A Fire of Devotion: Part 2 of 4: Louder Than Bells: Chapters Four & Five

Chapter Four:

After a month of not being allowed to take the Delta Flyer out for a spin, the now Ensign Tom Paris had been happy when he finally got the chance again, going on a mission with Tuvok and Samantha Wildman. A few days in however, he suddenly found himself missing the safety of his cell in the brig.

“We’ve got another ion storm coming in,” he said, checking his sensors. “Great. We still haven’t gotten ourselves patched up from the last one. No way we’re making it back to Voyager today.”

“I am never leaving the ship again,” Samantha said. “I get stranded by the Kazon, Naomi gets sick, dipshit weapons dealer nearly blows Seven’s hand off; every time I step off Voyager something bad happens.”

“That is not wholly accurate,” Tuvok said. “I can recall with little effort at least two occasions where you were off Voyager, and nothing that could be described as negative occurred.”
“Yeah, two,” Samantha said. “That doesn’t disprove my point. Leaving that ship is just bad luck.”
“To be fair, Sam,” Paris said, “it’s not like every day on Voyager herself is sunshine and bunnies.” He checked his console one more time to make sure the Flyer was stationary as trying to move during an ion storm only made it more dangerous. “We’ve got several minutes before it hits, better contact Naomi, let her know you’ll be delayed so she won’t worry.”

Naomi Wildman beamed with pride as she left the holodeck, having quickly and triumphantly solved the problem presented her in the current Flotter chapter on the holodeck she was on, and she was looking forward to sharing her accomplishments with her mom. She wasn’t going to have to wait too long though, because the reason she’d left the holodeck when she did was because Neelix had called to let her know that her mother was contacting from the Delta Flyer, and that Neelix had set up a visual communications link in her quarters.

Once she got there, Neelix simply stood back while Naomi sat at the table and looked at the screen. She’d asked where Seven of Nine was, but Neelix said that Seven was being kept busy on the bridge. Naomi thought it was kind of weird that her mom’s girlfriend wouldn’t be here, but figured maybe they’d talk later, and talk about the kind of grown up stuff she didn’t like being in the room for.
“Hi Mom,” she said.
“Hey sweetie,” Samantha replied. Naomi wasted no time in detailing how she’d helped the Flotter character make peace with a character named Trevis, even though deep down she knew that her mom probably knew these characters already since she’d also played in those holonovels as a kid.
“I can show you how I did it tomorrow when you get back,” Naomi said, finally finished. Her mother sighed as the static on the channel got worse.
“I’m sorry, Naomi, the away mission is taking longer than planned. It may be a few more days.”
“Days?” Naomi said, frowning.

“‘Fraid so. But don’t worry, I’ll be bringing back some beautiful sillenite crystals for you and for Seven. Now I know what time it is there, so I want you to get ready for bed while I talk to Neelix, okay?”
“All right,” Naomi said, sadly, getting up to do as her mother told her.

Neelix could tell even through the static that Samantha Wildman was putting on a brave face. As soon as Naomi went to her room to change, Neelix sat down.
“Samantha?” he said. “What’s wrong?”
“We got hit by an ion storm,” she said. “We took a beating, but I imagine it would be worse if we were in a regular shuttle.”
“How bad?”
“We’re trying to make repairs, but there’s another storm on the way.” The static got worse. Neelix saw Samantha look down. It was probably just as bad on her end too. “I need to go. Say goodnight to Naomi for me.”
“Of course,” Neelix said. “Do you want me to say anything to Seven of Nine as well, or-”
“I’m sure the Captain’s already briefed her on the situation. But thanks. The signal’s getting worse, I have to go.”
The screen went black. Neelix sighed. For a moment he considered telling Naomi the truth about why her mother was delayed, but decided against it. Samantha hadn’t said anything, probably not wanting Naomi to worry unnecessarily.
I won’t tell her yet, he thought. I just need to figure out when. Or maybe I’ll get lucky and Samantha, Tom, and Tuvok will all be home before it even becomes an issue.

Neelix, along with the rest of the senior staff still on-board listened quietly in the briefing room as the static-marred mayday message from Tuvok played for them, the sound cutting out just after his voice told them that they were looking for an emergency landing site for the Delta Flyer.
“That was the last transmission we got from them,” Chakotay said. “We haven’t heard anything since. We’ve tried hailing them but they aren’t responding.”
“If they’re looking for a place to land,” the Doctor said, “it must be pretty bad.”
“Exactly what I was thinking,” B’Elanna said. “Can we pick them up on long range sensors?”

“We lost their energy signature when the second ion storm hit,” Harry Kim said. “But we’ve triangulated the coordinates of the distress call. They’ve entered a planetary system about 0.6 light years from here. That’s the good news. The bad is that another ion storm blocking our path. It’s a level five.”
“Hmm,” Janeway said. “We’ve been through worse than a Level 5. And since Edwin’s shield reinforcements are still in place, we should be able to ride it out just fine. We’re not going to let a little bad weather get in the way of our rescue mission. Dismissed.”
“What should I tell Naomi?” Neelix said, speaking up for the first time since the briefing started. “Or should I tell her anything for that matter?”
Chakotay shrugged. “If you don’t feel comfortable handling that Neelix, perhaps I could help.”
“That won’t be necessary Commander,” Neelix said. “I know she needs to be told, and it probably should come from me. Except for her mother and maybe Seven of Nine, I’m closer to her than anyone. I’m just worried about how she’ll handle it.”
“Understandable,” Janeway said. “Look, just keep her occupied for awhile while we handle the rescue mission. If things go sideways, it’ll be my job to deliver the bad news.”
“This reminds me,” B’Elanna said. “Has anyone told Seven yet?”
“She’s aware of the Flyer’s damage from the first ion storm,” Harry said. “But us in this room are the only ones with the latest information. I’m sure she’ll handle it fine though. This is the woman who was able to save us all from a killer nebula, while in the middle of a nervous breakdown no less,” he added, referring to last year’s month-long period where all but Seven and the Doctor had to sleep in stasis tubes.
“This is different though,” Janeway said.
“How so?” Neelix said, wondering where the captain was going with this.
“It’s a matter of scale,” she said. “The larger the number of people in danger, the easier it is to detach and focus on the task at hand. There’s a huge difference between a hundred and twenty plus, and three. And when one of those three is someone you’re emotionally attached to…”
“I would remind you that my boyfriend is one of the people in danger,” B’Elanna said. “And I don’t see anyone worrying about me not being able to focus.”
“I’ve known you longer, I know I don’t need to,” Janeway said. “We’ve all gone through something like this before. But for Seven this is still new, she’s never had to perform with these kinds of stakes before.”

“With all due respect Captain,” Harry said, “I think you’re selling her short. I’m confident Seven of Nine won’t let her connection to Sam cloud her judgement, and we’ll probably need her skills on this mission.”
“I agree,” Neelix said.
“Same here,” the Doctor said. Janeway shrugged.
“You’re probably right,” she said. “Harry, let her know the situation. Neelix, keep Naomi occupied, like I said. Everyone else, let’s start putting a rescue plan together.”

Seven of Nine was slightly confused. When Janeway summoned her to the bridge and updated her on the Delta Flyer’s situation, Seven began to feel a sense of panic, not unlike the one she’d had weeks before when Edwin was allowing himself to die in sickbay. She couldn’t quite understand why though. The concern for Samantha, of course was natural, and she imagined that B’Elanna Torres felt much the same way about Tom Paris, whose life was also in danger aboard the Flyer. During her time on the ship however, the entire ship had been in danger more times than should have been statistically probable. By extension, Sam was in danger then too. Seven just could not discern what made this different.

Maybe it’s because I helped design the shuttle, she found herself thinking as she went over schematics on a PADD that Harry had handed her. If I’d been more involved perhaps it wouldn’t be so badly damaged.
“Has Naomi been informed?” she asked Lieutenant Kim.
“Neelix is going to handle that,” Harry said. “but not just yet. I can’t blame him for being reluctant, no one wants to be the bearer of bad news.”
“Perhaps that is for the best,” Seven said. “I would offer to tell her myself, but as Sam as pointed out to me more than once I still require improvement in the, to use her words, ‘tact department.’”

Harry chuckled at that. Seven had not intended the statement to be amusing, but she decided to keep that to herself.

“I should probably steer clear of Naomi for the remainder of the operation,” she said. “If I see her she will likely ask me about the status of her mother, and much like Sam I do not like deceiving her.”
“You’ve had to lie to her before?” Harry said.
“Yes,” she said. Harry looked for a moment like he might ask for further details on that, but he didn’t, for which Seven was grateful as she would not have given him any. None of the falsehoods were large ones, it was simply a matter of there being things that Sam felt it was in Naomi’s best interest that she not know about until she was an adult. Seven was skeptical, but chose to defer to Samantha on the matter.

What will I do if she doesn’t come back? she thought. She tried to push the intrusive thought aside, but it kept nagging at her quietly in the back of her mind, so she instead tried to focus harder on the information on her PADD, working to put together a rescue mission.

As Tom Paris pushed the thrusters on the Delta Flyer to their limits, Samantha kept her focus on the console screen, trying to find somewhere, anywhere, to land the ship. With warp drive and even impulse engines off-line though, she knew they were only delaying the inevitable and that the ion storm was going to hit them.

