A Fire of Devotion Part 1 of 4: Louder Than Sirens: Chapters Seven & Eight

Chapter Seven

Seven of Nine awoke from her regeneration cycle to find herself alone. It took a moment’s reorientation to remember that Samantha had gone to bed early last night because she had a bridge shift this morning. Seven remembered that she had a scheduled maintenance inspection of the aft sensor array, and that Ensign Kim was supposed to assist her.
“Computer, locate Ensign Kim,” she said.
“Ensign Kim is in the mess hall,” the computer responded. Seven exited the cargo bay and headed towards the mess hall to meet with Harry.

When she arrived, she found Harry playing the Vulcan game of kal-toh with Lieutenant Commander Tuvok, a weekly occurrence. She looked at the game and saw that Harry was only one move away from winning, but from the way he was looking at it, she could tell he didn’t see it.

She wondered if Harry had found time to practice the game at any point during his year in an alternate timeline.
“Seven,” Harry said. “You’re early.”
“Seventeen minutes to be precise,” Seven said, wondering how Harry knew she was there without looking in her direction. “I allotted extra time for our task today to allow time for reading a text the Doctor recommended to me.”

“Good, good,” Harry said, still not taking his eyes off the game. “Care to take a seat? I think this is the closest I’ve ever come to beating this thing.”
“Very well,” Seven said, wondering if Harry knew just how correct he was. She had to admit, she respected his ability to have gotten so far. From what she knew of the game, very few humans were capable of winning.

After a few more moments, Harry sighed. “Damn. I concede. Well played Commander,” he said. Tuvok raised an eyebrow.

“Ensign Kim, are you certain you wish to forfeit at this moment?” Tuvok said.

“Yeah. I’ve been looking at this one piece for what feels like forever, I’m just not getting it,” Harry said.

“‘Forever, as you call it, has only been three and a half minutes,” Tuvok said.
“May I?” Seven said, holding out her hand, palm up to Harry. Harry looked at her, then at the kal-toh piece in his hand. He shrugged, then handed it to her. “You were in fact very close Ensign. if you look right-”
The ship suddenly shuddered. It was subtle, several people in the mess hall didn’t seem to notice it right away, and the game was unaffected.
“What was that?” Harry said.

Seven noticed out the viewports that the stars that had been streaking by before were suddenly still.
“We have dropped out of warp,” she said.

Less than an hour later, at the request of Commander Chakotay, Seven was in engineering with Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres.
“Any idea what this is about?” Tom said.
“I believe the Commander will inform us when he arrives,” Seven said, the doors to engineering opening and Commander Chakotay coming through as soon as she said it.

Chakotay dispensed with any form of greeting, and quickly got to the point.“I’ve been informed,” he said, “that we’ll be undertaking a highly classified mission. Captain’s order are that information will be given out on a need-to-know basis.”
“Classified? By who?” Tom said.
“”By whom,” Seven reflexively corrected. She winced. “My apologies, that was unnecessary.”
“You know Seven, just because you’re dating a parent-” B’Elanna started to say, but Chakotay cut her off.
“Focus people. B’Elanna, the captain wants you to install multiphasic shielding around the warp core by 1100 hours.”

B’Elanna scoffed. “Less than five hours? Can’t be done,” she said.
“The Captain wants it done,” Chakotay said. “at any cost. Go around any safety measures if you have to. Those are her orders.”

“Are we attempting to protect the core from some form of subspace radiation?” Seven said.

“I know about as much as you do,” Chakotay said, as he handed a PADD to Tom.
“Tom, start modifying a shuttlecraft to withstand extreme thermal stress; 12,000 kelvins at least.”

“Aye sir,” Tom said.
“Does this have anything to do with that secret message the Captain got?” B’Elanna said. “Rumor has it the captain’s been locked in her ready room since we dropped out of warp.”
“Close,” Tom said. “She did come on to the bridge after we dropped out of warp and we got that omega symbol on all our screens.”
“Omega?” Seven said. That’s what dropped us out of warp, she thought. There‘s an omega particle near-by. That means the captain is implementing the Omega Directive.

“It’s an old Earth symbol,” Chakotay said. “From the-”

“Greek alphabet yes,” Seven said. “Commander, I need to speak-”
“With the captain?” Chakotay said. “Funny, she wanted me to send you her way. Whatever’s going on, I can’t ask. And you two,” Chakotay looked back and forth between Tom and B’Elanna, “no gossip. Focus on the tasks at hand. I’m sympathetic, I’m curious about all this myself, but Captain Janeway was very adamant about all this.”

On her way to see the Captain, Seven bumped into Samantha Wildman, almost literally. Her mind was so consumed with shameless excitement, an unusual emotion for her. The prospect of actually seeing an Omega particle with her own eyes…
“Honey, where’s the fire?” Samantha said.
“What?” Seven said.
“An expression. You looked like you were in a hurry.”
“I am, actually. The Captain wishes to speak with me.”
“Is this about the shockwave that dropped us out of warp earlier today?” Samantha said. “I was on the bridge when it happened. Still not sure what it was, or why the computer decided to get all cloak and dagger on us.”
“It’s part of the Omega Directive,” Seven said, flinching after she said so. In her excitement she had completely forgotten that Samantha, not being a Captain, would likely have never heard of it. “I wasn’t supposed to tell you that, please disregard.”
“Passing classified information huh?” Samantha said with a smirk. “Don’t worry. You know how well I can keep a secret. Have fun with your classified mission,” she added before giving Seven a kiss on the cheek.
Seven sighed. Classified, she thought. For now at least. Seven finally reached the Captain’s ready room.

“Come in,” Janeway’s voice said.

As soon as the doors closed behind Seven, Janeway immediately got to the reason she asked for her. “How much do you know about Omega?” she asked.

“As much as you do,” Seven said, grateful for the Captain’s directness. “Most likely that is.”
“I thought as much,” Janeway said. “The Borg have assimilated Starfleet captains, it’s not surprising that you would have at least some of their knowledge.”

“An accurate assessment,” Seven said. “Do you intend to carry out the directive?”
“I do.”
Seven felt her heart actually skip a beat in a way it hadn’t since Samantha had said “I love you” on the holodeck months prior.
“Then you have found an omega particle,” Seven said, not caring in that moment if the captain could see her excitement.

“Ship’s sensors have, yes,” Janeway said. “The directive forbids me from speaking about Omega or what it concerns to any member of the crew. But, since you already know about it, you have two options. Help me, or I will confine you to the cargo bay until the particle has been destroyed.”
“The latter then Captain,” Seven said without hesitation. “I refuse to aid in the destruction of Omega. It should be harnessed, not destroyed.”

“Harnessing Omega is impossible,” Janeway said.
“The Collective believes otherwise. While I was a drone, the Borg did manage to stabilize a single Omega particle for one-trillionth of a nanosecond. The experiment allowed them to refine their theories about how to permanently stabilize it.”
“I’m not impressed. One-trillionth of a nanosecond? A blink of an eye is a human’s lifetime compared to that. And what, may I ask, did this little experiment cost the Borg when they tried it?”

Seven looked to the side, not wanting to look Janeway in the eye, afraid the Captain would see the embarrassment in her own.

“Twenty-nine vessels, and 600,000 drones,” she said. Janeway crossed her arms. Seven continued. “And we, they, lacked enough boronite ore to create another.”

“Sorry,” Janeway said, though her tone suggested she wasn’t. “If someone out there is experimenting with Omega my orders are to stop them. Whoever is experimenting with it is putting this whole quadrant at risk.”
“Captain, you must understand. As a drone, I only ever had one primary desire; perfection. Like all Borg. But, there was another. It’s as close to selfishness as I or any drone could’ve gotten. I want to see an Omega particle. Firsthand.”  Seven closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I will assist you,” she said.
“You will?” Janeway said, sounding surprised. “But just a few seconds ago you were-”
“I still contend that Omega can be harnessed. But even if I cannot convince you to try, I can at least fulfill that desire to observe it through more than just a mere simulation. I will not deny myself that experience. Omega is infinitely complex, yet harmonious. To the Borg it represents perfection. I wish to understand that perfection.”
Janeway nodded, her facial expression showing that she at least believed she understood where Seven was coming from. “Report back to your cargo bay,” she said. “assemble everything you have on Omega, then come back in one hour. You are not to discuss this matter with anyone. Especially Sam. That is an order.”
“Yes Captain,” Seven said.

The next morning, Janeway entered the cargo bay. Seven had been running analysis on the data obtained from the shockwave that had hit them yesterday, even putting off lunch with Samantha to do so. Seven regretted the necessity of it, but due in part to the failure of the command staff to fully stop the ship’s rumor mill, Samantha understood that it had something to do with the classified mission Seven was brought it on by the Captain. If anything, far from being upset Samantha seemed to find the matter rather exciting, despite the fact that Seven was literally not allowed to tell her anything about it.

