A Fire of Devotion: Part 1 of 4: Louder Than Sirens: Prologue & Chapter One


Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix 01, was afraid, though she would never admit it. With so much of her Borg implants already gone, and the Federation starship Voyager’s emergency medical hologram promising to remove more, and with the singular voice of the many drones of the collective gone from her she was truly alone in a way she had only been once before, for a few hours before the link was re-established. This was different. This was worse.

She had to get back, somehow. She didn’t know how yet, but she knew that what she was doing now might provide an opportunity, though she would have to be careful. The human designated Ensign Kim was escorting her to engineering, and they were entering a turbolift. Another human was there. Female.
“Oh, hello,” the female said.
“Ensign Wildman,” Kim said. “Meet our newest crew member, Seven of Nine.”
Seven stayed silent, though she had to admit, she found it fascinating that unlike so many of the other sentient beings on the ship, this human did not show any signs of fear in her presence. No dilated pupils, heartbeat only somewhat accelerated.
She will be assimilated once I have contacted the Borg, Seven thought. She must know this is likely. Why is she not afraid?
“Hi there,” the one designated Ensign Wildman said. “I heard about your situation. I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” Ensign Kim said. “For what? Rescuing her from the Borg? She’s a fellow human, Sam.”
“Harry, please, don’t interrupt,” Ensign Wildman said, turning back to face Seven of Nine again. “How long were you in the collective?”
“Approximately eighteen Earth years,” Seven said. “Including my time spent in a maturation chamber. What is the purpose of this inquiry?”
“How old were you?”
“I do not understand.”
“How old were you when the Borg assimilated you?”
Seven paused. She knew the answer of course, she was just surprised that anyone on this ship was making the effort to treat her as something other than an injured child.

“Eight,” she said.
“Look, I don’t like the Borg or what they stand for. I lost an uncle at Wolf 359. But the fact is they are all you’ve known for most of your life. And I know for a fact you didn’t ask anyone to separate you from them.”
“That is accurate,” Seven said. “I do not know how to properly respond to your compassion, Ensign Wildman. It is, unexpected.”

“Whatever happens,” Ensign Wildman said, “whether you stay with us, or decide to go back to the collective, just know that at least one person on this ship respects that. I admire Captain Janeway a great deal, but I think this was a questionable decision.”
Seven saw in her peripheral vision that Ensign Kim seemed to have difficulty processing what was happening there in the entryway to one of Voyager’s turbolifts.

“Ensign Kim,” Seven said. “We have a task to perform.”
“Right. yeah. Let’s get going,” he said, shaking his head.
As the human designated Ensign Wildman, whom Ensign Kim had also called “Sam,” walked away, Seven of Nine, for 1/18ths of a second, considered not trying to return to the collective, though she could not place why.

Chapter One

“Hi Seven,” Naomi Wildman said as she entered the cargo bay where Voyager’s newest crewmember, the former Borg who still called herself Seven of Nine, kept her alcove.

“Hello,” Seven said, not looking at the child as she continued to make notes on her PADD for the in-progress upgrade to the ship’s astrometrics lab that she was working on with Harry Kim. She found that she tolerated the presence of the half-Human, half-Ktarian more than most of the other sentients aboard the ship. It wasn’t that the child didn’t ask the same kind of personal, occasionally invasive question as the adults. She did, and often. However, unlike them, Naomi’s questions came from a place of childhood innocence, while the others were old enough to understand the concept of privacy (and certainly demanded it for themselves), yet chose to ask her anyway.

It took Seven a moment to realize that Naomi had not come in alone.

“So, Seven,” the ship’s chief xenobiologist, and Naomi’s mother, Samantha said. It was obvious that Ensign Wildman was not particularly comfortable being around her, and she could not hold it against her. It had only been about a week since she had assaulted a number of the crew, and stolen a shuttle. Seven was honestly surprised at how few people on the crew seemed to resent her for her actions, even those she had outright assaulted.

They had in fact, for the most part, seemed to have forgiven her, due in large part to the fact that her outburst had been triggered in part by Voyager coming across the shockingly still functioning distress beacon of the Raven, the ship that she and her parents had been on when the Borg assimilated them nearly 20 years prior. And while she did harbor some desire to return to the comfort of being a drone and not having to make decisions on her own from time to time, that urge was slowly fading. She doubted she would ever forgive Captain Janeway for having forcibly removed her from the Collective, but she was an individual now, and she would do as a human what she did as a Borg; adapt.

