Disclaimer: not mine

Chapter 17

Tom sat at his station, thinking about what the Captain had told them. Omega…it intrigued him…but also terrified him. The idea of subspace becoming so unstable, to be unable to go to warp. They would never see Earth again if that happened, wouldn't get much further at all in his lifetime at impulse speeds. No wonder Starfleet had classified all knowledge of it so high. He just hoped the Captain's plan worked.

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Riku called Kairi's number, wanting to make sure she was okay after seeing the photo and to take his mind off something dangerous going on.

"Riku," she answered, eyes red from tears.

"Kairi, are you alright?" he asked.

She sniffled, wiping at her eyes. "Am I okay? Riku…"

"I know," he soothed.

"It's…it's not just his face and neck, is it?" she asked, and he shook his head.

"He stripped off totally before I took that, wanted me to truly see…there's implants all over his body. And this is after surgery to remove everything possible…the Borg left him heavily scarred too, the Doctor here was good enough to leave none when he helped Sora…and when he fixed me up too."

"Fixed you?" she asked in alarm, so he held the camera to see his bare wrist.

"it's almost weird not being in pain," he admitted. "Sora's agreed that if a portable way for him to Regenerate can be found, he'll come with me to see Terra and the group there. I told him if they can't…I'll stay here."

"Of course," she agreed. "And I'll join you when Sora is ready."

"Thanks," he smiled at her.

"So what are you doing, other than convincing Sora we love him?" she asked, aiming to tease.

"Nothing, I'm confined to quarters for security reasons, unless accompanied. Something's going on at the moment too, something dangerous. Sora even asked me to leave for my own safety so it has to be bad."

"Riku…"

"I'll be careful," he promised. "I'm wearing my pauldron, I can activate my armour in an instant if necessary. I am not leaving Sora here, he can't use magic or summon his Keyblade."

"What about armour?"

"I haven't given it to him yet," he admitted. "The time hasn't seemed right, and I'm not sure what magic he has would be enough. We are planning to work on it, just haven't had the chance yet. I'm hoping that seeing me use it will help him begin to re-learn. At least I won't hit him over the head if he fails," he grumbled. That was his one grievance with the duck, the way he was a bit too free to give head hits with his wand.

"I'm worried about you both."

"I know, I'll call you once whatever's going on is done. And before we leave."

"So I can arrange to be gone," she nodded. "Tell him I love him, and I miss him, miss you both."

"I will." He smiled and kissed his fingertips, pressing them to the screen as she did the same.

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"Status report?" the Captain asked as she entered, Sora didn't bother looking up, knowing she was asking Seven.

"This is a harmonic resonance chamber. The Borg designed it to contain and stabilise Omega," Seven explained.

"I thought I asked you to work on the photon torpedo."

"Sora is doing that, although the torpedo may be insufficient. I can modify this chamber to emit an inverse frequency. It will be enough to dissolve Omega's interatomic bonds."

"Here's to Borg ingenuity. This is excellent work, Seven. We may need this."

"The modifications require several complex calculations. Assist me," Seven stated, didn't ask. He didn't understand how she could act like that with the Captain.

"I guess I will. I'm curious. When did the Borg discover Omega?"

"Two hundred twenty nine years ago," Sora answered absently, as he re-ran some of his calculations. There could be no mistakes with any of this.

"Assimilation?"

"Yes, of thirteen different species," Seven confirmed as they worked on the chamber.

"Thirteen?"

Sora stood back from the console he'd been working at, stretching his back slightly, looking at the Captain. "It began with Species two six two. They were primitive, but their oral history referred to a powerful substance which could burn the sky. The Borg were intrigued, which led them to Species two six three. They too were primitive, and believed it was a drop of blood from their Creator."

"Fascinating."

"Yes, but irrelevant," Seven scoffed.

"The Bord followed the trail of myth for many years until finally assimilating a species with useful scientific data. We…they then created the molecule."

"Omega caused quite a stir among humans. Federation cosmologists had a theory that the molecule once existed in nature for an infinitesimal period of time at the exact moment of the Big Bang. Some claimed Omega was the primal source of energy for the explosion that began our universe."

"A creation myth like any other," Seven told her as Sora got back to work.

