Cauchemar by Rae

Day eight

A drum beat out an unnerving tattoo. It was sharp and fell just short of a pattern, constantly deceiving the mind into expecting what would come next, and being wrong. It rattled the listeners, made it hard to think, and was in some ways harder to endure than the heat of the blue-white sun that beat down on the crowded square like a hammer.

"See anything?" Chakotay asked, eyes restlessly scanning the crowd. They'd managed to secure a position on the steps that surrounded the square, which gave them both a better view and a small chance at the slight breeze that skittered fitfully through the city, too faint to bring any real relief, just enough to remind anyone who felt it how miserable they really were.

"Nothing," Janeway answered shortly. Sweat was trickling down her spine. It itched. She wanted to be moving.

Below and around them, the crowd surged, trying to move towards... something. There was a muffled scream as someone fell and was crushed into the cobblestones beneath too many feet. Janeway shuddered.

On the dais, something was happening. The hated drummer had stepped back, and there was commotion from the entrance of the building the dais fronted. She heard shouting, and then...

That couldn't be Seven.

A lanky figure, hanging limp from the rough grasp of two natives, the lean body dark with dirt and dried blood. A skein of blonde hair caked with grime covered the face, but even so, she was instantly recognisable.


Janeway felt Paris start to move, and grabbed urgently at his shoulder. "If we act now, they'll kill her," she hissed. She was half-afraid Seven was already dead, but... no, there was movement, a faint twitch at first, and then she brought her bare feet under her, stood, straightened, pushed the tangled mass of her hair back and looked at the crowd. Janeway's breath caught in horror at the look, the sheer loathing and contempt Seven delivered to her audience, the murderous glance towards her captors that followed.

The two burly men seemed to cringe, pulling back slightly. Seven was heavily chained, but still they seemed terrified as they pushed her towards the edge of the dais.

If she goes into the crowd, Janeway thought, they'll tear her apart.

She didn't. Seven stopped a metre short of the edge, seemed to look at her chains as if she'd never seen them before. Then she glanced up, and her eyes met Janeway's.

And she smiled a wolverine smile.

And then she moved too quickly to follow.

Moments later, she was half-crouched between the collapsing bodies of her guards, the chains were attached to one hand only, and she was watching the crowd again, snarling, her gaze holding the natives at bay. The away team struggled to press through the seething mass of people towards her, and Janeway lost sight of Seven.

All she heard was screaming, and suddenly the crowd she was trying to push through was trying to push the other way, uncounted aliens in desperate terror to get away from Seven of Nine. The ground became unpleasantly sticky as they neared the dais, and Janeway very, very carefully didn't look down.

Then they were at the edge, and Seven was standing above her, silhouetted against the too-bright sky, looking thinner and more deadly than she remembered.

"Captain," she heard Seven say, just before she toppled from the dais into Tuvok's waiting arms. "You came..."

The transporter room seemed dim and ringingly silent after the bright, noisy plaza. Remembering to be captain, Janeway forced herself to stay focussed. "She needs to get to Sickbay," she said. Tom and Tuvok made as if to assist her from the room, but she stopped them with a word. "No." Looked at the transporter operator. "I'll go with her. Beam us there." She didn't want Seven dragged through the corridors, not in this state.

Seven's weight came down on her shoulder, too little of it. She seemed unreal. Insubstantial, rail-thin as Janeway wrapped an arm around her waist, and then / displacement / and they were in Sickbay. The Doctor helped her put the semi-conscious woman on a biobed.

"Don't," Seven muttered.

"Don't what?" Unthinkingly, Janeway clasped Seven's hand.

"Don't leave me." Squeeze of metal-banded fingers around her own.

"I won't, Seven." She met the Doctor's eyes as he ran a tricorder along Seven's body. "How is she?"

"Half-starved. Some cuts and bruises. And some of her implants seem to be showing minor malfunctions. I can repair them."

"What's caused the malfunctions?" Janeway wanted to know.

"She hasn't regenerated in over a week, captain." The Doctor looked at Seven, a touch apologetic. "This might sting." He did something to her abdominal implant.

Kathryn felt the sudden agony as Seven reflexively squeezed her hand - far too hard. She thought she felt a bone give in her hand, and somehow, it was that which worried her the most. She'd never known Seven to lose control of the strength her implants gave her.

The Doctor glanced up - and paused. "Are you all right, captain? You're pale."

A glance at Seven showed she was at least mostly aware. "Just worried, Doctor."

The Doctor looked sceptical, but accepted it. "Seven, it's safe now, so I'm going to sedate you."

Slight nod. "Captain? B'Elanna..."

"She's here, Seven. She's going to be fine." Janeway watched the Doctor press a hypospray to Seven's neck, watched the tension ease from the too-thin body. Seven's grasp on her hand slackened, went limp, and she drew it free, wincing at the red lines that marked the shape of Seven's fingers on her skin.

Meeting the Doctor's eyes, she saw his disapproving look. "Let me treat that." An order, not a question, and she was happy to obey. It *hurt*. Within two minutes, however, it was nothing more than a lingering ache. "Since you're here," the Doctor said, "you can help me clean her up."

The once-sleek blue body suit was ruined, but Janeway wasn't quite ready for what she saw as they cut it away. The dirt on Seven's skin from the tears in the garment was one thing, and the dried blood - and fresh - she could cope with. But somehow...

Seven had always been slender, but she seemed now positively skeletal. The impression was aided by corpse-white skin, if not by the reddened, infected-looking edges to the skin that met her abdominal implant. Evidence of malfunction? Or did Seven always look like that? The captain had never seen her naked before.

The Doctor wordlessly handed her a dermal regenerator. She began at Seven's feet, looking past the accumulated grime to see the cuts on them, and worked her way methodically back along Seven's body.

