Future Perfect, by Fletcher DeLancey

 

 

Yadda Yadda disclaimers: Paramount owns the sandbox; I'm just building cool new castles.

However—Lynne Hamilton, Revi Sandovhar, Alison Necheyev and assorted other minor characters and alien species DO belong to me and are solely the product of my happy little mental meanderings. Please do not use them or copy this story without my express permission. Linking to the site is cool, though.

Sex disclaimer: Nope. This one's perfectly safe to read at work.

Acknowledgements: A big thank you to my friend Inge, who somehow became a beta reader when she wasn't looking.

© 2005 Fletcher DeLancey

 

 


chapter 21

 

 

Seven could not remember ever being quite so reluctant to start a shift as she was this morning. Even in the early days of her time on Voyager, when every shift meant another eight hours of distrust and antipathy from her shipmates, she went to work willingly because the loneliness and boredom of the cargo bay was even worse. Now she worked among friends and family, had her own department and a critical function to the ship’s well-being—yet she could hardly bring herself to think about going on duty.

“Come on, Seven.” Revi tickled her lightly on the ribs above her abdominal implant. “Lovely as it’s been, we can’t stay here forever. We both have duty.”

“I do not wish to go. You still have leave remaining from Bliss, and I’ve banked several days as well. I suggest we use that time now.” Seven tightened her arm around Revi’s back, holding the smaller body close.

“I promise that we’ll use that time soon, darling. But I have a sickbay full of Arnett and something to prove.”

“You have nothing to prove to Kathryn, and at your rank hers is the only opinion that matters.” But Seven knew she was fighting a losing battle; Revi’s thoughts clearly showed that the person she had to prove something to was herself.

“You know that’s not true. I have to get back on the horse.” And before Seven could ask, Revi shared the source of the idiom.

Seven pounced on the distraction. “Why would anyone wish to use a large quadripedal mammal for transportation?” A moment later she had her answer in the form of several images and considerable data from Revi’s mind. That was the trouble with sharing thoughts; it made delay nearly impossible.

Revi laughed. “Yes, it does. Now come on.”

Still Seven refused to release her, but quickly changed her mind when a small electric charge leaped through her abdominal implant. With a yelp, she let Revi go and scrambled out of the bed.

Revi casually swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood up. “Thank you. Want to shower with me?”

“You electrocuted me!” Seven could not believe the evidence of her own senses.

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic. It was a little bitty zap, and if you won’t let me go when I ask then you’d better be prepared to pay the consequences.” Revi walked around the bed, wrapped her arms around Seven’s neck and drew her down for a long, leisurely morning kiss.

: You know I would never hurt you. I just wanted to get up, and I didn’t feel like a physical battle. :

Seven’s initial outrage was instantly calmed, both by Revi’s explanation and by the soothing influence of her kiss. : I should not have held you down. :

: Darling, I love it when you hold me down. I just can’t take advantage of it right now. :

They broke apart and rested their foreheads together. “Shower?” asked Seven.

“Shower.”

As they quickly prepared for their shift, they went over their expected day together and Revi suggested they meet for lunch. Seven was crestfallen. “I can’t. I’m scheduled for a late lunch to play Velocity with Lynne.” But then her spirits rose at the thought of a solution. “I will cancel.”

“You most certainly will not,” said Revi.

“Why not? Lynne would understand.”

“Yes, she would, but that still doesn’t mean you should do it. The first mistake a lot of new lovers make is giving up their friends in favor of focusing on their relationship. It’s understandable and very tempting, but also inconsiderate and ill-advised. And I seem to recall from your own experience that you didn’t care for it when Kathryn went through that phase with Lynne.”

The reminder activated Seven’s memories, and she recalled with perfect clarity the frustration and unhappiness she had experienced at that time. She was dismayed that she had been so willing to cause the same feelings in her good friend.

“You’re new at this,” said Revi, stepping forward and zipping up Seven’s uniform jacket. Seven stood still, knowing that Revi felt great pleasure in taking care of her. “Don’t be so hard on yourself; it’s a perfectly natural response to a new relationship. And knowing Lynne, she’s probably half expecting you to cancel and would have no hard feelings whatsoever. But I think you’re better than that.”

“I wish to be the best I can be for you,” said Seven earnestly.

Revi tugged the jacket down and smoothed out the fabric with her hand. Then she locked her arms behind Seven’s back and looked up. “I know. I feel the same way about you. So I guess we’ll just have to achieve perfection.” She flashed a smile, and Seven knew she had no such expectation. It was interesting, being in love with someone who in many ways expected less of her than she did of herself. But then, Revi expected more of herself than Seven did, so perhaps this was simply Human nature.

: People spend years learning that one. You just picked it up in one day. : Revi let her go and put on her own jacket. “Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

Revi laughed. “Idioms just don’t quite sound the same coming out of your mouth.”

“What do they sound like?” asked Seven as they went out the door.

“Like royalty trying to use slang.”

 

 

-----

 

 

Janeway regarded her guest with a friendly smile. “Thank you for coming, First Duras,” she said to the Arnett who sat across from her desk. “I wanted to let you know that we’re within three hours of the coordinates you specified, so you may want to begin preparing your people. But we’re heading out of Visconi space anyway; are you sure you wouldn’t like us to carry you all the way out? It would be no hardship on us and I’d feel better knowing you were out of danger.”

“Thank you, Captain Janeway,” said First Duras. “But we have already imposed on you long enough. I’m sure the warship waiting for us can get us out of Visconi space with no trouble, and truthfully, I think my people would feel more comfortable on an Arnett ship.” He seemed to realize what he’d just said and stumbled over himself correcting it. “I didn’t mean that as an insult in any way! Your crew has been kind and accommodating and we’ve been honored to stay with you.”

Janeway waved him off. “Don’t worry, I understand. It must be particularly difficult for you as a First. I know if I’d lost my ship, it would be hard to be a passenger on anyone else’s.”

He nodded. “Some things hold true for all captains and Firsts. But I’ll still be a passenger on the Tarsonn.”

“Yes, but at least the Tarsonn is an Arnett ship.”

His smile was wistful. “One of the few remaining.” The smile vanished and he became all business. “I’ll get started on preparing my people. Would it be possible for me to be on your bridge when we arrive?”

“Certainly. I’ll call you when we’re within visual range.”

“Thank you, Captain Janeway.”

 

 

-----

 

 

Seven had barely walked into the holodeck before Lynne dropped her phaser on her towel and enveloped her in an unexpected hug. “Congratulations, Seven! I’m so happy for you!”

Seven hugged her back as well as she could without dropping her own phaser. “Thank you.”

“You know, I’m a little surprised you’re even here. I would have expected you to be spending every available minute with Revi, after all the waiting and worrying.”

“I admit that I considered canceling. Revi reminded me that it would have been inconsiderate.”

Lynne shrugged. “I would have understood. Sometimes it’s okay to be a little selfish. You’ve certainly earned it.” A wicked smile crossed her face. “On the other hand, I’m thinking you’ve got to be at least a little worn out after the last two days, based on what I heard from Kathryn. This could be the best chance I’ll ever have of kicking your ass.”

“Dream on,” said Seven, knowing that her use of the phrase would make Lynne laugh. She was right.

 

 

-----

 

 

Janeway crossed her legs as First Duras settled in the chair next to her. “She’s a fine ship,” she commented.

The First looked at the main viewer with a broad smile. “Yes, it is. It’s not often I get to see one of these.”

The Tarsonn loomed before them, four times larger than Voyager and bristling with armaments, but still retaining some graceful lines. It looked, to her eyes, more than capable of taking on a Visconi warship. But the numbers didn’t appear to be in the Arnett’s favor.

“Captain, they’re hailing us,” said Lieutenant Kim.

“On screen.”

The ship vanished, to be replaced with an Arnett male who looked her over in a manner she didn’t quite like.

“Captain Janeway, I am greatly pleased to meet you at last. I am First Nestos of the Tarsonn. We’ve heard much about your generosity, and we can never repay you for the lives you’ve saved.”

“It was our pleasure,” said Janeway. “We’ve enjoyed getting to know First Duras and his people over the last few days.” She looked at the First sitting next to her. “But I think they’re ready to move on.” He tried to smile, but succeeded only in looking uncomfortable.

“I have spoken with First Duras, and he has nothing but praise for you and your ship. But yes, we are ready to take on our new passengers. We are prepared to receive transport whenever you wish.”

Janeway turned to Harry. “Lieutenant, are our passengers ready?”

“The first set are on the transporter pad and waiting,” he said.

“Then proceed. Tuvok, drop the shields.” Janeway settled back in her chair, preparing for more small talk. Transporting over fifty people, even with the cargo bay transporters, would take some time. Once that was done they would jettison the escape pods, which would then be tractored in by the Tarsonn. And during all that she’d be making nice with First Nestos. This was the sort of thing she would have loved to delegate, and the one duty that she never could.

“Dropping shields,” announced Tuvok.

“Energizing,” said Harry, and everything went to hell. Fifteen armed Arnett appeared on the bridge, their weapons covering every officer. Tuvok acted quickly, hitting the red alert and drawing a phaser. Janeway and Harry were almost as fast, but none of them got off more than one shot each before being overwhelmed by Arnett. They were disarmed and released, and Janeway was shoved back into her chair with four Arnett pointing weapons at her chest.

“I wouldn’t make any more sudden moves,” said First Duras as he stood at a safe distance.

“What do you think you’re going to accomplish?” asked Janeway furiously.

“We’re just borrowing your ship,” said First Nestos from the main viewer. “I do apologize, Captain Janeway, but this is a matter of the survival of our species. We don’t want to harm any of you, out of gratitude for what you’ve done for us, but don’t think that our reluctance means we’re unwilling. We can and will kill anyone who interferes with our objective.”

“Which is?”

“Adding your ship to our fleet. Voyager could make the difference between survival and our eradication.”

“And that makes it right,” she snapped.

“Captain Janeway, this is war. There is no right or wrong anymore, there is only winning or losing. We have been losing. Your ship could change the course of our history.”

“You’re assuming that your takeover of my ship is already guaranteed. We don’t give up that easily.”

“The soldiers on your bridge are only part of the invasion team. We have another two hundred in your corridors right now, including the fifty-four you saved. They’re rounding up your people, most of whom appear to be unarmed.” He made a clicking sound in his throat. “We had not factored in such lack of preparation on your part. Thank you for making our job easier.” He tilted his head, examining a control board, and looked back up. “Ah. There is the resistance I had expected. Your crew are fighting superior numbers and superior weaponry, Captain Janeway. I suggest you instruct your people to cooperate, or we will be forced to permanently eradicate the resistance. If you do not comply, the first person to die will be here on the bridge.”

“And if I tell my crew to stand down, do I have your word that they’ll come to no harm?”

“You have my word,” he said. “As one First to another.”

Janeway nodded. “All hands, this is the captain. We are in Code Gray, repeat, Code Gray. Voyager has been invaded by a hostile Arnett force. You are ordered to cooperate with the invaders to avoid personal harm and damage to the ship. I repeat, do not resist the invaders.” She glared at First Duras, who had the grace to look embarrassed.

First Nestos frowned. “What is Code Gray?” he demanded.

“It means we’re under attack from within. We have codes for any sort of battle scenario; it’s a way of getting critical information to all of my crewmembers in the shortest period of time. Code Red means to prepare for imminent battle, Code Yellow means that battle is possible but not imminent, Code White—”

“Never mind,” interrupted First Nestos. “I have no time for lessons in alien military code. But this had better not be a trick, Captain Janeway. If it is, your crew will suffer and that will be your responsibility. Now if you’ll proceed to your cargo bay, you can join the rest of your crew while we complete our mission. As long as you continue to cooperate, we will make this as comfortable for you as possible.” At his words, all of the Arnett on the bridge took one step toward their targets, using their weapons to indicate that the staff should move to the turbolift. Janeway noted wryly that she now appeared to be deserving of six soldiers all by herself.

“Don’t I feel special,” she muttered, turning her back on the main viewer and marching up the stairs to the upper deck. As she passed Tuvok’s board, she glanced at it briefly and was reassured by the glowing blue control at the top left corner, confirming that Code Gray had been initiated. She had faith in her crew. That alien military code Nestos had no time for was going to come back and bite him in the ass.

 

 

-----

 

 

Seven reflected with some surprise that the previous two days did indeed appear to have diminished her energy levels to some degree. For the first time since they had begun playing together, Lynne had prevailed in a game of Velocity. Her victory dance had secretly amused Seven, but she showed no outward sign other than a renewed sense of purpose. She had won their second game, and they were now tied in the third and final game of the match, with each of them throwing away any sense of caution or restraint in their efforts to win. Seven was determined to retain her unbroken winning streak, while Lynne was equally determined to end it. Sweat dripped off Lynne’s face, and she was calling more frequent breaks in order to towel herself off. Seven, of course, did not sweat, having nanoprobes and specially designed clothing to regulate her body temperature. She took great pleasure in pointing this fact out to Lynne, adding a new swear word to her growing vocabulary each time she did so. Lynne appeared to have an inexhaustible supply of them.

They were hotly contesting a point, with Lynne having already crashed into two walls in pursuit of hard-to-reach shots. Her craftiness showed in this last shot, which was now caroming out of a corner and making its way with great speed to the opposite side of the court from where Seven stood. Seven ran and launched herself in the air, stretching out to make the shot…when the program abruptly ended and she landed heavily on the floor of the grid-lined holodeck.

“What the hell?” asked Lynne, breathing hard. She walked to their pile of gear and toweled off yet again. “What just happened?”

Seven picked herself up off the floor. “Computer, state reason for ending program.”

“Ship’s protocol for red alert conditions state that all holodeck activity must cease.”

The ship’s computer had barely finished speaking when Revi’s voice broke into her mind, more worried than she had ever heard it.

: Seven! The Arnett have taken over the ship! I’ve got two with weapons pointed at me right now. They’re taking us to the cargo bay; they say there’s no point in resisting since they have two hundred soldiers on the ship and have already taken the bridge. They must have troop transporters. :

: Revi, do what they require and remain safe. They will not succeed. :

: Don’t you dare do anything to get yourself hurt or killed! :

: I will do what I must. You know that. And so will you. :

She tuned out Revi’s fear for her and fought down her own for Revi; she could not afford distractions now.

“Lynne, we’ve been invaded. There are too many for open resistance.”

Lynne’s training with Commander Tuvok had obviously been effective. Her friend barely acknowledged the impact of the news, only pausing for a moment before asking, “Code Gray?”

Seven nodded. “Computer, are there any Arnett immediately outside the doors of Holodeck One?”

“The Arnett invaded us?” Lynne’s incredulous voice overlapped that of the computer.

“Negative,” it responded.