"Perhaps. What is it the Borg say? That Omega is perfect?"

"Yes," she sounded almost proud of that, which he didn't understand. Omega was dangerous, if they lost the ability to go to warp….Voyager would never make it back to the Federation.

"Is that a theory or a belief."

"Bridge to Captain," Commander Chakotay's voice came over the comm.

"Go ahead."

"We're approaching the coordinates."

"I'm on my way. I'm leaving this project in your hands. Use whatever resources and personnel you need," she told them.

"Understood."

They worked in silence for a while before Seven stopped and looked at him. "You disagree with my desire to study the molecule."

"Yes, it's too dangerous. Even if the ship remained intact, without warp they will never reach the Alpha Quadrant."

"And yet if the molecule could be harnessed, we could arrive far sooner."

"The risks far outweigh the benefits," he shook his head. He didn't like arguing with Seven, something left over from the Borg, but she could be a little too much like them sometimes.

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"You look exhausted, have you Regenerated?" Riku asked, as Sora stepped inside. He was surprised when Sora walked over and hugged him but he quickly returned the embrace.

"I am….I'm scared," Sora murmured, and Riku tightened his hold.

"I'm here," he whispered. "What happened?"

"We beamed down to the moon, there'd been a lab accident…it was… Over three hundred thousand square kilometres were destroyed. They lost containment and it nearly killed all of them, we sent rescue teams."

"You went?" Riku asked, feeling Sora nod against him.

"There was a radiation risk, Seven and I are still Borg enough to have a much higher tolerance, we still needed inoculations but not as strong as the others. But she was needed here to work on something."

"So you went with the rescue team." Of course he had, Sora would never turn away someone in need.

"I came back up with the survivors, Doctor ordered me to Regenerate to ensure no damage from the radiation."

"Have you?" he asked, and Sora shook his head. "I'll stay with you while you do," Riku promised.

"Seven has a team in there working,"

"Then I'll stay in here," he tapped Sora's Heart lightly. "I'll dive in ten minutes, okay?" he asked, and Sora hesitated but then nodded, pulling away.

Riku watched him go before going to lie down himself. He was happy that Sora had come to him in his distress, that he trusted him still to help. Regeneration wasn't sleep, so there'd be no nightmares, but he could keep Sora's mind off whatever he had seen down there.

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Harry paused in his work when the doors opened, seeing a weary Sora enter and head straight for the alcoves. He moved away from the chamber and approached as Sora set the program. "Are you okay?" he hadn't seen his younger friend much since the stranger had come aboard, but he'd heard the memory restoration had been a success.

"The Doctor wants me to Regenerate just to be sure there's no radiation damage," Sora explained. "I can help after that."

"Take your time," Harry told him, clapping a hand on his shoulder. "When this is all over, you and Riku should join Tom and me at Sandríne's to relax a bit, okay?"

Sora smiled at him and nodded before stepping into his alcove, the program activating immediately.

"Why is Sora Regenerating now?" Seven asked as Harry re-joined the others.

"Doctor's orders," he answered shortly, she was taking things a bit far with command of the team, they were not drones!

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Chakotay was relieved to find the chamber appeared complete when he entered the cargo bay, catching sight of Sora standing utterly still in his Regeneration alcove.

"We don't need to destroy the molecules. I believe I've found a way to stabilise them. The alien in Sickbay calibrated his containment field using Omega's own resonance, an approach unknown to the Borg. I have modified this chamber," Seven announced as he approached.

"Those weren't your orders. The Captain wants Omega eliminated," he glared at her.

"That is still an option, if she insists on yielding to her fear."

"Show me what you've done," he ordered.

"This simulation shows the molecules in their free state, highly unstable. I've modified the chamber to emit a harmonic waveform that will dampen the molecules."

"Looks great, in theory, but this is only a simulation. How are you going to test it?" he asked, curiosity roused.

"On Omega."

And there went his curiosity as he shook his head. "Bad idea. One mistake, and no one will be around for a second try."

"It will work," she argued, showing him her data.

"Someday, maybe. Hang on to your research. For now, we stick to the plan. Stand by to transport the molecules into this chamber and neutralise them as ordered."