Filigreed, delicately twining line of metal down one leg. Somehow it made Seven seem more fragile, or maybe it was just the reminder that she'd been hurt before, this woman, in ways Janeway wasn't quite sure she could ever really understand. She remembered the pull the Collective had for Seven, at first, and still couldn't really understand why Seven would want to live that way when it was all but dogma for humans to resist the Borg any way they can.

Her stomach, now. Yellowing bruise from her hip to the edges of her abdominal implant. Slow, soothing strokes over the angry flesh that touched the metal... How much pain had Seven been in? What had happened to her, in the days she was missing?

Why had this been done to her?

Day one

B'Elanna Torres awoke to the sound of weapons fire and wondered why. As she tried to raise her head she felt sluggish, weak. Pain throbbed in her temple as the grey blur in front of her refused to resolve into an image.

Where am I?

"You are awake." A pale blur entered her field of vision, accompanying the familiar voice. "Are you severely damaged?"

"I - don't think so," B'Elanna answered. With redoubled effort she attempted to sit up, pathetically grateful for Seven's assistance as the Borg slipped an arm beneath her shoulders and pulled her up. "Where are we?"

"We are in a place referred to by our captors as The Hole." She heard a faint distaste in Seven's tone. "I do not anticipate difficulty in effecting our escape. However, I felt it wise to wait until you were able to travel. What is your condition?"

"Getting better. How did we get here?"

"You don't recall?"

B'Elanna tried to think, and frowned. "The last thing I remember is being in Engineering. We weren't anywhere near a planet. Did those aliens with the vinculum come back?" She noticed the tremor of reaction in the arm supporting her. "What?"

"We left their space several months ago."

"How long have we been here, then?"

"We arrived on this planet twenty-seven hours ago. Twenty-two hours ago, you were shot." Seven hesitated. "Our captors took you then."

"How did you get here?" B'Elanna allowed Seven to settle her against her chest, annoyed at the persistent weakness which left her unable to do much else.

"I surrendered." Slight shift of the body B'Elanna was slumped against. "It was the only way to avoid being separated."

"Where's Voyager?"

"I do not know. Our communicators were confiscated." The battle, wherever it was, seemed suddenly to have ceased. "B'Elanna, we should go."

"Yeah." B'Elanna tried to pull herself to her feet, staggered. "I still can't see."

"There is no time." There was a crunch, and the dark blur became a lighter blur. "This way." Seven pulled B'Elanna's arm across her shoulders, and half-helped half-carried her through the door she had just smashed open.

There were voices coming down the corridor towards them. Seven pulled B'Elanna with her into a recessed doorway. "Be silent," she whispered.

Without their communicators, and so without the universal translator, she knew B'Elanna would be unable to understand what the aliens were saying. She was almost relieved. This was species 6902, and she understood all too well.

"... riots have been put down, the Praetor's posted his judgements on their crimes."

"What charge?"

"Incitement to revolution. The slate says they've both been convicted. The Borg will be executed, the other one will be sent back to her ship. Apparently their captain is making a lot of noise about getting them back."

"How much noise?"

"A lot. The Praetor is worried about reprisals - that's why he's letting one of them go."

"Why not both?"

"Are you defective? It's a Borg. The Praetor could make Consul for staging her execution. The Senate will love it."

The two aliens passed their hiding place. Seven considered her options doubtfully. If she let them find B'Elanna - but perhaps, if they had only her, she would not be returned to Voyager. If they were both recaptured, B'Elanna would be safe, but she knew B'Elanna wouldn't be willing to pay the price of her execution...

"Let's go," she heard B'Elanna whisper. With a curt nod, Seven stepped out of the recess. B'Elanna stumbled as she tried to move with her. Rather than slow down, or stop, Seven scooped her up in one fluid motion and half-ran towards the exit as shouts rang out behind them. Their escape had been discovered.

The enforcers had brought them through here when they were first imprisoned. Seven recalled the turns she had to take in the labyrinthine passages of the Hole, passing a number of cells like their own.

The alert had to have gone out by now. With cybernetically enhanced hearing, Seven could hear the guards moving. Approaching - it can't have been hard to guess where they would have been going.

B'Elanna wrapped her arms around Seven's neck and held on as best she could as the Borg's long strides carried them swiftly through unfamiliar corridors. Their was an odd sort of familiarity in the feel of Seven's body, and she was trying hard to trace it. As far as she could remember, she and Seven had only touched once - when Seven had bitten her, in the early stages of her recent... illness.

She'd been far more aroused by that than she was willing to admit.

That was several months ago?

The shouts of the guards were getting closer.

"Seven," she hissed, looking at the corridor ahead of them. Four guards, brandishing what looked more like high-tech nightsticks than guns.

"I see them." Seven sounded tense. No, she doesn't sound tense. She sounds like Seven. Unemotional Borg. When did I learn to tell the difference?

"Behind us, too," B'Elanna said aloud, looking over Seven's shoulder.

"Yes." Seven stopped moving, and now lowered B'Elanna to her feet.

"Surrender," the lead guard ordered. "Your judgements have been decided. They cannot be changed, but the Praetor is merciful. Return to your cells and wait for your sentences to be carried out."

B'Elanna heard Seven take a deep breath. "They can not be changed," the Borg repeated.

"No. Come quietly. You will both be out of here by dawn."

"One way or another," Seven muttered. Then she turned to B'Elanna and looked at her intently. "I am sorry," she said, her voice low and sure. "I must do this." She pressed a very brief kiss to B'Elanna's lips, and then she pulled away, leaving B'Elanna reeling in more ways than one as her physical support was suddenly gone.

Accelerating to a sprint, Seven slammed her way through the guards blocking the exit, and was gone.

Day two

"How are you feeling?" the captain asked solicitously. B'Elanna could see the tension etched in the lines of Janeway's face.

She glanced at the muzzy shape of Doctor, who was scanning her. "Weak. And I can barely see shapes, let alone detail." She had just been returned to Voyager. "Any sign of Seven?"

