manip, Lara Zielinsky © 2007
Kathryn Janeway burst into Voyager's Sickbay looking around frantically for Seven of Nine. Transporter Room 2 had informed the bridge that the rescued ex-drone had been transported directly here under The Doctor's orders. She spotted The Doctor now, walking away from a biobed and saw the cloth-draped body on the examination surface.
She rushed forward and braced herself, fingers claw-like and white-knuckle against the edge of the bed, gazing down into the face of her lover. The usually immaculate woman looked haggard. She always was paler than the norm, but she vaguely looked gaunt, with exhaustion having painted heavy dark areas under her eyes, and her throat.
"What the hell did she do to you?" Kathryn's fury rose anew at the Borg Queen, whom had yet again stolen Seven from her.
Seven's hand suddenly clasped hers. "No, Kathryn. It serves no purpose. I am back. We are safe. Voyager is safe. It is enough."
Kathryn stared at their tightly clenched hands. "I was so worried. We couldn't find you. Even with the transponder." She shook. "You were gone more than a month."
"Chakotay told me we had to return to our course home. He said we had to go. Had to leave you."
"Kathryn. Kathryn, shh. Listen to me." Seven struggled to sit up, inhaling sharply several times, clearly in pain.
Kathryn fell silent. Seven lifted her arms and drew Kathryn against her body. Though Seven was weakened, Kathryn could draw comfort and strength from the hug. She nuzzled against the soft satin skin and realized only when she did not find the customary starburst in the hollow of Seven's clavicle, that Seven sat naked on the biobed, a sheet draping her waist.
She leaned back, looked around, and quickly tugged the sheet up. But her question was about the missing implant. Or rather, as she took in Seven's abdomen during the modesty maneuver, "What happened to your implants?"
"The Queen had them removed."
"She planned to dismember you?!"
"No, the... they had begun to interfere." Seven's voice went quiet. "She would have died otherwise."
"You would have died? And the Queen saved you? What was her plan this time?"
Seven exhaled. "No. Please." She paused. "Give me my biosuit." She gestured to another nearby biobed. Kathryn retrieved the blue skin tight garment. "I will dress." Seven began to do so, her physical movements labored. Kathryn assisted gently. "And then I will explain."
The Doctor entered. "What are you doing out of bed? Captain? Seven?"
"I will be fine after a brief regeneration, Doctor. Please bring --"
The Doctor smiled broadly very suddenly and turned away. Kathryn was further flummoxed when he stepped up to a clear containment and lifted out a bundle wrapped in a lavender blanket.
Kathryn's heart sank as the bundle and The Doctor neared. Seven held steady behind her right shoulder. "What is this?" She looked from the bundle to Seven, then the Doctor. "A baby?" Did Seven rescue another maturation chamber infant?
She looked more closely at the features. What had happened to Seven? What had the Queen done... Was this... She asked in a hushed voice, fearful of the truth. "She's... yours, Seven?"
There was a small space of silence.
"She is ours, Kathryn."
Heartbeat thundering in her ears, Kathryn closed her eyes and shook her head in disbelief. Opening her eyes though, she saw the same cleft from Seven's chin, the same angle of her nose, and then too, the fair skin and light dusting of strawberry blonde hair on the infant's head.
She looked up into Seven's face, finding a tired but genuine smile. "How did -- is this -- possible?"
"That," Seven took a deep breath. "Will take some time to explain."
Seven's left arm went around Kathryn's low back, and her right arm joined Kathryn's around the baby. She rested her head against Kathryn's and they watched the baby's sleeping face in rapt silence for several seconds.
Kathryn felt disconnected, disoriented, and yet strangely calm at the same time. When Seven's lips pressed to her temple, she accepted it was not a dream.
"What's her name?" she whispered.
"She does not yet have a designation."
"Me?" Kathryn realized she was being asked to choose a name. Their child's name. She closed her eyes.
So long ago she had given up the possibility of motherhood. She opened her eyes slowly and looked up again into Seven's face. Until you, she thought. My love. My miracle. My Seven...
"Aislin," she said quietly.
Seven's eyes closed as she obviously ran the name through for her own analysis. "Irish for 'dream'," she said approvingly.
"Would you like to come this way?" The Doctor asked, gesturing them into his office. "I have to enter our newest crewmember into the ship's medical log."
"And I can explain what happened," Seven said.
Kathryn and Seven sat down in the Doctor's office, Kathryn continuing to cradle Aislin in her arms. Seven explained that some of the captain's biological distinctiveness had still been on Seven when she was captured by the Queen. In the reassimilation process, Seven's DNA had mixed with Kathryn's and the nanoprobes took the cell bundle and did what was naturally instructed. They implanted it. Accelerated growth rates however endangered Seven's health within days, and Seven had been near death from internal bleeding. She had pleaded with the Queen not to terminate the pregnancy and in a strange moment of expression, the Queen had ordered instead the removal of Seven's abdominal implant and several systems supported by it.
"I can deny you nothing," the Queen had said as Seven lay weak without the abdominal implant but the baby safely growing inside her. Seven had been puzzled by that for much of the days and weeks that followed, even as she worried about her ultimate fate.
"I came to the conclusion that as much as she was the Queen of the Borg, she viewed our interactions more personally. Maternally perhaps. And in the end she could not harm me, physically or emotionally, simply to get what she wanted."
"I am sorry you had to endure all that alone, Seven," Kathryn said gently.
"I am not sorry, Kathryn. When I was assimilated, and then deassimilated, my body systems were thrown into chaos. I was not 'normal', and 'natural' behaviors had to be relearned. Now my body has done the most natural thing it can do. Aislin is my dream come true, too."
Kathryn's eyes filled with tears. It was the most natural thing , she realized, as she lifted her chin and felt Seven's lips cover her own, to kiss the mother of her child. Their child. Their Aislin.
* * *
"Seven must regenerate, Captain."
Four simple words and a hesitant kiss to Seven later, Janeway entered her quarters with Aislin in her arms, looked around and wondered what to do now. Her quarters were equipped for a single woman, not a child. Aislin made noises in her arms. "Well, let's start with someplace for you to sleep." Walking over to her replicator, she instructed, "Computer, one set of infant bedding."
"Object requested too large. Request generated to ship's stores."
"Well, looks like a few more people are going to know about you before Seven and I get to make the official announcement, Aislin." Kathryn watched Aislin's features as the baby reacted to her voice. Crystal blue eyes followed her facial movements with dexterity uncommon for a child mere hours old. Lips flexed and curved, almost as though Aislin was trying to smile. Kathryn smiled in response, and encouragement and she reached for Aislin's fingers curling and grasping at the air.
"You're such a beauty, Aislin. Just like your momma, you take my breath away." She traced the dimple in a cheek and the cleft in Aislin's tiny chin. Inhaling, Kathryn kissed the tiny forehead, lips barely brushing an implant wrapped around Aislin's temple. She wondered if the implants would remain part of her daughter, or if The Doctor was already working on a way to extract them. She paused, caught again by the awestruck feeling. My daughter. Seven's child, and mine.
Maybe if she said it enough, it might be believable.
Aislin's blue eyes followed her with keen intelligence. The baby made gurgling noises but, before Kathryn could wonder what the noises indicated, the chime to her quarters sounded. Standing up, she held Aislin's to her chest and called, "Come."
Two junior officers in Operations gold uniforms carried the two parts of a baby bassinet.
"Ma'am?" one braved, "We were told a request had been made from your quarters for infant bedding?"
Kathryn smiled, enjoying slightly sadistically making her younger crewmembers squirm. "Yes, Ensign Gallen."
"A baby, ma'am?"
"Just set the bedding beside the couch there."
Following instructions brought both men past her position and each paused and gawked at Aislin in the captain's arms. Neither Gallen nor Ensign Dalite with him actually spoke aloud the questions she could see perched in their eyes.
Janeway however was proud and unashamed. She answered what they didn't ask. "Her name is Aislin, and she is Seven's... and mine."
Dalite turned pink -- a remarkable feat since his skin was naturally colored a translucent blue, and stuttered, "Your child?"
"Yes." The two exchanged puzzled looks then nodded and left without another word. Kathryn lifted Aislin to wave after them. "You won't be afraid of a little baby, will you Aislin?"
The baby gurgled again. Kathryn shifted her back into a cradle hold. The curve of her breast pressed against Aislin's cheek and the baby instinctively turned to try and nurse. She grew upset at encountering fabric not flesh.
"Oh you're hungry." Kathryn considered if Seven might be lactating but then realized it wouldn't matter. Seven was regenerating. "Guess we'll find out about that later. For now, let's get you a supplement."
Crossing again to the replicator, Kathryn queried, "Computer, did The Doctor program a specific supplement for new crewmember Aislin Hansen-Janeway?"
"Replicate one serving, please."
"Supplement Aislin zero-one," responded the computer as the bottle materialized. Kathryn picked up the bottle, finding it comfortably warm in her hand.
"Bridge to the captain."
Having just settled to the couch with Aislin, Kathryn started at the sound of Chakotay's voice. "Janeway here. Go ahead, Chakotay."
"The Doctor reported Seven's condition is satisfactory."
"Yes, I'm aware of that."
"Are you returning to the bridge?"
Kathryn sighed. "Not at the present time. If you could, turn over the conn, and report to my quarters at your earliest convenience."
"Understood. Chakotay out."
When the line closed, Kathryn spoke to Aislin while the girl suckled the bottle's nipple noisily. "I know he's not perfectly comfortable with your momma's and my relationship, but I think you will really throw Chakotay for a loop, Aislin."
The perfect picture of unconcern, Aislin continued only to placidly suckle. Kathryn smiled indulgently and kissed the girl's forehead, watching her nurse with fascination. "I wonder when Seven will be done with her regeneration." Tossing her head, Kathryn addressed the computer. "Computer, state the remaining time on Seven's regeneration cycle in Cargo Bay 2."
"Regeneration time remaining is twenty-two minutes." In the next moment she heard a chime at the door. "Computer, who is at the door?"
"Commander Chakotay is outside the captain's quarters."
"Looks like we'll talk to the Commander before I get a chance to check with Seven," she remarked to Aislin. Deciding not to stand this time since her daughter was quite comfortable where she was, Janeway simply called out, "Come in."
Chakotay stepped inside, and stopped, looking around in confusion as he obviously had expected Janeway to be at the door to greet him. "Captain?" he questioned, staring at her from across the room.
"You... Where's Seven?"
"The Doctor said she was all right. I... I'm pleased for you, Kathryn."
"Thank you, Chakotay. Please, sit. If you'd like something from the replicator, help yourself. I've presently got my hands full." She drew his attention intentionally to Aislin in her lap. She knew her first officer had seen the bundle in her arms but had studiously avoided looking at her directly and actually seeing it. Now essentially forced to do so, he was blunt, "Seven came back with another foundling?"
"No, actually, she is Seven's child." Kathryn waited.
"Seven's...?" He stuttered, quite unlike him.
Kathryn stood up. Chakotay backed up. She stopped moving. "Her name is Aislin." She pulled the blanket away from the sleeping face. "And she is half mine."
"Yes, Seven's DNA and mine were mixed and Aislin was the result."
"The Doctor did this?" He spoke like Aislin was some sort of freakish mistake of nature.
Janeway put Aislin down in the bassinet set up earlier, moving away so her harsh tone would not be around her daughter. "No. The Doctor did not do this. And it is not wrong, Chakotay. So you're not involved with Seven or me. Get over it."
"Seven came back with the baby, right? How do you know it's not some scheme by the Queen?"
"The Doctor verified Aislin's DNA is directly from her mother, Seven, and me. Seven delivered following the trauma of our rescuing her from the Borg."
"Damn it, Kathryn. That's Borg technology over there."
"Keep your voice down, Commander. Borg technology made her development speed up, but she is just as human as Seven, you or me. And she's my child. That's the end of discussion."
"You told me you never wanted to have children. That you'd been resisting Mark's plans to create a family after you wed."
"Don't throw that at me, Chakotay. I was not interested in having a child with you. I wasn't interested in being with you. Seven's been a wonderful partner for me. And starting a family with Aislin, with her, feels right."
Chakotay sank to another chair, putting his head in his hands. "We're out here in the middle of nowhere, Kathryn. Is this the right place to bring children? You said yourself Naomi Wildman has had a difficult life."
"We have to deal with reality, Chakotay. Voyager is not getting home tomorrow." She sat down, reached out hesitantly and touched his knee. "This is right for me." She sighed. "Do you think we should lift the restrictions?"
"How would we provide for children?"
"Pioneers in every generation figured out a way, Chakotay. We will do the same."
He sighed. "You're happy?"
"It was unexpected, but yes, I am very happy."
There was a chime at the door. Kathryn looked up. "Come."
"Kathryn?" Seven entered quickly, looking for her immediately. "Commander?" Kathryn's lover hesitated. "I was unaware you were having a meeting."
"I'm not. Chakotay's just learning about Aislin. We've decided to lift the restrictions for all couples on Voyager. There's still a lot of decision making for others, but I can't stand in the way. Voyager's going to become generational now."
"How is Aislin?" Seven asked.
Kathryn stood and met Seven mid-distance, leading her over to the bassinet. "She's asleep."
Seven watched Aislin sleep, saying nothing. Kathryn brushed her hand over Seven's, and turned to Chakotay who stood.
"Chakotay?" He looked at her. "Are we all right?"
His lips tightened into a thin line, but then he nodded slowly. "Yes." He lifted his head and looked to Seven. "Congratulations, Seven. Kathryn. Aislin is beautiful." He hadn't seen the child, so clearly was still smarting from Kathryn's set down.
Seven turned only at the sound of the doors opening and closing. "Commander Chakotay is leaving?"
Kathryn smiled and wrapped her arms around Seven's shoulders. "He's going to put the new directives in place. And get used to a few new ideas on his own." She eased away from Seven, taking her hand. "Are you hungry?"
"I have just completed a regeneration."
"Well, I've been watching our little girl. Gave her a supplement. But I'm still starving. Sit with me?" Kathryn led Seven to the replicator and the small table nearby. "She'll be fine while we eat a little something." She kissed Seven's full lips.
"You have been well?" Seven asked concerned.
"Yes, Aislin's been perfect. I wanted to ask you if you had noticed you were lactating."
"I am... tender," Seven said, understanding immediately. "But if you have fed her a supplement, perhaps we should continue."
"Must be the Traditionalist in me," Kathryn mused. "But I think I would love to watch you nursing our daughter." She programmed and withdrew a small salad from the replicator and sat down, leaning across the short space and kissing Seven soundly on the lips, licking them once as she withdrew.
"You are ... comfortable with parenting," Seven observed.
"I didn't think I would be," Kathryn said. "But surprisingly, I find myself simply envisioning my mother, and just doing. I don't think my instincts are that bad."
"Aislin looked contented sleeping."
"She did, didn't she?" Kathryn remarked with pride.
"I do not have a role model to consider for parenting," Seven said quietly.
Kathryn grasped her hand, the mesh-covered left fisted on the table top. "Honestly, we'll all figure it out."
Just as Kathryn completed her meal, Aislin began whimpering in what sounded like clear distress to Seven. She looked from Aislin to Janeway, who was rising from the table but inexplicably going in the opposite direction.
"Should you do something?" Seven asked.
Kathryn cleared her lunch into the disposal and shook her head. "We," she emphasized gently, "should probably check her diaper. I did feed her a little formula." Kathryn finished by turning to the replicator panel and requesting "a baby diaper and sanitary wipes."
Seven followed Kathryn to Aislin's bassinet and watched in fascination as the woman looked around in consideration then proceeded to spread out a blanket and lay the baby on the low table next to the couch.
"We'll have to request an actual changing table from the cargo bay replicators but this will do for now," Kathryn said as she opened the diaper and Seven caught an amazingly offensive odor. She wrinkled her nose in distaste. Kathryn blinked but her smile never wavered as she babbled nonsense sounds at Aislin.
"Are you attempting to teach her an obscure Federation language?"
Kathryn laughed then blushed, confusing Seven. "No, I... I felt like making her smile," she said as she rolled up the used diaper and wiped residue from Aislin's bottom. Though Kathryn looked at Aislin, Seven realized she was speaking to her. "She'll learn Human speech, or any other language we wish if we continually use it around her and speak to her."
Kathryn was then silent, distracted by the task of securing the clean diaper on the squirming child. Seven was annoyed. Kathryn was attempting to make Aislin comfortable but the baby was being counterproductive. She started toward the pair only to stop as Kathryn grasped a squirming foot and blew lightly on the heel.
