VGR J/C, P/T, Vo/Ca
Warning: Rated M™© for violence and non-explicit sexual content. Potentially triggering for tone. For warnings which may contain spoilers, click here.
Categories: Ship, Het, Action, Drama, Lower Decks
Pairings: Janeway/Chakotay, Paris/Torres, Vorik/Campbell
Characters: Lyssa Campbell, Tom Paris, Kathryn Janeway, Chakotay, B'Elanna Torres, Vorik, Tuvok, Harry Kim
Spoilers: Unity, Scorpion, The Raven, Hope and Fear, Drone, Timeless, Dark Frontier, Survival Instinct, Unimatrix Zero, and Nightingale. References to the TNG episodes Q Who?, The Best of Both Worlds, I, Borg, and Descent, as well as the movie First Contact and the DS9 episode Emissary. Two points to the first person who finds the reference to the novel No Man's Land by Christie Golden.
A/N: The crew experiences a new kind of closeness. Set after Nightingale but before Lineage.
Credits: The Starfleet Survival Guide by David Mack, The Biology of Star Trek by Susan Jenkins, M.D., and Robert Jenkins, M.D., Ph.D., Star Trek Star Charts by Geoffrey Mandel, Star Trek Science Logs by Andre Bormanis, Star Trek The Next Generation Technical Manual by Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda, The Voyager Companion by Paul Ruditis, and The Star Trek Encyclopedia by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda. Without these valuable resources it would be much harder to create plausible stories with an authentic Star Trek setting. Thank you to Anne Rose, Squirrelly, and Diana Forester for great beta advice.
Disclaimer: Paramount, resistance is futile. Your intellectual property will be assimilated.
Chakotay fired, but the Borg drone had already adapted to his phaser's pulse frequency. He raced forward, only to hit a force field. The pain didn't register. He searched for a way to disable it, ignoring Janeway's shouted order to retreat.
She couldn't think he'd leave her.
When her phaser proved equally useless against the drone, she aimed her plasma infuser at its ocular implant. The drone fell, but two more arrived before she could flee.
Chakotay cried out, struggling against the force field, unable to turn away as she lost her battle.
As if in slow motion, he watched the assimilation tubules emerge from the drone's arm and puncture his captain's neck.
"I'm familiar with your tastes." Lyssa Campbell paused at the turbolift. "Unsophisticated is a very diplomatic label for them."
"Oh come on." Tom Paris rolled his eyes. "I enjoy a little light-hearted entertainment, but that doesn't mean I'm any less sophisticated than those who read Dante."
"I never said that. Deck two. Does your new program involve Dante?"
"No, but -- "
"No, but -- "
She grinned, backing down the corridor to maintain eye contact. "What does your new program involve, Tom? Twentieth century television, perhaps?"
"Well, actually, yes, but -- "
"At least tell me the women aren't scantily clad. If B'Elanna disembowels you, I'll get stuck with your sickbay shifts."
"There is a beach," he admitted. "You can't expect people to wear environmental suits on a beach."
"Of course there's a beach. I'll make you a deal." She picked up a tray and cast a wary eye at the lunch selections. "If you can convince Vorik to try it, I will too."
"Why Lyssa, I never would have guessed." He wagged his eyebrows at her. "So how long has this been going on?"
"There's nothing going on. I only meant that -- "
"The kids will be adorable. Look, he's sitting all alone."
"We'll have to join him then." She grinned. "Try to behave in a sophisticated manner."
"Does that mean it matters which fork I use?"
"You only have one fork, and you'd better use it."
"I will, just as soon as my back feels itchy."
She rolled her eyes. "Mind if we join you, Vorik?"
"I have no objection."
Tom set his tray down. "An excellent sign, Lyssa. Your mere presence fails to offend him."
Vorik raised an eyebrow. "I beg your pardon, Lieutenant?"
"Tom thinks you should father my future children," Lyssa explained. "Just nod and smile, I find that's the best policy."
"Vulcans don't smile."
"I'm betting there are exceptions to that rule," she said. "To claim otherwise would be illogical."
"I know what will make Vorik smile," Tom said. "My new holodeck program."
"I doubt that," Lyssa said.
"Oh, come on, Vorik, you'll love it. It's a classic. See, the characters are stranded on this island -- "
Lyssa groaned. "Let me guess. Every attempt to get home fails, only just barely, and they never try an idea twice. Do you know how unrealistic that is?"
"It's not supposed to be realistic."
"Actually, that sounds like an accurate portrayal of human behavior," Vorik said. "Twice now, this crew has modified Voyager's engines with new technology and traveled more than ten thousand light years, only to dismantle the new parts when we failed to reach Federation space."
"True," Lyssa said. "Why is that?"
Tom shrugged. "We never found a way to correct the phase variance during a slipstream flight. We were lucky not to hit a planet the last time."
"We also lack the necessary benamite crystals for the quantum matrix," Vorik said. "It would be more logical to pursue the option of utilizing transwarp technology."
"We don't have a transwarp coil," Tom said. "Let's not suggest we go looking for one, either. It scares the hell out of me every time we mess with the Borg."
"No ship in the galaxy has a better record against the Borg," Lyssa said. "Maybe we should give it one more try."
"It's not worth the risk."
Lyssa studied his face. "Even if it could get us home?"
"I am home," Tom said. "Earth can wait."
Music could have chased the silence from her quarters, but Janeway lacked the energy to call up a selection. The computer offered too many choices anyway, and she just didn't care enough to pick one.
As captain, she must have made six dozen decisions over the course of the day, and she didn't want to make even one more in her off duty hours, irrelevant or otherwise. Not that she was ever truly off duty, not out here in the Delta Quadrant where a dozen threats lurked behind every asteroid. She couldn't drop her guard. Her crew couldn't afford it.
The door chimed.
So much for off duty. "Come."
"We missed you at Sandrine's," Chakotay said.