"We still can't find her. Fortunately, neither can the planetary authorities. They've set up some kind of dispersal field over the city. We can't get a sensor lock." Janeway took a breath. "She's been sentenced to death."

"I know. I think she knows, too, and knew I was going to be released." Because she kissed me, and then she left me there and ran. "There's something I have to tell you."

Janeway looked concerned. "What's that?"

"I - my memory. Seven said... Captain, the last I remember it was stardate 52364."

The Doctor's motion stilled very briefly, and then he continued scanning, paying particular attention to her head.

"What's your diagnosis?" Janeway rasped. The Doctor addressed B'Elanna.

"You've sustained damage to your entire neurocortex. I'd guess it was an effect of the weapon you were shot with. I can repair most of the damage, but it may take some time for your memory to re-establish itself." He paused. "If it does at all."

Day three

A dense copse just beyond the outskirts of the city provided welcome cover. Seven worked her way towards its centre, stopping when she came to a small stream meandering through the trees. She knelt on the bank and gulped handfuls of water, fighting the urge to succumb to bone-deep exhaustion. She'd been on the move for two days without rest.

Her stomach full with uncomfortably cold water, Seven sat back, leaning against a tree, and reviewed her situation.

This was supposed to have been a simple trading mission.

The captain had sent her with B'Elanna to look at some devices which, in theory, could be employed to improve engine efficiency. They'd unwittingly stepped into an attempted revolution and been arrested in the confusion that followed the uprising. B'Elanna had been caught in the crossfire between the rebels and the government forces.


B'Elanna didn't, it seemed, remember the events of the past several months. Which meant she wouldn't remember her involvement with Seven of Nine. She wouldn't remember so much...

It was thinking of this that Seven fell asleep, and dreamed.

Waking up with B'Elanna that first time had been different from anything Seven had ever experienced. Not just the sensation of rising from sleep - before that Seven had slept only when recovering from medical procedures - also new had been the warm, firm body wrapped in her arms. She'd slept with her nose in thick dark hair. She loved how B'Elanna smelled.

She had lain like that, at peace in a way she'd never been before, for some time (27 minutes 14 seconds, but she didn't want to remember those kinds of details). Finally B'Elanna had stirred, and shifted, and smiled, and said "Good morning" in a voice husky with sleep.

Seven considered that. "Yes." She knew what she was supposed to say, but she expected, and wanted, and got the low chuckle as B'Elanna turned in her arms to face her. Then a long, slow kiss, escalating gradually until her entire body was intensely aware of the press of B'Elanna's skin against her own. It felt good, better than she could remember anything else ever feeling in her short post-collective existence. She moved into the contact, revelling in the sensation, in the warmth and taste of her.

B'Elanna kissed her neck, open-mouthed, with just the faintest suggestion of teeth to add to the building tension Seven felt, and she found herself groaning softly. She felt B'Elanna smile against her skin, felt her lover's hands begin to move against her body as B'Elanna whispered her delight.

She awoke to the sound of voices, and had to brush away her tears.

B'Elanna awoke in Sickbay. The fog had finally lifted from her mind, and her body had some semblance of the strength she was used to feeling in her limbs. She could even see properly, which was a profound relief. But her memory seemed unchanged, and she was aware of a mild headache. And she was hungry. She sat up.

"Ah. You're awake." The Doctor emerged from his office. "I've repaired most of the neural damage you suffered, but it's probably best if you take some time off before you return to duty."

B'Elanna nodded. "Can I leave?" She felt very much displaced, and wanted to walk Voyager's familiar corridors, if only to ground herself in them again.

"Yes. But remember to rest." The Doctor handed her her uniform, neatly folded, and returned to his office. B'Elanna dressed slowly and entered the deserted corridor.

She made her way first to the mess hall. It seemed perfectly familiar; the tables may have been arranged ever-so-slightly differently, but it was still, well, the mess hall. Neelix greeted her warmly, and the food he offered her was familiar enough. She started to relax, and even smiled when she saw Tom and Harry enter, calling them to join her. She didn't notice the slightly surprised looks they exchanged, as she was scooping up the next bite of her meal.

"Hi, B'Elanna," Harry said as they sat down. "How are you feeling?"

"Better," she answered. "How's Ops?"

"We're still looking for Seven." He looked at his plate. "Nothing yet. I'm working on adapting the Astrometrics sensors to try and penetrate the dispersion field. The captain's talking to the planetary authorities." He looked back up. "I'm sure we'll find her."

Remembering her friend's long-standing crush on the austere Borg, B'Elanna nodded. "So am I." She remembered, too, her parting from Seven, but decided letting Harry know that Seven was out of his reach could wait.

They lapsed into a slightly awkward silence.

Finally Tom spoke. "B'Elanna..." Finally he met her eyes. "If you need me - us - I mean, if there's anything we can do - call us, okay?"

B'Elanna blinked in surprise. "I will, Tom." She smiled at him. "I always would." I thought we were past those trust issues. She didn't miss the next glance he and Harry exchanged. "What?"

"It's nothing," Harry said quickly. "We should probably go back... Seven's still missing." He rose, his lunch barely touched, and Tom followed.

"Tom, wait," B'Elanna said. He stopped. "Sit down. Having a good pilot at the helm won't affect how fast we find Seven." He sat, seeming reluctant. Harry patted his shoulder before he left. B'Elanna took Tom's hand. "This has all been pretty confusing. I'd like to talk, just for a minute."

Tom looked at their joined hands, then back at her face. "This is a change."

"What do you mean?" B'Elanna was starting to lose patience with his odd behaviour.

"Look, B'Elanna." He drew his hand from hers. "I don't know if you've been having some problems with Seven, but even if I were still interested, I don't think this would be appropriate. And I know you'd regret it."

"What?" B'Elanna shook her head slightly. "What are you talking about? I was captured, wounded, and you don't even want to talk to me?"