“And to think that being demoted and having to spend a month in the brig would end up not being the worst thing to happen to me this year,” she heard Paris mutter.
“The storm is throwing off my readings,” she said, “but there is definitely a big rock nearby, I just can’t find it.” The ship shuddered.
“The wave front is accelerating,” Tuvok said. “Less than two minutes to impact.”
“Great, so I’ve only got about thirty seconds to land this thing,” Tom said. “Samantha, I hate to rush you-”
“Got it,” she said, “Finally. I read a class-M atmosphere, and a benamite mantle.” She quickly transferred the distance and coordinates to Tom’s console.
“Benamite? I want to land this shuttle, not bury it,” he said as he turned the shuttle towards the planet which would hopefully protect them from more ion storms.
“Well, we could always just try to surf the ion storm,” Samantha snarked, her patience starting to waver as the shuddering got worse.
“We’ve entered the upper atmosphere,” Tuvok said a few seconds later. Samantha continued her scans.
“Nothing but impact craters and volcanoes,” she said, “this is not a good landing place.”
“The storm is closing,” Tuvok said. “Shields are already at maximum.”
“It’s gonna have to do,” Tom said. “So long as we don’t land in a volcano we should be fine.”
“Starboard thrusters are down,” Tuvok said.
“Damn,” Tom said. “This is just not my day.”
“We’re going in too fast,” Samantha said, finally starting to panic.
“Hang on!” Tom yelled.

The ship shook violently, there were loud clanging noises, Samantha felt her head hit something, and her vision became fuzzy. She didn’t remember being unconscious, but when she opened her eyes, she saw that she’d been moved from where she’d been sitting, and she was very, very sore.

“Wha-what happened?” she said, touching a sore spot on her head, and seeing blood on the tips of her fingers.
Tom was scanning her with a medical tricorder. Samantha found herself glad that he had agreed to be trained as a field medic.
“We made it. -ish,” Tom said. “The Delta Flyer’s first real planetary landing wasn’t exactly an auspicious one. We’re three kilometers under the surface. At least our primary hull is still in one piece.”
“Wish I felt the same way,” Samantha said.
“You’ll be okay,” Tom said. “Minor fractures, a concussion, nothing I can’t handle.”
“You’re a better nurse than you are a liar, Ensign,” Samantha grunted and clutched her side, which was hurting worse now.
Tom closed the medical tricorder and sighed. “You have a punctured kidney,” he said. “You need surgery.”
Samantha nodded.
“I have transmitted another distress call,” Tuvok said. “So far, no response.”
“I’ve got to talk to Naomi,” Samantha said, feeling scared. “And Annie. My girls, they’ll be so worried about me.”

“Conserve your strength, Ensign,” Tuvok said. “Mr. Paris and I have the situation under control.”

“Sam, I’m going to give you a mild sedative and something for the pain, okay?” Tom said, holding up a hypospray. Samantha nodded. She felt a little woozy after Tom applied the hypospray, but she could still hear him and Tuvok as they discussed their situation. Were she not drugged, it might’ve made her panic more.
“Any chance we could abandon ship and walk out of here?” Tom said.
“Unlikely,” Tuvok said. “We’re far too deep underground, and the cavern behind us has filled up with fluorine gas.”
“Seriously?” Tom said, sounding incredulous. “Fluorine? How did it not all ignite when we crashed?”
“Unknown,” Tuvok admitted.
Samantha, not wanting to fall asleep, tried to remember everything she could about fluorine gas and had to agree with Tom. That type of gas was so reactive water would ignite it, and now there was a huge cave full of it right behind them.
Three ion storms in one day, a crash landing, and surrounded by a gas that can explode if you look at it wrong. Welcome to the worst day of my life, she thought.

“Our best option,” she heard Tuvok say, “is to wait for Voyager.”

-o-

Naomi kept thinking about how her mom hadn’t contacted her in awhile, how Seven of Nine seemed to be avoiding her, and how nervous Neelix seemed to be. Something was going on, and no one was telling her and it was making her mad enough that nothing the Doctor was telling her about botany was registering.

The Doctor was saying something about organelles when Naomi finally just said what was on her mind.
“My Mom was supposed to call me today. Why hasn’t she?”
The Doctor paused for a moment.
“Well,” he said, “she’s probably just busy.” The Doctor was still smiling like he was when he was giving his lessons, but Naomi felt something was a little off with the smile, like it was there just to make her feel better. “Now let’s have a little look at the cell wall,” the Doctor said, tapping a button on the console screen in front of her.

“Can we try to call her?” she said. The Doctor didn’t answer right away.
“Well,” he started to say but was interrupted when the door to sickbay opened. “Neelix, so happy to see you,” the Doctor said. Neelix seemed surprised at that.
“Um, okay,” Neelix said. “I was just coming by to pick up Naomi. We’re going to do another Flotter story on the holodeck today. I’m not too early am I?”
“I was just asking the Doctor if we could call Mom on the Delta Flyer,” Naomi said. Neelix sighed. He looked at the Doctor, who nodded and stepped into his office, leaving her and Neelix alone.
“I should have said something sooner,” Neelix said. Naomi suddenly felt very nervous. “The Delta Flyer got hit pretty bad by some ion storms and had to land on a planetoid to make repairs. We can’t talk to them right now because of the damage. I’m sure you’re scared right now, and it’s okay to be scared, but I want you to know that everyone is doing everything they can to make sure the Flyer and everyone on it comes home safe. Okay?”
Naomi didn’t say anything. She just sat there. She did feel a little scared, like Neelix said she would, but she was also mad. Mad at him for not telling her right away that her mom was in trouble, mad at her mother for not saying she was in trouble the last time she called, mad at ion storms…

She got out of her chair and just left sickbay. Neelix followed her, asking her if she was okay but she just ignored him. She wanted to go somewhere where she could feel safe, so she went to holodeck one and activated the Flotter program. When Neelix tried to follow her in she just yelled “No!” at him and asked the computer to seal the door. She walked as far as the nearest tree, which wasn’t very far since the simulation was of a forest, leaned against it, and cried.

Seven of Nine worked at her console in the astrometrics lab. She was concerned for Sam, but she wasn’t allowing her fear to cloud her judgement. If pressed, she would have to admit that she just didn’t know if she could emotionally handle losing her, but that was all the more reason not to be reckless. She imagined that being allowed to work on the rescue mission played a large part, if not the largest, in helping maintain her calm.

“Computer, switch to polythermal imaging and enhance resolution,” she said. As she said so she heard the door open behind her. She glanced over her shoulder and saw Neelix enter.
“Do you require assistance, Neelix?” she said.
“Maybe. I’m worried about Naomi,” Neelix said. He sighed, then added, “I messed up. I should’ve told her sooner, but I didn’t and I think waiting only made it worse.”
“How much did you tell her?” Seven said.
“Not much, just that the Flyer was in trouble and had to land. I didn’t tell her it crashed though.”
“I’ve found that Naomi is more clever and resilient than many on board Voyager give her credit for. She may well be angry that she wasn’t informed sooner about her mother’s situation, but I doubt that will hold for long. She will understand that you were only trying to protect her.”
“I could’ve done a better job of it, but thanks anyway Seven. Since she knows now, maybe you should talk to her before going down there to join the rescue team. She noticed how you weren’t saying much to her the past few days.”
“I will do that. Currently I am mapping the caverns around the crash site.” Seven stopped, and looked up from her console. “Do you have any experience mapping caverns, Neelix?”
“Not using technology like this, but I see where you’re going with that. Just tell me which buttons to push and I’ll keep the program going while you talk to Naomi.”
“Thank you,” Seven said. She gave Neelix a pat on the shoulder, a reassuring gesture that Samantha had done for her on numerous occasions. “If it is any consolation, the fact that you are willing to admit you were in error means you are unlikely to make a similar mistake in the future.”

“It doesn’t make me feel much better, Seven,” Neelix said. “but thanks for trying anyway. I suppose it’s a good thing I’m only a godparent and not a real parent.”
“That is not for me to say,” Seven said. As she started to leave, her comm badge chirped.
“Commander Chakotay to Seven of Nine.”
“Yes, Commander,” Seven said.
“Rescue Team Alpha needs that data,” Chakotay said, his voice suggesting urgency. Seven sighed. “I will meet you at the transporter site.” She closed the communication and turned to Neelix. “I don’t think I’m going to have time to talk to Naomi after all. Keep looking after her Neelix. She’ll need someone to talk to once the initial shock has worn off, if it hasn’t already.”

“Okay. And Seven? Bring them home.”
“I intend to.”

“Ready, Tuvok?” Tom said.
“Ready,” Tuvok said. Samantha heard much of what was going on since the crash, but wasn’t sure what they were ready for. She had been drifting in and out of consciousness the whole time since they’d crashed, and the painkillers Tom was giving her were still working but they were also making it hard to focus.

“Cross your fingers,” she heard Tom say. He reached into an open panel, touched something, and something on the panel up at the front where Tuvok was seated sparked.
“Damn,” Tom grunted.
“The magnetic relays have overloaded,” Tuvok said.
“We’d better find another way to polarize this hull, or Voyager’s sensors won’t be able to pick us up,” Tom said.
“Do not give up hope,” Tuvok said. “Probability of rescue is admittedly low, but it is not statistically impossible.”
“Comforting,” Tom said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“If we don’t make it,” Samantha said softly, “who’s going to look after Naomi?”
“The most likely outcome would be that Neelix and Seven of Nine would share that responsibility,” Tuvok said. “That is, of course, assuming we do not get rescued, which you should not rule out.”
Samantha scoffed, followed by a wince as the pain in her side flared up again.
“Our ship has Borg enhanced sensors and they still haven’t found us yet. If my honey’s tech can’t find us-”
“I’d hate to be the one who gives Seven the order to abandon the search,” Tom said under his breath, not realizing that Samantha could hear him.
“Shut up, Tom,” she said.
“Sorry,” he replied, looking embarrassed.
“You are concerned for your daughter, this is understandable,” Tuvok said. “I would remind you however that I am also a parent. My youngest child has been without her father for four years. Yet I am certain of her well-being. Your child will likewise survive and prosper, no matter what becomes of us.”
“He’s right,” Tom said, the first time she’d heard him say anything to or about Tuvok that wasn’t dripping with sarcasm since the crash. “There’s not a sentient on Voyager that wouldn’t take a phaser blast for that kid and you know it.”
Samantha felt tears well up, but not from the pain.