“Ensign Wildman,” Seven said. “I assume you are here out of concern for your daughter.”

“Very perceptive,” Samantha said. “I couldn’t help but notice she’s been spending a lot of time with you lately. Which is kind of a surprise, since I recall her actually being a bit scared of you when you first came on board.”
“Mom!” Naomi said, looking offended.
“I remember that as well,” Seven said. “It was understandable, given the circumstances. I’m not offended by it in the slightest.

“As for her spending time with me, she is simply curious. No more so than anyone else on the ship, but less…” Seven paused, searching for the right word to use. “Obnoxious.” Naomi giggled at that response, and even Ensign Wildman was barely able to repress a smirk. Seven was rather surprised to discover that seeing that smile pleased her. “If this is in regards to my actions involving Lieutenant Commander Tuvok and the remains of my parent’s starship, I can assure you your child is in no danger around me. However, being her parent if you feel it is in her best interests that we no longer-”

“Hold up, stop. You’re getting way out ahead of me here,” Samantha said, holding up her hands. “Yes, you’re right, I do have my concerns.”

“But she came back Mom,” Naomi said. “That means she part of the crew now.”

“Sweetie, please don’t interrupt, it’s rude.”

“May I ask why you are here then, if not to ask me to not speak with Naomi?” Seven said, trying to keep her tone level, not wanting to come across as insulting Naomi’s mother. She normally had no such concerns with the rest of the crew, but when she thought about Samantha she always flashed back to the first time she had encountered her. The Doctor had not yet removed the bulk of Seven’s Borg implants so her appearance had made a number of the crew feel visibly uncomfortable. Except for Ensign Wildman, whom Seven had chanced to see on the turbolift while she was headed to engineering with Ensign Harry Kim.

“I’m invoking a parental privilege,” Samantha said, snapping Seven out of her memories.
“At your earliest convenience, I want you to come to our quarters for dinner. I want a chance to talk with you myself. Then, and only then, will I decide whether or not I will continue to allow my daughter to spend time with you.”

“Mom!” Naomi said, pouting, clearly upset at what her mother was saying. Seven of Nine found herself emotionally moved by this. She was not used to having human emotions, despite being human herself, because of how long she’d gone without them, so while she didn’t have the right words to describe what she was feeling now, she knew that she didn’t like seeing Naomi upset. I shall have to speak to the Doctor about this, she thought. Becoming overly protective of a child that is not mine could interfere with my duties down the line if this is not dealt with.

“That is perfectly reasonable,” Seven said. She tapped a few buttons on her PADD. “I have sent a selection of times I will be available to your quarters. Inform me when you have selected one.”

Samantha was silent for a moment. “Alright then. That… went smoother than I expected. Do you have any preferences with regards to food, or drink? Any allergies?”

“I do not that I am aware of,” Seven said. “However I will consult with the Doctor in case there are any types of food or beverage that could cause a reaction with my implants.”

“Can Neelix cook for us?” Naomi said.

“No sweetie. In fact, you’ll be staying with him while I’m talking to Seven.”

“But Mom-”

“I told you, Naomi, I want to talk with her privately. Okay?”

Naomi pouted again, looking down at the floor. “Okay,” she said. It was the most childlike Seven had seen Naomi act to date. While she was certainly very mature for her age, due largely in part to her mixed parentage, even Seven of Nine found herself forgetting that Naomi was still not even 3 Earth years old yet.
Seven briefly considered making light of the coincidence of her attacking Neelix in the mess hall and stealing the shuttle having happened after eating food that Neelix had prepared for her, but ultimately decided that it would be in poor taste. For someone who usually learned things quickly, her difficulty in grasping humor was a source of minor frustration.

“Thanks for being so understanding, Seven,” Samantha said. Seven nodded.
“I am not a parent myself obviously,” Seven said. “But were I in your position I’d have likely done the same thing.”
Samantha offered her hand out. It was a gesture Seven recognized, called a handshake. Once their hands touched something unusual happened. Seven found that unlike with other crewmembers who she’d had to do this with at other points since joining the crew, it didn’t feel forced and done for the sake of politeness. For reasons she couldn’t quite grasp she found that she was more than willing to have Samantha Wildman’s hand in her’s. Though it did fit somewhat all the other new and unusual feelings that the Wildman family in general seemed to bring out of her.
“I’ll see you soon then,” Samantha said.