Ah, that lecture. Well at least he cared, although she wished he didn't. The suppressed emotions between them twisted a simple protocol into torment. "I had a few reports to review."
"Reports can wait," he said. "You're needed on the holodeck."
"I doubt that the word 'needed' is entirely accurate."
"You're wrong there, Kathryn." Only Chakotay could put so much tenderness and affection into those two syllables. He grinned at her, and any trace of impropriety left his voice. "If you don't get down to the holodeck, there won't be anyone to beat Tom at pool."
She studied his face and considered her options. She could surrender now, or hold out for a bribe.
He flashed his most winning look. "Put Tom in his place and your coffee is on me for the rest of the week."
"It's a deal."
"I've been thinking about stealing a transwarp coil." Lyssa sat down across from Vorik. "I might have an idea, but I could use your help working out the details."
He regarded her with typical Vulcan seriousness as she outlined her plan.
"This mission has an acceptable probability of success," he said. "You could increase your odds by changing the power source on your personal biodampener, as the Borg are now aware of these devices and are likely to scan for their power signatures."
"Good idea," she said. "What about the power requirements for the transporter modifications?"
"Your expertise in that area is superior to mine. You might consider using a power source compatible with Borg technology to minimize the possibility of detection."
"We certainly have enough salvaged Borg components in the cargo bay," she said.
"I'd advise caution if you move those containers." His tone of voice changed slightly; she almost suspected that he intended humor.
She studied him. "Why's that?"
"Someone, presumably Lieutenant Paris, has concealed several bottles of alcohol among the components. It could prove inconvenient for him if they were relocated."
"I think I'll avoid that," she said. "He's already going to be as mad as a wet cat when I propose this."
"You've left out one detail," Vorik said.
"I know. We need to take down the cube's shields for long enough to transport aboard."
"Lieutenant Torres has some theories in that area."
"Good," Lyssa said. "I wasn't all that anxious to suggest sacrificing another shuttle."
"That's probably best," Vorik said. "I suspect that B'Elanna's imitation of a waterlogged feline is somewhat more impressive than Tom's."
"Good morning." Janeway leaned on the table in the briefing room, meeting the gaze of each member of her senior staff. "Ensigns Campbell and Vorik have a proposal, and I for one am eager to hear your reactions to it."
She certainly looked excited, Chakotay noticed. She practically crackled with energy. He hoped that meant that she'd recovered from whatever had been bothering her for the last few days.
Ensign Campbell clutched her PADD so hard that her knuckles turned white. "We are currently twenty four thousand two hundred and ninety light years from Federation space," she said. "Two years ago, we obtained a transwarp coil and covered twenty thousand light years before it burned out. I'm proposing that we get ourselves another coil."
Chakotay felt sick. He knew Kathryn. If this plan had a shred of merit, she'd jump on it. He glanced at Tom. Everyone else might be crazy enough to go sightseeing on a Borg cube, but he could count on Tom to back his objection.
Vorik explained his proposed modifications to the personal biodampeners that the Hansen's had used while studying the Borg. Seven commented positively on the design.
Chakotay watched B'Elanna, willing her to find a flaw.
"The power source you're suggesting," B'Elanna looked thoughtful. "Could it produce enough output to hide our phasers and tricorders as well?"
"It could," Vorik said.
"The transporter modifications we've designed also use Borg components," Lyssa added. "They won't detect a Federation power signature at all."
Damn. The plan had merit. He swallowed hard and tried not to look at Kathryn.
"I'm impressed," B'Elanna said. "To get on board, we can -- "
"Have you all lost your minds?" Tom asked. "You're not seriously suggesting that we tangle with the Borg for the fun of it?"
"It's a way home," Harry said. "It's a good plan."
"No plan that involves the Borg is worth the risk," Tom argued. "We've had too many close calls as it is. I say we forget transwarp altogether and try to find some benamite crystals for the slipstream drive."
Chakotay agreed, but kept silent.
"Without a way to compensate for the phase variance the slipstream drive is useless," B'Elanna said. "You know that."
"I do," Tom said. "And I also know I'd rather take my chances with that then let you beam on board another Borg cube."
"People." Kathryn stood and met Tom's gaze. "We aren't here to argue. Lieutenant Paris, if you have a viable plan regarding slipstream technology, I suggest you submit your proposal to me. Now, can we be ready to run a mission simulation on Tuesday?"
"I think so," Lyssa said.
"Good. We'll plan on it. Dismissed."
"You were quiet," Kathryn said. "What are you thinking?"
"I bet you can guess," he said. "I don't want to have anything to do with the Borg. We've been lucky so far, more than lucky, and I don't think we should go looking for trouble."
She met his gaze. "Don't make me do this without your support."
"I won't," he said. "You'll have my full support, because you are not setting foot on a Borg vessel without me beside you, not this time."
"Chakotay -- "
"You're the captain, but I have enough clout around here to stop you, and if I have to, I'll use it. I won't lose you to the Borg. This crew needs you."
"Chakotay, we can't both go on an away mission this risky -- "
"Tuvok is more than capable of commanding this ship." He caught her hand. "I can't watch you walk off the bridge to face the Borg, not again, and I won't. If we do this, we do this together."
The moment stretched as they stared each other down.
"Okay," she said at last. "We'll do this together."
Janeway took the PADD that Tom held out to her. "What's this?"
"The proposal you requested regarding slipstream technology."
She scanned the contents. "You're better versed in mathematics than you led me to believe."
"Those are Harren's calculations," he said. "They're only preliminary, but he's agreed to meet me in the holodeck for a simulation."
"I'm impressed. If you can work out the phase variance, how do you intend to proceed?"
"By Lieutenant Carey's estimate we'll need fourteen months to manufacture enough benamite crystals for a trial run, but with a little luck we might be able to trade for some. The Doctor met a Dinaali trader who talked about a slipstream drive, and Neelix -- "
"You've certainly done your homework. You have my permission to proceed."
"And the transwarp idea?"
"I'm not prepared to abandon it," she said. "It's a good plan."
