DISCLAIMER: You all know the drill - Paramount is God. All hail Paramount. They own everything in the Star Trek Universe - I'm just using my overactive imagination to take their characters where they refuse to go. All in the name of fun, not profit (I wish).
SUMMARY: Captain Janeway must come to terms with what she has learned as the crew begin their new lives on Earth.
THE LONG ROAD HOME
CHAPTER SEVEN : FULL CIRCLE
"We've got a problem."
Chakotay looked up from his computer as B'Elanna came into the room. "What now?"
She walked over and leaned forward on the desk. "The Doctor's missing."
"He was supposed to leave for Vulcan this afternoon. Tom was going to meet him at the transport to give him some final details about his meeting with Tuvok. The Doc never showed."
"There could be any number of reasons that he wasn't there."
B'Elanna shook her head. "I called Starfleet Medical. They claim he changed his plans and decided to attend another conference near Starbase 137."
"There is a conference…but they're not expecting the Doctor."
"Maybe it was a last-minute decision," he offered.
She smirked. "You really think the Doctor would go anywhere where he wasn't the main attraction?"
Chakotay chuckled softly. "Good point. I guess he's missing."
"Still no sign of him?"
Chakotay and B'Elanna turned around as Tom entered the room, carrying Miral. "No," his wife told him.
Tom sighed. "That's one less person to help us."
"Who have you contacted so far?"
Tom looked at the PADD in his hands. "I talked to Mark this morning – he's in. Same with Harry, of course. He should be here any minute. Neelix is willing to do whatever's necessary. I don't want to risk using a comm channel to contact Tuvok – that was the Doc's job."
"Get a hold of Ensign Porter," said Chakotay.
Tom grinned. "I called her an hour ago. She's spoken to the Yukon crew and most of the junior staff – without telling them anything, of course. She said every single one of them is willing to go the distance if we need them."
"Good," said Chakotay. "I hate to drag them into this, but it's good to know we have help if we need it."
"So what's the plan?"
The three companions turned to the new voice in the door and saw Harry Kim standing in the doorway, a bag slung over his shoulder.
"Harry," said Tom. "Just in time."
"What did I miss?" he said as he moved over to join them, clapping Tom on the shoulder.
"Just going over the final details. We have one new snag – Doc's gone missing."
"I thought you were meeting him at the transport," said Harry.
"So did I," said Tom. "But we can still manage without him and Tuvok. The trick will be finding them in the first place."
"Once we know where they are, we're ready to go," said B'Elanna.
Harry took a PADD that Tom offered him. "What's this?"
"The hangar where they're keeping the Delta Flyer," said Tom. "Courtesy of my father. How do you feel about a little theft?"
Harry grinned. "You're going to steal it?"
"We're going to steal it. We need transporters, and it's the best ship this side of the Delta Quadrant. Not to mention it's the only shuttle in the sector that's equipped with a cloaking device."
"We still have to locate them," said Chakotay.
"That might easier if they've got the Doc," said B'Elanna. "Some of the alloys in his mobile emitter haven't been invented yet. If we can scan for any of them, we can narrow down their position."
"Harry, you and B'Elanna get on it," said Chakotay. "I'm going to keep trying to get a hold of the Captain again. Hopefully they'll let her talk to me again and we can find out some more about what's going on."
Captain, we're receiving a transmission…it's Borg.
The Captain's head snapped up and she looked over at Chakotay beside her. "I'm on my way," she said as they jumped off the couch and strode through her ready room doors onto the bridge.
"Any sign of Borg vessels?" she asked Harry as she moved over to her chair.
He shook his head. "I'm not reading anything on sensors."
She looked at Chakotay with a raised eyebrow.
"Maybe we should see what they want," he suggested.
She gave him a strange look but nodded in Harry's direction. "Onscreen."
The face of the Borg Queen filled the viewscreen.
"Captain," she offered politely.
The Captain shook off a strong feeling of déjà vu. "It's been a while. How are things in the Collective?"
"Perfect…for the most part. I would like your assistance to rectify that."
She looked sideways at Chakotay. "Oh?"
"Your drone has infiltrated the Borg resistance movement known as Unimatrix Zero."
She froze – the Borg were aware of their involvement. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Come now, Captain. Be honest. I know all about Seven of Nine's visits there. That's why your assistance would be an asset. You're going to help me destroy them."
Her eyes narrowed. "I have no intention of destroying them."
That seemed to surprise the Queen. "You intend to assist them?"
"I didn't say that."
The Queen's voice became more menacing than usual. "That would be a mistake, Captain. I thought we had an alliance."
She snorted. "We have nothing of the sort." She looked at Harry over her shoulder. "Ensign, cut the transmission."
