The Flux of Mortal Things

BY : Odon
Category: Star Trek > Voyager
Dragon prints: 3976
Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek: Voyager, nor any of the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.






The Flux of Mortal Things - Part One



Title: The Flux of Mortal Things

Author: Odon

Fandom: Star Trek Voyager

Pairing: Torres/Seven

Rated: NC-17. Drama/Angst/Romance.

Summary: A decade in the Delta Quadrant has taken a heavy toll
of both Voyager and its crew. When a crisis arises during a
salvage operation on a derelict Borg vessel, Seven and B'Elanna
are forced to confront their own attitudes and losses.

Warning: This story contains angst, violence, coarse language,
and explicit lesbian sex.

Disclaimer: No profit is intended in the writing of this
story. Star Trek Voyager and its characters are the property of
Paramount (a Viacom company).

Feedback is required for sustenance, so please email me. Archiving is welcome,
but please try and contact me first. Thanks to Lyrastar, AP
Stacey and Michael for their help with particular terms, and
Meagan for her beta work.

THE FLUX OF MORTAL THINGS (Part One)

If there had been a time before now he could not remember it.

It was as if he'd spent his entire life crossing this desert.
The sun beat down on his naked form, raising salty perspiration
that the scalding winds failed to cool. Around him towered stone
ribcages carved by ancient lava flows, sculptured over countless
centuries into sterile fingers imploring the sky. Above as
always circled a tiny speck, the shavokh waiting for him
to collapse from hunger or fatigue. He ignored it, as he did the
glass pebbles cutting into his feet, the thirsting of his parched
throat, the ash and sulphur stench from a volcanic eruption many
miles away. His quest was more important than such trivialities,
though he could no longer recall what had sent him out here. He
only knew that he was being compelled, driven on in an urgent
quest for...what? Water? That was logical; water was essential
for survival in the desert. And he could see the oasis
shimmering ahead, always out of reach. He drove himself towards
it, digging his feet into the treacherous slope of the dune. Was
it a mirage?

Again he heard the voice: faint, distant, calling him back,
warning of dangers ahead. The voice was familiar, someone he
trusted. Perhaps he would return once he had drunk his fill,
thank his friend for their concern. Give assurances that he had
come to no harm.

Then he could see the oasis clearly - it was no illusion! A slash of
cool blue across the arid plain, crystal-clear water beckoning
him. There was a woman bathing. Beautiful, exotic, sensuous,
her golden skin sparkling radiant as she cleansed herself. To
his eternal joy he recognized her. It was this woman that he had
been searching for. His aduna!

'Vorik...'

He ran towards her, slipping on fused glass, his imperative
driving him on. He called out in the ancient tongue: she was his
for their minds had been joined long ago. But she rejected his
claim, lashing out with painful fists, snarling like a beast.
Screaming his anguish he fell back on burning glass and sand.
She had no right to do this! Once more he hurled himself at her,
exalting in the unfettered release of emotion. They locked in
combat, his strength against hers. She looked different now, her
forehead marked by curved ridges, skin a different hue, lips
pulled back over sharp teeth that spat insults in a language that
was not his own.

'You are Lieutenant Vorik of the U.S.S. Voyager. You are an
engineer, a Starfleet officer, a Vulcan.'

The voice was calling again and he fled in panic, knowing only
that it shamed him to be seen like this. He dived into the water
but found no relief there, tossed helpless by the swirling
rapids.

'The emotions are strong, powerful, overwhelming. But the
strength of your mind is greater. Picture your emotions as a
brilliant flame, burning within you.'

Not a flame but a firestorm, it consumed him totally, made him
beg for release. He thrashed through dunes that towered like
mountains. He screamed her name, pleaded for her to come to him,
but there was no answer.

'The water dampens the flame. You are apart from it,
watching it. You watch the flame grow smaller.'

He stumbled into the oasis, grabbing handfuls of water and
flinging them on his body, trying to cool the raging heat. Riven
with a terrible despair he collapsed, opened his mouth to the
voice and the water and let it flow inside.

Vorik came round in his quarters, lying on the floor, his
meditation robes filthy with sweat and dried semen. The Vulcan
felt a deep wave of disgust at his condition, his lack of control
at even the most basic level. He pulled himself to his feet,
staggered to the nearest faucet and drank.

'To feel shame in these circumstances is not logical,'
said the voice inside his mind.

"Yes," he gasped.

'The emotions are strong, powerful, overwhelming. But the
strength of your mind is greater. Picture your emotions as a
brilliant flame, burning within you.'

He was apart from the flame, dousing it in his mind. It no
longer controlled him with its rage and fury. Vorik watched the
fire grow ever smaller, reduced to a point of light until once
more, with the suddenness of epiphany, the sharp clarity of logic
was guiding his thoughts. He saw his path, the single rational
option, exquisite in its simplicity. He would find B'Elanna
Torres and mate with her. The young Vulcan leapt to his feet but
the door refused to open. He tried the control panel, unaware
this was the third time in an hour he'd done so.

'Commander Torres is no longer on board Voyager. You must
regain your mastery of emotion.'

Vorik screamed through his raw throat, slamming his fists
against the unyielding metal. He hurled his kae out
through the ship, searching amongst the many babbling voices for
that unique mindprint. Alien, beautiful, churning with savage,
volatile passions that tempted him in his darkest thoughts. He
could not find it, she was gone forever and he howled his
torment, beating his hands against the doors of his prison.

A Bolian walking down the corridor stopped in shock at that
terrible cry.

Commander Tuvok was standing guard outside Vorik's quarters, a
phaser on his belt. "Can I help you, Crewman Chell?"

Chell muttered an apology and hurried on. Behind the doors
came the faint sound of a man sobbing.

Tuvok was tired, both mentally and physically. He'd been here
for many hours; there were many more to come. He closed his
eyes, focused his thoughts, reached out once more to the tortured
mind within.

'The emotions are strong, powerful, overwhelming. But the
strength of your mind is greater. Picture your emotions as a
brilliant flame, burning within you...'



The derelict resembled a ball that had escaped from the toy
set of a gigantic child. For seven decades it had been in orbit
around the system's outermost planet, all that time undisturbed.
Everyone knew that with the Borg death was a relative term. Fear
had overcome the lure of easy technological pickings. Fear based
on practical experience, and legends dating back thousands of
years from when the Collective first sent its scouts to this
region of space.

The interlopers showed no such concern. They too had become
legends, albeit of a more recent kind. Like the Borg in those
early years they were explorers, seeking to improve themselves
through contact with other species. Unlike the Collective they'd
forsaken conquest and the artificial enhancement of their bodies,
preferring to better their culture through co-operation and
self-contemplation. It was a never-ending struggle, but one they
believed enriched them.

Nevertheless they approached the sphere with caution, though
with the expertise that comes with experience. Speed and heading
were matched between the tiny flyer and its target. Multiphasic
scans checked for dormant life signs, verified structural
integrity and the presence of a breathable atmosphere. Hails
containing Borg identification codes drew no response.

Only the empty eye sockets of drone skeletons witnessed the
intrusion, an alien blue shimmer amongst the inky blackness.
There were two of them, transporting past any security devices
still active in the outer hull. Both women wore grey jumpsuits
and backpacks, their phasers held ready.

As soon as her pattern stabilised B'Elanna Torres had the
tricorder open and running a scan. "Not picking up any
lifesigns...no active energy signatures...no Borg!" She snapped
the tricorder shut. "Let's go!"

"Wait," said Seven of Nine, intent on her own readings.

B'Elanna shifted her weight from one foot to the other, eyes
darting around the corridor. Her sims beacon flickered over
ranked alcoves, cavernous skulls pieced by cybergrafts, baroque
instruments where limbs should have been. It reminded her of
that Menti Naka temple with its stone-carved demons, implants
bursting from every orifice. The war orphans with their sunken
cheeks and dead eyes. An involuntary shiver ran through her
body. "Come on, Seven. This place is giving me the
creeps."

Seven refused to be hurried, scanning and recalibrating until
she was certain. "I'm detecting electromagnetic readings at
minimal power, but I cannot pinpoint their location. It's
possible there are many systems still operative."

"Has your proximity transceiver activated?"

"No."

"Then let's get on with it! Kahless, it's freezing in here."
B'Elanna strode off down the passageway, boots ringing on the
metal floor grates. Seven ran after her, grabbing the Klingon
hybrid by the shoulder.

B'Elanna spun round so fast even the normally unflappable Borg
was startled. "WHAT?"