After a moment, both of the Wildmans turned around to leave, Samantha taking Naomi’s hand in hers as they walked away, the latter still trying to convince the former to allow her to attend the as yet unscheduled dinner.
As they left, Seven of Nine found herself watching Samantha Wildman’s lower backside as she exited the cargo bay, in much the same way she had caught a number of the crew looking at her own when they thought she wouldn’t notice.

Odd, she thought. Perhaps I should discuss this with the Doctor as well.

Commander Chakotay’s focus was divided. The bulk of his attention was on the planned data collection operation of the twin binary pulsars that Voyager had come across, but the rest of it was concern for the Captain. Kathryn Janeway would never admit it, but he knew her well enough to know that something was wrong. She’d told him about her headaches, but her silent anger during the staff meeting not too long ago left him concerned that something more was going on. He just wished she’d tell him what was wrong, even if it were there was nothing he could actually do to help.

As soon as he got to his quarters after the staff meeting, he sat down and began preparations for the operation. It certainly was an astonishing phenomenon outside the ship. The extent of the combined gravitational pull of the pulsars meant that anything within fifty million kilometers was getting pulled in and destroyed; the binary was as stunning to look at as it was dangerous to be near, even if Tom Paris was doing a perfectly fine job of keeping Voyager at a safe distance.

The longer he worked on the project though, the more distracted he found himself. Not only worrying about Kathryn, but also for some reason going back and forth between the data collection, and re-reading the logs of the old U.S.S. Excelsior under Captain Sulu, a thing he would sometimes do in his spare time. After a few hours of this, tired, and having trouble focusing, but still needing to get his work done, he stood up.
“Computer, hot coffee. Black,” he said. The replicator quickly had a cup ready for him, and he picked it up, immediately taking a sip. Suddenly, he felt a stabbing pain, causing him to drop the cup. He looked at his hands and saw they were shaking. He went into his bathroom and ran some water into the sink. Using it to wash his face, he passed his hand through his hair. He glanced downward, and noticed some of his hair in the sink.

He looked into the mirror, and ran his hands through his hair again, shocked as it came off, painlessly, in clumps, leaving his scalp exposed.

“So, like a date?” Harry Kim said.

Samantha Wildman didn’t say anything, just stared at him in disbelief.

“Really, Harry?” Tom Paris said. The three of them, along with chief engineer B’Elanna Torres and assistant chief engineer Joe Carey all sat at the same table in the mess hall. Samantha had just finished telling them about her talk with Seven of Nine in the cargo bay earlier that day, and about why she’d invited the former Borg to her quarters for either tonight or tomorrow, depending on availability.

“I was being sarcastic, Tom,” Harry said.

“Uh-huh, sure.”

“I don’t know, I could see it,” B’Elanna said, smirking behind her cup of coffee.

“I’m married!” Samantha said defensively. “And besides, I already told you why I’m doing this. I’m just looking out for my kid here, what’s so bad about that?”

“Absolutely nothing,” Carey said. “As a father, I can totally relate. If my sons were here on this ship right now, I’d do the same thing.”

“I think Harry is just jealous,” Tom said, nudging his friend in the elbow as he said so.

“Okay, yes, I think she’s pretty. So what?” Harry said.

“But she already said no as I recall,” B’Elanna said.

“Not in those exact words, but yes. And I’m respecting that,” Harry said. “I’d have to be a complete ass to try and pursue someone who’s already made their disinterest clear.”

“Good for you, Harry,” Carey said. “And don’t let anyone tell you any different.”

“So, moving on from teasing Harry…” Tom said.

“Thank god,” Harry muttered.

“…what exactly are you gonna talk to Seven about, Sam? I mean, in your mind what could she say to make you easy with her hanging out with Naomi?”

Samantha thought about it for a moment, then sighed. “I don’t know yet. It’s not like there’s a checklist. If a paper has been written on the subject of ‘what to do if your child makes friends with a Borg,’ I haven’t found it.”

“Show of hands; who else besides me thinks that would make for an amusing holonovel?” Harry said. B’Elanna raised hers. Carey just shook his head. Tom pondered the thought for a moment before speaking.

“Nah, I don’t think that would sell. Too soon. I mean, Wolf 359 was only eight years ago.”

“Wow, Tom,” B’Elanna said. “That’s a little dark coming from you.”

“Just calling it like I see it.”

“I believe that phrase is code for ‘I felt like being a jerk for a moment,’” B’Elanna said, laughing.