The screen went blank and she turned to Chakotay. Before she said anything, she felt a sharp headache and gasped, putting her hand to her head. When she opened her eyes after a few seconds, her surroundings on the bridge seemed faint, like they were superimposed on another image. It seemed as though she was sitting in what looked like somebody's quarters, and there were men in new Starfleet uniforms moving around. It was difficult to make out their faces, but she had a feeling it was familiar. Another wave of pain came over her, and she leaned forward, gasping in agony.
"Statler – what's going on? Why is it stopping?"
"I'm not sure, sir. It looks like the interface is causing severe synaptic damage."
She heard their voices and it all came back to her, although she was in so much pain that it didn't really register.
"Get the EMH," ordered Blackwell.
Kathryn heard Statler move away from her, and then was able to make out the telltale sizzle of the Doctor coming online.
"Please state the nature of…Captain?"
She heard him come over to her. She felt his hand on her chin as he turned her face towards him. He was arguing with Statler and Blackwell, but she was unable to make out what they were saying until she felt the hypospray on her neck. As the painkillers worked their way through her bloodstream, her mind and vision cleared.
"Doctor," she croaked.
"Captain, what are you doing here?"
She frowned, raising her head slightly. "Have you been able to find Seven?" she asked in a low voice.
"What are you talking about?"
"The other day…I told you where you could find her."
He appeared to be confused. "Captain…this is the first time I've seen you in weeks."
She laid her head back in frustration. "Of course…they must have deleted your memory files."
"My security measures – "
Statler, overhearing them, interrupted. "Were easily overcome by our engineers."
The Doctor bolted upright and turned around.
"Although I must admit they were quite a challenge at first," continued Statler. "We were very impressed."
Despite his fury at the tampering to his program, the Doctor's primary programming took over. "Captain Janeway has severe intercranial bleeding. I need to perform some microvascular repair before it gets any worse."
"Not so fast, Doctor," said Blackwell, moving towards them. "Our engineers were able to get past your security protocols to purge your memory buffer, but we're having problems with other elements of your program."
The Doctor looked at them suspiciously. "Such as?"
"More of your security protocols," offered Statler. "None of our engineers can recognize the encryption codes."
The Doctor preened. "That's because we invented them…with a little help from our resident Borg."
"Then you should be able to deactivate them."
He snorted. "And why would I do that?"
Blackwell stepped forward menacingly. "Because I won't allow you to treat Captain Janeway until you show us how to disengage your security protocols."
That gave the EMH pause. His eyes darted back to the Captain, who was still in significant pain, and then back to Blackwell and Statler. "For what purpose?" he asked, stalling for time.
"None of your business," said Blackwell.
Despite the throbbing pain in her head, Captain Janeway was able to see what Blackwell and Statler wanted. "Doctor."
He looked at her.
"Quiet!" yelled Blackwell, apprehension apparent in his face. Statler, also looking worried, started to move towards her.
"Captain Ransom," she said quickly before Statler reached her. The officer froze in his tracks and looked at Blackwell.
The name was all that was needed to make the Doctor realize what was going on. "You're trying to delete my ethical subroutines!"
Blackwell and Statler didn't attempt to deny it. "Why?" he asked.
They were silent, but Kathryn told him, clenching her teeth against the pain. "Seven and Icheb."
He stared at her in disbelief before turning on the other two officers. "Absolutely not," he said.
Blackwell shrugged. "If you don't cooperate, Captain Janeway doesn't get treatment."
The Doctor's gaze darted towards his Captain, obviously wavering. He was being forced to choose between two of his closest friends – Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine. It was a choice he didn't want to be forced to make.
He made eye contact with the Captain, and she shook her head almost imperceptibly.
"Captain," he began to protest, unwilling to let her suffer, but she stopped him.
"That's an order, Doctor," she said as firmly as she could manage.
He looked at her for a long time before he nodded sharply.
Blackwell became angry. "If you want to help her, Doctor, you'll help us with your program."
The Doctor turned to him, some satisfaction apparent in his expression at being able to refuse them. "I'm a Doctor, not an engineer."
"Shut him down," ordered Blackwell dismissively.
Statler moved towards the Doctor and reached for the emitter.
"I'm sorry, Captain," said the EMH, and a few seconds later he disappeared.
Kathryn laid her head on the back of the chair and squeezed her eyes shut. She knew it had to be this way. If they managed to disable the Doctor's ethical subroutines, who knows what they would do to Seven and Icheb. She had been hoping, though, that they would let him treat her first. The painkiller he had given her had taken the edge off the pain, but it was still there. At least she knew that Chakotay and the rest of her crew were already looking for her.
"Any sign they've detected us?"
Harry looked up from his station on the Delta Flyer. "Not yet. They're running sensor sweeps, but they haven't locked onto our cloak yet. We should have another half-hour at least."
Chakotay nodded. "Hopefully that will be long enough."
They had managed to steal the Delta Flyer without incident. Tom and B'Elanna had easily gained access to the hangar since they were working with Starfleet on updating the specs, and they had boarded the Flyer and engaged the cloaking device before the security guards knew what hit them.