"I will go first, Commander. I am more familiar with this
type of vessel, and my implants should detect any security
devices still active."

B'Elanna's eyes twinkled. "Trying to protect me, Ensign?"

Seven inclined her head. "It is simply the logical course of
action."

"Fair enough. Besides, I like looking at your ass move in
that tight jumpsuit."

Seven decided to favour her superior with a subtle smile. She
brushed past the half-Klingon, sweeping her beacon across the
alcoves. Efficiency had given way to chaos. Ruptured panels
spewed tangled conduits. Biofluid from leaking tubules had
frozen into milky stalactites. Carbosilicate, dust particles,
circuitry and bone littered the floor, trapped under layers of
frost.

The Borg stopped to examine an alcove. A tactical drone,
Species 893 (Menti Naka) held together by its exoskeleton. The
skull had toppled from the body, exposing an access node which
appeared to be intact. "Try this one."

B'Elanna used her gloves to wipe seventy years of accumulated
grime from the node, then hooked it up to the backpack
generator.

"Powering up."

There was no telltale green flickering above the alcove, no
energy reading on Seven's tricorder.

"Dead."

"Ghuy'cha'," B'Elanna swore. She unplugged the
micropower conduit, stamping her feet on the grating to warm
them.

"Your thermal suit should be maintaining your temperature,"
said Seven. She moved down the passageway, checking each access
node and interlink conduit. All had been burnt out by the same
massive electro-kinetic discharge.

"Well it doesn't bloody well feel like it. How do you think
Vorik's doing?"

"The Doctor will not discuss his condition with me."

"I heard he rejected the hologram," said B'Elanna, her words
punctuated by puffs of condensation. "Now Tuvok's supposed to be
helping Vorik through it. Maybe he's going to have sex with
him!"

"That would be a 'logical' course of action."

B'Elanna giggled, an incongruous sound in this frozen
necropolis. "It's just as well I'm here. Vorik would probably
try bashing down the door with his hard-on to get at me. Did I
ever tell you what happened last time he went through the pon
farr
?"

The Borg stopped again, examining a medical servo-armature
that might be worth salvaging. "No." The implant was covered
with some kind of fungi. Biomatter had flourished for a time,
feeding on the decaying flesh before dying as the heat leeched
out and power to the UV lights failed.

"Do you have any idea where we are in this thing?" asked
B'Elanna, changing the subject yet again. Her wrist light cast
ghoulish shadows on the walls - serrated cutting blades, alien
jaws fallen open in silent screams.

"I do not."

B'Elanna gave a derisive snort. "So much for Borg
efficiency. You'd think they'd know about signs or something.
Well, is it viable?"

"The damage is too severe," Seven replied, continuing with her
search. "Signs are irrelevant. Each drone is interlinked to the
sphere's vinculum and therefore knows its location at all times.
However I will be able to orient myself as soon as we locate a
major adjunct or working access node. Is the movement of my
buttocks pleasing enough?"

"What! Oh yes, yes very."

It took them twenty-three minutes to find an alcove that Seven
could use, another five to power it up without harming the long
dormant neuro-circuitry. The skeleton was removed and Seven
stepped inside, closing her eyes as the interface node clicked
into place. She opened her mind to the sphere.

In 3.08 seconds Seven had identified the obsolete shieldware
guarding the unimatrix and cracked it - she didn't even have to
use the cryptographic subroutines RiN-sep had provided. After
that came the tedious procedure of tracking down and relinking
thousands of isolated components. Whole sections were
unreachable, others responded with datastreams of pure
gibberish. Eventually she was able to locate some working
systems that fit her target list, instructing them to power up
and run self-diagnostics. One surprise was that the sphere's
sensor grid was still functioning. She logged the position of
the grid's data nodes so they could be recovered later, then
broke the link.

Seven opened her eyes to pitch-darkness, no sign of B'Elanna.
The Borg prioritised her ocular implant and the passageway leapt
into view, a glowing ethereal world without shadows. Someone had
wrought devastation on the walls. Panels were sliced open,
neural-connectors spilling onto the floor grates. Data nodes had
been wrenched from their sockets, skeletons tossed out of alcoves
at random. From somewhere ahead the Borg could hear the sounds
of more destruction, accompanied by faint Klingon curses.

She tapped her combadge. "Seven to Commander Torres."

No answer. "B'Elanna, respond."

"Yeah Seven, what is it?" Her voice was breathless,
coming in short gasps.

"I have finished here. State your location."

"How the hell would I know? Just follow the noise." A
loud crash echoed down the corridor, accompanied by a faint:
"Shit!"

Seven let out a deep sigh of exasperation. Stepping out of
the alcove, she picked her way through the litter of shattered
bone and metal. The damage was irrelevant, as the entire sphere
would be destroyed in a few hours, but she couldn't help feeling
a surge of anger. This was far more than was necessary to
salvage a few components. It was as if B'Elanna was engaging in
deliberate vandalism, a gratuitous act of revenge for her dead
husband. Her behaviour had been somewhat erratic over the past
few days - lack of appetite, frequent mood swings. At the time
Seven had put it down to nerves over their upcoming mission.

As she turned the corner into the next adjunct, Seven noticed
a small skeleton lying on the grates, miraculously undamaged. A
pre-natal drone - what was it doing here? The maturation
chambers must have opened during the ion storm, the child left to
wander the corridors until it died of starvation.

Instinctively, irrationally, Seven reached down to touch the
skeleton, only to have the bones crumble away in her fingers.



'Entropic decay. It's a natural law of the universe,'
thought Chapman. 'All things must die - people, stars,
ships...'

Voyager looked as if it'd been sliced in half. One side
illuminated by the bloated red sun, the other vanishing into inky
blackness, broken only by the occasional window or running
light. Chapman stepped off the dorsal spine onto the darkside,
waiting until the magnetic sole had clamped to the hull before
shifting his other foot. The photonic amplifiers cut in,
Voyager's hull appearing in granular shades, the suit's computer
adding red and green outlines around danger areas and airlock
ports. The molecular scanner activated, projecting a head-up
display onto his faceplate. Chapman looked down at his
boots.

"Starboard side now. Hull plate TH-0778. I'm picking up some
impact craters that weren't there before. Must have happened
when we went into orbit, something high density. I'm detecting
monotanium...ultra-diamond...traces of...looks like
molecular-bonded ceramics."

"Haven't these idiots heard of orbital cascade
disaster?"
asked Jenny Delaney, who was keeping an eye on
them with the external sensors. "They've got enough junk
floating round this system to build a Borg cube."

"I guess when you're fighting a war, you're more interested in
making wreckage than cleaning it up." Chapman stepped along the
hull plate, making sure that each scan overlapped the previous
one by half a metre. "How are those shields holding?"

"Hull plate TH-0778. Remains of Lieutenant William
Chapman, struck by an abandoned space toaster moving at 20,000
kilometres per hour."

"Hull plate GN-7689," said Soolan. "I'm picking up
microfractures."

"What? We replaced that one six months ago!"

"I've got another one here," said Ensign Tabor.
"GN-897A."

Chapman turned to where the others were working, further down
the hull near the warp pylons. He could see the glow of the
thermal radiators on their EVA suits. "What does the log
say?"

"GN-7689 has been recycled...sixty-three times over the
past ten years!"

"Looks like replication pattern failure," said Tabor.
"This one's got cracks all the way through to the inner core.
Recycled eighteen times, replaced five years ago after the
quantum slipstream tests."

Chapman swore quietly. Black hairlines were materialising on
the hull plate in front of him, the scanner building up an
uncompromising image of what lay beneath. "Looks like we've got
them here as well. Computer, magnify."

Microscopic fissures expanded into vast canyons, smooth metal
to a landscape pockmarked like the surface of Luna. From a
distance Voyager looked pristine, her seamless blend of form and
function often praised by alien engineers. It was only when
viewed through the cold objective gaze of his scanner that her
imperfections were obvious. Stress fractures, molecular
decoupling, the distinctive particle impact craters that only
came from weapons fire. A history of the past decade written
across her surface in wear and tear.

"At this rate we'll never make it back to the Alpha
Quadrant,"
said Jenny. "You're the structural engineer,
Will. How long do you think - another ten years before she falls
to bits at warp?"

"What Voyager needs is a major overhaul at Utopia Planitia.
What she gets is alien shipyards with poor quality control and
incompatible systems. There's a point of diminishing returns,
even with replication technology." Chapman took another step.
He was picking up something else, the familiar deformation
pattern from a multiphasic tractor beam. A legacy of their fatal
encounter with the Borg three years ago. "Still, as Seven of
Nine would say, we'll adapt."

