It was snowing again when they left the restaurant. Chakotay considered hailing a taxi, but Seven said that she preferred to walk. To tell the truth, he did too. The snowflakes falling were smaller and drier than they had been earlier—the night had chilled considerably, but it still wasn't unbearably cold. Streetlights reflected off the falling snow and the air shimmered around them. He looked to the sky and closed his eyes, felt the snow against his face, and he could almost imagine that he was being bathed in melting light.
He opened his eyes and looked at Seven. She was standing in the same position, with her face turned to the sky. She opened her eyes, met his and smiled. "Curious sensation," she said.
"I love winter on Earth," he said as they started walking toward Broadway. "But on Trebus, it's another story. Winter kills."
She looked at him quizzically.
"My people shun technology. There's no weather grid on Trebus—storms can be deadly. In my village, we heated our homes with wood fires. Pipes would freeze, we'd be without water. Animals that provided milk and meat needed to be fed and kept alive and tended to, even on the coldest mornings. Here on Earth, on the other hand, we walk in the snow because we choose to. When we get cold, we can simply transport to someplace warmer." He grinned. "When my father and I were arguing about my going into Starfleet, he accused me of trying to get out of working in inclement weather." Chakotay shook his head. "I told him that if the grandfathers had picked a warmer climate—something closer to what our ancestors had lived in on Earth—maybe I wouldn't have found life there so intolerable."
She looked at him and raised her eyebrow. "You spoke to your father forthrightly."
He chuckled. "When we spoke. If I remember correctly, that exchange was followed by a week of angry silence." As his mother would say, they were both stubborn as rocks.
Seven thought about this for a moment. "Your sister—she did not stay on your homeworld, either. Were your parents as resistant to her leaving as they were to yours?"
He shook his head. "No, I paved the way. My father didn't say much when Kana left. Didn't argue with her as he had with me. But her leaving broke his heart." He looked at Seven. "Unlike some of them, he was a true believer. His faith was real. He sincerely believed that life was our destiny. The welfare of the tribe was more important than the individual welfare of any one member."
"A collective," she said.
He raised an eyebrow. He'd never thought of it in exactly that term before. "Good observation," he said. "In a sense, I suppose it is." He looked around at the shimmering air. "That neither of us followed his path… He felt that he'd failed." Chakotay listened to the soft crunch of their footsteps in the snow. He didn't say that maybe he'd failed his father.
"The research you spoke of," Seven said at last. "Perhaps I could be of assistance."
From talking about his homeworld to thinking about his research—she was more intuitive than he'd given her credit for in the past. He looked at her closely. "Go on."
"My data node contains a massive amount of anthropological data—including the mythologies from millions of species' cultures and subcultures." She frowned and looked at her feet. "Of course, the means by which I acquired it…"
"You weren't responsible, Seven."
She looked at him, then back at her feet. "Perhaps not," she agreed. She took a deep breath. "However I would feel better about possessing it, if I knew that it would be put to a positive use." He offered his arm and she took it, giving her time to organize her thoughts. "We never uploaded all of that data to Voyager's computer, although I am certain that Starfleet will do so shortly."
He nodded. "Good assumption," he said. "That's an incredible amount of data, though. I could spend a lifetime going through it. And even then, there wouldn't be enough time."
She smiled. "And I'm certain that you would enjoy spending a lifetime going through it, but perhaps we could narrow your search." She pursed her lips. "We could upload the information from my data node to Voyager's database," she explained. "Then, if you could narrow your parameters—perhaps selecting common themes that you are looking for—we could write an algorithm and run it against the database and the current Federation anthropological database, through the computer in Astrometrics, locating the results on both sets of star charts." She looked at him. "There may be a pattern. A trajectory."
He stopped suddenly and stood facing her, a broad smile spreading across his face. "Not just anthropological—exobiology, genetics… I could refine it with information I gather in the rainforest." He held her face in his hands. "You're brilliant. Absolutely brilliant."
"There may be no pattern," she said.
"But there may be." He kissed her. "Do I dare ask how long this would take?"
She frowned. "I'm not scheduled for a regeneration cycle tonight. However, I could program a short cycle—four hours should be sufficient—and upload the data then." She pursed her lips. "I believe that if we had the program written by 1300 tomorrow, we would have some preliminary projections by 1800 the following day."
She shrugged. "The projections would be, as I said, preliminary. However, with 'luck,' you may be able to ascertain if a pattern will emerge."
