A Fire of Devotion Part 1 of 4: Louder Than Sirens: Chapters Four & Five

Chapter Four

“I think it’s safe to say that the new astrometrics lab is huge success,” Harry Kim said, holding up a glass as he spoke. “A whole week without any bugs or problems whatsoever.”

“If I were inclined to superstition,” Seven of Nine said, “I would say you are tempting fate with that remark. Also, please do not hold that beverage so close to the console.”

Harry shrugged, and gulped down all the liquid in the glass in one go.

“How are your PTSD treatments going?“ Seven said. “We have not had the chance to speak since the incident with the Mari.”

“Well, the medication the Doctor has me taking daily makes me feel dehydrated, but the stress relief holodeck program he gave me is helping a little. I don’t find myself randomly crying in the middle of the mess hall anymore.”

“It’s only been a few weeks Ensign Kim, give it time.”

“Oh how would you know?” Harry snapped. “Like the Borg ever have to deal with post-traumatic stress.”

Seven allowed her concern for her crewmate to show on her face, instead of trying to maintain a neutral expression like she did most of the time. The fact was, while she wasn’t attracted to Harry the way he had been to her before, she did find that she respected him. In fact she might even one day go so far as to call him a friend.

“You are correct. While I did witness combat as a member of the Collective, I have never experienced anything quite like what you’ve been through.”

Harry sighed.

“I’m sorry I snapped at you, Seven.”

“No apologies necessary. Such behavior is a common symptom of your condition based on what I’ve read. If you would prefer to continue the routine diagnostics of this lab on your own, I will not be offended.”

Before Harry could reply, the door to astrometrics opened. Captain Janeway and Chakotay entered. Harry looked for somewhere to hide his glass, but failed to before it was noticed.

“Ensign Kim, are you drinking on duty?” Chakotay said. Harry opened his mouth to reply, but Seven decided to intervene.

“I can vouch that the beverage in question was non-alcoholic, Commander,” she said. “The medication that the Doctor has him on currently leaves him feeling dehydrated.”

Chakotay didn’t look like he believed her, but after sharing a look with Janeway, he abandoned the point.

“We just came by to see how the new and improved astrometrics lab was doing,” Janeway said. “We haven’t had much of a chance to look at it when we’re not in the middle of some kind of crisis.”

Seven’s eyebrow raised at that. “Captain, there have been approximately three days within the past week where you could’ve come down here to observe its status.”

Janeway nodded. “True, true. And it is entirely my own fault for not taking advantage of those opportunities. I can’t put all of it on me trying to help B’Elanna last week.”

“That was a pressing issue at the time,” Seven said. “And I do not see a way in which an astrometrics lab would’ve been useful in that situation. It is also worth noting that the day we first activated the upgraded lab was the day that-” Seven stopped abruptly.

“That the whole thing with me showing up a year older and battle fatigued happened?” Harry said. “You don’t need to walk on eggshells around me, Seven. I’m damaged but I’m not broken.”
“So,” Chakotay said in an obvious attempt to get the conversation back on its original track. “The new lab. Let’s see it in action.”

“While I’m flattered that you feel I can help with this issue, Ensign Wildman,” the Doctor said, “I am a medical doctor, not a counselor. Psychological issues are not my area of expertise, and when it comes to romance, my experience is limited to one Vidiian doctor and one hologram, so I’m not sure how much help I could be there.”

“I’m well aware of all of that, Doctor,” Samantha said. “In fact you often like to remind everyone how you are a Doctor not a whatever. But in case you forgot, we do not have a proper counselor on board. I probably could’ve talked to Kes about this if she were here, but she’s not. My daughter is too young, and while he’s certainly gotten better about it over the years, Neelix still has issues with letting things slip, and I’d rather not have the whole crew know about this.”

The Doctor titled his head and looked up slightly. “He has gotten better about that hasn’t he?” he said. “In more ways than one in fact. I remember how he used to-”

“Doctor,” Samantha said, her arms crossed and face stern like it was whenever she needed to chastise her daughter. “My issue, please.”

The Doctor rolled his eyes.

“Coming to me for relationship advice,” he said. “That should end well. You want my thoughts on the matter? Very well.” He turned to face Samantha Wildman directly, his arms crossed now as well. “Having thought about it over the past few days since you told me, I have come to the conclusion that if you didn’t want to start a relationship with Seven of Nine, you wouldn’t be talking to me in the first place. You simply wish to use me to assuage your guilt over your husband, who I remind you, almost certainly believes you are dead. You would hardly be the first person with a partner or partners back home who has started a relationship on board, and unless we were to somehow stumble across a wormhole that would take us back to the Alpha Quadrant before 0100 hours tomorrow you wouldn’t be the last either.”

Samantha sighed, mouthed an expletive, then turned around and left sickbay.

“You’re welcome,” the Doctor said behind her before returning to his reports.

The next day, Harry Kim and Seven of Nine were both in the astrometrics lab again, making some additional improvements to the consoles. They worked silently for the most part, only talking about the work, until Harry suddenly stopped working.

“Look, Seven, about yesterday, you didn’t have to cover for me,” he said. “It was synthohol in my glass. I’d still be in trouble, sure, but it’s not like I’d be drunk or hungover on duty.”

“Hopefully it is not something that I will need to do again,” Seven said. “I don’t have any particular moral objection to lying, I just find it far more pragmatic not to. I made an exception in your case out of concern.”

“Concern? For me?”

“Ensign Kim, I tell you this in the strictest confidence. You are one of the very few people on this ship that I would consider not just a shipmate, but a friend. Friendship is a new concept to me, but on a ship of individuals I believe it to have its benefits. You were among the first people on this ship to treat me as more than just a drone. I have not forgotten that, and I do appreciate it.”

Harry seemed shocked at what he just heard.

“Wow,” he said. “I’m not sure what to say except, thank you. I-” Harry stopped when he heard the door to astrometrics open. He turned to see Samantha Wildman standing in the doorway, as if she was unsure whether or not to actually enter. Harry looked at Seven and winked, much to Seven’s confusion.

