A Fire of Devotion: Part 3 of 4: Sweeter Than Heaven: Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine

Everything was set up. The first ever Voyager Science Fair was ready to begin. Naomi and the four Borg children had their experiments ready to go, and Seven of Nine felt pride in all of them. The twins, whose species had finally been identified as Wysanti, worked together on theirs while Naomi, Mezoti, and Icheb each had their own. Samantha stood behind Naomi, while Seven went to the door to greet the Captain, Commander Chakotay, and Lieutenant Torres, who would get to be the first to see the experiments up close.

“If we’re out here long enough,” Seven overheard B’Elanna say to Chakotay, “we may need a bigger space for the next one of these.”
“You know something I don’t, Lieutenant?” Chakotay said.
“I don’t think so. Frankly, it’s kind of surprising that Naomi’s the only child born aboard ship so far. But that won’t be true forever, I’m sure of it.”
“Let’s focus on the here and now,” Janeway said, chuckling at her officer’s idle gossip. Seven herself had to admit that she also wondered why none of Voyager’s other couples had chosen to procreate as yet. It was true that for at least one couple such a thing was genetically impossible without a series of treatments not available aboard ship, but for everyone else…

“So, why potatoes?” Janeway’s question snapped Seven out of her thought process.

“Their original suggestion,” Seven said of the twins, Rebi and Azan, “was to clone Naomi. I suggested they start with something smaller.”
The officers made their way to the next table, where Mezoti had set up a large translucent tank, filled with dark blue dirt, and a colony of bioluminescent insects.

“Nicely done,” B’Elanna said. “My father said he used to have tanks like this when he was a kid. I don’t think any of his were quite this big either. Where’d you get the bugs?”

“It’s a Terienian ant colony,” Mezoti said. “I infused the soil with a blue ion dye so it’d be easier to see the insects.”
“It’s beautiful too,” Janeway said. “The colors really compliment each other.”

“That was an unintended side-effect,” Mezoti said. “The drones produce a fluorescent enzyme that’s activated by the queen.”
“Drones and queens?” Janeway said, sounding somehow both concerned and amused at the same time. Seven noticed that Chakotay had covered his mouth, presumably to stifle a laugh.
“I thought we were trying to get these children away from the Borg,” Janeway said to Seven with a comically exaggerated frown. Seven decided that rolling her eyes would be an inappropriate reaction.

“The project was her idea,” Seven said. “I didn’t want to discourage her individuality.”
“I like bugs,” Mezoti said with a shrug.
“Well done,” Janeway said. Next, the three officers moved over to Naomi’s table, where she had set up a globe.
“What have we got here?” Chakotay said.
“It’s Ktaris,” Naomi said.
“Your father’s planet?” B’Elanna said.
“I’ve been learning all about it,” Naomi said with a grin.
“I think she knows more about the planet than I do,” Samantha said, beaming with pride. “And I lived there for over a year.”
B’Elanna gave Seven of Nine a side glance. “That doesn’t bother you at all?”
This time Seven did roll her eyes. “If you mean am I bothered by the mere mention of someone Samantha was involved with before we even met, no.”

“Show them the rest, honey,” Sam said to Naomi. Naomi pressed a button, and a holographic display enveloped the globe, complete with geographic details and simulated weather events.
“Naomi programmed the geophysical and atmospheric conditions,” Seven said.
“There’s quite a storm in those mountains,” Chakotay said, looking at one point on the globe.
“The Arpasian range is known for high winds and hail,” Naomi said.
“Also some amazing restaurants,” Samantha said, putting a hand on Seven’s shoulder. “When we get back to the Alpha Quadrant, you and I should hit one of the fancier places while Naomi gets to know her Dad.”
“Sounds good,” Seven said.

“What’s this?” Janeway said, having already moved on to Icheb’s table. Seven stepped over to stand next to Icheb to explain the device.
“It’s a high-resolution gravimetric sensor array,” Icheb said.

“Ambitious,” B’Elanna said.

“It’ll augment our ability to scan for the neutrino flux associated with wormholes. It could help Voyager find a faster way home.”
“The engineering principles are sound,” Seven said, smiling.

“I expected these projects to be interesting,” Janeway said to Icheb, looking noticeably impressed, “but this is truly exceptional.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Icheb said. “I am very interested in astrophysics.”
“Well you’ve obviously got a knack for it,” Janeway said, patting Icheb on the arm. “Well done.” Janeway moved around Icheb to move next to Seven, the two of them moving towards the food table that Neelix had set up while B’Elanna started asking Icheb questions.
“How did you think of scanning for neutrino fluctuations?” she asked.
Icheb began to explain how he drew inspiration from reading about the Bajoran wormhole in Alpha Quadrant, but Seven didn’t hear the whole thing as Janeway started speaking to her.

“He’s a remarkable young man,” Janeway said.
“He hopes to earn a permanent posting in Astrometrics one day,” Seven said.
Janeway sighed. “I’m afraid that won’t be possible.”

“Captain,” Seven said, “the boy has a unique talent.”
“It’s not a question of merit,” Janeway said. “We’ve made contact with his parents, and I’ve set a course for their planet.”
Seven felt as though her heart had somehow sunk into her stomach. She looked over at Icheb, who was still talking animatedly with B’Elanna and Chakotay.

“That… that is good news,” Seven said as a lump formed in her throat. Janeway got that look on her face that she would sometimes get when she obviously didn’t believe what a crew member was telling her, but before she could press the issue, Seven felt Sam’s arm go around her waist.
“Annie?” Sam said. “You okay?”
“I’ll leave you two alone,” Janeway said. “Seven, when you’re ready to talk, come by my ready room.”

As soon as Janeway was out of earshot, Seven looked Samantha in the eyes and repeated to her what the Captain had said. Samantha nodded.
“Let’s talk somewhere more private,” Sam said, taking Seven’s hand.

Seven hesitated to enter the cargo bay. Icheb would likely still be awake, despite being told to return to his alcove. He’d been missing needed regeneration time off and on all week while working on his project. Seven had indulged him for the most part, using only gentle verbal prodding as opposed to giving a direct order. He would likely be awake, but she hoped he wouldn’t be, that she could put off telling him the news until tomorrow morning.