"And how was Seven?" Jenny chimed in immediately.

Chapman mentally kicked himself right off the hull.

"You should know Jenny," said Ga'nur Bren. "Or was
that your sister?"

"Or was that you AND your sister?" asked Soolan.

"I don't know what you're talking about," said Jenny,
her tone the epitome of innocence. "But I know Seven went to
Will's quarters after she took Harry to Sickbay. Maybe she
wanted those broad handsome shoulders to cry on."

"I've never seen her cry," muttered Tabor. "The
Borg slut."

Tabor's prejudice seemed anachronistic to Chapman. He knew
there'd been a time in human history when women were ostracised
for having too many sexual partners. Maybe Bajorans were more
traditional in that regard. "What happened is none of your
business," he snapped. "Let's concentrate on the job, shall
we?"

Silence was his only answer, but he could sense their
amusement over the comm channel. Memories of last week's
pleasure were never far from the surface, now they returned once
again. The skilled application of Seven's body to his own. Her
sapphire eyes that shone with their own light when amused:
'Shall we dance, Lieutenant? I promise I'll not damage you
this time.'

She was simply correcting a mistake, Chapman knew, their
disastrous first date was an imperfection that could not be
tolerated. He could have refused: it wasn't the Borg's
promiscuity that alienated the crew, it was the way Seven went
from one partner to another without forming an emotional
connection, using them like some kind of holodeck program. But
despite his poor record with women he'd fooled himself that he
could get through to her. Or perhaps he'd been lying to himself;
maybe his motives had been more primal, as base as hers.

But he'd heard her cry.

At night when he was half-asleep, exhausted from their
exertions, he had heard Seven crying. He knew without asking
that it was over what Harry Kim had said in the messhall. He'd
rolled over to comfort her, but in her tear-soaked eyes there was
none of the light he'd seen earlier. Instead there was a complete
absence of emotion, something chilling and inhuman. The face of
the Eater of Souls.

And Chapman knew that she'd shut him off, like all the
others.



khesterex thath! that's what this stupid mission has been
right from the start...need a fully-equipped away team and six
months to explore, catalog and salvage this borg bowling ball,
instead there's two of us and an eight hour window...38 minutes
10 seconds behind schedule already thank you miss perfection i AM
aware of the time...that borg hasn't changed much probably fucks
by numbers too not that i wouldn't mind finding out, wrestling
that strong body to the ground and forcing her surrender that'd
be something...she smells of warm blood and cool metal, not dead
and cold like this place, like this gagny locking clamp it's
frozen solid, try warming it with the laser-bore...lowest setting
dummy! kahless that was close nearly burnt the whole thing to
crisp, a neural energy matrix a rare prize indeed...slowly now,
don't want the thermal stress to crack it...

The clamp broke free with a sharp snap and they lifted the
matrix off its support rod, sliding it carefully inside a
thermoplastic bag. Seven sprayed the delicate unit with white
foam that hardened in seconds, protecting the contents from shock
or cross-contamination. The bag was sealed and tagged, placed on
a pile with the others.

They'd been at it for well over three hours now, working
against time and the restrictions the Captain had lain down.
Nothing that could have a temporal or weapons application: which
meant no biogenic cloning vats, multiphasic beam emitters or
chronoton field conduits. Limited time and space ruled out the
massive regeneration facilities, matter-to-energy converters, or
the complete transwarp drive. Much of the biotech had decayed;
other items such as shield generators or nanofactories were
obsolete, replaced by new adaptations.

B'Elanna wiped perspiration from her forehead ridges, then
unsealed her jumpsuit. "I'm going to look at my thermal
regulators when I get back. First I'm freezing, now I'm drowning
in sweat." She uncapped her water bottle, raised it to her lips
and shook it. A couple of drops came out. "Argh! Must have
drunk ten litres already."

Seven passed over her own bottle. "One of us will have to
beam over to the flyer and replicate more water. We're running
low on protective foam as well." She knelt to check the
synchronisation of the pattern enhancers. "The two of us are
insufficient for this task."

"I know. Those bastards on the Liaison Daki are
probably hoping we'll break our necks under all this gear."

"You are not Borg," said Seven. "Why should they desire your
death as well?"

"I was assimilated four years ago: the Unimatrix Zero thing,
remember? I haven't got a soul any more, by their reckoning.
Probably think they're doing me a favour." She massaged the scar
tissue above her left ear.

"Are you all right?" asked Seven, noticing the gesture.

"Yeah. I've been having some headaches, that's all. I'm
fine."

"You should have the Doctor examine you when we return."

"I'm fine, Seven."

"You suffered a high velocity traumatic impact to your
skull__"

"I SAID I'M__" B'Elanna grit her teeth, controlling her
temper with a visible effort. "Look, let's get on with it shall
we? We're already behind schedule." She smacked the combadge on
her chest. "B'Elanna to Tom Paris. How's our transporter
signal?"

There was a microsecond pause while the flyer's Artificial
Sentience Program came on line. "Annular confinement
integrity at 98.7%. All systems at optimal levels.
Anti-contaminant protocols activated."

"Alright, beam them over."

"Do you blame me for Tom's death?" Seven asked quietly, as the
salvaged components dematerialised.

"No," said B'Elanna, regretting having snapped at her. She
was far too edgy in this cursed Borg charnel house. "Tom would
have risked his life for any of us, you know that."

Seven didn't reply. B'Elanna found herself considering
irrelevant things: the delicate lines of the Borg's neck, the
unsubtle curves beneath her jumpsuit, that scent brushing against
the edge of her senses, teasing... "Look, Harry can be a
petaQ at times."

"Harry is a petaQ all the time," said Seven, tapping
her combadge. "Seven to Tom Paris. Command Delta Three
Epsilon."

A black cylindrical object materialised within the triangle
formed by the pattern enhancers. Over five metres long, its
carbonite hull was pitted from years of micrometeorite impacts
and vacuum ablation. Letters in fresh red paint spelt out
DANGER: ANTI-MATTER CONTAINMENT HAZARD in four languages.
Voyager had been running advanced courses in spatial clearance
for several months now. This subspace inversion mine was
supposed to have been disarmed by Harry Kim to use as a training
aid, but somehow ended up floating in deep space along their
flight path, a code-activated transponder attached to its
hull.

B'Elanna took an isolinear spanner from her kit and
disconnected the magnaseals. Together they lifted off the
inspection hatch, exposing gleaming silver and gold components,
stamped with lettering and numerical codes in the R'larri
Forbidden Language.

let's seeeeee what have we got here? sensor grid, reaction
drive, anti-matter confinement chamber, countermeasures
pod...bloody thing's a spaceship not a spatial
mine...anti-tampering device deactivated, sensor grid and
propulsion systems deactivated...pain in the ass, done all this
on the trip here but no harm in being thorough...the morons that
populate this system don't even comprehend the idea of failsafe
engineering...harry's got to be nuts, volunteering to disarm
these fucking things, man's got a death wish...alright, open
detonator housing...

The detonator housing slid back with a faint click and
B'Elanna inserted the remote activator. The Federation device
had been wrapped in a custom-made sleeve so it could interface
with R'larri technology. It ran through a series of
compatibility checks, exchanging data with the mine's
processor.

something's wrong, can't access the program for the
magnetic interlocks all gibberish...oh bugger! forgot to load
the translation protocols how COULD i have been so dumb? not
concentrating that's the problem, can't focus, those blue eyes
framed in silver, that borg's got the same hot looks and easy
sexuality that tom had...subsection beta algorithm, loading
arming subroutines and since when have i been interested in women
anyway? yintagh! enough anti-matter here to tear a hole in the
fabric of space and all you can think about is sex...but dammit
it's like she's radiating pheromones or something__

"You have made an error."

"I can see that Seven. I'm fixing it now."

"You're loading the arming subroutines before magnetic
integrity has been confirmed!" exclaimed Seven, disbelief at this
stupidity evident in her tone and suddenly B'Elanna was furious
with this rude, arrogant, perfection-obsessed Borg whose idea of
exploring their humanity was to fuck half of Voyager! Why she'd
even contemplated screwing__

"I have had twenty-three lovers in the past eighteen months,"
Seven replied coldly. "That is nowhere near half of Voyager's
compliment. How many lovers have you had in your lifetime,
Lieutenant Commander Torres?"

what the...oh shit did i say that out loud? what the
hell's the matter with me can't think straight, want to hit her,
to run or fight or fuck and would you believe it she's taking out
her TRICORDER activating the field medical subroutines and
talking in that superior condescending tone that always manages
to PISS ME OFF!