They moved to the doors and carefully looked down the corridor when they opened. Seven indicated that they should go left, and they ran down the corridor, phasers at the ready. They hadn’t gotten more than fifteen meters when four Arnett carrying energy rifles rounded a corner ahead of them. Both women dropped to the floor and fired, each by unspoken consent taking out the two on her side. All four Arnett fell in a heap before they even knew what was happening. Seven leaped to her feet and raced to the Jeffries tube access, with Lynne right behind her. Within seconds they were safely inside and had locked the hatch behind them.

What is going on?” demanded Lynne in a whisper. “I thought the Arnett were grateful to us.”

“Apparently their gratitude was insufficient,” whispered Seven, just as Kathryn’s voice came over the comm.

“All hands, this is the captain. We are in Code Gray, repeat, Code Gray. Voyager has been invaded by a hostile Arnett force. You are ordered to cooperate with the invaders to avoid personal harm and damage to the ship. I repeat, do not resist the invaders.”

A worried look passed between them before both women turned without a word and began making their way into the bowels of the ship.

 

 

 

 


Chapter 22

 

 

Chakotay sat bolt upright as the red alert klaxon sounded. “Computer! What is the nature of the red alert?”

“Intruder alert,” the computer said calmly. “Unauthorized transport of one hundred and sixty life forms.”

Shit! That was more than the entire crew complement of Voyager. “Computer, identify life forms.”

“All transported life forms are Arnett.”

Chakotay raced to his nightstand, pulled out his personal phaser, and checked the charge. Good, it was full. He set it to heavy stun, ran for the door—and promptly bounced off it, having temporarily forgotten that he was under confinement.

“Goddammit!” he roared. What a time to be locked in! He paced his living quarters in frustration, feeling utterly helpless and wondering what was happening outside. But then Captain Janeway’s voice came over the comm, and he smiled. Carefully he stepped into sensor range of his door; this time it opened. He looked left—the corridor was clear. Turning his head to the right, he found himself looking straight into the faces of two Arnett soldiers, both with rifles raised.

“Put down your weapon and come with us,” one of them said. “We do not wish to harm you.”

Chakotay slowly knelt down in apparent compliance, then quickly dropped and rolled to one side, firing as he went. A phaser bolt singed the carpet by his head, but he managed to stun both Arnett before they got off any other shots. Rising to his feet, he sprinted down the corridor to the nearest Jeffries tube hatch, punched in the access code, and was safely inside before any other Arnett showed up.

Without pausing, he began scuttling down the crawlway to the nearest Jeffries tube, through which he could move between decks. Code Gray was a protocol created four years ago, after Seska’s betrayal had resulted in Voyager being taken over by the Kazon. Designed as a response to any future hostile takeover, the Code Gray protocol required all crew members to arm themselves if possible and hide from the hostiles. All crew managing to escape were to meet at a Jeffries tube junction on deck six, the midpoint of the most-used decks. They would not attempt communications. When the escapees had gathered, the ranking officer would organize a takeover. One detail that Janeway herself had written into the protocol, mindful of how an imprisoned crewman had been a vital part of the retaking of Voyager, was that any crew held in quarters or the brigs would be automatically released. Another was that the Doctor would be instantly deactivated, unless in the process of a vital surgery. This would keep him out of enemy hands and allow the resistance to reactivate him when sickbay was clear.

To aid the resistance, a computer program had been activated the moment Janeway’s voice had called out “Code Gray” on the bridge. It would effectively sabotage propulsion, weapons, transporters, communications and internal sensors. None except transporters would go immediately offline, since that would be too obvious. Instead, the program would simply…scramble things. Impulse engines were available, but not warp. The ship’s phasers would fire, but the targeting scanners were off. Communications would operate only sporadically, with no discernible source for the interruptions. And the internal sensors would give false readings on the number and locations of Voyager’s crew. The purpose was simply to buy time for the crew resistance.

The problem, Chakotay knew, was that as soon as the Arnett figured out that the breakdowns were part of a controlling program, they would target Captain Janeway for the command codes. Part of her job in a Code Gray situation was to resist turning over those codes for as long as possible, but if the Arnett were ruthless enough to begin killing members of the crew, Janeway would have no choice. And once the Arnett had full control of the ship, resistance would be much more difficult.

It was a race against the clock, and as Chakotay began the descent from deck three to deck six, he fervently hoped that enough crew had escaped to help him win.

 

 

-----

 

 

Voyager’s crew stood around the cargo bay, forming little groups here and there as they conversed among themselves. Occasionally people would wander from one group to another in an apparently random fashion.

It was anything but. The groupings were designed to hide the fact that the senior staff had formed a command center near the back of the bay, their quiet planning concealed by the general hum of conversation. As the Arnett guards moved around the bay, Starfleet security members tracked them, moving from group to group and passing the word to the senior staff. In this way, no guard came near the command center without all of the senior staff being warned in advance; whenever an Arnett came close enough, all he or she heard was innocuous conversation.

Once B’Elanna and Revi had joined the command group, Janeway began the planning session.

“All right, I need options,” she said. “Who made it out? Revi, where’s Seven?”

“She’s with Lynne,” said Revi, and Janeway mentally thanked her for the tactful reassurance. “They’re at the rendezvous point with Commander Chakotay and Ensign Vorik. They’re waiting to see who else shows.”

“Excellent,” said Janeway. “We do have communications.” The Arnett had efficiently stripped them all of their comm badges upon their entry to the cargo bay, which had bothered her on three counts. First, it prevented her from emergency communications with her resisting crew. Second, it prevented the resistance from locking transporters on most of them, with the exception of those crew who were the sole representatives of their species. Their unique attributes would enable the targeting scanners to locate them. And third, it was going to be a hell of a mess sorting out and identifying over one hundred and forty comm badges when this was all over.

“Good, I thought Vorik might have gotten out,” said B’Elanna with relief.

Revi tilted her head. “Seven says Ensign Watson and Lieutenant Ayala just arrived.”

“That’s a start. While we’re waiting, let’s explore our options. We’ve got three objectives: retake the bridge, neutralize the Arnett on Voyager, and neutralize the Tarsonn. In that order. Any ideas?”

With Revi and Seven acting as a communications conduit, the two groups brainstormed for several minutes without arriving at a workable plan. While the discussion went on, Lieutenant Andrews joined Chakotay’s team, apparently the only other escapee. It was less than Janeway would have liked, but more than the Arnett knew about. And the interlink between Seven and Revi gave them a secret weapon of enormous utility.

After discarding several options, Janeway thought of one that had potential.

“Revi, can you produce a gas that could incapacitate the Arnett without affecting any of our crew?”

Revi thought for a moment, then nodded. “Yes. If I had access to sickbay.”

Janeway smiled for the first time since the Arnett had beamed onto her bridge. “What if I get you access to the Doctor instead?”

“That would work.”

“Good. Then here’s what we’re going to do.”

 

 

-----

 

 

It was a good plan, Chakotay decided. Everyone had their marching orders and they were preparing to split into two groups. But before they moved out, he needed to get one very important point across to a member of his team. Taking Lynne Hamilton aside, he looked her in the eye and said quietly, “This is going to be the hardest on you. Understand, Lynne, you can’t afford to think like a wife. Right now she’s your captain.”

It was a deliberate reminder of an argument between them that had approached mythical proportions in the crew’s retellings, when Lynne had publicly called him out for not doing all she thought he should to rescue Janeway on Dakmor.

“I understand,” she said.

“Do you really?” He looked at her sympathetically. “Do you understand that you might have to watch her being physically abused? She knows that’s a possibility and she’s prepared for it. You have to make sure that we have every second of time available to us before you make a move. In this case, your duty to your captain has to supersede anything else.”

“I said, I understand. If they touch her I’ll make sure they eventually pay for it, but I won’t intervene until it’s absolutely necessary. Don’t worry, Commander.”

He watched her for any signs of doubt and saw only steely determination. Nodding his head, he gestured for Ensign Watson to join them.

“Hey, Emily,” said Lynne. “Nice to have you on my side this time.”

Ensign Watson ducked her head. “I really am sorry about that.”

“Don’t worry about it. At least I know you’re not afraid to pull the trigger.”

“Save the niceties for later,” said Chakotay, who was secretly pleased to see the two women addressing their conflict. “Get moving.”

“Yes sir,” they said in unison, and as they began moving away he heard Ensign Watson ask, “You know where we’re going, right?”

“Are you kidding?” Lynne’s voice floated back. “The last time Tuvok tested me on Voyager’s layout I practically had to draw the blueprints from memory. I know this place down to the last air duct.”

Which is why you’re doing this, thought Chakotay. He was immensely grateful that Tuvok had been personally training Lynne. Without a doubt, she could get the job done—as long as she could hold back her instinct to protect Janeway.

Turning to the rest of the team, he said, “Let’s go.” As it turned out, the selection of deck six as a rendezvous point had been an excellent one. His team only had to climb one deck to get to sickbay, and Hamilton and Watson were only two decks above the ventilation ducts that accessed the cargo bay. The bay was two decks high; they were making for the ducts at the first level in case they had to jump out of them. Even at that, it would be a long fall.

He led the way up the ladder, trying to shake the sense of a clock ticking.

 

 

-----

 

 

Janeway watched Revi’s face, understanding that there was no better barometer for the progress of Chakotay’s team. She saw the brief flash of worry when Revi reported that they’d broken into sickbay and were in a firefight. And she knew even before Revi said anything that the sickbay had been successfully taken. They’d reactivated the Doctor, and now came the hard part: Revi would have to communicate to him, through Seven, every detail of synthesizing the gas. She was sitting on a crate, her eyes closed as she concentrated, and the rest of the senior staff had formed a tight group in front of her, partially to conceal her from the guards and partially to give her some mental space.

And all Janeway could do was wait. She cast a sidelong glance at the air vents midway up the walls, wondering if Lynne were in one of them now, watching her. What she wouldn’t give for an interlink of her own right now. Just in case, she held her hand over her heart in the gesture she’d taught Lynne on their honeymoon. I love you.

 

 

-----

 

 

The Doctor had quickly grasped what Revi was designing, and soon Seven found that she had only to share his progress with Revi instead of instructing him with every detail. This was vastly preferable, and gave her more mental space to devote to Revi. At the moment she was reassuring her about one part of their plan in particular.

: It will only take a few minutes, and I’ll have guards. I will be as safe as possible. :

: A few minutes is all it takes to get killed, Seven. I just found you; I can’t lose you. :

: You won’t lose me. Have faith. :

: Faith? Not something I would have expected from someone raised by the Borg. :

Seven played along. : Of course I have faith. We assimilated many spiritual cultures; I have several thousand varieties of faith to choose from. :

: Anyone ever tell you that your sense of humor is a little twisted? :

The Doctor’s efforts were proceeding in an efficient manner, and so far no other Arnett appeared to have noticed that sickbay had been taken. Seven was just beginning to relax, when suddenly the stakes were raised.

: Seven, the Arnett First is here. They’ve figured out the computer sabotage. They’re taking Kathryn for questioning. :

Seven passed that information to her team, noting that everyone’s facial expressions grew even more determined. Their time was running out.

 

 

 

 


Chapter 23

 

 

Janeway reflected ruefully that there was something ridiculous about being beaten up by people who were even shorter than she was. Nevertheless, the Arnett were doing a fine job of it. After she’d refused to give up the command codes, delaying for as long as possible and sending them on one time-consuming wild goose chase, they’d dragged her over to the wall and set about their efforts to “convince” her with an efficiency that spoke of long practice. Her arms and shoulders were being held to the wall by two soldiers, while a third worked her over with the butt of his phaser rifle. At least he was leaving her face alone, but damn, this was bringing back bad memories of Dakmor. The soldier hitting her was obviously trained in the arts of physical persuasion; his blows fell repeatedly on the exact same places, quickly changing a very unpleasant experience to one that was absolutely excruciating. It was taking every bit of her will power to keep herself from screaming. Finally she closed her eyes and forced her body to go limp—not an easy task when every muscle was tense with the pain—and hoped that the ruse would work on a species unfamiliar with Human physiology.

Revi backed her up. “Let her go!” she shouted. “You’ve beaten her unconscious!”

“Idiots!” That was First Duras’ voice. “How do you expect to get any information if she’s unable to speak?”

The soldiers pinning her to the wall abruptly let go, and she slumped to the deck. That, at least, wasn’t faked—her legs could no longer hold her up. God, she hurt. And those blows just under her sternum weren’t doing her any favors at all; the initial hellish pains there had subsided to a kind of numbness that actually scared her more.

“Get out of my way, you bastards!” Revi’s voice was closer, and she heard the sound of bodies moving. Then her head was being gently lifted and settled onto a warm, soft surface—Revi’s leg, she guessed. It was hard to think when she was devoting every available brain cell to forcing her body to lie straight. She wanted nothing more than to curl up in a fetal position, protecting the throbbing agony that used to be her torso. She wished she had been beaten unconscious; it wasn’t much fun being awake right now.

“Revive her,” demanded First Duras.

“It doesn’t work that way, moron.” Revi wasn’t hiding her anger. “Our physiology isn’t like yours. Her body won’t allow her to regain consciousness until some of the damage has been repaired.”

“Then repair it.” First Duras’ voice changed, sounding somewhat regretful. “And please tell her to give us what we want. I never wanted to hurt her, but if she won’t give up the codes I don’t have any other option.”

“Of course you have options,” snapped Revi, already running the muscle regenerator imbedded in her arm over Janeway’s abdomen. Almost immediately the sharpest pains were diminishing, and Janeway could feel her body relaxing somewhat. “You have the option of going back to your ship and leaving us alone,” Revi continued. “You have the option of behaving like decent individuals instead of the most ungrateful, back-stabbing species I’ve ever heard of. I never thought I’d be sorry to have saved anyone’s lives, but I’m sure as hell sorry we saved yours.”

Jesus, thought Janeway. Is she serious?

“You have a right to be angry—”

“No shit,” said Revi, and Janeway might have laughed had she not been in so much pain.

“I regret the necessity of our actions. But they are necessary. The survival of our species requires that we do things we’re not necessarily comfortable with. Can you tell me that you wouldn’t do the same thing in our position?”

“Let me tell you something about the woman you’re torturing. Six years ago she made the decision to strand herself and her crew seventy thousand light years from home, rather than put the existence of another species at risk. She chose the survival and well-being of another species over her own safety and that of her crew. She did the same thing on a smaller scale for your people, when she stopped to help you despite being in Visconi space. So yes, Duras, I can tell you that we wouldn’t do the same thing in your position. Don’t try to justify your actions by pretending that our ethics are just as bad as yours. They’re not.”

This diatribe was met with momentary silence. “Call me when she revives,” Duras ordered his soldiers. “I’ll be on the bridge.” The click of his boot heels told of his departure.

Janeway felt a tickle on her face, followed by a puff of warm air, and realized that Revi was leaning over her and letting her hair form a protective curtain. “Kathryn, I’m so sorry,” came a soft whisper. “Hang in there. The Doctor has finished synthesizing the gas, and the team is climbing to deck four now.”

