Notes and disclaimers:
This is an addition to Peter David's book "Before Dishonor". If you haven't read it, go do that first. Right now. It's a great book. Plus then this story will make a lot more sense, particularly the part about Seven's premonition.
While "Before Dishonor" is billed as a ST:TNG novel, the characters that I feel he truly breathes beautiful life into are Seven of Nine and Kathryn Janeway/The Borg Queen. After finishing the book I just couldn't leave the ending of the story alone.
The words in italics either belong to Peter David, or are abridged from his novel. I mean no disrespect; imitation is truly the most sincere form of flattery.
This story contains mild subtext. Don't like it, don't read it.
Before Dishonor Redux
Kathryn Janeway looked around and saw nothing. A lot of it.
Then she saw, or perhaps sensed, something near her. She looked at it without eyes and saw it clearly.
It was an odd looking man with grayish hair and a slightly sad face.
"Who are you?"
"Jon Stephens. Former Navigator of the Enterprise." Then the form and substance of the man before her shifted…
…and Lady Q appeared.
"I don't understand," said Janeway. "What's happened? Why were you on the Enterprise?"
"Why do starships go to watch stars burn out? Sometimes you just want a front row seat when something great meets its end."
"Meets its…" Janeway trailed off. "Am I… are you saying I'm… dead?"
Lady Q made a dismissive noise. "What a nonsensical term. You and your ilk, you're so locked into words. Words are useless. It's all about concepts. 'Dead' doesn't mean anything. Just like 'end' doesn't mean anything. I mentioned watching stars dying before. Except they collapse and form black holes. So do they die, or do they simply become something else?"
"And… what have I become?" Janeway asked slowly. "And why have you cared all this time?"
"I haven't," sighed Lady Q. "But Q has. And had. And did. And does. Which has, and had, and did, and does, made, make, and make you of interest."
"To me. To him. To… others."
"But… what if I want to go back?"
"You can't." She said it not unkindly. "The universe never goes back. It's all about moving forward, evolving, the call of destiny."
"I don't believe in destiny," Janeway said firmly.
"That's all right," said Lady Q, and she extended a hand. "Fortunately, it believes in you. Come and I'll show you."
She considered the offer. "Is there coffee where we're going?" she asked.
"Bottomless cups of it."
Kathryn Janeway took her hand…
… And found herself alone again. More nothingness.
"This isn't amusing." Her voice, or maybe it was her mental projection, rang in the emptiness.
Exasperated, she reminded the void loudly, "You promised me coffee!"
"So we did."
The masculine voice came from somewhere behind her. Janeway spun around.
There was Q. Her Q, dressed in a Starfleet Admiral's uniform. As usual he was looking somewhat smug, but there was softness around his eyes that betrayed his affection toward her.
His right arm was extended, holding out a large, steaming mug of coffee.
The smell of the coffee hit Janeway and she promptly took the warm mug in both hands.
"Mmm." She raised the coffee to her lips and took a sip. It was delicious, dark and smooth. For a moment she forgot where she was, or wasn't. She forgot the Borg, forgot the last big battle, forgot Q standing in front of her. Her eyes slid shut as she savored the beverage.
After a time she became aware of a tapping noise. She opened eyes slowly and peered over the top of the mug.
Q was tapping his foot impatiently, hands on his hips.
With the warm coffee in her hands, things were looking up enough for Janeway to find herself somewhat amused.
"Why are you impatient? Don't the Q have all the time in the world?"
"In the universe, actually." The tapping stopped. Q crossed his arms on his chest. "But as much as I adore you Kathy, there really are other things I could be doing. Dropping Tribbles on the Klingon home world. Giving Vulcans a sense of humour. Do you know I still haven't taught Junior how to collapse a star into a black hole? I really am a very busy Q."
"Time to move on!" Q snapped his fingers and the coffee disappeared.
Janeway frowned at him. "Now that wasn't nice. You could have at least let me finish my cup."
"Forwards and onwards," Q said breezily. "The question is, where to?"