"Got it!" yelled B'Elanna from the back of the Flyer where she was working at her station.
Chakotay, Tom, and Harry all turned around in their seats, and Ensign Porter and Neelix came up from the cargo hold.
"You've found them?" asked Chakotay.
B'Elanna nodded. "I've got a sensor lock on one of the alloys in the Doc's mobile emitter. I can get us within a range of…about 200 meters."
The helmsman nodded. "Setting a course."
"Keep us about a kilometer up. And watch out for shuttle traffic."
Harry got up from his station and moved over to join B'Elanna at her station. "Can you scan for their bio-signatures?"
B'Elanna shook her head. "The building that they're in is shielded. I can barely keep a lock on the Doctor."
"Try using a narrow band transporter beam to scan for them," suggested Harry.
She nodded. "Good idea."
"That's Section 31?" said Tom incredulously as the Delta Flyer drew closer to the building.
Chakotay walked up behind Tom and looked over his shoulder out the window. "Doesn't look like much, does it?"
The building was spread out, but not very high – no more than 6 stories high – and was plain and white, with few windows. A large sign on the front of the structure pronounced it to be the home of the Sommerset Research Group.
"Take us in, Tom," ordered Chakotay before he moved back to the rear of the Flyer. "Any luck with their shields, Harry?"
The lieutenant looked up and shook his head. "Afraid not. We'll have to get within a hundred meters of the building to be able to transport."
"I've got a fix on the Doctor's emitter," announced B'Elanna, drawing their attention. Chakotay and Harry moved over to stand behind her. B'Elanna pulled up the schematics of the building, and the image tilted and fell away so they were looking at it from above. From the top, the building was square with a courtyard in the middle. A small flashing icon was located in one of the far corners of the building.
"He's on the second floor," said B'Elanna. "Looks like some kind of research lab."
"The Captain?" asked Chakotay, trying to keep the anxiousness out of his voice.
B'Elanna looked at him sadly for a few seconds before she turned back to her console. "Not yet," she said quietly. "But I'll keep trying."
"What about Seven and Icheb?" asked Harry.
"No sign of them."
"Using a narrow beam transporter didn't work?"
She sighed. "It might, but it's taking too long. We don't have time to scan every square millimeter of this building. When they find out we stole the Delta Flyer, they'll move them for sure."
Mark was listening to them from the stairs to the aft section and chimed in. "Maybe the Doctor will know where they're being held."
"Once we're inside the building," said Harry, "We should be able to locate them with tricorders."
Chakotay stared at the expansive plan of the building. "I certainly hope so."
"Commander?" yelled Tom from the helm. "We're passing through their shields."
Chakotay nodded. "Mark, you and Robin are with me. Harry, beam us as close as you can to the Doctor's location." He started to move away, but B'Elanna grabbed his arm and got up from her seat.
"Don't you dare try and leave me out of this."
"B'Elanna, we need you here."
"No, you don't. Tom and Harry have it covered in case something goes wrong."
He looked at her for a moment before he nodded. She smiled gratefully and started to follow him towards the rear of the Flyer.
"B'Elanna?" called Tom. She stopped and turned around. "Be careful," he said affectionately. "I'd hate to have to change all those diapers by myself."
She smiled. "You got it. See you soon."
She moved down the stairs to the lower part of the Flyer, where the rest of the team was getting ready. Chakotay was conferring with Commander Walker, and Ensign Porter was preparing an emergency medkit, just in case.
The entire team was outfitted in newer issue Starfleet uniforms, to avoid suspicion as long as possible if they were noticed. Mark handed B'Elanna a phaser and a tricorder, which she holstered in her belt.
"What are we waiting for?" she asked with a smile.
"Energize, Harry," ordered Chakotay, and the entire team dematerialized.
They materialized in a dark corner of a deserted, darkened research lab. They carefully checked to make sure their beam-in was not observed, but there were only a few researchers walking around since it was late at night.
"B'Elanna?" whispered Chakotay.
She whipped out her tricorder and scanned for a few seconds before she looked at him and nodded, pointing off to the left. Keeping to the shadows, they moved quietly in the direction that she had indicated.
About twenty meters from their beam-in site, they found the Doctor's emitter sitting on a research table. They were crouched down near the floor, and B'Elanna reached up and quickly palmed the emitter. Chakotay noticed one of the technicians moving towards them, and he motioned to Mark to circle around to the right, while he moved around in the other direction.
They were on opposite sides of the doorway when the researcher passed through it, heading towards where B'Elanna and Robin were concealed. Chakotay and Mark jumped out and grabbed the man from behind, covering his mouth so he couldn't sound the alarm. The man continued to struggle and glared at his captors.
"Where's Captain Janeway?" demanded Chakotay.
The researcher glared at him defiantly and didn't move.