The five crewmates continued their meals, discussing other topics, such as the binary pulsar, until the time came for all of them to return to their duties, save Carey for whom this had been dinner before it was time for him to get some sleep. As they left the mess hall, and once both Tom and B’Elanna were out of earshot, Samantha took Harry Kim aside.

“Harry, if you don’t mind my asking, when you, to put it bluntly, hit on Seven, did she at any point give any hint about what her… preferences might be?”

“Um, no. Why?”

“It’s just that, well,” she looked around to see if anyone else was coming up the hallway. “Maybe I just imagined it, but I think Seven might’ve been checking me out when I left her earlier today. After I invited her to my quarters.”

“Oh,” Harry said, his expression one of obvious surprise. “Well, hopefully she didn’t get the wrong idea. I mean, unless you-”

“Oh, no, no no no. I mean she is quite pretty, like you said. Kind of reminds me of one of my pre-Academy girlfriends in fact. But that’s not why I-”

“Hey, you don’t need to convince me. I believe you. But, I also know that much like everyone else on this ship with partners back home, it’s been almost four years with not much in the way of hope of us all getting home alive. And as far as our loved ones are concerned, we’re all probably dead.”

“What are you trying to say, Harry?”

“I’m saying that if, if, you found yourself interested in Seven of Nine, and the feeling was reciprocated, I don’t think anyone would hold it against you if you pursued it. You never know what could come of it. I mean, look at the relationship that Tom and B’Elanna seem to think we don’t all already know about.”

Samantha Wildman chuckled, then sighed. “I think I’ll just worry about making sure my daughter is safe around her for the time being.”

“You do that. I need to get back to the bridge. You?”

“Same here.”

Harry Kim nodded, and started walking towards the turbolift. Samantha sighed. “If you’d told me this morning that a former Borg drone was going to be checking out my ass, I’d have been very skeptical,” she muttered. She started to follow Harry, but suddenly, out of nowhere, she felt a searing pain in her left leg. “Gah, the hell?”

“You okay Sam?” Harry said, holding the turbolift door for her. Sam was about to say she was, when the pain got worse, and that same leg suddenly locked in place, refusing to move at all. She started to fall over, but Harry leapt out and caught her.

“Harry, get me to sickbay, please.” Tears were forming in her eyes.

“On it,” Harry said.

When the sickbay door opened, the Emergency Medical Hologram looked at them, moving away from the foot of the bed where Commander Chakotay was lying and towards them, medical tricorder in hand.

“Ensign Kim, Ensign Wildman, which one of you is experiencing symptoms?” he said.

“That would be me,” Samantha said, wincing through the pain.

“Doc, is something happening to the rest of the crew?” Harry said. “I haven’t heard about anyone else-” Harry stopped when he saw Chakotay’s face. “Commander, what happened?”

“Commander Chakotay has experienced sudden, accelerated aging,” The Doctor said as he began scanning Samantha Wildman’s leg with a medical tricorder. “The Captain just left before you got here. She has been complaining of migraines, but I can’t convince her to accept treatment. At first I thought it was just stress, but then I started getting reports from all over the ship, everything ranging from minor inconveniences to potentially life-threatening injuries. All just coming from nowhere, with no pattern whatsoever. Far too random to be a virus. Have we passed through any anomalies, or nebulas in the past few hours? Only bad things ever seem to happen in nebulas whenever we come across them.”

“We were going to take a look at a nearby pair of binary pulsars,” Harry said.

“Hmm,” the Doctor said. “I doubt that could have anything to do with it, but I don’t want to rule it out either. I got the captain’s permission to set up an electron resonance scanner in the science lab to look at the Commander’s DNA more closely. Hopefully, that will help me figure out just what the hell is going on.”

“Chell to sickbay,” a panicked voice came over the comm system “we need an emergency transport from the mess hall. Neelix just collapsed!”

“Understood,” the Doctor said. He tapped his combadge one more time. “Lieutenant Paris to sickbay. I’m going to need your help. We have more patients coming in.”

“On my way, Doc,” Paris’s voice replied.

B’Elanna Torres had just completed the installation of the resonance scanner when the Doctor entered the science lab, samples in hand.

“Is it ready?” he said.

“It’s ready, Doctor. Let’s get to work.”

“Of course. I had to leave Mr. Paris in charge of sickbay while I’m doing this, and while he has shown some aptitude in regards to first aid, I would prefer to get back there as soon as possible.”

The Doctor inserted Chakotay’s DNA into the scanner first.