"In that case -- "
"Your objections are noted, Tom."
He shook his head. "I'm requesting permission to participate in the mission."
She studied his tense posture and drawn face. "I know how you must feel -- "
"With all due respect Captain, you don't, or you wouldn't go through with this. I'm sure B'Elanna has volunteered, or will. I'm going too."
"I can't choose this away team based on people's feelings."
"And who is more qualified to pilot that shuttle? Because don't tell me that you intend to run this mission from Voyager and risk the entire crew."
He had her there. "Report to holodeck two at 0800 for the first simulation."
"What could possibly possess you to do something so stupid, Paris?"
"You volunteered, but I can't? Why the double standard?"
"This mission requires an engineer -- "
"It has one," Tom argued. "Vorik came up with this plan."
"It's Campbell's plan," B'Elanna snapped. "At least keep your facts straight. This away team doesn't need members who are opposed to the mission. It's too dangerous -- "
"So you admit it's dangerous."
"Of course I do, I'm not stupid."
"It's not worth the risk."
"Then why did you volunteer?"
His voice softened. "You know the answer to that, B'Elanna. Now let's get going or we'll be late."
She felt a little of her anger evaporate. "I've been studying the mission parameters, and I think if we take a shuttle, we can fly just inside the cube's shields. It'll take some pretty fancy piloting."
He grinned. "See? I have my uses."
"That you do, Flyboy."
"Good work," Janeway said. "That third time was four minutes faster than the second."
"I still think B'Elanna and Vorik need someone to watch their back while they assemble that thing."
"You're needed on the shuttle, Tom." B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "We can take care of ourselves."
"If a skirmish with the Borg delays you, it'll jeopardize the whole mission. Timing is everything."
"I have to agree," Janeway said. "We'll go in with five people, which means we need one more volunteer."
"I'll go," Harry said.
"I would be the more logical choice," Tuvok said. "The task calls for a security officer."
Janeway looked from one to the other. Tuvok had only recently recovered from partial assimilation, while Harry had recently attracted the Borg Queen's personal attention. She didn't particularly want to subject either of them to this mission, but she pushed aside her personal feelings and focused on the command decision.
"Harry," she said. "You'll be in command of Voyager while we're gone."
Seven once again widened the search grid as she scanned local space for a Borg power signature. She heard the doors to Astrometrics slide open behind her, but she didn't raise her eyes from her console.
"I hope I'm not interrupting?" The Doctor crossed the room to stand beside her.
"There is nothing to interrupt," she said. "I am making little progress."
"You don't sound too disappointed about that," he said. "I can't say that I blame you."
"I have no reason to feel disappointment," Seven said. "This search pattern will continue until I locate a target."
"Well don't do that too quickly. I'm still synthesizing an improved variety of neural suppressor."
"The captain will wait until the vaccine is ready. There is no need for me to deliberately slow my work."
"If the captain had any sense she wouldn't have approved this mission in the first place. You'd think her last experience with the Borg would have cured her inexplicable fascination with visiting them."
"We're not dropping in for tea, Doctor. A transwarp coil could get us back to the Alpha Quadrant." The captain came over to peer over Seven's shoulder. "Any progress?"
"I have not yet located a cube."
"Let me know the moment we do," Janeway said. "The away team -- "
"Captain, I must insist that you wait for the anti-assimilation vaccine," the Doctor said. "To rush off without -- "
"I may be reckless," Janeway said. "But I'm not suicidal. How much longer?"
"Thirty-six hours," he promised. "If the Borg have adapted to the previous formula, they should find this one has a little more punch. I've modified -- "
"Captain." Seven tapped her console and a Borg cube appeared on the viewscreen. "I have acquired your target."
Janeway studied Harry Kim. He'd come a long way from the eager young ensign so anxious to impress that he nearly sprained something saluting her.
"This mission is a gamble," she said. "For you, most of all. If the dice fall wrong, you'll be captaining Voyager through the Delta Quadrant. It won't be easy, but I have faith that you'll take good care of them."
He swallowed, for a moment looking very much like that fresh-from-the-academy officer she remembered.
"Leading this crew has been the most rewarding experience in my life," she said. "But being a captain isn't always a privilege. It requires sacrifice. Sometimes it feels so lonely that it nearly overwhelms you, even though you are surrounded by people that you love. Your first duty is to those under your command, and you can't forget that.
"Your orders are to proceed to the rendezvous point and wait. If something goes wrong, you are not to come after us. The safety of this ship comes first, and if something does go wrong, then the Borg will have your coordinates. Set a course out of there. Is that clear?"
"Yes ma'am," Harry said.
"There's nothing I can say to you that will make you a better captain when the time comes. You'll find your own path, and I have faith that you'll do well. But I want you to follow one last order from me: Get this crew home."
"I'll do my best, but I don't think it will be necessary. I think you'll be the one to get Voyager home, Captain, and I think it will be soon."
The words didn't come from a green Ensign trying to flatter his captain.
Janeway smiled. "Don't hang any abstract art in my ready room, Mister Kim. It'll end up in the recycler."
"I hope everyone packed light," Janeway said as the away team assembled in the shuttlebay.
"Tom smuggled a jukebox on board," Ensign Campbell said. "It shouldn't be a problem, though. I beamed it into space."
Tom didn't rise to the bait, and she covered with a comment about extra power cells.
Janeway noted the tension between the two and hoped it wouldn't become an issue. "B'Elanna, you and Tom start the preflight check. Chakotay, Vorik, and Campbell, triple check those transporter components. We can't do this if we're missing a part. Tuvok, you're with me."
Satisfied with the supply of weapons and emergency rations, Janeway headed up into the cockpit and discovered they were missing one thing: adequate seating.
"This mission just might provide a bit more togetherness than we bargained for." Tom grinned at her. "You can take the engineering station, Captain. I'm sure B'Elanna will be happy to sit on my lap."
B'Elanna snorted. "Not likely, Flyboy."