Janeway didn’t dare respond, but knowing that they were close to their goal helped renew her determination. It was nice to know she’d taken that beating for a good cause.

As Revi continued to run the regenerator over her aching midsection, she thought of Lynne in the air vent, watching the whole thing.

I’m sorry, sweetheart. That must have been harder for you than it was for me.

 

 

-----

 

 

The team that made its way through the Jeffries tubes was silent and grim. Seven had relayed the details of Janeway’s beating, and she knew there wasn’t a person among them who was not currently harboring thoughts of retaliation. But they were professionals, and their anger served only to increase their efficiency. They paused at the hatch nearest to Transporter Room One, and when Chakotay opened it up they poured into the corridor, moving in a tight group to the corner nearest their goal. Chakotay dropped to the floor and peered around the corner, then stood up again and held up four fingers, making a hand motion to indicate that the Arnett guarding the transporter room were flanking its doors. His next motion cued the team to move, and they leaped into the corridor. The Arnett guards never even got their rifles up before being cut down, and Chakotay and Seven walked through the doors with weapons at the ready. Only two guards were inside the room, and they were dispatched with equal efficiency. All of the guards were pulled to a corner of the room and stacked in a pile, and if the team paid little care to the comfort of the Arnett as they dragged and dumped them, Chakotay chose not to notice.

Vorik stepped up to the controls and entered the code that would enable the transporters to function properly. “Ready,” he said.

Chakotay was already on the transporter pad, a small gas canister in his hand. “Energize,” he said, and a moment later he was gone.

Seven stood with Vorik at the controls, noting with satisfaction that he had effectively masked the transport. The Arnett would never notice, unless they were far more advanced than she gave them credit for.

 

 

-----

 

 

Chakotay materialized in an air duct, the vent grating immediately in front of his face giving him a perfect view of the bridge. He clenched his jaw to see First Duras sitting in Janeway’s chair, looking quite at home.

Not for long, you bastard, he thought, giving the canister a vicious twist. The gas was invisible and odorless, so he had no idea if it was even being released. Two very nervous minutes later, the gas took effect. Once it started, it was fast acting, not even giving the Arnett time to call out an alarm before they passed out. Chakotay deactivated the field holding the vent in place and punched it out with the heel of his hand. Carefully he wriggled out, breathing a sigh of relief when he dropped onto the floor. He’d never been fond of tight spaces.

Jerking Duras out of Janeway’s chair and paying no attention to where he fell, Chakotay sat down and activated the console. Quickly he input the command codes to counter the Code Gray, then raised the shields around the bridge and locked down the turbolifts. “Bridge to Transporter Room One,” he said. “It works. The bridge is secured.”

“Acknowledged,” came Seven’s voice. “Stage Three in progress.”

 

 

-----

 

 

Janeway’s break was over. One of the Arnett guards had gotten suspicious, and a swift kick to her badly bruised ribs had taken her by surprise. A bolt of agony shot through her, and she couldn’t hold back the cry of pain as she gave up the ruse and curled into a ball.

“I knew you were faking,” the guard said with satisfaction. “Get up.”

Reluctantly, she opened her eyes, blinking in the bright light. Delaying as long as she could, she slowly got to her feet with Revi’s assistance. Revi kept an arm around her waist, offering silent support, for which she was grateful. That cybernetic arm might have half a sickbay incorporated into it, but “analgesic hypospray” wasn’t among the inventory, nor had there been enough time to heal any but the worst of the injuries. Still, she felt better than she had, and alert enough to deal with whatever came next. Nudging Revi slightly, she maneuvered them so that she was visible to both air vents.

“Notify the First,” said the guard. It was the same one who had worked her over the first time, and judging by his expression, he was eager for a second round. But a female Arnett interrupted.

“No. He’ll just keep after the captain. I have a better idea—kill that one.” She pointed at Revi, and Janeway recognized her as the woman whose terror in sickbay had set off Revi’s flashback. “That’s their pet Borg, but the captain seems fond of her. I’ll bet if you kill her, you might get more cooperation out of the captain. And if you don’t, then start on the rest.”

“We don’t have authorization.”

“Do you think the First will care about that when we bring him the codes?”

The other guard gave Janeway an unpleasant smile. “I am a little tired of waiting,” he said. Raising his phaser rifle, he adjusted the setting and aimed at Revi’s chest. Janeway heard the whine of a power source ramping up, and knew he’d put the rifle on a kill setting. They’d just run out of time.

“Captain, one last chance. All you have to do to save this one’s life is give us the command codes.”

Janeway looked him straight in the eye as she lifted both hands to shoulder level, her palms up and fingers slightly cupped. “No,” she said, letting her hands drop to waist level, elbows at ninety degrees. It was sign language for now, and Lynne was waiting for it.

“Then her death is—”

The sound of a phaser burst seared the air, followed instantly by a second. Both the male and female guards dropped to the floor.

Tom and B’Elanna were the closest and leaped on the fallen guards, ripping their weapons from limp hands and opening fire on the remaining guards. They were supported by phaser fire from air vents on opposite sides of the cargo bay, and every guard that dropped was immediately pounced on by a Voyager crew member, who put their weapons to good use. In seconds it was all over, with thirty Arnett lying on the deck and twenty-four newly armed crew members moving purposefully toward the cargo bay doors, in order to form a protective barrier should any other Arnett attempt to enter. The other six—including the bridge officers—formed a circle around Janeway, who had found herself on the floor under Revi as soon as the shooting started.

“Revi!” Janeway pushed at her shoulders. “What are our casualties?”

Revi sprang up and grabbed Tuvok. “Take care of her,” she ordered, and vanished beyond the ring of officers.

Tuvok knelt beside Janeway and helped her sit up. “Captain, the cargo bay is secure and we have a force at the entrance, prepared to repel any Arnett attempt at entry. If they choose to transport in, we are still at a disadvantage. However, we are considerably better armed than before.”

Janeway looked at the phaser rifle in his hands. Why was it that Starfleet personnel were apparently the only military force in the known universe to carry stun weapons?

“What are our casualties?” She was frustrated beyond belief that she was sitting on the goddamned floor while members of her crew were hurt or possibly dead. With nearly her entire crew in that cargo bay, she knew some had to have been hit in the firefight.

“I do not yet know, Captain. Doctor Sandovhar is determining that now.”

B’Elanna squatted next to her. “It’s not nearly as bad as it could have been, Captain. I only see a few down.”

Janeway stifled the urge to shout at her. “A few down” could mean they were injured, or it could mean they were dead. It wasn’t B’Elanna’s fault that she didn’t know.

“Tuvok, B’Elanna, can you get me over to that crate?”

Her officers flanked her and carefully helped her to her feet. She stood in place for a moment, getting her legs under her, before taking the few painful steps to the crate. It was more comfortable than sitting on the floor, and it gave her a much better view.

She looked up, wondering which vent Lynne was in. As per orders, neither Lynne nor Ensign Watson were showing themselves even now. They wouldn’t until given the all clear. Making sure that both vents had a view of her, she discreetly pointed to herself and quickly spelled two letters—I’m OK—then let that sign morph into another as she held her hand over her heart again.

Revi reappeared and stood in front of her. “Only twelve of ours injured, Captain. Unbelievable, considering the situation. Light phaser burns only; apparently the Arnett really didn’t want to hurt us. You’re the worst injury.”

“Thank god,” breathed Janeway, feeling lightheaded with relief. On second thought, maybe she was just lightheaded—a wave of dizziness threatened to collapse her.

“Hold on!” Revi was at her side instantly, propping her up. “It’s almost over. They’ve taken the transporter room.”

Janeway nodded as the dizziness receded. “What about the Arnett casualties?”

A somber look crossed Revi’s face. “Mostly light phaser burns as well, but they had four fatalities. The rifle B’Elanna was using was set to kill.”

Their eyes met in understanding. B’Elanna had grabbed the rifle from the male soldier who’d been seconds away from killing Revi. She hadn’t had time to figure out its settings in the ensuing firefight, and the Arnett had paid the price. Janeway regretted the loss of life, but she would not feel guilty about it. In attempting to take over her ship, the Arnett had brought it on themselves.

She felt a tingling as Revi resumed her work, knitting torn muscles back together.

“For someone who didn’t know your physiology, that guard sure knew where to hit you,” Revi muttered. “Bastard.”

“Simple math,” said Janeway. “Hit someone in the same place enough times and you’ll do some damage. I’m surprised he didn’t rupture my spleen.”

“He came damned close. You’ve got internal bruising, that’s why it hurts so much.”

“It doesn’t hurt so much anymore.”

Revi gave her a look that plainly said she didn’t believe a word of it, and continued her ministrations.

“Why aren’t you taking care of the others?” asked Janeway.

“Did you not hear me say you’re the worst injury? Now be quiet and let me do my job.” Revi looked up. “Commander Chakotay has secured the bridge and Seven just beamed Ensign Vorik and Lieutenants Ayala and Andrews to Environmental Controls. We should have our ship back in just a few minutes.”

Janeway didn’t know if it was Revi’s work or the knowledge that their plan was nearly finished, but she felt a hell of a lot better.

“Seven says the gas is in the system,” said Revi a short time later. “She just sent Ensign Vorik to the bridge and is now bringing Lieutenants Ayala and Andrews back to the transporter room. They’re getting ready to go.”

“She’ll be all right,” said Janeway.

“That’s what I keep telling myself.” Revi moved her regenerator to a new area.

“Revi, Seven is the most capable officer I have ever known when it comes to missions like this. If anyone can do it, she can. She probably won’t even break a fingernail.”

“Bridge to Captain Janeway.” The call came over the cargo bay’s comm.

“Go ahead,” Janeway called out.

“Sensors show that no Arnett are moving on the ship. I’m unlocking the bay doors now. We’re clear.”

“Acknowledged.” Janeway looked up at the vents and made a hand motion calling her crew members down. Instantly the vent covers fell clanging to the floor and Lynne and Emily Watson backed out, hung by their hands, and dropped down. Lynne lost no time getting to Janeway’s side, where she fell to her knees and took Janeway’s hand in her own.

“Kathryn,” she said, and then seemed incapable of further speech.

“I’m okay,” said Janeway, allowing herself a small public display by cupping Lynne’s jaw in her other hand.

“She is, Lynne,” said Revi. “But if you’ll help me, we can get her to sickbay. She’ll be back to normal in no time.”

“Why can’t we transport her?” Lynne’s voice had come back.

“Excuse me, I’m right here,” said Janeway. “And you can’t transport me because I walked in here, and I’m walking back out again.”

“Well,” Lynne said, squeezing her hand, “I can see that the Arnett never touched your stubborn pride.”

“Not for lack of trying.” Janeway instantly regretted the joke when the horror showed in Lynne’s eyes. “Oh, Lynne, I’m sorry. I know that must have been hard for you to watch.”

Lynne’s expression hardened. “Let’s just say that bastard is very, very lucky that my hand didn’t slip on the power setting. I gave some serious thought to knocking it up a few notches.”

“I knew that was your shot. You timed it perfectly. I’m proud of you.”

Ducking her head, Lynne said, “Come on, let’s get you out of here.” She and Revi flanked her, helping her up. After a few slow steps, Janeway felt her strength returning and squeezed the shoulders of the women on either side.

“I’m good. You can let go. There are others who need help more.”

Revi and Lynne exchanged a look that clearly communicated their exasperation, but they obeyed. Janeway held her head up, straightened her shoulders, and slowly walked up to the officers still holding protective ranks around her. “Thank you,” she said, looking each of them in the eye. “You all did excellent work. It’s time to finish this.”

They gave her respectful nods and fell in behind her as she made her way to the doors. Stopping at the comm panel on the wall, she hit the all-call and spoke into it. Most of her crew were still in the cargo bay, but some had already left and besides, this was a symbolic gesture.

“All hands, this is the captain,” she said, hearing her own voice magnified over the cargo bay’s comm. “The Arnett have been neutralized and Voyager is back under our control. Congratulations on a job very well done. Now let’s get back to work.”

The crew cheered, and Janeway allowed herself a smile.

Just one thing left to do.

 

 

-----

 

 

Seven heard Kathryn’s announcement and felt a great sense of satisfaction. It was good to hear that confident voice again. She’d seen the beating through Revi’s eyes, and it had brought an instinct to the fore that she hadn’t felt since her final fight in the Tsunkatse arena. She wanted to kill the Arnett responsible, and knew she wasn’t alone in that regard.

Lieutenants Ayala and Andrews flanked her on the transporter pad, this time armed with compression phaser rifles. It was time.

She activated her comm badge. “Seven of Nine to Ensign Vorik. Energize.” The Tarsonn had made this easier for them by never raising its shields, its crew believing that Voyager was under Arnett control. Records showed that there had initially been a good deal of beaming back and forth between the two ships as various officers came and went; it was unlikely that their transport would be noticed.

The familiar tingling sensation overtook her, and she rematerialized in an area of the ship that Chakotay had said was near the Tarsonn’s computer core. All she required was a control panel with access to the main computer.

She pulled out her tricorder and found a likely energy source. “This way,” she said, and began striding down the corridor. They found the control panel easily, and without any preamble Seven plunged her assimilation tubules into it. Ayala and Andrews had been briefed already; they knew that Seven would be at her most vulnerable while her mind was inside the computer. They took up positions on either side of her, and just as Seven sent her mind into the computer she was aware of weapons fire on both sides. She never hesitated, trusting that her crewmates would protect her. Neutralizing the Tarsonn was of primary importance; Voyager would not be safe until her mission was complete.

For a moment she gloried in the unity and purity of existence she always felt at times like these, when her mind could run at will among logic circuits and analytical programs. Here there was only coding, only black and white, one and zero. No shades of gray and no uncertainties. But she had no time to waste, and quickly located the necessary coding. A few small modifications and the Tarsonn crew lost control of their ship’s shields, weapons, transporters, long-range communication and propulsion. She encrypted her changes with a Borg algorithm and pulled her mind back out again. When she returned to her body, she found that zero point nine minutes had passed and there were fourteen Arnett bodies piled in the corridors, with a firefight going on all around her. An excruciating burning sensation in her leg told her she’d been hit, and she realized that Andrews had one arm around her, holding her up.

She retracted her tubules and activated her comm badge. “Seven of Nine to Voyager. Three to beam out.”

The sounds of the firefight vanished, and when they rematerialized on the transporter pad her leg ceased to support her. Andrews lowered her gently to the pad, and she noted dispassionately that her leg tissues had been severely burned from a high phaser setting.

“Thank you, Lieutenants. You performed in an exemplary manner. However, I require medical assistance,” she said, just before passing out.

 

 

-----

 

 

Janeway hopped off the biobed, happily pain free thanks to Revi’s attentions and some heavy duty analgesics floating through her system. And she was in total control of the situation; Revi had followed Seven’s mind into the Tarsonn’s computer and knew exactly when the changes had been made. She turned to Revi to thank her, but was stopped by the look of horror on the doctor’s face.