"Where to? I'm not sure what you mean," she replied.
She saw two people, a man and a woman. They were young, maybe in their early thirties, both wearing civilian clothing. They were standing in a room, talking.
As Janeway watched their surroundings became more solid. It was a nursery, she realized, with a crib against one wall and holograms of giraffes and monkeys dancing happily by the window. As she concentrated, she was drawn into the room. She could now hear them speaking.
"... color for the walls? Blue? Green? Yellow?" The man was smiling at his wife, and he reached out to take her hand. Janeway noticed that he had kind eyes.
"We don't even know if it's going to be a boy or a girl yet!" The woman laughed, and her husband drew her into his arms.
Q's voice cut into the scene, and suddenly Janeway was standing outside again, looking in at the couple holding each other, frozen as if in a picture.
"A child is about to be conceived." Q's voice had a strange warmth to it.
"This child will be raised by two loving parents who have gone to great lengths to rearrange their lives so that their child will be raised on Earth near their extended families. This child will have access to the outdoors, real air and dirt and bugs, and all things both wonderful and gross. Straddling the line of both traditionalist and modern, this child's parents are committed to being a part of its life every day. They look forward to teaching it to ride a bike, read a book, and play its first holo novels."
Janeway flinched. Her own father had been away serving Starfleet for much of her childhood.
Q gestured at the couple, caught in mid-hug. "She's a scientist. He's an artist, a sculptor. They just moved into a small living unit on the outskirts of Amsterdam on Earth. It's close to the city, and all the best schools and all the best health care. But they have a yard where they've started a modest vegetable garden. In a few years this yard will also contain a tree house and a basketball hoop. There will be cats, a dog, and a number of birds and small Earth rodents. And three younger siblings to follow."
"Okay…" Janeway said slowly. "But why are you showing me this?"
"It's your first choice."
"My first choice?"
"Yes, yes." Q was impatient now. "Your first choice. Would you like to be that child?"
"The… child…? Me? As in… Are you speaking of reincarnation?"
"That's your limited human word for it, yes. Life force recycled. Continuing your journey. Whatever your little human mind can comprehend."
Janeway narrowed her eyes, but she didn't comment. Instead, she asked, "You said that was my first choice. There are more?"
"Of course." Q waved his arm again, and a polished, antique table appeared in the nothingness beside the human couple, still frozen in mid-hug. There was something on the table.
"Coffee…" Janeway breathed. She took a step towards the table, but stopped when more things began to appear.
Beside the steaming mug of coffee there was a carafe, filled with more of the hot beverage. A chair appeared by the table, covered in a soft, dark green leather. A throw blanket was on the chair. Lying by the table was a dog, an Irish Setter. Its tongue was hanging out and its tail was thumping on the ground.
Janeway's eyes darted from place to place, and every time her eyes paused they landed on something new. A plate of cookies on the table. A stack of novels, both paper and PADD. A pair of snowshoes, perfect for a winter outdoors. A bathtub, full of bubbles, with a glass of wine perched on the rim of the tub.
And… good grief… was that a plate of her mother's meat loaf?
"This is everything I could possibly want," Janeway observed. "What's the catch. Is it real?"
"Real? Define real." Q was standing close behind her, peering over her shoulder. "My my Kathy… Is that really a…"
"Never mind!" Janeway cut him off, blushing. "What's the purpose of all these things?"
"These things? As you said, this is everything good that you can imagine, have imagined, will imagine... It's also your next choice."
"My next choice? To be surrounded by the things…" Janeway trailed off as she saw her father appear. He was young, like she remembered from her childhood. He smiled at her, waved, and reached down to pat the dog. He was dressed for the outdoors and was holding a cricket bat in one hand.
"To be surrounded by the things… and people… that make me happy." Janeway mused, "That sounds an awful lot like…"
She broke off and turned her head sharply to look at Q.
"That sounds an awful lot like Heaven," she stated. "Are you offering me a place in Heaven?"
Q shrugged, continuing to watch the growing accumulation of items and people surrounding the table. "Heaven. Afterlife. To spend eternity surrounded by the people and things you love. Yadda yadda yadda."