“Captain,” Seven said before Janeway could ask her any questions. “Upon further examination, it would appear that we are dealing with more than one Omega particle.”
“What?” Janeway said in a shocked tone of voice.

“Possibly hundreds, within a radius of ten light years from our current position.”
“That’s worse than I thought,” Janeway said.
“Captain,” Seven said, knowing that the Captain was not going to like what she was about to say next. “I do not believe that the two of us are capable of completing this task alone. We will require the resources of the entire crew.”

“Transfer your data to the astrometrics lab,” Janeway said after a moment’s pause, giving no indication that she had heard what Seven had said to her. “I’ll work on it there.”

“Captain,” Seven said. “Given the nature of the situation, there’s a distinct possibility that if we fail in our mission, we will be destroyed in the process. We must tell the crew something, even if it is a falsehood, in order to keep them from endangering themselves on a rescue mission.”
“I’m working on that already. I’ll talk to Commander Chakotay, he’ll be given explicit instructions.”

“And what should I tell Sam?” Seven said, the sentence coming out of her mouth with more invective behind it than she’d intended, betraying her bitterness at the situation.
Janeway sighed.
“Samantha is a Starfleet officer. She knew when she signed up there were risks. She knows every time a crew member leaves this ship there’s a chance they won’t be coming back. You can’t dwell on that, Seven. When we’re out there I’ll need your undivided attention on the task at hand.”
“I will perform my duties to the fullest of my abilities Captain,” Seven said. “I simply believe that as her romantic partner, she has the right to know about the circumstances of my death should that be the case.”
“I don’t have time for this argument Seven,” Janeway said. “You are not allowed to divulge any details about the Omega Directive, or the omega particle. Beyond that, tell her whatever you think will make you feel better.”
“It’s not my well-being I am concerned with Captain, it’s my girlfriend and her child I’m worried about.”

Janeway closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose with a thumb and finger, a gesture that Seven noticed was common among humans when they were frustrated.
“I’ve already had to amend the Omega Directive once for this mission, why not pile on. I’ll write something for the crew, to be declassified only upon my death. That way, if we don’t get home, all of them will know why, not just Samantha and Naomi. Is that good enough?”
“Yes. And thank you,” Seven said, meaning it.

“Annie,” Samantha Wildman said as she entered cargo bay 2. “Brought you some lunch.”
“Thank you, but I’m afraid I’ve already eaten,” Seven of Nine said.
“Oh. Getting ready for the big mission huh? Harry’s not quite the gossip he used to be before his whole ‘year of hell’ thing, but even he couldn’t keep it secret that he and Tuvok are modifying a torpedo. From what he says, it sounds like you’re getting ready to blow up a small planet.”
“This is inaccurate,” Seven said. “Though perhaps even saying that much was pushing the boundaries of what is and isn’t classified.”

Samantha chuckled at that. She imagined that it was difficult for Seven not to tell her what was going on. Seven often had difficulty keeping things from her, even things that Sam felt she didn’t really need to know having not yet mastered the concept of oversharing that she’d promised to teach Seven when they began sleeping together. Still, despite Seven’s tendency to say more than was necessary, Samantha loved her all the same.

“Well, who knows, maybe you can share with us after the fact. If you make it back I mean.”
“Sam-”
“Annika, I’m not a child.” Samantha hoped that Seven could tell she was sincere in what she was saying. “I’m a Starfleet officer. I know every time you leave this ship there’s a-”
“A chance I won’t be coming back,” Seven said, stopping whatever she was doing on her Borg console. ”By coincidence I had a similar conversation with the Captain not more than a half hour ago.”
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared, Annie. But whatever it is you and the Captain are going to be facing out there, I know what you both are capable of. If anyone can make it back, it’s you and her. And I’ll be here, waiting.”

Seven opened her mouth to reply, but her comm badge chirped.
“Chakotay to Seven of Nine, report to the briefing room.”
“On my way Commander,” Seven said. She walked over to Samantha and embraced her, squeezing tighter than she ever had before but still holding back as she often did out of fear of her own Borg enhanced strength. “As strange as it may sound, I am glad I was assimilated by the Borg as a child. Had I not been, I’d never have met you.”
Samantha closed her eyes, and kissed Seven on the forehead.
“It doesn’t sound strange at all,” she said. “Now go out there and knock ‘em dead tiger.”

“Tiger?”
“Trying out some new nicknames. You like?”
“It’s inoffensive, but I’m not sure it works.”

Harry Kim found himself, for the first time since the Year of Hell, actually genuinely excited about a mission. He’d been excited when Voyager had begun receiving letters from the Alpha Quadrant, before they were forced to destroy a relay in order to save Seven of Nine and Tuvok from the Hirogen, but in terms of other things the crew had encountered since then, his once omnipresent enthusiasm for strange new worlds that he’d had with him since he entered Starfleet Academy had been gone. He wondered if this was a sign that finally the medication and therapy regime the Doctor had him on for his post-traumatic stress was finally paying off.

As soon as Seven of Nine entered the briefing room, looking somewhat uncharacteristically exhausted, the Captain began speaking to all the crewmembers gathered there; himself, Seven, Tuvok, the Doctor, Tom, and Chakotay. B’Elanna was still in engineering.
“If we were in the Alpha Quadrant right now,” she said. “we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I’d be in contact with Starfleet Command and they’d be sending in a specialized team to deal with this. But I don’t have that option. For the time being, what training I’ve received and what knowledge Seven of Nine has retained from the Borg will have to suffice.”
“Captain,” Seven of Nine said. “May I ask what brought about this, change of heart?”
Janeway glanced over at Chakotay.
“Let’s just say I got a much needed kick in the pants and leave it at that,” Janeway said. “That’s a figure of speech by the way.”
Seven’s eyebrow raised. “I’m a Borg, not a toddler. I would not have assumed that the Commander had literally kicked you.”

Harry chuckled at that.

Janeway sighed. “Moving on,” she said, adding emphasis to the latter word. She tapped a few buttons on the console in front of her and pointed at the screen. “You’ve all seen this symbol I imagine in one context or another. Omega. Starfleet chose it as a symbol for something that threatens not only the Federation but the entire galaxy. The Omega Particle is the most powerful substance known to exist anywhere in the universe. A single Omega particle has the same amount of power as a warp core.”
“Wow,” Harry said, unable to control his reaction. Janeway nodded and continued, not bothering to chastise Harry for his interruption.

“Omega was first synthesized by a Federation scientist named Bendes Ketteract in the late 23rd century,” she continued. “Upon creation, it exploded, destroying the entire facility. The explosion tore up subspace in the Lantaru sector over a radius of several light years. In the affected area, it’s impossible to attain warp speed, since a warp drive can’t work without subspace from which to create a warp field.”

“I’ve heard of that sector,” Tom Paris said. “We were told in the academy that is was a natural phenomenon that made warp travel impossible there.”
“Obviously that’s not true,” Janeway said. “Only Starfleet captains and flag officers have ever been given full briefings on this threat.” She stood up. “What you are about to hear will not go beyond these bulkheads, is that clear?”
Harry nodded, and he saw everyone else do at roughly the same time. Is B’Elanna going to be briefed later, or are we leaving her out of the loop? he thought.

“Good,” Janeway said before going over to the viewscreen. After a few button pushes, the Omega symbol was placed with an animation of a single particle, enlarged so the naked eye could see it.
“This is Omega,” she said. She tapped a few more buttons, and the image of a badly damaged Starfleet space station appeared on screen. “This was the secret facility in the Lantaru sector. This image was taken from the sensors of the original U.S.S. Enterprise herself, under James T. Kirk’s command. The Enterprise was nearly lost. 126 of the Federation’s top scientists were even less lucky. Presumably they were hoping to provide the Federation with an inexhaustible source of energy”
“Equally likely is that it was being developed for use as a weapon. According to the admittedly incomplete data the Borg obtained from assimilated Starfleet captains,” Seven said. “the Lantaru base was under the direction of a clandestine group within the Federation called Section 31.”

“Wait, Section 31 is real?” Chakotay said, echoing Harry’s own thoughts when he heard Seven mention the name. “I’ve heard stories about them, but even I never really bought it. Not even when I was on the outs with Starfleet when I joined the Maquis.”
“I can in fact confirm Section 31’s existence Commander,” Tuvok said. “Many years ago, they attempted to recruit me into their organization. I declined, obviously.”
“My Dad hated Section 31,” Tom said. “He always used to say ‘if you have to deny an action, it was a crappy action.’ One of the few things we ever really agreed on.”
“None of this is relevant to the matter at hand,” Janeway said forcefully. “Starfleet Command at the time recognized the implications of the accident right away. An explosion of a large enough number of these molecules, even just a handful, would annihilate subspace throughout the Federation, or even the entire Alpha Quadrant. If that happened, warp speed anywhere in the quadrant would become impossible and subspace communication would no longer work.”
“That would mean the obliteration of every interstellar civilization in the quadrant,” Tuvok said. “Every single planet in the quadrant would be permanently isolated, cut off from all others. Any civilizations that did not yet have warp drive would never discover it.”
“Exactly,” Janeway said. “That’s the reason the Omega Directive exists, and why no one below the rank of Captain has ever been briefed on it. Until now. Starfleet buried as much of the data from Lantaru as they could, holding on to the rest as a way to research ways to safely destroy it.
“Which brings us to today. That shockwave we encountered that dropped us out of warp was the result of an Omega particle explosion.”
“I gathered as much,” the Doctor said. “I doubt you’d be breaking long-standing Starfleet protocol otherwise.”
“The Omega Directive is a top-secret order instructing that, if so much as one Omega particle is encountered, it is to be destroyed at any cost, including ignoring any and all other orders and instructions, including the Prime Directive.”
“Damn,” Harry muttered under his breath. He’d spent his whole life being told how sacrosanct the Prime Directive was, to the point where he sometimes wondered if people forgot that the directive had been written by sentients beings and wasn’t an edict handed down from a god.