He ran his hand over his short blond hair. "B'Elanna, I still care about you. But I guess I'm not ready for that yet."

"What?" She looked at him. "Let's start from the beginning, Tom. When I was wounded... it caused some kind of amnesia. I don't remember anything for about the last three months, apparently. So assume I don't know what's going on with us, and tell me exactly what you're talking about."

"Damn," he whispered. He looked away from her. "You mean you think you and I are still... together?"

B'Elanna froze. "We aren't?"

"No. We broke up nearly two months ago." His lips pressed together tightly.

B'Elanna sat back, in shock. "Why?"

"I guess it wasn't really working out. But why then... You never said as much, but I think it was because of Seven." He still wouldn't look at her, and B'Elanna drew the wrong conclusions.

"You had an affair with Seven?" she guessed, eyebrows rising. That shocked Tom into meeting her eyes.

"No. You did. Or at least, you wanted to."

"Seven?" B'Elanna stared at him. "That's impossible."

Tom shook his head. "So I would have thought." He stood and walked quickly away.

B'Elanna approached her own door with a surprisingly strong sense of trepidation. The idea that Seven was her lover seemed impossible, but so far, the evidence supported it - except in her feelings. She didn't even like Seven of Nine. What had changed? And how had it changed so quickly?

The door slid open, and she stepped inside. The changes were small. Different lighting, and the place was much neater than she remembered. An unfamiliar scent tickled her nostrils as she ran her hand across the back of her own couch.

B'Elanna blinked, dizzied by a wash of images, and the ghost of arousal that accompanied them, and sat gingerly on the bed. It was made more neatly than was her own habit.

She was half-asleep, lying in bed with Seven's long arms wrapped around her body, wondering how the hell that happened. She hadn't planned this... Hadn't even worked out what to say to Tom, how to deal with the truculent desires that rocked her equilibrium at inopportune moments.

Well, giving in to them was one way. How very Wilde of her.

Seven's skin glowed auric against her own in the dim light. Seven slept very deeply, motionless in a way no-one else in B'Elanna's experience had ever been. But in the hardness that lay beneath the soft curves of Seven's body was a coiled strength that suggested movement stilled, suppressed, rather than relaxation. If she could, B'Elanna would have crawled inside her at that moment, for she wanted more than anything else to see what Seven dreamed. She wanted to know what Seven thought, what drove the crystalline woman to be so infuriatingly untouchable, and so painfully fragile.

She wanted to know what had brought Seven to this. To wrapping herself around B'Elanna as if she were something precious, long fingers splayed across B'Elanna's stomach more tenderly than she would have thought possible from Seven of Nine.

B'Elanna curled into herself, wrapping her arms around her knees, holding herself together. As she inhaled, her nostrils caught the scent she remembered as Seven's rising faintly from the disturbed sheets.

"I can see something over there."


"In the trees. Let's take a look."

"It's that alien. The one the Praetor's guard is looking for."

"It looks like she's asleep. Don't wake her, I've heard she's dangerous."

"What are we going to do? Leave her there?"

"Of course not. We should help her."


"Because if we don't, she'll be killed."

"I suppose. Wake her, then."

"You wake her."

"You're the one who wants to help her."

"I will do it." One voice rang with authority.

Seven forced her eyes open. "I am awake," she said, in the natives' language.

A loose semi-circle of natives were ranged in front of her. One, seemingly the leader, stood set apart closer to Seven, arms folded across her chest. She was a tall, poised woman, her dark hair shot with silver. Seven met her gaze calmly, too exhausted to do anything else. Long moments passed.

Finally the leader gave a small nod, and the postures of the others relaxed somewhat. The leader reached a hand towards her. "Come," she said. "We will hide you."

After a moment's consideration, Seven grasped the woman's palm, feeling work-callouses rough against her skin. She was pulled smoothly to her feet, and met dark eyes at very close range. Seven gave a small nod. "Where?"

"This way."

Day four

Waking, she was consciously aware of the rough impress of straw through her clothing. She had time enough to wonder if that, after all, was why humans invented it. The fabric provided that thin, shielding shell against the world. For the first time since the armour of the Collective was stripped from her, Seven wished she wore more clothing.

She opened her eyes.

Her rescuers were picking up tools, farm implements, and filing out of the barn in which they had found rough shelter. After scant moments only the leader remained, crouched atop the rusted, hulking corpse of some ancient harvester, her gaze on Seven. Waiting. She could wait longer, Seven decided, as she sat up slowly and reviewed the jittery sensations trickling spasmodically along her nerves.

Some indefinable instinct was telling her she needed to regenerate, as ghostly intimations of cybernetic pain sparked from her implants. Not too serious yet, but she needed to draw power into herself. She craved it, craved the golden rush as pure energy thrilled through her body.

But she didn't think it was likely to come soon.

"You are Borg," said the woman, her voice devoid of inflection.

"I was." Seven flexed the fingers of her left hand carefully, feeling an odd sort of grittiness to the movement. It didn't bode well. She'd been demanding too much of her body as she ran.

"Why were you arrested?"

"My companion and I were caught in the midst of the rebellion."

"Who did you support?"

"We supported no-one. We did not wish to be involved."

Silence then, but Seven thought she detected a tiny nod at that. Suppressing the unpleasant signals her body was giving her, she pushed herself to her feet.

"What will happen now?" she asked, voice carefully even.

"I don't know. You can't stay here. The militia will search this place."

"I need to contact my ship."

"Difficult. If you run, you could escape. Get to the next continent. You'd live free there."

"No. I can't live here. My ship has... things I need."

"You're sick?"

In her mind's eye, Seven saw her own body as she tried not to think of it - a husk rent with metal, invaded at the cellular level by the spectre of Borg technology. "Yes." Slight pause. "But I pose no threat to you."

"That makes it harder." The woman unfolded and dropped with an odd sort of gracelessness to the floor. "If you could contact them, would they come for you?"