"What's the catch?"
"What catch? This is what humans have been dreaming of for eons. There is no 'catch'. It's exactly what you make of it."
"Do I also get to choose Hell?" Janeway asked wryly.
"If you wish," Q replied enigmatically.
Janeway pinched her fingers on the bridge of her nose and sighed.
When she looked back, her two choices were frozen in front of her. The happy couple, eagerly awaiting the conception of their first child. And the table, with a mug of steaming coffee and so many of the things that made her happy surrounding it.
"So these are my two choices then? Reincarnation or the afterlife?"
"Actually you have a third choice," Q informed her.
"Well I don't know, do I?" Q snapped. "These are your choices. Really Kathy!"
"Fine. What's my third choice then?"
Q didn't even need to wave his hand this time. Another scene appeared before her.
It was Seven of Nine. She sat rigidly in a chair, her posture perfect as always. She was studying a PADD that she held in one hand. As Janeway looked closer, she recognized Seven's quarters at Starfleet Academy. Sparse, containing only her regeneration alcove, a tidy workstation, and a single photo of the crew of Voyager.
Janeway had only cared to visit those quarters once, and afterwards had preferred to invite Seven to her office, for a walk on the academy grounds, or, on occasion, even to Janeway's apartment in San Francisco.
As Janeway continued to watch her, Seven did something very uncharacteristic. Her body slouched. The hand holding the PADD dropped to her thigh, and Seven stared blankly off into space. Her gaze was vaguely resting in the direction of the photo of Voyager's crew across the room, but her eyes were unfocussed, unseeing. Her posture radiated exhaustion and grief.
"This is my third choice? Seven of Nine?"
Janeway turned back to Q. "Do you mean I'll somehow become her?" She was perplexed.
"Of course not. Your beloved Seven is exactly who you always wanted her to be. An individual. Herself. And, as she proved when she fought the Borg queen, nothing will take that away from her."
"I don't understand."
"Oh Kathy," sighed Q. He snapped his fingers.
Kathryn Janeway was gone. In her place was the Borg queen. And the Borg queen hungered.
She hungered for more ships, more technology, more souls. She hungered for Locutus. And, more than anything else, she hungered for Seven of Nine.
Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero One.
Seven of Nine, who, the Borg queen knew, was chasing around the quadrant in a desperate attempt to rescue her beloved Kathryn Janeway.
Seven of Nine would do anything for Kathryn Janeway. What delighted the Borg queen was what Seven didn't, or wouldn't, realize.
Kathryn Janeway was gone.
Now there was only Borg.
Her memory shifted. She was in the moment that all things ended, and all things began.
The Borg queen watched as Seven gazed at her, into her. She knew she was terrible to behold, and that yet Seven still loved her unconditionally. She had no idea how much of that was due to the influence she was already exerting as the Borg queen, and how much was Seven's devotion to Janeway. It didn't matter.
Seven spoke. "Kathryn…"
"There is no Kathryn Janeway. There is only Borg."
"No. I am Seven and I will be free, and I will take you with me. I will rescue you."
"You do not believe that. I know you do not. You know as well as I that Kathryn Janeway is a thing of the past."
None could stand against the Borg queen. None could oppose her.
But Seven of Nine was unlike any other being in the galaxy. She had strode both worlds, that of the Borg and of humanity. Seven was no mere drone. Seven was no mere anything.
Seven pushed through the Collective, through drone after drone, until she her consciousness was right in front of the Borg queen. The queen was momentarily perplexed. But pushing her way through the will of all those drones had drained Seven, and the queen's arrogance returned as she felt Seven's strength begin to falter.
Then suddenly Seven was there, sinking her mental fingers into the queen's face.
"Kathryn, reach out to me… see what they have done to you. They have taken your face, your identity. They have presented themselves to the world as you, but they are not you. I know you. I know you for what you are. I know you are fair and just and the most human woman who has ever lived, and you would not want to exist this way. You cannot let the Collective win. You cannot let the world's last memory of you be as some sort of thing."