“I’ll leave you two alone,” he said as he headed for the door. That was the moment she realized what Harry meant by his wink, and was suddenly nervous.

“Ensign Wildman, how can I help you?” Seven said.

“Your name, before you were assimilated? It was Annika, right? Annika Hansen?”

“That is correct.”

“It’s a pretty name.”

“I’ve been told that by more than one crewmember. What is the purpose of this line of questioning?” It was only once she’d finished that question that Seven noticed that Samantha was slowly getting closer, like she wanted to stand right next to her or in front of her, but was reluctant for some unknown reason.

Samantha took a deep breath.

“Seven of Nine, before I continue I need you to answer my next question as honestly as you possibly can. It’s important, so I need you think long and hard about it before you answer. I don’t want whatever just pops into your head, understand?”

“That should not be difficult,” Seven said, her tone still level even though her heart rate had quickened considerably. Samantha had stepped closer know. Seven could tell from her Borg enhanced hearing that her heart was beating faster as well.

A metaphorical voice in the back of Seven’s mind that she had heard before, a voice Tuvok had referred to as “an inner monologue,” was screaming at her now. This is it! This is what you’ve wanted. She wants you as much as you want her.

“What is your question,” Seven said, slowly, not wanting to betray her unusual excitement.

“I’ve been thinking about that night, weeks ago when you touched my hand during dinner. And before that, when you were, um, looking at me when I walked away. What I want… no. What I need to know, is this purely sexual attraction, or do you have romantic feelings for me?”

Seven of Nine found herself speechless; a feeling she did not often have. Another voice in her mind started speaking now, this one much more cynical. She doesn’t love you, even if she thinks she does. You’re more machine than human. You’re still a Borg no matter what you look like now, and she probably knew people who died at Wolf 359. Just let this go. Why do you want a relationship anyway? What does that get you? If she likes you at all it’s for your breasts, or your behind, same as everyone else on this ship.

“I am not 100% certain,” Seven said, slowly, deliberately choosing each word. “I have attempted… relations, on the holodeck with women from a program the Doctor suggested to me, but I was, um,” Seven took a deep breath. “I was unable to perform.” Seven stopped and looked down, feeling embarrassed. “I don’t know” was almost certainly not what Samantha was hoping to hear.

“Seven?” Samantha said, concern obvious in her voice. “What are trying to say? About the holograms I mean.”

“They weren’t you,” Seven said. “I do not know where this attraction came from, I barely know you any better than anyone else on this ship, but, but…” Seven couldn’t find the right words to finish her answer, so she elected to take a desperate action. She took a large step forward, put her arms around Samantha’s waist, and pulled her in close.

“I apologize in advance for this very inappropriate behavior,” she said quietly before closing her eyes and pressing her lips to Samantha’s. Samantha Wildman seemed to resist for approximately one-half of one second, before she started to kiss back, moving her own hands to Seven’s back. After nearly a full minute, Samantha finally pulled away.

“Apology accepted,” she said before she started to laugh, putting one hand on the side Seven’s face.

“My inner monologue is an idiot,” Seven said, smiling for what she was pretty sure was the first time since she’d been a child, before she was assimilated.

Samantha’s face scrunched up in confusion. “You’re gonna have to explain that one to me, Annika.”

“Later,” Seven said. “But, for the record, I’ll only let you call me that.”

“Fair enough,” Samantha said, as the two of them held hands and looked into each other’s eyes.

“I suppose now’s as good a time as any to address the issue of how public we are with this,” Seven said. “I’m not sure I’m ready for all the questions I’ll inevitably get from the rest of the crew just yet, though the Doctor already knows about my attraction to you, as does Harry Kim.”

Samantha’s head tilted at that.

“Why would you tell Harry-”

“I didn’t. Apparently in the alternate timeline, during the so-called Year of Hell, you and I began a relationship after the Krenim attacks began. According to him, I died calling out your name.”

“Ah, I see. That’s rather sad actually. Did he tell you what happened to me and Naomi during that year, by any chance? I’ve been meaning to ask him, but I’m just never sure how. Plus I don’t want to trigger him.” Before Seven could answer, Samantha winced slightly. “Right, Naomi. I wonder what she’ll think of this. Us, I mean.”

Seven thought about it for a moment. “The two likely outcomes that spring immediately to mind are that she’ll feel like you stole her friend from her, or she’ll be excited at the prospect of me spending more time in your quarters.”

“Hell, maybe it could be both. Obviously I’ll have to tell her, I don’t like keeping secrets from my daughter. Do you want to be there for-”

The ship suddenly shuddered. The red alert klaxons began going off, and Samantha let out a frustrated groan.
“Oh you have got to be kidding,” Samantha said. “Don’t we usually get at least a week between crises?”
“I believe that is the average for this ship, yes. One would think you’d be used to this by now,” Seven said with a smirk.
Samantha laughed briefly, then looked contemplative.
“You do have a cute smile. Just don’t ever feel like you have to do it on my account. I’d rather earn it than ask for it.” Samantha started to head for the exit, but stopped. “Oh, um, Annika, next time we meet, we need to have a talk about this little thing called ‘oversharing.’”
Seven thought about that statement for a moment.
“Are you referring to me telling you about the holodeck program, or your death in the alternate timeline?”
“Yes,” Samantha said. “I don’t really like thinking about my own mortality, you know?”
“Understandable,” Seven said. “I’ll see you later then?”
“Of course.”

By the time Seven of Nine learned what had happened, the damage had already been done. The ship had been attacked by pirates, whose ships were equipped with high power transporters. A number of piece of technology had been stolen from Voyager as result, most importantly the main computer processor.