"B'Elanna, you have been showing signs of a fever. I believe
it is affecting your ability to__"

B'Elanna slapped the tricorder out of her hand. It hit the
wall and ricocheted into a vertical shaft, falling to the bottom
in echoing clangs.

They stared at each other for a long moment, B'Elanna's
nostrils flaring as she sucked in the stale air, hands trembling
from the adrenaline rush.

"Go get the sensor nodes, Ensign."

"Our orders are to stay together."

"I'm giving you another order."

Seven grabbed her backpack and stormed off. B'Elanna stared
after her, until the sound of her boots on the grating had
faded.

With the light from Seven's beacon gone, the darkness pressed
in a little closer.



Over-Scholar Eem-hontu-sa reached up to adjust the ocularscope
she usually wore in the laboratory, before realising it wasn't
there. Flustered, she pretended to scratch her primary crest
saying, "Computer, magnify two thousand please." She'd been
working with this Federation technology for three months now, but
it still took some getting used to.

The holographic simulation exploded into her face like a star
gone nova, cells as large as Husii disks shooting past, pursued
by enormous black nanoprobes. Eem-hontu-sa flinched as one of
the technological monsters reached down with arachnoid legs to
assimilate her. She took a judicious step backwards. The
R'larri cybernist was tall for her species, almost three metres
high with delicate avian features. She wore a conservative tube
skirt and dark green vest, cut away at the rear to accommodate
her vestigial wingstumps. Each garment was lined with what
appeared to be intricate decoration, but was actually the history
of her people in centuries-old code. Her bird-like appearance
was enhanced by her cybernetic talons, each covered in fine mesh
gloves of tactile fibre. The originals had been severed ten
years ago by an extremist faction of the R'larri Cultural Defence
Force.

Eem-hontu-sa whistled through her serrated beak, the universal
translator converting the sound into a human-like clearing of the
throat. "If I may have your attention?"

There were over a hundred people crammed into the holodeck,
mostly visiting scientists or cybertechs with a scattering of
Voyager personnel. There was a general shuffling, limbs moved to
circulate the blood or signify attention.

"As the Doctor demonstrated most aptly in his simulation, Borg
nanotechnology of previous generations could be excised through a
combination of micro-surgery and neural suppressants," said
Eem-hontu-sa. "We are now going to rerun that simulation using
the nanoprobes removed from Lieutenant Kim. If our host would
care to do the honours..."

"Certainly," said the Doctor. "Computer, run program CMH
Seven Two Beta."

To the exuberant strains of Vivaldi's 'The Hunt', Borg
nanoprobes swarmed after their prey, pursuing them through a sea
of crimson body fluids. With vampiric ruthlessness they latched
onto blood cells, rewriting their DNA in mere fractions of a
second.

"What is that horrible noise?" asked Over-Scholar Polorta. A
genetic engineer from the minority T'mani species, he was
humanoid with translucent skin and grey membranous strands in
place of hair.

"I believe it is the Doctor's latest weapon against the Borg,"
answered Icheb with deadpan seriousness. Polorta gave a loud
hoot of amusement.

"And now," said Eem-hontu-sa, giving him a disapproving look.
"Enter the defenders."

The antinanites were lean, bullet-shaped robots propelled by
tiny microscopic engines. They began smashing into the
nanoprobes, forcing them to adapt by generating armour. The
antinanites assisted them, adding their own layers, creating an
impenetrable cocoon which sealed the nanoprobes completely. When
the survivors tried to co-operate the antinanites altered their
signature to match the Borg probes, linked with and assimilated
them, converting them to their cause. It went on like that for
several minutes: attack and defence, each countermeasure turned
against itself. A war in infinitesimal proportions.

"Normally the nanoprobes would have the advantage," said
Eem-hontu-sa, unconsciously shielding her throat with a claw.
"However each of the antinanites is generating its own dampening
field. This disrupts the link the nanoprobes need to work
collectively. As the antinanites are programmed to operate as
individual units, they have the advantage. But now..."

Cells were turning black and dying, or mutating into perverse
simulacrums, moving on to infect others. White cells appeared,
the body's natural defense mechanism, but they too were poisoned,
others converted.

"Realising they are isolated and near defeat, the nanoprobes
create synthetic pathogens throughout the host body. The host
faces death or permanent injury. Immediate radical surgery is
the only viable option."

"Fallen like the jo-stalk in the harvest," muttered
Polorta.

RiN-sep lifted himself off his seat and waddled to the front
of the group. He was short and stocky, with a long narrow head
that hung down over his bony thorax. Unlike other Menti Naka
cybernists he disdained the usual talisman collar, wrapping his
neck in a simple scarf, dyed red in mourning for those killed in
the Blood Death. "Thank you Over-Scholar, a most telling
demonstration. As I'm sure you all realise, this latest
adaptation represents a significant change in Borg ideology.
Previously the Collective regarded destruction as irrelevant, a
mere by-product of their relentless course towards perfection.
But after their disastrous invasion of fluidic space, and the
efforts of our Federation allies to create a so-called Borg
resistance movement, we are now seeing more aggressive, militant
behaviour patterns."

"For instance, several past attempts to study the Borg at
close quarters were successful because they ignored individuals
until they posed a direct threat. Now the Borg move instantly to
isolate and destroy any trespasser on board their vessels."



Radiating white heat from its edges, the panel toppled into
the abyss of the central chamber. The tumbling bright outline
fell in silence for long seconds before the crash of impact.

Seven of Nine sprayed coolant around the hole, then stepped
through it onto the induction rail. A mere ten centimetres wide,
the maglev was used to transport components within the plexus
dampening field. Lights from still-active power units gleamed a
hundred metres below, like stars in the infinity of space.

"Seven?"

She took her time answering. "Yes, Commander Torres?"

"B'Elanna."

"I am busy. Do you require assistance?"

"I'm sorry."

Seven made no reply. Apologies were irrelevant.

"Don't be mad at me."

"I am not angry." It was true. The cortical inhibitor was an
efficient device, her fear of plunging into the depths below
abstract, like an intriguing intellectual puzzle. She moved
along the rail like a tightrope walker, one foot in front of the
other, keeping perfect balance.

"You've turned on your inhibitor, haven't you?"

"Yes." When she reached the point above her target Seven sank
into a crouch, slowly turning away from the chamber, shifting her
centre of gravity. Seizing the rail with both hands she kicked
off with her toes, swinging beneath, capturing the twisted
remains of a stanchion between her boots. Leaning forward, the
Borg reached out and grabbed a dangling conduit, pulling herself
in.

"Turn it off...please. I need to talk."

She was in the sensor grid plexus, its four surfaces lined
with nitrium alloy to protect the data nodes. Some years before
a bearing had collapsed and sheared off the access walkway. An
entire wall had gone with it, exposing the plexus to the vast
chamber behind her.

"Please Seven."

Seven thought about ignoring the request, but she remembered
all too well Harry's sneering face in the messhall. 'Do you
have a daily prescription, or do you just switch it on whenever
you have the urge?'

Her inhibitor deactivated and emotions came flooding back into
her mind: pain, anger, loneliness, frustration, powerful feelings
tearing at the muscles of her heart. The urge to flee once more
into drone-like oblivion was overwhelming. She'd regarded
B'Elanna as a friend, she'd thought they'd gotten past the petty
squabbling that marked their first years on Voyager, but it was
clear what the Klingon hybrid really thought of her...

"I'm sorry. It's been so long. I miss him."

Severed from the Collective, regarded with suspicion and fear
by the others, it was Tom who'd made the first overtures of
friendship. Seven had been the last one to see him alive.

"Yes, so do I."

There were only five viable data nodes. Seven moved to free
them, using her phaser on narrow beam to cut through the locking
clamps. Time was running short so she didn't bother with
individual bagging and tagging; she just shoved the nodes into
her backpack and sprayed foam inside. For years they'd been
mindlessly storing information, erasing the old when it became
irrelevant. Somehow they symbolised everything the Collective
stood for.

Unbidden, the memory leaped to mind: Icheb quoting Shelley to
the Liaison Daki.


"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.