Aislin went instantly still and her eyes were wide, with a startled expression. Kathryn smiled and quickly finished the diapering task.
"Good girl," Kathryn praised, lifting Aislin from the table top.
Aislin's fingers reached for Kathryn's face, ineffectually grasping at her nose. Kathryn pursed her lips and blew against Aislin's wrist lightly. The sensation once again made Aislin pause, but a more curious expression replaced the pure startlement.
Seven watched Aislin watching Kathryn and her own heart remembered the feelings she had each time she met the eyes of her captain, her lover. "She loves you," Seven said with awe.
"She's learning to," Kathryn said. "She doesn't understand her emotions yet, but she will."
"She is like I was when severed from the Collective?"
"Yes, and no. She has no expectations about how it is supposed to be. She just feels, and experiences, and responds."
"When I... learned the most," Seven considered, "I was frequently doing the same. It is most unsettling."
"Why? You'll have a great deal to share with Aislin from your experiences."
"But I do not have answers."
"She won't have questions for quite a while yet, either, but she'll have feelings she doesn't quite understand, frustrations," Kathryn explained. "Failures."
Seven drew up sharply affronted. "She will not fail at anything. She is fully Human."
"Without failure, what is success, Seven? Humanity is all about overcoming obstacles, learning and growing from setbacks."
Seven studied Aislin as she considered Kathryn's words. Failure is part of the process. She recalled Kathryn trying to explain the same to her on occasion. Not with those actual words though. "Why didn't you tell me this when I was struggling?"
"You have to learn it, Seven. And you do so well. Now you just have to trust yourself, and what you don't know will be figured out." Kathryn held out Aislin. "Here, Seven, take your daughter."
Kathryn then transferred Aislin to Seven's arms, adjusting blankets and arm positions gently. When Seven looked up from Aislin's surprised sounds, Kathryn put her hands on her cheeks, leaned forward and kissed her.
Gurgling noises and the pressure of a tiny fist against her breast made Seven pull back. Both women looked down to see Aislin screw up her face and grow from fidgeting sounds to full-blown discontent as her mouth bumped, then moved against, her fist pressing at Seven's breast.
"What is wrong?" Seven asked.
"Seems she's hungry again."
"But you only just fed her."
"They eat and sleep a lot at first. She's growing and needs all the energy she can get."
Kathryn stepped back. "Come on, let's find you a comfortable chair."
"Comfort is relevant?"
"I've never done it myself, but since you'll be holding her against you for a significant period of time, I'd say you'd probably appreciate a sturdy back rest and arm support."
Kathryn then chuckled as they entered the sleeping room. "Besides I'd rather you bare your breasts only for me or Aislin. The living room is a little public."
She led Seven to the chair in the room where she frequently had spent her sleepless nights reading. "Try it out. You'll want to get out of at least the top of your suit."
Seven passed Aislin to Kathryn and stripped the top part of her suit off her shoulders and revealed both breasts. Kathryn watched with a smile while idly letting Aislin play with her fingers.
"I think we might want to find some new clothing styles for you," Kathryn said.
"If I continue in this," Seven said. "This seems rather involved, and inefficient. I am chilled."
"Takes a lot for you to admit that. Go ahead and strip completely then. I'll bring you a robe." Kathryn took Aislin with her into the outer room as Seven finished removing the biosuit. She missed its snug fit, and the temperature regulation. Just as she looked up from laying it across the end of the bed, Kathryn returned. "Here you go."
Seven took an emerald green robe from Kathryn's hand and instantly her biomesh sensors identified the fabric as silk. Its touch on her skin was smooth, and although not snug it was comfortable and did insulate her body heat. "Thank you."
Her nipples had hardened with exposure to the chill air and now, as Aislin began crying, she felt fluid leak from them.
"Have a seat." Kathryn passed Aislin back to Seven and helped her ease back into the cushioned seat. She had to lift the girl with her right arm, and rest both on the arm rest. She had only started to adjust her hold on Aislin when the girl's seeking mouth and tiny fist prodded her breast and found the firm nipple.
The suddenness of her latching on made Seven gasp, "Oh." She exhaled. It wasn't exactly pain, and the longer she felt the distending, stretching, and pulling of the tissues within her breast, the more Seven felt as she did when Kathryn and she would make love and the older woman would manipulate her breasts with her fingers or tongue. She gasped again as she realized she was wet with arousal and squirmed.
"Are you all right, Seven?" Kathryn asked, catching the movement.
"Something must be wrong. I am aroused."
Kathryn leaned over, kissing Seven's temple and brushing her fingers over Aislin's hair. "So am I," she murmured. "We'll do something after Aislin is satisfied."
Kathryn pulled over another chair, from next to her small dining table, and sat down on Seven's right side, leaning her head on Seven's shoulder, the position easier to watch Aislin's face, and wrap her arm around both mother and child, holding both securely. Seven's head tilted against the top of hers.
"I love you, Seven."
"I love you, too, Kathryn."
Moist sucking sounds filled the suddenly reverent silence.
Seven's chest tightened with a sensation of her heart enlarging, filling up every available space in her rib cage, and then pushing, as if to burst from her chest. Tears trickled from her eyes. She suddenly understood the phrase, "bursting with love."
* * *
Kathryn turned from putting Aislin down in her bassinet to find Seven, who had lain across her bed to share "some intimate time now", snoring softly sound asleep. Stripping out of her attire Kathryn visually tracing Seven's relaxed features and the long limbed body only partially hidden by the belted robe she had given her earlier. A peak of a breast moving as she breathed and Kathryn recalled the tensions of pride, love, and lust, which filled her while watching Seven breastfeeding Aislin. Again she brushed tears from her cheeks, overcome by their powerful confluence.
Aislin sniffled. Kathryn cooed softly, "Sleep now. I'm going to curl up with your momma over there." A few pats and Aislin slept soundly.
Pulling back the covers Kathryn coaxed Seven under them, and then tucked herself in alongside. The press of their flesh together briefly woke Seven and she sighed dreamily as she locked eyes with Kathryn. Seven's bountiful breasts pressed warm, and slightly damp, against Kathryn's more meager chest and she wrapped her arms around Seven's back.
"Is she content?" Seven asked in a mumble.
"Sleeping soundly," Kathryn assured kissing Seven's forehead.
Seven struggled to stay awake. "I regenerated already, I wish to spend time making love with you."
"If you're tired, you should sleep."
"Who will watch Aislin?" Seven murmured, but she gave in to her exhaustion and closed her eyes, muscles relaxing against her lover's frame.
The question kept Kathryn awake. While they were here together, one of them would hear Aislin easily, but what of when they were on duty, or an emergency called them to the bridge?
Also, Kathryn studied Seven's sleeping face. Seven was right. She had regenerated. Was she still in need of recovery time?Perhaps they should talk to the Doctor. Kathryn yawned. After a nap, she resolved, and closed her own eyes.
* * *
A red alert klaxon shot adrenaline through Kathryn and she sat shot-up in the bed, startled. Seven awoke with the jostling bed, and Aislin's cries joined the fray a mere breath later.
"Computer shut off klaxon within this room only."
Immediately the sound stopped within the room, although it was easily heard in the outer room. But the sheer volume was gone, and Seven picked up Aislin and was able to quiet her. The captain pulled on her uniform and barked at the comm system, "Janeway to the bridge. What's our status?"
"Unidentified freighters, sophisticated formations. Looks like we stumbled into somebody's territory."
"I'm on my way. Janeway out!" Kathryn assembled her pips and dashed for the door. Back in her biosuit, Seven was at her heels. Kathryn looked at her and halted. "Stay with Aislin. I'll talk to Neelix about a regular plan, but I've got Tuvok at Tactical and Harry at Ops. For now that's enough."
"You do not need me?"
Oh boy. Kathryn heard the worry. "I always need your support, Seven. But Aislin needs you, or one of us, right now."
Seven nodded with understanding. "Be careful, Kathryn." They kissed.
* * *
Seven realized Aislin's agitation grew in proportion to the ship's tossing. She paced with the girl. It took several turns around the room, trying, as Kathryn had suggested, to talk soothingly to Aislin, for Seven to realize the girl was heavier.
She was certain it was not simply her unfamiliarity with holding Aislin; the girl was also longer. The infant had developed significantly, gaining nearly seven kilos and growing three inches since her birth less than a day ago.
Aislin also held up her own head when Seven set her down on the bed she shared with Kathryn. And her eyes followed Seven as she went to the computer console to call up information on infant growth.
"Seven to the Doctor."
"Doctor here, Seven."
"I believe there is something we need to discuss about Aislin."
"I'm kind of up to my elbows in casualties at the moment. Is it life-threatening?"
"I am uncertain."
"Is she bleeding, crying, anything broken?"
"Then relax. I'll make her my first priority after the ship is out of danger."
"Thank you." The ship took a particularly violent lurch. Seven spun to catch herself and saw Aislin tumble on the wide bed. But thankfully not to the floor. She picked up the girl.
"Computer, what is Captain Janeway's medical status?"
"Captain Janeway was treated at 0124 hours for heavy bruises and a laceration to the forehead."
"Seven to Neelix."
"Go ahead, Seven," the normally cheerful Talaxian was quick to respond, and sounded only slightly agitated.
"What is your current status?"
"I'm watching Naomi while her mother is at her duty station."
"Would... could you monitor another child?"
"Another child?" Seven heard the bewilderment and realized that he did not yet know of Aislin's presence. "I have a child with me in the captain's quarters."
"A child with you?"
"Yes, I am certain the captain would have informed the ship had timing been better. However, I must report to the bridge, and I need someone to watch--"
"Seven, it's all right. I don't need to know everything. But it sounds like I should come to you. Naomi and I are going to transport there."
Seven closed her eyes in relief and as she opened them, she heard the telltale whine of transporters in the outer room. Lifting Aislin, she walked to the bedroom entry and met Naomi Wildman rushing forward.
The half-K'tarian child slammed to a halt in front of Seven, looking up at her in astonishment. "Neelix said you have-- oh!" The girl immediately grew quiet seeing the bundle in Seven's arms. "A baby!"
Seven let Naomi pull back the blanket. "Her name is Aislin."
"She's got Borg... stuff."
"She came back with me when I was rescued."
"We'll have to find her parents too?"
Seven shook her head. She looked up briefly to Neelix then spoke, looking at Naomi. "Her parents are on Voyager. She is the offspring of myself and... Captain Janeway."
Naomi's eyes widened. "You and the captain had a baby!" she said excitedly. Aislin cried at the outburst. Naomi looked at the child more critically then. "How did..."
"Seven will answer more questions later, Naomi," Neelix stepped forward. "We'll take care of Aislin, Seven. You let the captain know."
"Thank you, Neelix."
Seven rushed out, but worry continued to dog her heels all the way to the bridge.
* * *
Janeway had the very devil of a headache, not sure her vision wasn't fuzzy, but she spun at the sound of the turbolift doors and nearly threw up. She could see Seven size up her condition immediately. "See what you can come up with!" she shouted to her Astrometrics officer, coughing as she inhaled smoke.
Seven immediately went to the augmented station behind the command chairs and Kathryn knew the woman's fingers, moving faster than she could see, were calling up status on a million sensors and data packets around the ship. Another few seconds and Seven had formulated a suggestion. "A variant shielding augmented photon torpedo should slip through and disable their weapons with an explosion."
"Do it." Janeway flung herself into her command seat and hung on, staring at the viewscreen.
Seven programmed the variant torpedo and transported it to the launch bay. "Ready, Tuvok." When nothing immediately happened, she glanced over her shoulder to see, not Tuvok at Tactical, but a young female security officer. "Lt. Randall, the torpedo is ready."
Janeway ordered, "Fire!"
Voyager was rocked by several more volleys, but the torpedo launched was true, and on target, it exploded into the side of one ship which exploded a fraction of a second later.
Then, surprising the hell out of the beleaguered Voyager crew, matching explosions ripped through the other six vessels at the forefront of the attack. "Drones!" Chakotay barked incredulously.
The rest of the ships turned tail and vanished, leaving behind warp trails that were fading even as Seven set sensors to trace them moments later.
"What the hell was that?" Janeway growled. "Crew, secure stations. Stand down red alert. Computer, return ship's status to Yellow Alert." Turning to the crew present on the bridge, she ordered, "I want as much information as possible at a senior meeting in one hour."
"Aye, captain." Chakotay turned to his console as she went to the upper deck.
"Seven, you're with me." Seven followed Janeway into the Ready Room. No sooner were the doors closed then Janeway spun on her. "Where's Aislin?"
"With Neelix, and Naomi, in your quarters."
Janeway's shoulders sagged and she started for the replicator. Seven intercepted her. The woman's adrenaline was already high. No caffeine was necessary to drive it even higher.
Seven grasped Janeway's shoulders. "It's all right, Kathryn. Voyager is safe. Aislin is safe. We have prevailed." She felt the moment Kathryn let her pull her against her body.
"Oh God, Seven," Kathryn breathed deeply several times, trying to dispel the useful adrenaline which had seen her through the crisis. Immediately she felt her head throbbing. Seven's touch there stung.
"You are damaged."
"I took a hit to the head."
"You undoubtedly have a concussion."
"Must be why I'm seeing two of you." Kathryn murmured, shut her eyes tightly and squeezed into Seven's chest as Seven put her arms tightly around her back.
"What happened to Tuvok?" Seven asked quietly as the silence lengthened and she felt her partner's heart stop racing and return to a more normal pace.
"Tom took him down to sickbay. He was thrown into a broken console, plasma burns and cuts." Kathryn stepped back. They went together and sat on the couch by the forward window. "So, Neelix has Aislin?"
"And Naomi. I believe she will quickly offer babysitting services." Kathryn smiled at that.
"Oh, God... Seven, leaving you and Aislin in the quarters was the hardest thing I've ever done."
"For me as well," Seven said. "I know that Neelix will care excellently for Aislin, but the responsibility for her is mine."
"And mine." Kathryn exhaled and leaned into Seven's shoulder as Seven wrapped her arm around her back. "Oh, thank you for coming to the bridge."
"Why did you not call me?"
"I couldn't take you away from Aislin."
"We would have been clear of the danger sooner."
"I don't know that. You don't know that. I still have to make calls as Captain, Seven."
Seven frowned, hearing the reprimand in Janeway's tone. "I am sorry. I should not second guess you."
Janeway shook her head. "No, I'm sorry. You're right. I should have called on my best people -- for everyone's sake." She exhaled again and started to sit up. "I should let you put together your report for the meeting." Seven continued to hold her resolutely.
"It will take no time at all for me to put together my report. Right now, I am needed here. By you."
When Kathryn lifted her chin, to take exception to the statement, Seven lowered her head and pressed her lips sweetly, insistently, over Janeway's partly open mouth. She felt the resistance ebb, and then the moment Janeway melted away, and Kathryn surged passionately forward into their kiss.
* * *
"Neelix to the Captain.”
"Janeway here.” The captain responded quietly from her reclining position next to a sleeping Aislin, Seven's pale blue eyes meeting hers over their daughter's recumbent form. Mothers and daughter had been sleeping in the middle of the bed in the captain's quarters.
"We have quite an excited crew here in the mess hall waiting to meet Voyager's newest member.”
Kathryn smiled, laid her hand over Seven's Borg-enhanced one resting on Aislin's back, and answered Neelix for both of them. “We'll be right there, Mr. Neelix.”
"Looking forward to it, Captain. Neelix out.”
"How are you feeling, Seven?” Kathryn asked. By silent accord, she let Seven collect Aislin as they rose from the sheets, and she straightened them.
"I am rested,” Seven replied. Taking in the tone, a little blurred but definite, Janeway took the statement as a good sign Seven was recovering from her pregnancy at a suitable pace. So much had happened that it was hard to remember Aislin's birth was only 27 hours ago.
Looking at their daughter, a perfectly formed little girl from their mixed DNA, Kathryn thought Aislin looked about four months old. Seven and she had already witnessed the girl flipping herself over, clearly not a skill of a one day old child. They had not yet been able to get Aislin to the Doctor for a full examination because of the interruptions of a sudden attack on the ship and the necessity for the doctor to focus on life threatening injuries rather than a child normal in all respects except for her unnaturally fast growth.
"Do you wish to take Aislin into the party?” Seven asked.
"Yes,” Janeway replied easily, reaching to the side table where she and Seven had put a carry-all case with the baby's most essential items. “I want everyone to see and know both of you belong with me.” The possessive statement, uttered in a husky loving tone, made Seven's cheeks ruddy with color.
