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

[Note: Whoops, I did not mean to post Chapter 8 before Chapter 7. I’d hope that would be obvious, but one can never be too careful]

Chapter Seven

Samantha Wildman was tired, but smiling. For the third night in a row, Naomi had slept through the night without waking up in terror. The worst of the flashbacks and nightmares caused by the broken memorial the crew had encountered over a week prior had passed, but for days after the nightmares had kept Naomi, and consequently Samantha, awake to the point of exhaustion.

Seven of Nine had been there when she could, but she was undergoing treatment from the Doctor for PTSD as well, in addition to the time she needed to spend in her alcove. When the Voyager crew had made first contact with the people of Norcadia Prime, and the locals had offered them shore leave, Captain Janeway had jumped at the chance, and even Samantha considered taking the opportunity to go, only her recent phobia about leaving the ship really stopping her.

Samantha looked at the chronometer and groaned. She knew that she shouldn’t be forcing herself to stay awake like this, but the ever present fear of Naomi needing her in the middle of ship’s night again kept her from being able to just lie down. She glanced out the viewport at the planet below, and hoped her crew mates were having fun at the various sporting events they were attending. She blinked slowly, and realized that she just couldn’t keep going. She had a shift in a few hours, where her only companion in the lab would be Equinox survivor James Morrow. Morrow had not been the one who had shot Seven, and the man did seem genuinely repentant over what he had done under Captain Ransom’s orders, but that didn’t make it any easier.

She crawled into bed, hoping she wouldn’t oversleep, and closed her eyes.

It could all be worse I suppose, she thought.

“No thanks,” Captain Janeway said, politely declining Chakotay’s offer to carry her bag to the Delta Flyer for her before she left. It was lightly packed, as she didn’t expect too much to happen on her visit to the Pandari homeworld, a planet in the system neighboring the one her crew was enjoying their shore leave at.
“While I’m gone though,” she continued, “you may want to run a diagnostic on the shield generators. It’s way overdue.”
“Done and done,” Chakotay said.
“And don’t forget to keep tabs on Neelix’s little project in the mess hall.”
“He’s still trying to enhance the plasma burners in his stove?”
“I keep telling him that it won’t make his cooking go faster, but you know how he gets when he latches onto an idea. He should run out of steam on this one eventually.”

The two continued chatting idly as they walked down the corridors until they had reached the door to the shuttle day.
“I have to admit,” Janeway said, “I feel a little guilty about leaving right now. A lot of the crew is still dealing with the ramifications of that broken memorial on Tarakis.”
“We’re doing okay,” Chakotay said. “The worst of the nightmares have passed for everyone, and those lucky enough to not have started getting the flashbacks have all stepped up their game. Even Angelo Tassoni is being, well, at the very least he’s not being belligerent. I’d call that a step up.”
“I have to say,” Janeway said, “apart from him the rest of the Equinox survivors really came through for us during the whole mess. Still-”
“Even the Captain deserves a vacation once in a while,” Chakotay said, smiling, clearly seeing through Janeway’s stalling. “The ship will still be here when you get back.”
“It better be,” Janeway said, entering the shuttle bay.

“Tell me that’s not lunch,” B’Elanna Torres said after entering the mess hall, and seeing a large bowl of yellow, something, on the counter.
“It’s leoa root oil, for my skin,” Neelix said, turning around. B’Elanna winced when she saw how nearly half his face looked red.
“What happened?” B’Elanna said.
“I was so excited to visit one of those Nocardian beaches I’d heard about, I forgot to take my dermaline hypospray.”
“So that red is sunburn? Yikes. It hurts just looking at it,” B’Elanna said.
“I fell asleep under two suns,” Neelix said.
“I told him to just see the Doctor,” Brian Sofin said, B’Elanna finally noticing him standing nearby. “He insists on the homemade remedy though.”
B’Elanna chuckled.
“Well,” Neelix said, “how’s your shore leave been?”
“We’ve spent the last few days at Tsunkatse matches,” B’Elanna said. “You seen any of them, Brian?”
“Nope,” Sofin said. “Still not allowed shore leave remember?”
“Right, sorry,” B’Elanna said, forgetting for a moment the status of the Equinox survivors on board. So far, of the five, only Marla Gilmore had been allowed to go planet side, and that was for a mission, and only because so much of the rest of the engineering staff was barely holding it together thanks to false memories of a war crime. “It’s exciting to watch. Just two athletes in peak physical condition going at it in a controlled setting, no weapons, rules to make sure no one gets killed. A great sport. You should come down to the next match this afternoon, Neelix.”
“I might just do that,” Neelix said. He looked past B’Elanna. “How about you Seven?”
B’Elanna turned around, and saw Seven of Nine and Tuvok sitting across from each other, going over a pair of PADDs. She remembered that the two of them were planning a scientific excursion.
“I have no desire to do so,” Seven said.

“Fair enough,” B’Elanna said. “So, where was it you two were going today?”

“There is a micronebula,” Tuvok said, “approximately 1.6 light years from here on the verge of collapse. We intend to take a shuttle to study it.”
“An away mission during shore leave?” Neelix said.
“Only partially,” Seven said. “While I witnessed several such occurrences as a drone, I have never had the chance to witness such a phenomena as an individual.”

“Well, whatever floats your boat,” B’Elanna said. “Will Sam be going with you?”
“Regrettably, no,” Seven said. “She still has… concerns about leaving the ship.”
“And by concerns you mean she’s become downright superstitious,” B’Elanna said.
Seven sighed. “I was attempting to put it diplomatically. I tried to convince her to come along, but she still believes that something terrible will happen if she ever sets foot off Voyager again.”
“Has she tried talking to the Doctor about that?” Neelix asked. “That doesn’t seem like a very healthy way of thinking.”
“She has,” Seven said, rolling her eyes. B’Elanna thought at first she was offended at what Neelix said, but what she said next clarified things. “The Doctor was not as diplomatic as I was.”
“Oh dear,” Sofin muttered.
“It is remarkable to me,” Seven said, “just how much offense a sentient being can cause when they have no intent to do so.”

B’Elanna stifled a laugh, while Neelix nodded in agreement.
“Well,” she said to Seven and Tuvok, “try to enjoy yourself out there, Seven.”

Seven of Nine began assembling the gear that she and Tuvok had determined they would need once they reached the micronebula. As she did so, she once again felt a moment of guilt, leaving her family behind, but Samantha had insisted she not pass up the opportunity, and Naomi had not had a flashback or a nightmare in days.

She heard the door to the cargo bay open as she continued to pack, one full bag already resting near her alcove. She turned and saw Tom Paris enter.
“Here’s the navigational data you asked for,” he said.
“Thank you,’ Seven said.