Seven had always been aware of the Collective's presence
throughout space. She understood the vastness of their realm
like no human ever could. But it was only now, in this vessel
with its rows of skeletons in their obsolete alcoves, this system
filled with ancient legends and superstitions, that she had a
sense of their presence through time. Centuries of conquest and
assimilation, the remorseless acquisition of biological and
technological cannon fodder. Looking out into the central
chamber she could see over fifty different species, rank upon
rank, like terracotta soldiers of a long-dead emperor. How many
worlds had been destroyed, cultures wiped from existence, species
scattered throughout the galaxy, prevented from ever reaching
their potential? Probably not even the Borg Queen bothered to
count them all. And where was the higher order, the perfection
in this monolithical existence? Did the Borg even know what
perfection was, where they were supposed to be going?

With sudden awareness Seven realised she was seeing not the
past but the future. That one day the universe would be full of
the silent floating mausoleums of her people. The Borg,
believing without question that they were improving themselves,
were slowly and inevitably stagnating, grinding to an
evolutionary halt. The Collective might exist for thousands of
years, might succeed in assimilating Voyager, humanity, the
entire galaxy even. But it would all end like this.

It was then that she heard the noise.

For a microsecond Seven thought it was settling debris, an
object she'd disturbed earlier coming to rest. The sound was
faint - without her enhanced senses she wouldn't have heard it.
Someone was moving on the level above.

"Commander Torres, state your location."

There was no response.

"B'Elanna, where are you?"

The platform where she had left B'Elanna looked microscopic in
the vastness of the central chamber. Seven switched to her
ocular implant, the cortical processor bleeding in sight from her
organic eye for depth perception and colour matching. She could
see the pattern enhancers, scattered tools, the subspace
inversion mine...something was lying behind it. Seven clicked up
the magnification, enhanced the image. A crumpled grey form,
lifeless and still.

'Fear is irrelevant,' Seven told herself.

There was only one exit from the plexus, the way she'd come
in.

Without hesitation Seven leapt into the abyss, fingers
grasping for the rail. The implants in her left hand struck the
metal with a CLANG!, the sound reverberating throughout
the chamber. Using her great strength she pulled herself up,
hooking over an elbow, then a leg, rolling her body on top of the
induction conduit...

The intruder was crouched on the rail two metres away,
watching her.

Seven's first thought was that she was hallucinating.

B'Elanna was completely naked, shivering in the subzero
temperature. Her feet were bloody, the flesh stripped by the
frozen metal. Oblivious to the peril she was in, B'Elanna stared
at the Borg, pupils so wide they seemed to fill her eyes. An
irrelevant thought struck Seven - Chakotay's tales of
shapeshifters, people who could take on animal form.

Moving very slowly so as not to startle her, the Borg sat up
on the rail. "B'Elanna, do you understand me?"

There was something shiny clasped in B'Elanna's fist. A
combadge, bloody from where the pointed ends were cutting into
the skin. Seven felt her heart skip a beat. She reached across
her chest, pressing fingertips against her own communicator.

"Seven to Tom Paris," she whispered. "Lock onto our comm
signals. Emergency bea__NO!" she shouted as the combadge dropped
from B'Elanna's hand, vanishing into the depths below.

"Please repeat your transmission."

"Lock onto my combadge. Adjust the annular confinement
beam for two persons, activate the transporter on my
signal."

"Understood."

B'Elanna lifted her injured palm to her face, licked the
blood. "jIH dok." A soft growl, quiet as a whisper.

She looked up at Seven, her face expectant as if waiting for a
response.

Seven took a deep breath, then pulled off a glove with her
teeth and let it fall. She reached out for B'Elanna, gripping
the rail tightly with her other hand.

"B'Elanna, take my hand."

B'Elanna took hold of Seven's hand and sniffed the palm. Her
lips pulled back in a sharp exhalation of delight.

The Borg smiled. "That's it. I'm Seven of Nine, your
friend." Her touch was so hot it seemed to burn. That made no
sense; B'Elanna's body temperature should be__

Her bloody feet slipped on the rail and B'Elanna plunged over
the side, yanking Seven after her. A sickening crack then
incredible pain in Seven's shoulder and the overwhelming urge to
vomit. She was holding them both by a single hand above the
chasm, agony now as B'Elanna clutched screaming at her useless
limb. Her cries were nowhere near human, high-pitched like an
animal in distress.

Seven's right hand was numb - she couldn't grip with it. She
could feel B'Elanna's palms slipping over her flesh.

She did the only thing possible.

"SEVEN TO PARIS, EMERGENCY BEAM-OUT!"

Then Seven let go of the rail.



"The artist had an amazing eye for detail," said the Doctor.
"Especially considering the circumstances. It's likely the
individual concerned got quite near to the drone." The C/MH
moved closer to the holographic enlargement. "Note the detail in
the ocular implant, right down to these lines here, which I
believe represent some kind of thermal imager."

"Brave, whoever they were," said Harry Kim. They'd discovered
it during their shore leave on the Other World (or Teldar
Ves
as their R'larri guide insisted on calling it). He'd
claimed the painting was over fifty thousand years old. Daubed
on the rock face in faded pigments amongst the great plain
stalkers, fiery winged gods and hunters slaying long-extinct
beasts was the figure of a solitary Borg drone, staring back at
them over the millennia.

"It's different somehow, the exoskeleton."

"That's because it's not a complete exoskeleton as we know
it. It's clothing."

"What?" Harry leaned forwards. His biosynthetic arm
automatically changed position to keep his balance.

"Look here," said the Doctor. "The line around the neck where
the skin meets the collar. That tactical armour is clipped over
the top as well, with these black seals. It's clearly designed
to be removed. I think the undergarment has a similar function
to the dermaplastic biosuit Seven used to wear. It's designed to
regenerate the skin around the exit points for the cybergrafts,
plus some built-in environmental regulation and waste
synthesis." His voice grew excited. "We could be looking at a
very early stage in the Borg's evolution!"

"Then how did it get out here?" asked Harry. "They didn't
have transwarp in those days, surely. We're a long way from the
origins of Borg space."

"We don't know anything about the origins of the Borg,"
pointed out the Doctor. "Maybe they were exiles, or explorers.
A militant group in search of the perfect society. Or perhaps
they sent out long-term scouts throughout the Quadrant, like the
Dominion Founders. The early Borg could have been quite peaceful
in that regard. Assimilation might even have been voluntary, a
chance for a person to become part of something greater."

Harry stared at the painting. Despite its differences the
artist had captured one thing that clearly hadn't changed - that
blank drone expression. None of the excitement or apprehension
you might expect from an early explorer, the joy of discovering
and interacting with strange new worlds, cultures and
lifeforms.

"Somehow I doubt it."

"Culhane to the Doctor."

The Doctor's head came up. "Yes Ensign?"

"I have a priority subspace communication from the Tom
Paris. Patching through to you now, sir."

"Seven of Nine to Sickbay. Medical emergency."

The Doctor and Harry were at the comm panel in less than a
second.

"I'm here," said the Doctor, his expert eye taking in Seven's
pale features, the distinctive way she was cradling her arm.
"You've disrupted your gleno-humeral interface!"

"My injuries are irrelevant," Seven replied curtly.
"Over the past few hours Commander Torres has
been acting in an increasingly irrational manner. According to
my scans her neurochemistry has become unstable. I am detecting
unusual brainwave activity and excessive amounts of adrenaline in
her circulatory system. The tricorder readings are being
downloaded as we speak."

Harry tensed. "She might have picked up a Borg
nanovirus__"

"No! It was the first thing I checked!" snapped Seven,
adding a belated, "Sir."

"That's impossible," muttered the Doctor, as his diagnostic
protocols analysed the readings. "Seven, you must return to
Voyager at once!"

Seven used her left hand to enter the requisite commands.
Only when the course had been laid in and engaged did she ask,
"Why?"

"I believe Commander Torres is suffering from the plak
tow
."

"Your diagnosis is flawed. The blood fever only affects
Vulcans."

"It's a long story. When Vorik last went through the pon
farr
he formed a telepathic mating bond with B'Elanna. She
began to exhibit the same symptoms. It is the only explanation
for what's happening now."

"But that was seven years ago!" said Harry. "It shouldn't be
happening again. We made sure there was no contact between her
and Vorik this time!"

The Doctor frowned. "There must be a subconscious command
implanted as part of telepathic bond, like the link a Vulcan
child forms with his arranged bride. It's working as a
biological clock. B'Elanna is going through a seven year mating
cycle just like a Vulcan would."

"What are the possible consequences to B'Elanna?" asked Seven.

"I don't know. Vulcans have been known to die during the
pon farr. You must get her back here as soon as
possible."

"Our warp core has been deactivated. It will take four
hours, perhaps more."

"That may be too late."

"Then Voyager must come to our assistance."