Settling the strap on her shoulder, she fell into step beside Seven as they all exited her quarters. Their quarters, she corrected herself with a proud look next to her at Aislin cradled with her head resting against Seven's chin. Despite her engagement to Mark, Kathryn had never given much thought to actually having a family. The thoughts and feelings now coursing through her as she watched Aislin's faintly moving nostrils as she breathed easily in comfortable sleep, and Seven's Borg-enhanced hand stroking the downy strawberry blond hair on the baby's head, made her wonder how she could have thought the prospect irrelevant to her happiness, her life.
As they walked along, Seven commented, “She has grown again while I slept.”
"How much difference?”
In the way that Seven paused, repositioning her hands, and cocking her head, Janeway knew Seven was using her Borg enhancements to analyze their daughter. “She is now 6.23 kilograms and has added 3.14 centimeters to her height.”
"Sounds about right. The Doctor can tell us for certain. But at this point we have to assume the speed of her growth is normal for her.”
"I concur. She has exhibited no problems.” They walked along in companionable silence until reaching the mess hall.
"Ready?” Janeway asked. She leaned in to Seven, squeezing her arm briefly around the blonde's back and kissed Aislin's soft hair.
"You are nervous,” Seven observed.
Kathryn looked up sheepishly. “It shows, huh?”
"Yes. Why are you nervous?”
"Voyager's crew is, well, family. I guess I feel a little like I would if I was bringing Aislin to my mother, or Phoebe, for the first time.”
"We should remember to introduce Aislin in the next datastream transmission.”
Kathryn nodded. “One thing at a time. But you're right, we should.” She stepped in front of the sensor and ushered Seven first through the now open doors.
Raucous cheers and applause erupted as a sea of Voyager's crew, all ranks and positions, engulfed the women. “Captain! Seven! Brava! She's beautiful!” came from every direction and Kathryn knew if she felt a little overwhelmed, Seven was definitely in need of steadying and so she reached out and put her arm around Seven's waist.
Tom brought over a pair of wine glasses; Seven declined hers. Kathryn would have liked Chakotay to lead the toast, but her first officer was noticeably absent. Tom, an impending father himself, holding B'Elanna at his side, lifted his glass. “To Aislin Hansen-Janeway, may she always consider Voyager her home, as we all do, and possess the luck of the Irish in life and love.”
A chorus filled the room. “Hear, hear!”
Naomi led her mother through the throng to get a close up look at Aislin. “See, here she is.”
Samantha Wildman smiled at Captain Janeway, glanced quickly at Seven, then brought her gaze back to Aislin. “I thought she was born yesterday?”
The Doctor, who to Janeway seemed to preen as though he were the proud father, interjected broadly, “She was,” he began walking over. “She is...” He turned to look as Aislin. “She is...” He produced a medical tricorder.
Janeway put her hand on it staying his analysis. “She's fine, Doctor. We'll bring her by for a physical in the morning.”
His brow knit in consternation. “Don't forget.”
"I will not forget,” Seven assured him.
"Now let's get back to this party,” Janeway encouraged.
The mothers and daughter settled onto the central sofa, and Neelix began bringing over the presents one at a time. Some would be opened by Seven, others by Kathryn. Little things, colorful, simple toys. One truly took Kathryn's breath away. She stroked the surface for several minutes, reading the words. It was a commemorative plaque stating the child's birth date in Stardate, in Standard with a Vulcan prayer for children etched and molded in a replica of Voyager's own commissioning plaque. The collaborative gift was from Tuvok and the Doctor. It had raised more than a few eyebrows, but Tuvok's face remained impassive as ever, to all eyes but Kathryn's. She nodded sincerely meeting her Security Chief's sanguine gaze.
Aislin's attention was easily caught by the colorful paper. With stubby fingers and quickly focusing eyes, she seized the ring holding a set of primary color coded keys. Tom laughed; it had been his gift. “Looks like she wants the keys to the ship already. I better watch out.”
Laughter concluded and more libations made the rounds. Music, child tunes from the various cultures of the many species who served aboard Voyager, began to fill the air, everything lullabys to toddler tunes, from lyrical farces to lyrical lessons. Kathryn caught Seven's hand wanting to dance as an Irish lullaby tune started to play. Holding Aislin, Seven rose to her feet, Kathryn tucked herself against Seven's other breast, putting an arm around Aislin's back as well, and the three were given space to step together to the song's rhythms.
At the conclusion, Kathryn lifted on her toes, kissed Seven, then brushed her lips atop Aislin's hair. When she pulled back to speak, she was surprised by Aislin's fingers seemingly caught in her collar. She looked into her daughter's face. “Something you wanted, little miss?”
Aislin leaned forward and bumped her face against Kathryn's face. She was mimicking the kisses she had seen Seven and Kathryn do.
"Oh, I love you too, sweetheart.” Kathryn purposefully kissed Aislin on the side of her lips.
"Wuh,” responded Aislin. Seven and Kathryn's lips curved, enamored of their daughter's first sound.
"That's right, Aislin. Love. Love you.” Kathryn kissed her again.
There was a sudden flash of light off to Kathryn's right and she startled, turned and spied The Doctor utilizing his imagizer to capture the moment. “Nothing like making a spectacle of ourselves in front of the crew, hmm, Seven?”
"We have been most restrained,” Seven replied. “I would like to go back to our quarters and be unrestrained,” she added, keeping her voice low, head close to Aislin as she spoke with Kathryn.
"Perhaps we can compromise. How do you feel about letting others hold Aislin?”
"And what would I be doing instead?”
Kathryn smiled. “Holding me.”
The interest was clear in Seven's blue eyes, and Kathryn stepped back, taking Aislin from Seven's arms. The girl groped momentarily in the air between them, then turned and clutched Kathryn's collar. “Tom, B'Elanna, would you like to hold Aislin for a while?” She called the young couple over to them. “I'd like to dance a moment with Seven, just the two of us.”
"No problem, Captain.” Tom took Aislin in his big gentle hands, and all watched as Aislin screwed up her face, considering the different face. She cried a little. Tom asked for the toy keys from the nearby tabletop, and B'Elanna retrieved them. Aislin promptly decided he was a pretty good guy as she stuffed the key ring in her mouth and began mashing it with her gums. “I think we'll be fine here for a few minutes, Captain. I think you can dance with Seven.”
"Thank you.” Kathryn turned to Seven, bowed at the waist, and held out her hand when she was upright once more. “My love, Seven, may I have this dance?”
"My pleasure, Captain.”
The two women came together naturally fitting their bodies, arms wrapped around one another's backs and began to sway to one of the lullabys. It was both the most surreal moment Kathryn had ever spent and the most perfect. Her entire field of vision filled with Seven's beguiling face, the eyes dancing with inner light.
"We are still the center of attention,” Seven murmured.
"Yes, but I have a solution to that. Since Chakotay couldn't seem to bring himself to handle the announcement, now seems like a pretty good time to do it myself.”
"You are referring to the relaxing of fraternization protocols?”
As the song ended, Kathryn turned around, remaining in the circle of Seven's arms. “I thank you all for coming to this special occasion.” With that simple introduction, silence fell. The music stopped and all eyes were on her. “It was quite unexpected for Seven and myself, but it made me aware of something perhaps we should have done quite some time ago.”
She looked up over her shoulder to Seven's face and smiled, briefly squeezing the young woman's forearm across her own stomach.
"It was impossible, we learned early, to deny emotional connections between officers to form, no matter what Starfleet regulations would have said. However, we firmly mandated that Voyager was not a family ship, and asked each of you to have your intimacies only after all the precautions had been taken.” There was a general murmur of awareness. “I hereby modify that order. Voyager is still not vastly equipped for family life, children, and all their needs. However, I believe responsibly we can become more than we are. I want each department, each member of this crew, to consider what we would need, how we should alter bulkheads, department missions, programs, security provisions...to provide for our next generation.”
"But captain, what about getting home?”
"Ensign Deloitte,” she addressed the willowy Andorian male. “Our primary mission has not changed. We are simply going to accept that children are the natural outgrowth of love we have come to share with each other. And raise them along the way.”
"Yes ma'am.” He smiled, the naturally thin lips of his heritage vanishing in the pull of his cheeks. Applause filled the air, and Neelix switched the music to a very upbeat dance tune, and Seven and Kathryn vacated the floor as dancing more suited to new year's revelry soon took up the space.
"The crew seem pleased with the change in plans.”
"I'll send the department calls through officially at the next senior crew briefing, but we are a family. It was time I let them know it wasn't just lip-service. Families have children.”
Speaking of children, Naomi came over with her mother Samantha Wildman as Seven and Kathryn settled back, sharing nibbles of the finger foods Neelix had provided.
"Hi, Captain. Hello, Seven.” Naomi sat down next to Seven.
"It is good to see you again, Naomi.”
"Captain,” Samantha began.
"Yes, Samantha?” Kathryn invited the woman to speak casually as she put an arm around Seven's shoulders.
"I know that having Naomi on board was a hard decision.”
"And I never regretted it.”
"You mentioned a lot of changes for Voyager.”
"And we'll start talking about them tomorrow.”
"I'd like to volunteer to coordinate it all.”
"Are you certain?”
Kathryn nodded as she met the woman's doe brown eyes. Obviously she's been through the worries herself, Kathryn. She's probably thought of a lot of the things she wished she had for Naomi... “All right, Sam. You're now officially senior staff. We'll start outlining at tomorrow's senior staff meeting. Oh-nine-hundred.”
"Thank you, Captain.”
Naomi smiled broadly. “And I'll talk to you about babysitting, Seven.”
"I do not require babysitting, Naomi Wildman.”
The twinkle in Seven's eye told both Kathryn and Naomi that the ex-Borg knew exactly what she was saying. Naomi played along. “I meant Aislin, Seven.” She shook her head in dramatic exasperation.
"I will deliver Aislin to you prior to my shift start in Astrometrics then.”
"Cool!” Naomi stood. “Permission to be excused, Captain?”
"Permission granted.” The blonde K'tarian darted off and all three women saw her corner Neelix excitedly. The Talaxian smiled at her, patted her shoulder and took her into the kitchen space.
"Is that all right, Samantha?” Kathryn asked.
"Aislin is all she can talk about. Practically like having a little sister for her.”
There was a sudden cry from across the room and all three women's gazes found Harry Kim, sitting with B'Elanna and Tom, holding Aislin out at arm's length looking down at his uniform, visibly spit upon.
"It appears Aislin's stomach is upset,” observed Seven.
"It doesn't look too bad,” Samantha considered. “He probably bounced her too hard.”
Kathryn Janeway said nothing, only rising to her feet, crossing the room with purpose, taking her daughter decisively from Kim's hands, giving him a Force Ten glare, and striding back to where Samantha and Seven sat. Seven looked up at her, but something in Aislin's face caught Seven's attention forestalling her bemusement at her lover's high-handed behavior. “Aislin had cut her first tooth.”
Kathryn turned Aislin in her hands, studying her daughter's face. With a tentative finger, she pressed into Aislin's mouth, only to feel the edge of a tooth in her upper gum. “I'll be damned.” She looked back at Kim, who was rubbing his hand. “Seven, would you hand me that teething ring.”
Seven lifted the polymer clear ring studded with tiny bumps and passed it to Kathryn as she sat adjusting Aislin in her lap. The ring promptly interceded between gums and Aislin concentrated on the mashing motions she was making with her mouth, ignoring, it seemed, everything around her as she closed her eyes.
"Tired too,” Samantha offered. “I have to take Naomi off to bed, perhaps you should put Aislin down for the night as well.”
* * *
When Kathryn, carrying Aislin, and Seven retired to their quarters, the women put the girl down in her bassinet, only to watch her promptly get onto her hands and knees, and push against the side, quickly rising to her knees. “We will need a larger area,” Seven considered as she caught their daughter before she could fall forward over the top edge. “With higher walls.”
Kathryn, who had taken the moments while Seven handled Aislin to remove her clothes and pull on a robe to cover her naked skin, pointed out, “We'll have to requisition it to be produced in ship's stores. In the meantime, we probably should put her on the bed again, between us.”
Seven shook her head. “I wish our bed to remain ours.”
Kathryn took Aislin while Seven stripped and put on a robe as well. “What do you suggest?”
"A forcefield.” Taking Aislin from Kathryn she placed the baby on her back in the bassinet and stepped back. Though Aislin squirmed and started to cry, she directed the computer, “Computer erect a forcefield level 2 around the bassinet coordinates.”
The photonic shielding sparkled into existence, a shimmering curtain surrounding the bassinet. Aislin, who had rolled over, pushed up, and gotten to the side, impacted it with the top of her head a little startled, but obviously not painfully.
However, in the next instant, it was Kathryn and Seven who gasped in surprise. Aislin's fingers reached up to investigate the situation, and tingled for a moment before passing right through the barrier.
It was only Seven's Borg-fast reflexes which prevented Aislin tumbling to the floor as her body followed her hand, slipping through the barrier as easily as if a curtain were being parted.
Mothers and baby regarded one another. “I guess you're sleeping with us, Aislin,” Kathryn remarked ruefully. “We're definitely taking her to The Doctor in the morning.”
"I concur.” Seven held Aislin to her chest, alarmed how fast her heart was beating with the anxiety. Aislin nuzzled in and quickly quieted.
Kathryn put her arm around Seven's back. “Sit down, Seven.”
Rotely Seven did as she was told, sitting back on the bed. “I am scared, Kathryn.”
"I know, Seven.” Kathryn helped Seven lay back, positioning Aislin next to her, and then climbed onto the bed, pulling the covers up over all of them. She eased back as Seven adjusted Aislin for her last feeding of the night, the eager mouth closing around Seven's left nipple as they lay together on the bed. The new tooth rasped against Seven's skin, causing light discomfort, but more interested in the liquid nutrition, Aislin quickly settled into suckling instead of chewing.
Seven stroked Aislin's hair. Feeling Kathryn's fingers lifting her own chin, she raised her eyes to her lover and tremulously smiled. “We'll discuss if you need to keep doing that, or if we're to start more solid foods, in the morning with The Doctor.”
"Before or after the staff meeting?”
Kathryn sighed. Fitting a baby into their schedules was quite the trick. “Before,” she decided quickly. “Computer, set alarm for oh-five-hundred. Send a message to The Doctor we will be visiting at oh-five-thirty.”
"Alarm set. Message sent.”
At long last, Kathryn finally closed her eyes. Seven finished feeding Aislin, switching to the other breast until it was drained, then rubbed the baby's back holding her to her shoulder. Kathryn sleepily repositioned Aislin on the bedding between them and all three closed their eyes for the remainder of the night.
* * *
The computer announced, “Oh-five-hundred hours.”
The first thing Kathryn noticed when she opened her eyes was Seven looking at her from across the room. Having been next to Seven most of the night, she was surprised to see her lover out of bed. However, she decided not to ask that question, when another promptly occurred to her when Aislin was not immediately in sight. “Where's Aislin?”
During the night, I had to catch her before she left the quarters.”
"Where is she now?” Kathryn asked, rubbing sleep from her eyes.
"In a modulating frequency forcefield in the main room.”
Judging from Seven's position sitting in the chair canted toward the outer room by the doorway, it was clear to Kathryn that Seven had most of her attention, if not all her sensors except her eyes, trained on their infant child.
"I guess it's time to go see The Doctor.” Rising from the bed, Kathryn crossed to the chair and put her hand lightly on Seven's shoulder. “You take a shower first. I'll keep Aislin occupied.”
"She is... resourceful.”
"So am I.” Kathryn bent at the waist and kissed Seven's cheek. “Go shower. Aislin and I will be right here when you get out.” She then left Seven to head into the ensuite alone, and entered the main living space, to see Aislin standing within a roughly two meter square space bounded in all directions by a floor-to-ceiling forcefield. Apparently the frequency changes were the only thing keeping Aislin from getting through as she continually tested the electrical surface, paused, and at the same time as a whine from the computer, would obviously adjust before trying again.
With no idea how long the situation had been going on, Kathryn could not guess how many computational variations of spectral emissions the computer had utilized, but nothing was infinite. She decided better to distract Aislin rather than let the process continue. “Aislin?”
The girl's clearly intelligent gaze immediately focused on her.
"Good morning,” Kathryn said clearly. “So you decided you didn't need as much sleep as your mama or me, hmm?”
Hunkering down she looked directly at Aislin, but spoke to the computer, “Computer, release forcefield.”