Mark shook his head. "He's very well trained, Commander. We won't get anything out of him."
Chakotay caught Robin's eye as she was crouching behind the console, and she came out of hiding and moved over them and opened her medkit. She pulled out a hypospray and applied it to the man's neck. He continued to struggle for a few seconds before the drug took effect and he slumped into unconsciousness. Chakotay and Mark dragged him over to a nearby desk and put him in a chair, sitting him up so it would appear at first glance that he was merely sleeping.
Mark and Robin pulled out their phasers and each kept watch at the two entrances to the room they were in while B'Elanna activated the Doctor.
"Please state the nature of the…Lieutenant? Commander?" The EMH looked around at his surroundings. "Where am I?"
"No time to explain, Doctor," said Chakotay. "What's the last thing you remember?"
He thought for a moment. "Speaking with Captain Janeway in her quarters."
The relief on Chakotay's face was apparent. "You've seen her?"
He nodded. "Twice, apparently, although I have no memory of our first encounter."
"What about Seven and Icheb?"
The Doctor frowned. "The Captain said they were here as well, but I'm afraid she didn't get a chance to tell me where. I got the impression, though, that she knows where to find them."
"Do you know where the Captain is?" asked Chakotay anxiously.
The Doctor nodded. "She's on the ground floor. Her room borders a small courtyard, and the window faces east."
B'Elanna hit her commbadge. "Torres to Kim."
"We've got the Doctor, and he's given us a lead for the Captain's whereabouts. Scan the rooms on the ground floor that border the courtyard, facing east."
They waited over a minute before Harry responded again.
I've got her. The adjacent quarters are empty, and it looks like there's a ventilation shaft connecting them to the Captain's.
"Good work, Harry. Beam us in there," ordered Chakotay.
When the glare from the transporter beam faded, they looked around but couldn't see anything. Once they turned their wrist flashlights on, they were able to see that they were in small living quarters that appeared to be uninhabited.
"The access is over here," said B'Elanna, leading the way over to the far wall.
She and Chakotay knelt down and tried to pull on an access hatch, but it wouldn't give. Mark and Robin tried to help them, but even together they were unable to remove the hatch.
"We should have known," said Mark. "Even the access to the ventilation shafts is locked."
"Now what?" said B'Elanna.
"We could beam directly into her quarters," suggested Robin.
"It's possible she's not alone," said the Doctor. "We could be outnumbered."
They were silent for a moment before B'Elanna thought of something. "Well, we do have a hologram."
Nobody picked up on what she was suggesting except the Doctor. He moved in between the group and stuck his arm through the access port, reaching around until he found the release and the others pulled it off. Chakotay climbed in first, followed by B'Elanna, the Doctor, Mark and Robin. They only had to crawl for a few meters before they reached the other end. Chakotay and B'Elanna quietly released the hatch and lowered it to the ground. They could hear raised voices coming from the next room, so Chakotay motioned to the others to be quiet and they deactivated their wrist lights. Before Chakotay climbed out, Mark reached out and grabbed his arm.
"She's here," he said, and Chakotay nodded in response before climbing out.
They exited the tube into a small bedroom. Chakotay immediately recognized some of Kathryn's things lying around the room.
The voices from the next room grew clearer as they moved quietly across the room towards the doorway. Chakotay motioned for them to stay low while they assessed the situation.
Kathryn stood in front of Admiral Blackwell, looking at the floor and rubbing her temple with her hand in a futile effort to work away the crushing pain that was impeding her concentration.
"I spoke to my contact on Cardassia today," the Admiral was saying. "He's more than willing to push for the extradition of your Maquis. They could be in Cardassian prisons within a few weeks."
She squeezed her eyes shut. "They'd never survive." Normally, her voice would have had more of an edge to it, but she was tired of her futile attempts to rationalize with Admiral Blackwell. Responding at all was more of a reaction than anything.
"An unfortunate reality. Do you really want those lives on your conscience, Captain? Especially considering the number of crewmembers you lost in the Delta Quadrant…how many was it? 45?"
"47," she corrected quietly. She knew the number by heart - the number of people that hadn't made it back home, or who hadn't even made it to the Delta Quadrant. Lives that until now she had felt completely responsible for.
"Those lives are already on your shoulders," said Blackwell.
She looked up – hitting that nerve was enough to reawaken her anger against the Admiral.
"Wrong, Admiral - they're on your shoulders, and you know it," she said vehemently. "I lost 14 fine officers when Voyager was thrown across the galaxy – those lives are on your conscience, not mine. You set the whole chain of events in motion."
"I did nothing of the sort," he said angrily.
"You stood by and did nothing while my crew was killed and thrown halfway across the galaxy."
"I chose not to interfere."
"You knew!" she said, the pent-up emotions from the past seven years coming to the surface.
"You conspired with the Borg!" he yelled.
She took a deep breath, trying to regain control of her emotions. "No," she said in a calmer voice, "I didn't."