"That might not be possible," said Harry. "We're stuck
between two hostile battlefleets here. If we go shooting off at
maximum warp in an unexpected direction..."

"In that case she must be treated. I will use a hormonal
suppressant."

"It won't work," said the Doctor. "It's like trying to put
out a firestorm with an airponics sprinkler."

"Then sedation with triptacederine."

"Too risky. She could slip into a coma and die."

"Modified nanoprobes__"

"That won't work either! The pon farr is psychological
as well as biological. We've had some success with holographic
partners but even that's uncertain."

Seven and the Doctor glared at each other. They were both
perfectionists. Neither of them was used to being without
options. "Then how was it treated seven years ago?"

"The blood fever is purged in three ways. Intense meditation,
ritual combat, mating with the chosen partner. B'Elanna fought
Vorik."

"That would not be advisable for us," was Seven's dry response.
"My ability to throw a right hook has been compromised."

"I'll talk to the captain," said Harry. "Maybe if we inform
the factions we've got a medical emergency...but they may not
believe us, or care."

"Keep me informed. Seven of Nine out," she said, cutting the
link before the Doctor could start harping on about her injured
shoulder. Out of sight of her colleagues, the Borg let her head
slump.

"What did the Doctor want?" asked B'Elanna, her voice faint.
There was a bed in the aft compartment but Seven had tilted back
one of the crew seats instead. The half-Klingon was wrapped in a
thermal blanket, strapped in by thick safety belts.

"He says you are suffering from the Vulcan blood fever. How
much do you remember?"

"The pon farr?"

"Yes."

"Then I need to see Tom. Where is he?"

Seven stared at her in horror.

"Where's Tom?"

"He is...on board Voyager. They are coming for us."

B'Elanna's head rolled to one side. Red and green tricorder
lights reflected off the subtle curves of her forehead ridges.
"Tell him to hurry."

Seven waited until her breathing had gone shallow before
saying, "Computer, give me a view of the Borg vessel. Maximum
magnification."

A circular shadow against the greater darkness of space. This
far from the sun, the sphere was barely visible.

"Confirm the remote activator signal." There was no way to be
sure if B'Elanna had finished arming the mine, not without
returning to the vessel. But her instructions had been clear.
After the first successful salvage the Menti Naka and R'larri
would soon overcome their superstitions. There would be a
scramble for Borg technology, perhaps sparking another conflict
over the prize.

"Activator signal confirmed," announced the AS program. "We
are thirty seconds from minimum recommended safe dist__"

Her finger stabbed down on the touchscreen with unnecessary
force.

The photosensitive viewscreen went dark as a blinding flash
eclipsed the radiance of a sun, ripping the sphere apart and
hurtling the radioactive fragments across space. Then suddenly
the explosion appeared to reverse itself as every particle of
matter in a million kilometres tried to push through a tiny hole
in subspace.

The flyer began to shudder, its engines screaming in impotent
fury as it was hauled back into the inversion. Clenching her
teeth, Seven advanced the impulse drive to maximum, ignoring the
structural integrity warnings the computer was blaring at
her.

If the fabric of space was weak in this area, or if there'd
been imperfections in the construction of the mine, the inversion
would turn into ever-widening subspace splinters radiating out
from its omega point. Should one of them touch the flyer they
would (if they were lucky) be dead before they knew it. If not,
they'd be trapped in a subspace limbo for the rest of
eternity.



The kubii trees had been shedding for the past three days,
their kite-analogue flowers released to drift over the blast
crater where New LiH-tos nestled, raining down an incessant
stream of pollen. Seven and B'Elanna had given up trying to
brush it off, so they along with everyone else was dusted in a
carpet of bright yellow. Most of the crowd were using breathing
masks, decorated with metal face pieces hammered into the
distinctive scalloped architecture of Borg implants. For once
Seven didn't stand out, for which she was glad. There'd been
problems earlier in the day when they'd visited the Menti Naka
temple. But here she was anonymous, just another drone amongst
thousands. They held hands so as not to be separated in the
crush, not knowing where they were going, just letting themselves
be drawn along. Traders worked both sides of the street, their
round stalls like an endless line of open clams. Spectators sat
on the hardshell roofs, feet dangling off the edge so it looked
as if all the merchants were specialising in footware. T'mani,
R'larri, and Menti Naka mixed together in a haphazard fashion,
drinking and talking and hooting as they watched the parade. It
was hard to believe they'd been slaughtering each other with
genocidal intensity a mere twelve years ago.

B'Elanna was chewing on a jo fruit, juice running down her
chin and staining the front of her shirt. Even as dusk
approached it was still quite warm, the heat generated by the
mass of surrounding bodies. She'd taken off her Maquis jacket
and tied the arms around her waist; it bobbed behind her like a
large leather tail. Seven was dressed as scantily as R'larri law
would allow - a blue T'mani overcloth, slit to expose her leg
implants. It was risky, yet there was a streak of stubbornness
(or perhaps arrogance, Seven admitted) that made her refuse to
hide her Borg heritage.

"Anyone you know?" shouted B'Elanna, grinning as she pointed
back over her shoulder.

An enormous stone monolith on rollers was emerging from a side
street. The head of a Borg drone, implants erupting from its
mouth, forcing the teeth apart in a silent scream. It was hauled
by Menti Naka priests marching in lockstep, their eyes fixed
ahead in blank stares. Small children scampered round the
juggernaut shouting, "Resistance is futile! Resistance is
futile!" Seven turned away, starting as she found herself
face-to-face with a group of Borg drones. Cybernetic limbs made
of plastic and woven jo-stalk were brandished before her eyes.
"You will be assimilated! Resistance is futile!"

Seven pushed past them, mouth taut, hauling B'Elanna after
her. Together they squeezed by a six-wheeled armoured car with
police markings. A R'larri Under-Commander was sitting on the
turret hatch, one hand draped across the riot gas disperser. She
wore black body armour sculpted in the shape of a Borg
exoskeleton, a multi-lensed helmet adding to the effect.

Red heavier-than-air smoke rolled along the ground. A
holographic image of the Aux thundered about retribution for the
Blood Death. R'larri bystanders jeered, hurling jo fruits at the
projector until it fizzed out. B'Elanna tossed the remains of
her fruit into a rubbish skip, from which it was retrieved by one
of the street orphans. Other children clustered around Seven,
recognising her as an offworlder, not realising her implants were
real.

"I have no money. Go away."

"Lighten up Seven," said B'Elanna, passing out the few coins
she had left.

"Your generosity will only increase their persistence."

A child snatched the holocamera from Seven's shoulder. The
Borg tried to grab him but he dropped to the ground, scrambling
away between the legs of the crowd.

"You little Qa'Hom!" the half-Klingon cursed, shoving
her way after him.

"Let him go, B'Elanna!" Seven followed in her wake,
earning a rain of abuse from others in the parade. An annoyed
T'mani tried to clobber her with a wooden Borg cube. Rockets
streaked into the night sky, igniting kubii flowers in falling
trails of fire. Lasers wrote political slogans across the
clouds. A holoimage of Ni-par-deskt appeared, her primary crest
red with anger, spitting out words like photon torpedoes.

By the time Seven reached the sidewalk the thief had been
caught. A huge Menti Naka in the robes and half-mask of a
religious student held the struggling youngster in a single
hand. With the other he plucked the holocamera from the child's
grasp and presented it to B'Elanna.

"Thank you," said B'Elanna, her chest heaving from exertion.
She took the Doctor's camera and hung the strap around her neck
saying, "Hey Seven, I'm out of money. Have you got a donation
for this guy?"

The Menti Naka raised his equine head, smiling as he noticed
the approaching ex-drone. Without changing expression he drew a
pistol from beneath his robes and shot B'Elanna in the face.

To Seven, everything slowed to eternal microseconds of time.
B'Elanna smashed backwards, her blood suspended in tiny droplets
in the air. The assassin hurling the child aside as he turned
towards her. The whine of his gauss pistol recharging; no time
for fear as he pulled the trigger again.

It was a T'mani bystander who caught the bullet. Stepping
from between the stallshells where he'd been urinating, his
organs turned black as he crumpled like paper. That moment was
all Seven needed. In less than a second she'd closed the
distance, crushing the assassin's wrist in her cybernetic hand.
He opened his mouth in a high scream, clawing at Seven's eyes.
She deflected him with a Tanyk Defence and drove a hammer fist at
the vulnerable forelobe. His eyes rolled up and he fell to the
ground stunned.