“Okay,” he said. “Here we go, and… Huh. That’s odd. It looks like a series of black lines on the base pair sequences.”

Torres took a look herself, and recognized it.

“Barcodes,” she said. “They look like 20th century barcodes.”

“Interesting,” the Doctor said. He scanned another sample. “Neelix’s DNA is tagged as well. It is a logical hypothesis that these tags are causing their condition, somehow.”

“I don’t think that’s how barcodes work,” Torres said. “but then again whatever these things are may just look like them. Let me do a deeper scan.”
She took Chakotay’s sample over to another console for a compositional analysis.
“I’m having trouble getting a clear reading from this sample,” she said. “It almost looks like the barcode is slightly out of phase.”
“Ah ha! We have a clue, Ms. Torres. The tags are emitting a signal. A very weak signal, but I’m willing to be that if we run a scan for possible receptors using the ship’s internal scanners we can find out who is responsible for-”

Suddenly, the Doctor’s holographic form began to waver.

“That can’t be good,” Torres said, starting to check his mobile emitter “Oh crap, someone’s trying to delete your program. I’m going to transfer you back to sickba-AAGH!” Without any warning, Torres screamed, began having trouble breathing, and collapsed. The Doctor tapped his comm badge.

“EMH to the bridge! I need a-” the Doctor said, before disappearing.

“Seven, can you hear me?” the Doctor said. Seven of Nine looked up, trying to determine where his voice was coming from. It clearly wasn’t from her comm badge or the ship’s speakers, but she couldn’t see him anywhere either.

“Don’t respond if you can, just come to Holodeck 2 where Captain Janeway’s Da Vinci program is currently running. Quickly. I can explain once you’re here.” It was only then that she realized that the Doctor was somehow broadcasting his voice directly into her ears by way of her audio implants. Looking around, she noticed that no one was paying any attention to her as she moved down one of Voyager’s many hallways. Many of them seemed dazed, or in pain, and those that weren’t were talking to or aiding those that were.

Just like the Commander and Mr. Neelix, she thought, having been in sickbay earlier to discuss the disappearance of the Doctor earlier with Ensign Kim. And just like Samantha.

With that last thought, she quickened her pace as she made her way to the Holodeck. Once she was in, she found the Doctor, wearing period garb and painting at a canvas in front of a group of similarly dressed young men, presumably students.

“Doctor?” she said, not bothering to hide her confusion at the situation.

“Seven, good. We have a problem. Short version, someone or something is making random crew members sick, some of them severely, possibly fatally. Whoever they were tried to delete my program. I had to transfer myself here to hide. My mobile emitter is still in sickbay, so I’m stuck here. I’ll need your help.”

“What do you need me to do?” Seven asked without hesitation.

“First off, what has happened since I disappeared?”

“Engineer Torres is in critical condition. Mr. Paris reports that her lungs suddenly ceased to process oxygen, but they were able to get her to sickbay in time to prevent her death. The Captain is showing visible signs of extreme fatigue. Mr. Kim believes that you were attempting to transfer your program back to sickbay when something went wrong.”

“He’s partly right,” the Doctor said. “B’Elanna was actually trying to do that when my mobile emitter went haywire. I think it was being sabotaged.”

“By whom?” Seven said.

“Most likely whoever is deliberately causing the genetic alterations that are afflicting the crew. Why this is being done, I have no idea. But Torres and I were getting close to finding the culprit, I’m sure of it.” He repeated everything he and Torres had learned from the resonance scanner before her collapse and his disappearance.

“It’s likely that communications are being monitored,” Seven said. “If this accusation is true, how am I going to find the responsible party?”

“I have an idea about that, but I’ll need permission to modify your ocular implant.”

“You believe you can modify it to scan visually on the frequency the genetic tags are transmitting on?”

“I do, yes. It’s a phase variance on 1.5.”

“Very well then. Do what you need to.”

The Doctor had the holodeck replicate the necessary tool to adjust Seven’s ocular implant. “Do you see anything that might be generating a signal in this room?”
Seven looked around, slowly and carefully.
“I do not.”
“Good. One room down, 256 to go. I suggest a deck-by-deck search. If you need to contact me, do so on frequency Epsilon 2. I’ve isolated it from the rest of the ship, so it should be safe.”
“Understood.” Seven immediately turned to exit the holodeck.