His mind raced through the possibilities, the details he'd consider—he doubted he would sleep tonight. "Okay, then. Working lunch? Tomorrow, say 1130. Would that give us enough time?"
She smiled and nodded. "Yes, I believe it would."
They started up Broadway. He put his arm around her shoulder and squeezed it. He grinned. "I'll bring the pizza," he said.
The tavern was already crowded when they arrived. Seven surrendered her coat and hat again and awkwardly tried to rearrange her hair with her fingers. She was certain that she didn't do an adequate job. This awareness of her physical appearance—was it vanity?—was becoming a nuisance. She took a deep breath, tossed her head slightly, and let her hair fall where it would. If others noticed her implants, so be it. Chakotay was right. She saw the glances from other patrons—they were recognized, even if no one approached them. Anyone who'd seen the news reports was already aware that Seven of Nine was Borg.
She took another deep breath, smiled at Chakotay, and took his offered arm. He scanned the tavern, and after a few moments led her in the direction of a table on the far side of the room. The man seated there stood and smiled broadly as they approached. He took a few steps toward them and he and Chakotay embraced warmly.
"It's good to see you, cousin," the man said. "I thought I never would again."
As they exchanged greetings, Seven studied the stranger. He was a large man, slightly taller than Chakotay and somewhat broader through the shoulders and chest. The sleeves of his dark blue pullover were pushed up, exposing strongly muscled forearms, the arms of a person accustomed to working with his hands. His hair was black, heavily streaked with gray, and worn long, falling straight down his back, almost to his waist. His face was etched with lines that appeared to be the residua of smiles.
Chakotay put his arm around her shoulder and presented her to his friend. "Seven, I'd like you to meet Rawewagana. Many Words, this is Seven of…"
She took a deep breath and interrupted him, held her hand boldly out to Many Words, as she had seen the Captain do when introducing herself. "Annika Hansen," she said. "But my friends call me Seven."
He took her offered hand and shook it. "Pleased to meet you," he said. He had a strong grip and a husky deep voice.
At the same time, Chakotay looked at her closely, a small smile turning up the corners of his mouth. He assisted her with her chair—she still found this curious—and bent over, leaned in close to her ear. "You could have warned me," he whispered.
She turned her head slightly and looked at him out of the corner of her eye. "It was a spontaneous gesture," she said in a similar volume. She shrugged. "Seven of Nine seems cumbersome. Inappropriate. However, I will never be Annika again." She nodded satisfaction. "Seven suits me. It is my name."
He kissed her hair, looked her directly in the eye, and smiled gently. "It does and it is," he said. "It's a good compromise."
Chakotay took their beverage orders and went to the bar to retrieve them. Seven looked around the tavern. It was crowded. The tables were fully occupied and many people were standing as well. She looked at Many Words, who was leaning back in his chair, following her gaze around the room. He smiled at her. She smiled back, awkwardly. "I am uncomfortable in crowds," she admitted. She did not tell him that she was also uncomfortable with strangers.
He looked around the room again. "So am I." He grinned. "A little claustrophobic, maybe. Or maybe just because I come from flat land."
She raised her eyebrow, uncertain as to what one had to do with the other.
"Where I come from, the sky is huge—you can stand in a cornfield and there's no buildings, no mountains, no trees, even, to obstruct it."
She nodded. "Where I come from, the sky is 'huge' as well," she said.
It was his turn to raise an eyebrow.
"My parents took me into deep space when I was very small," she explained. "Then I was Borg. Then I lived on Voyager." She shrugged. "I do not remember what it is like to live on a planet for an extended period of time. I'm not certain that I ever did."
Did the longing she felt sound in her voice? He watched her face closely and she looked down at her folded hands. "You called Chakotay 'cousin,'" she said. "Are you related?" But as soon as the words were out of her mouth, she cringed. She sounded as if she were reading the script from one of the Doctor's social lessons. Lesson Forty-seven: Familial Relationships.
But Many Words did not appear to mind. "Very distant cousins," he said. "Thousands of generations ago." He grinned. "We're both descended from the indigenous inhabitants of this chunk of rock in the middle of the ocean on the larger chunk of rock in space. But, from the perspective of a galaxy, that's practically brothers." He nodded his head toward the door. "I grew up on my nation's land, about seven hundred kilometers that way. Northwest, as the crow flies."
Seven was uncertain if a crow flew in a different manner than other birds, but she decided not to ask. She would research the reference later.