“Ensign Kim,” she said as he spotted him leaving the conference room. “I heard about what happened. I believe I can provide assistance in tracking the pirates responsible.”
“You read my mind,” Harry said. “I was just going to head down to astrometrics. You were going to suggest extending the ship’s sensors using the deep space imaging system?”
“Correct,” Seven said. “I must apologize, it had not occurred to me you would come to that conclusion on your own. I underestimated your intelligence.”
“It happens. Let’s get to work.”
“Very well. We’ll need to decompile databanks 59-17 in order to isolate an algorithmic feedback that is interfering with the resolution.”
“Started already. Good call. The sooner we can find these people the sooner we can get back everything they stole from us.”
“Is it true that they got the Doctor’s mobile emitter as well?” Seven asked.
“Yeah,” Harry said. “He’s not too happy about that.”
“Knowing the Doctor as I do I’m certain that’s an understatement, but hopefully the Captain considers retrieving that as high a priority as the computer core.”
“If she does she didn’t say anything about it in the briefing. Why do you say that?”
“I would think it obvious. That emitter was built using 29th century technology. If that level of technology were to fall into the ‘wrong hands’ as I believe the saying goes-”
“Damn, you’re right.,” Harry said, quickening his pace. “We better hurry then.”

Samantha Wildman listened as Seven of Nine filled her in on the situation, though she was already aware of the pirate attack and subsequent thefts.
“I imagine the Captain took a whole security detail down there to get our stuff back,” she said.
“An incorrect assumption,” Seven said, contemplating the drawing that Naomi had made for both of them before going to bed for the night. “She took Lieutenant Commander Tuvok, Lieutenant Paris, and Mr. Neelix with her, though I believe they are going to separate locations. The planet seems to be a trading hub for this sector. I believe the intent is to pose as traders to locate our technology.”
“Well that’s good,” Samantha said as she sat down next to Seven, putting an arm around her shoulder. “So, what do you think?”
“Of the mission, or of the drawing”
“The drawing.”
“It is, colorful,” Seven said. “I find that I am more pleased by the effort put into the drawing than the actual result.”
Samantha smiled as she gave Seven a quick kiss on the cheek.
“And to think I was afraid you’d say you didn’t like it.”
“That would be inappropriate. Naomi is a child. If art is something she decides to continue to pursue as she ages, she will doubtless get better with practice. Any negative comments I make would only discourage her.”
Samantha’s mouth hung partially open in shock. “Wow. Annika, I’m not sure how you’ll take this, but you already seem to be thinking like a parent. That is amazing.”

Seven leaned to the side, resting her head on Samantha’s shoulder.
“I take it as a compliment,” she said, closing her eyes and sighing contentedly. “Shall I leave it here? I can’t think of any place in cargo bay 2 where I could put it.”
“No problem. I can put it with her other drawings. I’ve been saving all of them of course.”
Samantha looked over at the door to her daughter’s room.
“Do you think she’s asleep by now?” she whispered.
Seven glanced in the same direction.
“I can hear her reading,” Seven said. “I think she’s trying to pronounce some of the longer words in the text.”
“Enhanced hearing?” Samantha said.

“You don’t use that to eavesdrop, do you?”
“Never intentionally, but I can’t exactly turn my audio implants off. At least not currently. I would be willing to talk to the Doctor about adding that as a feature. It would certainly come in handy. There are a number of things I have learned since coming aboard that I feel I would’ve been better off not knowing.”
Samantha snorted out a laugh.
“I can believe that,” she said as she started gently stroking Seven’s hair.
“With regards to your question about Naomi, I do think it’s likely that if we attempt what we were planning tonight, she would likely hear us.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“Perhaps it is for the best. I believe it is customary in many human cultures to wait until the third date, and we may not agree on if this counts as our second or not.”
“What do you mean?”
“Our dinner, the night I accidentally revealed my affections for you, just after we survived our encounter with the Srivani.”
“Oh, that,” Samantha said, regretting how she’d handled things when Seven had touched her hand that night. “Well, that wasn’t a date per se, but at the same time we could probably count it as being one in hindsight.”

Seven seemed to think about that for a few moments, before shrugging. “I’m not an expert on human relationships in general, let alone romantic ones. I’ll defer to your judgement.”

“The three dates thing isn’t really a hard and fast rule,” Samantha said. “but if that’s how you want to do this you don’t have to worry about me pressuring you.”

“Admittedly it does seem rather arbitrary. That said, the concern about Naomi walking in on us is perfectly valid. And there is the possibility that I may be called upon to aid in acquiring our stolen technology.” Seven sighed, sounding disappointed.
“Perhaps I could use the extra time to read up on more techniques,” Seven added.

Samantha patted Seven on the head, smiling.
“There’s only so much you can learn about sex from books babe, trust me,” she said.

“Well I would ask any crewmembers who I know to have experience with sexual activity, but I believe that would be considered impolite,” Seven said.

“Depends on who you ask, but that’s probably a good idea. I wouldn’t worry though. As long as we communicate with each other properly I see no reason why it won’t go well. If at any point I do anything that makes you uncomfortable let me know, and we can do something else.”
“I can’t imagine anything you’d do to me would cause discomfort,” Seven said, smiling.
Samantha chuckled. “Unless you’re into that sort of thing.”

“I’ll explain some other time.”

“I really wish you would keep up with your appointments more often Seven,” the Doctor said. “Your ocular interface is out of alignment. Again.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” Seven said. “My vision has not been impaired today at any point.”
“Regardless, you are supposed to come in for your examinations once a week.” The Doctor continued his scans with his tricorder before putting it down to pick up the piece of equipment he’d need to adjust Seven’s non-organic eye.
“It’s a good thing you did come in today, since I can’t go to you at the moment.”
“The Captain and Lieutenant Tuvok should have our stolen technology recovered in a short time. You will no doubt have your mobile emitter back by tomorrow at the latest.”
“I’m sure the Captain appreciates your confidence in her abilities,” the Doctor said. “So,” he added while he continued his work. “Have I missed anything interesting on board lately?”
“Nothing of import,” Seven said. “Have you completed the necessary adjustments?”

“Oh, yes certainly. It wasn’t a serious misalignment. If it were, you wouldn’t need me to tell you.” The Doctor smiled and put down his instrument. “As for there not being anything of import, I heard there was something of a fuss in the mess hall today.”
Seven sighed. “Lieutenant Torres and I had a disagreement, but it is no longer a matter for concern.”