Would they? Voyager needed to move on, for it wouldn't be welcome here any more. Perhaps leaving the Borg they had never wanted behind would be a small price to pay for release.

She knew better.


"I'll see what I can do. Don't leave the building, there's snoopers overhead every few minutes."

Then Seven was alone.

After the Doctor told her regretfully that she had recovered as much as she was going to, B'Elanna returned to work. The ship was in good condition, for now, but she had a lot to re-learn. Being used to knowing every system intimately, it bothered B'Elanna that she kept finding things that had changed. Some of it was repairs to systems she remembered as damaged, and some was modifications and improvements to circuits that had been virtually untouched since Voyager was launched.

She decided to ask the captain about it.

There was a long delay before an answer to her chime, but then the captain's voice called, "Come."

B'Elanna entered.

The captain was starting to look almost haggard, B'Elanna noticed with distinct surprise. She didn't seem to have slept in the days since B'Elanna had returned to the ship. Even now, she had coffee in her hand as she perused more futile reports.

"B'Elanna." The captain's voice had a rougher edge than normal. "Seven's still at large."

B'Elanna nodded slowly, decided to leave that for now. "That's not why I'm here."

"Then what is it?"


"Is there a problem?" The captain's eyes showed an alarm that would normally be less than obvious, and B'Elanna hastened to reassure her.

"No, not a problem. Some systems modifications have been put in place on systems that have been working just fine all along. I was wondering if you knew why."

The captain frowned. "Are they improvements?"

"Well... yes." B'Elanna tried to explain what was discomfiting her. "But I always thought it was better to leave them. They weren't giving us trouble." She hadn't the captain her padd with a synopsis of the altered systems on it. The captain's face cleared as she reviewed it.

"Seven had some ideas for those systems. After the two of you... overcame your differences, she discussed them with you. Between the two of you you altered her designs, and came up with something you both approved of. You made the modifications while were passing through a very quiet sector last month."


Janeway smiled. "You work well together."

"I see." B'Elanna hesitated. "Captain... It is true, isn't it? About... me and Seven."

The captain's eyes widened slightly. "Yes."

"You're Seven's friend." B'Elanna tried to work out how to say this. "Did you know... how? Why?"

The captain looked at her for a long moment, drank deeply of her coffee. "Sit down." She gestured at the couch on the upper level of the ready room. B'Elanna obeyed, and observed how heavily the captain dropped into place beside her. "How much do you remember?"

"Not much. I get flashes... images..." She reddened slightly, recalling some of them. "Nothing coherent."


"And I know this sounds harsh, with Seven missing, but captain... I don't even like her. I feel like I should, I remember that I did, but I just don't." B'Elanna bit her lip. "And I don't know what will happen when she comes back now. Because I don't want her hurt."

Janeway looked away, gazing through the windows at the starfield that was all that was visible from this part of the ship. "Neither do I, B'Elanna. But I'm not sure how I can help. I can't even answer your question - she and I just never discussed it."

The native woman returned approximately an hour later, and handed Seven a bowl of blandly nutritious stew as she sat in front of her. Remembering her manners, Seven thanked her politely and forced herself to eat it despite the unpleasant queasiness she felt at the smell of it.

"What's your name?" the woman asked.

"Seven." She didn't translate it into the native word for the numeral.

"Sev-un. I'm Dev." For the first time, the woman smiled, if only a little. "Soon we can try and contact your ship. We'll go into the village and use the news broadcast transmitter, some time when the frenzy from the riots has died down and the building will be nearly empty. It will be risky, but it's your best chance." She paused. "I'll go with you, alone. I don't want to risk any of the others."

Seven stopped eating. "Why are you helping me?"

Dev hesitated. "You remind me of someone I used to know. Besides..." Her manner was suddenly brusque. "It's not right for you to die for our revolution."

"Why is the revolution being attempted?"

Dev scowled. "The Senate is corrupt. They raise taxes, but offer us nothing for our money but the militia - who don't protect us, just enforce the Senate's laws and taxes. And anyone who tries to fight an unjust law usually disappears."


"Yeah. The Senate won't comment. Ever. But as far as anyone knows, they're taken and executed." Dev smiled humourlessly. "But the revolution will happen. Their power is weakening fast. They're losing control of the militia. Then there will be change."

"I see." Seven furrowed her brow. "What about the riots?"

"They were nothing to do with the real revolutionaries." Dev paused. "I should say no more." She rose. "Enjoy your meal. I shall return."

Seven watched her stride rapidly from the barn before returning her attention to the bowl before her. The nausea was strong now, and she could not bring herself to consume any more of it. She set the bowl aside and closed her eyes.

B'Elanna cursed under her breath as the cover plates resisted when she tried to remove them, and felt a distinct rush of dj vu. It threw her off long enough for her to grip to slip and overbalance her. These components and, since they involved no moving parts to wear down and the materials were unlikely to perish, received infrequent maintenance checks. There were always higher priorities.

She got the plate off, and looked at the modified computer junction. She reached her hand to touch it -

- tracing the familiar lines with her fingertips as Seven watched. For once she wasn't irritated at the ex-Borg's presumption in finding room for improvement in her beloved systems. Since she had watched Seven fall apart under the influence of the vinculum, she had realised that Seven was very much human, and had her weaknesses even if she tried not to admit it. She'd felt very protective of that reluctantly-shown vulnerability, and had nearly let the ship blow apart trying to disable the vinculum before it killed the Seven they knew.

"You are distracted," Seven said, startling her from her ruminations on that very topic. B'Elanna smiled wryly.

"It's been a busy few days. What were you saying about this circuit?"

"It is a bottleneck point for the transmission of sensor data. It was not designed for the enhanced Astrometrics sensor array. It hampers our efficiency by at least seven percent."

"Hmm." B'Elanna turned her head to look at Seven. Their faces were scant inches apart. "You have a better design?" she heard herself say, over the sound of her own heart pounding.