“How long are you planning on being gone?” Tom said, looking at the already full bag, as well as the one Seven was currently working on.
“Approximately 48 hours,” she said. Tom chuckled.
“Just like B’Elanna,” he said.
“Clarify,” Seven said, wondering what he meant.
“She likes to overpack too,” Tom said.
“Is this another example of details about your relationship I do not need to know?” Seven asked.

“What are you implying?” Tom said.
“I believe the word is ‘oversharing.’ Sam taught me about the concept. I have found that it has helped avoid many potentially embarrassing moments when engaging in dialogue with the rest of the crew.”
“C’mon, I don’t talk that much about my relationship with B’Elanna.”
“Ensign Paris,” Seven said. “you told me what your ‘safeword’ was last year. I looked up what that meant. I never needed to know that much about your personal life, and I wish it were possible to forget. There is a reason I drink my tea in larger mugs now.”

Tom was silent, looking as if he wanted to say something, presumably to defend himself, but eventually he just sighed.
“Okay, yeah, I see your point. I’ll work on that.”
“Please do,” Seven said. Tom left, and she continued packing, setting aside some items she realized there was a far less than 50% chance that she would actually need. Once the task was completed, she made her way to the shuttle bay, where one of Voyager’s smaller shuttles would be waiting for her since the Delta Flyer was already in use by the Captain.

When she arrived, she saw Samantha waiting for her, and she smiled. “Sam, are you coming with us after all?”
“No, sorry,” Samantha said, “I don’t think you could pay me to get in a shuttle again. No, I’m just here to see you off. Naomi would be here, but I decided to let her sleep in.” Sam stepped forward, put her arms around Seven’s waist, and kissed her on the lips.
“Mmm,” Seven said. “I will certainly miss that while I am studying the micronebula.”
“Stay safe,” Sam said.

“I intend to,” Seven said, moving towards the lowered ramp of the shuttle with an extra spring in her step.

As the shuttle made its way to the micronebula, Seven of Nine found her thoughts drifting back to her wife and step-daughter back on Voyager, the guilt over leaving them having come back again, despite the fact that on multiple occasions both of them had made it clear they were fine with Seven going on this excursion.

Seven looked at the chronometer.
“Two hours, thirty-seven minutes, thirteen seconds,” she said.
Tuvok looked at her, saying nothing.
“That is how long we have gone without verbal communication,” she added.
“Why is that remarkable?” Tuvok said.
“While I have improved considerably in my time aboard Voyager,” Seven said, “I still sometimes find extended periods of silence uncomfortable.”
“A side-effect of your time in the collective,” Tuvok said.
“Silence does not affect Vulcans in the same way. I apologize for not taking that into consid-”
Tuvok’s apology was interrupted by the sound of the proximity alert, letting them that an unidentified ship was approaching. Seven checked her sensors and confirmed that the vessel was on an intercept course.

“Attempting to hail approaching vessel,” Tuvok said. The noise of an ignored communication channel request told Seven that there was no response before Tuvok did.
“I am suddenly grateful that Sam decided not to come along,” Seven said. “This would only reinforce her belief that leaving the ship is ‘bad luck’.”
“Tuvok to Voyager,” Tuvok said, apparently as certain as Seven herself was that the approaching ship was a threat. There was no response, and a half-second after Tuvok attempted contact, the lights in the shuttle began to flicker.

“The vessel is emitting some kind of dampening field,” Seven said, working her console as best she could while its display went back and forth between functioning and not. We’ve lost weapons, engines, shields-”
Every light on the shuttle went out all at once, the hum of the shuttle’s engines falling away.
“And everything else too,” she added bitterly before a sound drew her and Tuvok’s attention. They looked back, and saw a device beamed into the rear area of the shuttle. It was small, round, and had blinking red lights on it. Tuvok quickly stood up and took out his tricorder and began scanning it. Seven wondered how Tuvok knew his tricorder would still work, but decided that he didn’t and had simply acted on instinct. Luckily for them, it did work. That however proved to be the only good news.
“It’s an explosive device of some sort,” Tuvok said. “I will attempt to disarm it.”
“The lights on the device are pulsating at an accelerated rate,” Seven said, sliding down despite knowing that her seat would likely provide little cover. “You don’t have time.”

Tuvok reached out, but his hand hit a force field around the device, the lights blinked faster and-

“Borg-enhanced physiology,” Seven heard a voice say as she awoke, unsure where she was, knowing only that she was lying down on something cold and metal. “You should have superior strength, agility, stamina, visual acuity.” Seven opened her eyes, and saw an alien knelt down beside her, scanning her with some sort of device. She sat up, ready to attack the man, as disturbed by his tone of voice as anything else in the situation. Memories of being on a shuttle with Tuvok flooded back to her.

“Welcome to Tsunkatse,” the alien said, smiling. It was a smile that she liked to see coming from Samantha, but in those instances Seven had adjusted her appearance for the express purpose of such a reaction. From an alien who was talking about her potential fighting skills, it was disturbing.
Tsunkatse, she thought. The matches the crew have been watching. Is this how they recruit fighters for the matches? Kidnapping? The crew won’t approve of this when they find out.

“Since the game’s inception,” the alien kept talking, in a tone that she believed Samantha would’ve referred to as ‘sleazy’, “our audience has never had the pleasure of seeing a drone compete.” The alien stood up and walked away. It was only then that Seven realized she was sitting in a cage of some sort. The bars were very wide apart, it would’ve been easy to squeeze herself between them, but she imagined that her captors had already thought of that.

“You,” the alien said, pointing at Seven, “are going to be a very popular attraction.”

Once her head was clearer, Seven took a quick look around. She saw a number of other aliens from species she did not recognize engaged in training exercises. She also realized she recognized the alien who was talking to her. He was a Norcadian. She didn’t know him personally, but she’d seen a number of his race aboard during the first contact party days before.
“Where’s Commander Tuvok?” she said.

“Your comrade from the shuttle? I’m afraid he was injured in the explosion.”
Seven stood up. “I wish to see him. Now.”

If the Norcadian was intimidated by her. He made no show of it, continuing to smile.
“Certainly,” he said, waving his hand. Another alien nearby moved towards one of the doors to the area where Seven was being held captive. “You’ll learn that nothing is more important to me than the well-being of my fighters.”
“Yes,” another male voice said. Seven glanced to her left and saw a Hirogen, the first she’d seen in years, and at least at first glance the oldest. “Penk’s generosity is legendary.” The Hirogen then laughed, as did many of the other aliens, all dressed in similar silver garb. Seven deduced that these were other fighters.