Samantha had been right though; returning Icheb to his parents was the right thing to do. Finding homes for all the Borg children was the right thing to do. Seven had to admit to herself that she was acting selfishly, although Samantha would not use the word. She wanted to take care of the children herself, and she had been prepared to make the case to the Captain to do so. This itself was not the key problem, however. The problem stemmed from the fact that she had failed to discuss this with Samantha. This failure of consideration on her part had led to their first real argument as a couple. It hadn’t been bitter, or loud, or anything of that nature, and after much discussion the issue had been for the most part resolved, but Seven still felt a great deal of guilt. Samantha had insisted she forgave Seven, and she had no cause to doubt the veracity of the forgiveness, but the guilt persisted regardless. She decided that she would find some way to make it up to Sam later.
For now though…

Seven entered cargo bay 2, and as expected, Icheb was working at a console when he should’ve been in his alcove, the way the other Borg children were. Seven found that she was going to miss the boy’s stubbornness. She made an additional mental note to thank the Captain for providing her with the collected data they had on Icheb’s species. It wouldn’t make things easier, as she’d hoped, but as the human saying went, it’s the thought that counted.

“Is your alcove malfunctioning?” Seven said in as lighthearted a tone as she could manage in order to convey that she knew it wasn’t.

“I’m calculating neutrino trajectories,” Icheb said.
“It is past time for you to regenerate,” Seven said. “But first, I have some news for you.”

“News?”

“We have located your parents,” Seven said. “Voyager is due to arrive at their planet, your planet, tomorrow.”

Icheb looked concerned. “Do I have to stay with them?”
“They’re your parents,” Seven said.
“I don’t remember them,” Icheb said.
“That is inaccurate,” Seven said. “When I found your name, when you first came aboard this ship, you told me that your name was your father’s second name.”

Icheb did not respond.
“When my parents were assimilated,” Seven said, “I never saw them again. You’re fortunate to have this chance.”
“What about the others?”
“We have been unable to locate their families as yet,” Seven said.
“That’s not what I mean. What will happen to them if I leave? They depend on me.”
“Not exclusively,” Seven said. “They have a support structure here on Voyager. They will miss you, and the transition may be difficult, but they will adapt.”

Icheb’s dismay at the situation was visible on his face. Seven decided to give him some time to process his thoughts.
“I’ll never see you again?” he asked.

“I’ve been studying Brunali culture,” Seven said, handing the PADD that Janeway had given her to him. “It is very different from what you’ve become accustomed to on Voyager.”
“In what way?”
“They’re an agrarian society. Their technological resources are limited.”
“Are they capable of space travel?”
“Yes, but most of their vessels have been destroyed by the Borg.”

“How will I continue my studies?” Icheb said, his voice getting louder and angrier.

Seven took a deep breath. She wished she had the answer that she was sure he wanted, but she didn’t. “I don’t know.”

Icheb swallowed hard, casually tossed the PADD onto a workbench and silently went to his alcove. Seven tried to get his attention, but he simply leaned back, his eyes closing as the regeneration cycle kicked in.

Samantha Wildman was going to ask Seven how the conversation with Icheb about his parents went, but when she the look on her wife’s face when she entered their quarters, she stopped herself.
“Oh, honey,” Sam said, “I can tell that it didn’t go very well. Are you okay?”
“Your concern for me is unwarranted,” Seven said, “but not unwelcome. Thank you. I will be fine. It is Icheb I am worried about.” Seven told her about what had happened in the cargo bay.
“I had failed to account for the possibility that he had become as attached to Voyager as I had to him,” Seven said. “I suspected he would be conflicted at worst, not angry.”

Seven sat down on the couch and put her head in her hands. Sam sat next to her and gingerly rubbed her back.
“We both knew this wasn’t going to be easy, Annie,” Sam said. “Is there anything you think we can do to make the transition easier?”
“Nothing that wouldn’t run up against the Prime Directive,” Seven said. “Anything we could replicate for Icheb to allow him to continue his pursuit of astrophysics despite the limitations of his homeworld could be argued to have a major impact on their society. I doubt that the Captain would approve.”

“Can’t hurt to ask,” Sam said.
Seven sighed. “That’s certainly true.”

The next few moments were filled with silence, Seven’s eyes closing as she drifted to sleep on the couch. She looked so peaceful there that Samantha decided not to try and move her over to their bed. She finished her tea, set the chronometer to wake them both up in the morning before they arrived at Icheb’s homeworld, and went to sleep.

“I’m detecting scattered enclaves on the northern continent,” Harry Kim said from the ops station as Voyager flew closer to the Brunali homeworld. Seven was doing scans of her own from auxiliary tactical station. She did not have a bridge shift scheduled for today, but Captain Janeway had been kind enough to allow her to be here for this. “All with populations fewer than ten thousand.

“Judging from the residual gamma radiation,” Tuvok said, “it appears they’ve suffered numerous Borg attacks over the past decade.”

“That’s not surprising,” Seven said, looking at her own readout. “There’s a Borg transwarp conduit less than a light-year away.”
“Not exactly prime real estate,” Tom Paris said. “Gotta wonder why they didn’t pick the planet clean the first time through. Leaving behind survivors doesn’t seem like them.”
“Agreed,” Seven said. “More so since this behavior would pre-date when the degradation would’ve started.”

“Tuvok,” Captain Janeway said, “run continuous scans for Borg activity. Tom, put us into synchronous orbit.”
“Aye, Captain,” Tom said.
“Seven,” Janeway said, “you better get Icheb.”
Seven simply nodded. She was still unhappy about the situation, but she knew deep down that this was the right thing to do. It would be harder on Icheb than on her after all. The loss of access to technologies to help him in his desired field of study would likely be the largest hurdle to his adapting.

When she arrived in sickbay, where Icheb was for a last-minute checkup at the Doctor’s request, she had a feeling she was interrupting a conversation.

“It’s time to go,” she said. Icheb sighed. The Doctor put a hand on his shoulder.
“You’ll do fine,” he said. “Just remember what I said.”
“That my parents are likely as anxious as I am? Or that they can teach me things the Voyager crew cannot?” Icheb asked.
“Both,” the Doctor said.

Icheb didn’t say anything further. He silently followed Seven to the transporter room where Captain Janeway and Tuvok waited. The four of them beamed down to the planet, and Seven nearly winced at what she saw. On the horizon, she saw the ruins of what had been an apparently technologically advanced city. Below that in her field of vision, a vast, deep canyon, as if the ground, and whatever was on it, had been literally scooped up and away. It was a site she had seen before, from orbit, as a drone. These were the all too familiar signs of Borg activity. That the Brunali still existed as a species at all was astonishing.

A number of them were gathered near-by, some watching them as they beamed down. Janeway and Tuvok walked up to a couple, a male and a female.
“Hello,” the Captain said. “I’m Captain Janeway, this-
“Icheb,” the female said, smiling.
“You’ve…grown,” the male said, looking genuinely surprised at how tall his son was.
“He spent several months in a Borg maturation chamber,” Seven said to Icheb’s parents, who now looked at her with concern.