"Naturally." She recognised, now, the slight twitch of Seven's lips and the light in her eyes for what it was, humour rather than arrogance and, if she were honest, a fairly rational self-assessment.

She smiled in return, and then smiled a little longer. Seven's eyes held her own. She only had to lean forward very slightly to close the gap between them and place a kiss on those softly inviting lips. It was too easy to do so, and then she saw surprise but no displeasure in Seven's eyes. The muscles on that maddeningly austere, maddeningly beautiful face moved, ever so minutely, and B'Elanna hoped? imagined? she saw a nascent desire written there.

She kissed Seven again, with more confidence, just, and this time her kiss was returned with a fervour that was sweetly charming in its clumsiness. Awkward in the cramped conditions of the Jeffries tube, B'Elanna shifted to a more comfortable position without breaking the kiss. She didn't want to. Seven kissed with a focussed attention that moved something very intense within her. When they finally parted, B'Elanna was breathless. Seven's composure seemed untouched until B'Elanna saw the touch of heightened colour in her cheeks and the light in ice-blue eyes.

She'd been wanting to do that for days.

B'Elanna probed at the memory, wanting to know what happened next, but the chain of thought was threadily elusive. Sighing in frustration, she returned her attention to her work.

Dev returned in mid-afternoon. Seven slept most of the intervening time, concealed in a cool, shadowed corner behind mounded straw. Her body, she knew, was conserving energies inadequately replenished over the course of several exhausting days. She didn't mind. It passed the hours quickly.

"Do you feel stronger now?" Dev asked. The concern in her voice seemed genuine. "It would be best if you travel tonight. We can go to my home. You can be safe there. Nothing the militia can know connects us."

"I can travel." Seven stretched. She felt strangely stiff, an alien sensation. "When will we leave?"

"Sunset. We'll eat first." Dev inclined her head towards the door. "The others will bring our meals, and our yakuru. We'll ride, and should be there by midnight."

"Yakuru?" Seven queried.

"Beasts of burden and transport. You'll see." Dev flashed her a smile. "It will be as nothing to one who has ridden through space, I am sure."

"They are probably very different."

"I'm sure. What's it like, Sev-un? Flying through space, I mean." She hesitated, and appeared to decide not to say anything more.

"Voyager is much like a very small city that travels," Seven tried. "We go to different planets and different stars. The captain calls the crew of Voyager a family."

"It probably is," Dev said softly. "Before the ascension of the Senate, I studied anthropology. I miss it." For a moment, Dev looked changed - she seemed to Seven to be, just for an instant, tired and ageing. Then her customary vitality returned as if it had never been gone, and Seven found herself wondering if she had perhaps imagined it. She fixed Seven with a look of hesitant inquiry. "What's it like to be Borg, Seven?" she asked. "My... I had a friend, when I was younger, who was taken by them."

Seven hesitated. There were so many things she could say... And few would make Dev feel any better, but Seven almost felt as if she owed Dev any balm she could offer.

"To be Borg is... to be a part of something that is greater than any individual can truly imagine," she said slowly. "As a drone, I saw stars form and die. I saw colours of dimensions that humanoid minds cannot encompass. I touched the minds of ten billion others, and felt the knowledge of thousands of species." She paused. "But I never understood that it could be beautiful until I learnt to be human as well."

The yakuru turned out to be four-legged animals that stood chest-high on Seven of Nine at the shoulder. Dev touched Seven's hand to get her attention and indicated the nearer one. "This is Akitasho," Dev said. "You'll be riding him." She nodded, as if to herself. "His temperament is very calm. He will suit you well. Step towards him and let him smell you."

Seven obeyed. Akitasho had a thick, rough black pelt, and smelt unlike anything Seven had ever encountered before. It was oddly pleasant, a very earthy, animal smell. His eyes were large and golden, half-lidded as she sniffed Seven carefully, exhaling warm and sweet-smelling into her face. As if making a decision, Akitasho then nuzzled at her, bumping his muzzle against her shoulder.

Yakuru reminded her of pictures she had seen of Earth creatures called antelope, but the blunt-tipped horns curved back halfway along the solid body. A thick leather pad was strapped to the middle of Akitasho's back.

Dev was smiling. "He likes you," she said. "You can mount now. Put your foot in the stirrup, and pull yourself up."

Seven did so. The ground looked a long way down. Following Dev's instructions, she gripped the saddle with her knees, hooking them underneath the protrusions. The yakuru's back was broad, very different from animals humans had used for riding, and the saddle design was unlike those Seven had read about. Akitasho shifted beneath her, thick muscles flexing against Seven's calves.

"Yakuru are very intelligent," Dev told her, looking up at her. "Akitasho won't throw you if he likes you." She patted the massive shoulder and mounted her own beast, a russet-coloured animal slightly smaller than Seven's, whose fur almost glowed in the crimson light of the sunset. She smiled and nudged her mount forward. "Let's go."

What Seven would always remember most about that journey was the overwhelming sense of power and vitality she felt in Akitasho's movements, the thrill as she learnt to move with his loping stride. The knack of it came to her suddenly, and she felt a unity with Akitasho then that delighted her. The nagging, erratic aches of her body and implants were forgotten in those first fantastic moments. The wind of their passing cooled the sweat of the exertion, and for a time all thought could be sublimated in the joy of the ride.

They rode for some hours. Seven asked Dev later that night, and she learned that yakuru had been bred for endurance. Akitasho and Toma, Dev's mount, were among the best of Dev's stable. It was long since full dark when they reached Dev's house.

It was another farm, some distance away, which bore evidence of worn-down wealth. The manor house was large and well-built, but run-down. The gardens were unkempt - but the stable where they took the yakuru was in excellent repair, and several men and women attended to the stalled yakuru with great attention and enthusiasm. Akitasho lipped at Seven's neck, tasting her sweat-dampened skin. Seven felt a warm affection for the beast and was reluctant to leave him.