As Seven's strength finally failed, Kathryn Janeway, buried somewhere within the Borg queen, saw the plight of her close friend, this woman she had come to care for so deeply. And Kathryn Janeway howled at the injustice of it.
She struck home, punching a hole in the Borg queen's protective wall. The virus swarmed through.
With her last bit of strength, Kathryn Janeway ripped Seven of Nine from the Collective and pushed her out, safe, away from the virus that was already destroying the queen and her gigantic cube…
Back in nothingness, Q was standing beside Janeway, a hand on her shoulder.
"The two of you saved Earth. Saved humanity." His voice was as soft as Janeway had ever heard it. "Your connection, your friendship. Your love. Seven would never have battled so hard for anyone else. And you would never have found the strength to overcome the Borg queen if Seven wasn't the one reaching out for you."
Janeway stood in silent contemplation.
"So those are your choices Kathryn." Q stepped back and gestured at the three scenes in front of them. "It's time to choose."
"I thought I couldn't go back," Janeway said quietly, looking at Seven.
"You can't. That's forward. They're all forward."
Q stepped further back into the nothingness. His voice echoed, distant but firm.
… a baby was conceived.
… a steaming mug of coffee sat on a beautiful antique table.
… Seven of Nine snapped out of her daze with a sudden premonition.
Kathryn Janeway stood on the grounds of Starfleet Academy. It was just past dusk and a light mist was falling. Fine water droplets were accumulating on her eyelashes and she blinked to clear them.
She glanced down at body, finding herself dressed in civilian clothing with simple black shoes. She was quickly growing damp and cold.
Suddenly Janeway laughed out loud, drawing a strange look from a lone student passing by. She didn't care. Damp and cold meant that she was alive, truly alive. Not back, but forward.
The lone student slipped into the main Academy doors and was almost knocked over by a figure rushing out into the rain. The figure was backlit by the lights of the building, but Janeway knew that stride anywhere. Even when the stride was uncharacteristically hurried.
Seven of Nine came to an abrupt halt precisely fifty centimeters in front of Janeway.
"You are dead," she announced.
"Apparently not," Janeway murmured.
"Kathryn Janeway was destroyed along with the Borg queen." To anyone else Seven's voice would have sounded cold and certain, but Janeway could hear the slight uneasiness in her statement.
Seven tipped her chin down and leveled a steel gaze at Janeway. "State the purpose for this ruse."
"It's no ruse Seven. I'm not sure what happened… Q was there… And I had a choice. And now here I am."
"You state that Q gave you a choice to return? I do not believe you. Why would Q do such a thing?" The rain was getting heavier but Seven showed no inkling of noticing. Her whole being was focused on the woman standing in front of her.
Carefully, Janeway took a step that covered half the distance between them.
"Seven, it's really me. You did it. You rescued me, destroyed the queen, and saved Earth. And now here I am."
Seeing no change in Seven's demeanor, Janeway tried another tactic.
"Seven, what does your intuition tell you? Right here?" She reached out and gently touched the fingers of her right hand to Seven's ribcage.
For a moment there was only the rain, and then Seven sucked in a deep breath and her whole posture changed. She relaxed, slumping slightly, confused. Hopeful, and yet not quite daring to hope.
"My intuition… my 'gut'… tells me it's you, Kathryn." She looked up hopefully through water-logged eyelashes. "Is it really you?"
"Yes, it's me."
Janeway saw Seven hesitate, and then take the leap of faith. She saw her eyes light up, and suddenly Seven was in her space, arms locked tight around her.
Janeway returned the hug fiercely. "There was no other choice. This is where I belong. It was my… destiny."
"You will stay with me," Seven stated. "Always. And in the future you will stay far away from any Borg cubes, incursions, collectives, assimilations, or absorptions. I will not lose you again." Her voice was slightly muffled by Janeway's hair, but the words were clear nonetheless.
Janeway smiled against Seven's shoulder.
"Yes Seven. I will stay with you. Always."