“I’ve calculated the location of the Omega particles we’ve found here in the Delta Quadrant,” Janeway said. ”Tom, I’ll transfer the coordinates to helm. Take us there at full impulse.”
“Yes Captain,” Tom said.

“I don’t think I need to tell you all what’s at stake here,” Janeway said. “This may be the most important mission we’ve undertaken since the Caretaker brought us here. We’ve got our work cut out for us. Dismissed.”

Seven of Nine was not one for pride, but she had to admit as she looked at the schematics for the device she’d just designed that it was almost a tragedy that she couldn’t share this accomplishment with Sam. It wasn’t entirely completed yet, but the groundwork had been laid and Seven had no doubts that it would be ready by the time Voyager reached its destination. Sooner even if she had assistance on the project, but the rest of the senior staff was busy with their part of the mission and she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone else, though she doubted that anyone other than Captain Janeway, Ensign Kim, or Lieutenant Torres would be able to keep up with her.
That sounded like pride to me, her inner voice told her. She was about to tell her inner voice to shut up, regardless of the fact that doing so would be a futile gesture, when Captain Janeway entered the cargo bay.

“Status report,” she said.

Seven motioned the Captain over to look at the console screen she’d been working on. “This is a harmonic resonance chamber that will dissolve the inter-atomic bonds of the Omega molecules, destroying them.”
Janeway cleared her throat. “Good work, but I thought I asked you to work on the photon torpedo.”

“You did. But a torpedo may be insufficient. This is based on a Borg design. It was originally meant for containment, but as you can see here, I’ve made modifications.”
Janeway took a look, nodding every few moments.

“Excellent work, Seven,” she said.
“Thank you,” Seven said. “Additional modifications will be required, and the calculations are complex. I would like your assistance.”
“All right,” Janeway said, immediately picking up another PADD and making entries.
“I’m curious,” she said. “When exactly did the Borg discover Omega?”
“229 years ago,” Seven said.
“Through assimilation?”
“Correct. Of thirteen different species, starting with Species 262. They were primitive, but their oral history-”
“Bridge to the Captain,” Chakotay’s voice said over the comm.
“Go ahead,” Janeway said.
“We‘re approaching the coordinates,” Chakotay replied.
“On my way,” Janeway said. She put down the PADD she’d been working on. “I’m leaving this project in your hands. Use whatever resources and personnel you need.”
“Understood,” Seven said.

“I don’t get it. How could a pre-warp civilization be able to do research on something like Omega?” B’Elanna said.
“Not all species develop along the same path technologically speaking,” Seven said. “The Borg have assimilated species in the past whose medical technologies, for instance, were centuries ahead of the Federations, yet their transportation vehicles still ran on steam power. It is illogical to assume that every species in the galaxy would discover the same technologies your people have in the same order.”

“Fair enough.” The door to the cargo bay opened, and gold-shirted crewmen began carrying equipment into the cargo bay, led by Joe Carey. B’Elanna stepped aside.
“It’s your show,” she said. As she left she nodded to the crewmen. “Alright everyone, just remember, this device is Seven of Nine’s baby. Follow her orders like you would mine. I’ll be in engineering if you need me.”
A chorus of “Yes sirs” and “Yes ma’ams” followed. Seven immediately set the crewmen to work building her resonance chamber. Of all of them, only Carey didn’t seem tense. She realized that she had never actually interacted with any of them apart from Carey. She considered making a joke of some kind to break the tension but decided against it as her deadpan delivery might lead to confusion that she meant what she said.
“Here you go, Seven,” Carey said, handing her a PADD. “This is everyone assigned to your team, including their fields of expertise and what areas they excelled at in the Academy, so you don’t put anyone on the team somewhere where they can’t give you their best.”
“I appreciate it, Mr. Carey,” Seven said. She looked at the PADD and quickly scanned it. “For now we only need to focus on the casing for the chamber. Everyone listed here is perfectly qualified, and… huh.”
“What is it?”
“Sam’s name is listed here for the next shift. Her field of expertise is xenobiology.”

“True, but several of the personnel I wanted to add to this list are going to be planetside with the Captain, and if we’re going to get this thing built on schedule we need hands. Are you concerned her being here is going to be a distraction?”
“Not at all,” Seven said. She tapped a button on the PADD. “I’ll have her work on the power relays with Ensign Kim. He’s more experienced, but it will require two sets of hands.”
“Got it. Where do you want me in the meantime?” Carey said.
Seven looked around the cargo bay, where the crew was already at work.
“For now, a supervisory role. Make sure everyone is working at maximum efficiency. I will be at the console, running additional calculations if I’m needed.”

When Samantha entered the cargo bay along with several other gold and blue shirted officers, the bulk of the work on Seven of Nine’s harmonic resonance chamber had been done. She still had no idea what it was for, but she was impressed nonetheless.
“Samantha Wildman, reporting for duty,” she said with a wink. Seven simply nodded.
“I’m afraid we’ll have to forgo our usual flirtation and innuendo for the remainder of this project,” Seven said as matter of factly as she would tell you what time it was. “The Captain wants this done within the hour. Did Mr. Carey give you your assignment?”
“Affirmative,” Samantha said. Seven gave her a very brief smile.

“Ensign Kim is right over there,” she said, pointing. “He was early, so approximately ten percent of your task has already been completed.”
“I see him,” Samantha said. “I’ll get right on it.”
Samantha was not an engineer by any stretch, but there had been some basics about starship operation that she needed to know in order to graduate from the academy, so she didn’t need to ask Harry what he needed and immediately began assisting. While she was performing her assigned task, she spotted Commander Chakotay entering the cargo bay in her peripheral vision.

“How’s it coming?” she heard him ask.
“The crew has been very efficient,” Seven said. “We should be done ahead of schedule.”
“How far ahead of schedule?”
“Within two to three minutes,” Seven said.
“That’s not a lot,” Chakotay said.
“Agreed, but considering the lack of experience anyone on this ship, myself included, has in building such a device it was equally likely that we would be behind schedule. Thankfully that has not been a concern. Mr. Carey in particular has exceeded expectations.”
“Okay then, I’ll let the Captain know.”
“Has the Captain retrieved any new data from the surface?” Seven asked.

“Not yet,” Chakotay said.
“Were there any survivors?”
“A few. The Doctor is treating them right now.”
Chakotay turned to leave. Samantha noticed that Seven had stopped working and was still looking in Chakotay’s direction, though not at him.
“Sam, you okay?” Harry said, causing Samantha to look away from Seven.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, fine,” Samantha said, not wanting to bother Harry with her worry about Seven’s sudden state of distraction. She wondered what it was that the Commander had said that caused that. Is it about the aliens in sickbay? she thought. She turned back to see how Seven was doing, in time to see her exit the cargo bay.

Seven entered sickbay. The Doctor was treating the injured aliens from the facility, each bio-bed sickbay occupied. She wondered if this were all the survivors total, or if there had been others who had been treated and released.
Seven stepped up to the Doctor who was looking over a diagnostic.
“Which of them is the senior researcher?” she said.
“This gentleman,” the Doctor said, motioning his head towards the one who occupied the bio-bed in the surgical bay. “Why do you ask?”
“He has knowledge I require,” she said.
“He is barely conscious,” the Doctor said. “Can you come back later?”
“Later may be too late Doctor,” she said. “The Captain left me in charge of our efforts here on Voyager. I would be negligent if I ignored a new source of information.”
“Very well,” the Doctor said. He walked over to the bio-bed and began talking to the patient. “How are you feeling sir?”

“Fine, thank you,” the alien said, slowly but coherently.
“Are you feeling well enough to speak with my shipmate here?” the Doctor said, motioning towards Seven.
“I- I think so,” the alien said.
The Doctor nodded. “Keep it brief,” he said to Seven.
“How many of the particles were you able to synthesize?” she said.
“200 million, I think.”
“What is the Iso-frequency of your containment field?”