"We're going to discuss Unimatrix Zero and your communications with the Borg Queen."
She stared him down in silence, trying to stay upright despite the pounding agony in her head.
He stepped forward. "Now. Have a seat."
She glared at him, not moving. "No."
He took another step forward and grabbed her forearm in a tight grip, yanking her forcefully closer to him.
"You're not in a position to negotiate, Captain."
"Let her go."
They whipped their heads around to see Chakotay and the others standing in the entrance to the bedroom with their phasers raised. Captain Janeway gasped in relief, gaining strength from the sight of her crewmates. Blackwell glared at them furiously but did not release Captain Janeway's arm.
"Let her go," said B'Elanna, stepping up behind Chakotay.
Kathryn, taking the initiative, furiously yanked her arm away from the Admiral's grip, freeing herself. She stumbled backwards as her arm was released, and the pain in her head was severe enough that she was disoriented and started to fall. Chakotay, who had already stepped forward to forcibly release the Admiral's hand, caught her before she hit the ground.
"Are you okay?" he asked her as B'Elanna moved the Admiral over to the other side of the room.
She nodded as he helped her regain her balance. "My head hurts," she mumbled weakly. She turned around and slowly put her hand to the side of his face.
"I see you got my message," she whispered.
"Loud and clear."
She gasped softly and put her hand to her head, squinting in pain.
"Kathryn?" he said, grabbing her by the shoulders.
"My head," she slurred before her knees gave out from under and she collapsed in his arms.
The Doctor was instantly beside them as Chakotay supported her in a sitting position.
"What's wrong?" he asked the EMH as he scanned her.
"She has severe cerebral hemorrhaging. The last time we spoke, the Admiral refused to let me treat her."
"Can you treat her?"
"Not until we get her back to the Delta Flyer."
Chakotay was about to hail Tom and Harry for a transport when he remembered Seven and Icheb. He looked up at Mark and nodded towards Admiral Blackwell, who was being held at bay by B'Elanna.
Mark stepped over to the Admiral. "Where are you holding Seven of Nine?"
"The Borg are coming, aren't they?" insisted the Admiral. "She managed to contact them somehow."
"Where is she?" asked Mark.
"How many cubes? We have to intercept them!"
Mark shook his head in disappointment and turned to Chakotay. "It's no good – I can't read anything, and he seems to be mentally unbalanced."
He walked over and knelt beside the Captain's unconscious form.
"She's the only one who knows where to find them, Chakotay."
Chakotay nodded reluctantly and turned to the Doctor. "Can you wake her?"
The Doctor nodded and took a hypospray from Ensign Porter, applying it to the Captain. After a few seconds, she regained consciousness and looked around, disoriented.
"Chakotay," she said when she saw his face, trying to sit up.
"It's all right, Kathryn," he assured her.
She shook her head. "No," she whispered hoarsely. "Seven…Icheb…"
He nodded and put his hand on her shoulder. "Do you know where they are?"
"Yes," she said, trying to use him to push herself up.
"Hey," he said, holding her down, "You're not going anywhere except back to the Flyer. Tell us how to find them."
"It'll be faster if I go with you," she insisted, her resolve returning.
"Kathryn, you need medical attention."
"I'll live with it." She turned to the Doctor. "I know how to get to the research lab, but we need a voice print access to use the turbolifts. We need you to imitate the voice of Lieutenant Statler."
"I guess Admiral Paris' suspicions were well founded."
She nodded. "He works for Admiral Blackwell. I know his access code if we can get the Doctor to fake his voice print."
"It won't work, Captain!" yelled Blackwell. "The Borg will be stopped!"
"Doctor, would you mind sedating the Admiral?" she asked.
"My pleasure," muttered the EMH, grabbing another hypospray. He sedated the Admiral, ignoring his protests, and then B'Elanna started to work on his mobile emitter.
"How are we going to get Lieutenant Statler's voice print?" she asked as she worked.
"What about communication logs?" suggested Ensign Porter. "You said he was the one who was always refusing to let you talk to the Captain, Commander."
"B'Elanna?" asked Chakotay.
"That would do it."
He hit his commbadge. "Chakotay to Paris."
"We've found the Captain. We're going to go after Seven and Icheb, but we need to modify the Doctor's vocal algorithms to gain access. Can you access your personal communication logs and download the voiceprint of Lieutenant Statler from one of your conversations?"
Acknowledged. They waited a minute before he responded again. Got it.
"Transmit it into B'Elanna's tricorder."
B'Elanna looked up and nodded. "Got it. I'm downloading it into the Doc's emitter." She looked up at the Doc before she hit another button on his emitter. "How's that?"
"You tell me," said the Doctor in Lieutenant Statler's voice.
"That's him all right," said the Captain, trying to push herself up again. "Let's go."
"Kathryn…" protested Chakotay again.