“Quiet!” Penk yelled, but his smile quickly returned. “He’s envious because I’ve found a new favorite.”
“I have no intention of participating in your game,” Seven said angrily, the idea of committing an act of violence against another sentient for any reason other than self-defense repulsive to her.

“Aggressive. I like that,” Penk said. The sound of an automated door opening caught Seven’s attention. She saw two armed men walking in a visibly wounded Tuvok, who was breathing heavily and clearly had trouble walking under his own power, the upper part of his uniform charred.

Seven moved in to help, taking Tuvok from the armed men, and helping him to lie down on the cot in her cell.
“He requires medical attention,” she said.

“That can be arranged,” Penk said.
“Then arrange it,” Seven said, wondering if she could take down the man and his armed guards fast enough to avoid getting shot, since she had her doubts that these weapons had stun settings.
“You haven’t won a single bout,” Penk said. “And already you’re making demands like a champion.”
“Will you treat him or not?” Seven said.
“Will you fight?” Penk said flatly. Seven understood exactly what that meant.
“Do not comply,” Tuvok said, “My condition is not severe.” Seven looked at him, at the burns on his forehead and cheeks, and had to refrain from calling the Vulcan out on his obvious lie in front of strangers.
“Spoken like a true competitor,” Penk said. “Willing to ignore his injuries for the sake of the contest. Schedule a bout for him, a red match. Put him up against the Pensarkan.”

“A red match,” the Hirogen said, “doesn’t end until one of the competitors is killed. Your friend would not survive.”

“But you might,” Penk said, still looking at Seven.
“Give her a blue match, Penk,” the Hirogen said. “You wouldn’t want to lose your new favorite her first time in the pit.”
Penk looked contemplative. It was the first time Seven could think of where she saw a captor openly considering advice from one of their captives.
“Yes,” Penk said. “We should start her off slowly.”
Seven looked at Tuvok, who was now struggling to keep his eyes open.
“Treat him,” she said, “and I will comply.”

Penk simply grinned, and for the first time, Seven understood what other humans talked about when they said someone had a face that looked ‘punchable.’

B’Elanna looked at the list of Tsunkatse matches on the PADD in her hand, gathered around a table with Commander Chakotay, Tom, Harry, and Joe Carey, although the latter of the four had no particular interest in the bouts and was only there because all the other seats in the mess hall were taken.

“What about the seventh match?” she said. “I’m picking the Vensiddian.”
“Same here,” Chakotay said.
“He lost his last two times out,” Harry said.
“But he’s undefeated against left-handed fighters,” Chakotay said,

“You should trust him, Harry,” Tom said. “Chakotay knows a thing or two about southpaws. He’s our resident expert on boxing, remember?”

“Yeah,” B’Elanna said. “A passion of his we didn’t know about until last year.”
“In my defense,” Chakotay said, “when before that, incident, did I ever have cause to bring it up?”
“You never brought it up when we were in the Maquis either,” B’Elanna countered.
“Okay,” Chakotay said, “you got me there. I do love boxing, I guess I just never really felt like sharing it.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” Joe said. “We all have little things we keep to ourselves. Did you guys know I build ships in bottles?”
“Really?” Harry said. “I tried that once in the academy. Did a pretty poor job of it.”
“I can give you some pointers if you’d like,” Joe said.
“Maybe,” Harry said. “I’ll think about it.”

“Joe’s right,” Tom said. “Let’s not give the commander a hard time for telling us about every single thing that interests him.”
“What about the Pensarkin-Bendali match,” B’Elanna said, chuckling, “unless you guys want to talk about tiny wooden boats some more.”

“Too close to call in my opinion,” Harry said.
“Agreed,” B’Elanna said.
“Well, I’ll let you know how it turns out when I get back,” Chakotay said.
“Wait, what?” B’Elanna said.
“I rearranged the duty schedules this morning after something you said to me, about delegating,” Chakotay said, the smile on his face growing as both Harry and Joe suddenly pretended to be fascinated by the ceiling. “You’ve got the bridge starting at 1400 hours.”
“Oh, this is payback for me telling you to put off the diagnostic on the shield generators isn’t it?” B’Elanna said.
“I thought you’d be pleased that I took your advice,” Chakotay said.
“Unbelievable,” B’Elanna groaned.
“Honey, look at it this way,” Tom said, getting up from his seat to stand behind B’Elanna and rub her shoulders. “You get to sit in the big chair.”
“Small comfort,” B’Elanna said.

The Doctor ran his medical tricorder over Neelix, lamenting that he was here right now instead of visiting one of Norcadian museums he’d hoped to see before Voyager left. He could be looking at artifacts of cultural significance, paintings, sculptures, but no, here he was about to give a lecture to a Talaxian with yellow blisters over half his face.
“You’re having an allergic reaction to the ointment you made for your sunburn,” he said. “I hope you’ve learned your lesson. Talaxian homeopathy is no substitute for medical science.”
The Doctor filled up a hypospray and pressed it against Neelix’s neck on the non-sunburned side.
“This should help with the swelling and discoloration. But you’ll have to stay out of the sun.”
“But what about the rest of my shore leave?” Neelix asked.

“I suggest you limit it to indoor activities,” the Doctor said, taking out a PADD that he’d been reading earlier. It contained a list of just such activities, and he was more than willing to share it with Neelix if it meant not having to deal with him as a patient for awhile.

“Hmm. Well, Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Kim invited me to one of the Tsukatse matches. I could go with them.”

The Doctor sighed. “I’m disappointed in you Mister Neelix. Cheering for one individual to inflict serious injury on another hardly seems like an activity you’d enjoy.”

“It’s not like it’s a bar brawl or anything, Doctor,” Neelix said. “It’s a regulated match, with rules, and all the participants are well trained. Sure it can get a little brutal, and accidents can happen, but unless you’re dealing with a really corrupt organization every fighter involved knows what they’re getting into. Risks included.”
“If you ask me,” the Doctor said, “there’s not that much difference between a regulated fight and just a plain fight. Surely you can find some other way to occupy your time that doesn’t involve fisticuffs.”

“Well,” Neelix said, “what do you suggest?”

“As a matter of fact, I was planning a visit to the Norcadian Museum of Entomology this afternoon. There’s a fascinating exhibit of beetle larvae from their equatorial sub-continent. You’re welcome to join me.”

“I’ll have to think about that one, Doctor,” Neelix said.

“Tsunkat! Tsunkat!” Neelix chanted along with the rest of the crowd as two humanoid alien women battled in the Tsunkatse arena. Chakotay sat next to him, Harry Kim in Tom Paris sitting in the same row. Neelix had spotted a few other various crew members scattered throughout the seats, but he and the other three were the only Voyager people in this particular section.