The researcher tilted his head slightly. “1.68 terahertz,” he said. “We used their own resonance to calculate the field. That should’ve been enough to stabilize them, but obviously it wasn’t.”
“True, but your approach was innovative. Perhaps I can adapt your technique and improve upon it.”
“I could,” the alien said, struggling to sit upright. “assist you. Our equipment was destroyed but if you could transfer the particles to your ship, maybe they can be saved.”
“Assisting me in your condition would be inadvisable. I respect your dedication to the pursuit of knowledge, but we can handle this from here. We will destroy the Omega particles and-”
“What?” the alien said, clearly trying to yell, but not yet strong enough to do so. “You can’t do that. This particle is the salvation of my people, our resources are nearly gone. The future of my people depends on this discovery!”
“Doctor,” Seven said. “Your patient is becoming agitated. I will return to my duties.” She turned to leave.
“You small-minded creatures,” the alien said, his voice getting louder now. “Destroying what you don’t understand! Rescue ships from my government are on their way. They won’t let you destroy our work.”
“Sir, please try to remain calm,” the Doctor said, now standing beside Seven.
“Thank you for letting me speak to him Doctor. His information will be most helpful.”

“You don’t know what you are doing! You don’t know what this means!” the alien researcher screamed at Seven as she left sickbay.
Once the door closed behind her, she let out a sad sigh.
“Sadly, I do know what it means,” she said quietly.

Seven looked at the completed device in the cargo bay with open admiration. Despite her having left them rather abruptly, the only thing that was still needed when she returned was the iso-frequency which she’d obtained from the head researcher.
“Not bad, huh?” Samantha said.
“An understatement,” Seven said. “I had projected it would be completed early, but even that proved to be underestimating the crew.”
“Well, what can I say?” Samantha said, putting her arm around Seven’s waist. “We had a good team leader. Now if only I knew what it was actually for.”
“That part is still classified, but thank you for the compliment. Perhaps I should consider taking command courses.”
Samantha chuckled. “Captain Seven of Nine. Doesn’t really roll off the tongue does it?”
Seven contemplated making a joke about tongues when Chakotay entered the cargo bay. After asking Samantha to wait outside, he relayed Captain Janeway’s orders that they would be using the resonance chamber to destroy the Omega particles as there were too many on the planet for their Plan A to work.
“I do not believe we need to destroy them,” Seven said. “Using information I obtained from the head researcher of the complex, I am certain I’ve discovered a way to stabilize them. He had an approach that was unknown to the Borg. I can modify the chamber to-”
“Those weren’t your orders,“ Chakotay said. “The captain wants Omega eliminated, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
“That is still an option,” Seven said, struggling to remain calm. This was as close to a religious experience for her as she could ever have, something that even as a Borg drone she felt a desire for. She had to convince the crew to let her do this. “The chamber’s primary function, destroying Omega, will remain intact. My modifications will not interfere with that capacity.”
Chakotay sighed, looking angry at having to have this conversation. “Show me what you’ve done,” he said.

Seven pulled up the simulation she’d put together while the crewmembers who had helped finish the chamber were clearing out, and explained in detail to Chakotay what she planned to do and why she was convinced it would work.
“Looks great in theory,” he said. “But this is only a simulation. How are you going to test it?”
“On Omega,” Seven said, surprised that Chakotay even had to ask. Chakotay scoffed, and Seven felt as though she’d been physically punched when he did so.
“Bad idea,” he said. “One mistake and no one will be around for a second try.”
“It will work,” Seven insisted.
“Someday, maybe. For now we stick to the plan, but hold on to your research. Privately of course, I won’t tell the Captain if you don’t.”
“In nine months of service aboard Voyager,” Seven said, feeling her voice crack the way it did when she was about to cry. “I have never made a personal request, never asked for a single favor. I am asking now. Allow me to proceed. Please.”

“Why is this so important to you?” Chakotay said.

Seven sighed, and found herself wishing Samantha was here.
“As a drone, I was under instructions to assimilate Particle 010, what you call Omega, at all costs. The Borg believe it to be perfection embodied. The particle exists in a flawless state with infinite parts functioning as one. Even though I am no longer Borg, I want, no, I need to understand that perfection. I doubt that I will truly be complete without it. Commander, you are a spiritual man. If you had the chance to see your God, your Great Spirit, what would you do? This matter is as close to a spiritual one as I can get.”
Chakotay nodded. “I would pursue it with all my heart. I understand your emotions here Seven, and I promise to talk to the captain about your idea, but for now at least, her orders still stand.”
“Thank you,” Seven said quietly. Chakotay nodded, and left. Samantha re-entered the cargo bay.
“More classified stuff huh? Whatever it is I- Annie? Are you crying?” Seven opened her mouth to speak, but realized that she couldn’t tell the woman she loved what was really going on.
“Yes,” was all she could bring herself to say.
“Can you tell me about it?” Samantha said, putting a hand gently on Seven’s arm.
Seven of Nine could only shake her head. Samantha pulled her in close and held her. Seven welcomed the embrace.
“I want to tell you, so bad,” she whispered into Samantha’s ear. “I understand why it’s classified, I really do, and I can’t hate the captain for this, but it is still difficult.”
“I want to understand what you’re going through Annie,” Samantha said. “but I know I can’t. Just know that I’m here for you, no matter what.”

The resonance chamber glowed blue from the Omega particles now residing within them. Voyager had had to get dangerously close to the planet, even with the pattern buffer enhancers aiding the transporter lock, but they had them. Seven found herself transfixed by the site.

The ship itself, she had been informed, was approaching the limits of the local subspace destruction, beyond which was an uninhabited region where they should be able to destroy Omega without condemning any world’s population to never discovering warp drive, or bathing them with deadly theta radiation, should something go wrong. The alien ships behind them however, were likely to reach them before they are clear of the subspace destruction. Seven however was confident that they would not fire, since Voyager has their Omega, a confidence which the captain shared.

While she was neutralizing the particles as per orders, hopeful that enough would be left for her to attempt to stabilize if the Commander was able to convince Janeway to let her try, Janeway entered the cargo bay.
“Captain,” Seven said.
“Report,” Janeway said.
“11% of the particles have been neutralized so far.”
“Let’s see if we can speed up that process a little.”
“Did Commander Chakotay tell you about my hypothesis?”

“Yes, he did. I’m sorry, I can’t let you go through with it.”

Seven tensed up. “The Omega Directive is no longer relevant. I have found a way to control the particle.“
“I don’t care if you can make it sing The Mikado in Klingon, we’re getting rid of it,” Janeway said.
“A foolish decision,” Seven said, abandoning all pretense of politeness.
“Maybe, but it’s mine to make. Step aside.”
Seven remembered something Samantha had once said to her about internally counting to ten. She did so, then spoke in a tone that was less angry, though only a little.
“I could have done this without your permission, but I chose to follow your command structure. I should’ve made the attempt on my own.”
“You still can I suppose, but I would be obligated to stop you.” Janeway sighed, rubbing her eyes. “Dammit, Seven, do you think I’m doing this to spite you? The safety of the quadrant is at stake. The safety of this ship. The safety of-”
“Don’t,” Seven said, certain she knew what Janeway was going to say next. “Don’t try to use Sammy and Naomi against me. If I believed for a nanosecond this would endanger their lives we wouldn’t even be having this conversation because I never would’ve made the suggestion to the Commander in the first place.”
Janeway took a step back, but not in a way that indicated any fear of Seven.
“Okay, I won’t. What I will say is this; your idea is sound, I’ll give you that. But you have no guarantee that it will work. If it does not, it would be the end of us and the quadrant will be doomed. You know I’m right.”
Seven stared at Janeway for a moment, then sighed. She didn’t want to admit it, but Janeway was right.
“I will monitor the particles at the chamber’s imager,” she said. “Would you be willing to replace me at the controls?”
“It’s the least I can do,” Janeway said. Once Seven was at the imager, Janeway asked her what the status was now.
“Eighteen percent,” she said. Janeway groaned.
“This could take hours,” she said.
“Fast, cheap, good, pick two,” Seven said.
“What?”
“An engineering joke I heard from Joe Carey earlier today. An oversimplification, but somewhat relatable to our situation.”
“Could we increase the resonance?”
“Not without rupturing the chamber,’ Seven said. Janeway looked like she was considering her options.
“How many of the particles would be destroyed before the rupture?”
“Fifty percent, at best. What are you suggesting?”
Janeway didn’t reply to her directly, instead tapping her comm badge and calling Tuvok. When she told the tactical officer to prepare the gravimetric torpedo that had been their first plan before seeing how many particles there actually were. Seven figured out the rest on her own, and had to admit that it was a plan that was likely to succeed; destroy up to half of the molecules almost immediately, eject the chamber out into space, and the gravimetric charge would take care of the rest. As soon as Janeway told Chakotay to prepare to decompress the cargo bay, Seven spoke up again.