“Thank you,” she said.

Seven of Nine walked around the cavern with her tricorder out, trying to learn everything she could about the cavern they were in. She, along with Chakotay, Joe Carey, and the rest of Rescue Team Alpha had found a piece of one of the Delta Flyer’s nacelles. While Chakotay informed the captain, Seven put together the data she collected. The cavern ahead of them had collapsed, but there was a hull signature behind the debris. She almost smiled, certain that not only had Sam and the others been found but they were likely alive, albeit trapped. Trapped however was preferable to dead under the majority of circumstances.

Soon the other rescue teams were there, as were the phaser drills. She continued scanning as the drills operated, making sure that the activity didn’t cause another cave-in that would kill them as well. As progress was made, Seven was able to get more information in her tricorder about the cavern ahead of them, including the composition of the gas…
“Oh no,” she uttered before yelling at the team to stop the drills.
“What is it?” Carey asked. She handed him her tricorder.
“Fluorine gas,” she said. “If we pierce the final layer with a phaser it will ignite, destroying the cave, the Delta Flyer, and us with it.”
“Son of a bitch,” Carey said. “How did that even happen?”
“We could name this whole solar system after Murphy’s Law,” Chakotay said in exasperation. “We can’t just give up and leave them there, but long range sensors show yet another ion storm coming which would likely cause another cave in cutting off all hope.”
“Another ion storm?” Seven said, not even hiding the shock in her voice. Ion storms were not a rare thing in the galaxy, but for a single star system to have four of them, four of massive size, in less than an Earth standard week was so ridiculous that she felt like punching something, regardless of the fact that doing so would accomplish approximately nothing.
“Beaming through rock isn’t impossible,” Carey said. “It’s the amount that’s keeping us from getting our people out of there. Maybe if we keep drilling, but stop just before we reach where the gas is-”
“Except the transporter beam would likely ignite the gas as well,” Seven said.
“Possible,” Carey admitted. “But I don’t have any other ideas.”

“Nor do I,” Seven admitted.
“Alright,” Chakotay said. “you two try to come up with a way to bleed that gas out of the cave without igniting it. But work fast. We’ve got a few hours at best before the Captain gives the order to abort the mission.”

-o-

Inside the Delta Flyer, Tom Paris was recording a goodbye message for B’Elanna. Samantha didn’t want to eavesdrop, but it was difficult giving how she couldn’t move, and the ship, while larger on the inside that a standard shuttlecraft, just didn’t have enough room for there to be much in the way of private space. Tuvok was writing out his message to his family on a PADD. Sam wasn’t sure which way she was going to go with that just yet, or even if she should bother. Would anyone ever see or hear my last words anyway? she thought.

“Warning. Life support has fallen to critical levels,” the computer said, cutting off Tom mid-sentence.
“Don’t mind the computer, she’s just jealous that I’m spending my last few moments talking to you. So long,” Tom said. As he hit the button to end recording, Samantha let out a bitter laugh.
“There are men who can’t say ‘I love you.’ And Tom Paris is their God-king,” she said.
“Do you really want to spend your final moments on the mortal coil being a smart ass, Sam?” Tom said, though there was no real anger to speak of in his voice, just resignation. She believed he didn’t really care how she spoke to him at the end, just that he was used to being the one to come back with a quip, so why stop now.

“I’m sorry,” she said, and she meant it. She chalked up this uncharacteristic pettiness to the slowly fading sedatives and painkillers in her system. Tom had offered her more as there was still several doses worth in the Flyer’s medkit, but she refused. She did not want to be doped up when she made her own goodbye message, which she finally decided would be a visual one, like Tom’s. With Tom’s helping her up since she still couldn’t walk, she got into the chair and started the recording.
“Computer, encode message for delivery to Naomi Wildman, and Seven of Nine.”
“Acknowledged,” the computer said.
“Hi,” she said. “I know you’re both feeling very sad right now but I want you to listen to me very carefully, okay? First of all, I love you. Both of you. Naomi, I am so proud of you. How smart you are, how funny, how kind, how determined to learn new things. You are going to grow up to do extraordinary things. And you listen to Seven of Nine and to Neelix, they’ll be taking care of you now.

“Seven, Annika, I know that this will be harder on you than anyone. But don’t let it stop you from continuing to explore your humanity. Don’t be afraid to keep learning new things, about other organics and about yourself. Don’t use me as anchor. Mourn for however long you feel is right, but if another girl comes along who makes your heart beat faster the way I did, don’t pass on that chance.” Samantha stopped talking for a moment, wiping tears out of her eyes.
“Goodbye, Naomi. Goodbye, Annika Hansen. I love you both, so much.”
“Warning. Oxygen depletion in ten minutes,” the computer said just before Sam ended the recording.

Sam heard a sniff, and turned to see Tom Paris wiping his eyes.
“Okay, I want a do-over,” he said.

Neelix walked onto the holodeck, the forest from the Flotter stories still smoldering from when the trees had been burned in the last chapter. From what he knew of the story there was at least one way, if not more, to restore it, but it appeared that Naomi had not done so yet. He considered for a moment that maybe she just hadn’t figured out how, but realized that far more likely was she wasn’t even trying. She was probably too upset about everything that was going on with her mother and the Delta Flyer.

“Naomi?” he called out.
“Go away!” Trevis, a character from the holonovel yelled at him. The anthropomorphized tree looked as angry as his voice suggested he was, though if it was at him or at the fact that he was still partially smoldering he wasn’t sure.
“She doesn’t want to talk to you,” Trevis continued.
So he’s mad at me then, Neelix thought. Can’t say I blame him.

“You lied,” another voice said. Neelix saw Flotter, a water elemental type character,  standing just behind and the to the right of Trevis.
“I thought you were vaporized,” Neelix said.
“Naomi re-liquified me. Now leave!”

Neelix sighed. He didn’t have time for this, so he told the computer to delete the characters.
“Unable to comply,” the computer’s voice said. “Holodeck controls have been encoded.”
“Great, probably something Seven taught her,” Neelix said. “Look, Flotter, Trevis, I know I made a mistake. I should’ve told her sooner. That’s why I’m here to apologize, to try and make things right.”

“I wonder if the liar can swim,” Flotter said.
“We could always hang him from one of my branches,” Trevis said.
Good gods who wrote this thing? Neelix thought. This is supposed to be for children.
“Naomi,” Neelix called out. “Please let me talk to you.”
“It’s okay,” he heard Naomi’s voice say. She stood from behind the fallen tree she’d been hiding behind.
“You be nice,” Trevis said.
“No more lying,” Flotter said, pointing a finger in Neelix’s face. Neelix walked around the two characters and went and sat next to Naomi.
“Is my mother dead?” she asked, not looking him the eye.
“We don’t know,” Neelix said. “The rescue operation is still going on.”
“What happened?”
“The Flyer was hit by an ion storm. They tried to land on the planet below us to do repairs, but crashed.”
“I saw debris. Fires. A crater.” Neelix noticed that Naomi still wasn’t looking at him when she talked, like she couldn’t bear to look at him after he’d kept her mother’s situation from her.
“But not the hull. Until we know for sure, I am not giving up on them being alive. Seven of Nine hasn’t, she’s down there helping with the rescue effort right now.”
“Do you really think they might find her?”
“Yes, I do. Your mother has Tom Paris and Tuvok with her, and they’ve survived worse than a shuttle crash before.”
“How do I know you’re telling me the truth this time?”
Neelix thought about it for moment.
“I never told you this before, but when I was younger, I lost my mother. My whole family. There was a war, and they died.”
“Who started it?” Naomi said, looking at him now.

“It doesn’t really matter,” Neelix said, not wanting to admit that his people had been the aggressors. “Not anymore. Either way, it was still the worst thing that ever happened to me. I wanted to tell you the truth, but every time I came close, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I don’t know if I was protecting you, or myself. I let you down Naomi, and I am so sorry.”
“Why didn’t Seven tell me? She loves my mom, why didn’t she tell me?”
“Seven is still learning about what it’s like to be human,” Neelix said. “I don’t think she was ready for that kind of responsibility, having to be the one to tell a child that their parent was in danger. So she just stayed focus on the rescue effort. I think it helped her stay sane. Though I imagine she’s as scared as you are.”

Naomi reached out and touched Neelix’s hand. Neelix was sure she was about to say she forgave him, but the ship suddenly shuddered.
“All hands to emergency stations,” Janeway’s voice said over the comm. “The approaching ion storm has just upgraded to level eight.”
“Ion storm? What’s that?” Flotter said.

“Level eight? What the hell is wrong with this star system?” Joe Carey shouted when the rescue team in the cavern received the call from the captain.
“No, no, no,” Seven muttered. Progress on the rescue had been slow, but they were so close, she just knew it, even though the data on her tricorder told her it was even odds at this point. For the first time since she’d heard about the Delta Flyer’s troubles several days ago, Seven of Nine crossed the line from fear for her girlfriend’s safety into full blown anxiety. Her hand shook, unwanted visions of Samantha being crushed by kilotons of rock filled her mind, and she was pretty sure she was about to cry.

“Just a few more meters,” Chakotay told the captain over his comm badge.
“When that storm hits, your cavern is going to destabilize,” Janeway said. “You’ve got six minutes, make the most of it.”
“All right,” Chakotay said. “Keep going, we’ve almost cleared enough rock to be able to beam the whole shuttle out through the rock.”
“But we haven’t been able to clear the fluorine gas yet,” B’Elanna said.
“We’ll have to risk it,” Chakotay said. “It’s that or we lose them for good to another cave-in.”
“I swear, it’s like this system is cursed,” B’Elanna said.
“I was thinking the exact same thing,” Carey said.
“Focus,” Seven snapped at them. Rather than getting mad at her as they usually did when she was so curt, they did as she asked. She actually felt bad for having yelled at them, but this task was just too important. She made a mental note to apologize later, once Samantha was safe and sound.