There was a fizzling and Kathryn felt the tingle of the nearby field dissipate across her skin as it went inactive. She reached out for Aislin, who briefly wobbled, with the loss of the invisible wall support. “Let's see about having some breakfast ready before mama gets out here.” The baby was clearly again larger than when they had gone to sleep. If she had to guess, nearly six months old physically. They still had no real idea whether her intellect, particularly speech, was on similar parity. There was just something to be said for extended exposure to be able to pick up a language. She'd begun making sounds yesterday at the party, and Janeway and Seven both had tried to connect the sounds to real words, repeat them clearly, and speak them back to her in simple sentences.
Now holding Aislin on her hip, Kathryn programmed the replicator, in this case erring on the side of caution. Too much awareness that she could address the computer to do things and they might have a real problem containing Aislin as she grew faster and smarter. The girl's fingers, more dextrous now, pulled at various parts of Kathryn's person and clothing.
She began naming off body parts that were touched by her daughter, then touching back these same body parts on Aislin's body, extending to parts of Aislin like her toes, feet, legs, which she had not really equated on others yet. When there was a noise accompanying Seven's arrival from the ensuite, both Aislin and Kathryn looked up from where they were in the middle of the floor to see Seven tucking hair back in her customary bun. Aislin spoke clearly, “Mama.”
The sound startled Seven and Kathryn and both gaped at Aislin before looking at each other. Kathryn smiled first. “Yes, Aislin. Your mama is very beautiful.”
Seven's cheeks turned pink and she averted her gaze. After a moment's recovery, she offered, “I will watch Aislin while you wash.”
Getting to her feet, and meeting Seven a few steps from Aislin, Kathryn pulled Seven into an embrace. “Thanks. I'll be right back.”
Seven studied Aislin for several minutes when Kathryn disappeared. It was clear to her immediately that Kathryn had disengaged the forcefield, in favor of distracting Aislin with play. Hesitantly, Seven lowered herself to the floor. Aislin rolled over her left hip and crawled to Seven's side. The girl's tiny hands pushed and pulled her own hands, and Seven sighed. She had overheard Kathryn speaking a litany of body parts and readily figured that might pass the time again. “Hands,” she said clearly. Aislin echoed, “Hanz.”
Seven separated the first finger from her other fingers, wrapping Aislin's littler fingers around the single appendage. “Finger.”
Seven was somewhat at a loss. She had not needed to be this rudimentary with One. His acceleration had taken him past all this. She felt a pang of pain at the thought of the young Borg most had considered her offspring. Looking now at Aislin, she understood that pain would be magnified infinitely worse and recoiled from the possibility.
"Kathryn?” Caught feeling inadequate, Seven ducked her head and quickly rose to her feet. “We should go to Sickbay.”
"Do you want the small breakfast I put in stasis for you?”
"I am not hungry.”
Kathryn collected Aislin from the floor. Seven collected the carryall bag. The small family exited the captain's quarters and headed for the turbolift at the end of the corridor between the cabins occupied by the first officer and security chief. Aislin was babbling full-tilt now, naming body parts as quickly as she could touch them. When the turbolift arrived, Seven entered first, mostly to get away from Aislin's pull on her cheek implant. Thankfully the nerve impulses between her implants and her organic systems were minimal and there was very little pain; she could not deny however that she was discomfited nonetheless. When Aislin pulled at her own cheek implant however, that caused a great deal of howling within the turbolift's confined space. Kathryn pulled the tiny hand away and kissed the cheek, managing to get the noise to subside only as the turbolift stopped on the deck containing Sickbay.
As they stepped out, Kathryn reached up with her hand, cupped Seven's cheek, and kissed it. Seven could not deny she felt soothed by the gesture as well.
* * *
The Doctor's battery of tests brought some answers. Aislin was indeed physically six months old, having aged approximately 25 weeks in 73 hours. At this rate, she would be a year older every six and a half days. Her Borg-related systems seemed to be operating without need for a mechanical regeneration cycle. No, he advised them, he was not sure if that was a permanent situation, or if she would need it in the future. Developmentally she was physically on par with her human age, and walking on her own should occur within the next day or so.
Her verbal skills surprised him, saying, “Considering her mothers, she should be the most silent child ever.” Kathryn glared at him.
"You both say a great deal without ever speaking,” he defended. Kathryn was abashed. “Captain, I am advising Aislin get socialization as quickly as possible.”
"Can we utilize the holodecks?” Kathryn asked.
"It is more important to have real interactions,” The Doctor replied.
"Well, we have Naomi and Neelix set immediately to handle babysitting.”
"And her nutritional needs have moved beyond breast milk.”
Seven sighed; Kathryn had suspected as much. “What should she be eating now?”
"I will develop a nutritional menu to access from the replicators.”
"Thank you, Doctor.”
"You're welcome, Seven.” He turned to Janeway. “Captain, we must consider a more formal educational system. Aislin will need it very quickly.”
"I have Samantha Wildman coordinating things, Doctor. I'm sure she will plumb the crew for those able and willing to add educational duties to their job description.”
"Yes, Captain.” He put away his instruments. “We're finished here. I'd like to see her each morning to continue monitoring her growth.”
"Certainly.” Kathryn tapped her combadge. “Captain Janeway to Naomi Wildman.”
"Naomi Wildman here, Captain.”
"What is your present location?”
"I'm in the mess hall eating breakfast with Neelix and Mom before she goes on shift.”
"Report to Sickbay when you are finished, Miss Wildman. Aislin is waiting for you.”
"Yes, ma'am.” Kathryn smiled at the clearly happy tone from her bridge assistant.
"Thank you, Miss Wildman. Janeway out.” Kathryn looked to The Doctor. “Can you watch her until Naomi arrives? Seven and I have to report to the bridge to prepare for this morning's meeting.”
"I will gladly do so, Captain.” He picked up Aislin and began talking to her steadily as Seven and Janeway headed for the door.
Kathryn was certain she heard “biometric nomenclatures” as the Sickbay doors swished shut behind them. “I hope she doesn't pick up too much information from The Doctor,” she confided to Seven. Taking one another's hands in solid support, the couple proceeded to the bridge just as Alpha shift officially commenced, oh-nine-hundred hours.
* * *
During the turbolift trip to the bridge, Seven and Kathryn leaned into one another and held hands. “We're doing the right thing,” Kathryn said though Seven had not said anything.
“ I did not think we were not,” Seven replied. “Kathryn, you answered a question I did not ask. Are you upset by something?”
“ I don't want to keep leaving Aislin like this.”
“You are the captain of Voyager. Have you not said that women worked and raised children for 'a million years'?”
Kathryn squeezed Seven hand and kissed a section of the long leonine throat within reach of her lips. She laughed ruefully. “I did say that didn't I?” She had been trying to soothe Seven when Aislin's colicky night had led to the one and only time Seven ever switched to another shift.
“You are afraid of something.”
“You know me so well?”
“I believe I do.”
Kathryn nodded. “You're right. I don't want to miss something. She's changing so fast. Babies change fast. I know that, but Aislin's... She's already mobile. We've only had her with us a week! What are we going to miss in the hour of a meeting? Or just the six hours until lunch?”
“I could instruct the computer to record her movements.”
“Voyager's computer core has more important things to do than be a baby monitor.” Kathryn leaned back, brushed the hair back from her face and cheeks. “I'm being absurd. The Doctor is a very capable babysitter. And so is Naomi.”
“But you will still wish to take Aislin to lunch with us.”
Kathryn laughed. “Yeah, yeah, I will.”
Seven kissed her just as the 'lift began slowing to a stop. They were only holding hands as the 'lift doors opened revealing the bridge crew at their stations. Seven released Kathryn's hand and went to her duty station, as Kathryn descended into the command well, and took the briefing from Chakotay, who had taken over from Harry Kim. With her enhanced hearing, Seven listened to the entire low-voiced exchange:
“Good morning, Commander.”
“Have a good night, Captain?”
“Reasonable. How about here?”
“We're still on course for the Alpha quadrant. We've crossed another 16 lightyears off the trip since B'Elanna's latest engine efficiencies went into effect.”
“That's good news. I'm ready to move on from this space. It's been almost too quiet.”
“It was an uneventful night. Sensor reports haven't been completed, but mostly it was background radiations. Kim did report there were anomalous readings just at the periphery of starboard sensors. He extended the sensor sweep for a few passes in that direction and was only able to determine they seemed to be of Borg origin.”
“Borg?” Kathryn's face went ash-white.
“No movement closer though. They probably don't even know that we're here. Probably just patrolling.”
“I bet.” Kathryn's jaw tightened. She looked out toward the forward viewscreen, then swept the entire bridge, including the aft stations. Seven willed her partner to relax.
“If the Queen had wanted to come after us again, I don't think she would have let Seven go,” Chakotay replied.
“The Queen's thoughts are her own, Commander.” Kathryn's hands went to her hips, as she considered deep thoughts. Lifting her head, Kathryn's eyes briefly searched out Seven's. Kathryn's swallow told Seven all she needed to know of Kathryn's emotionally fraught thoughts. The Queen is keeping tabs on Aislin.
“I will be in Astrometrics,” Seven stated loudly.
Chakotay glanced up. “Fine.”
Seven quickly departed the bridge.
Chakotay settled back to his chair. “Kathryn?”
“We'll postpone the meeting until Seven's report.”
“You have a different idea?”
“No, Captain.” Chakotay tapped a series of commands into his console, alerting the department heads that the meeting would be postponed approximately thirty minutes.
* * *
“Thank you for the Engineering report, B'Elanna. Astrometrics?” Despite her desire to get to this information first, Kathryn knew that the appearance of calm was as important – if not more so – at times. The rest of the ship's departments were in fine shape.
“The Borg vessels – ”
“Vessels?” B'Elanna interrupted Seven. “There's more than one?”
“I was able to identify twenty-two vessels approximately 46 light years distant on course 145 mark 92.”
“What are they doing?” Tuvok interjected calmly with his pertinent question.
“They do not appear to have any sensors sweeping this direction at all. There is a group of inhabited colonies from the next star system which they are currently focused on.”
“Why haven't we received any distress signals from the colonies?”
“I do not know,” Seven said.
Janeway weighed what she wanted to do – investigate, perhaps mount an intervention – with what she knew she had to do, protect Voyager and all her crew. She exhaled. “We'll keep monitoring the situation, but maintain our current heading. Keep me apprised of any changes in the situation.” Seven dipped her chin and acknowledged the instructions. “Samantha, you had a report on the school planning?”
“Yes, Captain. I've been able to poll the crew for several educational positions. We've had a number of applicants to teach in various subject areas, including the various visual arts and music.”
“I volunteered in music,” Harry Kim stated.
Janeway bestowed a smile. “Part-time I hope. I still see you in Command someday, Ensign.”
“Me too.” Harry smiled back.
“I've started a 'school' department,” Samantha Wildman added. “I'd like to convene individuals willing to interview crew members for the teaching positions, and start having curriculum planning meetings as we get people into place.”
“The Voyager school will open its doors quickly then,” the captain praised. Janeway turned to Chakotay. “How are the crew adjusting to the knowledge they can start families, Commander?”
“We've had two requests for wedding ceremonies to be performed by the captain,” he responded. “And the Doctor reported five couples have stopped coming for their inhibitor injections.”
“Sounds like it was the right time after all.”
“I guess so.” Chakotay was subdued.
Janeway decided to deal with that one-on-one. “Is there anything else?” The department heads and senior officers all shook their heads. “All right. Dismissed.”
She and the Alpha bridge crew reported there. The rest took the turbolifts back to the lower decks and their departments.
Every time Kathryn checked, the Borg remained where they were, just off the edge of the starboard sensors. Damn it, what are they waiting for?
* * *
Four days later...
Seven stood with her biosuit only half on as she stood before the ensuite mirror lifting, twisting and securing her platinum locks into her customary bun. Kathryn stepped into the ensuite space behind her, wrapped her arms around the voluptuous torso and squeezed the stiffening nipples as she placed kisses between the sharply defined shoulder blades along the vertebrae in sharp relief.
“Good morning, Kathryn.”
Leaning back Kathryn accepted a kiss as Seven leoninely twisted. “Good morning, my love.”
They had fallen into a routine of sorts over the last few days. Last night had been one of Seven's regeneration periods. Kathryn continued to kiss, reveling in the tingle she felt off Seven after the woman regenerated. At least she was sure it was simply a psychosomatic sensation, as she had never been harmed by any of her contact with Seven. She indulged in more kisses. Aislin had been sleeping better the last couple nights, and Kathryn relished a chance at private intimate time with Seven before their day began. She assured the ensuite door was securely closed, then stymied Seven's attempts to complete her dressing.
“Where is Aislin?” Seven asked, turning around.
“Asleep,” Kathryn confirmed. She then nibbled Seven's throat as the Borg braced back against the mirror and wash counter. Seven gasped when Kathryn caught her nipple between her teeth.
“Did you sleep well?” Seven managed between gasps. Kathryn reveled in the fingers Borg and human moving through her hair as Seven succumbed to their contact.
“About as well as can be expected without being in your arms.” Kathryn then wrapped her arms around Seven, using a little pressure to hold the trembling body in place for her attention. “I miss you more every time it seems.”
Seven's hands stroked up and down Kathryn's back. She shrugged out of her nightgown, letting the satin pool on the floor at their feet. There was a light pressure on the top of Kathryn's head as Seven pressed her lips to Kathryn's hair.
Seven inhaled the scent of her lover and gave over to the emotions their connection increasingly evoked for her as well. Seven trembled, gasped, and finally cried out in her pleasure at Kathryn's stroking and pleasantly invasive caresses. Kathryn only then released her and helped her close her biosuit. It wasn't necessary, Seven had tried to explain once, but Kathryn had indicated it was essential to her.
The warm touch of Kathryn's hands on her skin had become equally essential to Seven.
They activated the ensuite door and found Aislin standing there, looking at it in curiosity. “Mama?”
Now Kathryn blushed.
“You should be asleep, Aislin,” Seven said. She reached down and Aislin reached up, their hands cupping together.
Seven smiled. “Yes. Your mother Kathryn was assisting me in the ensuite.”
Kathryn crouched beside Aislin, now physically about 18 months old. “We should all go back to sleep for a few hours.”
“Not sleepy.” Seven watched Kathryn exhale. They had already learned it was impossible to reason against Aislin's resistance. In dealing with the toddler, resistance was indeed futile – for the adult involved.
“Let's all go lie down together then.” Seven crossed the room with Aislin as Kathryn stood again. The three of them situated on Kathryn's bed, and Aislin sat between Seven and Kathryn, looking from one to the other steadily. Seven eased back against her pillows, reclining. Kathryn did the same. “Let's lie down,” Seven said again.
Aislin played with her toes.
Under the covers, Seven caressed Kathryn's hand. It was still three hours until they had to rise for Alpha shift. She was determined to hold her partner's body against her own for as much of that time as possible. They started to position themselves, Seven spooning up against Kathryn's back.
Aislin's gaze became curious – about them. “Mama?”
“Go to sleep, Aislin,” Kathryn said quietly. “Computer, lower lights to ten percent.”
Aislin's eyes narrowed. Seven thought they glowed in dim light. The lights came back up before she was certain though. “Aislin!”
“What happened?” Kathryn sat up abruptly, clearly disoriented by the bright light.
“Aislin adjusted the lights.”
“I do not know how.” Seven grimly studied their daughter. “Aislin, it is time to be sleeping.” She addressed the computer, “Computer, lower lights. Set lock out Aislin Hansen-Janeway.”
The lights lowered once again. There was a dull fweep as the computer appeared to comply with Seven's secondary instructions.
She had just wrapped her arms around Kathryn and rested her head in the curve of Kathryn's throat and shoulder when there was a surge of electrical current through her foot. “Computer, lights!” Kathryn jerked upright. “Aislin, it's time to comply.”
“Aislin, you will not use your abilities to get your way. It is time to sleep. Now. You have a choice. Will you sleep here or in your own bed?”
Aislin's eyes narrowed again. Seven reached out with her Borg-enhanced left hand. Just as she closed her hand around Aislin's forearm, the multiphasic shielding deflected the lightning which erupted from that same hand away from herself and Kathryn.
“Will you sleep here or in your own bed?”
Aislin finally appeared to surrender to her two choices, dipping her head. The girl's eyes shifted from shiny gray-white to a placid blue.
“Aislin, what is your choice?” Seven asked.
Seven kissed Kathryn's shoulder, quickly lifted herself from the bed, picked up Aislin and walked her over to the baby's bed against the specially reinforced bulkhead. The electrical damping field was activated by Aislin's biosignature being sensed within it, so Seven nor Kathryn had to inform the computer to activate it, risking Aislin's deciphering how to control that as well. The electrical damping field also served another purpose. Unlike a forcefield, it was not designed to keep Aislin in. It simply dampened her ability to use electrical impulses from her cybernetic systems to do anything while within the field.