"I have been a member of this crew for nine months. In all of that time, I have never made a personal request. I am making one now. Allow me to proceed. Please."

"Why is this so important to you?" he asked, it seemed more than mere scientific curiosity.

"Particle zero one zero. The Borg designation for what you call Omega. Every Drone is aware of its existence. We were instructed to assimilate it at all costs. It is perfection. The molecules exist in a flawless state. Infinite parts functioning as one," she explained, sounding almost in awe.

"Like the Borg."

"Precisely. I am no longer Borg, but I still need to understand that perfection. Without it, my existence will never be complete. Commander, you are a spiritual man."

He blinked at the sudden shift in topic. "That's right."

"If you had the chance to see your God, your Great Spirit, what would you do?"

"I'd pursue it, with all my heart," he admitted.

"Then you understand," she nodded.

"I think I do. I'll inform the captain of your discovery. For now, her orders stand," he ordered, and she nodded.

"Thank you."

They were interrupted by footsteps, looking over to find Sora leaving his alcove, looking relaxed. He saw the chamber and blinked. "It's done?" he asked.

"Indeed, I need your assistance," she told him.

"I'll leave you two too it," he told them and left.

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Sora's kept his eyes on the readouts even as his fingers flew across the controls, one tiny error and they would all die. No pressure.

"Initiating transport."

"Transport was successful," Seven informed the bridge.

It wasn't long before the Captain joined them, looking irritated. "Seven, the procedure?"

"It's working. Eleven percent of the molecules have already been neutralised," she answered.

"Let's see if we can speed up the process a little."

"Did Chakotay tell you about my idea?"

"Yes."

"Then you will allow me to stabilise the remaining molecules," Seven stated but Sora had the feeling she was wrong, and he was grateful for that.

"You know I can't do that."

"Your Starfleet Directive is no longer relevant. I have found a way to control Omega," Seven argued.

"I don't care if you can make it sing and dance. We're getting rid of it," the Captain told her, and Sora found himself biting the inside of his cheek, overcome by the sudden urge to laugh.

"A foolish decision."

"Yes, but it's mine to make. Now step aside."

"I could have done this without your permission, but I chose to follow your command structure. I should have made the attempt. I still can."

At Seven's words, Sora began working, he would not let her go against the Captain's orders and endanger them all.

"But you won't. You know I'm not trying to stop you from finding perfection, but I can't risk the safety of this Quadrant. Omega must end here. We both know that. Status?"

"Eighteen percent," Sora answered.

"This could take hours. Can you increase the harmonic resonance?"

"Yes. but it would rupture the chamber," Seven warned.

"How many molecules would we neutralise?"

"Forty, fifty percent at best," Sora checked the readouts.

"That's good enough. Our torpedo can take care of the rest. Janeway to bridge."

"Chakotay here."

"Chakotay, I want you to clear deck four. Put emergency forcefields around this section. Prepare to decompress Cargo Bay two on my command."

"Understood."

"Tuvok, load the gravimetric torpedo. Once we've jettisoned the chamber, fire."

"Aye, Captain."

"Harmonic resonance to maximum," she ordered them.

The three of them began working together to neutralise as many molecules as possible before the chamber could rupture. Sora braced himself as the ship shuddered under weapons fire, making their task even more difficult.

"Harmonic resonance at maximum, Captain," Seven called out after another minute.

"The molecules?"

"Eighty percent remaining," Sora answered as the ship shuddered again. He felt…he felt a spike of alarm nearby…Riku. He forced himself to ignore it and focus on his work.

"We need to get that down to sixty."

"Any damage to our power grid could overload the chamber. Omega would chain react," he pointed out.

"The same thought crossed my mind. Where are we now?" the Captain asked.

"Seventy two percent," he grimaced, they needed more!

"That's close enough, Bridge, start the decompression sequence."

"Acknowledged."

An alarm sounded and the Captain turned to them. "What's wrong? What's happening?"

"The molecules are stabilising."

"What?"

"I've done nothing. It's occurring spontaneously," Seven answered in amazement, staring at the readings.

"That's impossible."

Sora looked up at the chamber, seeing the molecules form a glittering sphere. It was…beautiful.