“What’s wrong?” She tried to keep the urgency out of her voice, but only one thing could have caused that expression.

“Seven! Oh, gods—”

Janeway gripped her shoulders. “Revi, talk to me. What’s happened?”

“Ayala to sickbay. Emergency medical transport coming in.”

The sound of a transporter beam shivered in the air, and they turned to see Seven materializing on the floor, still in her Velocity outfit. The odor of burned flesh assaulted Janeway’s nostrils, and she felt sick to her stomach as she saw the gaping hole in Seven’s leg and the charred fabric surrounding it. Swallowing her revulsion, she rushed to her fallen officer and, with Revi on the other side, lifted Seven onto a biobed.

Revi cut away Seven’s pant leg and carefully peeled it from the charred flesh, wincing as a significant portion of tissue came with it. Moving almost faster than Janeway could see, she sterilized the affected area, removed the dead tissue, and covered the ugly wound with a dermaplastic graft, the entire process taking less than ten minutes. While watching, Janeway contacted Chakotay on the bridge and learned that First Nestos was now demanding that she respond to his calls. With grim satisfaction she instructed Chakotay to tell Nestos that she was busy, and would get back to him when she was ready. Then she waited. She was damned if she’d leave sickbay until she heard Seven’s voice again, telling her that she was ‘functional.’ But then, Seven didn’t use that term much anymore, did she?

Revi completed her procedure and looked at Janeway. “You told me she’d be okay,” she said accusingly.

“And she is,” Janeway pointed out. “Revi, she’s here, she’s safe, and she’ll be back to normal soon. Won’t she?”

“Yes,” said Revi, sounding reluctant. “But I never realized that severe phaser burns came under the category of ‘okay.’”

“Normally they wouldn’t. But Voyager hasn’t been in a normal situation for a long time. I’ve learned to accept that if we’re alive, we’re okay. And Seven is much more than merely alive, Revi. She’s got you and her nanoprobes on her side. She’ll be fine.”

Revi’s jaw was set. She turned to her medical tray, selected a hypospray, and pressed it to Seven’s throat.

Seven’s eyelids fluttered and opened, her expression blank for a few seconds before awareness returned. Propping herself on her elbows, she looked down her body at the graft and nodded in approval. “The nanoprobes are already repairing it,” she said with satisfaction. Then her eyes widened and she turned to Revi, who was watching her with an unreadable look on her face. “It’s only a temporary injury. I will return to full operational capacity soon.”

Revi might have been hiding her emotion from Janeway, but Seven could plainly feel it. Janeway thought now might be a good time for her to return to the bridge.

“Seven, it’s good to have you back. Well done.”

“Thank you, Captain. It is good to see you looking well, also.”

She’d nearly forgotten her own injuries in her concern for Seven. “I had an excellent doctor,” she said. “Looks like you do, too. I’ll leave you in her capable hands.” With a squeeze to Revi’s shoulder, she turned and left the sickbay, activating her newly-assigned comm badge as she went. They hadn’t yet had time to sort out the pile in the cargo bay.

“Janeway to Chakotay. I’m on my way. How’s the collection going?”

“Slowly. Two hundred Arnett is a lot to move. B’Elanna is working the cargo bay transporters, and Harry and Vorik are working the transporter rooms.”

“And they didn’t complain about being put on trash detail?”

“No, they all volunteered. And Lynne volunteered to help move the bodies. I’ve got thirty crew on that detail.”

It would have been faster to use the targeting scanners to pick out Arnett life signs and transport the unconscious Arnett directly from where they lay, but that required far more energy than simply using the transporter pads. Janeway wanted to be done with this as much as any other member of her crew, but she couldn’t justify the energy output when a little manual labor would do just as well. Besides, she recognized the boost to morale that such a concrete act of closure would bring to her crew.

“Well, they’ve got about ten more minutes before the gas wears off,” she said as she stepped into the turbolift. “Then they’ll have to start stunning them.”

“I don’t think that will be a problem, Captain.”

Janeway remembered the looks in her crew’s eyes when she’d straightened up and faced them after her beating. “No, I don’t suppose it will.”

 

 

 

 


Chapter 24

 

 

B’Elanna knew she shouldn’t be taking part in this. The Starfleet side of her was shouting loudly about conventions regarding treatment of prisoners of war, and this certainly didn’t qualify. The Klingon side of her understood exactly why Lynne was doing it, and even felt a little sorry for itself that she couldn’t take part. But Lynne had a blood debt to extract. As the partner of the injured party, it was her right and hers alone.

She’d just never realized how much Klingon there was in her friend until now.

They’d finished transporting all of the Arnett but five. Duras, the two men who had held Janeway down, the man who’d beaten her, and the woman who’d suggested killing Revi had all been pulled from the group, bound, and set aside in an area of the cargo bay that the security cams didn’t cover. B’Elanna’s explanation to the other crew on trash detail was that they were holding these last five for a final interview. Nobody questioned her, and once the remaining Arnett were disposed of, the crew members left without a word. Now it was just her and Lynne alone with their “interviewees,” who had all regained consciousness several minutes earlier.

Lynne nodded at B’Elanna, who locked the cargo bay doors and put a temporary blinder in the security logs. Hopefully no one would ever have a reason to review them, but just in case she made sure they’d see nothing but an empty cargo bay for this period of time. Once she and Lynne were ready, she’d reset the logs and allow them to record the final Arnett beamout, followed by her and Lynne walking out of the cargo bay. Then it was simply a matter of altering the time index of the log so that the beamout and departure took place before the blinder section. She wasn’t about to leave any tracks.

Lynne walked around the five prisoners, cutting them all free of their bonds. When she was done she tossed the knife to B’Elanna and watched the Arnett as they stood, rubbing their wrists and looking around in confusion.

“What is the meaning of this?” demanded Duras.

“Just a little farewell gesture before we send you back,” said Lynne. B’Elanna had never heard her voice sound like that.

“Look,” said the woman, “you got what you wanted. There’s no hard feelings, right? We did what we had to.”

“Right,” said Lynne, baring her teeth in a feral smile. “And I’m doing what I have to. You’re all responsible for the torture of a woman who did nothing but try to help you. That woman also happens to be my wife. I had to stand back and watch it happen, but I don’t have to stand back now.”

“I never touched her!” said Duras. He pointed at the man who’d worked Janeway over. “He was the one who beat her.”

“At your instruction,” said Lynne. “Don’t think that just because you didn’t get your hands dirty, you won’t pay the same price.”

“I had nothing to do with it!” said the woman nervously. Lynne gave her an even stare.

“You had no involvement in her physical injury, true. But you’re worse than the rest. You knew it would hurt her more to watch one of her crew die, so as far as I’m concerned, your hands are just as dirty as anyone else’s, if not more so. Now, here’s the deal,” she continued. “I’m unarmed, and it’s five against one. You’ve all got the same shot at me. I’m giving you ten seconds to do your best, and after that you can defend yourselves as best you can.”

“I’m not taking part in this,” said Duras, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Fine, but don’t think that will save you,” said Lynne. She held her arms out from her body. “Computer, begin ten-second countdown, starting on my mark. Mark.”

“Ten,” said the computer calmly. “Nine. Eight…”

The woman looked at the others. “She won’t do anything.”

Lynne didn’t move.

“Seven. Six…”

Growling, two of the male guards charged Lynne, and B’Elanna winced at the power of the blows they landed. The Arnett were short, but well-muscled. Lynne was forced to take a step back as they rained blows on her abdomen, and a second later the woman joined in, circling around Lynne to land a kidney punch on her lower back. Duras and the man who had actually beaten Janeway simply watched.

“Three. Two. One.”

With a growl of her own, Lynne spun around and smacked the heel of her hand into the woman’s face, instantly breaking her nose. The woman screamed and fell to the floor, holding her bleeding nose and looking shocked. Lynne allowed her spin to carry her all the way around, and was facing the men with her arms up before they even realized she’d moved. They redoubled their efforts, but she knocked every blow aside with her hands and arms until she got the opening she wanted. A double punch that B’Elanna could barely even see hammered first the throat and then the nose of one guard, and he was on the floor bleeding and gasping for air. A lightning fast kick broke the nose of the second man, and before he could drop Lynne spun in the opposite direction and nailed him in the temple, instantly knocking him out. She turned and kicked the woman in the temple as well, then walked up and almost casually did the same to the man who was still gasping. Both slumped to the floor as Lynne stalked up to her last two opponents and stopped.

“Typical,” she said. “Your courage depends on your victims being held down for you.”

Duras refused to be baited. “You forget that I spent two days on this ship with you Humans. I know the rules that bind you. You can’t touch me if I don’t present a danger to you.” He held up his hands. “I surrender.”

The other guard followed his lead, and Lynne stared at them in silence before turning around. For a moment B’Elanna thought she was going to walk away, but Lynne suddenly whipped her body around in the most spectacular spin-kick B’Elanna had ever seen. Her boot hit the male guard on the jaw so hard that she heard the bone crunch from where she stood, and she was pretty sure she saw teeth flying through the air. The guard dropped, his screams muffled through his broken jaw. Lynne walked up to him and drove the heel of her boot into his face, breaking his nose as well. He went silent and stopped moving. When Lynne turned to Duras, even B’Elanna shivered at the look on her face.

“And you forget,” she said, “that I spent an hour watching my wife suffer because of you. As far as I’m concerned, you still present a danger.” She lashed out with her boot and he dropped to his knees, screaming as he held both hands over one eye. Lynne crouched in front of him and slowly pulled his hands down, looking at him dispassionately. Duras whimpered in terror.

“You’re blocking my target,” she said pleasantly, and drove her fist into his nose. He fell backwards, making hideous bubbling sounds that stopped a second later when she kicked him in the temple.

The cargo bay was silent, and B’Elanna looked at Lynne in awe. Never in a million years would she have guessed her good friend would be capable of what she’d just seen. She remembered all the times she’d jokingly invited Lynne to “step outside,” and shuddered at the thought. She was no slouch in the fighting department, but Lynne could wipe the deck with her. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear that she’d just witnessed Klingon battle rage.

“Come on, let’s take out the trash,” said Lynne, grabbing Duras by the wrists and dragging him back to the blind spot. B’Elanna shook herself out of her stupor and stepped in to help, and together they moved all five back to where they’d started.

“Computer,” said B’Elanna, “target all single-celled organic matter on cargo bay structures and transport to a point one kilometer off the port side.”

With a hum, all of the blood vanished from the cargo bay floor, walls, and computer panels. Lynne looked on in admiration. “I wouldn’t have thought of that,” she said. “Nice job.”

“Yeah, but you’ve still got blood on your clothes. Take them off. Your boots, too. And here.” She handed Lynne a small rag. “Wipe your face and hands.”

Lynne didn’t even pause, stripping down to her undershirt and handing her clothes and boots to B’Elanna, who walked over to the cargo bay replicator and ran them through the recycling setting. “At least that got rid of that funky smell,” she said. “You stink.”

“Hey, I was in the middle of my third game of Velocity with Seven when this hit the fan. I can’t help it if I haven’t had time to take a shower.”

“Well, take one before Janeway sees you. And make sure you get a dermal regenerator on your knuckles.”

“I will,” said Lynne as she pulled her clothes back on.

“Ready?” asked B’Elanna.

“Ready.”

B’Elanna stepped back to the console, waited until Lynne moved into position, and reactivated the security logs. Nodding at Lynne, she walked to the pile of Arnett and picked up the first by the wrists. Lynne was there a second later, grasping his ankles, and they used their own bodies to shield the guard’s damaged face from the security cams as they carried him out. Several of the Arnett had bloody hands from covering their noses; they wiped these with the rag before carrying them out. Soon all five bodies were stacked on the transporter pad, carefully arranged so the cams never got a clear view of their faces. B’Elanna went back to the console and beamed the Arnett out, breathing a sigh of relief when they were gone. In the meantime, Lynne had recycled the rag in the replicator.

“One last thing,” said B’Elanna. “Come on.”

They exited the cargo bay, and B’Elanna turned back to the control panel on the outside wall.

“What are you doing?” asked Lynne.

“Beaming out any other organic matter. I specified single-celled because that precludes you and me from being targeted. But I know you knocked some teeth out of that one guard, and there may be other things that the first beamout missed.”

When the beamout ended, B’Elanna quickly made her adjustments to the security log time index, including some coding that would smooth the junction between the two separate logs. Any small discrepancies at the junction would be morphed out; no one who viewed them would ever notice. She then erased any signs of the two transports, as well as her own activities within the system. Activating the comm, she said, “Torres to the bridge. Transport complete.”

“Acknowledged,” came Janeway’s voice.

“Thanks, B’Elanna,” said Lynne. “I could never have done that without you.”

Now that it was finished and she could afford the distraction, B’Elanna gladly allowed her angry satisfaction to flood her system. “Some of that blood debt was mine, too. Janeway’s my captain and my friend, and I don’t think it was much easier on me to watch them beat her than it was on you. It makes me feel better to have had some part in that.” They made their way down the corridor. “I do have one question, though.”

“What’s that?”

“Why did you break all of their noses?”

Lynne’s smile was cold. “Revi dropped a little hint on Arnett anatomy. She didn’t know why I was asking. Turns out that’s the most sensitive place on their bodies. It’s kind of like crushing the testicles of a Human male.”

“Kahless.” B’Elanna shuddered. “I never knew you had it in you.”

“Honestly, B’Elanna, I didn’t either. But when I had to sit up there in that vent and watch while they tortured Kathryn, I saw red. Literally. I really wanted to kill them. When she collapsed on the deck, I actually changed the setting on my phaser. It took a lot of self-persuasion to change it back to heavy stun.”

They arrived at the turbolift and stepped in. “Deck three,” said Lynne.

“Deck eleven,” added B’Elanna. “I understand, really. I’m just a little surprised to see this side of you.”

Lynne sighed. “One of the things I love most about Kathryn is her sense of ethics. If she ever found out about this I don’t know what she’d do, and I’m feeling guilty just thinking about it. But I’m not her. And if I’d let those five skate off scot-free after what they did to her, I would have spent the rest of my life regretting it.”

The ‘lift doors opened, and B’Elanna clapped her friend on the back. “Go shower, Fossil,” she said. “And don’t forget the knuckles.”

Lynne turned and took B’Elanna’s hand in her own. “I owe you.”

“No, you don’t. Go.”

Lynne left, and as the doors shut B’Elanna went over everything in her mind. She couldn’t think of a thing that she’d missed. Kahless help Lynne if she had missed anything, because she could hardly even imagine Janeway’s fury if she knew what her wife had done.

She shook her head, remembering Lynne’s calm demeanor as she’d kicked the shit out of the Arnett. That preternatural calm had frightened her even more than Lynne’s demonstration of her skills. That was true rage. Ironic, she thought, that her own Klingon temper often caused others to give her a wide berth—yet Lynne, with her even temper and usually cheery personality, was far more dangerous.