It had a side effect of making her sleepy. Seven needed to do more research on that, but for now, it kept Aislin safe – and the ship safe enough from Aislin for her parents to get a few hours of sleep.
“Everything all right?” Kathryn murmured as Seven returned to their bed.
Wrapping herself around her love, Seven silently hoped so, and said aloud, “Everything's fine. Sleep well, Kathryn.”
* * *
Aislin was left with the Doctor again the next morning as Seven and Kathryn instructed him to figure out if there was anything to do about Aislin's electrically-enhanced tantrums. He shrugged. “She's perfectly normal for her age,” he said.
“Doctor, most children can't electrocute their parents in their bed if they get into a disagreement. The amperage was weak, but the voltage would have been sufficient in other circumstances to kill Kathryn.” He blanched at Seven's words.
“I'll see what I can do.”
“We will return to collect Aislin for lunch. She must comprehend that we are her parents, not people to be directed to do her bidding.”
At the Doctor's nod, Seven joined Kathryn at the doorway to Sickbay. “What is your first stop of the day?” Seven asked.
“I have a department visit this morning. Xenobiology.”
“That is a small department. You should be finished in time for lunch.”
“We haven't landed a lot of places to give them research material.”
“They will ask for an opportunity.”
“Yes, I know.” Kathryn sighed as they walked down the corridor toward the turbolift.
“You should place a request with Astrometrics to find something suitable.” Seven brushed Kathryn's cheek with her human hand as they entered the turbolift. “It would be good for everyone. We have been running near top speed without deviation since my return.”
Kathryn said nothing.
Seven said, “She is not pursuing us for Aislin... or me, Kathryn. Do not be afraid.”
“I'm not – ” Seven lifted her brow with the implant. “After last night, Seven... I don't know what to believe. Why would Aislin do that to us?”
“Your child-rearing research did not include a discussion of 'the terrible twos'?”
Kathryn sighed, dropped her forehead to Seven's chest and accepted the comfort of Seven's arms around her body, offering a squeeze back. “So you've been catching up on some reading?”
“I do still have inputs during my regeneration cycle. I thought it prudent to 'keep reading'.”
Kathryn's chuckle was dryly humored. “I love you, Seven.”
“And I love you, Kathryn.”
“What will we do about Aislin?”
“The Doctor will undoubtedly come up with something.”
Inside sickbay, the Doctor's program went quietly offline. Aislin tossed her strawberry blond locks and toddled out of sickbay.
* * *
Janeway felt refreshed in purpose as she bent her head to complete her review of the weekly reports. Taking time for a lunch break had meant so little to Janeway in the recent past. Now she was eager, even clock watching, for her scheduled break so she could rejoin Seven and Aislin, return to her quarters, and engage in family time.
The depth of enjoyment Kathryn had from her thoughts and experience of “family”, odd moments like last night aside, made her think more about her father and mother, and the family life she herself had growing up. She wondered if her father had settled his family in the Traditionalist area specifically to make his times away from Starfleet as relaxingly different as possible. She herself had begun thinking of all the simple things to do with her family: read an actual paper book or take picnics planetside.
She recalled the previous evening when Aislin refused to sleep. Seven had, apparently, seen signs of Aislin's tantrum, able to deflect the electrical storm away from them safely, but if Seven hadn't been around... Kathryn shook her head. She hadn't suspected anything amiss. She had only seen a matching expression to Seven's inquisitive look. If Aislin half smiled, Janeway completely crumbled, awed by the sheer force of personality within those intelligent gray-blue eyes.
She glanced up again at the chronometer and smiled. Lunch. She immediately stood and exited her ready room striding onto the bridge. "Commander?"
Chakotay looked up from his console. "Yes, Captain?"
"You have the bridge."
Formalities observed, she caught a smile from Harry Kim at Ops.
"Tuvok," she said low, as she walked up to his station.
"Yes, Captain?" The Vulcan's expression did not alter.
"Seven and I would like to request your presence in our quarters when you're finished with Beta shift."
"May I inquire as to the nature of the meeting?"
"We'll discuss it when you get there."
"As you wish, Captain."
Kathryn nodded and turned for the turbolift. Her last view of the bridge was of the forward station and viewscreen, and the peaceful space outlined within. Twelve-hundred and all's well, she thought, and laughed.
* * *
Seven quickly logged off her board in Astrometrics and nodded to Icheb. "I will be unavailable until Alpha shift tomorrow morning," she stated. Following lunch, she had decided to take an early regeneration cycle, to process some data on Aislin's latest biomechanical surprises. She needed to ascertain their source, and while she could have the Doctor perform an examination, she strongly suspected he would not see a connection as she would. She had all of Aislin's latest data stored in her cortical node and she was determined to find a solution. She would not allow others on Voyager to come to harm simply because her daughter chose to throw a tantrum
"Understood." He looked over from his console. "Have a good night, Seven." He smiled.
"You should be sure to finish in a timely manner and regenerate properly," she said, aware that he was taking on her duties easily, and he was still very young himself.
“I know.” He looked askance at her. “Seven, you've got Aislin to worry about. I can take care of myself."
Seven shook her head. "I will always care for you, Icheb."
"I know,” he said kindly and smiled. “You should leave. I'm sure Captain Janeway has already reached your quarters."
Seven nodded once and then strode quickly for the door. She allowed what she now understood to be anticipation to return to the forefront of her emotions to replace the single-minded attention to her duties, separating the two as if by a wall had been the only way she was able to get through her shifts without constantly hailing Naomi on her combadge.
She entered the quarters she shared with Janeway to see her partner smiling and engaged in conversation with Naomi while dandling Aislin on her hip. The image brought a sense of relief, and sense of everything being in its proper place. "Kathryn. Naomi Wildman," she stated, making her presence known.
"Hi, Seven!" Naomi took a nod from the captain and disengaged from their conversation to meet Seven across the room. "Did you have a good shift?"
"My shift was completed satisfactorily. Were you tending Aislin?"
Naomi tucked her hands behind her back in a mimic of Seven's reporting stance. "Neelix and I took Aislin to the holodeck and showed her the Flotter program."
"Where is Neelix now?"
"He is in the mess hall. I've been watching Aislin on my own since eleven hundred hours."
Just an hour then, thought Seven. “Was the Doctor aware of your trip to the holodeck?”
“Neelix said Aislin wanted to go. He hailed me, said he was on his way to sickbay to pick her up.”
"You'll find extra rations and credits in your name in the computer, Naomi," Kathryn interjected, having come across the room, still carrying Aislin. "Thank you again for your time."
"I love doing it, Captain. Thank you for permitting it."
"You're dismissed then, Miss Wildman. I'm sure your mother is waiting your lunch on you."
"Yes, ma'am." Naomi saluted the captain and ran from the quarters.
Seven watched Naomi go, turning back only as she felt a touch on her arm. She turned back and took in Kathryn's smile as well as Aislin's expression. There was, as was recently more and more the case, evidence of a very sharp mind behind the baby's eyes. "We should play the ship's security video."
Kathryn laughed. "Why? Do you think we missed something?"
"How did you find them when you entered the quarters?"
"I found them playing with blocks in the middle of the floor. Meters away from any consoles."
Seven arched her implanted eyebrow. "I still believe we should check the security video."
"Well, we can do that after lunch. Why don't you take Aislin and review the video while I program the replicator." Kathryn handed Aislin over to Seven, though the girl kicked her feet. "Do you want to get down, Aislin?"
"Down." Aislin pointed at the floor still kicking her feet against Seven's shin. The blonde woman's expression became one of dismay.
Kathryn held Aislin's feet still as she leaned in and lifted her chin to smile up at Seven. "A kiss before I go?"
"You are not going far," Seven replied, but she kissed her anyway.
"I'll only be a few minutes. Then we can all sit and eat and you can tell me about your day."
Seven watched her partner's departure and only as she was turning away did she notice Aislin's gaze had also been following the woman and now, as she was out of sight, Aislin's lower lip began trembling and her face pinched into an expression of distress. "Kath..." She trailed off and began again. "She will return shortly. Do not worry."
Aislin looked up at her, but her expression did not relax. The lower lip quivering soon became full out crying, and worked quickly into hiccuping screams.
Seven's body tensed, her heart raced, and she considered what to do. Holding Aislin she hurried to the replicator.
"Computer, Aislin supplement zero-one." Immediately the replicator produced the requested liquid supplement in a bottle.
When Seven tried to present the bottle, Aislin pushed it away and her screaming took on another tensioned quality as she began pulling on her left ear.
In quick order, Seven checked the child's diaper finding it unsoiled, and then attempted to offer finger foods recommended from the Doctor's daily nutritional list.
Seated on the sofa, with Aislin squirming and screaming beside her, Seven looked up to see Kathryn approaching. “Food's ready.”
“Aislin is upset.”
“I can see that. What have you tried?”
“A bottle. I have also checked her diaper, and attempted to offer her a variety of foods.”
“Is she tired?”
“I do not think so.” Seven winced as Aislin's scream changed again in pitch. As she analyzed it, she was shocked to realize it was not one a normal human child should be able to make. Aislin was testing her full Borg-Human range, including the languages of several assimilated species. Seven sighed. Seven utilized her vocal subprocessor and produced a series of clucks, counterpoint but similar to Aislin's noises. The baby blinked, quieted and stared at Seven in wide-eyed disbelief. Kathryn also stood gape-mouthed.
“What the hell was that?” Kathryn asked.
“The language of species 1380. They called themselves the Pomadoor.”
“What do you need?”
Seven shrugged. “She was vocalizing need.”
“Well, she didn't answer you.”
“It is possible she was only testing her ability to communicate.”
Aislin's gaze shifted from Seven to Kathryn and back again, and this time Kathryn noticed the pull she made at her ear. “Is there something wrong with her hearing?”
Seven studied Aislin. “The Pomadoor language is very high pitched. Perhaps she was bothered by the squeals, even though she produced them.”
“I had no idea.”
Aislin burbled, made deeper sounds, but then released another squeal. Kathryn put her hands over her ears in dismay. Seven started to make responsive sounds to Aislin. Seven reached out to pick up the girl again.
The replicator panel exploded, startling both Kathryn and Seven. Kathryn jumped to her feet and ran to the melted, twisted console which still was spitting sparks. “Computer, cut off power flow to the replicator.” The computer complied and the sparks subsided, but the whole was still an amazingly blackened mess.
“Thank goodness, I'd already finished preparing lunch.”
The couple settled to the table, putting Aislin in a taller stool-chair, and belting her in place. Over their meal, they conversed about their morning apart. Seven relayed that new Astrometric scans would be made available to Helm with her morning report. Kathryn asked if there was anything particularly noteworthy about the upcoming regions.
Knowing her partner's nuanced needs in that simple question, Seven replied, “There is only one planet with perhaps a suitable environment for shore leave. And only two planets with civilizations.”
“Is the planet suitable for shore leave reasonably close? I'd love to get Aislin planetside for a short while. And what about the other civilization makes it unsuitable for shore leave?”
“It is entirely aqueous.”
Kathryn's eyes lit up. “Really? Fascinating.”
“And unsuitable for shore leave when there is nothing one could consider 'shore',” Seven replied with a faint twitch of her lips, a smile.
“Touche,” Kathryn lifted her fork in a half-gestured salute. “I wonder how a civilization would develop in such an environment. Are they humanoids?”
“They might be closest associated with the mermaids of your Earth legends.” Seven watched Kathryn pause over another bite of her vegetable stew. “Do you know the legends of mermaids, Kathryn?”
“Only from literature. It's all fiction, darling. There were never mermaids on Earth, people who could transform from fish to human, and breathe underwater.”
“Since there is a civilization in the Delta quadrant, perhaps the presence of mermaids on Earth was not fiction, but fact.”
“Now you're just playing at philosophy,” Kathryn replied.
“I never play at philosophy, Kathryn. I have always taken our philosophical discussions very seriously.” Seven's implanted brow lifted in connection with a smile appearing on her features. “Might we engage in one this evening?”
Kathryn spoke ruefully, “I should never have asked you to keep our relationship secret by telling you to call them philosophical discussions when you came to my quarters every night.”
“But you enjoyed those nights immensely, or so you said.” Seven saw the moment Kathryn knew she was teasing her. Seven didn't try it often, but judged this time a success. And later that night together they would engage in a little philosophy.
“We have to talk to Tuvok about all the security changes we're making in the computer system to keep Aislin from compromising the ship. We'll need his help soon,” Kathryn reminded.
“I am aware of that. However, Tuvok will not stay long.” Seven stood from her seat, her meal completed. She took her empty dish to the recycling unit, and turned around, caressing Kathryn's shoulders as she bent to kiss along Kathryn's throat beneath her ear. Kathryn tilted her head back, and Seven closed her eyes, indulging her senses in the scent of her lover and partner, stroking up and down Kathryn's arms and the outline of her torso, eliciting moans that delighted her ears.
They both heard noise at the same moment. Kathryn brought herself upright quickly and her chair fell away from her body. Seven sprinted across the floor, sweeping up Aislin who had reached the threshold of the ensuite, nearly twenty meters away from the table.
“Aislin, you must not leave the table,” Seven admonished. “We were not finished with lunch.”
Aislin blinked at her. “Done wunch.”
Seven turned around and Kathryn lifted Aislin's obviously empty plate. So, Aislin had indeed been done with her food. Seven gave a heavy sigh. “Kathryn, I must regenerate. Are you certain you will be able to handle Aislin?”
“We'll manage. We'll miss you, but we'll manage.” Kathryn kissed her and took Aislin. “I enjoyed my taste of dessert for later,” she said to Seven. “We'll visit with Tuvok for a short while, and then Aislin and I will play games until she's tired enough to go to sleep. Right, darling?” Kathryn put Aislin on her feet, but held firmly to the toddler's right hand. “Shall we go look at the stars until Commander Tuvok arrives?”
“I have left a file with all my technical changes on the PADD at your desk,” Seven said. “Unless he has questions, it should not take you long to explain what we have done.”
“I intend to get that man to socialize just a smidgen now and again, my darling. This meeting is unnecessary, you're right, as a meeting. But he has been a dear friend of mine for a very long time, and occasionally I simply like to chat.”
“Vulcans do not chat.”
“Borg don't fall in love with Starfleet officers, either, but we've managed nicely,” Kathryn quipped. “Trust me, Seven.”
“I will return at 1900 hours.”
Kathryn nudged her. “I know you don't wish to go, but the sooner you go, the sooner you'll be back.” Kathryn lifted her hand to Seven's cheek and lifted on tiptoe to kiss her. “Love you.”
Opening her eyes after the brief moment of their lingual contact, Seven said, “I love you too.”
Reluctantly Seven strode for the door to the corridor, turning as it opened to view her family once more before departing. Aislin pulled on Kathryn's hand, struggling to free herself and follow Seven out. Her bottom lip was already trembling, signaling a forthcoming cry. Kathryn winced at Aislin's pinching fingers, but held on valiantly, and nodded to Seven that she should go.
Through the closed doors, Seven heard Aislin's wail. Resting her head briefly on the titanium surface, she pressed her Borg-enhanced palm against it briefly before turning and quickly striding down the corridor. At the turbolift, she ordered, “Cargo bay 2.”
* * *
Back within the Janeway-Hansen quarters, Kathryn Janeway settled with Aislin, still screaming, onto her favorite reading chair, putting her feet up and arranging Aislin for a relaxing period of reading. Perhaps she could complete a short story and quiet Aislin into taking a nap. She picked up a replicated book and began to read aloud the Earth American fairytale of Johnny Appleseed. Aislin's crying stopped as she patted the pages of colorful illustrations. They, and Johnny, had just reached the American west coast, when the door chime sounded. She asked the computer quietly, since Aislin had gone quiet and probably half-asleep in her lap, “Computer, state the time.”
“The time is fifteen-hundred hours.”
“I said tonight was soon enough, Tuvok,” she said to herself and got to her feet carefully bearing Aislin dozing lightly against her chest. At the door she pressed the entry panel.
On the other side of the door was Neelix, not Tuvok.
“Mr. Neelix, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I thought you might want me to see to Aislin this evening for you...” He looked around. “Seven's not here?”
“No. She's regenerating. I'd have called you if I needed you, but I thank you for the offer. You've been wonderful with Aislin since the beginning, Mr. Neelix. Seven and I both appreciate it.” He preened a little. She smiled.
“All right. But don't hesitate to call. I'd do anything for Aislin, you know.”
Kathryn's brow furrowed briefly. “I never doubted it.”