“Warning. Oxygen depletion in two minutes,” the computer said.
“You know, I think I’m just gonna turn that damn thing off. I don’t need a stopwatch running on my impending death,” Tom said.

“In accepting the inevitable,” Tuvok said, “one finds peace.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right. I guess this isn’t how I figured it would all end.”
“Did you envision perhaps a more heroic death?”
“Yeah, why not? Why not go out like Captain Kirk, saving the Enterprise-B and a bunch of refugees from an anomaly? Or Captain Garrett, paving the way for peace with the Klingon Empire by going down fighting against the Romulans? I can think of worse ways to go.”
“Like bleeding out from your kidneys?” Samantha coughed out.
Tom was debating whether to not to reply to that, considering that he didn’t want to risk the last words Samantha Wildman ever heard would be sarcastic ones, when he heard a sound that it took him a second to recognize. When he did, he laughed.
“They did it,” he said after laughing. “They found us. Those are phaser noises, I’d recognize them anywhere!”

Seven of Nine and the rest of the team was beamed aboard just seconds after the Delta Flyer had been beamed to the shuttle bay with the aid of pattern enhancers. Seven did not wait to be dismissed before just dropping her gear on the pad and running, heading for the shuttle bay. When she got there, she saw Ensign Brooks helping Tom Paris step down. He looked a little dizzy and clearly needed the ensign’s help staying upright, but appeared otherwise unharmed, Tuvok climbing out of the shuttle right behind him.
“Sam?” she said. Tom looked at her.
“We had to have her beamed directly to sickbay,” he said. “She needed surgery for internal bleeding. I’m sure the Doc-”
Seven didn’t wait for Tom to finish. She slapped her comm badge so hard it nearly fell off.
“Seven of Nine to Naomi Wildman, meet me outside sickbay,” she said, running again, and nearly knocking over several crewmen as she made her way to sickbay. When she got there, Naomi was already outside, and Neelix was with her. The latter leaning against the bulkhead while the former was pacing until she spotted Seven.
Without saying a word, Naomi ran to her, wrapping her arms around her.
“Is she…” Seven said, but couldn’t bring herself to finish the question.
“The Doctor told us to wait outside,” Naomi said, trying not to sob as she spoke. Seven couldn’t blame her. “Seven, it’s okay that you didn’t tell me Mom was in trouble. I know you were scared. I’m scared too.”
“I’m sorry,” Seven said. “I was so focused on bringing Sam home I didn’t think about what was happening to you.”
“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Neelix said. “She was still conscious when they beamed her on board. That has to be a good sign, right?”
“I believe it is,” Seven said, though she had to admit she wasn’t one hundred percent sure of that. The three of them waited outside in the hall, moving to let people past them when they had to but mainly waiting quietly. When the quiet got to be too much for Seven, she started to ask Naomi about how her holonovels were going, when the door to sickbay opened. The Doctor stood there, smiling.
“Naomi, Seven, you can come in. Mr. Neelix should wait out here so as not to crowd her.”
“No problem,” Neelix said, smiling himself. Seven followed behind Naomi, who quickly ran into her mother’s arms. Seven moved more slowly, not wanting to interrupt the reunion. When Sam saw her, she reached out an arm and motioned for Seven to join them in a group hug, which she did gladly.
“Good to see you again, Annie,” Sam whispered in her easy.
“Likewise,” Seven said.
“I think it goes without saying,” Sam said, “that I am never getting in a shuttle ever again.”
Seven of Nine, for the first time in what had felt like an eternity, laughed.

Chapter Five:

Seven of Nine and Samantha had been given a week of “shore leave” by the Captain. Though with no M-class nearby, and even if there were Voyager was fully stocked with necessary supplies, the options the couple had were limited to their quarters, the holodeck, and little else.

They did not mind however. It had only been a week prior that Sam had nearly died. Seven was unused to the concept of a vacation however, and when word spread through the ship that work on a new slipstream drive, one that could work longer than the one they’d briefly had less than a year ago that had burned out after shaving several years off their journey to the Alpha Quadrant, she learned a new word from Samantha that had not been in her vocabulary before.
“Antsy?” Seven said, lying in bed next to Sam. “I am unfamiliar with that term.”
Samantha laughed. “Basically, it means you can’t wait for your time off to officially be over so you can work on that quantum matrix thing, whatever that means.” Samantha raised her hand. “And don’t try explaining it to me, I’m a biologist. Warp theory has never been my strong suit. It was probably my worst class at the academy besides Command.”
“I never knew you took Command classes,” Seven said.
“I needed an elective, and I waited too long and missed a slot in Early Federation History,” Samantha closed her eyes and chuckled. “Oh sweetie, you’d have been so embarrassed for me. Can you believe I actually tried to use diplomacy during the Kobayashi Maru?”
“Why would that be embarrassing? I imagine most cadets would never even consider that.”

“With good reason. They don’t call it the no-win scenario for nothing. I think they only let me live as long as they did out of sympathy. The simulation ended with the Maru getting captured by the Romulans anyway, and me having to run away to save what was left of the ship.”

“Hmm,” Seven said. She didn’t really have anything to add to the conversation at that point, so she tried to think of a segue into another topic.
“Oh, by the way, I’ve been meaning to ask you something, Annie,” Samantha said, interrupting Seven’s train of thought.

“What were you intending to ask?”

“I didn’t want to say anything until I was sure, but the last two nights you were staying here, since you didn’t need to be in your alcove to recharge or anything, you kind of got up in the middle of the night and wandered off.”
“I did?” Seven said, genuinely confused. “I have no memory of this.”

“Perhaps you were sleepwalking then,” Sam said. “You might want to talk to the Doctor about that. Have you been having any problems with your regeneration cycles?”
“None that I can- No, now that you mention it, I did feel as though my last few cycles were incomplete somehow. This certainly is concerning. I will speak to the Doctor in the morning. I can complete two task simultaneously if I do so after escorting Naomi there for her next botany lesson.”

“Good idea,” Sam said, kissing Seven on the forehead. “Good night, Annie.”
“Good night, Sam,” Seven said, resting her head on her pillow and closing her eyes.

“So Neelix told me that the Borg do a lot of the things they do because they’re trying to be perfect,” Naomi said as she and Seven of Nine walked down the corridor side by side. “And even though you’re not a drone anymore, you do still try to be perfect. Right?”

“Mostly correct,” Seven said. “My long term goals are equally divided between achieving perfection, and trying to be a good partner to your mother.”

“Well, if I can learn to be perfect too, then Captain Janeway will have to make me her bridge assistant.”

“If you have been curious about the Borg you could’ve inquired me at any time over the past year,” Seven said, smirking.
“But I wasn’t trying to become a Bridge Assistant until a few weeks ago,” Naomi said, proud of her logic.
“I admire your determination, Naomi. However, your neocortical development is incomplete. You are definitely intelligent, sometimes too intelligent for your own good as Sam sometimes says.”
“Hey!” Naomi said, mildly offended.
Seven looked like she was about to keep talking but then stopped.
“Seven?” Naomi said, feeling a little worried as Seven seemed to stare at nothing for a few moments. Seven started looking around, like she didn’t know where she was until she was looking at straight at her. A huge smile, probably the biggest one Naomi had ever seen Seven have without her mom around, appeared on Seven’s face.
“Hi,” Seven said in a cheery voice.
“Uh, hi,” Naomi said. She couldn’t say exactly what was wrong, but she felt that something was off with Seven, and she was even more worried now than she’d been when Seven had first stopped in the middle of the hall.
“I’m bored, let’s do something fun,” Seven said, acting like a child herself.
Is that how I look to other people when I’m bored? Naomi thought.

“Like what?” Naomi said, playing along for now, wondering just why her mom’s girlfriend was acting so weird.
“Like, swimming?”
Naomi remembered reading some stories that she wasn’t supposed to about other starship’s adventures, and one she’d read about had involved members of the crew of the Enterprise-D being taken over by bodiless aliens. She wondered if that was happening to Seven of Nine, though if it was an alien, it was a very, very young alien, who really didn’t seem to want to take over the ship.
“I’m not allowed to go swimming without my mom,” Naomi said. If Seven was possessed somehow, she was going to find out everything she could about the alien before reporting to the captain, like a good officer would.
“Oh,” Seven said. “Do you like kadis-kot?”
Naomi smiled involuntarily. She actually did love that game, and have even offered to teach Seven how to play it once, but she had said she wasn’t interested.
“I love it,” she said.
“Come on,” Seven said, taking Naomi’s hand and skipping in the opposite direction they had been, giggling the whole way.

The last thing Captain Janeway had expected to hear on the bridge was a call from Naomi Wildman, but when Naomi said that she was worried that something was happening to Seven, she sat up straight in her captain’s chair.
“It was like she was someone else for a little bit,” Naomi’s voice over the com system.
“Someone else?”

“Yeah. She started acting like a little kid. Littler than me even, and she wanted to go swimming, and play kadis-kot. And when B’Elanna called her she didn’t even respond, like she didn’t know her own name.”
“Did she give another name?” Janeway asked, looking at Chakotay. He simply shrugged.
“No, but after the second time B’Elanna called for her, Seven looked kinda confused, and didn’t remember coming back to mom’s quarters to play. She left for engineering just a minute or so ago. I’m really worried about her captain. I’ve read about alien possessions, but I’m not sure that’s it anymore. I think Seven might be sick.”
“Okay Naomi,” Janeway said. “I’ll have her report to sickbay to talk to the Doctor, if there’s anything wrong he might-”
Janeway was interrupted by a sound coming from Tuvok’s console.
“Security alert in engineering captain,” he said. “Apparently Seven of Nine just attacked Lieutenant Torres.”
“Set up force fields to try and contain her. Take a team, but take the Doctor as well. Seven might be-”
“I heard your conversation with Ms. Wildman captain. I will go personally to make sure Seven of Nine is unharmed.”

