By Laura Schiller
Based on Star Trek: Voyager
When Kathryn Janeway stopped by Cargo Bay Two to catch up with Seven of Nine, she was faintly amused – and touched – to see Seven standing by Icheb's alcove, watching the four children regenerate with a softer expression than she would have shown to anyone awake.
"Busy day, Seven?" Kathryn inquired, in a hush.
"There is no need to lower your voice, Captain. The function of these alcoves cannot be interrupted by anyone but the drones – the children – themselves."
"You're doing it too," the older woman pointed out, smiling wryly as she perched on a sealed barrel of leola root. "Instinct, perhaps?"
Seven glided over to stand next to her, still watching the children from the corner of her eye. To Kathryn, their innocent sleeping faces covered with Borg implants and haloed by electric green discs of Borg technology were still an eerie sight, albeit one to which she was growing accustomed. She wondered if they looked that way to Seven now as well, or if – even after two years on Voyager – green light and metal still represented home.
"To answer your question, Captain … I have had a busy day." She could hear the suppressed sigh in her protegée's voice. "These children are stubborn, erratic, refuse to follow directions – "
"Remind you of any other ex-Borg we know?" Kathryn raised an eyebrow at Seven, earning an exasperated blue glare in return.
"I have never attempted to cheat at kadiskot. Or tamper with Commander tuvok's holoprograms."
Kathryn tactfully refrained from pointing out that Seven's early incidents of misconduct aboard Voyager had been rather more dramatic.
"Tuvok, eh?" she said instead, smirking already at the chance to gather material for needling her Vulcan friend. "One of your charges pranked him? Now there's a story I've got to hear."
"Mezoti assisted Ensign Kim in programming the monks of the Temple of T'Paneth to chant Ferengi limericks. Shall I quote one?"
"By all means."
Seven did, looking and sounding almost as solemn as the holographic monks themselves.
"There once was a trader in platinum,
got a girl for just one strip of latinum.
She took off her robes
and fondled his lobes –
but was so ugly naked, she flattened 'em."
Kathryn knew exactly how Tuvok would have looked at that. The cargo bay resounded with her laughter, so loud she might have been laughing for both of them. Even Seven was smiling, if only with her eyes. They both found themselves looking at Mezoti, the youngest Borg child and only girl, whose porcelain skin and long curled eyelashes gave her the appearance of a sleeping angel. A deceptive look, apparently.
"Have I made an error, Captain?" Seven asked, her amusement fading to shame as she lowered her head. "Commander Chakotay advised me to let them express their individuality, so I allowed them each an hour with a program, of their choice, but the result was … "
"A harmless prank, Seven." Kathryn touched her shoulder for reassurance.
"Commander Tuvok reprimanded me. He had already warned me repeatedly about keeping the children under control … "
"He'll get over it. Just like when Tom and Harry celebrated his promotion, remember?"
"By programming his replicator to say 'live long and prosper'?"
"Exactly." Kathryn indulged in another chuckle at the memory. "Don't worry so much."
As usual, Seven seemed to have trouble following her mentor's advice. She sighed again, audibly this time, and began to slowly pace the room, trailing the metal shelves with her hands in an absentminded, quite un-Borglike manner.
"The senior crewmembers have all been giving me advice on how to supervise the children, including those who have never been parents themselves. I find it … difficult … to choose which advice to follow. Should I have been monitoring them more closely, as I did at the beginning?"
I know exactly how you feel, Kathryn almost said. As the younger of two sisters whose career had never allowed her time to have children, her crew, and especially Seven, were the closest she came to being a mother. She remembered Seven's first days after being severed from the Collective, having no more idea of life in a crew of individuals than a child. An angry, frightened child with remarkable stores of information and technology, but still a child.
She remembered all her arguments with Seven, every time the younger woman had challenged her authority like a stubborn teenager; chiefly among them the incident with the Dauntless, when Seven had threatened to strike out on her own. She remembered, with a heavy heart, confining Seven to the cargo bay after what she had done to the dying Species 8472 life form and its Hirogen hunter. But she also remembered the deep, satisfying pride of watching Seven create a fuel generator for the starving K'tati, or use her nanoprobes to save Neelix's life, or more recently, rescue and take charge of four very troubled children for no reason than that she had been in their situation.
It had been, and still was, a balancing act: how much to trust, what rules to set and how much to enforce them, when to be patient, when to be stern. It was a balance that Seven would have to figure out; all the advice Kathryn could give her was what her own commanding officers – and her mother – had told her, in various ways.
"That's for you to decide," Kathryn replied. "Trust your intuition, Seven. You may not believe in it," remembering several debates they'd had on the subject, "But believe me, it's there. Which method feels better: close supervision, or the more hands-off approach?"
"The latter," Seven replied after a thoughtful pause. "When I had them following my original schedule, every action became an occasion for conflict. After I followed Commander Chakotay's advice, spending time with them became … fascinating."
Again, her eyes lit up with that secret smile. Kathryn was reminded of Naomi, showing her Captain a new toy; even more so when Seven knelt by her own alcove, picked up a box stored underneath it, and carefully brought it over to Kathryn.
Inside were clay sculptures, dried but unfired, wrapped in plastic to keep them from sticking to each other: a spheroid, two cubes, and a crudely shaped woman's head with upswept hair and an ocular implant.
"They made these for me," Seven said, subdued pride shining in her eyes.
"Let me guess." Kathryn picked up each of the shapes in turn. "Icheb, the twins … and this one has to be Mezoti's. Ah, now, that takes me back. Remember your first month?"
"They are not 'afraid of the clay', as you see," Seven replied, tilting her head ruefully, referring to Kathryn's and the da Vinci hologram's combined and fruitless attempts to introduce her to sculpting.
"As long as all of you had fun."
"Mezoti informed me that she had. The boys are somewhat unfamiliar with the concept."
"Remind you of anyone?"
Yes, Mom, thought Kathryn, replacing Mezoti's sculpture in the box. She would know that tone of voice anywhere, even without the exasperated eye-roll meant to go with it. Seventy thousand light years away in an Indiana homestead, Gretchen Janeway must have had a serious case of the hiccups.
"Computer, lights off," she said, watching her surrogate daughter head for the alcove. "Good night and sweet dreams. "
She pulled her middle-aged body to its feet and walked toward the doors. As they slid open to the corridor, she could have sworn she heard Seven whispering the same phrase to the children.