“You were right Commander, this is exciting,” Neelix said once the match was over. “Two opponents alone in the pit with only their strength and agility to protect them.”
“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself,” Chakotay said.

“I don’t quite understand the rules though,” Neelix said.
“It’s simple,” Chakotay said. “A Tsunkatse fighter wears a polaron disruptor on both of their hands and feet. Each disruptor delivers a bioplasmic charge when it comes in contact with one of the opponent’s target sensors.”
“So there is strategy involved,” Neelix said.

“A fighter has to attack their rival’s sensors without exposing their own,” Chakotay said.

“Are you two gonna talk or are you here to watch?” Tom said.
“At ease, Ensign,” Chakotay said. “I’m just answering the man’s questions.”

Loud music began playing and Neelix looked around as nearly everyone stood up and began applauding, including Tom, Harry, and Chakotay, so he quickly joined in. He looked expectantly at the arena pit’s entrance doors, awaiting the entrances of the next combatants. It was his second match of the night, but he still felt as excited as he had for the first. One of the doors opened, and the first of the combatants stepped out; a tall, well-built man. Looking extremely confident, he acknowledged the cheering crowd with a single, raised eyebrow. The cheering grew even louder.

This one must be particularly popular, Neelix thought.

“He looks like he could pick up a shuttlecraft,” he said aloud.
“He’s a Pendari,” Harry said. “They’re known for their superior strength.”
“And their bad temper,” Tom added.
“I hear they have a tendency to throw their opponents into the stands,” Harry said.
“Be ready to duck,” Tom said.
Neelix chuckled. The music swelled once again, and the Pendari’s opponent began to step-out. Even when he could see with his own eyes who it was, he still had a hard time believing it.
“Seven?” Neelix said. He looked over at the others, who appeared as shocked as he was. Taking a closer look he realized that Seven did not look too thrilled to be there herself, and he doubted it had anything to do with the majority of the crowd jeering as soon as she came out the door.

He tried calling out to her, and he could hear Chakotay and the others doing the same, but if Seven heard them she gave no indication. She and the Pendari circled each other slowly, disdain apparent on the latter’s face. Neelix could see his lips moving but couldn’t make out what she was saying to Seven. Seven replied with an inaudible comment of her own, and the Pendari responded by making a mocking gesture before punching Seven, knocking her into the wall of the arena. She quickly got back up and dodged a second and third punch while making no apparent effort to punch back. She kept talking, and though Neelix couldn’t make out the words, he thought for a moment that she was taunting her opponent, perhaps trying to goad him into making a mistake.

“It’s no use, she can’t hear us,” he heard Harry say.

“Chakotay to Voyager, come in,” he heard Chakotay say, barely loud enough to be heard over the crowd’s cheering when Seven was knocked back by a kick to the chest.
“Calling to give me a blow-by-blow description of the match, Commander?” B’Elanna’s voice replied over the comm badge.
“Seven of Nine is in the pit,” Chakotay said.
“What?” B’Elanna replied.
“No time to explain, just beam her out of there.”
There was no reply. Neelix kept watching, and almost cheered as Seven delivered a kick that got the Pendari right in the face, but it barely phased him. He moved forward, but Seven delivered two swift kicks to his chest sensor, driving him to his knees with the pain of the shock.

“Maybe she can win this,” Neelix said under his breath, but his hope was short-lived as with shocking speed the Pendari got up and knocked Seven to the floor with his arm. Seven got back up quickly and delivered a solid kick, but the Pendari man quickly shook it off and knocked her to the ground again with one punch.

“I’m locked on to the coordinates of the pit,” B’Elanna’s voice said. “Seven’s not there.”
“I’m looking right at her, B’Elanna!” Chakotay said.
“Not according to these sensors.”
“Maybe their lifesigns are masked,” Harry said.
“Try recalibrating the bio-scanners!” Chakotay said.

A few seconds later, Neelix watched as Seven and the Pendari began to fizzle out, as though they were holograms and not real people. It took him a second to realize that that was exactly why B’Elanna couldn’t get a lock on. The crowd booed when the image of the fight faltered.

“The only readings I’m picking up are photonic,” B’Elanna’s voice said.
“They’re transmitting the fight from another location,.” Tom said, having obviously reached the same conclusion. Neelix turned towards Chakotay to ask if they could trace the source of the transmission but a loud thud drew his attention back to the arena in time to see Seven go down. That sound he’d heard had been a hit, and though he hadn’t seen it, he knew it had been a brutal one as Seven was on one knee, and visibly struggling to get back up. The Pendari picked her up and threw her against the wall. She got back up, and tried to get behind the Pendari to get another kick in on one of his target sensors, but he grabbed her leg and threw her back down to the ground. The two traded punches, hit for hit, Seven managing to briefly knock her opponent back with an uppercut.

“Keep trying,” he heard Chakotay say. He wondered for a moment what the Commander meant, but it occurred to him that maybe B’Elanna was trying to find the source of the transmission. He hoped it happened quick.

Seven managed to knock the Pendari to the floor again. He did not get up, noticeably dazed from her attack. She leaned over him, and against all logic Neelix yelled at her to end the fight, to knock him out. Her arm was raised, fist clenched, ready to strike, but she hesitated.

“What the hell is she-” he heard Harry say, but before he could finish the thought, the Pendari recovered and kicked her in her stomach, then got up and hit her in the face. He stood at her side, facing opposite to her, and locked his arm across her throat and other shoulder. He then landed a sharp blow to the sensor on her back, and then, in a move that caused Neelix to gasp, lifted her up with his locked arm and fell forward, bring her over and down on her back, very hard. He knelt next to her, hit the target sensor on her chest, and Seven, while still visibly breathing, and moving her head, did not get up. Didn’t even try.

The crowd began to chant again. “Tsunkat! Tusnkat!” This time however, the Voyager crew did not join them.

As Janeway piloted the Delta Flyer, she listened to Commander Chakotay’s report on what had happened. She had briefly been tempted to chew him out for allowing one of their own to get kidnapped while she was away, but she was able to maintain her cool. Partly due to the fact that her own memory reminded her of all the times a crew member was stolen from under her nose. Ripping into Chakotay over this just wouldn’t be fair.
“We’ve scanned the Norcadian surface, Captain,” Chakotay said after filling her in on the details of the fight, and how they couldn’t find any sign of Tuvok or the shuttle either. “There’s no sign of them.”
“Any luck tracing the transmission?” Janeway said.
“We’re trying but it’s not easy,” Chakotay said. “There are transmissions being sent to every planet in the sector.”