“Just a disagreement? I heard there was shouting involved.”
“None of this is relevant to either the status of my implants, or to the Captain’s efforts to reclaim the computer core and your mobile emitter. Why are you so invested in such trivialities?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” The Doctor said, not trying to hide his annoyance. “Without my mobile emitter, I’m stuck in sickbay. Again. I have no means to move about the ship and hear about what’s going on unless someone tells me, but people don’t stop in sickbay just to chat, except for Kes when she was still here. And Naomi sometimes. But that’s beside the point. I feel like I’m in a prison.”
“One that you will be able to leave once we have retrieved the mobile emitter,” Seven said. “You must be patient. And before you say anything, I am aware of the irony of that statement coming from me considering my own behavior. Pointing it out to me would be redundant.”

The Doctor sighed.
“Yes, yes, you’re right of course. Forgive my outburst.”
Seven sighed as well. “If you must know, Torres and I were working on some astrometric data. There was a disagreement, and she chose to become hostile rather than counter my argument. She called me an ‘automaton,’ and uttered a string of profane Klingon insults.”
“Interesting,” the Doctor said. “So, who was right? About the data I mean.”
“I was. May I go now?”
“Wait, wait, I want more details. Maybe you could translate B’Elanna’s-”
“Tuvok to Seven of Nine. Please report to the astrometrics lab.”
Seven tapped her comm badge to reply. “I’ll be right there,” she said. The Doctor nodded.
“Very well,” he said. “Perhaps we can continue this conversation later, assuming you don’t mind discussing such ‘trivialities.’”
Seven of Nine started to leave sickbay, but paused at the door.
“Doctor, perhaps I may have something for you more interesting than a minor spat with Lieutenant Torres if you are truly that starved for information. I will require the permission of the other party involved however, so I make no promises.”
The Doctor actually felt giddy at the prospect. “Thank you Seven. Thank you very much. Anything to make my internment more bearable.”

“Wait, so you want to tell the Doctor about us?” Samantha said as she stood next to Seven of Nine in the astrometrics lab. Seven had called her there shortly after Tuvok had left to return to the bridge with the data Seven had gathered from the maps obtained from the Da Vinci hologram.
“If you are concerned about him telling the rest of the crew,” Seven said. “I can convince that that would be against his best interests.”
“I get that it must be frustrating for him. Having had the freedom to leave sickbay at any time for over a year only to have it sntached away like that. But I don’t know if what you’re suggesting will make him feel any better.”
“I will simply leave out key details. He will doubtless ask me to fill those in the way he wanted to more about my argument with Lieutenant Torres. When I refuse to give him that information, he will likely attempt to piece it together himself. It will keep him distracted until the Captain has recovered our technology, he’ll get the emitter back and if we are fortunate he will be too enamored his regained freedom to be bothered with such matters as our relationship.”

Samantha thought about it for a moment.
“I don’t know,” she said. “It seems a bit convoluted. I wish you’d talked to me first.”
“I believe I did.”
“No, I mean before you suggested you might have some juicy piece of gossip for him.”
“Ah. I see. Perhaps that in itself will serve as adequate distraction for him, trying to determine what it was I may or may not have told him.”
Samantha nodded. “Yeah, yeah, that could work.” She sighed and leaned back against the console. “And that’s all setting aside the fact that we don’t even really know what kind of relationship we have yet. We really haven’t had that much time to talk about it. This whole thing with the stolen computer core has kept us pretty busy. And when we do get time together, Naomi’s there too which kind of limits our exploratory options.”
Seven made a noise that Samantha has not heard coming from her before.
“Why Annika, are you giggling?”
“I believe I am. I am amused at your choice of euphemism.”
“What do you mean?”
“‘Exploratory options?’ We’re alone currently, there is no need for such obfuscation. You are referring to both sexual activity and adult conversation, correct?”
“Well, yes.”
Seven shifted a little closer to Samantha, and put her hand that didn’t still have Borg tech it on Samantha’s back.
“Once we have the computer core back, I believe it would be possible to arrange some time on the holodeck. I have a list of programs that the Doctor gave me last month that-”

“Hold it,” Samantha said, putting an index finger over Seven’s lips. “Annika, why exactly did the Doctor give you those programs?”

Seven proceed to tell Samantha about what she had done after their unofficial first date; not being aware what blushing was, going to the Doctor about her concerns, everything.
“So he already knows you are attracted to me,” Samantha said.
Samantha then let a laugh loud enough that it visibly startled Seven.
“Why was that amusing to you?”
“Because it makes the conversation I had with the Doctor the day I decided to take a chance on us kind of hilarious in hindsight.”
Seven opened her mouth to say something, closed it, then sighed.
“So you’re saying that it’s likely he already knows about us,” she said.
“If he didn’t before today,” Samantha said. “he probably figured it out after your little tease about new information.”
“It would seem I have a lot to learn about keeping secrets then,” Seven said.
“On this ship? Good luck with that, honey.”

“In hindsight, perhaps it would be considered cruel to keep the Doctor waiting. Hanging by a thread is the correct expression?”
“That would be a yes on both counts. You go ahead and stay here in case Tuvok needs you for anything else, I’ll go talk to him.”
Samantha gently patted Seven on the butt before leaving, saying “And send me that list of holodeck programs!” she said as she exited the lab.

Chapter Five

Three weeks later…

“So B’Elanna, I hear you and Seven of Nine seem to be getting along better,” Commander Chakotay said as he caught up with the Chief Engineer on her way to her shift.

“In the sense that she’s a lot less pushy lately, sure,” B’Elanna said. “She still has a bad habit of just working on things without clearing them with a department head first, though. And before you say anything Chakotay, I know full well that I used to be like that too. But if I can get over that and learn to follow protocol, so can she. It’d be one thing if it were a life and death matter and she didn’t have time to go through proper channels, that I can forgive. Otherwise, it’s damn annoying.”

“You aren’t the only one who’s noticed an improvement in her behavior lately. Neelix says she occasionally joins him and Naomi on the holodeck to play in one of her fairy tale stories. And rumor has it she’s been helping Ensign Kim deal with his PTSD on the side, though both of them deny it.”