“This is Seven of Nine,” Janeway said.
“That’s a Borg designation, isn’t it?” Icheb’s mother said nervously. Janeway looked tense, but Seven spoke up first.
“Like your son, I was liberated from the collective,” she said.
“Seven has been instrumental in helping Icheb make his transition,” Janeway said.
“Then we’re very grateful to you,” Icheb’s father said. “I’m Leucon, this if Yifay.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” Seven said, even though she was wishing she was anywhere but here right now. She could see the other Brunali trying to look as though they weren’t staring at her.

“How are you?” Yifay asked Icheb.
“Fine,” Icheb said in a somewhat rude tone of voice.
Yifay stepped forward. “Do these hurt you?” she said, motioning towards the visible Borg implant on Icheb’s face.
“No,” Icheb said, flinching as though he were afraid that his mother was going to touch him.

Seven glanced at the Captain. The look on Janeway’s face suggested that she was thinking the same thing that Seven herself was; This is not going very well.

Yifay stepped back. Leucon smiled. “We’re very happy to have you back with us,” he said. Seven had a feeling that there was something insincere about the way he said that, but she dismissed it as an intrusive thought. She would not let herself do anything to make this more difficult on her or Icheb than it already was.

“Not just your mother and I,” Leucon motioned towards some other Brunali standing nearby, watching them all from behind a fruit cart. “The whole village is happy to have you home.”

Icheb looked at Seven of Nine and Tuvok. “I would like to return to Voyager now,” he said as casually as if he were telling them that he’d finished his lunch. His parents looked at each other, both seeming genuinely uncertain. She felt sympathy for them. She looked at Janeway, who seemed similarly unsure how to respond.
“Let’s all go to Voyager,” she said finally, stepping forward to look directly at Icheb’s parents. “I can see that there’s still work that needs to be done to make this transition less traumatic.”

Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine sat quietly in the briefing room, waiting for Icheb’s parents to join them. Under Janeway’s suggestion, Tuvok was giving them a brief tour of the ship. It was more for her benefit than theirs, as she was uncertain how to handle this. Seven of Nine had been more sympathetic than she’d feared, but still proved of little help. A part of her was afraid that Seven might try to take advantage of this situation and try to keep Icheb aboard Voyager to raise as her own son.
“It was made clear to me in no uncertain terms,” Seven said when Janeway admitted this to her, “that doing so without consulting Samantha would be irresponsible, and potentially damaging to our relationship. Put simply Captain, she metaphorically knocked some sense into me.”
“Glad to hear,” Janeway said. “That she did it, and that you’re speaking metaphorically.”

The door to the briefing room opened, and a security officer motioned for the two Brunali adults to enter.
“Thank you for coming,” Janeway said.

“Where’s Icheb?” Leucon said.

“I thought it might be better if we talked ourselves first,” Janeway said.
“What exactly is there to discuss?” Leucon said. Both he and Yifay looked confused and concerned, and Janeway could not fault them for that.

“How to make this transition easier for your son,” she said, offering a sympathetic smile. “Please, sit down.”
Icheb’s parents did so. His mother spoke first.
“It won’t be easy for him to give up the luxuries of your ship,” she said.
“I do not doubt that plays some role in his apprehension,” Seven said. “Did the Captain inform you that we have other children rescued from the Borg on board?”
“She did not,” Leucon said. “Are they Brunali too?”
“No,” Seven said. Janeway didn’t interrupt. She thought she knew where Seven was going with this, and approved. “What they are however is significantly younger than him. They look up to him, and Icheb sees himself as responsible for their well-being. Among the first things he asked me after I informed him that we would be returning him to you was what would happen to them when he left.”
Both Leucon and Yifay smiled at that.
“So basically,” Leucon said, looking at Seven, “he feels like he’s abandoning his siblings? I can see how that would complicate matters.” He looked at Janeway. “You should’ve told us this, Captain.”
“You’re right,” Janeway said. “I should’ve considered that, but failed to do so.” Seven had not actually told her about everything Icheb had said when Seven had given him the news, but decided that his parents didn’t need to know that detail.

“We could take the other children as well,” Leucon said. “Find homes for them on our world.”
“We can’t allow that,” Janeway said. “It’s not a bad idea and I intend no offense by rejecting the proposal, but we’re still searching for their parents as well, and haven’t exhausted all our avenues just yet.”

“That’s fair,” Yifay said.

“Your planet’s proximity to a Borg conduit is of some concern,” Seven said. “Have you considered relocating?”

“Seven?” Janeway said firmly, worried that Seven was going down a path that would be counterproductive.
“It’s all right, Captain,” Leucon said. “It’s a reasonable question. This planet is our home. We will never leave it. We will defend it against the Borg or anyone else who threatens us.”
That almost sounded like he was threatening us, Janeway thought. If Seven picked up on that tone as well she gave no sign.
“I’m inclined to believe you,” Seven said. “To be honest, I am surprised that your people have survived this long, given the aforementioned conduit. I have this theory that I have been developing regarding the Collective. Perhaps if we compare-”
“We’re getting off topic here,” Janeway said. “This is about Icheb, remember?”
“My apologies, Captain,” Seven said.

“Could we see our son now?” Yifay said
“Please be patient,” Janeway said. “If we rush the next encounter, it may not go any better than the last. Stay aboard Voyager for awhile. It’ll give Icheb a chance to get to know you in an environment that’s familiar to him. I’ll have Neelix, that’s the name of our chief morale officer, do everything he can to make you comfortable while you’re here.”
Yifay nodded and looked at Leucon, who nodded as well.
“Seven, why don’t you, Sam, and Naomi join Icheb’s parents for a meal in the mess hall?” Janeway said.

“I’m sure they would be happy too,” Seven said,.
“I’m sorry,” Leucon said, “but who are Sam and Naomi?”
“My wife and her daughter,” Seven said matter-of-factly. Janeway winced. While it had been a long time since she or anyone she knew had encountered a culture that was hostile to the kind of relationship Seven and Samantha had, she wished she’d gone to the effort to find out how the Brunali would react.
“Your… wife?” Yifay said. “I don’t understand.”
Leucon touched Yifay’s hand.
“It’s probably a human thing,” he said. “It is not our place to judge.”
“Human sexuality probably shouldn’t be on the list of things we discuss at the table,” Janeway said. “Suffice it to say, I think it would help Icheb a great deal of good to see his biological and extended families getting along.”

Yifay and Leucon looked at each other, communicating in that non-verbal way that couples often did, even without the aid of telepathy, and nodded.