"I'll make it worth your while," Tom said.
"Stow it, Tom, I'm not an exhibitionist."
"That's a shame." Tom smirked in Vorik's general direction. "I'm sure this lot could learn something."
Chakotay cleared his throat.
Janeway glanced at him. "Okay people, let's do it."
Lyssa found herself studying Vorik. Did he feel the same pre-mission jitters that she felt? Or did Vulcans really have an immunity to undesired emotional reactions, as they claimed. Just how strong was their control? She couldn't imagine keeping such a tight rein on her own feelings. She'd never seen Vorik smile, but then again she'd never seen Mortimer Harren smile either, and she knew that he had emotions.
She always enjoyed working with Vorik. He was a talented engineer, and he never complained about anything. He often proved himself capable of subtle humor. A Vulcan never ruined a punch line by laughing prematurely, or punctuated a joke with an elbow to the ribs.
Some people complained that the quiet company of Vulcans made them nervous, but since they lacked the need to fill every silence with conversation, Vulcans never repeated a story. Lyssa found that refreshing, especially after two weeks of recalibrating phase transition coils with Freddy Bristow.
"It's almost show time," Chakotay said. "Nervous?"
Kathryn looked up at him and nodded almost imperceptibly. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't, but it's a good plan. It'll work." She fiddled with her combadge. "I do wish we'd been able to test B'Elanna's shield modifications."
He caught her arm and tried to give her an encouraging smile. "We'd need our own Borg cube for that."
"If we had that, we wouldn't be doing this." Her smile didn't reach her eyes.
"True." His own smile probably didn't look any more genuine. "Kathryn, we can do this."
"We've done it before." She laid her hand on his shoulder. "I'm glad you're here, Chakotay."
He smiled and squeezed her arm. "It's where I belong."
They stared at each other. Chakotay wished he could pull her into his arms, even for a moment. He started to wonder if perhaps she'd let him get away with it, if only just this once.
"Captain, we have the cube on sensors."
They jumped guiltily apart, but if Ensign Campbell had noticed anything, she kept silent.
Kathryn took her coffee out of the replicator. "Let's go take a look, shall we?"
They headed up to the tiny command deck.
"There it is."
The sight of a Borg cube always made his insides turn cold. He looked at Kathryn, sipping from her steaming mug, and wondered if that somehow explained her coffee addiction.
"Have they noticed us?" Janeway asked.
"So far so good," B'Elanna answered.
"Okay Tom, take us closer."
Everyone held their breath as the Delta Flyer edged up beside the cube.
"Closer, Tom," B'Elanna said.
"Any closer and we'll be able to hit it with spitballs," Tom said.
"That's the idea." B'Elanna ignored her husband's unique brand of humor and concentrated on her console.
Everyone else watched tensely.
The Flyer edged in closer to the cube.
"Okay, hold it steady."
"Are you sure about this, B'Elanna?"
"If it doesn't work, we won't live long enough to worry about it." Her hands flew over the console. "Raising shields."
"Brace for impact," Janeway said.
A jolt ran through the Delta Flyer and the small ship began to vibrate.
"It'll work," she said. "We just have to trick them into thinking that our shields are part of theirs, then the cube will make the correction and invite us in."
The vibrations increased.
"Structural integrity at ninety-two percent," Vorik reported.
"Dropping shields on my mark," B'Elanna said, her voice distorted by the vibrations.
"Ready," Tom said.
"Do it," Janeway said.
The Flyer pitched hard to starboard, throwing half the crew to the floor.
Tom's hands flew over the controls.
"We're in," B'Elanna reported.
"Good flying, Tom," Janeway said. "Now for the hard part. Let's do it."
They left Tom sweating over the helm, maintaining the Delta Flyer's precarious position in the narrow space between the Borg cube and its own shields.
Tuvok stepped onto the transporter pad beside a stack of cargo containers, and Lyssa beamed him to the cube. B'Elanna and Vorik followed.
Janeway hoisted her toolbox. "We're next."
Chakotay nodded, his hand on his phaser, and they stepped onto the platform together.
They materialized inside the cube, face to face with a line of regenerating drones. The whole row stood motionless in living death, organic eyes closed, ocular implants staring blankly, their pasty white skin reflecting the cube's green glow. The clank of metal echoed through the huge vessel.
"Let's get moving," Kathryn said.
He swallowed hard. "Aye, Captain."
Vorik catalogued his anxiety for future meditation and focused on the work. They had adequate lighting for the task; it didn't matter that it was green. He blocked out the metallic sounds and focused on his work.
A drone disengaged from an alcove and approached. It stared straight ahead, acknowledging neither them nor the crates of transporter components.
He focused on the task. The drone couldn't see them, thanks to the biodampeners, and it wouldn't look for them. The Collective didn't encourage independent thought. A drone wouldn't turn its head unless its specific task required it.
It passed, its regular, heavy steps taking it around a corner and out of sight.
B'Elanna let out a soft sigh of relief and Vorik understood the source of her emotion.
"Two lefts and a right," Janeway said quietly. "Keep an eye out for anything that doesn't match the holodeck simulation."
Chakotay followed closely. She could feel his breath on her neck. They walked softly, even though the Borg wouldn't hear their footsteps. In theory, the biodampeners made them invisible.
He took his position in the corridor and she stepped into the alcove with the transwarp coil. This was it. She opened the toolbox and started preparing the sabotage.
Campbell's plan required a few drops of warp plasma in just the right spot, freeing the coil for transport while tricking the Borg into believing a malfunction had burned it out. The ruse only needed to last a few minutes.
Janeway held the plasma infuser ready and waited for B'Elanna's signal.
B'Elanna admired the genius behind the device as she assembled it, a little jealous that the two ensigns had thought of it first. She had wondered if Vorik's cool-headed Vulcan logic allowed him to feel pride, but didn't let the thought distract her now.
She verified the initial setting on the targeting scanners and made the final adjustments to the emitter array.
"Ready," Vorik reported.