It did not take long after she left it to start seeing evidence of what the Doctor was talking about. It was more than just the tags on people’s DNAs. On one crewman she passed, she saw a grotesque-looking device on his head, with tubes going up both his nostrils. He nodded at her pleasantly, apparently completely oblivious to the device. As he continued on down the corridor past her, she saw a brown-robed humanoid alien, who passed and monitored the crewmember with a tricorder-like device.
Seven attempted to follow the alien while giving no indication that she was aware of its presence, eventually passing it to board a nearby turbolift. The alien got on with her, and proceeded to stick a large metal probe into her chest. Not wanting to give herself away, Seven started thinking about other things in order to remain calm despite the disturbing site in front of her; Naomi’s childish attempts at humor, Harry Kim’s awkward flirting, Samantha’s smile.

Once the turbolift doors opened again, the alien removed the device. Seven stepped off and continued down the corridor of another deck. As she did so, more and more crewmembers would go past her on their own way, or she would pass them as they stood. Some of them had devices on them, others did not but were being scanned by other similarly dressed aliens. Either way, all were completely unaware of what was happening.

Seven entered the mess hall and found that most of those present had devices on them. Naturally, more brown-robed aliens attended to the devices, taking readings and adjusting the devices as they went about. The devices were attached to various body parts: head, shoulders, necks, backs, legs, etc. Again giving no indication that she was seeing anything out of the ordinary, Seven went behind Neelix’s counter and pretended to pour herself a cup of coffee.

“Seven of Nine to the Doctor,” she said quietly. “The aliens are here on the ship. I see them everywhere.”

“I was afraid of that. You’ll need to inform the captain immediately.”
Seven spared a quick glance over her shoulder to see if any of the aliens were looking at her. When she saw they weren’t, she put down the beverage containers she’d been holding and walked as casually as she could manage out of the mess hall to head for Janeway’s ready room.

Once she was there she signaled for entry.
“Come in!” Janeway said, sounding agitated.
“Captain I wish to speak with you…” Seven said as she entered, noticing Tuvok was also there. She stopped in her tracks when she saw that Janeway also had one of the alien devices on her; metal spikes sticking into her head while two aliens on either side adjusted the devices to drive them in even deeper.
Seven very nearly uttered an expletive for the first time in her entire life, but managed to quickly regain her composure.
“What’s wrong?” Janeway said.
“I regret to inform you that my attempts to fix the scanner in the science lab have failed. I dislike having to admit this, but I came here to ask for help.”

“Ask Harry to lend you a hand. Now get out.”
“Yes, Captain,” Seven said.

The Doctor was working on one of his sketches in the still running holodeck program when Seven of Nine returned.
He opened his mouth to ask her about her progress, but noticed that, while she was hiding it well enough that any other crew member might not have picked up on it, she appeared somewhat dejected.
“I was unable to inform the Captain,” she said. “There were two aliens present in her ready room.”
“Damn. How many of them did you see?”
“I have observed fifty-six so far, though there could be more. Based on what I saw, it would seem that they are scientists of a sort, and they’re experimenting on the crew, like lab animals.”

The Doctor frowned. Like this ship was one big petri dish, he thought.
“We can’t allow this to continue,” he said.
“Agreed,” Seven said. “I have analyzed their energy signatures. I believe there’s a way to make them visible to everyone.”
“A precisely modulated phaser beam should do it.”
“What if the aliens retaliate by inflicting fatal mutations on everyone though? I think it’s too risky. We need a way that will incapacitate all of them at once.”
Seven nodded. The Doctor could tell she was thinking of another solution at the same time he was. He got there first.
“A neuroleptic shock!” he said. Seven’s head tilted. “The key to their control is the genetic tags. I believe a neuroleptic shock would disable them. The shock will be rather painful for the crew, but they will recover.”

“Administering the shock ship wide will be difficult,” Seven said. “But I believe the power relays could be configured to do it. I will have to bypass several safeguards, it will take time, and there is a risk security will be alerted.”
“Then get on it. And good luck. I’ll see if I can find way to get a message to Mr. Tuvok without alerting the aliens. If I succeed he won’t try to stop you.”

Seven went to engineering as quickly as she could without drawing too much attention to herself in order to make the modifications. Once she arrived, she saw several aliens present, with their devices on various crewmembers.

I suppose it was naive to think I wouldn’t run into any of them down here, she thought. She made her way to a console to begin her work. While she was working on it, Tuvok’s voice came over her comm badge.
“Tuvok to Seven of Nine. Why have you accessed the E.P.A. system?” he said.
Seven briefly wondered if she could come up with a lie that was deliberately unconvincing as a way to tip him off to a threat on board, but decided that would be too convoluted, settling instead for a more plausible falsehood.