"Do I have to make that an order?" she asked with a smile.
He stared at her in silence.
"Chakotay, if I go with you, you'll have a much better chance of getting them out of there. I've already been in their facility once – I could get in there blindfolded."
"All right. But as soon as we've got them, we're going back to the Flyer."
"Agreed," she said as he helped her up. "Believe me, I'll be glad to leave this place behind."
"The next door on the left," she said as they moved down the corridor. Chakotay and Mark took up position on either side of the large doors, and Chakotay nodded to the Doctor. The hologram pushed the button to open the door.
Clearance code required.
"They've added new security measures since I broke in," said the Captain quietly. "We'll have to be careful."
The Doctor nodded and turned back to the door. "Authorization Statler gamma four five one."
The doors slid open. The Doctor went in first, followed by Chakotay and then the rest of the group. Mark took up the rear.
"Over there," pointed the Captain. "A small room on the right."
The Doctor and B'Elanna moved in the indicated direction, and Kathryn was about to follow when she was overcome by a wave of dizziness and stumbled against a nearby console.
Chakotay came up behind her and steadied her on her feet. "Are you sure you're okay?"
She nodded. "I'll be fine once we're out of here."
She noticed that B'Elanna and the Doctor had not opened the door to where Seven and Icheb were being held. "Problems?"
"They're in there," said B'Elanna, "But it's locked."
"I'll take care of it," said Mark, moving past the Captain and Chakotay with his phaser raised. "Stand back."
They complied and Mark fired at the control panel, disintegrating it in a shower of sparks. They got the door open, and Icheb quickly came out, supporting Seven. Her hair was loose and fell around her shoulders, and she and Icheb were both wearing aqua medical gowns.
"Are you all right?" the Doctor asked Icheb.
"I am undamaged," he said. "But Seven's cortical implant is malfunctioning."
Mark put his hand on Seven's chin and lifted her face up. She seemed disoriented and her eyes appeared to be unfocused.
"Seven? Can you hear me?"
When she didn't respond, he moved his hand from her chin up to the side of her face and cupped her cheek with the palm of his hand. "Annika?"
This time she responded. "Mark," she whispered.
"It's okay," he reassured her.
She removed her arm from Icheb's shoulders and wrapped her arms around his neck. He pulled her close to him, too, and they stood in each other's arms cheek to cheek.
It was ironic, thought Kathryn as she watched them. Seven was here because she was Borg and was considered as little more than a piece of technology…but she had never seen her looking as human as she did right now. The emotion on her face at being rescued and reunited with Mark was obvious, especially to someone who knew her as well as she did.
Chakotay stepped forward, reluctantly interrupting the tender moment. "We have to get out of here," he said, putting his hand on Mark's shoulder.
Mark pulled away from Seven and nodded, so Chakotay hit his commbadge. "Chakotay to Delta Flyer."
Go ahead, said Tom.
"We've got them. Eight to beam up."
They dematerialized and reappeared in the rear of the Delta Flyer. B'Elanna and Ensign Porter went to the front to tell Tom and Harry to get them out of there, and Chakotay turned to Kathryn beside him. "Let's have the Doc take a look at you."
She shook her head, but it was obvious that she was having trouble concentrating. "I'm fine. Seven needs…" Her voice trailed off and she swayed on her feet for a few seconds before her legs gave out from under her and she collapsed limply into his arms as he moved to her side.
He put his arms under her knees and carried her over to one of the benches, setting her down gently. "Doctor?"
The Doctor grabbed the equipment he needed and treated her cerebral hemorrhaging. She came to again just as he was giving her a final once over with his tricorder.
"What…" she mumbled groggily as her eyes focused.
"You blacked out, Kathryn," Chakotay told her, reaching over to take her hand. "It's okay."
"Good as new," pronounced the Doctor. "It's good to have you back, Captain."
She managed a small smile. "Believe me, it's good to be back, Doctor."
Chakotay frowned - he could tell by the strain in her voice that she had been through a lot in the time that she had been held prisoner by Section 31. He had an inkling of what had been going on from what they had overheard of her conversation with Admiral Blackwell. He had heard him threaten Voyager's Maquis, and he suspected that it was not an isolated threat.
The Doctor gave Icheb a quick examination and pronounced him to be in good health. Mark helped Seven over to the biobed as the Doctor pulled it out from the wall, and they helped her to lay down on it. Chakotay watched them for a few seconds before he was sure their attention was elsewhere. Turning back to Kathryn, he took her hand and looked her in the eye.
"Kathryn…do you want to talk about it?"
She sighed. "Admiral Blackwell was convinced that we had formed an alliance with the Borg. He tried to get me to confess to it."
"What did he want with Seven and Icheb?"
"He referred to them as an 'intelligence find'. I think he was trying to develop some kind of biological weapon to use on the Collective."