In Cargo Bay 2, Icheb worked at a console, trying to perfect his new sensor designs. His mind was unable to focus on the task at hand, but it was not due to any of the potential distractions in the cargo bay itself, such as Mezoti riding around on a device called a bicycle, and while Naomi Wildman played kadis-kot with the twins.

Where did she even get the bicycle? Icheb thought. Did she replicate it, or did someone happen to have one aboard and is allowing her to use it?

“Is your mother pretty?” Mizoti asked. It wasn’t her first question of the day, and just all the others Icheb chose not to respond. This failed to deter her however. “What are they like?”
Icheb finally caved and spoke up, though not to answer Mizoti’s questions. “I’m busy.”

“If you leave,” Mizoti said, “who will help us with our science projects?”

“My Mom can help,” Naomi said. “She’s a xenobiologist, but she knows a little about other stuff too.”

Icheb glanced over his shoulder when he heard the door to the cargo bay open, and frowned when Seven of Nine walked in.
“Icheb, Naomi, I need you to come with me,” she said.
“Where?” Icheb said.
“To dinner with your parents,” Seven said to Icheb.
“Why am I going too?” Naomi asked.
“Your mother will be joining us,” Seven said. “The Captain hopes it will aid in the transition.”

“Okay,” Naomi said. “Are his parents nice?”
“They seem to be,” Seven said.

“I’m working,” Icheb said.
“You can continue your project after the meal,” Seven said.
“I don’t have anything to talk about with them,” Icheb said.

“Not at the moment perhaps,” Seven said, “but there will be eight sentient beings in attendance. Conversation is all but inevitable.”
“Eight?” Icheb said.
“The Captain will be there, as will Mister Neelix. He is helping your mother prepare Brunali dishes for you.”

“I’m not going,” Icheb said. Seven looked saddened. He just couldn’t understand why everyone on this ship was either trying to push him off or was acting like he was already gone. The Doctor had insisted to him that his parents could nurture him in ways that the crew of Voyager could not, but on this ship his education and medical needs were taken care of.

“Please don’t make this more difficult than it already is, Icheb,” Seven said. It was as far as he could remember over the past several weeks the first time he had heard sadness in her voice since First had gotten himself killed. He wondered if maybe he’d read the situation wrong, and that Seven didn’t want him to leave any more than he wanted to leave. This complicated things.

“C’mon Icheb,” Naomi said, taking his hand. “Let’s go.”

When Seven entered the mess hall, she saw Yifay and Neelix coming out from the kitchen, each carrying a tray of food to a table where Leucon, Captain Janeway, and Samantha were already seated. Icheb, still looking uncomfortable, found a seat, keeping as far away from his parents as he could without sitting at another table entirely, and Naomi sat next to him and immediately introduced herself to Icheb’s parents.

“Mister Neelix let me use his galley,” Yifay said, speaking to Icheb as Seven sat next to Samantha, “to prepare some poma. It was your favorite food when you were little.”
“I’m not hungry,” Icheb said. Seven felt Samantha gently squeeze her thigh under the table.
“You okay?” she whispered in Seven’s ear. Seven nodded and kept watching Icheb interact with his mother.

“I am not little anymore,” Icheb said, looking at the plate of food, but not the way he would if he were hungry.
He doesn’t want to make eye contact, Seven thought. I can understand that, I suppose.

“No,” Yifay said, looking sad. “No you’re not.”
“Your mother worked hard on that meal,” Leucon said, though not in an angry or accusatory tone. “Couldn’t you at least try it?” he added with a small smile.
Icheb looked at Seven and Sam.
“You do not require our permission,” Seven said.
“Go ahead,” Sam said.

“It’s good,” Naomi said, some of the food already in her mouth.
“Sweetie,” Sam said, sighing, “what have I told you about talking with your mouth full?”
Seven chuckled despite herself. She felt bad about laughing at her step-daughter’s expense, but the release of tension that came with it was more than welcome.

“I suppose,” Icheb said, barely suppressing a smile of his own. He took a bite, and almost as if against his will, his mouth upturned in a smile.
“I think he likes it,” Sam whispered to Seven.

“Indeed,” Seven added, feeling somewhat relieved herself. Perhaps this transition would go smoothly after all. Then the only thing she would have to worry about would be missing Icheb, but with her family and shipmates here for her she suspected that would not take too long. It was then that she noticed that Samantha seemed to be looking at Icheb’s parents suspiciously, as she suspected they were hiding something. She hid it well when Leucon and Yifay were looking in her direction, but when their attention was on Icheb, and now Naomi as the latter regaled them with stories about Icheb trying to teach her astrophysics.
“Sammy?” Seven said quietly. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
“Later babe, later,” Sam said back.

The meal continued into ship’s night. Eventually, Icheb and his parents got up to leave. Icheb would not be leaving right away, but he had agreed to accept a tour of the Brunali encampment where he would be living when he did. Naomi asked if she could go too. Sam seemed oddly reluctant, but when Icheb said he’d keep an eye on her to make sure she didn’t wander off, Sam agreed. Seven had a feeling this was not what her concern was.

Once Naomi, Icheb, and his parents were gone, Sam did not wait for Seven to ask.
“Something is off about those two, I know it,” she said.
“Et tu, Samantha?” Janeway said, glowering at Seven. Seven shook her head.
“I had nothing to do with this, Captain,” she said. “In fact I found them to be quite personable.”
“I can’t put my finger on it, Captain,” Sam said, “but my Mom Radar is pinging like crazy right now.”

“Are you sure this isn’t my fault somehow?” Seven said. “Perhaps your perception is being colored by my own reluctance to-”

“Annie,” Sam said, gingerly pressing her finger to Seven’s lips, “you know me. I’m not prone to acting on impulse.”
Seven sighed and looked at Janeway. “She has a point, Captain. And unlike us she is a biological parent. Perhaps-”
“Fine,” Janeway said, rubbing her temples. “I’ll have Tuvok take another look at Icheb’s parents if it will make you feel better.”
“It would, Captain,” Sam said. “Thank you.”
“You know,” Janeway said, “I expected that Seven would be a problem tonight.”
“Hey,” Seven said.
“But not you, Sam.”
“Captain,” Samantha said, “how often have you managed to save this crew by acting on instinct rather than logic?”

Janeway glowered at Samantha for several long uncomfortable seconds. “Touche, Ensign Wildman, touche.” With that, Janeway left the mess hall. Neelix simply shrugged and returned to his kitchen.