“I guess you aren’t the only ones who enjoy this sport,” Janeway said.
“It could take days before we can figure out where Seven and Tuvok are being held,” B’Elanna said.
“What about diplomatic channels?” Janeway said.
“Neelix is meeting with a group of Norcadian officials,” Chakotay said.
“Well, let’s hope he gets their cooperation,” Janeway said.
“When can we expect you back?’ Chakotay asked.
“I’m at the outer rim of the Pendari system,” Janeway said, looking down at her console. “At best, I’m 48 hours away.”
“Sorry to cut your vacation short, Captain,” Chakotay said.
“It’s alright, Commander,” Janeway said. “Just keep me informed. Janeway out.”

I wonder how Samantha is taking this, she thought.

“That went better than I hoped,” Tom said. He was seated at his station on the bridge, B’Elanna and Chakotay standing next to him. When the communication with the Captain ended, everyone returned to their stations.
“Has anyone told Sam yet?” B’Elanna asked.
“Neelix took care of that before he left,” Harry said. “To say she’s pissed would be an understatement, but at least she knows for sure Seven’s alive right now. It’s not like when the Equinox crew took her and we had no idea.”
“Do you think this is how the Norcadians get all their fighters?” Tom said.
“Doesn’t matter,” Chakotay said. “That they kidnap people and force them to fight at all is an insult to the sport.”
“At least we know she can hold her own,” B’Elanna said. “If she hadn’t hesitated towards the end of that match she’d have won it. What do you think that was even about?”
“We can ask her when we have her back on board,” Chakotay said. “I want ideas people. Even stupid ones. Whatever it takes to get our people back.”

Seven awoke, once again, on the metal cot she’d been on when this whole thing started. The Hirogen was standing over her with some kind of device. She fliched and went to grab it, but the Hirogen made no effort to stop her.
“It’s a dermal regenerator,” he said while she looked at it closely.
“You should be using this on Tuvok,” she said.
“I already did. While you were resting,” the Hirogen said. “Now hold still and let me finish, the device is almost out of power.”

“Why are you helping us?” Seven said.
“I recognize fellow hunters when I see them,” the Hirogen said.
“I’m no hunter,” Seven said.
“I saw your match today,” the Hirogen said. “Your skills are impressive.”
“The Pendari would disagree,” Seven said as she sat up.
“You almost defeated him. But at the last moment, you hesitated. You… questioned your desire to destroy your prey.”
“I have no such desire,” Seven said. “I only desire to return to my ship, to my wife and our child.”

“Really?” the Hirogen said. “I thought I saw it in your eyes. With the proper training, you could become a champion.”

“Until my ship comes to rescue us, my only goal is to survive.”

“Do you know the difference between a survivor and a champion here? There isn’t one.”

The sound of the door opening and footsteps approaching ended the conversation. Penk walked in, flanked by two guards. He stepped into her cell while the Hirogen moved to the side.
He was smiling that punchable smile again, and she wondered if even Naomi would hold it against her if she broke a few of his teeth.
“I wanted to be the first to congratulate you,” Penk said.
“I lost,” Seven said.

“Exactly,” Penk said with a chuckle. “There’s a great deal of hostility toward the Borg in this sector. Whenever the Pendari landed a blow, our audience grew. We’re getting tens of thousands of requests to see you fight again.”
“She needs time to recuperate,” the Hirogen said. “to prepare for the next bout.”
“I agree,” Penk said without even looking at the Hirogen. “There’s a red match scheduled for tomorrow. The Pendari was supposed to compete, but I’ve entered you in his place.” Penk laughed and started to leave, but turned around, smiling at Seven again. “If three billion people paid to see you hurt, imagine how many will pay to see you die.”

Once he was gone, Seven sighed. “Survival may be more difficult than I imagined.”

“You will win the match,” the Hirogen said, smiling himself, but looking up at the ceiling.
“Why do you say that?” Seven said.
“I know your opponent; I know his weaknesses. I can train you to defeat him.”

“I told you, I will not kill anyone in that arena,” Seven said.

“Consider the alternative,” the Hirogen said.
Seven stood up. She turned to look at Tuvok. She thought about Sam and Naomi, how the latter had just come out the other side of one trauma relatively unscathed.
I can’t leave them, she thought. Even if they look at me differently if they know what I had to do to survive, that would have to be better than dealing with losing me like this.

“Teach me,” she said.

Seven had lost track of time. She was uncertain if the training had gone on for only a few hours, or if it was the next day already. She had managed to compartmentalize, keeping thoughts of her loved ones and how worried they must be at bay, or at least enough to keep her from losing focus on the lessons her Hirogen teacher were giving her.

“You’re letting your elbow fall, exposing your target,” the Hirogen said.
“You’re mistaken. My arm is positioned properly,” Seven said. “‘When executing the Tanyk Defense, the blocking elbow must remain parallel to the median sensor,’” she added.

“Ah, The Book of Tsunkatse,” the Hirogen said. “I see you’ve studied it well.”
“Tuvok borrowed it from one of the other fighters,” Seven said. “I am attempting to perfect a defense based on-”
The Hirogen cut her off with an attack that caught her off guard and her on the ground in seconds.
“That was not one of the 33 sanctioned maneuvers,” she said, as she got up, the Hirogen still kneeling in the spot where he landed after his strike.
“There must be 34 then,” he said.
“I was unprepared for your attack,” she said, realizing as the words left her mouth that that was the point.

“Is that what you’re going to say to your opponent?” the Hirogen asked. “Stop thinking like a drone. Sanctioned maneuvers, perfecting defenses? You cannot assimilate Tsunkatse from a book. You must live it. Feel it. In your heart. Your movements must become instinct. An attack could come at any time from any direction. You must learn to improvise.”
“Like this?” Seven said, before delivering a swift but intentionally short kick that allowed her to quickly to punch him in the side when he raised his arms to block. The Hirogen cried out in pain from the hit. “I’ve observed you often favor your left side.”
“Very perceptive,” the Hirogen said while he rubbed the point of impact from the punch. “It’s a wound I sustained in one of my first matches. After 19 years it still hasn’t healed properly.”

“You’ve been here a long time,” Seven said.
“I was taken during my son’s first hunt,” the Hirogen said. “He was so proud to be with his father. Watching every movement I made imitating my gestures.” He took a deep breath. The next words that came out were tinged with anger. “But instead of bringing home his first trophy he saw his father become someone else’s prey.”
“Do you know what happened to him?” Seven asked.
“I never saw him again,” the Hirogen said. Seven felt empathy for him. ”All Penk would say was that the boy was too small for competition.”