“A creative solution, Captain.”
“Glad you approve,” Janeway said. Seven walked over to her alcove. She heard Janeway behind her say, “Seven, what are you doing?”
“Anything unsecured in the bay will be blown out into space when the Commander decompresses it. I must find that drawing of me Naomi made several months ago. She would be quite displeased if I allowed it to-”
The ship shuddered slightly, disrupting Seven’s train of thought. For a fraction of a second she thought that perhaps the aliens had fired on them, but quickly realized the vibration was wrong for that.
“I believe the alien ships are attempting to lock a tractor beam on us,” she said.
“No warp drive, but ships capable of catching up with us at sublight speeds, tractor beams, and the ability to create Omega particles? This species just doesn’t make any damn sense,” Janeway said.
Seven quickly thought up several examples of races whose technological development was easily more unusual than this, but decided to wait until later to bring them up.
The ship shuddered again.
“That was definitely weapons fire,” Janeway said.
“Agreed,” Seven said. On second thought, she thought, the Captain’s right. This race’s technological development doesn’t make any sense. “Eighty percent of the particles remain.”

“We need to get that down to sixty,” Janeway said as the ship shuddered again.
“Any damage of our power grid and the chamber could overload.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Janeway said as she began hitting buttons on the console harder, as if hoping that would speed up the process.
“We are now at seventy-two percent,” Seven said.

“That’ll have to do,” Janeway said, tapping her comm badge. “Bridge, start the decompression sequence.”
“Acknowledged,” Chakotay said.

A noise began emanating from the resonance chamber.
“What’s happening?” Janeway said.
“The particles are stabilizing,” Seven said, shocked at what she was seeing on her PADD.
“What?” Janeway said. “Did you-”
“I did nothing,” Seven said, going over to the imager. “It’s occurring spontaneously.”
“That’s impossible,” Janeway said, but Seven only barely heard her. She was only vaguely aware of all other sounds. She heard but didn’t process Janeway ordering her to follow her out of the cargo bay before the inner doors sealed shut. She heard but did not process the computer counting down. All her attention was focused on the imager. She watched the particles’ component atoms swirl around each until they formed a perfect, complex, molecular lattice structure.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
“Seven? Seven?! ANNIKA!”
Hearing her birth name called out by someone other than Samantha finally got her attention.
“Decompression in ten seconds,” the computer’s voice said.
“Come on, let’s go,” Janeway said, tugging on Seven’s arm. Seven dropped her PADD, picked up Naomi’s drawing, and ran for the door just steps behind Janeway.

The next morning, the ship’s rumor mill was in full force. Seven heard many things about what the chamber had been for, why it had been jettisoned into space and destroyed, why the alien ships had been chasing them. None of it was true of course, but she couldn’t confirm or deny any of the questions any of the crew asked her. Not even the one she desired to share her feelings with the most.

She entered Samantha’s quarters. Samantha and Naomi were eating dinner. Naomi smiled and waved.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hello,” Seven said back.
“Annie, wasn’t expecting to see you tonight. I thought you had to recharge.”
“The Captain ordered me to do so early,” Seven said. She sat down on the edge of the bed she sometimes shared with Samantha when she wasn’t in her alcove. “I had something akin to a religious experience today, Sammy. I don’t know a better word to describe it. I just wish it wasn’t all classified.”
“What does classified mean?” Naomi said.
Seven sighed. “It means I can’t tell you anything about what happened yesterday, ever.” The child pouted.
“Well that’s not fair,” she said.
“You’re right, it’s not,” Seven said. “Enjoy being a child, Naomi Wildman. Children generally don’t have to keep secrets from people they love.”

Samantha reached out to Seven, putting a hand on her shoulder.
“We’re already done with dinner, but you can have dessert with us if you want,” she said. Seven smiled.
“As long as it is ludicrously unhealthy,” Seven said. “I believe the phrase is ‘comfort food?’ Whatever that is, I think I need a lot of it tonight.”

Chapter Eight

Seven of Nine was surprisingly calm when she entered sickbay. She’s heard that Samantha Wildman, like much of the crew, had been hurt when the ship had attempted to pass through a nearby nebula, the radiation causing burns and sores. But Samantha herself had been the one to contact her, to let her know the burns were minor, and that Naomi, while scared, had not been hurt at all.
She saw Samantha getting off the bio-bed and helping a much more severely injured crewman, an Ensign named Dell who had been very helpful in helping Seven build a resonance chamber a few weeks prior, on to it.
“Hi,” Samantha said when she saw Seven.
“Ah good, you’re here,” the Doctor said, shoving a dermal regenerator into Seven’s hand without asking first. “You’re needed on the bridge, I’m too short-handed down here to go myself. I had to draft Ensign Wildman to help me.”
“Of course, Doctor, I just wanted to check in on her first,” Seven said.
“I’m good, Annie, but you should get the bridge. And hurry, it sounded like they got some of the worst of it.”
“Very well,” Seven said, offering the Doctor a polite nod and smiling at Samantha as she headed out.

When Seven got to the bridge with the regenerator, she sighed as she saw that for one gold shirted crewman was already dead, his face burned beyond recognition.
“Damn,” she muttered.
“Do we know what caused this?” Janeway said.
“I believe the Doctor will know once he’s finished treating the wounded,” Seven said as she began applying the dermal regenerator to an injured Ensign. “Whatever it was, it would appear to have affected everyone except the Doctor and myself.”
“Hopefully that will give us a way to counteract this,” Janeway said. “That nebula is so big it would take a year to go around, I don’t want to add that much time to the trip home.”
“Captain,” Seven said. “As a result of the course adjustments we made with the new astrometrics lab we already took five years off the flight plan. Even with an extra year, that is still a net loss of time spent in the Delta Quadrant.”
“Don’t forget the six months we had to add to get around the Krenim,” Janeway said.
“Even so Captain-”
“I’m not ready to give up on finding a safe way through that nebula just yet Seven. If there’s no way through, we’ll go around but we have to try.”
“Understood,” Seven said.

A few hours later, Janeway entered astrometrics where Seven of Nine was figuring out just how large the nebula ahead of them was.
“Report,” she said. Seven immediately brought the data up on the viewscreen.
“It is approximately one hundred and ten light years wide,” she said. “You were correct that going around it would take over a year. Through it would take almost one month, if we could find a way to inoculate against the subnucleonic radiation.”

“Subnucleonic radiation?” Janeway said. “That’s what hurt us?”
“Correct. I have passed that information along to the Doctor. If he is unable to find a medical solution, going around is the only viable option.”
“We have traveled fifteen thousand light years. We haven’t been stopped by temporal anomalies, warp core breaches, viruses, or hostile aliens. It’ll be a cold day in Hell if we’re going to be stopped by a goddamn nebula. I’ll be in sickbay. Keep finding out what you can about this thing.“

“Yes Captain,” Seven said as Janeway stormed out.

Once she got to sickbay, she didn’t even need to ask the Doctor for his report, as he began relaying what he’d learned.
“I’ve analyzed samples of the nebula’s gases,” he said.
“Subnucleonic radiation,” Janeway said. “Seven already informed me. She said you were working on a possible inoculation for it.”

“I appreciate her vote of confidence, but I’m afraid that’s just not possible. But, I think I have found a solution that will keep us from adding to add another year to our journey home.”
“That was quick,” Janeway said.
“It helped that part of this idea came from another idea I was working on that I was able to modify,” the Doctor walked over to one of the consoles in his office and tapped a few buttons. “Stasis chambers,” he said. “Independent life support for each unit.”
Janeway was shocked at what she was seeing. “Are you seriously suggesting we put the entire crew in suspended animation?”
“Yes. I, of course, would stay on-line to monitor everyone. And since Seven of Nine was unaffected, she can assist me in handling the day to day operations of the ship until we’ve passed through the nebula.”
“This seems like a pretty desperate move, Doctor. Are you sure you’ve considered all other options?” Janeway said, hating the idea of having to sleep for an entire month, let alone leaving her first command in the hands of a hologram and an ex-Borg.
“I have considered other options Captain. We really only have two if we intend to continue heading home. Go around, or this. The former is the safest of these two options but I know you too well to even try and push for it.”
Janeway sighed, closed her eyes, and tapped her comm badge.
“Janeway to Seven of Nine, report to sickbay.”
“On my way, Captain,” Seven replied.

“I appreciate your efforts Doctor. Get to work getting enough stasis units ready.”
“Understood,” the Doctor said.

“I’d be lying if I said didn’t have concerns,” Seven of Nine said as she rubbed Samantha Wildman’s shoulders. “Most humanoid species do not react well to long-term isolation. Captain Janeway is correct that, as a former Borg drone, this will be even more difficult for me. She expressed concern if I could handle it if the Doctor were to go offline due to a malfunction.”
“I think you can do it,” Samantha said softly, leaning back to rest her head on Seven’s chest.
“I know you can do it Seven,” Naomi said, looking up from her book. “You and the Doctor are the smartest people I know, you can do anything!” Seven chuckled at Naomi’s enthusiastic smile, even as Samantha pretended to be offended at having been excluded from her daughter’s ‘smart people’ list. Seven watched as Samantha got up and went to help Naomi get ready for the stasis tubes.
I have never had so many doubts about my abilities before, she thought. The whole crew will be counting on me and the Doctor to get them through this alive, but it’s them I’m most worried for.