“I think I’ll try to catch up with Icheb and Naomi,” Seven said. “Maybe I’ll see something down on the planet. Would you like to… why are you looking at me like that?”
“Honey, remember what’s happened to me the last several times I was planetside? Forget it. If I didn’t think Icheb would protect Naomi like she was his sister, I wouldn’t have let her go in the first place. If you’re there too, I know she’ll be safe. I will stay up here. On the ship. That isn’t a planet.”
Seven nodded. She had been putting off discussing Samantha’s fairly recent fear of planets since the Delta Flyer crash last year for fear that it would make her too uncomfortable, but she had a feeling that she could not do so for much longer. That would be a matter for another time though. Instead, she hugged Sam, and headed for the door, hoping she wouldn’t be too late to catch up to Icheb and his parents before they beamed down.

In the Brunali settlement, Leucon walked with Icheb, showing him around, answering his questions. Seven looked around, watching other Brunali hard at work on various projects, Naomi at her side as they followed close behind Icheb and his father.

“The Borg didn’t leave us much to work with,” Leucon said. “But we didn’t need much, just a little ingenuity. Everything you see, we built with our own hands. Our homes, cultivation bays…”
“What’s this?” Icheb said. Seven looked at the device he was pointing to. It’s apparent level of advancement stood out next to the relatively primitive greenhouse it was next to, but Seven had learned long ago that not all races developed technologies at the same pace and in the same directions as others did. Humans referred to such things as anachronisms, but she didn’t see it that way.

“That is a genetic resequencer,” Leucon said. “We use it to alter the DNA of certain plants to conform with environmental conditions.”
“You built this as well?” Icheb said, sounding as impressed as Seven felt. She found herself admiring the Brunali people. Despite everything the Borg had put them through, they had found ways to survive and even thrive. Had they been a species in the Alpha Quadrant, the Federation would likely jump at the chance to admit them.

“We adapted parts from damaged vessels,” Leucon said. “Nothing’s been wasted.”

“Efficient,” Icheb said. Seven agreed with that as well. As much as she loved Samantha, a part of her desperately wanted Sam to be wrong. The knowledge Icheb retained from both the Borg and Starfleet would be valuable to these people. As much as she would miss him, she didn’t want to have to take him away from his homeworld.

“Efficiency is one attribute we share with the Borg,” Leucon said. “In our case, it’s a necessity.” Leucon and Icheb stepped out of the greenhouse, the former holding the door open for Seven and Naomi, who had to stop from bothering the locals with questions about the plants.

“I know our settlement seems primitive compared to Voyager,” Leucon said. “But I promise you, that will change.”
“What about space travel?” Icheb said.
“Someday,” leucon said, “we’ll have ships that rival Voyager. But we need the dedication of young people like you to help us.”
Seven wondered if something like that had been what made Samantha so troubled. She had to admit that since coming down to the planet Leucon had at times sounded more like the cliche of a human politician running for office than a father, but Seven’s knowledge of the Brunali was limited. For all she knew, this was just how their fathers spoke to their children.

While she was thinking, Icheb began talking with some boys who seemed about his age. They were talking about a local sport that apparently Icheb had been talented at before his assimilation. Seven was about to inquire about it when she felt Naomi tugging gently on her arm.
“Seven?”
“Yes?”
“Icheb won’t have to leave today, will he? Will we all get a chance to say goodbye?” Naomi had that look on her face that she often did when she was trying, and failing, not to show how upset she was.
“I’m sure we will,” Seven said.
“Excuse me,” Leucon said, Seven not realizing immediately he was addressing her. “I apologize for the interruption, but Icheb said he would like to spend the night down here, but we don’t have a regeneration unit installed for him yet. I was hoping you could help us.” Seven looked at Icheb, who simply nodded.
“Of course,” Seven said, thinking that perhaps this could be the opportunity she needed to learn what, if anything, had caused Samantha’s concerns. “We can return to Voyager right now. I will show you how to operate the device. Icheb, what was the name of that sport your peers over there said you played?”
“They called it pala. I do not remember how to play though,” Icheb said.
“Perhaps a session with the other Brunali children would refresh your memory,” Seven said.
“You want me to go play?” Icheb said, sounding surprised.
“Yes,” Seven said.
“Can I play too?” Naomi said.
“It’s perfectly safe,” Leucon said.
“I don’t doubt that,” Seven said. “However, if I left her here on the planet without adult supervision that would cause unnecessary tension with her mother.”
Leucon chuckled and nodded. “I understand that all too well.”
Naomi looked disappointed, but didn’t say anything as Seven called for the three of them to be beamed up. Once aboard, Seven took Leucon to cargo bay 2, asking Naomi to go and keep the other Borg children occupied so they would not be a distraction while the regeneration unit was prepared. This was only half true, however. Seven’s true intent was to ask Leucon some questions and for that she needed to be sure there was minimal chance for interruptions.

“I’ve adapted this neural transceiver to interface with the portable regenerator,” Seven said, talking about a piece of technology on a nearby workbench. Work on such a device had begun earlier, when it became likely that Icheb would be leaving, so now was as good as time as any to complete it. “It currently only has enough power to complete one full cycle.”
“I think we can come up with a way of recharging it,” Leucon said, looking the device over.

“How was he taken?” Seven asked.

“Sorry?”
“I am curious as to how Icheb ended up assimilated. I apologize if I was too direct.”
Leucon sighed, he looked bothered by the question, but he answered anyway. “Since the Borg first attacked us, we’ve taken great pains to hide whatever new technology we develop.”
“So that passing cubes won’t be attracted to your planet,” Seven said. “A wise strategy.”

“Unfortunately we haven’t always been successful. One morning, about four years ago, Icheb heard me talking about a new fertilization array we constructed in the lower field. He wanted to see it.”
I can believe that, Seven thought.
“I told him I’d take him the next day,” Leucon continued. “But he was impatient, the way boys can be. I never even realized he’d wandered off when the alarm sounded. It turns out the Borg were just as interested in our new technology as Icheb was. They took him. Assimilated everyone in the area.”

“I see,” Seven said, saddened at the thought of so much life lost.
“If only I’d kept a closer eye on him,” Leucon said. Seven knew that feeling all too well; the desire to blame one’s self for actions beyond their control.
“Icheb has a mind of his own,” Seven said. “When he has made up his mind, it is difficult to dissuade him. That remained true even after he was assimilated.”