The device hummed to life, powered by an empty regeneration alcove. According to Seven of Nine, the Borg would fail to even notice the minute fluctuation in their energy grid, and B'Elanna suspected that even if the Collective noticed the anomaly, they wouldn't investigate quickly enough to jeopardize the mission.
She nodded to Vorik and tapped her combadge to signal the captain, then prepared to activate the device.
Janeway released the warp plasma into the transwarp coil's housing a moment before she heard Chakotay's warning. She spun, drawing her phaser, and fired at the approaching drone.
She lunged at him, driving the plasma injector into his ocular implant. It worked, and the disabled drone fell to the floor, but her elation proved short-lived. Two more drones appeared, overpowering her even as she screamed at Chakotay to turn around.
The drone behind Chakotay aimed its tubules and Janeway shouted again. Pain shot through her body as nanoprobes poured into her jugular. She lost consciousness.
"Kathryn!" He'd failed her. Chakotay had forced his way onto the away team, to protect her, to keep her safe, and he'd failed. The thought of Kathryn trapped in living death as a Borg drone paralyzed him as effectively as the force field he struggled against.
Pain filled him, and he sank into blackness, realizing too late that she'd been trying to warn him, not order him to abandon her, and that his own assimilation destroyed his chance to rescue her.
He'd failed her twice in as many minutes. The blackness took him.
Drones appeared from both directions at once. This time, it was clear they wouldn't be ignored. B'Elanna reached for her phaser and stunned one. Her second shot was stopped by a drone's force field.
She used a hyperspanner as a weapon, and her Klingon strength served her well for a few minutes, but they were outnumbered. She heard Vorik calling the Flyer just as she felt the blinding pain of assimilation.
Janeway woke up strapped to a table in a Borg assimilation chamber. She struggled to look around. Chakotay, B'Elanna, and Vorik were also on tables. Their grey skin told her that they had all suffered assimilation. Billions of nanoprobes coursed through their veins, making changes on a microscopic level, while larger implants formed and erupted through the skin.
The drones had dumped Tuvok on the floor. She refused to believe he was dead, but his injuries were clearly severe. It didn't appear that the Borg had even attempted to assimilate him.
They needed a way out of this.
She could feel the physical changes caused by the nanoprobes, but she couldn't hear the collective, so she suspected the Doctor's neural suppressant was doing its job. She thanked him silently.
They still had time.
"I'm going in after them," Tom said. He expected Lyssa to argue; she'd sounded pretty sincere when she'd promised the captain that they'd stay on the Flyer and operate the device if they lost contact with the team.
"Good." She flashed him a feral grin that contrasted sharply with her pale face. "I'm coming with you."
"Any bright ideas about what to do with the Delta Flyer? It won't hold this position without a pilot."
"Give me a minute," she said. "There's something I've always wanted to try."
His hand shook as he guided the Delta Flyer as close to a docking port as he dared. "How's this?"
"Perfect." She handed him a pressure suit.
"Are you sure this won't get us killed?"
"Nope, I'm not anywhere close to sure, but I don't have a better idea."
Tom shrugged. His wife and crewmates were on that cube. He'd choose any plan over leaving them. "I'll try anything once."
Janeway felt Chakotay wake up. His grief flooded her mind. Hope drowned in failure. They wouldn't get Voyager to the alpha quadrant, they'd gotten everyone killed, first on Trebus and now on this mission. They'd failed each other just as they'd failed Justin on Tau Ceti Prime, as they'd failed to keep their emotions from affecting their command, as they'd disappointed Kolopak with juvenile insolence. They could have saved him, should have, should have worked the transporter faster, shouldn't have stayed with Starfleet and let the Cardassians commit such slaughter.
Kathryn fought the jumbled pack of memories, recognizing that they weren't all her own. Images of her own face flickered behind her eyelids. She tried to push them away, tried to gain control and separate her own thoughts from Chakotay's, as Tuvok had taught her years ago when she served as his pyllora.
She felt Chakotay's anguish over losing her, and tried to assure him that it wasn't too late. His mind turned to hers, and she felt a great swell of love. She saw herself as he saw her: beautiful and intelligent, brave to the point of reckless, stubborn, often infuriating, but a hero, and the woman that he loved.
Their minds were assaulted by violent images of Borg drones mortally wounded by a hyperspanner, by a Bat'leth, by a plasma infuser. The paralyzing guilt rose again. Guilt for chasing away her dad with her Klingon temper, guilt for shaming Kolopak by flouting tradition, guilt for father's needless death on Tau Ceti Prime.
Janeway plucked her own memory from the flood of thoughts and images. This one she'd conquered, and could again. She recalled stomping her broken leg on that icy surface as she shouted her grief. She focused on every horrible detail of that day as she tried to push B'Elanna's thoughts from her head.
She'd gotten the away team assimilated. These people were her responsibility. She should have activated the device before engaging the Borg in combat. She should have seen the approaching drones and dragged Kathryn off to safety. He should have withdrawn his support from this mission. Better to have Kathryn angry with him than assimilated. They'd never reach the alpha quadrant. He'd never get to hold her, kiss her, make love with her. He didn't deserve her. He'd failed her.
Kathryn failed. She couldn't control her emotions all those years ago on Tau Ceti Prime, and she couldn't control these emotions now. They'd failed. They would be Borg.
Lyssa checked the settings on the pattern buffer twice. She'd gained some increased capacity by switching the phase transition coils from quantum resolution to molecular resolution, but her idea still tested the limits of the Flyer's transporter.
"Energizing," she said.
An opening appeared in the cube's hull. Tom piloted the shuttle through the narrow gap.
"We're clear," he reported. "Just like threading a needle."
Her hands flew over the controls, returning the displaced hull to its point of origin. If it materialized on the transporter pad, well, she wasn't all that sure what would happen, exactly, given its size, except that it would be bad.
"How long before this shuttlebay repressurizes?" Tom asked.