“There is a malfunction,” she said. “I’m attempting to repair it.”

“Perhaps you should leave that to the engineering crew,” Tuvok said.

“Normally I would,” she said, trying to speed up her work as much as she could without risking an error. “But those not occupied with other tasks have been affected by whatever is causing mutations in the crew.”

“You are compromising the power safety protocols. Stop what you’re doing at once.”
“I assure you, there is no immediate cause for concern,” Seven said. putting an emphasis on the word immediate. She hoped it would be subtle enough to get past the aliens here in engineering that she was warning him something was wrong, but not too subtle that Tuvok would see what she was doing as a threat to the ship and crew.
I find myself wishing these aliens had come aboard before the incident with the Raven, she thought. That might make this marginally easier.

When Tuvok stopped talking to her, and when she didn’t hear a ship wide alert, she took that as a positive sign, and after another minute or so went over to another console to begin the next stage of what she needed to do. As she was making adjustment she heard Tuvok’s voice behind her.
“Move away from the console,” he said. Seven turned her head. He was there, with a phaser in hand. Three of the brown-robed aliens were coming towards them now, apparently curious about what was going on.
“I can’t explain what I’m doing,” she said, lowering her voice even though she doubted that the aliens couldn’t hear her. “But you must allow me to continue.”

“Your actions could result in an energy discharge that would be harmful to the crew,” he said.

So much for my non-verbal cues, Seven thought.

“I realize that,” she said, now looking over Tuvok’s shoulder, directly at one of the aliens, who now moved closer to them.
“I apologize in advance, Mr. Tuvok,” she said. Before Tuvok could respond she shoved him to the side, grabbing his phaser. She quickly adjusted the setting, pointed it at the alien in front of her, and fired, making it visible. She grabbed the now visible alien by the shoulder, and pointed the phaser at the two that were still invisible to all but her.
“Don’t move,” she said.

“She says her species is called the Srivani and that her name is Alzen. They say they’re scientists just like us,” Janeway said. She was in her ready room. Tuvok, Seven of Nine, and the Doctor, who was finally back in his mobile emitter, were there too. Janeway continued briefing them on what she’d learned during her interrogation.
“She actually had the nerve to tell me her people made their experiments as ‘benign’ as they could. Then she stood there, and told me ‘fatalities would be minimal,’ like we weren’t even sentient beings. I’d say we were like lab rats to her, but even in the days of animal testing back on Earth some lab rats were treated better than this. It was still wrong, but compared to this they were practically pampered!”
“Did she say anything else, Captain?” Tuvok said.
“That any more interference from us would lead to us ‘subjects’ being terminated,” Janeway said, seething with anger. “Is there any way we can disable the tags?”
Seven shook her head. “The Srivani have somehow modified the EPS relays to prevent me from inducing the neuroleptic shock.”
“The same with the internal sensors,” Tuvok said. “A direct confrontation would be unwise due to their ability to tamper with the crew’s DNA.”
“We have to do something,” the Doctor said. “More and more people are being taken to sickbay with increasingly severe symptoms.“
Janeway groaned in frustration. “We have to find some kind of advant-”

“Bridge to the Doctor, we have a medical emergency!”
All four of them exited the ready room quickly. Janeway and the Doctor both ran up to Ensign Roberta Luke from security, lying on the floor convulsing, her face horribly crisscrossed by ruptured blood vessels.
“She’s in hypertensive shock,” the Doctor said, scanning her with his tricorder. “20 milligram lectrazine.” Janeway opened his medkit and followed his instructions. While she was doing so, the Doctor, despite being a hologram, managed to gasp.
“Her blood pressure is 300 over 125!” he said.
“How is that possible?” Janeway said as she applied the hypospray to Roberta’s neck.

“Severe adrenal stress,” the Doctor said. He ran his scanner over her. “The lectrazine’s having no effect.” he said. Roberta let out one more painful breath, then stopped moving.
“Her arterial pathways are rupturing,” the Doctor said. “She’s in cardiac arrest, we’re losing her.”
Janeway immediately went into action, remembering her first aid training, and began performing CPR.
“Captain,” the Doctor said. “That won’t help, there’s too much internal bleeding.”
“Then try something else dammit!” Janeway said.
“Her entire circulatory system has collapsed,” he said. His tricorder made a long, sustained noise. “Brain death has occurred.”
“Already?” Seven said.