“Still, it’s hard not to blame myself. Your parents must’ve felt the same way when they lost you.”
“My parents were with me when I was assimilated,” Seven said.
“I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like for them. Watching their daughter be assimilated, helpless to defend her?”
Seven nodded. She hadn’t intended initially to be this open with Icheb’s father, but despite Sam’s concerns, she did feel like she could trust him. She tried to see what it was that Sam had seen that made her concerned, but she just couldn’t.
“It is important that Icheb regenerate for six uninterrupted hours,” she said, helping Leucon load the portable regeneration device into a carrying case.
“Understood.”
“He may resist. He doesn’t like to waste time, and he sees sleeping as a waste of time.”
“I wasn’t so different when I was his age.”

The next morning, Seven learned that Voyager would be leaving, and that Icheb had decided not to contest his being left behind with his parents. She had suspected as much, but it still stung somewhat.
She now stood in the transporter room, where Icheb would be arriving soon with his belongings to beam down after saying his goodbyes to the other Borg children and to Naomi. Captain Janeway stood next to her.
“You okay, Seven?”
“I am sad,” Seven admitted, “but less so than I expected.”
“And Sam?”
“Uncertain,” Seven said. “She seemed to take me at my word when I made it clear I found no cause to doubt Icheb’s parents, but I think she may still have doubts.”
“I think I can blame myself for that, at least in part,” Janeway said. “I do talk a lot about the value of instinct, and trusting one’s metaphorical gut. I guess she really took that to heart.”

“If I knew what it was about them that triggered her feelings,” Seven said, “perhaps I could’ve done more to put her at ease.”
The door to the transporter room opened, and Icheb stepped in, a duffel bag over his shoulder. Seven picked up a smaller container that was between her and the Captain and handed it over to him.
“This contains a number of PADDs with astrophysical data as well as a high-resolution telescope,” she said. “It’s a somewhat poor substitute for our astrometric sensors, but, it should be adequate to helping you continue your studies.”

“I will use it every day,” Icheb said. “Thank you.”
Seven nodded.
“Goodbye, Icheb,” Janeway said. “And good luck.”
“Thank you, Captain. And to you as well. I hope you find a way home.”
Janeway turned and nodded at the transporter operator.
“Goodbye,” Seven said quietly as Icheb transported away.
Janeway put a hand on Seven’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “Tell you what. Why don’t you, Sam, and Naomi stop by quarters tonight for dinner?”
“I’ll consult with them at the first opportunity,” Seven said. She prepared to leave, to return to the astrometrics lab, but a thought occurred. “You never told me what, if anything, Mister Tuvok learned. How did that go?”
“It didn’t,” Janeway said. “He was unable to come up with an angle to approach it from. Still, I wouldn’t worry. If there were anything about them that could be of concern, it would take the entire encampment covering up for them to hide it from us. Children included.”
“I see,” Seven said. “Though I would remind you that Naomi proved capable of keeping a secret for months until letting it slip by accident at the age of 3.”
“She did? Oh, wait, now I remember. She told me about you and Sam having ‘grown up time.’ Luckily, you two were planning to go public with your relationship that day anyway. Quite fortuitous that.”
“There are days,” Seven said, “where one could make the case that this ship runs as much on fortuitousness as it does dilithium crystals.”

Seven of Nine found herself awoken from her regeneration cycle early by a tired and upset looking Mezoti.
“I can’t regenerate,” Mezoti said. Seven sighed. If nothing else, her time spent co-parenting Naomi had prepared her for incidents like this.

“You miss Icheb,” Seven said, not bothering to phrase it as a question.

Mezoti nodded.
“So do I,” Seven said, “but we’ll adapt. Return to your alcove.”

“If you find my parents, will I have to go with them?”
“We can discuss that if the time comes,” Seven said.
“I hope you don’t find them,” Mezoti said. This made Seven sad, but she also understood where it was coming from. As she’d said though, that was a topic for another time, so she repeated her request for Mezoti to return to her alcove.

“Seven?”
“Yes?”

“What if the Borg try to assimilate Icheb again?”
“His people lack resources,” Seven said, hoping to put Mezoti’s concerns at ease. “The Borg have little reason to return to their planet.”

“What if Icheb’s on a ship?”
“Unlikely,” Seven said.

“He was on a ship last time,” Mezoti said before turning around to step into her alcove.
Seven of Nine felt her heart skip a beat. “You… you are mistaken. He was on the surface when he was assimilated,” she said, though already her inner monologue was telling her that Samantha had been right all along.

“No. He wasn’t,” Mezoti said, matterof factly, not showing any sign of offense at being contradicted. “A class-one transport was detected in grid 649; one lifeform; species: Brunali,” she said in a Borg-like monotone before stepping into her alcove and starting her regeneration cycle. Seven was grateful for that, because it meant that Mezoti would not hear her swear as she made her way towards the exit.

“Seven,” a very tired Janeway said as she entered astrometrics, a cup of fresh coffee in her hand, her eyelids heavy, and her hair still a mess, “if whatever it is you called me down here for isn’t the most important thing you’ve ever found, I doubt anyone but your wife would hold it against me if I threw you in the brig for twenty years.”

“It is very important,” Seven said, still looking at the screen, filled with Borg data.
“I don’t read Borg, you’ll have to translate this for me.”
“This is tactical data from the cube where we found the children,” Seven said. “It says that Icheb was found alone on an unarmed transport vessel when the Borg took him.”
“And?” Janeway said, glaring at her, the time 0300 hours repeating in her mind over and over again; a time when she should’ve been asleep.
“Icheb’s father told me he had been assimilated on the planet’s surface.”
“Is it possible you misunderstood?” Janeway said.
“No. Leucon was very specific about the details.”
“That cube was disabled by a deadly pathogen,” Janeway said. “It suffered extensive damage. Isn’t it possible these records were corrupted?”

“Perhaps,” Seven said, “but I found another inconsistency in Leucon’s story.”

“Oh joy,” Janeway said, planning the talk she was going to have with Samantha about giving her wife ideas considering her recent history with making bold connections based on circumstantial evidence.
“He told me Icheb was assimilated four years ago,” Seven continued, unabated by Janeway’s sarcasm. “But further analysis indicates the Borg attacked three times in the past ten years. Nine years ago, six years ago, and again last year.”
Janeway looked at the data on the screen, and listened to Seven’s tone of voice; calm, collected, certain.
Goddammit, she thought. She has a point.
“All right,” she said aloud after taking a sip of her coffee, “Let’s assume your information is accurate. What does it prove?”
“That Icheb’s father was lying,” Seven said with an eyebrow raised.
“And why would he do that?”
“I’m not certain, but we have an obligation to find out.”
Janeway wanted to say that they didn’t, that Icheb’s parents had been through enough and that they shouldn’t be interrogating them. If it were just Seven of Nine, she probably would, but Samantha Wildman was not prone to flights of fancy and had never gone off on wild conspiracy theories after having an entire starship’s database worth of information dumped into her head, and she had been the first to suspect that Icheb’s parents were not what they’d appeared. And Seven’s evidence, while circumstantial, was not illogical.
“We’ll go back to the Brunali homeworld,” Janeway said. “I’m sure we can cook up some excuse. Say that Icheb forgot something, whatever, I’ll figure it out.”