In the edge of her vision Seven saw a canister tumbling
through the air. She threw herself down where B'Elanna should
be, hitting solid pavement instead as the world exploded in
plasma fire. A wave of intense heat washed over her, drifting
kubii bursting into flame and scorching her clothes. She
scrambled along the curb, the harsh stone scraping her knees and
elbows through the thin overcloth, angry over her decision to
wear such an inefficient garment. Everyone was screaming now,
ululating cries as they fled in all directions. Seven had a
brief glimpse of B'Elanna stumbling ahead of her, a hand clutched
to the side of her face. Stallshells began slamming shut,
spilling those on their roofs onto the street. Seven lost sight
of her partner in the chaos.

The armoured car was trying to move down the street but the
massive Borg head blocked its path. Disrupter fire lit the air,
a beam streaking past Seven's ear. She rolled beneath the
foundation of a stallshell, hitting the combadge on her chest.
"Seven to Voyager! Emergency, two to beam up!"

The only answer was a static-garbled chirp. Inches from her
face, the pavement turned black as an energy beam scorched
it.

For a brief, terrifying moment Seven felt tight bands clamping
down on her muscles, her whole body held rigid in place, staked
out for sacrifice. Then her cortical inhibitor activated - it
was like she was standing apart from that person shaking in fear
beneath the stallshell. Tactical analysis programs went primary,
sucking in data from her enhanced senses and converting it to
colourless datastreams flowing through her mind. There was a
surge of incredible power as nanoprobes superoxygenated her
blood. In seconds she'd formed a plan of action and carried it
out, hurtling from cover faster than any sprinter, aiming at a
steel gate ajar ten metres away.

It was the loading dock of a slaughterhouse, the ground
flecked with dried blood. The walls were tipped in laser
fencing, the doors chained shut. Seven realised too late that
she'd walked into a trap.

From the street behind stepped a half-masked Menti Naka, his
eyes bright with hatred, ancient robes incongruous with his
ultra-modern disrupter. A lasersight beam flickered towards
Seven, reflecting off the drifting pollen. "TiH-nan guides the
hand that will crush the Eater of Souls."

B'Elanna charged through the gate, the gauss pistol clasped in
her bloody fist. Without slowing she emptied it into the
assassin, his disrupter tumbling from lifeless fingers. Seven
snatched it up and together they ran across the courtyard to the
loading dock. Seven didn't bother with subtlety, blasting apart
a chain and sending the door flying back on its hinges with a
powerful kick. She felt her arm seized in a vice-like grip and
then they where charging past long racks hung with bloody
carcasses, workers gaping in astonishment. An aproned Menti Naka
with a cutting laser stepped into their path. B'Elanna didn't
give him the benefit of the doubt, smashing him to the ground
with her empty pistol and leaping over the body.

The front door was sealed by monotanium bolts. Seven adjusted
the disrupter and burned a hole in the wall, scrambling through
before it had even cooled.

They'd come out in the next street. Nearby merchants,
veterans of war and civil strife, were closing up at the sound of
the disturbance, their stallshells crashing shut like snapping
jaws. Menti Naka street children were throwing stones at a
R'larri armoured car. A police flyer screamed overhead, spraying
a cloud of inhibitor toxins. Seven pulled B'Elanna into an
alcove. She hit her combadge again. "Seven of Nine to Voyager.
Respond!"

"...ii...voy...car...ear...ou."

"Dampening field," muttered B'Elanna, her voice slurred as if
drunk. Blood covered the side of her head and she was swaying on
her feet. Her eyes were unfocussed, one pupil larger than the
other. Seven reached out a hand to hold her steady. "Voyager,
remodulate your signal! Two to beam up, now!"

"Al...ive...ot...even."

A scream on the thin edge of audibility erupted from the
armoured car. The street children bent over in agony, clutching
their ears and soiling themselves. Seven felt a wave of nausea
ripple through her body, then everything sounded as if through
water as her cortical processor stabilised her inner ears.
B'Elanna, who had no such protection, buckled at the knees and
vomited onto the pavement. The armoured car accelerated down the
street towards them, intakes howling in the pollen-choked air.
Children scrambled to get out of the way. One wasn't fast
enough, knocked flying into the gutter and lying still.

"This is Voyager. Your signal is weak but
readable."

"TWO TO BEAM UP, NOW!"

And then everything turned stark white as they were pinned
under the lights of the armoured car. It didn't slow down,
didn't swerve, the sound of its turbine rising to a shriek as it
drove straight at them. There wasn't time to run or fire, just
the sheer sense of impossibility as they were occupying the same
space as the hurtling multi-ton vehicle, fading to non-existence
in the embrace of the transporter beam.



Seven watched B'Elanna toss and turn against her restraints,
her eyelids twitching in REM sleep.

Reaching down, the Borg brushed aside the hair that had fallen
across her face. The tip of an ear was missing and there was
faint scar tissue the Doctor hadn't been able to regenerate. If
the assassin had been using a directed energy weapon, B'Elanna
would be dead. The bullet had been stopped by a remnant of
cortical node casing, which the Doctor had thought too risky to
remove four years ago.

Seven could only regard that as ironic. After the Unimatrix
Zero mission she'd tried to convince B'Elanna, Janeway and Tuvok
to retain their more useful Borg implants, citing the advantages
gained in analytical processing and enhanced physiology. All
three had refused even to discuss it. The Federation prejudice
against artificial enhancement was irrational and deep-rooted,
dating back to the Eugenics Wars. In that aspect they were no
different from the superstitious aliens inhabiting this
system.

"Voyager to Tom Paris."

Chakotay had appeared on the commscreen, his normally stolid
face wrinkled with concern.

"Captain," said Seven, getting straight to the point.
"B'Elanna's neo-cortical readings are highly erratic. You must
proceed to our immediate assistance."

"That may not be possible, Seven. The Planetur keep
bouncing us around various departments and the R'larri CDF won't
answer our hails. The Aux thinks you've been assimilated. He's
talking about blasting your flyer out of this system. You're
going to have to change your approach vector to take you away
from the Menti Naka battlefleet."

"Assholes!" cursed Seven, an expression she'd picked up from
Lieutenant Kim - it seemed appropriate. The flyer's warp core
had been removed partly to give more space, but also to satisfy
the paranoid requirements of the Liaison Daki. Now they
were refusing to help. "Their petty politics are
irrelevant!"

"It took three weeks of negotiation to allow an
impulse-powered flyer and two personnel through their sectors,
let alone a fully-armed starship. Every politician and
over-commander will use this as an opportunity to stick their oar
in."

For a fraction of a second Seven pondered that obscure
colloquialism, then dismissed it with irritation. "There is no
need to put Voyager at risk. I will handle the situation."

"How on Earth do you..." An indefinable expression
flickered across Chakotay's face. "I see."

"I am placing the flyer on autopilot." Seven opened the
medkit and removed a hypospray, loading it with 20 milligrams of
inoprovalene. "Ensure that a constant monitor is kept on the Tom
Paris with long-range sensors. I will be...occupied. Seven of
Nine out." She pressed the hypospray against B'Elanna's
neck.

"Seven, wait!"

"Sir?" she asked, not bothering to hide her impatience. She
hoped Captain Chakotay would not forbid her action due to some
foolish human notion of propriety or jealousy.

Chakotay studied her for a long moment, then just said: "Good luck."

The commscreen blinked off.

"I have never needed 'luck' to copulate," muttered Seven. It
took her ten precious minutes to recalculate the optimum
flightline that would take them around the Menti Naka fleet while
still avoiding top-secret military zones, suspected minefields,
and the numerous radioactive debris fields left over from the
war.

By the time she'd finished B'Elanna had revived, her dark eyes
watching the Borg over her thermal blanket. Seven pulled the
sling up over her head, wincing as she did so.

"Computer, activate autopilot and autonomous response
systems." Seven slid off her boots, placing them neatly under
the console. "Inform me of Level One emergencies only." She
unsealed her jumpsuit, removing it with some difficulty.
"Activate proximity detection. Vessels on intercept vectors and
Objects-In-Course only. Audio cue, loud." The
thermo-compression pad was last, peeling it off her shoulder and
dumping it in the recycling chute.

Seven leaned over B'Elanna. The half-Klingon's eyes moved to
her breasts but their gaze was unsteady, with none of its usual
fire.

"Commander Torres, we have a problem."

"What happened to your arm?" croaked B'Elanna. Seven tucked a
water bottle between her thighs and unscrewed the cap.

"That is the problem," said Seven, raising the bottle to
B'Elanna's mouth. She drank avidly. "I am required to make love
to you, in order to save your life. It is an activity I take
great pleasure in."

