other. The other is a mass of darkness and hatred feeding into the storm. Beverly sees it as a black hole, surrounded by the last angry swirls of light, already caught and doomed.
They're all doomed. Fighting this is like swimming towards the event horizon. There's nothing, no hope, no escape and fighting it turns her thoughts to liquid fire, burning through her skull. Perhaps Wesley is down there in the black abyss and this is her punishment for taking his life.
"Surrender," echoes through her consciousness, a command from a foreign mind.
He had to be killed. He'd been touched by the voices and they would never had given him back. He had to die; he's better dead than drowned in darkness like the legion swirling around them. She couldn't have known what would happen. She had to let them take him. He died quickly, she's good with a knife. If she hadn't, Lwaxana would have and it's better it was her.
Someone slaps her face, a stinging point of light in the storm that draws her back. "Don't resist."
The foreign mind, the lesser one Beverly doesn't know, agrees with the voice in reality. "Let it wash over you."
Let what, the storm? Is this black maelstrom big enough to swallow her and her grief? Maybe it is. She could just let go and fall into the heart of darkness. There's a promise of peace in that. Beverly relinquishes the last of herself. Wesley's death is as much her fault as a supernova. It had to occur.
She's covered in sweat and she's been crying. Her lungs ache, as if she'd tried to breathe water.
Will drags her up, holding her for a moment. "It'll pass, just let it be part of you."
The girl, B'Elanna, sits near her, back against a console, eyes wide. She's conscious so she's through it. Will moves on to Picard, slapping him back as he repeats the same mantra. Surrender is the only option. Beverly drags herself to her hands and knees and grabs Kathryn, slapping her twice. Her eyes flit wildly, as if something horrible is behind Beverly's head. Her lips repeat more of the same, soundlessly begging for surrender.
"Let it go. Let it all go. The darkness won't hurt you."
The ship starts to hum. Beneath the black stone deck, the engines live again. Someone's flying it. Beverly looks up, searching the bridge. Chakotay sits at the helm, steady and firm. He's not in the maelstrom but she doesn't know why.
Kathryn chokes, pulling out and curling up in Beverly's lap.
"It's all right. Let it beat you."
Whatever it is, once it's through it's just a background hum, as unnoticed as the parts of the mind that call for breath and keep the heart beating.
"Fighting it is what gives the resonator power," Chakotay says, speaking over his shoulder. "The more you resist, the more the resonator has to feed on. If you let it win, you can fall to the bottom, out of the waves."
Kathryn sits up slowly, her head still against Beverly's chest. Resting a hand on her neck puts her pulse beneath Beverly's fingertips. She still has Kathryn, and that's her victory.
"Someone else was in there." Kathryn looks to Will, expectant.
"Deanna, Inquisitor Troi, she told us what to do." He gives Jean-Luc a hand up.
The viewscreen snaps to life, showing two black Listener ships and six metallic grey cubes. One of the ships jumps away, vanishing in the green-gold glow of transwarp. The other begins firing, lances of blue energy blast through space at the cubes. Chunks of metal are blown off, gases vent and explode, conduits vaporise and then, even as they're watching, the ship hurt first begins to heal, returning to form.
"I suggest we get out of here, Chakotay." Jean-Luc glances around, making sure everyone is free of the telepathic hold.
Beverly doesn't want to think about what happens if someone was suddenly disconnected. She finds her feet, her knees are weak but they'll hold her. Kathryn takes a chair, already studying the panel in front of her.
The hum of the engines grows louder, the deck seems to lurch forward and they see the cubes begin to return fire. Green energy flashes out, reaching with deadly fingers for the Empress's ship. Everything darkens and the light of the viewer obscures all else before they settle intro transwarp.
Chakotay turns in his chair, reaching for Will's hand as he steps off the console. There's blood on his temples, bright red and tinged pink with some other fluid. Two crystalline discs are on his temples. They look too old to be technology, but there's light within them. He takes a step, then staggers to his knees. Jean-Luc catches his head and pulls the crystalline discs free. Blood trickles red from the wounds but it's the touch of pink Beverly worries about. Something clear is mixing with blood and she can only think of one thing.
"Psionic dampeners," Jean-Luc explains as Beverly lifts one. "Something I found in a Betazoid tomb. Chakotay, you didn't have to-"
Chakotay shakes his head slowly, coming to rest on the deck. He brings his hands to his chest, smiling peacefully. "Couldn't trust myself to break through the psychic storm the High Inquisitor created. We needed the ship."
"Is there a medical kit?" Beverly grabs part of Kathryn's nearly unwound dress and tears it off. It's reasonably clean. She wipes blood from Chakotay's temple but more of the fluid seeps after it.
Jean-Luc stands, looking for the logical place to keep medical tech. If he finds anything it'll be El Aurian and hundreds of years old. Even with a sickbay, she's not sure what she can do for this kind of neural trauma.