"Haven't a clue," she said. "That's why I got out the pressure suits."
A fresh wave of fear overwhelmed Janeway, Chakotay, and B'Elanna as several Borg drones entered the assimilation chamber. One had a bone saw, and it moved towards the captain.
"No!" Chakotay fought the restraints as the two women remembered their previous assimilation experiences. The images horrified him, but they served to unify the three with one specific goal.
They all wanted to stop the drone with the bone saw before it took Kathryn's arm.
Tom's eyes never left the tricorder. B'Elanna's life signs no longer registered. According to the readout, they were too late. She was already a drone.
He refused to accept that. She'd recovered from one assimilation; she'd recover from this one too. But that didn't keep his breakfast from souring in his stomach. Even partial assimilation meant weeks of pain.
Why the hell had he agreed to this insane mission? He glanced at Lyssa.
"Later." Her voice cracked and her red-rimmed eyes betrayed her.
"It's not your fault," he lied. "We'd both better keep it together if we want them back."
They reached the entrance to the assimilation chamber.
"Three drones, and five of our people," he said, eyes still on the tricorder. "One of the Vulcans hasn't been assimilated, but his life signs are weak. Ready?"
Together they burst through the door.
They had the advantage of surprise, and little else. Tom aimed his phaser rifle at the drone standing over the captain. He could see blood, tinged grey by nanoprobes. They'd arrived just in time to interrupt the surgical alterations.
"Help the captain." He threw all his weight against the drone nearest B'Elanna.
Tom struggled against the drone, fighting for those he loved, and for his very life. The drone lacked such powerful motivation, but it didn't lack strength.
He landed several blows, but the drone only needed one. Its tubules pierced his neck, ending his struggle.
Six voices now, jumbled, confused. Failure. Grief. Faces of the dead haunted them. Three Starfleet cadets, dead in a senseless accident. Their fault. Justin and her father. Dead. The people of Trebus. Dead. Peter Durst. Dead. Captain Ransom. The faces of this away team, killed by her foolish plan. Her captain. Dead. Her friends. Dead. All dead. Justin. Chakotay. Kathryn.
One voice demanded silence.
A strong voice. Calm, and without grief or anger. The vinculum is destroyed. When the photon torpedo detonates in the central plexus this cube will be destroyed. We must take Tuvok and leave.
Tom and Lyssa got up from the floor, shaking and disoriented. They obeyed the voice. It seemed so sure. It knew what to do.
They released the others.
Chakotay and B'Elanna hoisted Tuvok's unconscious body. They had to get him to the Flyer. Three rights, a left, and a right. They remembered that two wrongs didn't make a right, but three rights made a left. It made sense to them. It hadn't before.
Vorik's voice, in all of their heads, telling them to think only of Tuvok, and to get to the shuttle. He had the captain in his arms, carrying her; she'd lost some blood, but not her arm. She would recover easily.
They found their ship and headed for the pilot's seat. Only one needed to fly the ship. Someone needed to work the transporter. The others could help the wounded. Help Tuvok. They couldn't lose Tuvok.
We won't. Now focus.
Beads of sweat stood out on Vorik's brow. He laid his captain on a bed and sank to the floor. He had to keep the others focused. He had to suppress their grief and their guilt. So much emotion. He concentrated.
Lyssa beamed a section of the cube's hull into space. B'Elanna piloted through the narrow gap, Tom's skill on the manual controls now hers to use. They all felt the helm under her hands during those few tense moments that counted the most.
The first wave of blasts from their timed transporter device had taken down the shield generators and nothing impeded their progress into open space. Behind them, the cube exploded.
The Delta Flyer jumped to warp. They were free.
Janeway felt Vorik's control slipping. He had saved them all, but he couldn't filter the emotions of five humans for long without losing consciousness from the exhaustion. She tried to give him the support she had given Tuvok during their mind meld years before, but she didn't know Vorik the way she knew Tuvok.
Chakotay's worried eyes met hers. He'd repaired her arm with skills borrowed from Tom or Lyssa. She couldn't tell which. It didn't matter. Tom still worked over Tuvok, stabilizing him, but he needed the Doctor to fully recover.
They had to get to Voyager.
The Doctor would know why the partial assimilation had caused this effect, and he'd know how to fix it. They couldn't stay like this. It would drive them insane. They'd soon be thinking everything they didn't want the others to hear.
She shouldn't have thought that. They were all immediately assaulted with some very private thoughts of Tom's, and a corresponding violent wave of anger from B'Elanna.
Vorik lost a little more of the control he was fighting so hard to maintain.
"Vorik." Janeway's voice sounded strange. It was the first time any of them had spoken out loud since the assimilation chamber. "Let go," she said. "We'll have to deal with this eventually."
Lyssa sat down beside him and took his hand. Even without the strain of actively attempting to bring focus to the group, the constant assault of human emotions took its toll on the young Vulcan.
In the last few minutes, his voice had faded from the strongest in their collective, to the weakest.
Janeway now had control, or at least the strongest voice. They all turned to her, trusting her to deal with this as she had dealt with so much over the years.
Chakotay called her Kathryn in his mind, and with such conviction that the others didn't fight it. They accepted that he loved her, because they did as well, although not in quite the same way.
That Kathryn returned the feelings was only natural. Both B'Elanna and Lyssa remembered their own crushes on the handsome first officer, and were glad to feel their captain's love and affection for him now.
They reached for each other without conscious decision, and all six felt the warmth of their clasped hands, just as they all felt Lyssa's touch on Vorik's arm.
"What we're sharing is hypnotic," Janeway said. "But we need to speak out loud. That might make the emotions easier to control."
B'Elanna turned on the autopilot and joined the others in the sleeping area. She stared at Lyssa as the ensign accidentally revealed the true identity of Neelix's new romantic interest. "Susan Nicoletti? She always seemed so uptight."
"Creamed leola root?" Tom piped in. "I guess she's not uptight at all."
"She will be if she finds out I told everyone," Lyssa said.