“Perhaps he managed to return home,” Seven said, though deep down she knew that was overly optimistic. She stepped forward, but the Hirogen, while still favoring his side, hit her with a sudden kick, knocking her back into a wall. He charged, fist raised as if ready to strike, but he stopped.
“You lowered your defenses,” he said, calmly, as though he hadn’t just kicked her hard enough to almost knock out her breath. “Why?”
“I was…” Seven said, pausing to take a breath.
“What?” the Hirogen asked. “Feeling sorry for me? My tragic past?”
“Yes,” Seven said.
“You must never sympathize with your prey. Unless you accept that, you will die.” He stepped back, lowering his fist and returning to the center of the room. “We’ll continue.”

“Has Mister Neelix returned to the pickup point?” Chakotay asked Lieutenant Kittrick.
“Not just yet sir,” she said. “But he isn’t due for another two minutes, and he has checked in regularly.”
“I know,” Chakotay said. “I’d just rather not see another one of my crew being forced to fight against their will.”
“Understood sir,” Kittrick said. “Though, I did hear that Seven of Nine handled herself pretty well down there.”
“That she did,” Chakotay admitted.
“And I also heard that the outfit they put her in was-”

“You do know she’s married, right Lieutenant?”
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”
Chakotay shook his head. The crew had been given more slack than usual since the encounter with the Nakan massacre memorial. Perhaps it was time to tighten things up a bit again. Not to the level that they would be if they were in the Alpha Quadrant of course, but as the Captain herself had said several years ago, that ship had long since sailed.

“Neelix is reporting in,” Kittrick said.
“Beam him up,” Chakotay said. Soon, Neelix was stepping off the transporter platform and walking right up to him.

“How did it go?” Chakotay asked. When Neelix replied, Chakotay struggled to remember a time before when he had heard the Talaxian speak with so much sarcasm in his voice.
“Oh, the Norcadians were shocked to learn that off-worlders might be participating in the fights against their will. The ambassador promised to being an immediate investigation.”
“You don’t buy it,” Chakotay said. It was not phrased as a question.
“Not for a nanosecond. I spoke to one of the Pendari delegates. According to him, a huge percentage of the planet’s revenue is derived from Tsunkatse. Nobody wants to do anything that might interfere with the game.”

“So,” Chakotay said, “they turn a blind eye to the recruitment tactics.”
“We’re not going to get any help through official channels,” Neelix said. “It’s hard to accept that a civilization’s favorite pastime is cheering innocent people who fight each other.”
“If Seven and Tuvok hadn’t been abducted,” Chakotay said as he and Neelix headed for the turbolift, “we might still be cheering too.”

The two of them made their way to the astrometrics lab, where B’Elanna Torres and Harry Kim were hard at work.
“What have you got?” Chakotay said as he entered the lab.
“Well,” B’Elanna said, “one of the reasons we were having trouble isolating the source of the transmissions was because they never seem to be coming from the same place twice.”
B’Elanna pulled up a map of the sector on the lab’s large screen.
“At first,” she continued, “we thought the matches were being held in different locations. But then we realized that what we were looking at was a flight path.”
“They’re transmitting the fights from a ship,” Chakotay said.
“Like a travelling carnival,” Harry said, entering a command on his console, bringing up long range scans of the ship they believed to be holding their people. “A heavily armed and armored carnival. Five million metric tons, reinforced hull plating protected by covariant shielding, neutronic weaponry.”
“It’s way out of our weight class,” B’Elanna said.
“The bigger they come, Lieutenant,” Chakotay said. He turned to Harry. “Transmit these coordinates to the Captain. Tell her we could use a hand.”

“Excellent,” the Hirogen said after Seven completed a display of some of the techniques he’d shown her. “When your opponent enters the arena, what do you see?”
“My prey,” Seven said.
“And what do you do to your prey?”
“Hunt it down and kill it.”

“Go rest before your match,” the Hirogen said. He then turned and walked away. Seven in turn headed in the opposite direction. Part way there, she turned.
“Thank you,” she said to the Hirogen.
“Thank me by winning,” he said, tapping his chest.

Seven continued on. She now stood next to Tuvok, who was able to move around and more alert now thanks to the Hirogen’s treatments. He was working on trying to disable the ship’s shields and dampening field from a panel he had opened.

“Penk’s guards are doing their inspection rounds,” she said. “Progress?”

“Without access to a control interface I can’t disable the shields from here,” Tuvok said. “Your training?”
“Complete,” Seven said.

“Are you adequately prepared?” Tuvok said as he replaced the panel he’d removed.

“The Hirogen is an efficient instructor,” she said, sighing. “He believes I’ll win.”

“This troubles you?” Tuvok asked.
“The idea of killing someone for the entertainment of others is detestable,” Seven said.

“Is the idea of losing your own life for the entertainment of others more palatable? As a drone, you took many lives.”
“I was acting as part of the collective,” Seven said.

“You’re worried you won’t have the strength to accomplish the task on your own.”
“No,” Seven said. She thought back to the Equinox when she had taken Captain Ransom’s comm badge away from him, condemning him to death to the alien species he had been exploiting. She still had never spoken of it to anyone, not even to the Captain, who had given her the order to make sure Ransom remained behind as part of the agreement to spare Voyager and the other Equinox survivors. She hadn’t thought about it until now, had pushed it out of her head so she could say with a straight face to Penk that she wasn’t a murderer. “I’m afraid that I do.”

A hatch at another end of the room opened, and one of Penk’s guard stepped in, soon followed by Penk himself.
“It’s time,” he said.

Seven headed towards the door, ready to face whatever happened, and hopeful that if she did have to kill, again, that her beloved Samantha wouldn’t be seeing it happen on live broadcast. As she moved, Tuvok grabbed her arm.
“Do whatever it takes to survive,” he said.

Seven didn’t reply. She simply took in a deep breath and followed Penk’s guards as they escorted her to the entrance to the arena. She could hear the music starting, the sound of cheering crowds. The door opened and she stepped out, walking to the end of the arena and turning around so she would be facing her opponent when whoever it was stepped out. The crowd jeered as she walked. They wanted to see her blood spilled. She intended to disappoint them.

The music reached a crescendo, and her opponent stepped into the light, and her jaw hung open when she saw who it was. The Hirogen.

Bastard, she thought.
“You knew,” she said, as the two of them began to slowly circle each other.

“Yes,” the Hirogen said. The buzzing noise indicating that the match had started went off, but neither sentient made a move just yet.
“Training me was a deception,” Seven said. “You wished to familiarize yourself with my weaknesses.”
“I was helping you to overcome them,” the Hirogen said, feigning an attack, causing Seven to take a defensive stance.

“19 years is a long time,” the Hirogen said. “I’ve grown tired.”