“Well, she’s certain assimi- wait, poor choice of words there. I mean she’s starting to fit in faster than I think any of us expected. And, credit where credit is due, that distraction she came up with to deal with those aliens who were invading our dreams was pretty clever. And Harry played along beautifully. If I hadn’t been standing right next to her, I’d have thought she was really kicking his ass.”

Chakotay nodded. “So,” he said. “do you think she and Harry are-”

“No way,” Torres said. “From everything I’ve been hearing on the ship’s rumor mill, Seven’s not into guys.”

Chakotay shrugged. “Well, I think transporter chief Kitrick hasn’t been seeing anyone, maybe someone should get the two of them talking-”

“Sorry to keep interrupting you there Commander, but something tells me you’d have to pry Seven of Nine’s eyes off Samantha Wildman’s butt first, if Ensign Brooks is to be believed.”

Chakotay chuckled. “Oh, so I see that rumor has evolved. First time I heard it, it was Seven being heartbroken over a dinner date going sideways. And then later someone tried to say they saw Ensign Wildman leaving astrometrics with smeared lipstick, and a huge grin on her face. I wouldn’t put too much stock in rumors B’Elanna.”

“Didn’t you just tell me a rumor that Seven was helping Harry Kim out with his psychological issues?”

Chakotay opened his mouth and raised a finger as if to offer a counterpoint, but then he just shrugged.

“Touche,” he said.

Before the conversation could continue, Seven of Nine’s voice came over Chakotay’s comm badge.
“Seven of Nine to Commander Chakotay, please report to astrometrics,” she said.
“On my way. Chakotay out.”
B’Elanna rolled her eyes.
“You, she says ‘please’ too,” she said, smirking. “Are you two dating or something?”
Chakotay laughed the loudest he had in weeks.
“Right,” he said. “like that would ever happen. Besides, if these rumors you talked about are true, you’re probably more her type than I am.”
“I’d bet five replicator rations that one of the lower deck crewmen already has that as a holodeck program.”

Seven of Nine headed towards Holodeck 1 with mixed emotions. There was the thrill of another clandestine meeting with Samantha, though she hoped that they wouldn’t have to keep their relationship a secret for much longer. There was the accomplishment at having discovered the ancient satellite network that would allow Voyager to make contact with the Alpha Quadrant. But there was also a nagging sense of dread, like something bad was about to happen. This was not a feeling she was used too, and she was already certain she didn’t like it.

Once she reached the door, she looked around carefully to make sure no one would see her go in, and tapped out a code on the panel next to it. The door slid open and she entered an empty concert hall – the Royal Albert Hall on Earth. She looked around, when she saw a lone figure up in one of the balconies.

“Sam,” Seven said, smiling. She made her way up the stairs.“Sorry I’m late. I suppose you’ve heard already.”
“About what?” Samantha said. “Oh, and by the way, thank you for agreeing to this. I felt it was time we used the holodeck for a proper date and not just, well, you know.” She winked.
“It’s amazing Sam. I look forward to whatever performance you have selected. As for the news I am referring to, I’m rather surprised it slipped past you. In astrometrics earlier today, I found an ancient, widespread relay station network. I was able to remotely access the one nearest to our present location, and through it I determined that its reach goes up to the edge of the Alpha Quadrant.”
Samantha’s eyes went wide. “Honey, I’m sure if I’d heard that I’d remember. That’s amazing! Were you able to make contact with Starfleet?”
There’s that negative feeling again, Seven thought. Why am I worried? Samantha is clearly happy about-

That was when it hit her. The Alpha Quadrant. Where Samantha’s husband was.
Seven suppressed the urge to frown. “Not directly. We tried to send a signal using modified transmitters, but they were too weak to reach a Starfleet vessel I spotted using the network. Mr. Paris suggested a stronger type of signal, one that wouldn’t degrade quite so quickly.”

“What did you decide to do? Samantha said, unable to hide her excitement, her grip on Seven’s own hands increasing slightly.
Maybe I don’t have to be so worried after all, Seven thought. It had been a few weeks since the two had begun their relationship, and Seven remembered clearly Samantha’s own words on what kind of relationship they had; “Let’s take it one day at a time.”
“A holographic data stream. It was risky, but it was our best chance. We sent the Doctor to the Starfleet vessel. We should know shortly if it was successful.”
Samantha laughed and removed her hands from Seven’s to throw her arms around her neck and give her a big kiss full on the lips.
“Oh baby, that was genius,” Samantha said.
Seven paused for a moment, then looked slightly downward.
“Actually, credit for that idea belongs to B’Elanna Torres. She’s the one who came up with the idea to send the Doctor.”
“Okay, fair enough. I’m not kissing B’Elanna though.”
“I don’t consider myself to be the jealous type Sam,” Seven said through a wry grin.

“Very funny, Annika.” After another moment of looking at each other, smiling, laughing, Seven finally got around to an earlier question she’d meant to ask.
“So, which ballet are we seeing?”
“A 2259 performance of Coppelia. I’d seen it before, in my academy days, but I’d forgotten about it until you told me that you had a dream about ballet last week.”
“I’m still not entirely sure why,” Seven said. “Perhaps I was interested in ballet before I was assimilated as a child.” Seven then made a show of extending her hand out to Samantha for her to take. “Shall we take our seats?”
“But of course my dear,” Samantha said, affecting an accent. “I thought the balcony would be best but if you prefer we could take a floor seat.”
Seven of Nine looked out over the concert hall that would soon be filled with holographic dancers, musicians, and other audience members.
“This is fine Sam,” she said.
“Computer, initiate concert,” Samantha said. In a moment all the unoccupied seats in the auditorium were filled with various humanoids in formal wear, the orchestra pit filled, and although they weren’t on stage yet Seven could see the dancers doing last minute practices backstage from her angle.
“It’ll start in a few minutes,” Samantha whispered in Seven’s ear as she put her right hand over Seven’s left, locking their fingers together. Seven smiled at her.
“I’m sure it will be an excellent performance,” she said. Samantha shifted in her seat so she could rest her head on Seven’s shoulder. It was something she’d done before, both while sitting up, and in bed, and every time it never failed to make Seven feel both happy and safe. While she was occasionally willing to be open with Naomi, Tuvok, and even Harry Kim on occasion, it was only Samantha Wildman who she let see her at her most human. The only exception was tonight, where Seven hid her concern about how Samantha would react once she knew her husband in the Alpha Quadrant would know that not only was his wife alive, but that she’d given birth to his child.
The music began, and the dancers took the stage. Seven pushed aside her thoughts and tried to focus on the concert starting right in front of her. Right as the show began, something unexpected happened.
“I love you, Annie,” Samantha said softly. It was the first time she had said that phrase to Seven. She had heard from Tom Paris among others than in many humanoid relationships, the first utterance of those first three words was a serious milestone in a relationship. Seven found herself too stunned to reply, so she simply leaned her head into Samantha’s, kissing her on the top of her head as she did so, and squeezing her hand as Samantha had done to her moments before.