"Dev." One of the stable workers, a short, compactly built adolescent girl, came towards them. "We'll take care of them." She reached up and patted Akitasho's neck. "You might want to take your guest in through the raid tunnels. Foro returned tonight."

"Thank you, Oro." Dev smiled warmly at the girl. "I'll see you in the morning."

Oro nodded and turned her attention to Akitasho.

Seven was barely tracking events by then. The long ride, though enjoyable, had been physically demanding. She stumbled once as Dev led her back through the gardens of the mansion and into a tunnel whose entrance was concealed amidst dense shrubbery. It took them along and up a narrow staircase. They emerged through a panel that swung aside at a touch into a large bedroom. When it closed Seven saw that it was concealed behind a large portrait.

Dev looked at her critically. "You look exhausted, Seven. Rest now." She gestured at the bed. Seven tottered towards it and collapsed.

Day five

"Still nothing." Harry exhaled in frustration. "We've got the public channels, the rebels' secret channels, and we've even cracked the government's encrypted channels, and there's nothing about Seven anywhere."

Janeway squeezed his shoulder. "Stay with it, Harry," she told him roughly. "At least we know they haven't captured her yet."

"Is there any word from the away teams?" he asked. A number of Tuvok's best Security staff had gone to the surface to begin a covert search for the missing crewmember.

"They reported in on schedule. They don't have any leads on Seven."

"I'll keep looking, captain," Harry promised her, with grim determination.

The bed was almost bothersome in its softness compared to the uncomfortable conditions Seven had endured over the past several days. She was aware of it as she woke, and of the weight of blankets that had been spread over her as she slept. She was also aware of a whole-body ache, faint until she tried to move.

Her legs throbbed, the effect it seemed of the long and arduous ride the night before. The pain in her torso was familiar, the jagged ache of building malfunctions in her implants, more severe than it was before.

She had to get back to Voyager soon.

Tightening her jaw against the pain, Seven pulled herself up into a sitting position, and then froze as she realised she was not alone. On the other side of the large bed lay the slim, small form of the young girl from the stables. Oro, Seven remembered.

Seven guessed that this must be Oro's bedroom.

Taking care not to wake the sleeping young woman, Seven slid carefully from beneath the blankets. The stone floor was cold against her bare feet. Where had her shoes been left? She couldn't remember. The cell in the Hole, perhaps, or had they been victims of the muddy fields as she ran from the city? Probably, she decided. It disturbed her that she couldn't recall.

The stiffness in her legs eased rapidly as she walked to the heavy wooden door. There she was stuck, briefly. Raised in space, and late of Borg and Voyager, Seven of Nine had never had need to work a doorknob before. But the lever affixed halfway up was the only visible control, and in moments she had the door open. Beyond lay a stone-built passageway. A bored-looking native boy sat against the wall opposite the doorway. He perked up as he saw Seven, and stood.

"Are you Sev-un?" he asked politely. She nodded. "Dev told me to wait for you and take you to her rooms when you emerged. She's very sorry but it's not safe for you to move freely within the house, so if you would please follow me?"


"This way." The boy led her along the passageway. "Dev told me you're from space," he said wistfully. "I wish I could go into space, but serfs aren't allowed to join the Legion. Oro says she'll free me from bond as soon as she reaches her majority, but I'll still have to go to school. What's it like? Dev went once, and she said it was beautiful. I'm Timmot, by the way."

Seven found the boy's rapid chatter disorienting, and was grateful when they reached Dev's door. When Seven had entered Timmot looked enquiringly at Dev, who told him quietly that they would be wanting food shortly. He nodded and jogged away down the corridor even as Dev closed the door behind hi,.

"Where are we?" Seven asked.

"This is Numenor estate, my home for many years now," Dev answered. "It belonged to Oro's mother until she was captured by the Borg, six years ago. Now it belongs to Oro, but I am her guardian and Numenor's until her majority." Dev fell silent, gazing into the fire that burned low in the hearth. Seven took a moment to examine their surroundings.

This room held a desk in one corner, and low couches around the fireplace. Against one wall stood a small table holding crystal bottles of dark liquids, and thick, worn rugs were spread on the floor. All seemed old, but well-used. Despite the fire and the edges of warmth that bled from the open doors to the sunlit balcony on one side of the room, the air and stone held a chill that made Seven's bones ache.

She missed Voyager so much it hurt. An odd pressure at the back of her throat bothered her; she had felt it before but very, very rarely. Seven had the urge to cry, at weariness and erratic pain and the very unfairness of the situation she had come to.

"Breakfast will be here shortly," Dev said at last. "Please, Sev-un, sit down."

Seven did so, wincing slightly as her abdominal implant flexed only stiffly. "What happens now?" she asked.

"This evening we will go to the news broadcast transmitter in the village," Dev told her. "We can try to contact your ship." She smiled thinly. "After that, who knows?"

B'Elanna tapped at buttons, looking over the list of personal logs she so far had yet to dare to access. Finally she selected one that belonged not long before she had broken up with Tom, and played it.

It was surprisingly dry. She flicked through it, pausing at intervals to listen to her own voice until she found reference to Seven.

"Seven came over tonight," was almost all the log said. B'Elanna examined her own face, seeing a familiar softness of its usual tense lines. A shiver crept through her at what that signified, and she wondered... had Tom known? And she wondered what it was like to make love to Seven of Nine.

Memory tingled across her mind like a spring breeze, delicate and elusive.

Nothing in B'Elanna's experience could have prepared her for Seven's uncertainty as she undressed in the darkness of B'Elanna's bedroom. Then B'Elanna knew - Seven had never before had cause to fear for her own beauty in the eyes of another. She had almost been afraid to close the distance between them, unsure she had the right to touch such carven perfection, but when at last they kissed she found that neither of them crumbled at the touch.