Neelix stood there for a long moment looking, Kathryn thought, a little lost.
“If that's all, Neelix?”
“Oh, yes, Captain. Are you sure? I thought..." He shook his head. "Sorry. I'll be going to bed now.” Aislin wiggled a bit in Kathryn's arms and she missed Neelix's yawn as she resettled her daughter.
“Good night, Neelix.” She stood in her doorway and watched Neelix amble down the corridor toward the turbolift. “He means well, Aislin, but I still wish Seven would teach him how to cook.”
* * *
Following Neelix's departure, Aislin pitched a fit that wouldn't be quieted simply walking around the quarters. She calmed when Janeway took her out of the quarters though, and they walked, Aislin holding Janeway's hand, down to the observation lounge at the end of the corridor. Aislin stared, face flattened against the viewport, for almost an hour. Janeway sat down on one of the cushioned seats, watched, pondered, and surprised herself by dozing for a short time.
When she jerked awake, Aislin was still at the window, and she exhaled in relief. “Computer, state the time.”
“The time is sixteen-twenty-two hours.”
“Time to head back for dinner,” she said mostly to herself. “Aislin, it's time to go.” The girl's fascination with the stars made Janeway smile as she reached out a hand.
As a girl, Janeway had lain out under canopies of stars for years, dreaming of the space travels to come.
Aislin glanced back over her shoulder at the viewport when they reached the threshold of the lounge. The girl's bottom lip began to quiver.
“We'll come back again,” Janeway promised, forestalling the tantrum.
* * *
Just as they reached her quarters, Tuvok stepped from his own twenty meters further down the corridor. “Ah, Captain,” he said. “Aislin was out with you?”
“Just about to feed her dinner and put her to sleep for the night, Tuvok. Come on in.”
“Is she beginning to sleep at regular intervals?” he asked politely, entering the quarters behind her.
"Seven tells me that her sleep pattern can be considered normal for her level of development."
"The Doctor informs me that she can be considered nearly a year old," Tuvok stated.
"Yes. You've been spared a birthday party, my friend, simply because we don't know exactly when she turned a year old." Kathryn smiled and, with a gesture for him to sit as well, settled to the living room's couch underneath the wide viewport. He settled to a cushioned seat opposite.
"Your consideration is gratifying, Captain." Kathryn burst out laughing. Aislin, who had been staring at Tuvok with consternation on her face, looked up at Kathryn's outburst. "She seems very attached to you, and to Seven," Tuvok added.
"Very much. Seven and I needed to talk to you, because Aislin has demonstrated some new... skills, and it could possibly pose a risk to the ship."
"A risk to the ship?"
"All the details of what we've already had to do to baby-proof our quarters, and the few places Aislin frequents, are in Seven's notes." Kathryn picked up the PADD from the low table and passed it to Tuvok.
He read quietly for a few moments. "I see." He tapped several keys and passed the PADD back to the captain. "I will review these with my team."
"Will it be difficult to implement these precautions?" she asked.
"No. We have had several Borg aboard Voyager over the years. Planning for the unexpected is my job."
"It hasn't been easy for you, has it, my friend?" Kathryn sighed. "Who thought infiltrating a band of Maquis would lead to this, hmm?"
Aislin pushed off Kathryn's lap, and the two watched her pull herself around toward Tuvok on her feet, using the edge of the table, her gaze fixated on Tuvok's face. She screwed up her features.
"Kathryn," Tuvok said.
Even though they were being informal, the use of her first name drew Kathryn's attention to his face and away from her daughter. "Yes, Tuvok?"
"Seven's notes did not indicate Aislin's telepathic abilities."
"She is attempting to communicate with me at this moment. She seems to think that I should be doing something for her."
"Aislin," Kathryn called her daughter's name, trying to get her attention. "What do you want, darling?"
Instead of looking at her mother, Aislin scrunched up her features, appearing to redouble her efforts at communicating with Tuvok. Kathryn glanced up from her daughter to her security chief and saw his brow furrowing.
"What's she saying, Tuvok?"
"The only thing I am comprehending is 'I want'," Tuvok stated. "Nothing more. Obviously her skills are as underdeveloped as she is."
Aislin grasped the PADD abandoned on the table surface and with a scream, she threw it at Tuvok's face. Tuvok avoided the impromptu missile, ducking his head to the side. Kathryn swept Aislin up into her arms and scolded her. "Stop, Aislin!" An electrical charge exploded from within Aislin, and Kathryn felt herself blacking out as she fell backward.
* * *
"Please, Tuvok, I don't think I'll need any more help. Aislin is sedated."
"Doctor, I am here for the captain's security."
"Well, she's over there." The Doctor was clearly... peeved. Tuvok remained standing sentinel beside the biobed with Aislin sedated upon it. Immediately following the security chief's hail to sickbay for immediate transport, medical emergency, an unconscious captain, the security chief, and a screaming Aislin had immediately transported. Aislin had quieted upon seeing him -- a fact of which the Doctor was enormously proud. Captain Janeway had been revived with a low dose of adrenaline. But he had been unable to remedy Tuvok's sour expression.
Tuvok studied Aislin, as well as readings from the biobed readouts, and dwelled on his own thoughts, clearly not paying attention to the Doctor.
The Doctor finally noticed Aislin stirring, fidgeting as if from a dream. The toddler had rudimentary language and motor skills now, at almost biologically three years old. She spoke abruptly and clearly, startling herself awake, "Momma!"
Tuvok started toward her, as did the Doctor. They both bounced off a forcefield.
Seven's voice abruptly interceded on the sickbay. "Seven here."
"Aislin is in need of your presence," Tuvok stated evenly.
Seven had contacted sickbay although neither Tuvok nor the Doctor had engaged communications. When she arrived, however, the brief puzzle was solved. "My regeneration cycle was disrupted with a summons signal originating here," she stated.
"Aislin," both Tuvok and the Doctor stated, gazes dropping to the girl on the biobed.
Noticing Janeway supine also, Seven inquired, "What happened?"
"Your daughter and your wife apparently had a disagreement. Aislin has developed exceptionally strong telepathy," Tuvok revealed.
"Will Kathryn be all right?" Seven asked.
"She took a pretty hefty jolt of electricity from Aislin's systems," the Doctor reported. "But she should be fine tomorrow."
Seven picked up Aislin. Her dour look appeared sufficient to cow her daughter. The little girl's bottom lip trembled, gaze locked with Seven's. "Sorry, Momma," she said, quite clearly, after a moment.
"We spoke of this before, Aislin. I know you have an eidetic memory, so you did not forget."
The girl shook her head. "No, Momma."
"You must not do only as you wish. On a starship there is order. In a family there is also order."
"It is not Borg order. Do you understand?"
"Now, I want to care for Kathryn. Will you sit quietly and wait here?"
Aislin looked around. "Down?"
"Hold my hand," Seven stated.
"Seven, are you certain about this?" Tuvok asked.
"As certain as I can be, Commander."
Seven set Aislin down, then held out her left hand, the Borg prosthetic. The girl placed her right hand, human and tiny, upon it. The Doctor stepped next to Tuvok as they both watched Aislin and Seven cross sickbay to Janeway's biobed.
* * *
Within a few days, well recovered, Janeway and Seven enrolled Aislin in school. They realized that Aislin's attack on Kathryn had been frustration, from being unable to learn everything she wanted to know. While they still felt direct Borg-like methods, data nodes and console taps, were out of the question, learning the way any other human child might satisfy her. Additionally at last, they felt able to take several deep breaths, knowing their girl was constantly supervised and learning. From all reports Aislin made friends quickly and easily with her cadre of volunteer instructors.
“We spent all day in an anteroom off Main Engineering,” Lt. Joe Carey reported, bringing Aislin to the Captain’s Quarters at 1800 hours. “She’s very quick with spatial math.”
"And harmonics,” Ensign Galeena Joseph, a Tyrean, reported the next day from spending the day with Aislin at her post in Forcefield Mechanics.
“Indeed?” Seven quirked her eyebrow, the one framed by her optical implant.
“C’mon Seven, dinner’s ready.” Kathryn called her over from beside the replicator.
Looking from Seven to Aislin, Galeena asked, while still looking at Aislin, “Is there anything else you need?”
“Not at this time,” Seven replied.
Galeena blinked up at her. “Oh. OK. Later? Just give me a call. Anytime.” She wiggled her fingers in a wave at Aislin then departed the family’s quarters.
Seven guided Aislin to the table, where she climbed into her seat without prompting or aid. Seven went to the replicator alongside Kathryn. “Is there anything I can do to assist you?” she asked her lover.
Janeway paused in lifting a dish and transferring it to the table. She met Seven’s gaze. “No. It’s OK. I have it. Go sit.”
“Kathryn,” Seven asked, “it is customary to look at someone when speaking to them, yes?” She glanced at Aislin then back to Janeway awaiting the response.
Holding her gaze, Janeway replied easily, “Yes, it is. Crucial to the dictates of most interspecies and interpersonal harmony. Particularly human.”
“Why would one look away?”
Janeway smiled. “You know that one already. Telling a lie. Hiding something. Not wanting someone to read the truth in your face.”
“I know this?”
“Sweetheart, how do you think I knew you were lying about wanting to stay with the Borg when we went after that transwarp coil? Or that you really weren’t working on a new astrometric array for all those holodeck hours?”
“This is unconscious then?” Seven asked.
“Almost always. Why do you ask? Something specific on your mind?”
Kathryn grasped Seven’s hand and led her to the table.
“I believe Ensign Joseph just lied to me.”
“That’s a serious charge, Seven. Are you sure?” The two women settled to the table, on either side of Aislin, opposite one another.
“She would not look at me as she spoke.”
“Well, I didn’t really see your interaction. Are you certain she wasn’t distracted? Something Aislin was doing?”
“Aislin was watching her also.”
“Sometimes it’s just embarrassment. You are an imposing woman. And her superior.”
“You are her superior. I am just the head of Astrometrics.”
“You are much more than that, my love,” Janeway said with an easy smile. She cupped Seven’s chin and leaned closer. “You are my spouse. And you are –”
“Borg? I intimidate her because I am Borg.”
“No, you intimidate her because you are six feet tall, absolutely stunningly beautiful, and she’s a tiny little ensign.”
“That is irrational.”
“Ensign Joseph is just going to have to grow up.”
“She is already an adult.”
“I meant figuratively, Seven.”
Janeway chuckled, pointed her fork at Seven’s plate, and said, “Now, eat.”
Both of them looked down to their own plates then up at a giggling sound – to watch Aislin pushing food around her plate with glee.
“Aislin seems pleased,” Kathryn said.
“She should be. She is learning a great deal from the crew.”
“It’s not just the learning, Seven. She’s genuinely happy.”
“You sound surprised.”
"I grew up a great deal of the time without my father present. I’ve been worried what Aislin thinks with us separated from her so much.”
Seven pondered Janeway’s words. “You feel she might be upset with us. As you were with your father?”
Kathryn sighed. “It’s irrational, I know, but I constantly find myself reliving moments of my childhood with Aislin.”
“You are an exceptional parent, Kathryn.”
“Thank you, Seven.”
“Look at me, Kathryn,” Seven prodded at her wife’s hand since her face was turned away. “I do not lie,” she said when she had Kathryn’s gaze. She took Kathryn’s hand up in her own. “You are Omega to me. Always.”
* * *
On the bridge, Kathryn Janeway was sharing an anecdote about Aislin’s developmental progress – she was on track in equivalency to a four year old now – when Tactical issued an alarming statement:
“Captain,” Tuvok stated, “the Borg scout ship has moved into a transwarp corridor which will open in our vicinity in three minutes.”
“Onscreen.” Janeway snapped her attention to the forward viewscreen. “Red Alert!”
Cmdr Chakotay issued several other direct station orders to obtain further sensor data.
Janeway opened a comm to the entire ship’s complement: “Secure stations against Borg defensive methods, code: Delta Four Seven.” The pre-programmed rotating code sequences would assure, even if the Borg boarded Voyager, they would have the Devil’s own time trying to take over her systems.
They were all about to find out if Tuvok and Seven’s consultations about securing the ship from Aislin’s curiosity would be enough to also deflect adult hive-mind Borg.
* * *
Down in communications control, Aislin sat back, eyes on the viewscreen linked to Voyager’s, following the advancing scout ship’s progress. Beside her on the floor, blankly staring middle distance, sat Ensign Corwen. The young male had two assimilation tube scars, smoking from the instant cauterization, just above his collar.
Aislin needed more information as she heard Momma Captain announce the red alert. She stared hard at the side of the dark-haired male’s head.
He blinked, stood, and tapped several keys on the console in quick succession. In a monotone, he reported ship’s status: All consoles were now set to Delta Four Seven rotating security codes.
Aislin growled. Why did her mothers insist on one hand this was her ship, her home – and still keep so much of its vast information away from her?
Momma (Seven of Nine) insisted Aislin learn like human children – like Naomi Wildman. In a school, reading books, experiencing tidy little lessons with Flotter.
Aislin growled again.
Flotter had said she was mean for taking a book from his friend Woody, who had been reading it to Aislin. Too slow. Aislin had wanted to know the end of the story. Now.
She glanced back at the viewscreen. The Borg scout ship – she sent out a signal requesting identification – was emerging from a transwarp corridor.
Oh, yes, Aislin knew about transwarp corridors. She had accessed Momma Seven’s PADD in their family quarters.
Aislin smiled. So much information she had found. She had learned about the Borg ship shadowing Voyager’s every maneuver and Momma Seven had been calculating various transwarp conditions to help Cmdr Tuvok predict any changes in the ship’s situation.
The Borg ship signaled its designation: Unit 14 of 14, Scout ship in service to Unimatrix 3, 7,000 drones.
Aislin sighed. From her data gathering this was not going to be a ship close enough to her goal: Unimatrix Zero-One.
She sent a message back along her connection that the scout ship should alert Unimatrix Zero-One that its presence was required.
* * *
“The Borg have released a probe back into the conduit,” Tuvok reported.
Janeway frowned at the scout ship. It had come through the transwarp corridor, and now sat, apparently station-keeping, off Voyager’s port nacelle. Despite its proximity – an easy shot could disable Voyager’s warp drive – the ship had not issued the usual assimilation threat, nor made audio contact with Voyager of any kind.
“Still no scans of us, Tuvok?” she asked for confirmation.
“Negative, captain. They appear to simply be waiting for us to do something.”
“But what?” She put a hand on one hip, feathering her fingers through her hair with the other hand. Damn it. Dealing with the Borg in hostile situations left her keyed and anxious.
With no clear threat, the usual tension was eating away at her instead, and she felt a serious headache coming on.
“Janeway to Seven of Nine.”
“Are you detecting anything from the scout ship?”
“Negative, Captain. They are quiet in all respects.”
“What about Icheb?”
“He is right here.”
“Yes, Captain?” Icheb spoke up promptly.
“Are you sensing anything from the ship?” she asked the younger former drone. His newer systems might have a different frequency on which to sense the Borg.
“Thank you. Alert me if that changes.”
“Understood,” both Seven and Icheb spoke together.
The effect of the chorus made Janeway wince. “Janeway out.” Thank God, she trusted both of them implicitly.
She glanced back at Tuvok, finding his face impassive as ever.
“All right, everybody. Senior officers, strategy session in one hour. Conference room. Get input from all departments. What are we dealing with here?”
All heads swiveled away to their tasks. With one last frustrated look at the forward viewscreen, Janeway headed for the bridge’s aft turbolift. “I’ll be in Astrometrics,” she told Tuvok.
Chakotay shifted to the command well’s central chair, beginning to receive departmental data.
* * *
Seven was already turning when Naomi Wildman entered Astrometrics. “Naomi Wildman, we are at red alert. Your post is elsewhere.”
“I know, but I needed to let you know, I can’t find Aislin.”
Seven snapped her head up. “Computer, locate Aislin Hansen-Janeway.”
“Aislin Hansen-Janeway is not aboard Voyager.”
“Computer, did Aislin transport off Voyager?”
“There is no record of a transport from Voyager.”
Seven considered another tactic. “Scan for and identify the location of all Borg hybrid individuals aboard Voyager.”
“Borg-hybrid individual Icheb is located in Astrometrics. Borg-hybrid individual Seven of Nine is located in Astrometrics. Borg-hybrid individual Ensign Joe Carey is located in Main Engineering, Jeffries tube 16. Borg-hybrid individual Ensign Joseph is located on Deck 4, section 12, corridor 2...”
Computer, halt. How many Borg-hybrid individuals are aboard Voyager?”
“Fourteen.” Seven winced as Janeway walked in.