Chakotay was right, she thought, remembering a discussion they’d had long ago. It’s always the quiet ones who blow big.

 

 

-----

 

 

Janeway crossed one leg over the other and regarded the angry alien on her main viewer. “I’m sorry, First Nestos, but I can’t do that.”

“You can’t leave us like this!” he sputtered. “We’re sitting targets for the Visconi! I demand that you give us that algorithm.”

“You’re in no position to demand anything. And as for being a sitting target, I thought you might benefit from the lesson. Now you have an inkling of how we felt when you took over our ship.”

“We wouldn’t have harmed you. But you’re putting our entire species at risk!”

She raised her eyebrows. “You wouldn’t have harmed us? I’ve got the bruises to show that statement for the lie it is.” This wasn’t exactly true, since Revi had patched her up, but it had been true half an hour ago and that was good enough. “I’ve also got a member of my crew who was seconds away from dying at the hands of one of your soldiers. You’d better rethink that one.”

“I was speaking in larger terms. You talk of individuals; I’m talking about your crew as a whole. And if you’re trying to teach us a lesson, I think that lesson might be lost on us if we’re all dead!

“Well, you do have a point there.” Janeway pretended to consider his words, though it was difficult to keep her amusement off her face. She really shouldn’t be enjoying this so much. “Tell you what,” she said at last. “I’ll give you the algorithm if you give me the correct military codes. There are two of them.”

He stared. “How in Siglis’ name am I supposed to know your military codes?”

“Because they’re universal. Most species have an equivalent, though based on what I’ve seen of your species, maybe you don’t. So I’ll give you a hint. One code is a word you use when you wish to express regret for your actions. The other is what you say when you’re asking nicely for something.”

She heard a snort from the helm.

Nestos glared at her, his jaw working. “Fine,” he said, and by his expression she could see that he’d rather eat broken glass than do what she was asking. “We’re sorry for what we did. And may we please have the algorithm?”

She let him wait long seconds before answering. “That wasn’t bad, considering that it must have been your first time. You should say it more often; it gets easier with practice.” She uncrossed her legs and sat up. “I’ll contact my sickbay and see if our astrometrics officer is conscious. She’s the one you tried to kill on your ship, by the way. If you’d succeeded, that algorithm would have died with her and I couldn’t have done a thing to help you. A stupid move on your part; you really should try to think at least one step ahead.” She smiled at the way his face contorted before continuing, “Janeway to sickbay.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Doctor Sandovhar,” she said conversationally, “I have an Arnett captain on my screen who has apologized for his aggression against us and is now politely asking for a certain Borg algorithm to remove the lockdown on his ship’s systems. Is Seven of Nine capable of providing that algorithm?”

“One moment, please. I’ll speak with Seven and see.”

Janeway could hear the cold amusement in Revi’s voice. “Hold on,” she said to a visibly fuming Nestos, “the doctor is checking. Seven of Nine took a bad hit on your ship. Gee, I hope she can remember.”

This time it was Chakotay who snorted, and she didn’t dare look at him.

“Sandovhar to Captain Janeway.”

“Go ahead.”

“Seven was able to provide the algorithm. I’m sending it to your console now.”

“Thank you, doctor.” Janeway pulled up the algorithm and took a moment to admire it. Seven did good work. Who else could produce such an elegant piece of coding while phaser bolts were flying all around her?

Tapping a few commands into her console, she looked up at the main viewer. “You should be receiving it now. Don’t be alarmed if it takes your systems an hour or so to come back online. We simply couldn’t afford the chance that you might attack or pursue us once you had control of your ship again.”

“And if the Visconi find us in that time?” he snarled. “Do you want that many deaths on your hands?”

“No,” she said honestly. “But you left me no choice. I’d be derelict in my duty if I gave you a second chance to betray our trust. Janeway out.”

Harry responded to her cue and cut off the transmission.

“Lieutenant Paris, resume original heading and get us out of here, warp nine. Lieutenant Kim, monitor for signs of pursuit.”

“Yes, Captain,” they chorused, and in seconds the main viewer showed a scene that was balm to Janeway’s soul: the star streaks produced by Voyager’s warp passage through space. Those streaks meant that all was well with her world once again. Voyager was safe, her crew unharmed, and in less than eight hours they’d be out of Visconi territory. They were a day and a half away from the border at the normal cruising rate of warp six, but Janeway felt that in this instance a little extra speed was advisable.

She turned to Chakotay. “I need to speak with you,” she said quietly, and he nodded. “Tuvok, you have the bridge.”

When she entered the ready room, an instant feeling of comfort settled itself around her. Nothing made this room feel more like home than being denied access to it for any period of time, and she took her seat with a grateful sigh. Chakotay sat across from her.

“I wanted to commend you on a job well done,” she said. “Your actions were exemplary, and I was very pleased to hear how well you worked with Seven of Nine. I know you two aren’t on each other’s favorites list right now.”

He furrowed his brow. “Why would that matter? Any petty differences we might have had mean nothing compared to a takeover of Voyager.”

She gave him a smile. “You have no idea how happy I am to hear you call it that. ‘Petty differences.’ Because that’s how I saw it when Doctor Sandovhar first came on board, and I couldn’t understand why you insisted on making more out of it than that, despite all of the evidence in front of you.”

“Because I was wrong. I don’t have the same problem with apologies that Nestos had, Kath—Captain.” She didn’t correct him. “I apologized to Doctor Sandovhar and she accepted, and that’s that. We’re moving forward from there. Though Seven has warned me that I’m in danger of vivisection should I ever get any future ideas about hurting her partner.”

“Not surprising,” said Janeway. “When Seven gives her loyalty, she gives all of it.” She paused. “I couldn’t have gotten Voyager back without you, Chakotay. But I don’t need your services any more. You have a sentence to finish out.”

“Understood.” He rose and turned to go.

“One more thing,” she said. “I’m knocking three days off your sentence in recognition of your services today. So I’ll see you in four days.”

He smiled. “Thank you, Captain.”

 

 

-----

 

 

Seven of Nine was getting impatient. The Doctor was hovering over her, detracting from the time that she could spend alone with Revi; her leg itched from the nanoprobes making repairs; and Revi had forbidden her to move until officially released. She was required to simply lie there doing nothing, and the combination was extremely unappealing.

: Revi, how many times must I repeat this same information? I am perfectly fine. You know as well as I do that the nanoprobes will remove all signs of damage within the next forty minutes. What purpose is served by keeping me here? :

Revi was at the other end of sickbay, working on inventory. She didn’t turn around. : The purpose being served is my own peace of mind. So shut up and stay put, because you’re going nowhere until I’m satisfied that you’re all right. :

Seven sighed. On this topic, Revi appeared to be quite beyond the reach of logic.

: Damn straight I am. And if I ever get hurt, you’ll understand exactly how illogical you can get, too. :

: I have already seen you hurt. I remained perfectly logical. :

Revi turned around and smiled at her. : Oh? Was it logical to threaten the first officer of this ship with physical violence should he ever touch me again? :

Seven crossed her arms over her chest. : Yes. Exceedingly so. :

Revi laughed, eliciting a startled look from the Doctor. She shook her head at him. “Private joke, Doctor.”

He huffed. “You know, it could be considered quite rude to carry on a conversation that does not include the third person in this room.”

“Why are you assuming that I’m carrying on a conversation?” she asked mildly. “I’m just laughing at a joke.”

“Probably for the same reason that I assume you require an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere to survive,” he said. “It’s simply a fact.”

She shrugged. “Okay. You got me there. Maybe you should give me lessons in socialization, Doctor. I hear you’re quite good at those.”

He glared. “On second thought, I don’t wish to be included in this conversation.”

“Suit yourself.” Revi turned back to her inventory, and Seven dropped her head on the pillow with a sigh. Thirty-eight minutes to go.

 

 

 

 


Chapter 25

 

 

Janeway rolled over in bed, stretching out and wincing at the pull of newly-healed muscles. No matter how advanced their medical care was, there was still a price to be paid for the kind of physical abuse she’d taken yesterday. She was going to be sore for a while.

She checked her chronometer and was surprised to see that they’d slept for ten hours. Nothing like the sleep of the deserving. But she was ready for a cup of coffee, and for that she needed Lynne. Originally, the stasis container holding her fresh beans from Lynne’s Earth visit had been kept out of her reach, in Lynne’s quarters. But when Lynne had moved in, she’d installed a lockout code on the container to ensure that Janeway couldn’t give in to temptation. It was amazing, she’d said, that the same captain who could move a starship with pure strength of will couldn’t muster the will power to keep her hands out of the coffee container. Janeway had pointed out that coffee was a completely separate category from anything else, and her lack of will power did not in any way reflect on her normal capacity.

She never told Lynne, though she assumed it was obvious, that she could have broken through that lockout code in minutes. Its mere existence was enough to keep her out, and besides, she enjoyed the game they made out of rationing her beans. Left to her own devices, she would certainly have gone through the entire fifty pounds long ago, and she was grateful to Lynne for helping her make it last.

But she wanted a cup now.

“Lynne,” she said softly, brushing her wife’s hair away from her face and dropping a kiss on her temple. “You awake?”

“Mmmm.” A sleepy groan answered her. “I’m awake. I was just enjoying lying here.”

“You’ve certainly earned it. But I’m wondering if I could talk you into a cup of coffee.”

Lynne’s eyes opened. “Well,” she said in a clearer voice, “you’ve certainly earned that. Are you sure you only want one?”

Janeway grinned. “I didn’t know I had options.”

“If there’s anything I’ve learned about you, Kathryn, it’s that you make your own options.”

“True.” She threw her covers back and reached for her robe. “I’ll take you up on your offer, then. Let’s have a leisurely morning.”

“Sounds great to me.” Lynne sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed, stretching and yawning. “I could use a cup of cocoa myself.” She stood up and retrieved her robe, turning toward Janeway as she pulled it closed and belted it. “Shall we?”

But Janeway had stilled all movement, her eyes riveted to Lynne’s stomach. “What happened to you?”

“What?” Lynne looked confused.

Janeway was around the bed in a second, pulling Lynne’s robe open. She stared at the hideous bruising. “How did you get these?”

Lynne glanced down, and when she raised her head again there was a flash of fear in her eyes. She paused just a little too long before answering.

“I spent half the day crawling around Jeffries tubes and air ducts yesterday. I guess I just didn’t realize I hurt myself.”

Janeway looked at the bruising again, then reached out for Lynne’s hands, turning them over and inspecting the knuckles. They were perfect: no scrapes, no broken skin anywhere.

“That’s quite a trick,” she said. “I’ve crawled through a few Jeffries tubes and ducts in my day, too. I never managed to keep my hands quite so pristine, especially if I bruised the rest of my body that way. However did you pull it off?”

Lynne said nothing, and Janeway shook her head. “You’re lying. You didn’t get these bruises from Jeffries tubes. Don’t you think I’ve had enough of these on my own body recently to recognize them?” At Lynne’s continued silence, she dropped her hands and demanded, “Who beat you?”

Lynne tied off her robe. “I can’t tell you that.”

“Unacceptable!” she shouted. Lynne flinched, but she was too upset to care. “Why are you hiding these? Why did you lie to me?”

After a long silence, Lynne met her gaze. “Because I can’t tell you the truth.”

That stopped her cold. She pulled the tie on Lynne’s robe again and ripped it open, the familiar marks bringing a lump of fury into her throat. “The hell you can’t. Someone beat you, and as your wife and your captain I have a right to know who. Tell me. Now!”

She knew she had lost when the mask slipped over Lynne’s face. It was a look she hadn’t seen in a long time.

“I’m sorry, Kathryn. It’s over and done, and there’s nothing you can do. Please don’t ask me anymore. I can’t tell you.”

“You’re honestly going to stand there with these bruises on your body and tell me that I should just put this out of my pretty little head?”

Lynne shrugged, and Janeway’s impotent fury boiled over. “This is not what a marriage is about, Lynne. You promised me. You promised that you would let me in; that you wouldn’t keep things from me anymore. Is this what your promises are worth?”

She’d struck a hard blow, and the evidence was in the tears that sprang to Lynne’s eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Lynne repeated, her voice breaking. “That’s all I can say.”

Janeway stared at her, then turned and went into the bathroom without another word. When she came out ten minutes later, the bed was made and the room was empty. She pulled on her uniform and stalked into the living room, where Lynne sat at the table with a cup in front of her. She met Janeway’s eyes and indicated the cup.

“I made your coffee,” she said softly. Janeway knew it was her way of apologizing.

It wasn’t nearly good enough. She didn’t even break stride as she backhanded the cup into the wall, feeling a dark satisfaction when it shattered. She continued on her way and said, “I’m going on duty. You do whatever the hell you want; you’ve got a day off.”

The door closed behind her and she stopped in the corridor, taking a deep breath. Technically this was her day off as well, though she’d planned to go on shift after taking a few hours to herself this morning. She’d be on duty until Chakotay’s sentence was completed. Now she was grateful for the necessity, since at the moment she couldn’t bear to be in the same room with Lynne. She needed to keep busy.

And she had a mystery to solve.

 

 

-----

 

 

B’Elanna pulled a stack of banana pancakes out of the mess hall replicator and looked for a place to sit. Seeing Lynne sitting by herself at a corner table, she brought her tray over to join her.

“Hi, Fossil. Haven’t seen you in a couple of days.”

Lynne turned her head, and B’Elanna sucked in her breath at the changes in her friend’s face. “You look like shit. What happened?”

There was a pause before Lynne answered. “We forgot something,” she said.

For a moment B’Elanna didn’t know what she was talking about. Then it hit. “Kahless on a crutch! What? I went over that five different times and couldn’t think of a thing.”

“It wasn’t anything you did. This was totally my fault. Remember the ten seconds?”

“Yeah, what about them?”

“Remember the hits the Arnett got in? They left bruises.”

B’Elanna groaned. “Oh, no. And she saw them.”

“She saw them.”

“Not to pile blame on you when you’re down, but why the hell didn’t you use a regenerator?”

“I did—on my hands. I didn’t even know there were any marks on my stomach. Tuvok taught me how to tighten my abdominals to prevent gut punches from causing damage, and I think that, plus the adrenaline, kept me from feeling anything. I was sore the next morning, but I didn’t realize there was bruising until Kathryn pulled my robe open.”

B’Elanna covered her eyes in sympathy. She could only imagine. “So what happened?”

“We had a huge fight when I wouldn’t tell her who beat me, she stormed out, and now I’m sleeping on the couch.”

“She threw you out of bed?”

“No. She slept on the couch the first night, and I couldn’t stand the thought of her being the one out there when she didn’t do anything wrong. So I took it last night and gave her the bed.”

B’Elanna stared. “Wait a minute. You mean you two haven’t talked about this in two days?”