“Remember sweetie,” Samantha said to Naomi, “we need to be at the cargo bay by 1700 hours, so now’s the time to pick which of your stuffed animals you wanna bring with you. You can only bring two.”
“Okay Mom,” Naomi said, getting off the floor and going to her room.

Seven got off the couch and hugged Samantha from behind, now resting her head on Samantha’s back.
“It’s going to be a long month,” she said.

“You can do this, Annie,” Samantha replied. “In the past year you have helped saved this ship several times, adapted to being cut off from the Borg collective, built the best astrometrics lab any Starfleet ship has ever had, and managed to start a dare-I-say successful romantic relationship despite lacking any practical experience. Even if something does go wrong with the Doctor, you’ll get us to the other side of that nebula.”
“I hope your confidence in me is not misplaced,” Seven said, which was as close as she could bring herself to admitting her fears even to the being on this ship she trusted most.
“Don’t call it confidence, call it faith,” Samantha said.

“Nonetheless,” Seven said. “While the Doctor and I are under orders to monitor the crew’ vital signs four times day, I think I may try to sneak in a few extra sessions for you and Naomi in between my regular duties.”
“Don’t do anything reckless on our account babe,” Samantha said. “Just keep the ship safe, and in a month we’ll wake up feeling like we just had a nice long nap.”
“Once we have completed the mission,” Seven said. “I think I will finally take you up on your offer of the holodeck program you talked about.” Samantha sighed contentedly at that.
“Oh, you will love it, Annika. Santa Fe is one of the few cities on Earth that has most of it’s pre-Eugenics Wars buildings still standing. I got to see it on a class trip when I was in high school and I loved it, but I haven’t been back since I graduated. I just hope I get to show you the real thing someday.”
“I look forward to it,” Seven said.

At 1700, the crew began entering the stasis pods, with Seven and the Doctor overseeing them. The command staff were among the first to enter, although Tom Paris was showing reluctance.
“Do I detect a hint of claustrophobia Lieutenant?” the Doctor said. Tom laughed nervously.
“I just don’t know why they have to design these things like coffins,” he said.
“Whatever,” Harry Kim said. “I’m just looking forward to what is probably going to be my best sleep in months. If you like I’m sure Seven of Nine would be willing to replicate you a teddy bear.”
“That would not be necessary,” Seven said. “Naomi will be leaving a number of her stuffed animals behind, I’m sure I could convince her to loan one to Mr. Paris.”
Harry laughed at that. The Doctor grinned, and Captain Janeway turned to hide her face from Seven’s view, presumably stifling a laugh of her own.
“Bite me, Seven,” Tom said.
“Considering you’re dating a Klingon that was a poor choice of words,” Seven said. From the other side of the cargo bay she could hear B’Elanna laughing now too.
“Don’t encourage them,” Tom said, shaking his head. He turned to face Seven. “This is payback over the whole ‘language’ thing isn’t it?”

“Sleep tight,” the Doctor said, as Harry and finally Tom got in their respective pods, the doors closing over them. Soon, only Janeway was left, having told Seven earlier that she would go in last.

“I’m leaving this ship in good hands,” Janeway said as she climbed into her own pod. “I have every confidence in both of you.”
The Doctor grinned. Seven simply nodded.
“Thank you Captain,” she said. “And thank you for insuring that the Wildman’s pods were close to my alcove. I had not even considered asking.”
“I thought having them nearby might make this a little easier on you. Feel free to talk to them. They won’t hear you in the pods of course, but it’s not for their benefit. Trust me on this,” Janeway said.

Once Janeway’s pod was sealed, the Doctor turned to Seven.
“Well,” he said. “It’s just the two of us now.”
“Indeed,” Seven said.

“Personal log, Seven of Nine, stardate 51929.3. This is the tenth day of our journey through the nebula. I’ve created an efficient daily routine. Having a set list of regular tasks to perform and a deadline to accomplish them, even if it self-imposed, has been helpful thus far, though with it only being less than two weeks in, I am concerned that declaring victory over isolation would be premature. The human term for it is ‘jinxing.’ Superstitious perhaps, but there is is historical precedent for early pronouncements of accomplishment leading to undesirable outcomes.

“I have taken to adding a flavor called pumpkin spice to my standard nutritional supplement, as per Ensign Wildman’s suggestion. Mr. Neelix would likely not approve, given he tends to operate his kitchen in a fashion not unlike the brutal dictators of early 20th century Earth, and he does not grow any of these pumpkins in the aeroponics bay, thus I am replicating it. I find I rather like it, though not as much as when Samantha uses it in her cooking. Still, I think this will be a regular occurrence. Speaking of Sam, I have taken the captain’s advice and when I can, I will occasionally sit between her and Naomi’s pods, and talk to them. It is frivolous of course, but also oddly comforting. I look forward to seeing them again once we have passed this nebula.

“One note of concern; I have on occasion found myself saying ‘Thank you’ to the ship’s computer after it performs a task I have ordered it to. I hope I am not becoming emotionally attached to it. Perhaps it is an early symptom of some form of isolation sickness. I will speak to the Doctor about it upon completion of this entry.

“End log.”

On her way to sickbay, Seven of Nine found Tom Paris lying on the floor, unconscious in the doorway to the cargo bay.

“Not again” she groaned. “Seven of Nine to the Doctor,” she said after tapping her comm badge.
“Mr. Paris?”
“Correct. I am beginning to suspect adding the ability to open the pods from the inside was a mistake.”
“A necessary safety feature. At least so far he seems to be the only one abusing it. I’m on my way. Get him back into his pod as quick as you can.”
“I know the drill,” she said. She tapped the badge again, and put her arms under Tom’s and dragged him to his feet.
“Samantha would think less of me for being this selfish, but I must admit I find myself resentful of your claustrophobia. Lucky for me you can’t hear me right now.”

Once Tom was back in his pod, she closed the door to it, just in time for the Doctor to arrive.
“Vital signs?” he asked.
“I was just about to check,” she said, going to the console on the back of the pod. “They are stable. No signs of any permanent damage.”
“Well that’s good at least. I wish I’d known before we put him in there the first time how severe his claustrophobia actually was.”

“Indeed. Having to reinter him at least once every several days frequently forces me to alter my daily routine,” Seven said.
“Well, that might not be such a bad thing. Routine is a double edged sword, it can as easily become a source of frustration as it can as source of stability.”
Seven sighed, not wanting to admit the Doctor was right, but knowing that he most likely was.
“I’d suggest more social interaction training on the holodeck, but you keep finding loopholes in my lessons.”
“The social lessons are frivolous. You claim they are to help me learn how to interact with the crew properly, yet I would point out that without such programs I was still able to start a romantic relationship, and I even on occasion dine with the crew in the mess hall. I think you only force me into these programs because you can’t accept the fact that I am growing in my humanity faster than you prepared for, and you don’t want these holodeck programs you designed for me to go to waste. You failed to predict the pace of my emotional growth. Accept it, and move on.”

“How you interact with most of the crew would be acceptable for a Vulcan, but that’s not what I’m trying to teach-”
The ship shuddered, cutting the Doctor off, much to Seven of Nine’s relief.
“Warning: Emergency procedures are in effect,” the computer’s voice said.
“Computer,” the Doctor said, “What is the nature of the emergency?”

“The antimatter storage tanks are failing.”
Seven and the Doctor shared a look of concern, and bolted for the exit. As soon as they reached the door to engineering, Seven began tapping on one of the consoles next to it to see just what was going wrong.
“We’ve got to eject the antimatter tanks,” she said, deciding to spare the Doctor the exact details of, as her human crewmates would put it, precisely how screwed they were.
“We’ll need to coordinate the effort,” the Doctor said. “You go into engineering, I’ll head to the bridge.”

When Seven of Nine opened the door to engineering, she was braced for the worst, expecting to see the room flooded with plasma, worried that she wouldn’t be able to eject the tanks except possibly at the cost of her own life. But what she saw instead was the room exactly as it was when she last inspected it.

“This is mildly confusing,” she muttered under her breath. She stepped further inside, looking for any sign of the crisis the computer was reporting,

“Bridge to Seven,” she heard the Doctor’s voice say, sounding panicked.
“I’m here,” she replied.
“It’s worse than we thought. Engineering is flooded with plasma. Are you already-”
“Doctor, there’s nothing happening here.”

“What? But internal scanners show, wait, there’s another alarm. Seven, the hull is breaching, get out!”
“Doctor, I am in engineering right now. You left me right outside the door, remember? There is no plasma leak, no hull breach. We’ve received a false alarm. Stand down.”

“Are you certain?”