“There’s nothing more we could’ve done, Captain,” the Doctor said, even as Janeway continued trying to revive Ensign Luke. After another minute, she finally gave up. She looked down at the young woman’s body.
She remembered the words that Alzen had said to her in the brig, about fatalities being minimal, and about how this was all for some sort of greater good.
“Fuck, that,” Janeway said. She stormed over to the conn console, angrily relieving the officer on duty there, who immediately vacated the seat. She sat and punched in a course.
“This ends now,” she said. “Red alert!”
“Captain, what are you doing?” Tuvok said.

“I’m running a little experiment of my own,” she said.

“Captain,” Seven said. “One of the aliens has just entered the bridge.”

“Understood,” Janeway said, as Voyager began flying towards the binary pulsars. “Harry, increase power to the structural integrity field.”
“Already on it ma’am, but I don’t know how long it’ll hold,” Ensign Kim said.

Janeway heard a noise behind her.

“What do you hope to accomplish by this?” Janeway knew it was the alien that Seven of Nine had told her about.
“This? Oh, you mean flying into a binary pulsar. Yeah, I’m seeking to crush this ship like a tin can.”
“I don’t know what that is, but it would seem to me that you are trying to intimidate us,” the Srivani woman said, having revealed herself.
“You’re welcome to stick around to find out,” Janeway said, not taking her eyes off the conn.
“Hull stress is at 45 teradynes,” Tuvok said. The Srivani went over to the console and tried to alter the ship’s course.
“It’s locked in,” Janeway said. “Only my authorization will release it.”

“This is completely irrational behavior, Captain.”

“That’s what you were going for wasn’t it? Pushing my dopamine levels to the edge, keeping me awake for four days straight?”
“Shields have failed,” Harry Kim said. “Structural integrity down to 20%.”

“Enter the authorization code and change course immediately!” the Srivani said.
Janeway mentally ran down the list of insults she could hurl at the woman, but found them all lacking in the ability to convey the contempt she felt.

“My ability to give a damn about what you think died with Ensign Luke,” she said.

“I could kill your crew in an instant!”
“Go ahead, but who would be here to prevent this ship from getting crushed by the pulsars?”

After a few seconds, Janeway saw the Srivani woman vanish. Returning to her invisible state or beaming away, she had no idea, and frankly didn’t care.
“Captain, the hull’s starting to buckle,” Harry said.
“Captain,” she heard Seven of Nine say. “Two alien vessels are attempting to disengage from Voyager’s hull.” She felt a shudder through the ship stronger than the ones it had already been experiencing on it’s current course.

“One of the Srivani ships has been destroyed,” Tuvok said.
“Diverting power to the shields,” Harry said.
“No,” Janeway said. “Assuming we survive this we’ll need all the momentum we can get to reach escape velocity on the other side. Everyone, hang on!”

Seven didn’t realize how tight her grip of the auxiliary tactical console had been until she let go of it. The ship had stopped shuddering, and the viewscreen showed clear space ahead.
“We made it,” Harry Kim said. “We’re alive.”

“I now think I understand the human compulsion for redundant statements,” Seven said. “Even though I am standing here, clearly alive, I can barely believe it myself. Repeating it would seem to have the effect of reinforcing reality.”
“Is that your way of saying you were scared for a moment there Seven?” Captain Janeway said.
“Yes,” Seven said.

“I bet the Borg never tried a maneuver like that,” Harry said.
“Not intentionally, though no one can argue that it didn’t work.”
“Doctor?” Janeway said.
“Still here, and glad I don’t have a heart so that I can’t have a heart attack,” he said.
“Now that our guests have fled, begin work on removing the alien devices.”
“With pleasure Captain. I just need to attend to Ensign Luke’s body first.”
Seven had, in the midst of the flight through the pulsars, forgotten about the dead crewmember. She looked over, and noticed that the Ensign’s hair was similar in color to Samantha Wildman’s. That fact, though totally coincidental, made her feel a little sad.
“Captain,” she said. “With permission I would like to assist the Doctor. My ocular implant is still modified to see the devices, I believe I could aid in their removal.”
“Permission granted,” Janeway said, sounding relaxed for the first time in days, in spite of the alien device still penetrating her skull. “Start with me. I’ve already tried to kill us all once today, let’s not risk a repeat.”

“I’ll meet you in sickbay,” the Doctor said.


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