Captain Janeway paced back and forth through astrometrics, getting increasingly annoyed. Not only was the Starfleet ship the Doctor had been sent to not back in range of the relay network yet despite it having been more than long enough for him to brief Starfleet on their situation, but now Seven of Nine, who was supposed to have been in this room before Janeway got here, was late.
“You’re going to wear out the carpet if you keep doing that, Captain,” B’Elanna said.
“What’s keeping her? Seven is never late.” Janeway stopped walking and tapped her comm badge, but before she could open her mouth, the door to astrometrics opened, and Seven of Nine walked in. Janeway was prepared to ask Seven why she was late, but she noticed something that stopped her in her tracks. Something about the way Seven was walking was different, more relaxed than she’d ever seen before. And there was something else.
Is she smiling? Janeway thought.
“Nice of you to finally join us, Seven,” Janeway said.
“I apologize for my tardiness, Captain,” Seven said.
“Would you care to explain why you weren’t here when you were supposed to be?” Janeway added.
“I would not. It is a personal matter.”
Janeway and Torres shared a look, as if to say to each other “Did she really just say that?” Janeway ultimately decided not to press the issue.
“We can discuss your punctuality later,” she said. “We’re simply here to ask if you had any new information on the relay network.”
“New information?” Seven said.
“You have been continuing to study it, I assume,” Torres said.
“I have gathered some new data since we sent the Doctor, yes, but nothing particularly useful to us. I can pull up that information up if you’d like to-”
A beeping noise from one of the consoles in astrometrics interrupted them.
Torres, who was closest to it looked down. “It’s an incoming transmission.”

“Is it the Doctor?” Janeway said.
“Negative,” Torres said as Seven moved next to her to look as well. “The Starfleet vessel still hasn’t reappeared. It’s coming in along the relay though. And it’s visual.”

“Put it on screen,” Janeway said.

A humanoid alien’s image appeared on the lab’s viewscreen, wearing an armored helmet and an armored mask that covered its nose and mouth.
“Identify yourselves!” it shouted.

“I’m Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation starship Voyager. To whom am I speaking?”
“You are using our technology!” the alien said.
“You mean the sensor network?” Janeway said. “We thought that it was abandoned.”

“It belongs to the Hirogen. Terminate your link!”
“No, wait please-” Torres started to say, but the screen returned to the map of the network.
“The link has been severed,” Seven said.
“Can you get it back?” Janeway said.
“I can try. Lieutenant, would you be willing to assist me?”
Torres looked dumbfounded for a second. “I- yes of course.”
“Do whatever it takes, both of you.” Janeway said.

Samantha Wildman double checked to make sure no one could see her, then quickly stepped up to the door to the astrometrics lab, carrying a bottle of a drink called root beer that she wanted Seven of Nine to try, as well as a container of soup and two spoons from the mess hall.
“Sorry I’m late An-B’Elanna! I, um. Hi? I didn’t know you were going to be here.”
B’Elanna Torres and Seven were both working on one of the lab’s consoles, but had turned to face her when she entered. Torres started to chuckle.
“Ha! I knew it,” she said. “Brooks wouldn’t lie to me. She’s terrible at it.”
“Lieutenant,” Seven said. “you would be better served by helping me boost the signal gain. Samantha, I apologize, but we ran into a complication with the abandoned sensor net.”
Samantha couldn’t see her own face, but she was certain she was turning red.
“Right. Well, I just, you know, wanted to make sure my daughter’s friend was eating properly. I heard Neelix say-”
“Sam, she’s not buying it,” Seven said.
“Oh, you two are just adorable,” Torres said.
“The signal gain, Lieutenant?” Seven said, a bit more forcefully this time.
“Right. I think with just a little more, we can cut through the jamming signal.”
Jamming signal? Samantha thought.

“I warned you,” a staticky voice said. Samantha glanced up and saw a black masked alien’s image on the screen.
“Let me explain,” B’Elanna said.
“No explanations.”
“We’re lost here, in this quadrant,” B’Elanna said. “This network is the only chance we’ve had to contact home, to let our people know we’re alive. We’re just waiting on a confirmation they received our message. Once we have it, we’ll be on our way.”
“All messages will be intercepted,” the alien said, looking down. Samantha heard a noise much like those Starfleet consoles made when they were in use.
“He’s trying to jam the link again,” Seven said. Suddenly, the alien on the screen screamed in pain as electricity exploded from his console, striking him in the face and chest.
“What the hell?” B’Elanna said. “Seven, did you do that?”
“It was clear the Hirogen wasn’t going to listen to reason,” Seven said. “so I sent a feedback surge along the link.”

“Annie,” Samantha said. “You didn’t kill him, did you?”
“It was a mild shock. He will recover.”
“’Annie’, huh?” B’Elanna said. “Well, the captain’s not going to be too happy about that but between you and me, good work.”
“Thank you. And, please, do not call that me that,” Seven said. B’Elanna looked at Seven, then at Samantha, then back at Seven.
“Okay, I get it. That’s your thing. I can respect that. I’ll go inform the captain about the situation. Keep an eye out for a message from the Doctor.”
“Understood,” Seven said.
B’Elanna started to walk past Samantha when the latter quickly grabbed the former’s forearm.
“B’Elanna, I like you, I respect you, and I know you outrank me, but do me favor. Just keep in mind what my girlfriend was able to do with a sensor link if you feel like blabbing to anyone about us. If we decide to share, we’ll do that on our terms. Okay?”
“Okay, okay. Far as the captain is concerned you weren’t here,” B’Elanna said, adding, “You could’ve just asked me nicely you know,” as she left.