“You wish to be killed in the arena,” Seven said.
“I want a death my son would be proud of.”

“I won’t be the one to provide it,” Seven said.
“Then I will be forced to kill you,” the Hirogen said, sounding disappointed.

“Approaching the vessel,” Tom said. Voyager was already at red alert, Chakotay in the Captain’s chair. The Commander still held some hope they could avoid a fight, but it was a slim hope. Luckily, he knew he could count on Tom to outfly that other ship. What Voyager lacked in armory it more than made up for in maneuverability compared to it.

“Take us out of warp,” Chakotay said. “Raise shields and charge weapons. Harry, any sign of Tuvok and Seven?”

“Our sensors can’t penetrate their shields,” Harry said with a heavy sigh. Chakotay couldn’t blame him. That was hardly the first time he’d had to give that exact report.
“Hail them,” Chakotay said. The viewscreen showed a small office. A Norcadian sat down at a desk facing the viewscreen.
“This is not a convenient time,” he said.
“I’m Commander Chakotay of the starship Voyager. You’re holding two of my people.”
“You’ll have to be more specific,” the Norcadian said, as if being accused of abduction was an everyday thing for him As far as Chakotay knew, perhaps it was..
“Commander Tuvok and Seven of Nine. Return them, now.”

“The Borg drone and her friend. Hmm. I’m afraid she’s occupied at the moment.”
“You have 30 seconds before I open fire,” Chakotay said, already sick of this man’s bureaucratic tone.

The Norcadian leaned forward and locked his fingers. “A fighter. I respect that. But you’re no match for me.” He touched a button on his desk, and the connection was cut, the viewscreen returning to a view of the ship.

“That went about as well as I expected,” Chakotay said.

“We can still find another way out of this,” Seven said, after having sent the Hirogen to the ground with a well-placed strike to his back.
“There is no other way,” the Hirogen said. Seven got into an offensive stance. “You’re still dropping your elbow.” He kicked. Seven blocked it, but the time it took her to do so allowed the Hirogen to get in close and deliver two swift punches to the sensor on her back, each hit sending a shock through her body painful enough to make her cry out, though not enough to make her lose her balance.
“Make your choice,” the Hirogen said. “Hunter, or prey?” Seven refused to answer. The Hirogen twisted her arm. “Hunter or prey!” He repeated. Seven managed to break his hold on her arm and sent him flying backwards with a swift kick to the face. She pressed in delivering multiple blows to his chest sensor, making him wince with each hit. She successfully dodged a punch, using the momentum to get behind him and deliver a kick to his back sensor, which glowed as he grunted in pain. He took another swing, but missed. This was not him throwing the fight however, Seven could tell. He was getting tired. She was winning. Her train of thought derailed quickly when the Hirogen broke through and landed a kick on her chest sensor, causing her to stumble back into the wall. She narrowly avoided a punch to the face, ducking as he charged her.

“Direct hit to their aft shield generators,” Lydia Anderson said from tactical.
“Still can’t get a lock on Seven,” Harry said, “but I’ve got Tuvok.”
“We can’t beam him up yet,” Chakotay said, “our shields are still up. Keep targeting those shield generators. If the whole thing comes down they might surrender rather than risk us rupturing their hull.”
The ship shuddered under the impact of enemy fire. The shields were holding, but just barely. It would’ve been worse, but Tom’s piloting had kept a good portion of the enemy fire from hitting them at all. Chakotay knew that luck couldn’t hold out forever though.

“Shields down to 40 percent,” Anderson said after the last hit.
“Harry, can we at least get an idea where the arena might be on the ship?”
“Not sure how but I’ll think of something,” Harry said.
“Make it fast,” Chakotay said.

“You’re getting weak,” the Hirogen said as he back-handed Seven across the face. She stumbled, tried to straighten up, only to get knocked violently backwards when the Hirogen hit her with both fists, one into each shoulder blade. “I should’ve found worthier prey.” He charged forward, and used his momentum to flip Seven over his back, sending her crashing to the floor with a loud grunt.

The fight was taking its toll on her. Even with her enhanced strength, even with the knowledge of multiple fighting techniques, and even with the desire to see Samantha and Naomi again driving her, she was all but spent. Her breathing was ragged, her muscles were sore, and she could feel the bruises forming on her body.

“Perhaps your mate will find someone stronger next time,” the Hirogen said.
That touched a nerve in Seven. Without even thinking she got back up and with speed that surprised even her she went from that to a jump kick that struck the Hirogen in the face, hard enough to send him to the floor. He tried to get up and she kicked him, knocking him back down, He rolled and tried to stand up again, but she met him with another kick that knocked him on his back. Seven stepped back, allowing him to get back up.
“Is that the best you can do?” he said, right before Seven delivered another kick to the face, one to his chest sensor, and then punched him right in the eye socket. The Hirogen stumbled back and groaned as he hit the wall.

“Shields are down!” Anderson yelled after the last volley of enemy fire hit Voyager.
“Tom?” Chakotay said.
“Doing what I can,” he said.
“Might as well beam Tuvok out,” Chakotay said. “Any luck finding Seven?”
“I’ve got an idea,” Harry said “Of where she is I mean. There’s a part of the ship that has different shielding than the rest. My guess is that’s where the arena is. The problem is, it’s multiphasic. I can’t get a clean scan through it.”

“Should I get us out of here before they knock out our propulsion?” Tom asked.
“Not yet,” Chakotay said. “If we can’t beam her out, maybe we can shut down the transmission.”

“If nobody’s watching, why continue the fight,” Tom said, nodding. “Good thinking.”
“B’Elanna?” Chakotay said. “Figure out a way to jam the signals coming from that ship. Time to ruin a lot of fight fans day. Lydia, start targeting their signal generators.”
Anderson’s reply was cut off by a violent shudder as the ship was hit. Sparks flew from somewhere, Chakotay couldn’t quite tell where, as he’d instinctively covered his face when he saw the flash.

“Hull breach, deck 11,” Harry called out.

Seven pressed her assault on the Hirogen. If killing him was what it took to see her family again, then she would do it. This was not a difficult moral quandary that would weigh her down for the rest of her life like with Ransom, this was pure, simple, survival. With her teeth gritted, she punched him in the face several times, knocking him back. She ran to the nearest wall and braced herself on it as the Hirogen charged at her. She greeted him with a hard kick to his chest sensor that lifted him clear off his feet and flipped him over, dropping him to the floor with the loudest thud Seven had heard yet the entire battle. The crowd, wherever they were, rose to their feet and began the “Tsunkat!” chant. Obviously the excitement of the match had overrule their hatred of the Borg, and they were now cheering for her.