"You're losing cerebral-spinal fluid."
Chakotay reaches for her and finds her arm just above the elbow. "The psionic dampeners were designed for a Betazoid, not a human. I'm lucky they lasted as long as they did."
His pulse is slowing and his respiration is slow and shallow. His brain stem could already be compromised. There's no way to fix it, not without taking his skull to pieces and synthetic fillers. She doesn't have those. She can't cobble together a miracle out of dust and ancient technology.
"We have the ship."
Will nods, kneeling down and taking Chakotay's other hand. "It's going to be a bitch to learn how to fly her, but we've got her."
"Don't let her worry too much."
That's directed up towards Kathryn, and she slides off her chair, resting her head against Beverly's shoulder. She won't know what to say, but that's strangely comforting.
Beverly wipes fluid from his temples, taking the blood off with the scrap of cloth. "I don't worry."
He coughs, almost a laugh. "Of course not. Jean-Luc, give her a good name. Something hopeful."
"She's currently called," he taps a console, "Samadhi, I want to say that means something important but my El Aurian is limited."
"Not too bad."
"I think we make do for awhile."
"Tell Kate I'm sorry that I'll miss her soup."
Will nods, smiling. "She'll be disappointed."
Chakotay's eyes slide shut and his heart beats once more before it stops. Beverly starts to shift position, ready to start chest compressions but she doesn't move. There's nothing to be done. The neurons in his brain stem will be dead soon, if they're not already.
Kathryn's arm wraps around her waist, holding her tight. Jean-Luc touches her shoulder; Will takes off his jacket and covers Chakotay's face. She buries her head in Kathryn's hair, letting her be her shield from the universe until she has the strength to face it again.
They bury Chakotay in space. Tom knows some of the words of his people, and the smell of burning herbs hangs in the corridors for the ship. Jean-Luc is poetic, Will makes them laugh and all Beverly can say is that Chakotay was their strength when they needed steel, which is good enough. She'll miss him, but the sorrow in his heart deserves this rest.
Kathryn takes her hand again when she steps back.
After the memorial, all they do is work. Samadhi has docking bays with smaller vessels, an ancient computer and a whole new system to run and understand. Jean-Luc hands over command to Nechayev, a tiny blond woman with one eye covered with a metallic patch, who seems to small for the command chair until she takes it. Kate Pulaski insists on feeding everyone before they tackle the mess of a command structure. They're all rabble, scattered cells, battle groups and courtesans trying to form a fleet.
Kathryn's both engineer and scientist and she works so hard that she's asleep the moment she makes it back to bed. Beverly's never had a bedroom as extravagant as this one, and if she didn't have Kathryn to share it with it would seem too big.
There's hope in the work. People smile more often than she's seen before. There's talk of rights for Terrans in the Alliance, that with this ship they could negotiate a settlement with the Empress instead of fighting a rebellion. The Borg are still out there and their only chance for survival may be to fight together.
Living is the hard part. Instead of trying to keep the peace with her little group, now Beverly's part of a whole, they're even talking about ranks and structure. She sits with Kathryn in the great hold, what would have been a throne room is a mess hall now, and they listen to older Terrans debate things like democracy with Vulcans.
On the ninth day of the new order they're loosely calling the Federation of Former Slaves, Beverly raises her hand into the air and swears to be a member of a society, to render aid when necessary, to do no harm and to take the responsibility of attempting to save lives, if it's within her power. There's no university, no Alliance monitoring of her credentials and there's no promise she won't still need to build bombs. She's a healer in a fledging society that needs doctors, so she'll be the best she can.
Kate swears the oath at her side and they take on the El Aurian sickbay. For each piece of equipment they understand, there are three more that they can't begin to imagine, but the Alliance leaves them to the task. She survives two weeks, then three without staring down death and Beverly remembers that she has a sense of humour.
Kathryn tells her about B'Elanna breaking someone's nose down in engineering and she laughs, startling Kathryn's head off her chest.
"I didn't know you could sound like that." Kathryn's hair tumbles in a mess over her bare shoulder.
Beverly runs her fingers through it, trying to tame it and failing. "I'm not sure I knew."
Kathryn ponders that, kissing her way up towards Beverly's breast. "Do you think it'll stay like this?"
"Hopeful. Busy, incredibly complicated, but hopeful. Like we're doing something."
"Even Terrans can be dangerous with a ship like this. I'm sure the Empress will be cautious instead of attacking outright."
Kathryn grins at that, looking up. "I didn't mean the ship."
Sitting up on her elbows, Beverly stares at her. "I don't understand."
Kathryn sits up, pulling her hands into her lap. "You and I, we're hopeful."
"Oh." She hadn't considered that. She's never really thought about anything like this. "We're looking forward."
"Together." It's both a promise and a demand and Beverly loves her for it. Kissing her is the answer for today and the tomorrow Beverly imagines is full of light and hope.