Seven smelled of steel, and of woman, and of Seven, light and sweet like the talcum powder her grandmother used to use, but her hesitant touch could only drive away the echoes of a far-distant childhood. B'Elanna found that the gentle warmth and light bite of metal against her skin could hold a power over her unmastered body that no other lover ever had ever acquired. It would have terrified her if she hadn't felt so damn good.

She mapped Seven's pleasure with lips and tongue, breathing stories of earth and water on a touch. All the reasons she shouldn't be doing this washed across the back of her mind and didn't matter - all that mattered was Seven's gasping breath and the deep, sure knowledge that she needed this. Everything else was unreal.

Reality was curling into Seven's arms, here, now, and losing herself, counting off senses one by one to remind herself oh-so-gradually to be achingly grateful that she had this woman for the brief sharp grace her presence bestowed.

Dev showed Seven a small electronic device she was attempting to repair. "Some of the circuits melted when it was overloaded weeks ago," she explained. "It was fired on by a member of the militia."

"What is it?" Seven asked, examining it.

"It's a lockpick." Dev smiled. "We were using it, then, to break Oro and Timmot out of prison. They were caught in the vicinity of the Praetor's residence."

"What were they doing there?"

"Oddly, that night they were only crossing the edge of his lands on their way home from a hunting trip. More often they've been there to observe the activities of his personal guard."

"I see." Seven pushed at a section of the lockpick, and it fell open. "The damage is minimal. This device can be repaired."

"Go ahead," Dev said with a smile, offering her a tray of spare parts.

Seven picked through the battered circuits for the ones she needed and quickly replaced the fused components. At the press of a small control, the lockpick came to life.

"I'm impressed," Dev commented, accepting it back. "I was working on that all morning. Are you sure you don't want to stay here? We could really use you."

"I can not." Seven was finding it progressively harder to ignore the twinges of sensation from her implants as it was.

"You said." Dev put the lockpick aside. "You don't look at all well, Sev-un. I hope your ship can come for you quickly."

Seven nodded. "Will it be difficult to access the transmitter?"

"Only if we get caught."

Day six

"Seven's been captured."

The voice was Ensign Delaney's, from her post where she monitored surface communications, but she was only the first of many as the news spread across the ship.

The broadcast from the surface was transferred to the main viewscreen. One of the locals was speaking, his voice strident and intense, his face floridly vehement.

"and people of our great free Republic have cause for joy today. In the farms of the Ninth Mark last night this enemy of the people was run to ground" There they showed a picture of Seven of Nine through the bars of a cell. She looked unconscious, and her garments were torn; a trickle of blood ran seemingly unheeded from her nose. "Borg, as the wise will see, but have no fear of the Collective! The forces of the Senate will protect you from that scourge." The image cut back to the announcer. "It will be executed two days hence in the Square of Public Freedom, after suitable torments have been visited upon it in vengeance for the suffering of our people, and for the seventeen public militia guards it has already slain unjustly, with the help of traitorous companions." Images flashed across the screen, of people, natives.

One held longer than the others, that of a young woman, blonde and barely more than a child. "The owner of Numenor estates, her guardian, and many of her servants were found in the company of the fugitive. Many were captured and shall be tried for their treason. So fall all enemies of the Republic."

The broadcast closed with ugly music, and the crew of Voyager stared.

"Find her," Janeway grated.

"I'm trying," Harry said.

"Try harder."

The captain rose slowly and walked the distance to the door of her ready room as if the death-sentence the announcer had voiced had been her own.

"So far the best we've managed is to find the location of the Square of Public Freedom," Chakotay told the staff meeting later that day. "Apparently it's where all their executions are held," he added, with some distaste.

"What the hell kind of planet is this?" B'Elanna demanded to know, horrified.

"A distinctly unpleasant one," the Doctor said heavily. "They hid a lot from us when we arrived here."

"Obviously." B'Elanna met Tom's eyes across the conference table and ached at the honest compassion in his gaze. A large part of her still wanted to turn to him for comfort, or even just for affection. A bigger part than the one that craved Seven.

She felt guilty about that.

Janeway looked at them, finally, turning away from the stars outside the conference room ports. "Harry's still looking for Seven, with anyone who has had even half an idea on how to get through that dispersion field," she said, her voice rough. "But they've kept us out for five days already. We've got one final chance." She paused. "We go to the Square of Public Freedom, and we take her back."

Day nine

B'Elanna hesitated at the doorway, looking in, to where the captain sat close by Seven's bed, watching the too-pale face. Seven was thinner than B'Elanna remembered, and more frail. So was the captain.

"Captain," the engineer said softly, taking the other chair by Seven's bed. "How's she doing?"

"Her injuries are repaired. The Doctor thinks she should wake soon." Janeway's eyes were soft and grieving as she watched over the younger woman. "She's going to need a lot of support."

"I know." B'Elanna paused. "I don't know... how to... how to help her, captain. I don't remember the two of us. I don't remember how to... love her, like I know I used to."

"Did you?" Janeway asked, giving her an odd look. B'Elanna flushed.

"I think I did. I've read my logs. I didn't say as much about her as I expected." She paused, and, greatly daring, said "You do, though."

Janeway froze. "Me?"

"You love her."

"She chose you." Janeway wouldn't meet B'Elanna's eyes now.

"You didn't offer her the choice," B'Elanna answered, stressing the word heavily. "I offered myself. You didn't."

"She'll need both of us. She's been through a lot."

"What happened, while she was down there?" B'Elanna asked, almost involuntarily reaching to take the hand the captain wasn't holding.

"I don't know. We'll have to wait until she tells us - if she's ever ready to do that."

Seven was stirring, finally. Her eyes fluttered open, and gazed for a long moment unseeing, her thoughts clearly turned to memory. B'Elanna was stunned to see tears form in the crystal eyes before Seven blinked them away.

What happens now? she wondered.

- finis -