“No. I won’t tell her what she wants to know, and she’s not saying a word until I do. It’s bad, B’Elanna.”

“Fossil, I know you don’t want to, but you might just have to tell her and ride out the storm.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not? What’s the worst she can do?”

Lynne looked at her incredulously. “Don’t you get it? I committed a crime. Very much premeditated. And you helped me cover it up. If I tell her the truth, she’s going to come down on both of us like a ton of bricks. I’m not worried so much about myself, but you could lose everything. She could strip you of your rank and make you my cellmate for the next fifteen years. Do you want to move your wedding to the brig?”

B’Elanna felt a rush of heat wash over her as she considered the implications. “Funny,” she said, “I never actually considered that until now. I just thought of what she’d do to you.”

“Well, consider it. The stakes are too high. I can’t ever tell her the truth. Even if I tell her part of the truth and keep your name out of it, she’d figure it out. You were there doing the transporting. She’ll know you helped me. I’ll just have to wait this one out.”

B’Elanna took a bite of her food, which now tasted like dust in her mouth. She shoved the plate to one side and rested her chin in her hand. “This is not good.”

“No, it’s not.” Lynne looked at her dully. “I don’t know what to do. This is the worst it’s ever been. It’s hell sharing quarters with someone who looks at you like you’re nothing but an enormous disappointment.”

“Oh, I know that look. It’s awful. I’d rather scrub out the exhaust manifolds with my tongue than see it again.”

“Yeah, well, try living with it.”

Lynne wasn’t doing well, and B’Elanna had no idea how to help. “Well, Fossil, if you ever need a shoulder or a spare bed, you know where I live.”

Lynne’s answer scared her more than anything else so far.

“I never thought I’d say it, B’Elanna, but I might have to take you up on that offer.”

 

 

-----

 

 

Janeway stood at the viewport in her ready room, staring at the passing star streaks. It had been three days now and she was getting nowhere. She’d repeatedly asked Lynne to tell her the truth, trying everything from rage to pleading to outright emotional manipulation, and each time she’d gotten the same response: an apology and a steadfast denial. Several times she had asked why Lynne couldn’t say anything, and that had only gotten her silence and a shake of the head.

Her home life was intolerable. She couldn’t stand being in her quarters and she couldn’t tell Lynne to leave. So it was up to her to go. Today she’d brought a few things to her ready room before the start of her shift; she’d be sleeping here for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime she’d spent every available spare hour trying to figure out Lynne’s secret. Discreet inquiries among her crew as to whether anyone knew the cause of Lynne’s bruises had produced such a symphony of emphatic negatives that she was more suspicious now than before. Something had obviously happened, and it was equally obvious that there was a serious cover-up going on. She’d pulled every security log that had Lynne in it, for the entire day of the Arnett takeover, and had found absolutely nothing but Lynne working, playing Velocity, walking with her out of the cargo bay, carrying bodies, walking through corridors, doing completely normal activities. Nowhere was there a record of Lynne in a physical altercation, or anything even close. She’d done a temporal analysis of the logs, and everything lined up. There was no missing gap. She just couldn’t get her hands on the truth, and the more she looked, the farther away the answers seemed to get. It was frustrating in the extreme, and Lynne’s continuing refusal to talk had pushed her initial fury into something so white-hot that she couldn’t even describe it.

Did their wedding vows mean nothing?

 

 

-----

 

 

Chakotay stepped out of his quarters for the first time since the Arnett takeover, in uniform and feeling great. His sentence was served; his rift with Sandovhar was, if not healed, at least ended; and everything from here on out would be better than it had been. He had nowhere to go but up, and was looking forward to earning his way back into Janeway’s good graces. He was reasonably certain, from the fact that she’d reduced his sentence, that he was already making progress.

He whistled as he rode the turbolift, and walked onto the bridge with a bounce in his step. Greeting the officers already present, he sat down and logged into his console, catching up on the events of the previous two shifts.

The doors to the ready room opened and Captain Janeway stepped out, taking her seat with a stiffness that struck Chakotay as odd. Janeway was normally fluid in her movements, often slouching in her chair as if she had no spine at all. Not this morning. She greeted him with a coolness that he wasn’t expecting, not after seven days’ absence, and his bonhomie began to slip.

It didn’t take him more than ten minutes to figure out that something was very wrong. The atmosphere on the bridge was extremely tense, and the nexus of that tension was sitting right next to him. He had no idea what had happened in the last four days, and a reading of the logs provided no enlightenment. All he could do was wait until an opportunity presented itself to ask someone.

The opportunity didn’t come until the lunch break, which he spent making discreet inquiries. His network gave him enough hints to cause considerable alarm, and he spent the second half of the shift strategizing on how to acquire more information.

By the next morning, when Janeway once again came onto the bridge from her ready room, he knew the extent of the problem. How to deal with it was another thing altogether. He had one faint hope that intervention might not be necessary, because Janeway’s expertise as a mediator had been requested by a space port that they were now approaching, which meant Lynne would be going with her. Maybe those two would patch things up on their own.

This hope was dashed at the end of the third day, when Janeway returned from her away mission and gave him a PADD of orders. One of them was to transfer Lynne Hamilton back to the security pool, along with a request for an alternative personal security escort. He was glad he was in his office when he read that one, because his shock and dismay would certainly have shown on his face had he been on the bridge.

It was time to take action. He walked into sickbay a few minutes later, finding Doctor Sandovhar finishing up an exam on Crewman Chell. He waited until Chell left and Sandovhar stopped in front of him.

“Something I can do for you, Commander?” she inquired.

“I’m hoping so. Can we speak privately?”

She led him into her office, closed the door, and looked at him expectantly.

“I need your help,” he said without preamble.

“Well, that’s about the last thing I ever thought I’d hear from you.” She gestured to a chair in front of her desk and took her own seat. “Do you have a medical issue?”

“No, I have a personnel issue. Involving the captain.”

She nodded. “I’ve heard rumors. It sounds like she’s not a joy to work with right now.”

“That’s an understatement. Have you also heard any rumors about Lynne and the Arnett?”

The instant guarded look on her face told him all he needed to know.

“Listen,” he said quietly, “I know what happened. Or at least as much as anyone can know. The scuttlebutt is that Lynne took care of the trash that tortured the captain, and there isn’t a soul on this ship that isn’t cheering her on. Except Captain Janeway. I don’t think she has any evidence, first of all because nobody’s telling her anything and second because if she did, she’d have handed down a sentence by now. But she certainly knows something, and it seems to have caused a serious rift in her marriage. She just gave me the order to reassign Lynne back to the security pool and assign someone else to the role of personal security escort.”

“Oh, shit,” said Sandovhar. “That’s not good.”

“I’ll be honest with you, Doctor. I’ve seen Captain Janeway in some pretty deep depressions, but this one already beats them all. She’s angry and depressed at the same time, and it’s a bad combination. It’s affecting morale in a big way. We need to fix this, but I’m not on her list of confidants right now. She won’t listen to anything I have to say. I need someone she trusts.”

Sandovhar looked at him with incredulity. “And that’s why you’re here?”

He nodded. “She’s close to you. I need you to talk to her. Get through to her. Convince her, somehow, that she doesn’t need to do this to herself or Lynne. Nobody on this ship will think any less of her if she just lets this slide. In fact, I think if she took any disciplinary action, she’d lose the respect of a lot of the crew.”

“Do you count yourself in that number?” asked Sandovhar.

Chakotay eyed her. This one was cagey.

“I’ll respect Kathryn Janeway no matter what,” he said. “She’s earned that from me in six years of working together. But if she lets her Starfleet principles drive her in this situation, it would be a mistake. Because this isn’t a Starfleet situation. I freely admit that I myself didn’t pay too much attention to the comfort of the Arnett that my team dealt with. When I threw Duras out of the captain’s chair after I gassed the bridge, I was kind of hoping something might break when he landed.”

Sandovhar regarded him with an unreadable expression. “So you don’t think Lynne should be punished?”

“I think she’s serving a sentence right now. So is the captain.”

“And yet you just got out after seven days’ confinement, for something much less.”

Chakotay shook his head. “I made a mistake that put valuable members of this crew at risk. Lynne’s actions put no one on this crew at risk, and actually raised morale considerably. It’s not exactly a Starfleet attitude, but maybe I’m looking at this from more of a Maquis standpoint.”

He could tell he’d surprised her. Good. She didn’t know him as well as she thought.

“All right,” she said at last. “I’ll try it tonight, after my shift. I’m working a double. Besides, if she’s tired she might be a little more open to listening. I hear she’s sleeping in her ready room these days.”

“You’ve got a good handle on the grapevine,” he said with reluctant admiration.

“It’s not hard in sickbay. Sooner or later, everyone comes through here. Kind of like the barbershop.”

He hadn’t expected the humor. “Thank you,” he said as he stood. “One other thing, in case you haven’t seen her since we got Voyager back—she hasn’t been eating. I know the signs.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

He nodded. “Good luck,” he said, and turned to go.

“Commander.”

When he turned back, she was looking at him with that same unreadable expression. Then she smiled, and he was stunned at how completely that smile transformed her face.

“Call me Revi,” she said.

 

 

-----

 

 

Janeway pulled up the cargo bay log again. She’d finally put the puzzle together the previous evening, and it had shocked her to such an extent that she’d actually gotten sick to her stomach. Never, never would she have thought Lynne was capable of this, and she had no idea what to do about it. Part of her longed to throw the truth in Lynne’s face and dare her to explain it, but she couldn’t. If she admitted that she knew the truth, then she’d have to make an official response to the crime. And the hell of it was that no matter how bad a crime Lynne had committed, she still loved her and would rather die than administer the appropriate punishment. She simply could not hand down a five- to fifteen-year sentence to her wife. Nor could she do that to B’Elanna, for that matter. Maybe six years out here was telling on her, because she knew she was breaking a dozen different regulations with her silence. It made her an accessory to the crime.

She’d gotten her first real clue on the third viewing of this log, when it had occurred to her to wonder why the last Arnett beamed out of the cargo bay had been unconscious. By the last few beamouts, the gassed Arnett had regained consciousness. Some of the crew had stunned them, but others had found it easier to move them when they were conscious, and the disarmed Arnett hadn’t put up any fight. The penultimate beamout from the cargo bay had involved conscious prisoners. Why, then, had the last five been different?

That had been the loose thread which, when pulled, had revealed the whole unsavory truth. The clues began to add up. Now that she knew where to look, it finally caught her attention that she couldn’t see a single face among the final five Arnett. In prior beamouts the prisoners had been stacked haphazardly, always showing at least two faces among the pile. When she’d examined the last set more closely, she recognized Duras by the slight difference in his uniform. The female among them, she suspected, was the woman who’d had the bright idea of killing Revi. The other three males couldn’t be identified, but she could certainly make a guess.

Then she’d magnified the images, looking for any other clues. Eventually she’d found something on the cargo bay floor that gleamed dully in the light, and maximum magnification had revealed it to be a tooth. God in heaven, a tooth. She’d actually stopped breathing when the implication hit her. A high-magnification scan of Lynne had shown no evidence of what she’d done, but that only made her feel worse. Not only had Lynne taken physical revenge on the Arnett, but she’d done it very carefully and covered it up perfectly. And Janeway knew that Lynne most certainly did not have the programming knowledge required to fake this log. There were only a few individuals aboard Voyager who did, and one of them was in the cargo bay with Lynne.

Having Lynne with her all day today had been pure torture. She couldn’t even look at her, and felt Lynne’s eyes on her back almost every second. There was simply nothing she could say, beyond giving commands, and by the end of their time at the space port she knew she could never do this again. She’d given Chakotay the reassignment instructions within minutes of her return.

With a sigh, she closed down the log and wearily made her way to the upper level of her ready room. This had to be resolved one way or another, but she still couldn’t see any way out of it.

As she reclined on the couch and pulled the blanket up to her chin, she gave up trying to hold back the tears.

 

 

-----

 

 

“Wake up!”

Janeway blinked in the too-bright light. What the…

“Come on, Captain.” Her blanket was whisked away. “Get up.”

Slowly she pushed herself into a sitting position, shocked at the effrontery of her intruder. “What the hell are you doing in my ready room?”

“Seeing to a patient.” Without so much as a by-your-leave, Revi took her chin in a firm hold and injected her in the neck.

“What was that?” Janeway demanded, jerking her head away.

“A cocktail of vitamins, electrolytes and essential minerals, since you obviously haven’t been eating properly for the last week. You can’t go on like this.”

Her shock vanished in a blazing fury. “You’re presuming a lot on our friendship.”

“I’m not here as your friend, I’m here as your doctor. Starving yourself is not in the best interests of this ship. I can’t believe how different you look from the last time I saw you.”

“Fine. Give me a prescription and get out.”

“Oh, no, it’s not that easy. My job is to get to the source of the medical issue. Starving yourself is only a symptom. There’s something else going on, and her name is Lynne Hamilton. Remember her? Your wife?”

Janeway leveled a sizzling glare at her. “You are way out of line, Doctor.”

The glare appeared to bounce right off as Revi took a seat on the couch next to her. “So,” she said casually, “the problem is that Lynne beat the shit out of the Arnett who beat the shit out of you, and you can’t forgive her for it. Does that about sum it up?”

She was so stunned that she forgot to be angry. “How did you…”

“Everyone knows what happened. You can’t keep secrets on a starship. And every member of this crew wants to give Lynne a medal. So why are you so upset?”

Why did she feel like she had lost control of this conversation before it even started?

“She committed a crime, Revi! You don’t think I have the right to be a little upset? And not just any crime, a war crime. Punishable by up to fifteen years incarceration, even if she isn’t Starfleet. And B’Elanna helped her cover it up. Yes, I’m a little unhappy about it.”

Revi regarded her seriously. “The Federation is not at war with the Arnett.”

“No, but a hostile invasion of a starship is an act of war,” snapped Janeway.

A charged silence hung in the air as they eyed each other, until Revi sighed and rubbed her forehead. “Kathryn, you can logic this out any way you want. You can call it a war crime, and you can throw the book at your wife and your chief engineer for doing what any other member of this crew would have given fifty rations to do. But what will that accomplish?”

“Nothing!” said Janeway in a tight voice. “Why do you think I’ve let it go?” She took a deep breath, realizing that she’d allowed herself to get far too upset. She needed to retake control.

“You haven’t let it go,” said Revi gently. “If you had, you’d be home right now with Lynne instead of sleeping in your ready room and driving your bridge crew completely insane. You know it’s bad when Commander Chakotay comes to me to ask for help. We’ve actually ironed out our differences because of this.”

Janeway stared at her—and laughed. It was shaky and on the ragged edge of tears, but it broke the wall around her heart. “Well, I’m glad something good has come out of this. Because other than that, it’s a disaster. Lynne’s put me in an impossible position.”