Samantha sighed as she carried her beverage and food over to Seven.
“Remember what I said about it being hard to keep a secret on this ship?” she said.

The next morning, B’Elanna returned to the astrometrics lab to see Seven of Nine already there.
“Did you get a good night’s regeneration?” she said.
“I’m uncertain what a bad regeneration cycle would be,” Seven said without looking up from her console, “but, yes. Also, I wanted to say ‘thank you.’ Judging by the lack of inappropriate questions and innuendos on my way to the lab this morning, I can only conclude that you did not tell anyone about my relationship with Ensign Wildman.”

B’Elanna was about to say it wasn’t a big deal, that she understood what it was like to want to keep a relationship secret during its early stages, but a noise distracted her.
“We are receiving a signal through the sensor network,” Seven said.

B’Elanna tapped a few buttons on another console.
“Its origin is the Alpha Quadrant,” she said. “And it contains a holographic subroutine! He did it! Transfer it to sick bay and inform the captain.”
“I will do so,” Seven said. B’Elanna turned to make for the exit.
“Lieutenant?” Seven said.
“Congratulations. Your plan to send the Doctor was risky, but it paid off.”
“Thanks, Seven. I have to tell you, 60,000 light years doesn’t seem like such a long distance all of a sudden.”

Seven of Nine woke up to see Samantha seated by the viewport, looking out at the streaks of light as Voyager cruised along at warp. She looked at a nearby chronometer and saw that both of them were awake far earlier than they needed to be.
“Is something wrong Sam?” Seven said.
“Hmm?” Samantha said. “Oh, sorry, did I wake you when I got up?”
“I don’t believe so,” Seven said. “How long ago did you wake up?”
“A few minutes maybe, I wasn’t paying that much attention.”
“You would appear to be contemplative. Am I correct in assuming this relates to the Doctor’s return from the Alpha Quadrant?”
“Good guess,” Samantha said. She was silent for several moments after saying that. Seven was unsure if she should say something, but the silence was neither awkward or uncomfortable, so she decided to let Samantha talk to her about what she was thinking if and when she was ready.
“I was thinking about my husband, back home. I imagine finding out that I’m still alive was a shock, never mind what finding out he had a child did to him.”
“A mixture of emotions, most likely,” Seven said. “Shock, happiness, sadness, among others.”
“Sounds about right,” Samantha said. She got up and moved back to her bed, where Seven was now sitting upright.
“Annie, tell me something. Do you think I’m being selfish in hoping that he’s already moved on, found someone else?”
“I don’t know,” Seven said. “The decision of choosing whether or not to pursue another relationship after the death, or assumed death as the case may be, of a partner is not something I have any experience in. I do know however, that the grieving process is different for all sentient beings. As I’ve never met Greskrendtregk, I do not how he would have handled his loss.”

“I hope he has. Or does. Let’s face it, even though Starfleet knows we’re alive, it’s still not likely that most of us on the ship will ever see our loved ones back home again. Maybe I am being selfish, just trying to justify what I have going with you to myself, but how could I ever ask him to wait for me, especially for what could be sixty years?”
Seven thought about it for a moment, then simply sighed and shrugged as she reached out a hand to touch Samantha’s cheek. “I’m afraid I’m not qualified to answer that question.”

“Sometimes I think you might be too forgiving, Annika,” Samantha said.
“If that is the case, you may be the only person on this ship who thinks so.”
The two women kissed briefly. Samantha looked at the chronometer herself and sighed.
“No point in going back to sleep,” she said. “I need to pick up Naomi from Neelix’s quarters in about an hour.”
“What reason did you give him?” Seven said.
“Some excuse about needing some ‘me time.’ I don’t think he bought it though. He’s probably figured out by now that I’m seeing someone, if not who.”
“I suppose that means now is as good as any to discuss if we should continue keeping our relationship a secret,” Seven said. “I assume that since we did not take separate routes to your quarters last night that we no longer are.”
“I actually didn’t even think about it last night to be honest. But since you mention it, yeah, I’m not interested in keeping it a secret anymore. It was easier when I thought that maybe this was just a sexual thing but now that I know we’re serious…” Samantha trailed off.
Seven shifted closer to her on the bed.
“What’s our next step?” she said.

Samantha leaned back, reaching for her uniform to pick it up off the floor. “I think,” she said. “That we just stop trying to hide it, and let the chips fall where they may. I’m sure once a few of the less discreet crewmembers see us together it won’t take long. Now I’m kinda wishing I hadn’t told B’Elanna to keep quiet.”
“An even faster method would be to simply tell Neelix. The whole ship will know before shift change.”
Samantha laughed, but shook her head.
“You’re not wrong,” she said, running her fingers through Seven’s hair. “But he’s been getting better about that lately. Let’s not interfere with his personal growth.”

Seven smiled. “I imagine if we did, the whole crew would hold it against us,” she said. She found that she was staring at Samantha’s lips. “You said an hour, right?”
Samantha smiled. “Why, I believe I did.”

Naomi Wildman went up to the door to her quarters, but found they were locked, like they usually were when her mom and Seven of Nine were having “grownup time,” so she shrugged, and took out the PADD that had a book she’d been reading and sat down, leaning against the wall, waiting for them to finish. Neelix had said to her when she left his quarters that leaving early might mean that her mother might not be awake yet, but Naomi had said it was okay.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been sitting when the Captain walked by, but as soon as she noticed she stood up and saluted. “Good morning Captain,” Naomi said, trying her best to have the inflection of a proper officer, something she wanted to be some day.
“Good morning to you too, Naomi,” Janeway said, smiling and returning the salute. “May I ask why are you sitting outside your quarters?”