Icheb was not sure what the argument was about, but the sound of his parents verbally fighting awoke him from his regeneration cycle. As he stretched his limbs, he heard his father yell.
“Couldn’t we at least wait a few days?”
“What would that accomplish?” his mother said.
“He’s just getting settled,” Leucon said. Icheb immediately realized they were talking about him, but he wasn’t sure why.
“The longer we wait the harder it’ll be for everyone,” Yifay said, “you know that.”

“Why do it at all? There’s nothing compelling us to go through with it.”

“It’s what he was born for.”
“Hasn’t he been through enough?”
Icheb felt compelled to walk into the room where his parents right this moment and ask what they meant by all this, but something in him suggested he wait and try to learn more.

“Why not give him a chance at an ordinary life?” Leucon said.

“He’s not an ordinary child,” Yifay said.
“No, but he can help us in other ways,” Leucon said. Icheb could hear a hint of desperation in his father’s voice. “He’s bright, he’s hardworking, he-”

“Leucon! His return was a gift. We can’t waste it.”
“I don’t want to lose him a second time.”
“To survive we all have to make sacrifices. You taught me that,” Yifay said. Icheb felt nervous. The Doctor had referred to this feeling as ‘butterflies in the stomach.’ Had they been literal, his stomach would be full to bursting with the insects. He had to confront them, had to know what was going on, had to know why his mother was talking about him this way.

He walked into the room, and his parents feel silent.
“What do you mean by sacrifices, mother?” Icheb said.
“Icheb, you were supposed to be asleep, regenerating,” Yifay said, while Leucon simply went and sat in the corner, seeming to have trouble looking at them. “You know that you’re very important to us.”
“Yes,” Icheb said. “Though I am beginning to suspect it’s not for the reasons I was led to believe. What was it I was born for?”
A tear fell down Yifay’s face.
“Leucon?” she said, as she got up and opened a door on a nearby cabinet. “You better hold him.” She took out a device that resembled a hypospray. He tried to stand up but before he could his father was holding him into place.
“I don’t understand,” he yelled, trying to break free of Leucon’s grip as Yifay pressed the device against his neck. There was a brief stinging sensation, followed by blurred vision, and he felt very, very tired. The last thing he heard before slipping into unconsciousness was his mother speaking.
“Prepare for launch.”

As soon as Voyager arrived over the Brunali homeworld, Captain Janeway told Harry Kim to hail Icheb’s parents.
“We didn’t expect to see you again, Captain,” Leucon said, sounding polite, but his body language conveying annoyance.

Already Janeway’s instincts were kicking in. Her cover story went right out the metaphorical airlock and to what she figured would be Seven of Nine’s surprise went straight to the point.
“We’d like to ask you a few questions,” she said, “if you don’t mind.”
“Questions?” Yifay said, stepping into view, and sounded guarded, like she already expected an interrogation.

“Regarding Icheb and the circumstances surrounding his assimilation,” Janeway said.
“We’ve already discussed that,” Leucon said, sounding angry.
“The story you told my astrometrics officer is inconsistent with our data,” Janeway said.
“We don’t owe you any explanations,” Yifay said. Any doubts Janeway had went away. They could easily have tried to argue that Seven was mistaken, or was acting on emotion, and they would’ve had a case even if they were wrong. But they weren’t even trying.

“In that case,” Janeway said, standing up from the Captain’s chair, “I’d like to talk to Icheb.”

“He’s not here,” Leucon said.
“Oh?” Then where is he?”Janeway said.
“That’s not your concern,” Yifay said. Janeway did not like this one bit.
“Scan for his bio-signs,” she said to Tuvok.
“He is not in the settlement,” Tuvok said after a few moments.
“Captain,” Harry said, “I’m detecting a small vessel. Distance, nine million kilometers. It’s heading for the coordinates of the transwarp conduit.”
Janeway heard Seven let out a small gasp at that, and she couldn’t blame her. She glared at the two Brunali on the viewscreen.
“He’s on that ship, isn’t he?” Janeway said.

“According to these readings,” Chakotay said, “that ship is travelling at warp 9.8. That can’t be right.”
“It only looks that way,” Tom said. “It’s been designed to emit a false warp signature; strong enough to penetrate subspace.”
“They’re using it as bait to attract the Borg,” Seven said, somehow keeping her composure despite the horrific implications.
“He’s fighting for his people,” Yifay said with pride in her voice.
“Alone on an unarmed transport?” Janeway said. “How the hell does that work?”
“We don’t have particle weapons or powerful starships at our disposal,” Leucon said. “We’re forced to use the only resource we have.”
“Your children?” Seven said.
“No. Our genetic expertise,” Yifay said.
“Icheb’s not bait,” Janeway said. “He’s a weapon. The first cube that captured him was infected by a pathogen. Icheb was the carrier wasn’t he?”

“Every time we try to rebuild,” Leucon said, “begin to make progress, the Borg come and take it away from us.”
“Tom,” Janeway said, “set a course for that transport vessel, full impulse.”

“Yes ma’am,” Tom said.

“You have no right to interfere,” Leucon yelled, pointing at the screen.
“We’re trying to save our civilization,” Yifay said.
“I’m not unsympathetic,” Janeway said, “but he’s a child. Couldn’t you have used someone else as a carrier? Did you even ask Icheb if he wanted this?”
Neither of Icheb’s parents responded, which was all the answer Janeway needed.
“Captain,” Leucon said at the end of the long silence. “A Borg ship will emerge from that conduit at any moment. Don’t endanger your crew. You’ll be destroyed.”
“Your concern is noted,” Janeway said, “but rings hollow coming from someone who uses unwilling children as biological weapons. As for your grand plan, it’s doomed to fail. Icheb’s pathogen only brought down one cube. And you aren’t the first species to try to use a virus to take down the Collective either. They only brought down one cube too. I don’t know exactly how many cubes the Borg have, but I’m willing to bet there are more of them than you have children.”

“How dare-” Yifay began yelling.
“End transmission,” Janeway said. “Red alert. All hands to battlestations.”

The ship quickly caught up to the transport. A quick scan revealed that Icheb was alive on board, but likely unconscious.