“Are any of these individuals from the Borg scout ship?” Had there been some penetration of Voyager’s defenses despite shields and security measures?
“Seven, have you found something?” Janeway asked.
“Rather it is what I have not found, Captain.” Mindful of their professional problem despite its intersection with a personal part of their lives, Seven did not embellish or prevaricate. “Aislin.”
“In a red alert she’s supposed to go with Naomi and Neelix.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Naomi stepped forward, standing with erect military precision, though her expression conveyed earnest and worry. “That’s what I reported to Seven.”
“Where were you and Aislin before the alert, Naomi?”
“I had to go to the Doctor for my xenobiology lessons. Aislin remained in the holodeck with the Flotter program.”
“Computer, are the holodecks running?”
“Per Captain’s authorization, the holodecks were set offline at 1542 hours.”
“With the beginning of Red Alert,” Icheb stated.
“We’ve had so much trouble with those things,” Janeway said. “I figured it was prudent.”
“But that would not explain Aislin’s apparent absence from Voyager.”
“What was that about fourteen individuals from the scout ship?” Janeway asked Seven. “When I walked in –”
“A headcount of Borg,” Seven said. “On Voyager.”
“There’s you and Icheb.”
“And Aislin,” Naomi pointed out. Janeway frowned. Seven wasn’t surprised she had forgotten Aislin’s hybrid nature. It had been weeks since Aislin’s last Borg-style outburst in front of Janeway. “That’s three.”
“Apparently there have been some assimilations while we weren’t looking,” Seven said dryly.
“We have to find Aislin. At the moment she has found a way to hide herself from ship’s sensors.”
“Janeway to Tuvok.”
“Tuvok here, Captain.”
“See what you can come up with to find Aislin.”
Naomi had sat down, head in hands. Now she looked up. “What about a game of hide n seek, Captain?”
“How do you think that will help us find Aislin?” Janeway asked.
“Not us find her. Have her find us.”
“How do you propose we communicate our desire for her to play, Naomi?”
“It’s kind of silly.”
“Nothing is silly if it helps us bring Aislin out of hiding,” Seven said gently.
“Whenever I want to play with Aislin, I just tell the computer, ‘Aislin, tag. You’re it.’ We have a one-hour time limit.”
Seven looked to Janeway for consultation. Janeway frowned, winced, rubbed the bridge of her nose, and finally nodded. She addressed Naomi, “All right, Naomi. Start the game.”
“Computer, message to Aislin: Tag, you’re It.” Naomi stood up. “Now what?”
“We wait,” Seven said.
* * *
“Tag, you’re it.”
Aislin’s head popped up, eyes alight with annoyance. She didn’t want to play a game right now. But a Janeway never lost. She considered simply ordering Ensign Cowen to find Naomi using ship’s internal sensors. But a Hansen never cheated.
Replaying their last conversation, Aislin knew Naomi had gone to sickbay most recently, for her school lessons. But the red alert would have sent her to Neelix.
Rules of the game. While you couldn’t ask the computer the whereabouts of the person you sought, you could ask it the whereabouts of anybody else.
“Computer, locate Neelix.”
“Neelix is in his quarters.”
Aislin set out to find Naomi. First stop, Neelix’s quarters.
She sent one last command to Ensign Cowen: Alert me when Unimatrix Zero-One arrives.
* * *
The Queen cocked her head. A message from Sphere 816, transmitting from Unit 14 to Unimatrix 3: We are requested in sector 479.
A flex of a muscle and the Queen had requested to have her unit detach from the central complex. As it did so, she sent out another message back up the chain: Enroute. And a second: Situation.
* * *
Five minutes gone. Janeway sighed. “Janeway to Tuvok.”
“Tuvok here, Captain.”
“Any change in the posture of our Borg neighbors?”
“Any ideas yet what they are doing?”
Just as implacably Tuvok replied, “Negative.”
“Keep me informed. Janeway out.” She looked over at Seven, who had returned to her Astrometrics console, slender hands moving rapidly over the surface. “Do you have something, Seven?”
“Turbolift activity to deck 3.”
“Everyone’s at battlestations. Who’s moving?”
“I believe it is Aislin.”
Janeway was torn. “Naomi, stay here with Icheb. Seven, you’re with me.”
“But Aislin’s seeking me,” Naomi said.
“If she gets here, call me,” Janeway said.
Her bridge assistant winced. “Yes, ma’am.”
Janeway caught the chastised tone in Naomi’s voice. She drew up quickly. “It’s going to be all right, Naomi. You helped a great deal.”
“Yes, Captain.” Naomi smiled.
Janeway felt Seven at her back as she left the Astrometrics lab.
“Seven,” she said when they were alone and striding toward the nearest turbolift. “Tell me what you think Aislin has done.”
“I cannot be certain.”
“I know. But... She’s assimilated fourteen people?”
“I believe so.”
“The computer can detect them, but not her? And why haven’t any of them come to our attention before?”
“That is unknown at this time. I require more data.”
“Send the list of individuals to sickbay. Let’s see what the Doctor can report.”
Seven tapped the turbolift console, understanding in a way they had between them, that Janeway wanted no broadcast summons. After tapping a few instructions, Seven reported, “Done.”
“Anything else moving?” Janeway asked.
“The door to Neelix’s quarters just opened.”
“Let’s go.” The turbolift just then opened to Deck 3, a short walk from Neelix’s quarters.
* * *
“Hello, Aislin.” Neelix looked down at the girl. “How are you today?”
“I’m playing a game.”
“May I search your quarters?”
“Nobody in here but me.” He stepped back. “Come on in. I have fresh cookies.”
Aislin looked around indecisively.
Neelix heard footsteps and looked up to see Aislin’s mothers, Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine, coming around the curve in the corridor. “Hello, Captain. Hello, Seven.”
“Hello, Mr. Neelix.” Janeway looked at Seven then down to Aislin. “There you are.”
“Here I am,” Aislin replied, sensing something wrong in her mother’s demeanor.
“What have you been doing?” Janeway asked.
“Playing hide ‘n’ seek with Naomi Wildman.”
“Naomi isn’t here.”
“I know. I am still seeking her.”
“Aislin,” Seven spoke. “The game is terminated. The ship is in danger from the Borg.”
“No danger from Borg, Momma.” Aislin smiled.
“The Borg are dangerous, Aislin,” Seven explained.
“We are Borg,” Aislin replied, gesturing between herself and Seven. “I bring more to learn.”
“We are not Borg, Aislin,” Seven replied.
“What do you mean you bring more, Aislin?” Janeway cut in.
“I learn more from Borg.” She gestured to outside the ship.
“You’re communicating –” Janeway cut herself off and shook her head. “You’re talking to the Borg?” She glanced at Seven, her expression one Aislin did not recognize. When she returned her gaze to Aislin, she asked, “How?”
Seven stepped back and addressed the computer, “Seven to Tuvok.”
Aislin looked at Seven. “Not through Voyager computer.” She looked back to Mother. “I don’t break rules,” she told Janeway.
Tuvok’s voice responded to Seven’s hail. “Tuvok here.”
“Aislin states that she has been communicating with the Borg.”
Janeway asked again, “How? She has no cortical node.”
Aislin felt the waves of anger from her mother. She responded in kind. “I’m not bad. I didn’t touch Voyager computers. I talk to Borg.” She tapped her head. “Inside me. Out there.” She gestured.
Momma Seven spoke in a quiet, steady voice. “Aislin, this is very important. Do they talk back – or does she talk back?”
Aislin recognized Mother Janeway’s expression then as she looked up to Seven: fear.
Aislin had seen the expression many times since in others, and sensed the emotion in many of the Voyager crew for fleeting seconds after she touched their cheeks with her dancing fingers to say ‘thank you’ for helping her. It was always just before all the person’s knowledge flowed over her mind like moving pictures.
They weren’t afraid after that. And they were never angry again either. She met her mother’s eyes and smiled, knowing what to do now to fix the situation. She reached up to pat her mother’s cheek. Her extra dancing fingers came out.
Faster than Aislin could track, Momma Seven wrapped her left hand around Aislin’s. “No!”
“I can make Mother not afraid,” Aislin said. She wiggled her hand.
“She would not be happy either, Aislin.”
“Not happy? She would be sad?”
“Not sad is good,” Aislin said with certainty. Seven exhaled with what sounded to Aislin like frustration. “Momma?”
“Your dancing fingers,” Momma said, “make people not feel anything anymore, Aislin.”
Momma’s voice sounded very serious, like when Aislin left their quarters without telling her.
“Bridge to Captain Janeway. We’ve got more Borg vessels entering the transwarp corridor.”
Mother looked up at the ceiling. “How many, Tuvok?”
“Three. Two more scout ships.”
“The third, Tuvok?”
“It appears to be...”
Aislin at the same time received identification information from all three Borg vessels. Her face lit up with excitement as she spoke coincidentally in unison with Tuvok: “The Queen.”
* * *
The Borg Queen smiled. It had been a while since they had tangled with Voyager. In transit from the center of Borg space, she caught up on all the telemetry and sensor data collected by the scout ship.
Unable to reassimilate a surprisingly pregnant Seven of Nine, the Queen had let Voyager’s Captain Janeway rescue her. Apparently Seven had not died.
Now a being, Aislin, was communicating with her drones. There could not be two queens. That would create chaos. It was the Queen’s biggest problem with Janeway’s interference in Unimatrix Zero. Those Borg had come to view Seven as their queen.
Even a year later, the Queen was still locating the last of the liberated drones hiding on her ships. Several entire ships had broken away from the hive entirely.
As the Queen’s ship exited the transwarp corridor, she was surprised when a status request was ignored by the scout ship first on the scene.
She stared at Voyager, feeling the rise of anger and purpose. Now it appeared she had another who aspired to control the Borg.
Hiding on Voyager.
She should have known.
“Communication,” she demanded.
* * *
“We are being hailed, Captain,” Tuvok reported as Janeway, followed by Seven leading Aislin, entered the bridge.
Only Seven, perhaps Tuvok, heard the question in the captain’s voice as she snapped, “Open the channel.” Her tone was low and her words clipped.
The Borg Queen appeared center screen, gaze direct in the communication.
Janeway stared right back.
In Seven’s grasp, Aislin shifted.
Onscreen the Queen’s head tilted, her gaze shifting. Then she spoke. “A meeting is requested, Captain Janeway.”
“What do you want?”
“Are you controlling my daughter?” Janeway snapped.
Seven sensed when confusion overtook Kathryn’s anger. “Captain Janeway,” she requested formally. “May I request a conference?”
When it turned to her, Janeway’s gaze was a thunderous blue-gray. Seven tried to silently convey her request was urgent, without giving away anything to the Borg Queen.
With a slight dip of her chin, Janeway accepted. She turned to Tuvok. “End communication. Seven, my Ready Room.”
Seven proceeded there with Aislin. Janeway was only a step behind.
* * *
Seven coaxed Aislin to sit on the low sofa along the viewport. Sternly she said, “No talking to the Borg.”
“But Momma –” Big blue eyes pleaded.
“Seven?” Kathryn stepped up to them. “Care to share?”
“Aislin asked to meet the Queen.”
“This sort of telepathic communication she has with them?”
“It is the only logical explanation.”
Janeway rubbed her neck muscles. “I can’t allow it.”
“What if I go with her?”
Janeway adamantly shook her head. “No.”
“I will protect our daughter, Kathryn.”
“What’s to stop the Queen from simply assimilating both of you if you go to her? No!” Janeway slashed the air with her hand for emphasis.
“I believe the Queen is as confused by Aislin’s ability as we are.” Seven continued, even though Janeway snorted, “Otherwise she would simply have the four ships destroy Voyager.”
“She thinks she can exploit Aislin?”
Seven frowned. Sometimes Kathryn's limited understanding of the Borg was frustrating. “Borg assimilate. They do not exploit. I believe she sees Aislin as a threat to Borg unity.”
“All the more reason to keep Aislin here with us!” Kathryn replied with force.
“I am suggesting negotiating a truce with the Queen.”
“A truce? What would she want from us? What would Voyager want from her?”
“We will not unleash Aislin on her Borg, if the Queen agrees Voyager can pass unmolested through the nearest transwarp conduit leading to somewhere in the Alpha Quadrant.” Seven took Kathryn into her arms, comforting her as she would never allow it in a more public situation.
Kathryn and Seven looked over to their daughter, sitting properly on the edge of the couch. "Yes, Aislin?" Kathryn asked.
"May I meet the Queen?"
"Aislin, we can't lose you," Kathryn responded. She looked at Seven, who knew that she would grant permission for the mission. Though still afraid, Kathryn trusted Seven's abilities – with her life if necessary. But Kathryn needed more. She turned to Aislin. "Promise me you'll remember that I love you?"
"I love you," Aislin replied.
Seven brushed her Borg fingers through Kathryn's hair, drawing Janeway's gaze to her. “I love you as well, Kathryn. No matter what happens, that will never change.” Releasing Kathryn, Seven stood and held out her hand to their daughter. “Aislin, your mother and I agree I will take you to meet the Queen, as you requested.”
Aislin looked between her mothers. Crossing the room, Aislin took Seven's hand.
* * *
Janeway held herself back by Tuvok’s station as Seven took Aislin onto the aft turbolift. When they were gone, she spoke to Tuvok, “Sensor lock on Seven and Aislin at all times, Commander.”
“Understood.” Tuvok’s hands flowed over the security console.
She glared at the Borg Queen's vessel hanging in space before Voyager. Damn you.
* * *
Seven took Aislin to the Transporter Room. At the console, she did several things at once. When finished she stepped back. “The Queen knows we’re coming.”
In the back of her mind – though moving quickly to the forefront – was the recognition of how this was going to seem very much like reliving her parents’ naivete toward the Borg. She couldn’t save them, but she would save their grandchild. She hoped she was smarter. Aislin, like Seven, due to her Borg enhancements, would be very difficult to fool, so this had to be done very carefully.
She held Aislin’s hand tightly on the platform. “I love you, Aislin.” After a beat, she said, “Computer, energize.”
* * *
Mother and daughter materialized on the Borg sphere. Drones approached and walked past. Aislin followed Momma down another corridor.
The air here was very different than on Voyager, hot and moist. Aislin felt her hair sticking to her neck. At the entrance to the Queen’s chamber, two drones stepped into their path.
Seven responded to the unspoken question. “The Queen sent for us.”
The drones appeared to have no such instructions and raised their weapons toward Aislin and Seven. Seven grabbed one and shoved it against the wall, using the weapon across its throat for additional force.
Now very obviously threatened, word spread quickly and all nearby drones moved in on their position. Aislin watched curiously as the hand-to-hand combat ebbed and flowed. First it looked as though Momma Seven had them beaten, but then, adapting, the Borg drones – and more continued arriving – seemed to gain control of the situation.
“Run, Aislin!” Seven yelled.
Aislin tried to talk to these Borg as she did with the others, but got nowhere. Two grabbed her. Beating the impervious forms with her fists, Aislin screamed, “Momma! Momma!”
Seven broke the hold of the one she wrestled, and roundhouse kicked at Aislin’s captors’ backs making them drop her.
Before Aislin could take a step toward her momma, a drone grabbed Aislin by the back of her blue jumper, lifting her off the floor. Seven leaped toward them again, and got between his dancing fingers and Aislin’s face.
Inches away from Aislin, Seven’s face turned ashen when the Borg's fingers touched her throat. Seven gasped and screamed as Borg components erupted through her skin.
The lively light Aislin had always recognized in Momma’s eyes was replaced with a blank dull stare. “Momma?” she asked cautiously, aware she felt fear.
She struggled in the drone’s grasp and finally fell free.
Momma Seven stood very still.
“Momma, go!” Aislin pulled at Seven’s hand. One drone pulled Seven away. Aislin thought a demand that the Borg come to her aid.
* * *
“Tuvok, what the hell happened?” More shots from the Borg scout ships rocked Voyager as Janeway scrambled to her feet from the floor.
“The shot was aimed at Deck 7 section 19.”
“It would appear so.”
“I don’t care what Seven said. Get down there and make sure no Borg board Voyager.”
“Yes, Captain.” He secured his console and disappeared into the turbolift.
Janeway exhaled, turning back to meet Chakotay’s gaze as he rose to his feet. She was torn.
“Go,” he said.
She followed Tuvok.
* * *
The Borg Queen felt the confusion of her drones, and tried several commands to supersede it and regain order. She knew the source now was Aislin, feeling the child’s consciousness just out of reach. But why would drones loyal to Aislin fire on Voyager?
Voyager did return fire, disabling one of the Borg ship’s weapon systems.