"Decompression in thirty seconds. Decompression in twenty five seconds," the computer announced.

"Seven, Sora, let's move," the Captain ordered, and he tore his gaze from the chamber to move for the doors.

"Decompression in twenty seconds."

"Seven!" he yelled, lunging and grabbing her wrist to drag her out if needed. Thankfully she moved willingly.

"Decompression in fifteen seconds."

The three of them bolted out of the cargo bay, the doors sealing behind them.

"Decompression in ten seconds."

They'd cut it a bit close but they'd made it.

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"Tom, are we clear of the subspace ruptures?" Chakotay asked.

"Almost."

"I need maximum warp within ten seconds or we'll be stuck at ground zero," he ordered.

"Yes, sir."

"Decompression is complete. The harmonic chamber has been jettisoned," Tuvok announced.

"Fire!" he ordered, watching on the viewscreen as the torpedo hit the chamber and it exploded.

"We made it. We're at warp one," Tom announced, relief obvious.

The doors opened to let the Captain, Seven, and Sora onto the bridge.

"The alien ships?"

"Out of range," Tom answered.

"Tuvok?" the Captain asked.

"Sensors show no traces of Omega molecules."

"Mission accomplished." She nodded at them all.

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Captain's log, Stardate 51793.4. We've arranged for our guests in Sickbay to be taken back to their home world, and we can finally put this mission behind us. This will be my last encrypted log concerning the Omega Directive. The classified datafiles will now be destroyed.

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Sora buzzed for entry and the door opened. He found Riku rising from the couch, looking him over. "I'm fine, it is over," he assured him. He walked over and sat down, Riku sitting back down beside him.

Riku put his hand on his knee, turned palm up, offering, and Sora took it with his right hand. Once again, Riku didn't react to touching the metal, running his thumb over his metal covered knuckles. He relaxed back and then let himself lean towards Riku slowly. He heard Riku chuckle and then his hand was released, Riku wrapping his arm around his shoulders instead, gently drawing him closer so that his head was on his shoulder.

"Do I want to know how close we came to being blown up?" he asked.

"No," Sora told him.

He felt Riku turn his head and then his lips press to the top of his head.

"Harry invited us to Sandríne's."

"Sandríne's?" Riku asked.

"It's a holoprogram of an old French wharf-side restaurant annex bar. There's pool tables, card games, and drinks. Synthale has very little alcohol," he assured him.

"Synthale?" Riku sounded confused and a little wary. Did Riku drink alcohol? They'd been too young before, right?

"It is made from Synthehol, a chemical variant of alcohol. It has the same taste and smell as real alcohol, but none of the deleterious effects associated with it for most humanoid species, such as debilitating intoxication, addiction, and alcohol poisoning," he recited. "The crew uses the bar to relax off-duty."

"Sounds interesting," Riku answered. "I'll go."

"I'll arrange a time," Sora smiled slightly. It would be good for Riku to get to know Tom and Harry, they were all his friends.

"I talked to Kairi earlier."

"She's seen…"

"She has," Riku finished for him. "She was crying for you, and when she asked, I told her that it is more than just what the photo showed. She wanted me to tell you that she loves you. And…if we do stay here then she wants to come too."

"Really?" he asked softly, Kairi really wanted to come if he couldn't go back?

"Really," Riku promised. He turned around so they were facing each other on the couch, cupping Sora's cheek in one hand. "We love you Sora, no matter what. And we'll keep telling you that for the rest of our lives if necessary."

He closed his eyes, leaning into his hand. He found…he wanted to believe him. But…was he capable of really returning those feelings anymore? Did he want to? They'd be better off just the two of them, without his messed up body and head involved.

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Riku followed Sora through the large doors and it was like they had gone to another World, gone was the gleaming technology, replaced by a room that would fit in Traverse Town or even Radiant Garden, just to name two Worlds. There were low lights and smoke haze, the noise of people laughing and drinking, playing games at large tables. He felt himself relax more than he'd been since coming aboard in a more familiar atmosphere.

"Sora!" a voice called and Sora pulled him along by their intertwined hands to find the man who had helped him get Sora to his Regeneration alcove that first day as well as another male with dark hair. That must be Harry.