They all felt her wave of shame at having broken a confidence. She'd lost her best friend that way when she was twelve. The memory rushed through them all.
First the awkwardness she had felt when the older girls had let her sit at their table. Then the giddy joy at impressing them with a secret. Only it hadn't been hers to share, and her best friend had never forgiven her. She hadn't forgiven herself, either.
Vorik wrapped an arm around her shoulder, a reaction that probably came from someone else's mind, but felt natural enough in the moment. "Lessons learned in one's youth often sting. When we get back to Federation space, you can go offer your apology."
Lyssa's guilt triggered the same feeling in the others, as Chakotay's had in the assimilation chamber. Tom's carelessness had cost his three closest friends their lives and had destroyed his first career in Starfleet. Chakotay still blamed himself for the deaths on Trebus. And Kathryn had lost both her fiance and her father in a shuttle crash. The possibility that she could have saved one or the other if she'd acted fast enough still haunted her dreams.
This time they didn't fight the emotions. They shared them, digesting them in the hopes that they wouldn't pop up again during a moment of crisis and paralyze the whole group. They comforted each other, and tried to move on.
"That booze belongs to Chakotay?" Vorik asked suddenly, although the truth of the matter had just passed through all of their minds.
"Sorry Commander," Lyssa said. "It just popped in there."
"I know, Ensign. We all understand, and I don't think that little secret will do any harm."
"Leave it alone, Paris, if you know what's good for you."
"You wouldn't hurt me over that," Tom said. "In fact, you're pretty fond of me, all things considered."
B'Elanna and Vorik installed the transwarp coil in the Delta Flyer, impressing themselves with how quickly they accomplished the task, and they reached Voyager within the hour. They carried Tuvok into sickbay.
The Doctor trapped them all behind a level ten force field, which they all found a bit excessive, and then started working on Tuvok.
Ayala and Dalby arrived, armed, and took positions on either side of the door. Harry entered a moment later.
"What's the emergency?" Harry asked the Doctor.
"They are." He nodded at the small collective gathered behind the force field.
Harry looked a little sick. "What happened?"
"We were assimilated," they all answered at once.
"Okay. Doc, you can undo this, right?"
"As soon as I've taken care of Tuvok I'll see what I can do," the Doctor said. "A hologram only has two hands."
"Drop the force field," Janeway added. "That's an order."
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I think I prefer it up. Just until the Doctor can see about returning you to normal."
"That won't be necessary," Janeway said. "We function quite efficiently as we are now."
Harry took a step backwards and slapped his combadge. "Seven, please report to sickbay."
The six officers paced back and forth behind the force field in sickbay. A less coordinated group could never have managed to pace in such a confined space. They watched Tuvok's monitor continuously. He had to recover. He was their oldest friend.
Memories of a healing technique utilizing a Borg neural link passed through their minds. The ideas blended with Vulcan meditation practices. The Doc would fix him, but if he ran into trouble they could give it a try.
The memory of a woman named Riley sent a white-hot flash of anger through them all. Her betrayal had stung, briefly, but the rift she had caused hurt far worse. For weeks it had haunted them.
They'd never have a misunderstanding again. Words and actions couldn't be misinterpreted among a collective. They couldn't hide from each other. The benefits surprised them, after years of fearing the Borg, and intimacy, and even each other's reactions to their private thoughts.
They could go back to their duties without returning to normal. They certainly didn't need to be locked behind a force field. It could be disabled in a matter of minutes. They just needed the right tools.
The temporary senior staff gathered in the briefing room. Harry Kim stood at the head of the table and felt the full weight of command as he looked at each of his officers. Seven was serving as executive officer, with the Doctor and Neelix in their usual positions. Lieutenant Ayala, Joe Carey, McKenzie Jenkins, and Sue Brooks rounded out his team.
"They didn't lead a cube here, did they?" Neelix looked nervous.
"They lack Borg neural transceivers," Seven said. "Without those, they cannot contact the rest of the Collective."
"They haven't shown any signs that they want to, either," Harry said. "They just don't want the Doctor to remove their implants."
"I'm not sure I can," the Doctor added. "At least not without further study. The neural suppressor vaccine had an effect I didn't anticipate. It seems to have put Tuvok in a coma."
"I'm not sure what to do with them right now," Harry said. "They can't stay in sickbay indefinitely and I'm not comfortable locking them in the brig."
"Confine them to quarters," Carey said. "The replicators can be disabled easily enough."
"You'll have to use the VIP quarters for that," Ayala said. "Who knows what they might have hidden in their own quarters, and a search could take hours."
Harry nodded. "You're right. That's what we'll do."
"I'll start working on a treatment," the Doctor said. "I'll keep you informed of the progress, but if they refuse treatment, the final decision has to be yours."
Harry nodded again. Janeway was right about the loneliness of command.
Voyager only had two sets of VIP quarters, and they weren't the luxury suites found on Galaxy Class ships. They did have one other set of empty quarters on deck three, and Harry decided those would have to do.
Security locked Tom and B'Elanna in the smaller room, then put the captain and Lyssa in one suite, and Vorik and Chakotay in the other.
Vorik swore at them in Klingon, which rattled Ayala just a bit, while Tom demanded a status report from sickbay and threatened to bust them all down to crewmen, which almost made him laugh.
"I hope the Doc hurries," he said to Harry. "This is a little weird, even for Starfleet."
Tom stared at the wife he'd thought he'd lost only hours before. B'Elanna returned his gaze, sharing the aftermath of his fear. They wrapped their arms tightly around one another, holding each other close, and the voices of the other four faded into the background as their own thoughts focused on a single desire.
The tender embrace changed. Frantic hands tugged at uniforms, and they sank to the floor together.
Vorik and Chakotay moved as one to the adjoining door between the two sets of quarters. They disabled the security lock quickly, and stood facing the two women.
Lyssa raised her hand in the traditional Vulcan greeting. It trembled, and her face appeared flushed.