Seven sighed and rolled her eyes. “No Doctor. I am in fact dead and my ghost is feeding you false information.”
There was a pause.
“Well, at least we know your sense of sarcasm is developing normally,” the Doctor said.

“The subnucleonic radiation from the nebula has begun to affect the bio-neural gel packs,” the Doctor said, looking at console in engineering.” As a result, the computer is detecting false signals relating to the warp core.”

“I have already determined the location of the damaged packs,” Seven said. “And I have a repair kit ready.”

“Good work, Seven. Let’s go.”

The two crawled into a nearby Jeffries tube, ready to get to work. The last thing either of them wanted was another false alarm, or worse, a real crisis not being detected until it was too late.
“These tubes weren’t designed with comfort in mind were they?” the Doctor said as they crawled along.
“No, they were not,” Seven said. “Complaining about it now though accomplishes nothing. We can access sequence six-theta-nine from the junction just ahead. That’s where the damaged gel packs are.”

“Got it,” the Doctor said. Seven of Nine quickly got the panel off, and removed the damaged gel pack, which the Doctor immediately began scanning with his tricorder.
“I’ll want to get this one back to sickbay for further study.”
“Of course,” Seven said.

“Well, this journey certainly hasn’t been boring has-” the Doctor began to appear fuzzy.
“Your mobile emitter must’ve been damaged,” Seven said, not hiding the concern in her voice. “We need to get you back to sickbay, quickly.”
“Hurry, we may lose my program if we don’t.”

“Don’t panic, it’s counterproductive,”

“Easy for you to say,” the Doctor said. Once they were out of the Jeffries tube, the two ran as fast as they could, reaching sickbay just before the Doctor’s mobile emitter gave out.

“Hand me the emitter,” she said. The Doctor did so, and she began scanning it. After a few moments, she took in a deep breath. “The emitter has been damaged by the nebula in the same way as the gel packs. I’m afraid you can no longer leave sickbay.”
“I was afraid of that. That means it’ll be up to you to take care of everything on the ship.”
“I can do this Doctor,” Seven said. “I will ensure this ship makes it through the nebula.”
“Do whatever it takes to help the ship,” the Doctor said. “But don’t forget to take care of yourself too. We can’t afford to have either Voyager or yourself break down when we’ve still got weeks to go.”

“Personal log, Seven of Nine, stardate 51932.4. The twenty-ninth day in the nebula. I believe I’m beginning to feel the effects of this prolonged isolation. My dreams have been… disturbing, but I’m determined to fulfill my responsibilities. With the Doctor confined to sickbay, I have taken on increasing duties. Ship’s systems are beginning to require constant maintenance in order to avert disaster. This morning I must… purge the auxiliary plasma vents.

“This increase in the amount of responsibility for me has meant I’ve not been able to spend time talking to Sammy or Naomi when I check on their stasis chambers. I regret having referred to it as frivolous in an earlier entry. I took it for granted, the comfort that it brought me. Perhaps if I finish the vents early, I can check in on them early.

“End log.”

Seven entered the bridge and went over to the helm controls, as she usually did at this time of day, to see if there was a need to adjust course. There usually was, and today was no different.
“Computer,” she said, grateful that she’d be hearing at least one voice other than her own or the Doctor’s. “trim heading by .31 degrees port.”
No response.
“Computer? Computer respond. Trim heading by .31 degrees port!”

The computer took several, long, agonizing seconds to respond. When it did, the voice was slow, and eventually cut out altogether, ending on “Unable to comply.”
Seven sat down at the helm and did the course correction manually, then ordered the computer to diagnose itself. It provided a text report on a nearby monitor, showing that one-third of the gel pack relays were non-functional.
After uttering a number of curse words she’d learned from various crewmembers, she had the computer perform a rerouting of processor signals to bypass the affected gel packs. She went over to the turbolift and stepped in.
“Astrometrics,” she said tentatively, half worried that the turbolifts would suddenly stop working. Mercifully, the lift worked perfectly. As soon as she got to astrometrics, she began doing long range scans.

“Display Voyager’s current position within the nebula,” she said. The screen adjusted to show her the information. “How long until we exit the nebula?”
“Six days, five hours,” the computer replied, the rerouting of the processor signals having worked.
“Six days,” Seven said. “That, does not seem too long.”

Seven, a bit more confident now, returned to her plans for the day and headed off to engineering. Along the way however, she heard something that made her stop in her tracks. It took her a moment to process, but it sounded like cries of pain. And the person it sounded like they were coming from was Lieutenant Paris.
“Dammit Tom, why now?” she groaned. She walked as fast as she could towards the noise, but saw nothing there. She went to Deck 14, but all was as it should be. Tom’s pod showed no sign of having been recently opened. She was about to head to sickbay, to ask the Doctor to do an examination on her, when the proximity alert alarm went off.

Feeling less like a Borg now than ever, she threw up her arms in frustration.
“What fresh Hell are you visiting on me now Voyager?!” she yelled as she stormed out of the cargo bay.
“Please restate the question,” the computer said.
“Never mind. Are we being hailed by the approaching ship?”
“Affirmative.”
“Open a channel.”
“Channel opened.”
“This is the Federation starship Voyager. State your identity.”

“My name is Trajis Lo-Tarik. I’m in need of a microfusion chamber. Would you consider a trade?”
“Why are you in this nebula?” she said, suspicious of the alien on the other end of the communication.
“Trying to get through it, same as you I wager.”
Seven thought about it for a moment. “Do you have liquid helium?” she said.
“As a matter fact,” Trajis said. “I’ve got an ample supply. Today’s your lucky day.”
“That is debatable. I will beam you directly to one of our cargo bays.”

“I didn’t get your name, Captain,” Trajis said.
“I am only the acting commander of this vessel. My designation is Seven of Nine.”
“Seven of Nine eh? Okay then. Meet you in your cargo bay.”
Seven of Nine could hear Samantha’s voice in her mind calling the man she was speaking to a creep, but couldn’t quite put into words why the man’s tone made her feel so uncomfortable. When she got to the cargo bay, Trajis was leaning against one of the secured, empty cargo containers.
“You must be Seven of Nine,” he said.
“That is correct,” she said.

“That’s an unusual name, even for an alien,” he said. “How did you get it?”
“It was my Borg designation.”
“Borg? Never heard of ‘em. You alone on this ship?”
A phaser, a phaser, my kingdom for a phaser, Seven thought, paraphrasing something she’d heard the Doctor say once, something to do with horses.

“No. The crew is in stasis, and our Doctor is in sickbay,” she said.
“Same is true of my co-pilot on my ship. Luckily, I happen to be resistant to the effects of the nebula.”
Although Seven was feeling uncomfortable with the man’s proximity to her, she decided to ask the next question on her mind anyway.
“What about your technology? The radiation has been damaging to ours,” she said.
“I’ve had to rebuild my engines twice already. If you’ve been in here for three weeks, you’re already doing better than I’ve been.”
“I am hopeful our propulsion system will remain operational for the next six days,” Seven said, again moving away from Trajis while not trying to appear rude.
Forget being rude, her inner voice told her. This guy is dangerous and you know it. Get him off the ship already.

“I must admit,” Trahis said, disrupting Seven’s train of thought. “I was surprised to see another ship in here. No one has ever managed to completely cross the nebula.”
“If it weren’t a necessity we wouldn’t have even attempted,” she said.

“I’m here by choice,” he said, standing a few feet further away now much to Seven’s relief. “I’m determined to be the first to cross. I’ve tried five times before and failed. This time I’m sure I’ll make it. I want to see what’s the other side.”

“I can assure you it’s nothing remarkable,” Seven said.

“But I’ll be the first of my kind to see it.” Tarjis got closer again as Seven opened the lid on a container that she believed had a microfusion chamber in it. If it did, that meant that this man would be gone that much faster.
“Tell me,” he said. “How are you dealing with the loneliness?”
Seven nearly shuddered at that. “What do you mean?” she said.

“You know what I mean. No matter what you say, you’re all alone here. The isolation in this vast space must be unbearable. I’ve heard that drones can’t stand being alone, severed from the Collective.”
“You just told me that you had never heard of the Borg before,” Seven said, sternly. Her hand reaching for a nearby spanner. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“How about we get something to eat instead?” he said.
“No,” Seven said, now brandishing the spanner like a club.
“Hmm. And here I was just making idle conversation. I guess you aren’t that worried about the consequences of loneliness.”
“I’m escorting you to the transporter room,” she said. Trajis shrugged, then went out the cargo bay ahead of her. While escorting him to the transporter room thought, she thought she heard Tom Paris calling for help again. Reflexively, she looked around, but saw nobody. She then turned to Trajis to make sure he didn’t try to get the drop on her, but he was gone. She ran in the direction he may have headed and saw a shadow moving.

“Seven of Nine to the Doctor. We have an intruder.”