“Do it,” Janeway said.

Tuvok and his team, the Doctor following close behind them, walked up to the turn in the corridor where the force fields had Seven of Nine contained. As he approached he saw another security officer, lying face down, but breathing, and Seven of Nine, huddled up against the wall, holding a hand phaser, and quietly sobbing.
She looked up, presumably hearing them approach. She looked terrified, and glanced at the downed crewman.
“He’s hurt. Please help him,” she said.

Tuvok kept his phaser out, but motioned for the people on his team to sheath theirs and go aid the injured crewman, who was already trying to stand up, groaning as he did so. Seven looked at him, then looked at his phaser and began fidgeting.
“Did I do something bad?” she said.

“Who are you?” Tuvok said.
“My name’s Maryl,” Seven said. “Are you a Vulcan?”
“Computer,” Tuvok said. “Deactivate force field.” The energy shield dropped immediately, and Tuvok calmly knelt down by Seven and said “give me the phaser,” in a tone he would when speaking to his own children when they were young and had not yet mastered the ability to suppress fear. Seven did so, holding it cautiously by the very end of the handle, as if afraid she would accidentally fire it. Once Tuvok deactivated it and handed it to the security officer standing next to him, Seven’s demeanor suddenly and radically changed. She stood and began speaking in a tone not unlike that of a Vulcan.
“You are not a physician commander, the logical course of action would be to take him to the infirmary,” she said.
“Maryl?” Tuvok said.
“Subaltern Lorot, Vulcan High Command,” Seven said. “May I be of assistance?”

“Yes, Tuvok said. “Please accompany me to sickbay.”

“Certainly,” Seven said, walking ahead of Tuvok without any prompting. “Clearly your crewmate was attacked, we should use caution and-” Seven stopped walking, and began to look around, appearing confused.
“Pah’tak,” she said, saying the Klingon word with bitter anger in her voice. “You will drown in your own blood.”
“Keep moving,” Tuvok said sternly.
Seven turned around, starting to scream. Tuvok fired his phaser, and Seven fell to the floor, unconscious.

Seven woke up abruptly, gasping as her eyes opened. She quickly realized she was lying in a bio-bed in sickbay, unsure of how she got there. The last thing she was remembered was B’Elanna Torres suggesting she see the Doctor about her memory lapse that she’d experienced with Naomi.

“Seven?” she heard the captain say.
“Honey, are you okay?” Sam said. The two women were standing over her on one side of the bio-bed, The Doctor and Tuvok on the other. Seven thought she could hear other people talking as well, talking over each other, but she couldn’t see anyone else.
“Captain? Sammy? Why am I here?”

“You’ve been unconscious nearly two hours,” Janeway said. “We believe you are experiencing some kind of neurological disorder.”
“Voices,” Seven said. The voices she’d heard a few seconds before, that she thought might’ve been other people in sickbay, were getting louder now, and it was clear that they were in her head. There were just too many of them, and they were shouting. “I hear voices.”
Sam frowned, and squeezed Seven’s hand.
“Describe them,” the Doctor said.

“They are agitated,” Seven said, feeling a growing sense of unease. “Chaotic. Too many voices.” She heard a piercing scream, and tensed up, gasping again. She felt Sam’s hand squeeze her’s a little tighter.
“Mommy, where are you?” she distinctly heard one of the voices saying, the voice of a scared child. “Somebody rescue me!” another voice, a male one, cried out. The voices became less and less distinct and soon she couldn’t make out a single word. She sat up abruptly.
“Too many voices!” she said, panicked. Samantha put her free hand on Seven’s back.
“Baby, it’s okay. I’m here,” she said. The Doctor began running his medical tricorder scanner over her.
“The cortical inhibitor is destabilizing,” he said. He began adjusting a device that Seven only now realized was on the side of her neck. “I’m increasing the neurotransmitter levels.”
As he adjusted the device, the voices got quieter and more distant. She leaned against Samantha, who was looking at the Doctor with grave concern.
“What’s happening to her?” she said.
“I wish I knew,” the Doctor said, “Seven, do you still hear the voices?”
“They are fading,” Seven said, breathing heavily. “They are gone.”
“Good,” Captain Janeway said. “Let’s see what we can do to keep them from coming back. What’s the last thing you remember?”
Seven told her.
“You have no recollection of a confrontation with Lieutenant Torres?” Tuvok said.
“A confrontation? No, like I said, the last thing I remember is her telling me to see the Doctor about my memory lapse.” Seven was feeling scared. She imagined it would be worse if Samantha wasn’t there with her, close enough to her that Seven could hear her heartbeat.
“I’m not sure why,” the Doctor said, “but you seem to manifesting personalities other than your own. Naomi said that briefly you were a child, and played kadis-kot with her this afternoon.”

“I am familiar with that game,” Seven said. “But I have never played it.”
“You also attacked B’Elanna,” Tuvok said. “after claiming to be a Klingon, the son of K’Vok you called yourself, before initiating a Klingon mating ritual. Before we brought you to sickbay, you also presented yourself as a member of the Vulcan High Command.”
Seven shook her head. “I have no memory of these events.”
“Come look at this,” the Doctor said, having moved across the room to one of sickbay’s monitors. Seven and Samantha both moved to see what he was talking about, Janeway and Tuvok close behind.
“This is your neural pattern,” the Doctor continued, “And here are thirteen new neural patterns that have emerged in your cerebral cortex. Klingon, Vulcan, Terrelian, Human, several others I can’t identify.”
“How?” Seven asked.
“They’re coming from within you,” the Doctor said. Seven just looked at him, while Samantha sighed.
“My hypothesis is that they belong to individuals assimilated by the Borg during your eighteen years as a drone. They, like the neural patterns of all who are assimilated, are incorporated into the Borg hive mind, stored in the cortical implants of all drones. They are now very active in you, and they appear to be manifesting themselves randomly, causing you to randomly mentally become that person.”
“So,” Samantha said, “are you saying that she’s basically got the Borg equivalent of multiple personality disorder?”
“I think you put it very succinctly Ensign Wildman,” the Doctor said.
“Did I hurt anyone else? Is B’Elanna alright?” Seven asked.
“You stunned a security officer,” Tuvok said, “But he has already been cleared for duty. And B’Elanna’s wound was treated on site.”
“Can you correct the malfunction?” Seven said.
“The cortical inhibitor is suppressing the effect,” the Doctor said. “But it’s only a temporary measure.”
“B’Elanna detected a Borg interlink frequency coming from a field of debris that used to be a Borg cube that we were going around,” Janeway said. “Could that be the cause of this?”
“Yes,” Seven said. “That makes sense. I was unaware that such a debris field had been found.”
“You were on vacation Seven,” Janeway said. “We briefly considered the idea of trying to find out what destroyed the cube, but figured it would be safer to be nowhere near it if another cube showed up trying to find out the same thing. Maybe we should increase our speed, try to get out of range.”
“The signal permeates subspace,” Seven said. “We cannot avoid it.”
“We have to find that signal and shut it down,” Sam said.
“I agree,” the Doctor said.
Janeway nodded. She turned to Tuvok. “Have Tom set a course for the debris field.” As Tuvok left sickbay, Janeway turned back to face Seven. “When we arrive we may need your help. Feel up to it?”

Not really, Seven thought, but she turned her head, looked into Samantha’s eyes, and smiled. “Yes, Captain,” she said.
Janeway nodded. “Keep a close eye on her Doctor,” she said. “In case she has any more unexpected visitors.”
“Is it alright if I stay here with her?” Sam asked.
“Of course,” the Doctor said. “But we’ll want to have some sedatives on hand in case the Son of K’Vok comes back. Hopefully he’s not into human women.”
“If that was supposed to be reassuring, Doctor,” Seven said, “it was a failed attempt. You do however raise a valid concern. Sam, if someone bad comes through, you need to back away. This is as much a technological issue as a mental one. How much I love you won’t matter if one of the personalities that asserts itself wishes to harm you.”
Sam touched Seven’s cheek gently.
“Okay,” she said. “Do you want me to tell Naomi what’s happening?”

“Yes,” Seven said. “though for obvious reasons it’s best she be kept away from me until this issue is resolved.”
Samantha nodded sadly.
“I’ll go tell her. I’ll be right back, I promise.” Samantha gave Seven a quick kiss before exiting sickbay. When she was gone, Seven heard the Doctor sigh.
“It’s a shame that love can’t cure all really,” he said. “If it could, I imagine you’d be getting better already.”
“Doctor, please stop talking,” Seven said, shaking her head.

“Actually Seven, I was thinking we should go to your alcove.”
“Why?”
“I want to try and determine exactly when this started occurring. That may prove invaluable in helping treat your condition.”
“That is logical,” Seven said. “But we should be quick about it so we can return to sickbay before Sam does.”
“Agreed.” She followed the Doctor out of sickbay and the two headed for the nearest turbolift. Once they were inside, the Doctor began asking more questions.
“Has any drone ever experienced symptoms like this before?”
“The Collective does not tolerate imperfection,” Seven said. “Any drone with a malfunction as serious as mine would be destroyed immediately.”

“Lucky for you this crew is a little more tolerant,” the Doctor said. Seven, still feeling agitated and tense as a result of her condition, considered bringing up the Tuvix incident from three years ago, but was by sheer coincidence interrupted by the approach of one-half of that now deceased hybrid being.
“Ah, Seven,” Neelix said. “I was hoping I’d find you. B’Elanna told me you were ill.”