Chakotay returned to the table then, with sparkling water garnished with lime for himself and Seven and a beer for his friend. Many Words grinned at him, and then looked at her. "And I almost married his sister."
Chakotay sat down and raised his glass; Seven and Many Words followed suit. "To friendships that endure," Chakotay said. They touched glasses and exchanged smiles. "So are you and Kana over?"
Many Words shrugged. "It's hard to keep a relationship going when you live in different sectors," He smiled ruefully. "She hasn't been back to Earth since the end of the war," he said. "I understand her reasons." He took a long draught of his beer.
Seven saw a faint shadow pass over Chakotay's face. He studied his glass intently. Then a man bumped her chair from behind and she startled, looked over her shoulder sharply. He apologized profusely, and then hurried away.
"It is curious," she said after a moment. "People appear to recognize us, but no one has approached us and spoken to us directly." She looked at Chakotay and smiled. "Not that this is a problem…"
Many Words chuckled. "That's just New Yorkers. They'll pretend to ignore you, but they know exactly who you are and what's going on. That guy, he probably bumped into you on purpose, just to make sure you were who he thought you were. He's with his friends now, telling an elaborate story about the encounter—all exaggeration and lies." He grinned. "But he'll leave you alone. Unless you needed something, if you were in trouble. Then he'd be right there. They all would."
Chakotay nodded agreement and smiled. "We saw the display at the Tree."
Many Words squeezed a wedge of lime into his beer, put the remnants into the glass, and stirred with a finger. "It's been there almost four years, since the news first broke that you were still alive," he recounted. "I heard it on the morning news cycle, just after daybreak. For some reason it gave me an urge to go up to Lake Ontario, so I did. I stood on the shore for a while and listened to the water, thought good thoughts. Maybe even prayed a bit." He grinned and winked at Chakotay. "Then I started walking and found an eagle feather—unusual there. So I took it as some kind of sign and picked it up, chose a rock from the shore, and transported back to Manhattan, figured I'd leave them at the Tree." He shrugged. "I thought it was inspired. And when I got there, I saw other people already had the same inspiration. It was like a shrine. And I figured that was appropriate, considering the path you'd been walking when you got lost. So I left the feather and the rock there."
Chakotay smiled and swallowed.
"So are you still walking that path?" Many Words asked. "Exploring the mystic?"
Chakotay nodded. "Yeah, I am." He looked at his friend. "You?"
Many Words snorted derisively. "Nah," he said. "You know me—I'm not the religious sort. One or two inspirational moments in a lifetime are enough." He raised his glass and grinned. "But, hey, it worked. You were lost, now you're found."
"Technically," Seven said, "we were never lost. We knew exactly where we were and where we were going." She smiled. "We just had a long way to go."
Many Words laughed. He leaned back in his chair and studied her face. She looked down, self-conscious. He looked around the tavern again—it was almost unbearably crowded. "I've got an idea," he said. "Anyone got the time?"
Seven accessed her internal chronometer. "It is 2311."
He frowned, then nodded. "Just enough," he said, and started to push back his chair. "Let's go catch the show."
Chakotay put up his hand. "Not Times Square…"
Many Words grimaced. "You'd have to kill me to get me in Times Square tonight," he said vehemently. "And even then, I'd come back to haunt you if you took my corpse." He smiled broadly. "A better show." He met Seven's eyes. "A huge sky. How warm are your coats?"
Seven looked at Chakotay and raised her eyebrow, then turned to Many Words again. "It will protect me to negative forty degrees Celsius."
"That'll do." He looked at Chakotay. "What about you?"
Chakotay looked at him skeptically. "Negative twenty-five."
"Don't stay out too long," Many Words said, then stood and started across the room.
Seven smirked at Chakotay as they followed. "It is prudent to be prepared," she said as they retrieved their coats. He laughed with her and tousled her hair. She was certain that it did nothing positive for the style, but it did not matter. She smiled broadly and took his hand, then they followed Many Words from the bar.
They materialized in an open field, windswept. Remnants of cornstalks poked up through the snow, which was frozen and crusty under their feet. Chakotay looked around. There was a small cabin about a quarter kilometer away—he could faintly smell a wood fire. The air was bitterly cold. He looked up at the sky. First Father was overhead.
He put his arm around Seven's shoulder. She smiled at him, then looked up and around her. "Where are we?" she asked.
"About two hundred kilometers due north of where I grew up," Many Words said. "Look." He pointed to the northwestern horizon which glowed yellow-green in an undulating wave that slowly began to grow larger.