"However I have damaged my shoulder. While I was able to
reduce the dislocation, it is still sore." Seven pulled the
bottle away. "Klingon love-making practices are quite vigorous,
often involving injury. My cybernetic body would normally allow
me to handle your aggressive sexuality, but I fail to see the
need to injure myself further."

"What are you raving on about?" muttered B'Elanna.

"I have therefore decided to leave you bound to this seat.
You will be forced to serve my needs, on my terms. It amuses me
to dominate my lovers."

"What...what makes you think I want to screw you?" A
tiny spark of familiar ire.

Seven smirked. In a single deft movement she ripped apart the
thermal blanket, exposing B'Elanna's naked body. "My first
attempts at intimate relations were on the holodeck. A
controlled environment, but I was inexperienced then. Do you
know the subject I chose to lose my virginity with?"

"I've no idea," B'Elanna growled. She felt drowsy, as if
recovering from a heavy dose of sedatives, but there was
something forcing its way through the murky haze. A deep sea
predator rising to the surface, drawn by the smell of prey.

Seven leaned over and whispered in her ear. "Chakotay. That
was impertinent of me, don't you think? I knew Captain Janeway
was attracted to him. I wanted to find out what lay behind that
attraction. And I did. He was very patient with me,
very...instructive. Both on the holodeck, and in real life."
Skilled hands began to massage the dusky flesh of the Klingon
hybrid, measuring the sensitive regions, the involuntary
responses. "I was unaware of the emotional inhibitor at the
time. When I was severed from the Collective the neural pathways
had been cut, but over the years they'd regenerated. I almost
died." The Borg slid her hands down to the junction of
B'Elanna's thighs. The ankles were strapped to the sides of the
seat, leaving the legs parted, vulnerable to her attentions.
"Fortunately I was able to modify the inhibitor's programming.
It serves me well."

"Yeah," said B'Elanna, gritting her teeth. "You can be a
drone whenever you want. Haven't left the holodeck, have you
Seven?"

Seven gave a cold smile and dug her fingers into a bruise,
eliciting a sharp gasp of pain. Her other hand was stroking
B'Elanna's clitoris. It was larger than on human females,
supposedly less sensitive. But the results were instantaneous:
the pelvis bucked against the straps, soaking her hand. "You are
very wet, B'Elanna. I have never had a lover as wet as you are
now."

She began to work both hands in conjunction. A low growl
erupted from her captive. Nostrils flared, trying to draw in the
Borg's scent.

"More," gasped B'Elanna, the plea escaping before she could
stop it.

"Pain and pleasure," mused Seven. "I have not yet explored
that aspect of my sexuality." She stopped to lick vaginal fluid
off her fingers.

"BiHnuch!" B'Elanna hissed. "Take off these straps and
I'll show you some fucking pain! Let me go, that's an
order!"

Seven raised an eyebrow in the manner she knew would annoy
B'Elanna the most. "Do you intend to have me court-martialed,
Commander? I would enjoy telling an inquiry everything we did,
how we used our fingers and lips and tongues on each other, how
you begged me to pleasure you again and again. And you will beg
me, I will make sure of that."

She bent her head, her full lips matching perfectly the
swollen folds of the half-Klingon's vulva. The Borg slipped her
tongue into the drenched flesh, working with the expertise of
constant practical application. B'Elanna felt an overwhelming
pressure building, as if all her pent-up sexual frustration was
being sucked out through her sex by Seven's insatiable mouth.
Insane with lust and rage she hurled herself against her
restraints, roaring incomprehensible curses until she was spent,
collapsing back on the seat, her breath coming in long shuddering
gasps.

Satisfied, Seven reached down and entered a code into the
seat's touchpanel. The safety belts snapped apart, falling to
the floor.

"Now you're ready B'Elanna." Seven's voice was thick
with a hunger that surprised even herself. "Now you're ready to
love me like a Klingon should."



Harry Kim screamed in agony, slamming his fist into the
turbolift wall. Scorching fire was crawling up his arm; he knew
if he looked he'd see the flesh turn grey and shrivelled, black
lines advancing up his shoulder to assimilate his entire body.
The walls spun and there was just enough time to gasp "Computer
halt turbolift!" before the bile rose in his throat and he threw
up all over the floor.

The purging made him feel better, slightly anyway. Trembling
fingers pulled a hypospray from his pocket. With the benefit of
long experience Harry activated it one-handed and pressed it
against his neck muttering, "Fuck this arm and fuck the Borg and
fuck Janeway too!"

His combadge chirped. "Are you all right,
Lieutenant?"
The hologram's voice was soft with concern.

"I'm fine, Doc. How can this arm hurt so much when it's not
there anymore?" His right hand gripped the dermaplastic where
flesh and bone used to be.

"Phantom pains. According to the biomonitor your Borg
implants are still inert."

Harry's laugh had a bitter edge. There was an acrid taste in
his mouth. "Well they've got ways of making their presence
known. Ahh, get a detail to clean up turbolift Beta-Three will
you?"

"I told you, genetic resequencing will put an end to this.
I can clone you an entire new body."

"It's against Federation law," replied Harry mechanically,
staring at the pool of vomit.

"I hardly think you're going to turn into Khan Noonien
Singh! Is it any more moral to dope yourself with kelotane every
day?"

"WELL GO TO HELL! IF YOU'D DONE YOUR JOB PROPERLY THIS
WOULDN'T HAVE HAPPENED IN THE FIRST PLACE!"

A disapproving silence was his only response. Harry knew that
his outburst had been unfair, but he couldn't bring himself to
apologise. Tom always used to say, when talking about the
shuttle accident that ruined his career, "Those whom the Gods
wish to kick in the ass with fate they first poke in the eyes
with arrogance." Well he was right there. He was more right
than he knew.

"Resume turbolift."

The doors hissed open and he found himself face to face with
the Aux himself. TeS-ket stood behind the warlord as usual,
staring at Harry with cold eyes. "Ahh! Lieutenant Kim. I was
looking for you." The Aux's nasal holes constricted at the
smell. "You appear pale. Is there a problem?"

Harry gave a feeble smile. "An old war wound, sir. From
Voyager's crusade against the Eater of Souls. It gives me
trouble now and again. How can I help you?"

"I have heard disturbing reports from Captain Chakotay," said
the Aux, putting an arm around Harry's shoulders. The lieutenant
flinched as the fingers touched his amputated stump. "It appears
that your...away mission?...to the Soul Eaters of the Outer World
has gone disastrously wrong. Our Whisper Grid has detected a
large subspace detonation in the area. One of your crew was
seriously injured and the flyer has deviated from the course we
agreed upon." The Aux was leading him down the corridor, just
two war veterans having a friendly discussion. "We offered our
assistance naturally, but your captain has refused our help. Now
your away team returns, perhaps with the intention of
assimilating us all. They will not respond to our hails."

"That has nothing to do with the Borg sphere, sir. One of the
females on board the flyer is undergoing her mating cycle."

The Aux stopped in mid stride. "Mating...cycle?"

Harry gazed innocently at the Aux, knowing his prudish view of
reproduction. "Yes sir. Our Chief Engineer is half-Klingon, a
race with voracious sexual appetites." He leaned close. "An old
friend of mine, Tom Paris? He made the mistake of bedding her
once, and well, I don't like to go into details but...he
died."

"I see!" said the Aux in alarm. "Are the rest of us males in
any danger?"

"Not at all sir. The Borg Seven of Nine is handling the
situation."

"Well if she doesn't survive it won't be any loss,"
said the Aux. He threw back his long narrow head and gave a
raucous hoot of laughter. TeS-ket joined in with sycophantic
earnest.

As usual Harry's smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "No. I
guess it won't be, sir."



She was an excellent mate, a skilled lover, strong, arrogant,
demanding submission. It was exciting, she responded to the
challenge with vigor. Battles were lost and won over a field of
flesh, victories counted in ecstatic cries and the torrid throes
of pleasure. Long moments of truce, when all they did was listen
to each other's heartbeat. Time had ceased its linear course;
there was only now, these sweaty couplings and whispered secrets
haunted by memories of a sterile technological hell barren of her
lover's presence. Fearful of losing everything she pursued,
tracked her scent across the unfamiliar deserts of an alien
world, forced surrender, demanded tribute and eternal allegiance,
a pledge of love everlasting.

"I cannot feel love." There was fear in Seven's eyes.

B'Elanna held the Borg tightly, realising they were completely
alone, a tiny bubble in a vast emptiness of blackness, silence,
and death.


CONTINUED IN PART TWO





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