“That is correct,” Seven said, not really wanting to talk to him but not wanting to be rude either.
“Well, if there is anything you need help with I’d be happy to do it. Any assignments you might need a hand finishing, anything special I can cook up for you, things like that. It can’t fix whatever’s going on, but I can at least boost your morale while you’re dealing with it.”
“I imagine that Samantha will want you to look after Naomi while she stays with me during my treatment. That will be adequate,” Seven said.
“Well, I have some wonderful medicinal teas that might help you relax if you’re interested,” Neelix said. Seven held back the urge to snap at him. He was only trying to help after all, even if he was being a bit overzealous in doing so.
“Talaxian homeopathy? I don’t think we’re quite that desperate yet.” The Doctor said.
Seven sighed, and rolled her eyes as she kept walking, the Doctor and Neelix both close behind her.
“I’ll let you two get back to what you were doing then,” Neelix said, turning down another corridor. “Feel better soon, Seven,” he added.
“Your concern is noted,” Seven said. Shortly, they were in cargo bay 2, the Doctor going over the data from Seven’s Borg alcove.
“I suspected as much,” he said. “There were several interruptions in your regeneration cycle.” He pointed to them on the monitor, and Seven saw numerous periods where the computer recorded her leaving a cycle early for periods as short as thirteen minutes, and as long as an hour.
“It’s not just that,” Seven said, remembering now what Samantha had said to her the previous night about the possibility that Seven had been sleepwalking. She explained this to the Doctor.
“So it’s been going on for several days,” he said. “Amazing how no one picked up on it until today.”

“Some did Doctor, they merely interpreted the data incorrectly, reaching a logical but wrong conclusion.”
“Fair point. Hmm, look here. Apparently you made a log entry under the name Ensign Stone. Shall we listen to it?”
“I do not believe that would be necessary,” Seven said.
“Very well,” the Doctor said. “At the very least we have a timeframe for when this started.”
Seven’s comm badge chirped.
“Bridge to Seven of Nine,” Commander Chakotay said, “we are approaching the debris field.”
“On my way commander,” Seven said. After the channel was closed she turned to face the Doctor. “I should tell Sam I’ll be on the bridge. If I’m not in sickbay when she returns from telling Naomi about my condition she’ll be worried.”
“Go ahead. I want to collect some more data from the alcove logs. I’ll meet you on the bridge.”

“Survivors?” Janeway asked as Voyager flew into the middle of the debris field that had once been a Borg cube. The last time she’d seen a site like this, Species 8472 had been the cause. She wondered if that could be the case here.
“None,” Tuvok said.
“Any other Borg ships out there?” Janeway said, hearing the turbolift door open behind her as she spoke. She spared a quick glance over her shoulder to see Seven of Nine going to an open console at the rear of the bridge.
“None, Captain,” Tom Paris said from the helm. “Looks like we’re the first ones here.”
“I’m picking up the source of the interlink frequency,” Harry Kim said. “Bearing 0-2-7 mark three.”
“On screen,” Janeway said. A device that Janeway didn’t recognize, but was certainly Borg, appeared on screen, floating in the middle of the debris, surprisingly intact, glowing as though it still had power.
“A Borg vinculum,” Seven said.
“Vinculum?” Chakotay said.
“The processing device at the core of every Borg vessel,” Seven replied.
“Looks like this one has established a link to your cortical implant,” Harry said. “It probably thinks you’re an errant drone.”
“Precisely,” Seven said. “I believe it is attempting to reintegrate me into the collective. It is malfunctioning, sending me erratic commands.”
“Can you sever the link?” Janeway said.
“Not without risking permanent damage to my own systems,” Seven said. “It must be taken off-line. I request permission to beam it aboard. I’ve worked with this technology, I may be able to disable it.”
“We’re talking about the heart of a Borg cube. I’d rather not take it inside my ship,” Janeway said.
“Could you disable it remotely?” Chakotay said.
Seven sighed. “Yes, but I would need several days. The Borg may return by then. We should take the vinculum and leave this region immediately.”
Janeway looked at Chakotay. He nodded slightly, so much so that Seven might not have noticed it had she not been standing where she was.
“Tuvok,” Janeway said, standing and walking over to the tactical console. “Beam it aboard, and put it behind a level ten force field. Maintain constant surveillance. The moment it poses a threat beam it out into space. Tom, soon as it’s aboard, get us out of here, warp 9.”
“Aye, captain,” Tom said.
Janeway walked over to Seven.
“I can’t begin to imagine what this must be like for you, and I want to help any way I can. but the safety of the whole crew is my first responsibility.”
“Understood, Captain,” Seven said.

As little as six months ago, B’Elanna Torres likely would’ve tried to kill Seven of Nine for what she’d done. But even before she heard about the vinculum and what it was doing to Seven, she felt more concern than rage. Not at the exact moment that Seven’s teeth were sinking into B’Elanna’s cheek of course, but once the initial adrenaline had worn off. Hopefully they could fix whatever was wrong and that bastard Son of K’Vok would never try to force himself on her again.

“Let’s keep an eye on those anti-grav struts,” she said, walking through engineering double and triple checking everything to make sure the Borg device would not threaten the ship. “Joe, lock out all primary command consoles. Vorik, reroute all transporter controls to main engineering.”
She didn’t bother to listen for the affirmatives. She knew her team well enough to trust them with this task. While she was on the upper level she heard the main door to engineering open. She glanced down to Seven of Nine and the Doctor walk in. They passed by the vinculum, and Seven stopped, looking anxious. B’Elanna couldn’t hear them but she could guess what Seven was saying as the Doctor began adjusting the device on her neck that was suppressing the voices.

B’Elanna went down to the lower level to meet them.
“Do not worry, Lieutenant,” Seven said. “The Son of K’Vok will not be joining us.”
“Good to hear,” B’Elanna said. “Though I do have to wonder why he keeps calling himself that. Does he think his given name is embarrassing or something?”
“What would a Klingon consider an embarrassing name?” the Doctor said.
“Can we focus on the task at hand?” Seven said, sounding exasperated.
“Right,” B’Elanna said. “So where’s the off switch on this thing?” she added, now looking at the vinculum.
“The vinculum is equipped with many safeguards. I will need to access its transneural matrix and disable it directly.” Seven began tapping at the console in front of her. With seconds an alert noise started.
“I’m reading a power surge,” B’Elanna said.
“It’s a normal response to my intrusion,” Seven said, continuing her work. A few seconds later her brow furrowed. “Curious. There appears to be an organism in the vinculum. It appears to be a viral agent.”

“Let me see it,” the Doctor said. He looked at the data on the screen in front of him, B’Elanna looking too, even though viruses were outside her field of expertise. “It’s a synthetic pathogen,” he continued. “The virus was originally a biological agent, but it’s mutated. It’s attacking the vinculum’s programs as it would living cells.”
“An organism that attacks technology? That’s interesting. Maybe unheard of,” B’Elanna said, curiosity combining with concern for the ship.

“According to the data the cube was infected less than a standard week ago after assimilating a ship belonging to species 6339,” Seven said. “They are native to this region of space.”
“Looks like we found our Typhoid Mary,” the Doctor said.

Samantha paced back and forth in her quarters, feeling helpless. Last she’d heard Seven and the Doctor had gone to brief the Captain on the species who appeared to be the origin on the virus that had infected the Borg vinculum, and consequently were likely the ones responsible for Seven’s condition. Samantha was a biologist, she knew a fair amount about viruses, so she should’ve been able to help, but the complexity of the infection in the vinculum was beyond her.

Naomi sat at the table, barely touching her food, just looking at her mother with concern.
“I’m sure she’ll be fine mom,” she said. “The Doctor and Captain Janeway will find a way to help her, I know it.”
“Oh how I wish I shared your confidence sweetie,” Samantha said, finally giving up on pacing and settling for worrying while sitting on the edge of her bed. Naomi got up and walked over to give her a hug.
“Do you wanna play kadis-kot?” Naomi asked.
Samantha smiled, and tousled Naomi’s hair. “Not tonight Naomi, I’m too distracted.”

“Sickbay to Samantha Wildman,” the com system blurted out.
“Yes, Doctor, what is it?”
“Seven is back in sickbay. The inhibitor is no longer working. We’re going to try disabling the vinculum soon. I think you should be here, whichever way it goes.”
“I’m on my way,” Samantha said, bolting for the door. Naomi tried to follow, but Sam stopped her.
“No Naomi, you can’t, I’m sorry.”
“Why not?” Naomi said, looking both scared and angry.
“She wouldn’t want you to see her in the condition she’s in. Please, just go find Neelix, tell him I said to look after you tonight, okay? Promise me.”
Naomi pouted, but didn’t put up a fight. “Okay,” she said softly, leaving their quarters just behind Samantha, but going the opposite direction.

Samantha walked quickly towards sickbay. When she got there, she saw Seven standing at the far end of the room, leaning against the surgical bio-bed, her face in her hands. She moved quickly to stand next to her, only registering the Doctor telling her to be careful after she walked face first into the containment field.
“Shit, that hurt!”
“Sammy, are you alright?” Seven said, sounding as worried for her, as Samantha felt for Seven.
“I’m okay. What happened?”
“The voices have started getting worse. I’m fine at the moment but that won’t last. A few minutes ago, according to the captain I was a Ferengi Damon, and before that a woman who was assimilated at Wolf 359. I believe the number of personalities I’ll be displaying will only increase if the Captain and Lieutenant Torres can’t safely get the vinculum offline. I-”
“Seven, breathe,” the Doctor said. “You keep talking at that pace you’ll hyperventilate.”
“Hold it together, Annie,” Samantha said. “I know you can. You are one of the bravest people I know, you can soldier through this.”
“I fear my courage may be insufficient,” Seven said.

The Doctor wondered if he should wake Ensign Wildman, who had decided to get some rest while waiting for the procedure to disable the vinculum to begin. Seven of Nine was also asleep, having to be sedated after twelve new personalities had emerged in the past hour, including a Krenim scientist. a Bolian manicurist, and even a Talaxian trader at one point.

On the one hand, if something went wrong, the sickbay computer’s alert sounds might wake Samantha anyway. On the other, he was concerned that she might get in the way if the procedure went badly. When B’Elanna alerted him over the com that they were about to begin, he decided to simply wake her. Much to the Doctor’s relief, Samantha wisely stood back, making sure she wouldn’t be in the way while he worked. He wished more crewmembers could follow her example.