"The aurora borealis," Seven said softly.
The wave of green light grew larger, added another ribbon, and another, and another, then exploded in shimmering sheets of red and green, purple and blue, above and around them. Chakotay had often seen auroras from space—rings of dancing energy around a planet's magnetic poles—but it had been decades since he'd viewed one from Earth. He'd forgotten how breathtaking they were: no wonder the ancients thought they came from the gods.
He looked at Seven. The colors danced off her face; her eyes were wide, her smile rapturous.
The aurora peaked and began to die down, and after a while, the stars were clearly visible again. Seven looked at Many Words. "Thank you," she said.
"You're welcome." He smiled. "I thought you might like that."
"Sure beats a manufactured ball," Chakotay said.
"Sure does," Many Words agreed. His eyes took in the entire sky, then he turned to his companions. "Where were you last week?" he asked.
They looked at each other. "You're the astrometrics specialist," Chakotay said.
Seven scanned the sky again. "It is imprecise," she said, and pointed to the southwest, about twenty degrees above the horizon. "The red dwarf there, plus thirty thousand light years." She looked at Many Words. "But it is imprecise."
He looked at Chakotay. "And where's Trebus?"
Chakotay grinned. "I can be precise," he said, and pointed to the constellation overhead. "We call him First Father."
"Like the Greeks, we call him the Hunter."
Chakotay moved his hand slightly to the left and traced another constellation with his finger. "That's the Peccaries." He pointed to a yellow dwarf. "That's the tip of Mother Peccary's snout. And Trebus is the third planet in the system."
Many Words stared at the star somberly for a long moment. "I can't believe I didn't know that," he said softly. He brought his eyes back to Earth and looked in the direction of the cabin. "It's cold. I'll head over and let them know you're coming." He grinned at Chakotay. "Don't stay out too long. You're not dressed for it." He put his hands in his coat pockets and hunched his shoulders against the cold. They watched his back as he walked into the night.
Seven looked at the sky again. "It is cold," she said. "But it is also beautiful. I'm glad that we came."
Chakotay smiled. "On Trebus, there's this spot near the top of the mountain overlooking our village. There's an outcropping there, and if you sit at the edge of it, it almost feels as if you're flying. On a clear day you can see all the way to the ocean. I used to go up there at night and just watch the stars, dream about going to them."
Seven gasped softly, her eyes on the star but her attention focused inward. "There are twin moons," she whispered. "And when the wind is right, you can smell the sea…"
He looked at her sharply, too sharply. Stunned. How did she know that?
Her face was stricken, panicked. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean," she stammered. Her eyes were wide and darted side-to-side, like a terrified animal, looking for a way out of a trap. She took a long, shuddering breath, her entire body stiffening as she did. "I am sorry. It appears that I have retained a memory of yours from the neural link four years ago. I…"
"No." He turned her to face him, took her shoulders and smiled gently. He searched her eyes. "It's okay," he said, then shrugged. "I have some of your memories, it's only fair you should have some of mine."
"It does not disturb you?"
He turned it over in his mind a few times. "It's… different." He smiled and caressed her cheek with his gloved hand, then drew her close to him, his lips bare millimeters from hers. "But after all," he murmured, "we comprise a unique pair."
And then they kissed. He held her closer, could feel the muscles in her back even through her coat. A strong woman, powerful, now yielding, leaning into him, her breath hungry, insistent. A hundred images of her flashed in his mind, all different, all real. Unique. No one like her.
From the distance, over the low moan of the wind, he heard a cowbell ring again and again.
He pulled away, just a little. "Happy New Year," he whispered.
She smiled her radiant smile.
He held her face in his hands. She would not let his eyes go. Their lips were so close, he could taste her breath, faintly lime. "You know my grandmother used to say that what you were doing at the turn of the year, you'd be doing for the rest of it."
She smiled. "Is that a superstition?" she asked.
He shrugged and grinned. "Or a suggestion."
And they kissed again, long and slow and deep, and broke only reluctantly. "It is cold," Seven said. "And you are not dressed for the weather."
He nodded. The tip of his nose was numb and he was beginning to shiver. "And I know there's a fire in that cabin," he said. "And I bet there'll be hot chocolate."
"And I hope you win that wager." She smiled and looked up and around her once again. "We should go," she said. "The stars will always be here."
He looked at First Father and then at the red dwarf, and at all of the points of light in between them. So they would always be. Then they looped their arms around each other's waists and started off, together across the snow.