“Nothing’s impossible,” said Revi, taking her hand. “You’ll figure something out.”

Janeway took immense comfort from the gesture, but she shook her head. “There is no way out. I can’t be with her unless we get this out in the open. I just can’t live with a wife who won’t tell me the truth. But if I acknowledge the truth, I’ll have to punish both her and B’Elanna. So it’s either put both of them in the brig for the next decade or so, or let them keep their freedom and dissolve my marriage.”

“Holy gods!” Revi was horrified. “That’s the corner you’ve driven yourself into? No wonder you’re in such bad shape. Those are not your only options.”

“Then I’m all ears. What am I missing?”

“About half your brain,” said Revi. Janeway glared at her, and she shook her head. “I didn’t mean it like that, really. What I meant was that you’re thinking of this solely from a Starfleet perspective. There’s a whole other side to this that you’re not considering.”

“And that is?” Janeway was still stinging from the brain comment.

“The family perspective. Kathryn, listen to me very carefully. What Lynne did had nothing to do with Starfleet and everything to do with her love for you. And if you think she and B’Elanna are the only ones, then think again. I’m the one who told Lynne where to hit them in order to incapacitate them the quickest.”

If Janeway thought she’d been stunned before, she was wrong. This took the prize. “You? How could you? You’re a doctor!”

“I’m also a Human being who is loyal to her captain and loves her friend. And I had to stand there and watch them hurt you. I had to hold you afterward and see you trying to cope with the pain. I heard you when that guard kicked you where he knew it would hurt the most.”

“But your Hippocratic oath—”

“Applies to my patients. And if I ever end up with more Arnett in my sickbay, even the ones who beat you, I’ll care for them to the best of my ability. But these weren’t my patients, not at that time, and my greater concern was for Lynne. She’s not very good at dissembling, you know. She thought she was being subtle when she asked about Arnett anatomy. I had a good idea as to why she was asking, and frankly I intentionally didn’t pursue it. I also didn’t want her getting hurt, so I told her how to take them out in a manner that would give them the least chance of injuring her.”

“Jesus.” Janeway didn’t know what to think. “You’ve got a ruthless streak in you. It’s just not something I’d expect in a doctor.”

Revi furrowed her brow. “Do I?”

“Well, aren’t you supposed to consider all life sacred?”

“I didn’t tell her how to kill them. And being a doctor in Starfleet is a little different from private practice. There’s a military aspect that has to be taken into account. And on top of that, the Borg literally rewired my brain. Maybe that changed me in ways I’m not aware of. But my reverence for life hasn’t changed, and I personally could not have done what Lynne did. That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel a sense of satisfaction when I heard about it. To me and to everyone else in this crew, that was an act of justice.”

“It is not Lynne’s prerogative to hand out her own personal justice.”

“As a member of this crew, no it’s not. But as your wife? Don’t you think the rules might be a bit different?”

“That’s an excuse. A comparable situation would be if, say, Harry Kim were to assault B’Elanna. Would that give Tom the right to beat up Harry?”

“Well, first of all B’Elanna would lay Harry out with one punch, so your analogy needs a little work.”

“I’m not in the mood for jokes, Revi.”

“Neither am I. And your analogy is flawed. If Harry hurt B’Elanna, she and Tom would have legal recourse. They could depend on you to make sure that justice was done, and everyone on the crew would know that Harry would pay for his act. Now, switch to our current situation. Our captain was hurt by aliens. Who could we depend on to make sure justice was done? Not you. Certainly not any of the Arnett. There wasn’t going to be any justice, Kathryn. The rules didn’t apply. So Lynne made her own, and there isn’t a single person on this ship who would want to see her punished for it. Except maybe you.”

“I don’t want to see her punished! For god’s sake, that’s the problem!” Janeway felt a headache coming on, and pinched the bridge of her nose.

“It is? If you don’t want to see her punished, and nobody else on Voyager does, then I fail to see any problem at all.”

“There’s a problem in allowing an act of vigilante justice to go unanswered. I have to think of crew morale and ship’s discipline.”

“Kathryn, crew morale went up when word of this got around, and it will take a nose dive if you hand out a sentence. As for discipline, I don’t think that’s an issue. Do you think your crew will be responsive to the lesson that they can expect a brig sentence if they act out of loyalty toward you when you can’t protect yourself? And if you really do want to teach that lesson, then you’ll have to punish a bunch of us. I’m on the top of the list after Lynne and B’Elanna. Then there’s Chakotay, who says he didn’t take too much time to worry about the comfort of the Arnett his team dealt with. Seven says she lacked only the opportunity to cause some serious damage. She certainly had the motive and the desire. And the crew on trash detail knew exactly why five specific Arnett were being picked out of the lineup. Quite a few of them have said they only wished they could have helped, but they knew it was Lynne’s right.”

“Wonderful. I appear to have lost control of my entire crew.” This was far worse than she’d thought.

Revi squeezed her hand. “Turn your brain around and think of it from the other direction. You haven’t lost control of your crew. You’ve earned their loyalty, their respect, and in many cases their affection. And they all had to stand there in the cargo bay and watch you being systematically beaten. To my way of thinking, if they hadn’t taken some sort of action or expressed the desire to do so, you should be far more worried. And of all the crew, Lynne was the hardest hit. She knew it was coming and had instructions to let it happen. She had to watch it, knowing she could prevent it, but she obeyed her orders. Her job is to protect you, and she was forced to fail.”

“She didn’t fail. She performed her duty perfectly.”

“I didn’t say her duty. I said her job. I’m not talking about your personal security escort, I’m talking about your wife. Who loves you beyond all reason, and made an official, legally binding promise in front of all of us to love, honor and protect you. She was forced to break that promise, also in front of all of us. She couldn’t protect you. How do you think that made her feel?”

“Revi, I understand her motivation. But the fact remains that she committed a crime, and there are consequences for that. And as her captain, I bear the burden of ensuring that those consequences are carried out.”

Revi gripped her shoulders with her hand and the clamp on her cybernetic arm, something she’d never done before. In the back of her mind, Janeway noticed that the clamp was oddly warm.

“You’re not listening to me! I realize that your devotion to running this ship according to Starfleet discipline is what’s gotten you to this point. You’ve got a well-oiled team out there, who have made it through crises that would certainly have ended the journey of any less-disciplined crew. But you have to realize that although the Starfleet way may be right ninety-nine percent of the time, there’s another one percent that requires a different way. That one percent is when you have to think of this crew as a family, not a crew. We’re in a unique situation, and Starfleet regulations do not apply every single time. This is one of those times.”

“So you’re saying I should just let this go, openly acknowledge Lynne’s actions, and condone them.”

“No. I’m saying you should acknowledge this to Lynne, get it out in the open with her privately, and sweep it under the rug as far as the rest of the crew is concerned. Every ship has its episodes that are generally known and never officially acknowledged. In this case, the worst thing you could do is behave as a captain, because the actions you’re concerned with have nothing to do with your rank and everything to do with the personal feelings you’ve engendered in the people who love you. Kathryn, you’re the one who told me, not two weeks ago, that you’d learned that black and white ethics don’t work out here. This is as gray an area as ever existed. You cannot respond to it with pure Starfleet principles.”

Their faces were centimeters apart, and Revi’s eyes were burning with the intensity of her emotion. Suddenly Janeway remembered that she wasn’t just talking to Revi anymore. Seven was in there, too.

“What’s Seven’s opinion on this?” she asked.

Revi pulled away, and Janeway instantly missed the connection. It had been seven days since Lynne had last touched her, and her body craved physical contact.

“She says she doesn’t understand why you’re having such difficulties. Since the entire crew is already aware of the event in question and approves it—and in many cases facilitated it—your own indecision on the matter is an inefficiency of the highest order. Your collective has already moved on without you.”

Janeway couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks, Seven.”

“She says you’re welcome. And I’d like to know if you’ve seen Lynne recently.”

“I spent the day with her today.”

“Yes, but did you actually look at her?”

“No,” admitted Janeway. “I couldn’t.”

“You need to,” said Revi. “She’s not doing well. Less well than you, in fact, and that’s saying something. As far as the crew is concerned, this whole issue is a moot point. But as far as you and Lynne are concerned, it’s tearing you apart. You need to deal with this. And you need to repair your marriage, because the rift is affecting the morale of this entire ship.”

“As the captain goes, so goes the ship,” said Janeway.

“Yes. But in this case, there’s more affecting morale than just the captain. Lynne has a lot of friends, too.” Revi tilted her head. “Seven has a question for you.”

“Go ahead.”

“She wants to know how you can claim the high moral ground when you have also committed an act of pure vengeance.”

“When—”

“T’sin Lessia.”

Janeway closed her eyes. She’d conveniently forgotten. No, she’d actively put it out of her head. The action she was least proud of, when she’d deliberately set out to ruin a political leader after her betrayal had nearly gotten Lynne and B’Elanna killed.

“Seven’s right,” she whispered. “I have no high moral ground.”

There was a long silence as they stared at each other. Finally Janeway nodded. “Thank you, Revi. And Seven. You’ve given me a lot to think about.”

“Am I being dismissed?”

“Yes.” Her gentle tone took any bite out of the oblique order. “I think you’ve made all your points quite well. Now I need some time to work on the problem with this new perspective.”

“Okay.” Revi stood up. “Don’t stay up too late, Kathryn.”

She glanced at the chronometer to see that it was after one o’clock in the morning. “What are you doing up this late, anyway?”

Revi smiled. “A friend needed my help.”

“I thought you were here as my doctor.”

“That too.”

Janeway stood up and pulled her into a hug. “Well, your friend is grateful.” She released Revi and gave her a gentle push toward the door. “Now get out.”

“I’m going.”

When the ready room doors closed, Janeway called up a cup of coffee from the replicator and took it to the viewport. For some time she stood there, slowly sipping her coffee and watching the star streaks. When the cup was empty she set it down, walked to her desk and input a command into her terminal.

A minute later Tuvok appeared, wearing a robe but otherwise looking as awake and alert as if his captain hadn’t just woken him up at 0130.

“Yes, Captain,” he said.

“Tuvok, I apologize for calling you at this hour. But I need your input on a security matter.”

 

 

 

 


Chapter 26

 

 

It was nearly two a.m. when Janeway entered her quarters.

“Lights, one-eighth,” she said quietly. The illumination revealed a pillow and neatly folded blanket on the couch; apparently Lynne had moved back into the bedroom. Carefully she walked across the living room, but before she went through the doorway she could see that the bed was still made.

“Computer, locate Lynne Hamilton.”

“Lynne Hamilton is in Holodeck Two.”

“Pretty damned late to be playing in the holodeck, Lynne,” she said as she turned around.

Minutes later she stood in front of the holodeck control panel, swallowing the lump that had appeared in her throat when she’d seen the file name. Without a second thought she overrode the privacy lockout and stepped through the doors. The familiar path stretched ahead of her, running along the ridgeline and vanishing behind an enormous boulder. When she rounded the boulder she saw Lynne, still in uniform, sitting on the edge of the cliff where Janeway had accepted her marriage proposal. Her arms were wrapped around one drawn-up leg and she was resting her chin on her knee, while the other leg dangled over the edge of the precipice. Janeway knew it was just an illusion, but the sight of Lynne sitting so casually on the edge of a thousand-meter drop made her heart race. She had a feeling that Lynne did this sort of thing all the time when she was climbing.

Making no effort to mask her approach, she walked up to her wife and settled down next to her.

“Tell me,” she said, staring straight ahead. “Are you paying the actual cost right now, or the potential one?”

Lynne turned her head, and Janeway followed suit. She was shocked by the glaze in those normally sparkling green eyes. Lynne looked lifeless.

“This is the potential cost,” Lynne said. “The one I was so afraid of. I never thought it would come so soon.”

“I didn’t either.” When Lynne didn’t respond, other than to look back out at the view, Janeway sat back and admired the mountain scenery. After several minutes she tried again.

“This can’t go on.”

“I know.”

“Then let’s finish this. I want my wife back. But I can’t live in a relationship where deception and withholding of truth are considered appropriate. So I’ll ask you one more time: what happened?”

Lynne closed her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said in a dull voice. “I can’t tell you that.”

Janeway sighed. She could simply say that she already knew, but to her mind it was absolutely imperative that Lynne come out with the truth on her own. Otherwise what were those promises worth? She couldn’t do this for Lynne; she couldn’t set that precedent. It would put the burden on her for all future situations where Lynne was uncomfortable with disclosure. This was the same problem they’d faced from the first days of their relationship, and she knew that if she gave up now, she’d be setting the wrong path for the rest of their lives.

Lynne had to talk, and she could only think of one thing left to try. It was drastic, but if it didn’t work she could always back down later. Maybe a little time spent contemplating the cost would bring Lynne around.

“All right,” she said. “If you won’t tell me the truth, if you won’t keep your promises to me, then we have nothing left to talk about.” She slipped off her wedding ring, pulled one of Lynne’s hands away from her leg, pressed the ring into her palm and closed her hand around it. Lynne’s face was a mask of disbelief as she opened her hand and stared.

“No,” she whispered.

“It’s not what I want,” said Janeway. “But you’re leaving me no choice.”

“No…”

“Goodbye, Lynne.” She got up and began to walk away. She hadn’t gotten five steps before a heart-wrenching scream tore out of Lynne’s throat.

“NOOOOO!”

Janeway turned at the sound of flying gravel and saw Lynne scrambling up, one hand pushing off the ground while the other was held clenched to her chest. Her foot slipped in the loose rock, sending her to one knee, and to Janeway’s horror she stayed down, crouching on her hands and knees in the dirt, her head bowed as she made an inarticulate sound of utter despair.

Janeway didn’t even think; she was beside Lynne in a moment, dropping to her knees and pulling at her wife’s shoulders. Lynne looked up and surged into her arms, nearly sending her over backwards. She’d been shocked back to life, and her words were almost indecipherable as she sobbed, gasped and hiccupped in her agony.

“P..please, Kathryn! D..don’t leave me! I’ll have nothing left...nothing…” She buried her face in Janeway’s shoulder and gave herself over to her sobbing. Their position was tenuous, and Janeway shifted in an attempt to sit more comfortably, but Lynne was a dead weight. She hid her face in Janeway’s neck and refused to let go, her body shaking with the force of her crying. “P..please…p..please…,” she gasped, over and over, and Janeway began to cry as well.

“I don’t want to,” she said through her tears.

“Then don’t! God, Ka…Kathryn, don’t!”

“Lynne, listen to me,” said Janeway, trying to get control of her own grief. “I can’t live like this. Neither can you. You have to tell me the truth.”

“I can’t!” Lynne wailed. “It’s not just about me!”

“No, it’s about us.”

“No!” Lynne began to hyperventilate. “I…I mean…it’s not j…just my…s..secret.”