"Did he hurt you?" he asked, reaching up to brush a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
She avoided his gaze and looked down at the floor. "Not exactly," she said quietly. After a few seconds, she looked up again. "I'd rather not talk about it right now, but…maybe later, at home…"
They were silent for a few moments before she spoke again.
"What I don't understand…is why…why me? Why Voyager? What made him think we were helping the Borg to assimilate Earth?"
He sat beside her and put a hand on her knee. "We may never know…but you're safe now."
She smiled and put her head on his shoulder. "I know."
Kathryn held her coffee cup between her hands, feeling what little warmth was left seeping into her hands.
The coffee was cold now, but she barely noticed. For once, she wasn't interested in drinking it as she stared out the window at the San Francisco skyline. It was early in the morning – the horizon was a pale pink and the sun hadn't risen yet. Unable to sleep, she had been up for hours staring out the window.
She had spoken with Admiral Paris last night. He said that everyone at Starfleet Command had been horrified by the actions of Section 31. She had been disappointed to learn that when Starfleet had sent a security team to the building where she had been rescued, they had found it deserted. Neither Admiral Blackwell nor Lieutenant Statler had been found, and Admiral Paris was of the opinion that they wouldn't be.
Owen had given her a clue to Admiral Blackwell's irrational accusations and behavior. Apparently, his two sons and their families had all been killed by the Borg at Wolf 359. Ever since then, Admiral Paris informed her, he had been one of the strongest advocates for an offensive against the Borg, almost to the point of obsession. He had been linked with Section 31 since almost immediately after the massacre at Wolf 359. It was believed now that he had become further unbalanced by the general paranoia during the Dominion war and the infiltration of Earth by changelings. The final straw, though, had been learning that Voyager had entered into a temporary alliance with the Borg and had Borg crewmen on board. He had followed their actions closely and had probably been responsible for denying Voyager permission to enter the Kesseret wormhole. When they had returned anyways, he had decided to kidnap the Captain, Seven and Icheb with help from Section 31.
Kathryn was startled out of her train of thought when she heard a noise behind her, but she didn't need to turn around to see who it was.
"Couldn't sleep?" asked Chakotay as he came up behind her.
"No," she said quietly.
He moved closer to her and put his arms around her, holding up a flat wrapped package. "Happy Birthday."
Her mouth opened in surprise. "Oh, I…I had completely forgotten. I guess I lost track of time."
She slowly pulled the paper of the flat object to reveal a brass plate. She turned it over slowly to reveal the dedication plaque from Voyager. She gasped and ran her fingers slowly over the raised inscription.
"How did you get this?" she whispered as her fingers ran over the worn edges of the plate, scars from their many battles in the Delta quadrant.
He rested his chin on her shoulder. "It's tradition to present the Captain with the dedication plaque when a ship is decommissioned."
"But Admiral Paris said they were turning it into a museum," she said quietly.
"I convinced him that nobody would notice if the dedication plaque was a replica. He agreed with me that you deserved to have the original."
"Thank you," she whispered emotionally. "It…this means a lot to me."
"I know. Happy Birthday, Kathryn."
They were silent for a few moments as she continued to examine the plaque.
"Where should we put this?" she finally asked, holding it up in front of her.
He reached around and took it from her, moving over to a shelf on the wall next to the window. There was a collection of holo-images on the shelf – Kathryn with her Irish Setter Molly before Voyager was thrown into the Delta quadrant, a picture of the senior staff, a family photo of Tom, B'Elanna, and Miral, and a few other images of the crew. There was also one of Kathryn and Chakotay on the parade grounds of Starfleet the day Voyager had returned to Earth. Chakotay moved a few of the frames aside and set the dedication plaque behind them, with the photo of the crew on one side of it and the image of them on the other.
"Perfect," she said quietly.
He walked over to where she was still standing in front of the window and put his arms around her again. She smiled and looked back out the window, lost in thought.
Chakotay frowned and tightened his grip around her waist. "You haven't said much since we got you out of there. Do you want to talk about it?"
She took a deep shaky breath and looked down at his hands around her waist, putting one of hers on top of his. "They ran…some kind of simulations, I guess. I would find myself in the past, on Voyager. During our first battle with Species 8472, Operation Fort Knox, Unimatrix Zero, other encounters with the Borg. They were incredibly real…except I would always have the feeling that something wasn't right."
"You," she said with a smile. "I always had the feeling that…it's hard to explain. I just knew that it wasn't right somehow. That you weren't Chakotay."
"But it still felt real?"
"Oh, yes," she said quietly. "We were fighting the Borg, still stuck out in the Delta quadrant…I watched you get assimilated."
He didn't say anything for a few seconds as he took that in. "Kathryn…that must have been awful."
She squeezed her eyes shut. "When I realized that none of it was real…I've never felt that relieved in my life."
He pulled her closer to him and kissed her lightly on the cheek. They stood like that for a few minutes before he brought up something that had been on his mind.