The comlink kept open, the Doctor heard B’Elanna begin the final countdown.
“Three, two, one, mark,” she said. “Power output is dropping,” she said a few seconds later. Seven’s body convulsed slightly, but not alarmingly so.

“It seems to be working, her neural pattern is stabilizing,” he said.

“Seventy-seven percent, seventy-one,” B’Elanna’s voice continued. “wait a second, it’s increasing now.”
“I am refocusing the dampening field,” The Doctor could hear Tuvok say. “The vinculum is rerouting its internal circuitry. It’s adapting.”
Before the Doctor could respond to that, Seven began thrashing on the bio-bed, cursing in Klingon, followed shortly by crying “Mother!” in a scared tone. He heard Samantha gasp, but to her credit she stayed where she was, as difficult as that must’ve been for her.

“Her synaptic pathways are failing!” he shouted into the com. “Abort the procedure!”
“Too many voices!” Seven cried out. “Help me!”
“Abort dammit!” the Doctor yelled
“Annie, stay with us baby, please,” Samantha said, fidgeting anxiously as the Doctor tried to stabilize Seven.

“Stand by Doctor,” Tuvok said. After several seconds, Seven fell unconscious. Samantha bolted to the other side of the bio-bed and took Seven’s hand in hers, trying to coax her into waking up.
“Bridge to sickbay,” Captain Janeway’s voice said, “Report.”
The Doctor looked over his data, and sighed.
“Seven’s neural pattern has disappeared Captain,” he said quietly. “It appears that the other patterns have taken over completely. We’ve lost her.”

“Annie?” he heard Samantha say, sobbing. “Wake up, I know you’re in there. Please wake up. Please.”

“Captain’s log, supplemental. Long range sensors have detected a vessel belonging to Species 6339. We’ve set a course to intercept them in the hopes they can help us restore Seven of Nine.”

Almost as soon as Janeway finished her entry, the Doctor reported to her ready room as ordered to update her on Seven’s condition. Tuvok was there too, as he suggested that he might have a solution to the problem. She suspected what that was, but she wanted to wait until she heard what the Doctor had to say before approving.
“I’ve managed to stabilize her primary cortical functions,” the Doctor said, “but the woman in sickbay is not Seven of Nine. Not anymore. New personalities are emerging every few seconds now. She can’t even finish a sentence at this point. It’s creating intense strain on her cerebral cortex. If we don’t deactivate the vinculum soon we may never get her back.”

“Understood. How is Sam holding up?” Janeway said.
“Better than expected,” the Doctor said. “When I asked her to leave sickbay she didn’t argue. I think it’s not entirely sunk in yet how severe this is. The last time I saw her this sad was, well, you know.”
Janeway was certain she did know, and simply nodded.

“Tuvok?” she said.
“Lieutenant Torres is taking measures to try and prevent the vinculum from adapting, but there is no guarantee she’ll succeed. I believe the time has come for me to attempt a mind-meld with Seven of Nine.”

“I don’t like it,” the Doctor said. “But that may be the only choice we have left. I’ve exhausted every medical option I can think of.”
“Agreed,” Tuvok said. “Seven’s neural pattern, her sense of self is immersed in chaos. I will attempt to isolate her true self and guide it to the surface.”
“A mind-meld with one person can be dangerous enough when you’re not dealing with another Vulcan,” Janeway said. “or with someone who is participating willingly. This is hundreds of personalities, and all of them will be fighting you every step of the way. Are you sure this is worth the risk?”
“This is my risk to take Captain,” Tuvok said. Janeway knew Tuvok well enough to know that arguing with him on this point would be a futile gesture, and frankly she wasn’t even sure she should fight him. He was her best friend, and she had full faith in his abilities. If anyone could pull this off…

“Alright, what will you need on our end?” she said.
“I will require two hours of meditation to prepare,” Tuvok said.
“Start now,” she said. “Report to sickbay when you’re ready.” Tuvok nodded, and headed out.
“Good luck Mr. Tuvok,” the Doctor said to the Vulcan as he departed the room. “With any luck I won’t end up with a second patient.”

“I’ll be on the bridge,” Janeway said. “Report to me as soon as you’ve started.”
“Understood, Captain,” the Doctor said.

As soon as Janeway was on the bridge, Commander Chakotay began speaking to her.
“I was about to call for you Captain,” he said. “We’ve found a ship belonging to Species 6339.”
“Scanners show that ship is heavily armed Captain,” Lieutenant Kim said. “I’m picking up twenty-two phaser cannons on the aft section alone.”
“Damn, 6339 doesn’t play around,” Ensign Paris said. “How do they even power that many weapons? Their ship isn’t much bigger than ours.”
“We can ask them later,” Janeway said. “after we’ve gotten them to help us with Seven’s condition. Hail them.”
“They’re responding,” Kim said.
“On screen,” Janeway said, turning to face the viewscreen, where two members of Species 6339 stood. “I’m Captain Janeway, of the Federation starship Voyager. We recently found a piece of Borg technology that’s been infected with a viral agent we believe was transmitted b-”
“The vinculum,” one of the aliens on the viewscreen said curtly. “You have it?”
“Yes,” Janeway said.

“You’ve made a terrible mistake Captain,” the alien said, stepping closer so that his face filled the whole screen.

B’Elanna listened intently to the conversation that Ven, the captain of the Species 6339 vessel, was having with Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay. I wonder why they didn’t just tell us their actual race’s name, she thought as the alien captain described the virus.
“A weapon?” Janeway said.
“Yes,” Ven said. “since the Borg decimated our world we’ve been looking for ways to retaliate. We created this virus to infect their technology. Thirteen volunteers were injected with it, brave men and women all of them, and they allowed themselves to be assimilated so that the virus would spread to that cube’s vinculum. Once another Borg ship retrieved it they would be infected as well.”
While the alien captain continued speaking, B’Elanna heard the door to engineering open behind her. She glanced over her shoulder to see who was entering.
Oh no, she thought as she saw Samantha Wildman enter, still in her civilian clothes, and having a look on her face that B’Elanna knew all too well even though she’d never seen it on Samantha before. It was the face of someone ready and willing to cause pain. She quietly took a few steps back, and caught Samantha’s arm as she tried to pass.
“Stay, cool,” B’Elanna whispered harshly.
“These are the people who made that virus?” Sam asked through gritted teeth.
“Yes, now don’t do anything rash, and no snide comments about how funny that is coming from me.”

“-virus has had one unexpected casualty,” B’Elanna heard the captain say to Ven once she was focusing on their conversation again. “A member of my crew.”
“It wasn’t designed to infect other species,” Ven said, sounding offended.

“She’s Borg,” Janeway said. Ven looked surprised and angry.
“We liberated her from the collective over a year ago,” Chakotay said. “She’s an individual now.”
“We were hoping you could help us treat her,” Janeway said.
“We designed that virus to destroy Borg, Captain. There is no treatment. I’m afraid your pet drone won’t survive.”
“She has a name you bastard,” Samantha barked out, trying to pull away from B’Elanna, who nearly lost her grip more due to surprised at how hard Sam was fighting her than anything else.
“Sam, Sam, relax,” B’Elanna said. Janeway, Chakotay, Captain Ven, and his armed guard were all looking in their direction now. B’Elanna feared that if she let go of Samantha both of them might get gunned down.
“Her name is Annika Hansen, and she’s dying because of you,” Sam cried. “You have to help her.”
The alien captain motioned for his guard to keep his weapon holstered, and walked over to stand closer to Samantha than B’Elanna felt comfortable. Janeway and Chakotay must’ve felt the same because they were positioning themselves to make a move on the alien captain if he tried anything.
“This drone, you and her are bonded?” he said.
“Yes,” Samantha said, looking like she was about to spit in his face.
“I’m truly sorry. I did not realize just how much this ex-Borg had integrated into your crew. I must admit to being impressed, I would never think such a thing possible. Taking on a name, a bondmate, and clearly earning a good deal of loyalty from her captain. Nonetheless, we never considered a treatment for this virus, considering its purpose. There is nothing we can do. Striking me may make you feel better, Sam, I believe the chief engineer called you? But it would only be temporary.”

The look on Samantha’s face didn’t change, but she was no longer struggling to break free of B’Elanna’s grasp to attack the alien captain. She decided to hold onto Sam’s arm anyway, just to be safe.

“The vinculum must be returned to the Borg debris field immediately Captain,” Ven said, now speaking to Janeway. “If the Borg arrive first we’ll have lost our chance, and those thirteen people will have died in vain.”

“How do you know they haven’t already? Janeway said. “When we came across the debris field it had been sitting there for several days, perhaps even a week, with no sign of any cubes coming to investigate. The Borg have transwarp technology, they could’ve been there in hours after the loss of the cube if they were truly determined to learn it’s fate. It’s possible that the collective detected the infection and cut the cube off to prevent it from spreading. Or even if they didn’t they might’ve just written it off as a loss. We found a dead Borg cube ourselves nearly two years ago that had been drifting in space even longer; five years. Five years with no Borg coming along to find out what happened to it or retrieve it s remains.”
“You’ll understand if I’m not willing to merely take your word for that and leave, Captain Janeway,” the alien captain said.
“Commander, show him the logs from Stardate 50614.2,” Janeway said.
“Yes Captain,” Chakotay said. “If you gentlemen will follow me over here,” he added motioning towards a console at the far end of engineering. B’Elanna figured that was for Samantha’s sake, since he easily could’ve shown them the mission logs on any of the monitors mere feet away from them on either side.