Vorik went to her, his hand rising to meet hers. The moment of contact brought a gasp from everyone.
All four recognized that Tom and B'Elanna's feelings were affecting them, and knew that to act on those feelings themselves was inappropriate, but the simple need for touch overwhelmed them.
Kathryn reached for Chakotay's hand, and led him to stand before the viewport in his quarters. They could both feel Vorik's wonder as his hand clasped Lyssa's, the simple touch matching the intensity that Tom and B'Elanna were feeling.
"Just hold me," Kathryn said, although she knew that he could feel her desire for contact as strongly as she felt his. She watched his reflection in the transparent aluminum, and his arms wrapped around her waist.
Chakotay held her against his body and they stared unseeing at the passing stars. He could still feel B'Elanna's excitement, and Tom's, but at a distance, an echo. It was Kathryn's mind that dominated now. He felt her rising passion, her need for his arms around her. He felt the electric tingle of his own touch on her burning skin as he stroked her arms.
He was Tom, intimately joined with the woman he loved. He was Vorik, exploring an unexpected but urgent need. He was the women, each of them, but Kathryn most of all as her love washed over him.
They sank to the floor, sated, and yet hungrier than before. He pulled her to him, savoring the fading glow of ecstasy, and as their breathing slowed, he bent his head and kissed her for the first time.
"You are an individual," Harry said. "You don't want this."
"You're wrong, Starfleet," Janeway argued. "I still have my thoughts, but I'm not alone any more. I want to keep this unique bond, we all do."
"Captain, you just called me Starfleet. That came from B'Elanna's mind, not yours."
"Does it matter?"
"Yes. I'm ordering the Doctor to treat you. I think it's what you'd want if you were thinking clearly."
"That's not your decision to make," she said. "It's ours, and we wish to remain bonded."
"I'm sorry, Captain, I've made up my mind."
"You're not the captain," she said. "Who are you to decide for all of us? Who gave you that right?"
"You did," he said. "And you'll thank me for this, when it's over."
Janeway spoke to Tuvok. He was groggy, but recovering. She thanked Harry for doing the right thing, and then retreated to her quarters. She missed the other voices in her head. She realized that they all probably felt the same, and that they needed to talk before they could start to move beyond the experience.
The other five gathered in the captain's quarters. For several minutes, they just sat in silence.
"We need to figure out what went wrong with the biodampeners," Janeway said, although she found that she really didn't care all that much. "Installing the transporter inside the cube worked brilliantly, and I'd like to do it again."
She looked at Tom, surprised that he'd used her given name. "Lieutenant?"
"We can discuss biodampeners some other time. I don't think that's why you called us here."
"No," she admitted. "It's not."
"We shared something incredible," Chakotay said. "We're all going to feel the loss for a while."
"We know so much about each other," Lyssa said. "It's a little unsettling now that things are back to normal."
"We can't just go back, Lyssa, and I for one am glad." Tom looked pointedly at the captain. "You clung harder to our link than any of us, and it's because you've been lonely for years now. You aren't going to let protocol make you miserable again, are you?"
"Tom!" B'Elanna elbowed him in the ribs.
Lyssa laughed. "Something's back to normal."
"Indeed," Vorik said.
"I know you all well enough to know that you don't need any reminders about respecting each other's privacy. Fortunately, we each share something special with another member of this group." Janeway caught Chakotay's hand. "We can all talk through our feelings with the person who will understand the best."
Lyssa followed Vorik back to his quarters. The silence seemed strange after the last few days. "We should talk about this, since we can't hear each other's thoughts any more."
He met her gaze. "I am having difficulties with the feelings I experienced. I don't have the mental discipline that a Vulcan should possess."
"Vorik, if you didn't have incredible mental discipline we'd all be dead." She took his hand, smiling at his soft gasp. "What we shared, you and I, I'd rather not give that up."
"You wish to remain as my wife?"
"I do," she said. "But I'm human, so I'd like to explore our relationship in a more traditional way."
"I desire that as well."
"I'm glad to hear it." She leaned in and kissed him.
"B'Elanna, are you okay?"
She glared at him. "We had sex in front of the others. How can you not care?"
"We made love, B'Elanna, and they didn't see anything."
"They didn't need to, did they? They felt it. Everything."
Tom shrugged. "Then I'm glad we're pretty good at it."
"It's weird, I'll admit that, but we're all in the same boat. We all felt Chakotay kiss Kathryn -- I mean, the captain -- and we all felt private thoughts from Lyssa and Vorik as well."
"Don't you even understand why I'm upset?"
"I understand exactly why you're upset. I'm just trying to help."
"I know what will take your mind off of things. How about a little encore performance for just the two of us?"
"Now? You can't be serious."
"I am, and I don't need a Borg neural link to tell that you don't hate that idea anywhere near as much as you'd have me believe."
"You're a pig, Paris."
"Ah, but I'm your pig."
"True," she said. She kissed him.
"I feel so alone," Janeway said.
"That is something you never have to be, Kathryn." Chakotay slipped his arms around her. "After what we've shared, don't tell me you're still uneasy about a more conventional kind of intimacy?"
"I'm still your commanding officer."
"And I'm the man who loves you," he said. "Somewhere there's a balance. We need to find it."
"I guess the cat's out of the bag," she said. "I love you, Chakotay."
He chuckled. "The cat, an elephant, and half a dozen targ have escaped from that bag."
"We can do this," she said. "You've always thought that, and yet you haven't pushed. You know I'm going to need a little help. I'm not good at relationships."
"You'll be good at this one," Chakotay said. "I've felt how much you love me, and I know how much I love you. No little fluctuations in the warp core will change that."
"No," she agreed. "They won't."
He kissed her.
This transformative work constitutes a fair use of any copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. Star Trek™©, Star Trek: The Next Generation™©, Star Trek: Voyager™© and related properties exist as Registered Trademarks of Paramount Pictures. No copyright infringement intended. No profits made here. © Spiletta42, March 2005.