Her own monitor showed a breach in the Voyager shields. Several Borg had transported to the Federation ship.
She requested visual only to see Borg fighting Borg.
Scanning the scene, she finally identified Seven of Nine and a young girl apparently trying to get the former drone’s attention.
Aislin. Now the Queen had a face to go with her nemesis.
She ordered a cadre of her Borg through the shield breach. Assimilate, she ordered. Bring me Aislin.
An Aislin-controlled Borg met one of her own. Upon assimilation she gained some information. A second assimilation turned tables, Aislin’s drone winning the upper hand.
Aislin’s head tilted as the Queen watched.
It is you, she heard in her head.
We are the Borg, the Queen responded.
Abruptly the Queen found images – put there by Aislin – floating through her head of Seven’s assimilation.
So why didn’t she hear Seven’s voice too?
The Queen ordered one of her Borg to hook into an alcove, but the data node it found there was blank. She ordered him to smash the alcove.
* * *
Janeway and Tuvok breached the holodeck brandishing phaser rifles with a unit of security officers. Janeway blasted an advancing Borg only to see him wink out – a hologram!
Another whom Tuvok shot, however, raised Borg shielding.
“What the hell is going on?” Janeway yelled over the sparking and crashing of Borg and electronic components. With a quick order, everyone set their phaser rifles on a rotating modulation.
“Where’s Seven?” the captain asked as Tuvok moved to cover her back, taking out another holographic drone.
It was nearly impossible to see in all the smoke and heavy mist.
Janeway saw a drone in an alcove step out and begin smashing it. Sparks erupted, followed by a bright white flash, encompassing everything.
As the flash faded from her retinas, Janeway blinked and opened her eyes slowly. She lay on her back, staring up at a blank holodeck. Four Borg surrounded Seven of Nine and Aislin. Then there were the three security officers, Tuvok, and herself.
Seven was bruised and battered, her unitard torn and covered in oil stains. Aislin bore a single bruise on her cheek, but it was also clear to Janeway she had been crying.
“Seven!” Janeway started toward her wife and daughter. The four Borg lifted their weapons defensively.
“Mother!” Aislin blinked and the four Borg lowered their weapons. She ran toward her mother. Janeway only managed to drop the phaser rifle before her arms were full of her daughter’s wriggling, clutching body.
Seven had not moved.
“Seven?” Kathryn brought Aislin with her as she examined Seven. She winced at the sight of Borg components gashing the pallid skin. If this was a simulation, why hadn’t it vanished when the program was disrupted. “Seven? God, what happened here?” She reached out to touch the starburst-covered cheek.
Seven’s hand snapped up, gripping hers painfully hard. Kathryn dropped to her knees. Aislin fell from her grasp. Seven's hold was relentless and Kathryn’s wince became a brief cry of pain as the tendons were pushed to their limits.
“You will be assimilated. Your distinctiveness will be added to our own.”
“I tried to stop them, Mother,” Aislin said. “But I couldn’t.”
Before Kathryn Janeway could respond to her daughter's remark, her vision filled with sparkles and she felt the telltale pull of a transporter beam. Instinctively she closed her eyes against the maelstrom of chaotic images within the beam, and only opened them when she felt the tingles had dissipated. She found she had been transported, with Seven and Aislin, to the very familiar Borg Queen's chamber.
This was no longer Seven's simulation, and while that had obviously become confused, Janeway knew that here all bets were off. The Queen would have to be bested on her own turf. Kathryn Janeway straightened her spine determined to do exactly that.
Seven remained as unmoving as she had on Voyager. Kathryn reached for Aislin's hand as she stood from a crouch. They both turned at the sounds of the Queen's emergence.
"Captain Janeway," the Queen said, her tone sickly sweet.
"Let us go," Janeway said boldly. "And Voyager might let you live."
"They will not fire so long as I hold their captain." The Queen looked down at Aislin. "Besides there is someone who seems rather determined to meet me."
Aislin looked up at the Queen.
"You are Queen of the Borg," Aislin stated.
"Aislin –" Janeway began.
"Captain, you should not interrupt. It isn't polite." The Queen's comment was spoken with a smile, and two drones stepped up, one on either side of Janeway, grasping her arms. "Aislin," the Queen continued, "I understand you have some questions?"
Aislin pulled her hand from Janeway's and moved closer to the Queen. "You lead the Borg?" she asked.
"Yes, we do," the Queen replied. "Why don't you tap into that console there and have all your questions answered?"
"Aislin, don't!" Janeway called out. The two drones restraining her had a time of it as she pulled against their metal grips.
Aislin looked back at her, then to Seven, still motionless. She stepped up to the console the Queen had indicated.
"All your questions will be answered," the Queen encouraged.
Aislin looked again at Seven. She hesitated at the console. Janeway looked to Seven. The young woman looked impassive, save for rapidly drying tear tracks on her cheeks. Her right hand struggled to lift at her side.
"You don't want her to do that," Seven said, her voice stilted.
"Seven!" Janeway called her wife's attention. Seven did not look at her, instead turning to the Queen.
"You don't want Aislin to connect to the hive," Seven stated. "Her connection to the Borg will overwhelm them."
Janeway's heart stuttered. In the melee on Voyager, her wife had obviously been compromised by the Queen's loyal drones which had beamed aboard.
The Queen came to the same conclusion, Janeway realized, as she watched the face take on a macabre gleam, and then smiled.
"Thank you, Seven of Nine."
Seven returned her body to a position of parade rest, shoulders straight, hands tucked behind the small of her back, gaze directly forward, focused on a spot middle-distant.
"Aislin, come to me," Janeway said gently. "We need to go."
"I don't have all my questions answered, Mother."
Janeway looked from Aislin to the Queen and, finally, to Seven. "I'll tell you everything you want to know, my darling." She swallowed and held out her hand.
"You're not Borg," Aislin stated.
The Queen interjected, "We are Borg. Seven is Borg. Ask your questions of Seven." Janeway recognized the Queen's caution. Even if Seven was part of the Borg hive mind once again, something about the young woman kept her systems separated enough from the central mind that whatever Aislin's connection would do, wouldn't do it to all the hive at once. Seven was going to be used as a filter.
Janeway held her breath watching Aislin cross to stand in front of Seven of Nine.
Seven did not move or look down.
"Take her hand," the Queen ordered.
Seven's right hand shot out, catching Janeway across the chest, throwing her from the grip of the two drones. From the floor where she'd landed, fighting against the blossoming pain of probably several broken ribs, Kathryn realized she was free now. She narrowed her gaze at Seven as the woman's Borg hand reached out toward Aislin.
"Momma?" Aislin asked, reaching toward Seven at the same time.
Assimilation tubules, Aislin's "dancing fingers", shot out from both Seven and Aislin's hands, catching the other in the wrist.
Seven remained impassive. Aislin began to whimper, then cry, and then struggled to no avail to pull away.
Seven did not let her go.
Aislin's cries became screams. The Queen's smile grew.
Janeway screamed, "Seven! Seven, stop! Please let her go! Please! Let her go! No!" Limping on a broken leg, Janeway drove her battered body into Seven of Nine's hips.
Her ears echoed with Aislin's pleas. "Momma! No! No!"
"You will be assimilated. Your distinctiveness will be added to our own," Seven said.
The Queen's smile grew impossibly wider. Janeway thought it held anticipation. That was confirmed when she whispered, "Yes, give me the child's mind!"
Seven and Aislin turned simultaneously toward the Queen. Their heads lifted in unison, gazes finding the Queen's.
"We are Borg." Aislin and Seven spoke synchronously.
"Take Janeway," the Queen ordered.
Seven turned. Holding Aislin's hand still she reached for Janeway. Held in the grip of her wife's dead-eyed gaze, Janeway screamed as Seven touched her.
Even since their first meeting, Kathryn Janeway had never been afraid of Seven of Nine's touch. Even in the brig when she first beheld Seven's rage at being torn from the Borg, Kathryn had only ever wanted Seven's touch.
"I will kill you," Seven had said, venom filling her newly alone voice.
Janeway's heart hammered now, as it had then, but none of the bravado of her "I don't believe you will" set her mind at ease now.
"I will betray you."
Janeway hadn't believe Seven capable of it.
But now, as she met Seven's gaze, Janeway's search for the lightness of life, their love, was fruitless. She closed her eyes, unwilling to watch the Queen's glee as she won.
Seven's hand landed on Janeway's shoulder heavily. Janeway stumbled under the force of the downward blow.
Her stomach fluttered, her head hurt. There was pressure on her shoulder, and then, it was gone.
Everything was gone. Kathryn Janeway had lost everything. Aislin. Voyager. Seven. Her own life.
* * *
The Queen looked at the body on the floor of her chamber. She looked querulously at Seven. "She passed out?"
"She is dead."
Seven walked over to a console. Swapping hands holding Aislin, she "plugged in" to it with her tubules.
"And now," Seven said coldly. "So are you."
Seven released the anti-Borg pathogen into the system, then bent down next to Janeway and Aislin. A single tap on her combadge and the three of them vanished in a transporter beam, just as the Borg Queen's connective equipment to her ship – and to the rest of the Borg, began to come apart in showers of sparks and shorted circuitry.
* * *
The trio materialized in sickbay. The Doctor and Tom Paris lifted Janeway onto a biobed without comment, immediately setting to work on the captain.
Aislin watched intensely, anxiously. Seven continued to hold her hand. They both felt Icheb walk up to Seven's side.
"The Queen?" he asked.
Without taking her eyes from the captain's supine figure, Seven tapped her combadge. "Tuvok, status?"
"The Borg ships are shorting out stem to stern. No probes have been launched."
"There will be another queen if the pathogen is not spread," Icheb noted.
Seven did not immediately respond. Her gaze was transfixed as the Doctor applied a cortical stimulator to Janeway's forehead. He programmed several neural pulses, in an attempt to revive the captain.
The Doctor stepped back. "Computer –" Tom tried to stop him with a hand. "Computer record death occurred at 0318 hours."
Aislin looked up at Seven. Seven wiped her eyes. In the next moment, Commander Chakotay strode through the doors of sickbay, Tuvok on his heels with two other security officers.
"Take the Borg to the Brig, Tuvok."
Aislin, Seven, and Icheb were grabbed. Chakotay spoke, as if entering a verdict in a log, "You are charged with the death of Kathryn Janeway, Captain of Voyager."
"No!" Aislin pleaded. "Mother's not dead. Momma can revive her."
"Get them out of here, Tuvok."
Aislin struggled. "Momma!"
Chakotay gestured. Tuvok and his officers began dragging all three away.
Everyone froze, gazes following the sound to the biobed. The Doctor was just stepping back, a hypospray in his hand. Kathryn Janeway leaned on an elbow, looking just a bit haggard, very much the worse for wear, but also very much alive.
"Mother!" Aislin shouted.
"Captain!" Chakotay blurted.
"Captain Janeway," Icheb said.
"Kathryn," Seven murmured.
"Status report, Seven."
"The Borg ships are disintegrating in our immediate vicinity."
"But it's not being transmitted to other ships," Icheb stated.
"Good. A new queen won't know how we did it, so our solution will have some effect next time." She looked at Seven. "What about the local Borg, Seven?"
Seven frowned. "I am the queen," she said.
"Well, the Queen got what she wanted after all," Janeway said.
"I don't think this is what she meant."
"Aislin," Seven asked, "do you remember?"
"Momma assimilated," Aislin replied, sounding severely chastened.
"What is going on?" Chakotay demanded.
"When the Queen ordered me to assimilate Aislin, I passed along every memory of every assimilation." Seven exhaled. "Even my own."
* * *
A night later, the Hansen-Janeway family returned to its quarters. Following a very subdued dinner, Kathryn tucked Aislin into her bed. The girl kept crying, and patting Kathryn's face. "Mother, sorry. So sorry. Not gone. No Borg. No more."
Kathryn hugged her. "Sweetheart, you're my little girl. Exactly the way you are. I promise. I love you."
"Momma?" Aislin looked toward the separate bedroom where Seven had already entered.
"Momma loves you, too," Kathryn assured her. "Now go to sleep. I promise we're both right over there if you need us." Aislin nodded. Kathryn dusted her fingers lightly through Aislin's soft locks and kissed her on top of her head. "Good night, sweetheart."
"Night, night, Mother." Aislin pulled the sheets up to her shoulders and turned on her side. Kathryn brushed her daughter's cheek with her lips then pushed herself to her feet, and entered the bedroom.
* * *
Kathryn found Seven leaning against the near wall, out of sight, but obviously listening closely to the exchange. "Seven?"
Seven pulled Kathryn into her arms and kissed her on top of her head, as Kathryn had just done to their daughter. "I love you, Kathryn." She pressed a panel and the door slid shut closing off the one space from the other, granting them privacy. She opened the front of Janeway's uniform tunic, and pushed it back, revealing the gray-blue tank top and bared arms beneath. She leaned back to meet Kathryn's gaze, which was rapidly going blue with desire. She undid the clasp of the uniform trousers, and reveled in the touch of skin as she skimmed her fingers over Kathryn's panty-clad hips.
Opening the closure on Seven's biosuit and pushing it back off her shoulders, Kathryn pressed her head to Seven's chest, listening to the heart beating strong within, her chest pressed against the swell of Seven's left breast. "It was very risky what you did, darling," she murmured.
"I am fortunate the Doctor was able to work as quickly as he did. You were clinically dead."
Kathryn inhaled and exhaled completely aware of the fine line between life and death, and crossing it. The jumbled images remained vivid and she pressed harder into Seven's body. Wordlessly Seven only held her more tightly. "If I'm still working on this, we'll have a lot to help Aislin with. Probably for years."
"Yes, I know." Seven's lips brushed her hair again, and her fingers, Borg and Human, brushed over her ears, head, and neck, then up her back, underneath her tank top. "And we will." Seven smiled as Kathryn pushed Seven's biosuit completely off her shoulders and down her back and legs, until Seven could step out.
Kathryn's hands smoothly and warmly stroked over Seven's form, and Seven felt a twinge of hubris at the sensation of being worshipped. Kathryn must have sensed it. "You're the Queen, hmm?"
"Of a very small portion of Borg, Kathryn."
"But it feels good to be in charge?"
"It is a very heady experience to hold even a few hundred lives in your hands," Seven acknowledged. "You know this feeling as Voyager's captain."
"And the other side of its coin, Seven."
"The loneliness," Seven acknowledged. "What the Queen felt each time she lost another drone."
Kathryn and Seven eased onto the bed, wrapping their limbs around one another. "The Queen was a formidable opponent. But I understood her."
"That is probably the key to why we could defeat her."
"Are you certain that we have some time before a new Queen searches out Voyager?" Kathryn brushed her lips over Seven's, drawing the full-lipped mouth repeatedly into kisses.
"The Queen's ship did not get off any sort of probe before completely disintegrating."
Seven curved herself around Kathryn's back, sliding their fingers together, and down her stomach, to the auburn-haired center of her lover. Feeling the heat already emanating from Kathryn's center, Seven rolled her wife onto her back and pinned her arms to the mattress. She trailed her lips down Kathryn's chest and sucked at the pale brown tips of her modest breasts. Kathryn's body writhed beneath her and the wetness between the woman's thighs bathed Seven's abdominal implant. She sucked until Kathryn peaked, coming with a sharp exhalation.
Janeway rolled Seven beneath her, straddling her hips and pinching and rolling Seven's large fat nipples atop full breasts between her fingers. "I am so glad you were brought to Voyager, Seven. Because of that, we have Aislin. I knew with every fiber in me, you'd neverwillingly have fallen to the Queen's demands. The way you love me -- and Aislin -- I know now that's the most powerful thing in the universe. And I trust you do, too."
"Assimilation would not care what I wanted, or who I loved." Kathryn's hands skimmed the places of connectivity between Borg components and human flesh on Seven's body. With her thumb she repeatedly massaged the node of nerves at the apex of Seven's sex. Strong hips surged and lifted Kathryn off the bed as Seven came.
Seven exhaled, a fine sheen on her forehead the only sign of her body's surrender to orgasm a moment earlier. "You have an amazing amount of trust in me." Seven demonstrated her care with that trust. She flipped Kathryn around, bottom exposed. Borg and Human fingers spread the moisture already present before slipping inside, above and below, starting a gentle vibration.
"Chakotay once called it our special bond," Janeway said on a gasp, nerve endings tingling. "I never thought I could believe in anything as profound as soulmates, Seven, but if there is such a thing, you are mine."
Fingers deep within her lover and soulmate, Seven confirmed, "And you, Kathryn, are mine."