“Transport him to sickbay,” Chakotay said,
“I can’t,” Harry said. “There’s some kind of interference.”
“Because of course there is,” Janeway said.

“The interference appears to be coming from the conduit,” Tuvok said. “By my estimate, a Borg vessel will emerge in less than 40 seconds.”
“Harry, do what you can to break through that interference,” Janeway said.
“Working on it,” Harry said.

“We still can’t establish a lock at this distance,” Seven said.
“Tom, get us closer to that ship,” Janeway said.
“30 seconds,” Tuvok said.
“Yes ma’am,” Tom said, sounding nervous. The image of the Brunali transport vessel grew larger on the viewscreen.
“A conduit is opening,” Tuvok said. “20 seconds.”

“When that Borg ship comes through I’m gonna have a hell of a time getting away from it,” Tom said.
“One problem at a time,” Janeway said.
“I have a lock,” Harry said.

“Grab him and get the shields back up,” Janeway said. Tuvok began counting down from ten. As he reached six Seven reported that Icheb had been beamed directly to sickbay.
“Get us out of here,” Janeway said, “maximum-” The ship shuddered violently, cutting off her order.
A Borg sphere was on screen now, its tractor beam having caught both the transport and Voyager, and pulling them both towards an open hatch.
“Target their tractor beam generator,” Janeway said.
“I cannot get a clean shot with the Brunali transport in our firing arc,” Tuvok said.
“The sphere is hailing us,” Harry said. “I assume I can ignore.”
“Good call,” Janeway said. “Tuvok, target the transport, then-”
“Wait,” Seven of Nine said, “I have an idea. Transport a timed photon torpedo to the Brunali vessel. Set it detonate as soon as it’s inside the sphere.”

“That will occur in approximately 20 seconds,” Tuvok said. “However, Voyager will be inside less than 3 seconds later.”

“Tom, full reverse thrusters,” Janeway said. “It might buy us a few more seconds.” If they don’t burn out from the strain first, she thought. “Do it.”

Janeway heard Seven manipulate the console behind her. A second later Seven began counting down.
“Tom, go to warp on my mark,” Janeway said. “All hands, brace for impact.”
Seven’s countdown ended and the viewscreen lit up as an explosion engulfed the sphere’s opening. The tractor beam abruptly shut and Voyager lurched free as the shock wave hit them, knocking everyone off their stations and causing sparks to fly from consoles.

“Now, Mister Paris!”

Voyager leapt to warp speed, narrowly avoiding an even larger shockwave and explosion.
“The sphere is heavily damaged,” Tuvok said. “They are not pursuing.”
Janeway sighed. That was too close for comfort. She wondered briefly if they would’ve even had a chance had the Borg been what they once were before the degradation that Seven had theorized, but decided that that was too unpleasant a thought to contemplate and pushed it aside.
“Tom, put us back on course to the Alpha Quadrant.”

Seven of Nine and Samantha Wildman held hands as they watched the Doctor continue his scans of a still unconscious Icheb. Seven had told Samantha that she had been right all along, but as she’d expected Sam took no pleasure in it. Seven had learned long ago, and today had only reinforced the concept, that being correct was not always the preferred outcome.

“Did his parents reinfect him?” Sam asked after Seven filled her in on what they’d learned from Icheb’s parents before the rescue.
“No,” the Doctor said. “They merely sedated him. He was genetically engineered. I don’t know how I missed it before, but Icheb was not infected with the pathogen, his body produces it. He’s been producing it since birth.”
“That’s a terrifying thought,” Sam said, echoing Seven’s thoughts almost word for word. “Bred to kill Borg. How are we going to tell him?”
“We can worry about that when he wakes up,” Seven said to Sam. To the Doctor she said, “Is he in any danger?”
“I can suppress the pathogen. He’ll be fine, physically. He’s going to need help coming to terms with what happened. I’m afraid I don’t know what the standard psychological treatment for finding out your parents only conceived you to be used as a weapon of war is.”
“We’ll do our best,” Sam said. “We have to. We’re his family now.”
“Sam?” Seven said. “Are you sure-”
“Yes, I am,” Samantha said. “I know what I said before, but…” Seven nodded, remembering the conversation they’d had the day of the Voyager science fair.
“Perhaps,” Seven said, “knowing that he has a sister now will help soften the blow.”

The next morning, Icheb was in astrometrics. but not working on astronomical phenomena this time. He had his genome and that of an ordinary Brunali male on the viewscreen, comparing them, when Seven of Nine and Noah Lessing walked in.
“Hey kid,” Lessing said, nodding politely. Icheb nodded politely in return. He hadn’t spoken to any of the Equinox survivors before. He wondered if they ever felt as out of place as he did right now, though based on what he’d heard from other Voyager crew members one of the other survivors such as Gilmore or Sofin would be the better one to speak with as Lessing largely kept to himself when he wasn’t on duty.

“I did not realize you had already been cleared to leave sickbay,” Seven said. “I would’ve come to get you.”
“I wanted to have some time alone,” Icheb said.
Seven looked at the screen. “I was unaware you had an interest in genetics as well as astrophysics.”
“I do not know,” Icheb said. He felt embarrassed about the truth, but he said it anyway. “My parents said I might have an aptitude for it as well.”
“I see,” Seven said. “What have you learned?” He showed her the differences between the genomes that he had uncovered in his research, pointing out the changes his parents made to his to cause his body to produce the pathogen.

“It is… ingenious,” he said, his scientific curiosity clashing with and overpowering the shame and anger he felt towards his parents.
“It is barbaric,” Seven said.
“They were trying to defend themselves,” Icheb said. “Their way of life. I do not believe they would’ve done something so, barbaric as you say, if they weren’t desperate.”
“Kid,” Lessing said, “take it from someone who knows. There are some lines that should never be crossed. Even in self-defense. My former Captain did that once. I went along with it. In the end, it got a lot of my friends killed.”
“I do not believe the situations are analogous,” Icheb said.
“Perhaps not,” Seven said. “But ultimately the decision whether or not to forgive your parents is up to you, and you alone.”

“Do you?” Icheb said. “Forgive them?” Seven sighed.
“No,” she said. “And I do not believe I will any time in the foreseeable future. But as I said, your forgiveness is yours to give or not. It’s your decision.”
“Then they have it,” Icheb said. “I have no desire to hold a grudge.”
Seven didn’t say anything. She looked at the screen and back at Icheb.
“Very well,” she said. “However, if you wish to continue your research, genetics or astrophysics, you will need to do it elsewhere. Mister Lessing and I have work to do.”

Icheb thought about it for a moment.
“Perhaps I will program the game of pala into the holodeck,” he said.

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