And it all fell into place. What else could have induced Lynne to withhold the truth, even at such a terrible cost, except her damned loyalty? She’d never been afraid to pay the price for her decisions before now. This was all about protecting B’Elanna, and it had been from the start. Lynne had said as much when she’d repeated, every time Janeway asked, that she couldn’t tell the truth. Janeway groaned, hating herself for not having seen it. She crushed Lynne in her arms.

“Oh, Lynne, god, I’m so sorry. It’s okay, sweetheart, take deep breaths. Slow down…slow down…take a deep breath. That’s right. You’re okay. I’m so, so sorry.” Lynne was starting to get her breathing under control, but Janeway was on the edge of completely losing it. She’d missed it, she hadn’t seen it at all, and she’d put Lynne through hell.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered again, and this time Lynne responded.

“For what? You don’t have anything to be sorry about.”

“I should have known you were protecting B’Elanna.”

The sudden cessation of Lynne’s breathing was startling. She pulled back and looked at Janeway, her eyes and nose streaming. “What did you say?”

“I said, I should have known you were protecting B’Elanna.”

Lynne wiped her nose on her sleeve in a gesture that made her look six years old, but the agony in her face was a sharp contrast. “I don’t understand. You knew?”

“Not until yesterday. B’Elanna’s good; it took me six days to figure it out.”

“Then why were you asking me just now?”

Janeway closed her eyes briefly. “Because I thought you were just refusing to tell me the truth, and I can’t live that way. I needed you to tell me on your own. But I didn’t realize that it wasn’t just yourself you were protecting.” She brushed Lynne’s hair off her face. “And also because I don’t have the details.”

Lynne nodded slowly, tears still sliding down her cheeks. “Can you ever forgive me?”

“Don’t you know by now that I can forgive you for anything?”

“Even a crime?”

Janeway looked at her steadily. “Even that. What happened?”

Lynne was unable to hold the gaze. After a long pause, she said, “I couldn’t let them go without paying for what they did to you.”

“So you beat them.”

“I wanted to kill them. In that air vent I actually changed the setting on my phaser. It took every ounce of willpower I had to change it back. But I didn’t have enough willpower to just let them go. I’m not like you. I wish to god I was.”

“I don’t,” said Janeway, and Lynne’s eyes came back to hers. “I love you the way you are. Except when you lie to me and keep the truth from me. That can’t ever happen again.”

Lynne shook her head frantically. “I didn’t mean to lie. I was just so scared that I didn’t know what to do. We were so careful; B’Elanna thought of everything, and then there were those fucking bruises.”

“Yes, she did think of everything. Not only that, but this entire crew seems to know what happened and they’re all mute as tree stumps. I would never have known if I hadn’t seen the bruises. Why didn’t you take care of them?”

Lynne looked disgusted. “Because I didn’t even know they were there. I never felt them.”

“How did you get them?” It was the question that had started this whole mess.

“I gave them all a free shot at me.”

Janeway stared at her. That was not what she’d been expecting. “I think you’d better start from the beginning.”

“I will. But will you take this back first?” Lynne opened her fist, revealing the ring she’d clutched the whole time. Slowly, Janeway took it off her palm and slid it back on her finger. When she looked up from her hand she saw fresh tears streaming down Lynne’s cheeks.

“Don’t cry,” she whispered. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“If you do it will kill me.”

“If I do it’ll kill us both. I can’t live without you either. Now tell me what happened.”

And Lynne did, telling her every detail. Even the unpleasant ones. Janeway didn’t make it easy, interrupting her every few minutes.

“Let me get this straight. You had three of them attacking you at once, and you knocked them all out?”

Lynne didn’t seem to get the significance. “They’re pretty small. It wasn’t really a fair fight.”

“I’d say giving five-to-one odds, with a ten-second head start, is a more than fair fight. And I know how hard those bastards can hit. I’m sorry, Lynne, I did you a disservice. When I found that tooth on the security log I envisioned you beating up on restrained prisoners. I thought maybe they’d gotten in a couple of lucky kicks.”

“No!” Lynne was shocked. “I could never do that. That would have made me almost as bad as they were. Though the last two might as well have been restrained for all the defense they put up. If I hadn’t been so blind with rage I probably couldn’t have gone through with it. They actually tried to surrender.”

“Playground bullies,” said Janeway. “Happy to dish it out, but they don’t know what to do when it comes back at them.”

“I just wish they’d thrown one punch at me. Anything. I look back at that now and I can’t believe I did it.”

“I can’t either, but you know what?”

“What?”

“A very basic, uncivilized part of me is glad you did. They betrayed our trust and they hurt me. A lot.”

“You’re glad?

“I said part of me is glad. The rest of me is not happy about it at all. Now go on with your story.”

Lynne finished her narrative, stopping several times to answer questions, until Janeway was satisfied. “What are you going to do?” she asked in resignation.

“Nothing.”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“I did, but I don’t understand. I committed a crime.”

“Actually,” said Janeway, “now that I know what really happened, that crime is a whole lot smaller than I thought. In essence, you were involved in a brawl. Three of the five attacked you first. If I were to take action on this, it would only be for the last two. And I have no intention of taking any action.”

“Why not?”

“Several reasons. One, it’s been pointed out to me that there was apparently a long line of willing crewmembers who would gladly have done it if you hadn’t. And I’m not sure all of them would have been quite as fair as you were. Two, the entire crew knows what happened, and they’re all keeping your secret. If I punish you I’ll actually injure discipline rather than encourage it, which is the whole point of punishment. I’ll also injure morale, which is a precious commodity on this ship. Three, I’ve come to realize that in this case, I don’t need to and in fact should not respond as your captain, but rather as your wife. Even Tuvok says that given the unique circumstances of the situation, he has no plans to pursue an investigation. And four, I’m guilty of the same crime of vengeance, so if I made you pay for your actions I’d have to pony up as well. And I really don’t want that on my record.”

“Okay,” said Lynne, “I got all that except the vengeance part. When did you do that?”

“When I forced a confession from T’sin Lessia and broadcast it over her entire planet.”

“I thought that was an act of assistance to the Tsians.”

“That’s how it’s recorded in my log, certainly. But in my heart? It was revenge, pure and simple. I wanted to hurt her for hurting you. Remember when you said you changed your phaser setting and then changed it back? I did the same thing.”

Lynne’s eyes were huge. “You went down there with your phaser set to kill?”

“Set to vaporize is more like it. I was full of righteous fury and I had Tsian law behind me. I changed the setting just before beaming down.”

“Jesus.”

“I know. I didn’t think I had it in me either. But love does strange things to one’s ethics.”

“That’s for sure.”

After a short silence, Lynne asked, “How could you think I’d beaten up on restrained prisoners?”

“Because I had damned little to go on, Lynne. You weren’t saying anything no matter what I did, so all I could think was that whatever had happened, you were terrified of my reaction to it. So terrified that even my moving out didn’t change your mind about telling me. I combed every security log that you were in that day, and eventually I realized that there was something a little off about that final Arnett transport in the cargo bay. So I went through it at high magnification, and I found a tooth on the cargo bay floor. Now, the average humanoid would go to great lengths to avoid getting a tooth knocked out of their head, so I could only assume that the owner of that tooth hadn’t been able to prevent the blow. I was envisioning B’Elanna holding them while you beat them. It was completely out of character for both of you, but to my mind it certainly would have explained why you were so terrified of me finding out.”

“Well, I’m glad it at least seemed out of character. But it hurts that you could actually think that.”

“And it hurts me that it had to come to this before I learned the truth,” Janeway said sharply. “Besides, B’Elanna is acting out of character. I would have thought she’d have far more honor than to let you take the fall alone. She knew what was happening between us and she didn’t say a goddamned word.”

“Whoa, wait!” Lynne held up her hands. “Don’t be so hard on her. She’s tried several times to convince me to talk to you. Then she threatened to talk to you herself. I wouldn’t let her.”

“Why not?”

“Because I know you. Or I thought I did. I was certain you’d strip her rank and toss her in the cell right next to mine. I couldn’t let her take that kind of punishment when all she did was a little programming. It was my crime, not hers.” Lynne tilted her head. “And frankly, I’m still shocked that you’re willing to look the other way. No matter how we argue it, the line between right and wrong is still pretty clear. And I’m on the wrong side of it.”

“Yes, you are. But I didn’t make my decision based on that line. I made it based on the consequences. If I punish you and B’Elanna, it will accomplish nothing and cause a lot of harm. If I don’t punish you, then I live with the knowledge that I turned a blind eye to a crime on my ship. That’s not going to be easy. But of the two prices, I’d rather pay that one. Sometimes it’s not a matter of choosing between right and wrong. It’s a matter of choosing between wrong and more wrong.” She remembered trying to help Chakotay understand this concept, and how she’d told him that these were the decisions that kept her up at night.

Weariness washed over her, sapping her strength. She’d been up enough nights over this one; she wanted to go to bed. In her own quarters, with her wife.

Lynne was looking at her sadly. “I’m sorry I made you pay any kind of price. The last thing I wanted to do was to hurt you.”

Janeway nodded. “I know. We both got hurt on this one. But if you’re willing, I’d like to put it behind us. I’m ready to go home; how about you?”

The look on Lynne’s face was heartbreaking. “You’re coming home?” she whispered. As Janeway nodded, Lynne closed her eyes and swallowed hard. “Thank you.” When her eyes opened again, the gratitude in them was almost more than Janeway could bear. Only an hour ago Lynne had been so dull, so lifeless, and all because Janeway had been too angry to think straight. She’d missed the obvious, she’d walked out instead of fighting for her marriage, and now Lynne was thanking her for coming back. God, what an irony. They’d both made mistakes, but Lynne’s had been rooted in protection and loyalty, while Janeway’s sprang from…what, affronted ideals? Disappointment in her wife? Were either of those good enough reasons to cause this kind of damage?

Lynne stood, her normal grace having returned, and quickly slapped the dirt off her pants before holding out a hand. Janeway took it and stood still, letting Lynne brush her off as well.

“Thanks,” she said when Lynne straightened up.

“Oh, don’t thank me. That was purely gratuitous. I haven’t touched you in a week and it’s been killing me.”

“Me too,” said Janeway, as they began walking down the path hand in hand. “It’s strange. I went along just fine for five years without any physical contact, and now five days is torture.”

Lynne ended the program, and they exited into the darkened corridor. “It’ll be nice to sleep in the bed tonight,” said Lynne. They stopped in front of the turbolift and Janeway hit the call button.

“Where have you been sleeping?” she asked in some surprise.

“The couch.”

“Why?”

The ‘lift arrived and they stepped in. “Deck three,” said Lynne. “Because I kept hoping you’d come home, and if you did I didn’t want you to have to sleep in the living room. The whole situation was my fault, so I was the one who should have been on the couch. I felt awful that first night when you wouldn’t come to bed.”

They emerged onto deck three, and were soon in the comfort of their own quarters. “I hated it as much as you did,” said Janeway. “But I was too angry and hurt.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, Lynne. We’re done with it. The only thing I want right now is for you to hold me for what’s left of the night. I need to feel you.”

Judging by Lynne’s response, she needed it just as much.

 

 

-----

 

 

Janeway woke with a start. Something was wrong. She heard a whimper from Lynne, and sat up in alarm. “Lynne?”

Lynne tossed her head back and forth, making small, unhappy noises. Her hair was stuck to her forehead with sweat.

Janeway touched her shoulder. “Lynne, wake up.” Nothing happened, and she shook her harder. “Lynne. Come on, sweetheart, wake up.”

With a gasp, Lynne sat bolt upright, staring wildly and breathing hard. Janeway rubbed her back; it was slick with sweat. “It’s okay, it was just a nightmare.”

Lynne dropped back onto her pillow. “Oh, god.”

“Can you tell me about it?”

“It’s the same one I’ve had every night since you left. I didn’t think I’d have it tonight.”

She brushed Lynne’s damp hair off her face, continuing her caresses long after the hair was tucked back. “What happens in your dream?”

Lynne’s eyes closed as the soothing motion relaxed her. “I’m in the cargo bay. With the Arnett. Except there are more of them, and they’re all beaten and bloody. They’re lying all over, in pools of blood, and I’m the one who put them there. And then you come in, shouting at me.”

When several seconds passed in silence, Janeway prompted her. “Then what happens?”

Lynne’s face showed the effort it was costing her not to cry. “Kathryn…”

“Tell me.”

Tears slipped from beneath her closed lids, and her voice was barely a whisper. “And then I tear into you, and you’re screaming, and I can feel your bones breaking under my fists, and there’s blood everywhere. Oh, god, I’m so sorry.” She put her hands over her eyes and began to cry softly.

“Lights, one-eighth,” said Janeway. “Lynne, look at me.”

Slowly Lynne pulled her hands away, and Janeway sucked in a breath as the gentle illumination showed the ravages her nightmare had wrought. She looked far older than her years.

Taking a hand in her own and holding it tightly, she said, “Look at my face, sweetheart. I’m all right. It was just a nightmare.”

“I know.” Lynne reached up to touch her cheek. “But I feel horrible.”

“You didn’t do it.”

Lynne looked at her sadly. “Yes, I did. There was screaming, and there was blood. A lot of it. We had to wipe it off their hands so we wouldn’t drop them while we were carrying them.”

In her sleep-fogged state, it took Janeway a second to make the connection. “Oh, Lynne...”

“I wanted to hurt them like they’d hurt you, and I did. It felt good. They couldn’t touch me, Kathryn. I seem to have become very proficient at hurting people. But it doesn’t feel good any more. It feels awful.”

Without letting go of the hand she held, Janeway rolled onto her back and tugged. “Come here.” Relieved when Lynne willingly snuggled in, she wrapped an arm around her back and began running gentle fingers through her hair. “Remember the day you became ta’nek?”

“Of course.”

“Do you remember our discussion about you hurting people?”

“I remember we talked about a lot of things.”

“I said I was worried about you losing your innocence. And you said you weren’t turning into someone else, and that you couldn’t get jaded about hurting people because of your training. This dream is your mind trying to reconcile your actions with who you are, because you were right, Lynne. You haven’t changed into someone else, and you’re not jaded. What you’re feeling right now is proof of that. But you have lost your innocence. I wish it were different, but it’s not. So now we just move on from here. It may take you a long time to deal with what you did, but I’ll be right here beside you the whole way.”

There was no sound but their breathing for some time. Janeway continued to caress Lynne’s hair, knowing it was the most effective way of relaxing her. Her heart ached for her partner, but there was only so much she could do.

“Kathryn?”

“Hmm?”

“Thank you for loving me. Right now it feels like the only thing in my life that’s right.”

Janeway dropped a kiss on the top of her head. “You might as well thank me for breathing. It’s not something I can stop doing.”

“I love you too, you know that, right? And I would never hurt you.”

“I know. Computer, lights out.”

She stroked Lynne’s hair in a slow, gentle rhythm, and eventually heard her breathing even out. Gently she kissed her one last time, then rested her tired arm and stared into the night, wide awake.