"Kathryn, there's something I've been meaning to ask you about."
"What's that?" she asked.
He took a deep breath. "Just before we rescued you, we heard you arguing with Admiral Blackwell. You mentioned the officers you lost when the Caretaker's array brought Voyager to the Delta quadrant and you said that he had set the whole chain of events in motion. What did you mean by that?"
She sighed. She had hoped that he wouldn't ask. "I'd…rather not talk about it."
"Any particular reason?"
"It's…it's complicated. Let's just say it's something I wish I didn't know."
"You don't have to spare me, if that's what you're thinking. Whatever it is, I'll help you deal with it."
She turned around slowly and scrutinized his face carefully. "Are you sure you want to know?"
He nodded. "Tell me what's got you so upset."
She took a deep breath and walked over to the window again before she turned around and faced him. "Do you remember the Romulan we encountered through the temporal wormhole?"
"Telek. We hoped he would send messages for us, but he never did."
"No," she said quietly. "He didn't…but he did talk to Section 31."
That surprised him. "What?"
"Admiral Blackwell said Telek was interrogated by Section 31 in 2365. He revealed that Voyager would be thrown into the Delta quadrant if we were sent to the badlands."
She watched him as he absorbed the meaning of her words. "You mean…they knew what would happen."
She nodded. "I couldn't believe it either. Apparently, Section 31 decided that it would be to their advantage to have a ship in the heart of Borg territory, so they let us go on our mission to the badlands. They let us get stranded, they let my crew die…" her voice broke and she was unable to continue.
Chakotay managed to find his voice after a few seconds. "Kathryn, I…I'm sorry."
"So am I," she said quietly.
He moved over to where she was standing and took her in his arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck and returned the embrace. After a minute, he pulled away and put his hands on either side of her face. He brushed away a tear that rolled down her cheek with his thumb.
"Are you going to tell the crew?"
"No," she said. "They've been through enough without having to deal with the fact that somebody at Starfleet knew and did nothing."
She pulled away from him and looked out the window.
"Seven years," she whispered. "It could have been prevented."
He looked at her carefully and thought for a minute before he responded. "Kathryn…we may have lost some people, but think of everything we've gained. We've charted a huge expanse of the Delta quadrant that was previously unexplored. We made dozens of allies, encountered hundreds of new species. You've had more contact with the Borg than any Captain in Starfleet. The new technology we've gathered and the data we've collected will keep their engineers busy for the next decade."
"Apparently that was the idea," she said quietly.
He tried another tactic. "What about Seven? If it wasn't for you, she would still be a drone. Not to mention Icheb, Mezoti, Azan, Rebi…they all have a chance at a life thanks to you. Tom and B'Elanna got married. We rescued the crew of the Yukon." He stepped closer to her. "And don't forget we would never have met if you hadn't been sent to the badlands to arrest me. You have to look at the bad as well as the good. We may have been separated from our families, from our homes…but we've spent the past seven years serving under a Captain who united a divided crew, who made us believe in ourselves, and who never stopped believing that we would see Earth again. And she was right." He stepped even closer to her and reached over to take her hand. "I don't know about you, but I wouldn't give up the past seven years for anything."
She stared at him for a long time before she responded. "Neither would I," she said quietly after a minute, putting her hand on his chest. "Despite everything…or maybe because of it…those were the best seven years of my life. The truth is…if I could change it…make it so we had never been thrown into the Delta quadrant…I don't think I could bring myself to do it."
He smiled and led her over to the window, standing behind her with his arms around her as they watched the sunrise.
"What am I going to do now?" she said quietly after a few minutes.
"Hmm?" he said, startled out of his thoughts.
"Where do I go from here?"
"What do you mean?" he asked, leaning his head forward so he could see her face.
"For seven years I've put all my energy, my life, into getting my crew home…now what am I going to do?"
"You'll figure something out. We'll figure something out."
She chuckled. "Just sit back and wait for something to come to me?"
"In a nutshell."
She sighed and was silent for a few minutes. "I wonder what they're doing right now."
"Everyone - Tom and B'Elanna. Harry. Neelix. Tuvok. Seven and Mark. Icheb. The Doctor. It seems so strange not knowing where they are, what they're doing."
"We'll still see them," he said. "We're having dinner at Tom and B'Elanna's next week."
"It's not the same," she sighed. "As much as I always wanted to get the crew home, the past few years…" She took a deep breath and moved closer to him. "The longer we were out there, the more I realized what I would lose when we got home."
"You haven't lost them, Kathryn."
"They're my family," she said quietly.
"I know. They still are. You haven't lost anybody…especially me."
She finally smiled. "I know."
He wrapped his arms tighter around her, and they stood together, watching the sun climb over the horizon that for so long had seemed nearly unattainable…and was now just a glance away.
(Yes, believe it or not, there's more…there is now an EPILOGUE.)