In sickbay, The Doctor scanned for but found no alien life form aboard or the ship he came from.
“It is possible he has some sort of cloaking technology,” Seven said.
“Agreed,” the Doctor said. “However even though I’m making progress on my mobile emitter, I still cannot leave sickbay. You’ll need to arm yourself and track this Lo-Tarik character down alone.”
Seven nodded. “Understood.”
“You look uncertain,” The Doctor said.
“I will do what must be done,” Seven said. “As I have said on multiple occasions since we entered this nebula I can do this. I can’t let Sam down. She put in her faith in me, and I intend to show her that it was not misplaced.”

The Doctor wasn’t sure he believed Seven was telling him the whole truth. He was certain she was afraid and was trying to hide. Before he could offer up any words of encouragement, the garbled voice of the computer cut him off.

“Warning: Deuterium tank levels are fluctuating beyond acceptable tolerance levels.”

“It’s likely Trajis has something to do with that,” Seven said. “I will obtain a phaser rifle.”

“Good luck,” the Doctor said, watching with concern as Seven of Nine left sickbay.

Seven moved cautiously through the corridors, gripping her phaser rifle tightly. She could hear the echoing voices of crew members calling for help, but pushed them aside, assuming they were hallucinations like the ones she’d experienced earlier today. The hardest voice to ignore though was Samantha’s, but that voice was cut off.

“Seven of Nine. That’s an unusual name. How did you get it?” Trajis said, taunting her over the ship’s comm system.

She refused to answer.
“Okay then Seven of Nine, if you don’t wanna chat, I’ll go ahead and collapse the structural integrity around the warp coils. That should be fun.”
Seven gasped, and ran towards engineering, but she got there, he wasn’t. She looked around to see if he doneanything, but could find no sign that he’d been here at all.
“Where are you, you son of a bitch?” she muttered.
The ship’s comm unit chirped.
“I couldn’t bring myself to destroy your nice little ship,” Trajis’s voice said. Suddenly, the lights went down. “I hope you aren’t afraid of the dark.”
“Where are you?” Seven said, sneering as she spoke.

“Good, finally some conversation. That’s going to make this much more fun. For me anyway. I’m on your bridge by the way. I can do just about anything I want from up here.”
“Very well,” Seven said as she began working on one of the engineering consoles. “I will play your game. What’s next?”
“Excellent. Okay. Hypothetical time. Say I activated one of your photon torpedoes

but didn’t eject it.”
“I would have to get to the torpedo launch tube quickly to disable it.”
“And even then you might be too late.”
“How about this game? Let’s pretend that I’m draining oxygen from the bridge. What do you suppose the results of that might be?”
“What? How, uh, I can’t…” Trajis began gasping. Within seconds he was silent.
“Game over you bastard,” Seven said, indulging in a trait she’d witnessed among many humans; that of uttering some sort of sarcastic comment or pun over a defeated enemy. “Computer, seal the bridge with a level three force field,” she added as an extra precaution.
“Seven of Nine to the Doctor,” she said.
“Doctor here.”
“I have subdued the alien.”
“Excellent work. I have my mobile emitter back on-line. Where are you?”
“Engineering.”
“I’ll be right there. I have interesting news about the neural gel-packs.”
“Acknowledged,” Seven said, getting up from the seat at the console and heading for the door. It opened sooner than she expected given the distance between sickbay and engineering. She was prepared to ask the Doctor about the gel-packs, only to see Trajis standing in the doorway.

“You knew you’d see me again,” he said. Seven immediately raised her phaser rifle and fired, but the energy just passed through him like he wasn’t there. “You can’t beat me little girl. You’re too weak.”
“Stay where you are,” Seven said as forcefully as she could manage.
“You really thought you could become human didn’t you?”
“Stop!”
“You even took a lover. Because that’s what humans do right? They find a boy, or a girl, or someone who hasn’t figured it out yet, and start a relationship with them?”
“Stay away,” Seven said, her hands actually shaking now as Trajis got closer.
“But you can’t be in love. That’s not who you are. You’re Borg.”
Seven suddenly saw out the corner of her eye the familiar blue of Voyager’s warp drive turn green, like the lights inside a Borg cube.
“One of many. You were powerful as part of the Collective but now you are alone. Weak. Pathetic. You’re a novelty to Samantha. A curiosity to Naomi. An object of lust for Harry. An annoyance to the Doctor. A pet for the Captain. You aren’t truly a part of this crew, and you never will be.”
“Don’t come any closer or I’ll kill you,” Seven yelled.
“Seven?” she heard the Doctor say, but she wouldn’t turn to look in his direction, keeping her eyes on Trajis.
“Don’t come any closer Doctor, he’s dangerous,” she said through gritted teeth.

“Seven, who are you talking to?”
Seven was so perplexed by that statement she actually did turn to look at the Doctor for a brief moment. When she turned back Trajis was gone, and the warp core was blue again.
“Where did he go?” she said. “He was right here.”
“Seven, there’s no one here, I promise you. You were alone when I entered, pointing that rifle at thin air.”
Seven looked around, and realized he was right. She shook her head.
“He wasn’t real. Just like the crew crying for help wasn’t real,” she said, not wanting to open her eyes, just wanting to crawl into a stasis pod of her own for the next six days so it could just be over. “I’m going crazy from the isolation, just as the Captain feared.”

“Not exactly. When I studied the gel-pack, I discovered the radiation was producing a degradation in the packs’ synaptic relays. I believe that the radiation is doing the same to your Borg implants, altering the neurotransmitter level in your sensory nodes.
“Can you modify the implants to stop the hallucinations?” Seven said.
“I can.”
“Then do so. Quickly, please.” Seven took a few deep breaths, trying to calm down. She could still feel her heart racing, though in the pleasant way it did whenever Samantha touched her. “Once, when I was still a drone, I was cut off from the Collective for several hours as the result of an accident. I remember feeling fear then. I am experiencing the same fear and panic now.”
“I’ll do everything I can to help you. Let’s go back to sickbay. perhaps an anti-psychotic will help, at least I can figure out which neural pathways are being affected.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” Seven said. “I will meet you in sickbay. There’s just something I need to get first.”
“Of course,” the Doctor said. With that, Seven headed towards Samantha Wildman’s quarters. She went inside, and was tempted to just crawl into the main bed and wait out the next six days, but she knew she couldn’t. But she knew that, as illogical as it was, she needed something from the room to carry with her for the remainder of the voyage, something to help keep her grounded in reality. She saw one of Naomi’s stuffed animals on the back of the couch; a pink hippopotamus that the Captain had given Naomi on her last birthday.
Seven went over and picked it up. Something of Sam’s might’ve been a better choice, but Seven found the doll’s softness comforting. She turned around, hippo in hand, and left the room, heading for sickbay.

Samantha’s eyes fluttered as her stasis pod opened. Her muscles felt a little weak, but otherwise she felt quite rested, just as the Captain and the Doctor had promised. She started to get out of the pod, but found that her arms just weren’t cooperating with her just yet. She felt a strong grip on her shoulder, and she looked up to see a tired looking but smiling Seven of Nine.

“Hey you,” Seven said softly. “Welcome back to the land of the living.”
“Hey, Annie. I take it this means we made it.”
Seven sighed. “Had I not just experienced the worst week of my life, this would be where I made a sarcastic comment.”
Samantha frowned.
“Annie, what’s wrong?”
“I’ll tell you later. Right now, I am just so glad to have you back. The senior staff is already up, the Doctor is helping them wake up the rest, but I wanted to wake you up myself. I figured we could bring Naomi out of stasis together. Then all three of us could spend some time in that Santa Fe simulation you were talking about for awhile, Like, maybe forever.”

Samantha moved her feet around a little, putting them on the floor slowly, a bit concerned about putting any weight on them even though Seven was still holding on to her. She knew Seven wouldn’t let her fall over, but it wasn’t her dignity she was concerned with at that moment.

“Sounds like you have quite a story to tell me,” she said.
“Once the anti-psychotics the Doctor had to give me finally wear off, I’ll be able to tell you,” Seven said. Samantha titled her head.
“I’m sorry, could you repeat that last part?” she said.

“It has been a very bad week,” Seven said. Samantha smiled sadly, and kissed Seven on the lips.
“Well, it’s over now.”
“Awww,” she heard a voice from a few rows of stasis pods over.
Seven rolled her eyes.

“Shut up, Brooks,” Samantha said.
“According to Ensign Kim we had to bunk with Ensign Brooks during the alternate timeline when the ship was damaged. Apparently we could barely tolerate her then either.”
“Hey, I can’t help it that you two are adorable,” the red-shirted Ensign said as she climbed out of her own pod.

“As Mr. Paris would say, bite me.” Seven said. Samantha chortled.
“My, you’re a little punchy tonight,” she said.
“As I’ve said twice already Samantha, I-”
“Had a bad week, yeah. Well, as soon as we can get some alone time I think I know just the trick to help relieve the tension.”
“I look forward to it,” Seven said. “Just do me a favor and don’t use the word ‘game’ for a while. I’ll explain later.”

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