“If I let you go,” B’Elanna whispered into Sam’s ear “are you going to be a problem?”
“No,” Sam said. “I’m fine. Thank you for stopping me B’Elanna.”
“You know, you’re stronger than you look,” B’Elanna said, smiling.
“Thanks, I guess,” Samantha said, giving a sad small smile of her own before walking out of engineering, walking with the slow gait of someone hoping to delay something inevitable.
“Well done, Lieutenant,” Janeway said quietly, somehow having gotten right next to B’Elanna without her noticing. “We could’ve had an interspecies incident on our hands.”
“Don’t thank me too much Captain,” B’Elanna said. “If it were Tom dying in sickbay right now, I’d probably have tried to kill that man myself.”
“Not the response I was hoping for,” Janeway said. “but I appreciate the honesty.”
“You’re welcome.”

Seven of Nine felt like herself for the first time in days when her eyes slowly and tiredly opened while the Doctor ran a device over her hand that she didn’t recognize right away, her cognitive functions not at their usual capacity.

“Doctor?” she said.
“Seven, are you alright?” the Doctor said.
“I..” Seven started to speak, but noticed that she was now in restraints. Before she could ask, the Doctor explained.
“A necessary precaution.” he said. “A few of your guests have been violent.”

“The vinculum?”
“It keeps adapting, we haven’t been able to shut it down. Your own neural pattern was nearly destroyed in the process. At one point I thought we actually had lost you.”

The Doctor returned to running the device over Seven’s hand, and she finally recognized it.
“I was injured?” she said.

“One of your personas hurt your hand trying to force her way out of the restraints,” the Doctor said.
“Sam?” Seven said, looking around, but not seeing her.
“She’ll be here soon, I sent her to her quarters to get some rest.”

“How is she?” Seven said.
“Worried sick,” the Doctor said. “Almost certainly not eating or sleeping as much as she should. Normal behavior for a human in her position. As for you, it is my duty as your physician to inform you about an alternative treatment option that has presented itself, but informed consent is required. Mr. Tuvok is planning to attempt a mind-meld, to help stabilize your neural pattern.”
Seven nodded. “What is the probability of success?”

“I don’t know,” the Doctor said. “A mind-meld is not really a standard medical practice. I know vaguely how it works, having seen Tuvok perform one a few years ago, while he was dealing with a virus that gave him false memories, but while the connection itself is scientific, what goes on in the minds of the parties is purely mental, unquantifiable.”
“Are there any risks to him?” she said.
“He could suffer brain damage, but he is confident he will be able to break the meld if he has to.”
Seven was reluctant to put the ship’s chief security and tactical officer in danger, but she was also scared; of the voices, of dying, of never seeing Sam or Naomi again.
“If he can help me,” Seven said, but couldn’t finish the thought, as the voices returned with a vengeance, louder and more painful than ever.
“Seven? Seven, focus on the sound of my voice!” she heard the Doctor yell, but couldn’t respond.
“Get them out, please!” she screamed.

Tuvok, sitting in a meditative position, opened his eyes. He was ready. He quietly made his way to sickbay. An armed guard was there as a precaution against the worst case scenario. Samantha was there as well, standing by the bio-bed where Seven lay unconscious.
“Are you ready?” the Doctor said.
“Yes,” Tuvok said.
“You might want to make it quick. So far Species 6339 hasn’t made an aggressive move to try and retake the vinculum, but the Captain is convinced that diplomacy is just a holding action at this point.” The Doctor applied a device the same as the one on Seven to Tuvok’s neck.
“This will allow me to monitor your neural activity as well,” the Doctor said. “At the first sign of trouble-”
“You will do nothing,” Tuvok said. “You have sat in on a mind-meld before Doctor, you know full well that there will be many signs of trouble for the duration of the meld. You must have confidence in my ability to endure them.”
“I don’t like it,” the Doctor said, “but you would understand better than I could. I’m neither Vulcan nor telepathic.”

Tuvok simply nodded in response, and walked towards the bio-bed.
“Ensign Wildman, I will need you to step aside during the meld.”
Samantha appeared nervous, but she simply sighed rather than arguing, bending down to kiss Seven of Nine on the forehead before stepping back. Once she was clear of the surgical bay, Tuvok ordered a force field erected as a precaution. While he did so, Seven woke up.
“Why am I tied to this bed? Please let me go,” she in a tone of voice that was clearly not hers. Tuvok ignored that voice, as well as the one of the Klingon warrior, the Ferengi captain, and the Vulcan commander, the latter of which trying to use logic to discourage him from making the attempt.

“My mind, to your mind. My thoughts, to your thoughts.” He kept repeating the mantra even as Seven grew more erratic, one voice claiming he was messing around while the Borg were attacking the ship, and another still crying for its mother. Soon, he was inside Seven of Nine’s consciousness. Through a green haze, down corridors like those on a Borg cube, he began his search.

The ship shuddered under the impact of the first volley from Species 6339.
“And now you know why I chose science division over the diplomatic corps,” Janeway said angrily. “Return fire,” she said to Lieutenant Ayala who was standing at Tuvok’s station.
“I thought for awhile we’d convinced Captain Ven that trying to take the vinculum by force wasn’t worth it,” Commander Chakotay said.
“So did I,” Janeway said. “Bridge to engineering, how long until the vinculum is off-line?”

“A minute, maybe two,” B’Elanna said over the com. “Provided Voyager doesn’t get blown up before then.”
“I appreciate the vote of confidence,” Janeway said. “Tom?”
“I can avoid some of their fire, Captain,” Tom said. “But as many guns as they’ve got they don’t need to have great aim to hit us.”
The ship shuddered under another volley as if to emphasize Tom’s point.
“Shields down to sixty percent,” Harry said.

“Target their weapons array,” Janeway said.
“Targeting scanners are malfunctioning,” Lieutenant Ayala said. The ship shuddered yet again.
“We’re losing main thrusters,” Tom said. “If they go we’re an easy target. Well, easier anyway.”
“Shields at thirty-five percent,” Harry said.
“Reroute all available power to the shields,” Janeway said. “Initiate manual targeting.”

“Torres to bridge,” B’Elanna said. “The vinculum’s stopped adapting. Looks like the new dampening field is working. We should have it down in the next sixty seconds.”
“Then that’s how long we need to hold out,” Janeway said. “As soon as that thing is off, we’ll give it back to Ven and we can get the hell out of here.”

After a tense minute that felt nearly like an eternity while her ship was being pounded on by enemy fire, Janeway finally heard some good news.
“Got it” B’Elanna’s voice shouted over the com. “Power’s down to nineteen percent and, no, make that thirteen and falling.”
The ship took another hit. This one felt worse than the others.
“Shields are down Captain,” Harry Kim said.
“Sickbay to Bridge. We got her back Captain,” the Doctor said.
“Hail the lead vessel, tell them we’re surrendering the vinculum,” Janeway said.
“Yes ma’am,” Harry said, tapping at his console. “No response,” he said, shaking his head.
“Lock onto the damn thing and beam it into space.”
“On it Captain,” B’Elanna said.

Samantha couldn’t say anything she was so overjoyed. The moment the Doctor had said the words “We got her back” it felt like a weight in her chest just fell away. And as soon as the force field surrounding the surgical bay was down she was by Seven’s side.
“Sam? Seven said, weakly.
“I’m here, Annie.”
“Seven,” the Doctor said. “can you still hear any voices?”
Seven seemed to need to think about that for a moment before responding.
“No. They are gone,” she said. Samantha breathed a heavy sigh of relief upon hearing that.
“Thank you so much,” she said to Tuvok and the Doctor.
“I did only what was necessary to save a fellow crewmember,” Tuvok said. “But your thanks is appreciated nonetheless.”
“I recommend you get to your alcove as soon as possible,” the Doctor said. “You’ll need a considerable amount of time to properly recharge. And the trauma of what you went through won’t go away quickly.”
“Doctor,” Seven said, “with all due respect the last time I was given ‘time off’ I ended up worse off than when I’d started. I’d prefer to return to my duties as soon as possible.”
“That’s just pride talking honey,” Samantha said, smiling, and stroking Seven’s hair. “If you like I can ask the captain to give you extra duty after you’ve recovered.”
“That is acceptable,” Seven said.

Should I tell her I was kidding? Samantha thought. “I- okay, I’ll do that.”

“Why are you shaking your head and laughing Sam?”
“Oh, nothing. Just that I had to go and fall in love with a weirdo.”

Several days later, in cargo bay 2, Seven stood at attention while the Doctor did his latest check-up on her, hopefully the last one he would do for awhile. She was already feeling much better after her ordeal, though she would admit only to Samantha a bit of guilt at having stayed in her alcove for nearly twenty-four hours straight after her first night out of sickbay. Sam had told her she had earned her rest.
“Neuroprocessor, cortical receptors, all stable,” the Doctor said. “You are fit to return to duty.”
“And what of my other personalities? Any risk they may resurface?”
“Those neural patterns have returned to their dormant state. They’ll always be with you, but I suspect you will not hear them again anytime soon.”

“That is not the response I desired, but I will accept it,” Seven said. She turned when she heard the door to the cargo bay open, and smiled as Naomi Wildman rushed in. She had not seen the child in nearly a week and realized how much she’d missed her. She wondered if that was part of being a parent felt like.
“Was it scary?” Naomi said. “All the voices in your head? I know Mom was scared for you, but she wouldn’t tell me what it was like for you.”
“It was,” Seven paused for a moment, considering just how much detail she should share with the child. She decided to keep it simple. “It was the most scared I think I’ve ever been. But I’m better now. And, I’ve decided that I am going to help you in your mission to become a captain’s assistant.”
Naomi smiled, but also looked somewhat confused at the same time.
“I thought you said my ‘neocortical development is incomplete.’.”
“It is,” Seven admitted. “But that is insufficient reason to discourage you. Before we begin your instruction however, I do require your assistance.”
“For what?” Naomi asked.
“Kadis-kot. Instruct me how to play.”
Naomi smiled.
“I will comply,” she said.
“And I will leave you two alone. Have fun,” the Doctor said.

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