“‘Cause Mom and Seven are having some grownup time,” Naomi said. As soon as the words left her mouth, she realized she’d made a mistake. Her mother had told her that she didn’t want anyone to know, at least not yet, that Seven of Nine was Mom’s girlfriend now, and here she was, blabbing about it to the Captain.
“Oh no, I wasn’t supposed to say anything,” Naomi said, her face feeling hot all of a sudden. “Captain, please don’t tell anyone I told you. Mom might get mad.”
Captain Janeway’s mouth was hanging open, and her eyes wide. Naomi hadn’t yet mastered the art of reading facial expressions, something that the Doctor had offered to teach her, but she was pretty sure Janeway was confused at what she had just heard.
“I, um, I promise. Of course.” Janeway was suddenly acting the way that people tended to act when they were trying not to laugh. “Carry on Ms. Wildman,” Janeway said as she started to walk away. Naomi breathed a sigh of relief.
That was close, she thought. Then the door opened.
“Oh, Captain,” Naomi heard Seven of Nine say. Seven, standing in the doorway, was in her usual brown jumpsuit, but her hair was loose, and she looked a little sweaty for some reason.
“Seven,” Captain Janeway said. The silence that followed made Naomi feel uncomfortable.
“Captain,” Seven said, “if you were looking for Sam- for Ensign Wildman she’s, um, currently in the sonic shower.”
“No,” the Captain said, smiling now. “I was just passing by, and stopped to talk to Naomi. She was just out here, reading.”
“Good morning Seven,” Naomi said. Seven looked down at her as if realizing she was there for the first time.
“Naomi, I was led to believe that your mother would be picking you up from Mr. Neelix later this morning.”
“I know,” Naomi said, feeling embarrassed. “but I woke up early.”
“I see,” Seven said. “It is likely that you will be reprimanded for wandering the ship unsupervised.”
“Seven,” Janeway said, stepping forward and putting a hand on Seven’s shoulder. “just so you know, I am perfectly capable of being discreet if you-”
“Actually, Captain,” Seven said, smiling herself now, in the way that Naomi only ever saw her do when she was in their quarters. “since you mention it, I can inform you that that is no longer necessary.”
“I see,” Janeway said. “Well, congratulations on your first foray into human relationships, Seven. I’ll see you later.”

“Thank you, Captain.” Janeway politely nodded at both Seven and Naomi before heading down the corridor. Naomi tapped Seven on the hip to get her attention.
“Yes?” Seven said.
“So, I don’t have to keep it a secret anymore? About you and Mom I mean?”
“That is correct,” Seven said. Naomi smiled, and hugged Seven of Nine as hard as she could.
“Yay!” she said.

Captain Janeway exited the turbolift onto the bridge, still smiling. There were any number of ways that Voyager’s ex-Borg crewmate being in a romantic entanglement could be a problem, but she didn’t want to think about any of those at the moment. Right now, she wanted to enjoy the fact that Seven of Nine, after less than a year, was already starting to become part of the Voyager family.
“Captain?” Commander Chakotay said as Janeway took the captain’s chair.
“Yes, Commander?”

“I can’t help but notice you seem rather chipper this morning.”
“‘Chipper’? Since when do you use the word ‘chipper’?” Janeway said.

“It’s just that it’s not that often I see you walk onto the bridge looking happy,” Chakotay said. “It looks good on you.”

“Thank you, Commander. But since you mention it, I am in a rather good mood today. I learned that our newest crewmate is really growing up.”
Chakotay’s head tilted slightly.
“Seven of Nine? I thought she was going to be in her alcove until 1300 hours today.”
“Nope,” Janeway said. “Mister Paris, what’s our current speed?”
“Holding steady at Warp 7, Captain.”
“Well?” Chakotay said.
“‘Well‘ what?” Janeway said.
“Don’t leave me hanging here, Captain. What has Seven of Nine done that’s got you convinced she’s finally adjusting to life on Voyager?”
Should I tell him? Janeway thought. Seven said they weren’t keeping it a secret anymore, but still.
“I’ll put it this way, Chakotay,” Janeway said, leaning over slightly and lowering her voice so that only he could hear it since Tuvok and his superior hearing were not on the bridge yet. “Remember that conversation we had a few weeks ago, regarding rumors about Seven and Ensign Wildman? They’re not rumors anymore.”

“Really? How did you find out?”
“Well, first Naomi accidentally let it slip, then I just happened to run into Seven as she was leaving Samantha’s quarters, and she confirmed it, in her own Seven of Nine sort of way of course.”

“So, how are going to handle this?”
“The same way we do every other relationship on board. So long as it doesn’t affect performance or ship safety, we just let it go,” Janeway said, smiling. “Looking the other way is a proud tradition amongst Starfleet captains, you know.”
“Given how rarely they’re enforced one can’t help but wonder why Starfleet ever kept the regs against fraternizing to being with.”

Janeway thought about it for a moment, then shrugged. “I admit, I haven’t given it much thought. Maybe I’d be stricter about it if we were still in the Alpha Quadrant where I could easily kick off a crewmember who was a problem. Still, Seven of Nine isn’t a child, and Samantha Wildman isn’t reckless, I think those two just might-”
“Captain, we’re receiving a transmission,” Harry Kim said. “Audio only.”
“Let’s hear it,” Janeway said.

The audio was garbled badly, but Janeway could make a few keywords; Starfleet Command being the ones that got her attention.
“Try to clear that up, Harry,” she said.
“I’m trying, Captain,” he said.
“Is it coming through the relay network?”

“Affirmative. I think I can, wait, got it.”
“This is Starfleet Command to the U.S.S. Voyager,” the still static filled but much clearer message said. “If you are receiving this message, please study it carefully. We have information th-” the message fizzled out. Janeway, standing now, turned to face Harry Kim but he spoke up before she could ask him the obvious question.
“That’s all we got,” he said. “It looks like the bulk of the transmission is lodged in one of the relay stations.”
“Can you tell which one?”
“Yes. It’s about 3.8 light years away, on a heading of 274 Mark 13.”
“Course already plotted, Captain,” Tom Paris said from the helm.
“Mr. Tuvok,” Chakotay said, “Full sensor scans. We don’t know what Hirogen ships look like, but given how they responded to the last time we used one of their relays they didn’t appreciate it.”
“Understood, Commander,” Tuvok said.


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