Chakotay felt the deck rock under him as the ship took another hit.

“That one took out our weapons,” Anderson said.
“Another vessel’s approaching,” Tom said. “It’s the calvary.”
Chakotay looked up as the viewscreen showed the Delta Flyer swooped in and began firing at the arena ship, its small size allowing it to more easily dodge the counter attacks, while Voyager’s shuddering lessened as some of the fire was no longer directed at them.

“Hail her,” Chakotay said.
“Channel open,” Harry said.
“Good to see you, Captain,” Chakotay said.

“Nothing like getting back to work after a long vacation,” Janeway said.
“We need you to target their signal generators,” Chakotay said.

The viewscreen showed the Flyer firing itsphasers, getting in closer than Voyager ever could, and blowing part one of the many satellite dish-like protrusions on the side of the arena ship.

“Good shot, Kathryn,” Chakotay said.
“They’ve reduced power to their force fields,” Harry said, “trying to compensate for the loss of that transmitter by directing it to the others. I’m able to pick up two lifesigns. One’s Seven, the other’s a Hirogen. I can’t get an individual lock though.”
“Get them both,” Chakotay said. “Anderson, send a security team to transport room one.”
“Aye sir,” she said.

Seven let loose a flurry of punches, none of them as strong as some of the others she’d thrown, but each one still managed to keep the Hirogen off balance. She grunted with each connection. He managed to get in several shots of his own against her chest sensor, each hit sending intense, painful shocks through her body, but she refused to fall. This had gone on long enough for her. Either he went down, or she did. She broke through his defenses and hit his chest sensors several times, causing him to fall backwards, crying out in pain. She didn’t allow him the luxury of lying down. She grabbed him by his uniform and held him up with one hand as she repeatedly hit his chest sensor, watching the red glow and hearing his grunts of pain with each hit.

Eventually, he buckled and fell to the ground. She knelt next to him and raised her arms, ready to bring both fists down on his chest sensor, but she hesitated, something she did not expect..
“Never… let your prey suffer,” the Hirogen said weakly, clearly spent, and accepting his defeat. “Kill it.”

She prepared to deliver what probably be the killing blow, when she felt the familiar tingle of a transporter beam engulfing her. When the beam was gone, she was on one of Voyager’s transporter pads, her arms still raised, ready to strike, her breathing heavy, but she could not bring herself to move. She glanced to her right, and saw Lieutenant Ayala and two other security officers flanking him, all with hand phasers at the ready.

“Seven?” Ayala said.
“It’s all right,” Seven said, slowly lowering her arms. “This fight is over.”

She stood up, then held out her arm. The Hirogen, his own breathing labored, sighed, and took it, allowing her to help him up.

Samantha sat on the sickbay bio-bed next to Seven, holding her hand while the Doctor scanned her. Both women knew it was not necessary, but neither cared. Both listened quietly while Commander Chakotay spoke to the Hirogen.

I had no idea they were that spread out, Samantha thought. To find Hirogen this far out from where we first encountered them, with the transwarp conduits, wormholes, and subspace catapults we’ve come across since then? It’s a wonder any Hirogen ever see each other, let alone us.

“We found a Hirogen hunting party less than three light years away,” Chakotay said. “They’ve agreed to rendezvous with us.”
“I’m grateful,” the Hirogen said. Chakotay left, and the Hirogen looked at Seven.
“Doctor, would you leave us for a moment?” Seven said.
“Very well,” the Doctor said, nervously. “But if you should need anything, like an analgesic, or a phaser rifle…”
“That won’t be necessary, Doctor,” Seven said.
“Do you want me to step outside too, hun?” Sam said.
“No,” Seven said, squeezing Sam’s hand gently. “That’s not necessary.”
The Hirogen stood up, and slowly walked over to them, nodding politely at Sam.
“A phaser rifle?” he said.
“I apologize for the Doctor,” Seven said. “He’s a bit overprotective of me.”
No argument there, Sam thought.

“He doesn’t realize how well you defend yourself,” the Hirogen said. He looked down, and ripped the chest sensor on his outfit off, handing it to Seven. “A trophy.”
“Thank you,” Seven said. “What will you do now? Search for new prey?”
“No. This time I will be searching for my son.”

“If he is as clever as his father,” Seven said, “he may be difficult to locate.”
“I’ve been wondering,” the Hirogen asked, “would you have killed me?”
Seven looked at Sam. Sam simply put a hand on her shoulder. Seven looked back at the Hirogen, who patiently waited for an answer.
“I don’t know,” Seven said. Sam wondered if that was for her benefit. She must think I would stop loving her if she said yes, she thought. She leaned over and kissed Seven on the cheek.
“You were doing what you had to do to survive, to come back to me,” she said. “I wouldn’t think any less of you if you had.”
“Your mate speaks wisely,” the Hirogen said. “You would do well to listen to her.”
Seven smiled, looking at Sam but speaking to the Hirogen. “You aren’t the first sentient to tell me that.”

“Well, fortunately, you were right. There was another way out,” the Hirogen said. With a polite nod to both Seven and Sam, the Hirogen turned around and left.
Seven sighed and leaned into Samantha.
“Did you mean that?” Seven asked.

“Of course I did. I don’t like violence, I’ve never hidden that. But there is big difference between murder and self-defense. If you’d enjoyed killing him, that would be something to worry about, but the fact that you didn’t want to is proof to me that you’re a good person. And it should be proof to you too.”
Seven nodded, and glanced over in the direction of the Doctor’s office.
“Sam, I have a question to ask you.”
“What is it, Annie?”
“I was led to believe you did not like the way I looked in silver, is this correct?”
“You’re talking about the silver monstrosity right?” Sam said. “No, the color was actually the least of that uniform’s problems. It was just badly designed. That collar looked like it was cutting off your circulation. Why do you ask?”

“Because I couldn’t help but notice that since you got to sickbay that your eyes have occasionally wandered downward from where my face is,” Seven said.
“Ah,” Samantha said, feeling herself begin to blush. “Well, I mean, it is rather, um.” Sam looked around herself to see if the Doctor had reentered. “You wouldn’t mind keeping it would you?”
Seven sighed. “I know you love me for many reasons, but there are times when I wonder… Fine, I’ll keep the outfit. But I’m not keeping the target sensors.”
“I wasn’t going to ask you to,” Sam said. “But even with them, it looks good on you.”

Seven laughed. “One could make the case that you are unhealthily obsessed with my breasts, Samantha Wildman.”

“You’re only noticing this now?” Sam said, with a wink.
“What are you two giggling about?” the Doctor said as he reentered from his office.
“Nothing that is any of your concern,” Seven said.

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