The stranger offered his hand and Riku took it. "Ensign Harry Kim, Operations." His smile was open and friendly as they shook hands.

"Riku, Keyblade Master," he offered his own rank in return.

"Grab a seat you two, Synthale?" Tom asked.

Riku sat down. "Never heard of it till Sora mentioned it, as long as it's not too alcoholic?"

"You can't get drunk from it," Harry assured him, so Riku agreed.

Tom soon returned with four glasses and Riku took a sip, the taste was…different, not bad though. Finding things to talk about was a bit hit and miss, but he had fun.

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"Kairi," Roxas smiled at her as she joined them at the Bistro.

"Hey guys."

"How's Riku?" Xion asked.

"Good, a little bored I think. For security reasons, he's not allowed to wander alone or anything. There was some trouble, but he's not entirely sure what it was, Sora obeyed orders and wouldn't talk about it."

"He's really with Sora," Roxas whispered.

Kairi fiddled with her Gummiphone, should she show them? Riku hadn't said she couldn't, but…would that be an invasion of Sora's privacy?

"Kairi?" Lea called in concern.

She put her phone in front of Roxas and Xion and opened the photo. As they'd gotten older, a few differences had appeared between Roxas and Ventus in their appearance, to both their happiness. People who knew them had never confused them but others had. Roxas tended to keep his hair a bit longer than Ven and his face was a bit thinner, cheekbones a little higher looking. His eyes had also darkened a little, closer to Sora's in colour than Ventus'. Thankfully, Xion, Naminé and her all had different hair colours so they'd never been mistaken for each other, and they too looked a bit more different now, Xion shared features with not just her but Sora, while Naminé was the lightest built of the three of them.

Roxas picked it up, staring at the photo. "Sora…is he alright? What is that?" he demanded.

She toyed with her mug of hot chocolate, she hadn't told them much of what Riku had shared but if Sora could come to visit then eventually they'd all see him. Better they know in advance then be taken by surprise and hurt him with their reactions. "Sora was…when the link with Riku was broken, it happened because Sora locked his memories away, everything that made him who he is. That's why he had amnesia," she explained, they'd all known Sora had amnesia but had regained his memories thanks to Riku's help. She explained the basics of what Riku had told her.

They were all shocked and horrified, angry for Sora.

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Sora walked into Sickbay, finding it empty. "Computer, activate the EMH," he called, the Doctor appearing.

"Hello Sora, can I help you with something?" he asked.

Sora took a deep breath. "That research you said you would need to do, can you do it?" he asked.

"Are you sure?" the Doctor asked, understanding immediately what he meant.

"I think it would be better to know, no matter what happens," he admitted. It would bother him until he did know if it would be possible, if he wanted one.

"I will need to run some tests," the Doctor warned, and Sora nodded, he had expected that. "If you have time, we may as well do so now."

"Agreed." He wanted to know if he could ever be with someone physically, even if he never actually was, or if it was years off.

No point letting Riku and Kairi hold on to hope only to find out years down the line that it was impossible. And he didn't want to hope himself for something so human one day if it couldn't happen, not that he was sure he would ever feel ready for such a thing. To let himself be touched all over, bare skin…he wasn't sure if he could let even Riku do that. Yes, Riku held him, but there was always something between them, clothing or the blanket that one time.

He'd had plenty of scans and tests since waking in Sickbay to ensure his body was adapting to everything. This time it felt different though, the Doctor had only done cursory examinations to ensure nothing was going wrong, not to see if he could have a physical relationship. Samples were taken and scans run, Sora answering every question, making himself consider it like any other exam.

"I'll let you know when I have the results."

"Thanks."

"Of course."

Sora changed back into his clothing and left Sickbay, glad it was over and done with. He put it from his mind and went to meet Riku, they had a holodeck booked for the afternoon to see if he could work out magic. He was worried that he could not…that becoming a drone meant he would never use magic or a Keyblade again.

TBC…

This does not mean that if the Doctor says its safe, Sora is going to jump into bed with Riku. He's just become curious and wants to know if it can happen, better to know than wonder. And if it can't then he can tell them and expects them to back off, not that they probably would since there's more to a relationship and love than the physical.