... and your blood runs colder
Chapter 4: The times of your life
another turning point a fork stuck in the road time grabs you by the wrist directs you where to go so make the best of this test and don't ask why it's not a question but a lesson learned in time it's something unpredictable but in the end it's right i hope you had the time of your life
sixteen days later
Seven of Nine sitting casually, her legs crossed one over the other at the knee, did not escape the notice of Captain Janeway. The last of their dinner's dishes disappeared into the replicator and she called up a glass of light Chardonnay.
When Janeway took a place on the sofa a comfortable distance from Seven, she followed her companion's gaze out the window to the muted, moving starscape. "Almost out of it, finally," she said softly.
"It will be a relief," Seven's voice was confident.
"Yes, I agree," the Captain sipped her wine and watched the ex-Borg. "It seemed to be a very long three weeks."
Seven's brows furrowed and her look became distant. Janeway waited. After a time Seven spoke. "Do you ever think about time, Kathryn? About how our lives seem insignificant to ..." she hesitated, unable to finish.
"To the bigger picture?"
"Yes, this phrase is appropriate."
Janeway shifted, moving closer to Seven. "Sure I do. But, I think, if you are going to talk in broad generalizations about things like time and significance you have to accept all the possibilities and all the things beyond your control. Have you ever heard the expression 'just a drop in the bucket'?"
"No, I have not," Seven thought for a moment. "I believe it would mean one molecule of water is only part of a large collection of molecules of water. Insignificant but integral to the whole."
Janeway smiled, patted her knee. "Yes, well thought out," she paused to choose her words. "Did you feel that way, insignificant but integral, when you were with the Borg?"
"No. I was not significant or integral. If I could not perform my duties another drone would."
Seven thought her answer over, but could come to no definitive conclusion. "I am not sure... my duties make me a significant member of the crew but I am not irreplaceable. I am not integral here either."
The Captain sloshed the liquid around in her glass then sighed audibly. "Individuals are not defined solely by the work they do alone, Seven. Think about it: what makes you significant, what makes you special?"
"If it is not the work I do then it must be who I am," her eyes reflected puzzlement. "I do not feel significant or special. Sometimes all I feel is different."
"Would it make you feel better if I told you you were significant and special to me?"
Seven studied her captain's face for a long moment before answering. "Yes, it would matter, although I do not know why."
"Why you are special would take me forever to explain," Janeway smiled and noticed this seemed to please Seven. "As for your, and my for that matter, significance in the greater scheme of things," she gestured taking in the ship and the space outside. "That's only what you make of it. We are all a drop in the bucket of life, here for a little while and then gone. What difference do we make? That's up to us. Do we want to be remembered? Defined by the things we have done?"
"I cannot answer that," Seven was very serious.
"I don't expect you to, I just want you to see beyond defining yourself just by the things you have done. That's important, yes, but who you are is also about what you give to others of yourself."
"Now you are talking about love," Seven recrossed her slim legs and looked away.
"Yes, I am," Janeway waited until Seven turned her gaze back to her face. "To love someone, and be loved, is the greatest thing that can ever happen in your life," she hesitated, then qualified, "I believe, at least. When you love and are loved you are significant and you are integral. And when you feel that within yourself you become significant and integral to the whole universe."
Janeway took Seven's hand in her own, traced the soft flesh. "Then you can change the world."
* * * * * *
The holodeck doors whirred open to reveal a dim, low ceilinged room. Two windows did little in the way of providing light but that was to be expected since it was dark outside of them. Captain Janeway was standing in the porch doorway, her feet on a tattered mat and all around were scattered various forms of footwear.
There were stained running shoes, well worn leather work boots and not a few pairs of gum rubber boots. A smell of mown grass, foot odour and the pervasive underlying scent of old fish filled the porch. In front of her was a solid, old desk covered with papers and file folders. In one corner, half hidden beneath a plaid jacket, an ancient, manual adding machine, incongruously sporting a fist sized hole in its side, spilled its paper roll of additions down to the floor.
On the wall, directly in front, covering some peeling wallpaper, a sturdy gun rack held two rifles and a shotgun. To the right, two large, matching appliances sat against the wall dirty clothes in a heap before them. Next to the inner door, wall pegs strained under an overflowing load of coats and jackets.
When she stepped from the porch into the long, open kitchen she was met with a blast of noise. Several voices were shouting to be heard over each other, a raucous female laugh and the tinkling of a piano. In the middle of the floor, two teenagers, slipping on the linoleum floor with their wool socks, wrestled. With a screech, the girl toppled the boy and they crashed together to the tiles to the general amusement of all present, judging by the laughter that ensued.
The kitchen was hot and crowded. At the far end, past the huge, enameled stove was a comfortable window seat, the view obscured by a sheen of moisture. Just to her left, the kitchen counter extended the length of the room ending in a double, stainless steel sink. Across the room, next to the stove, an old Formica topped table was almost covered with bottles, glasses, plates and bowls. Just before the door leading deeper into the house, two children were pounding out a well known duet on the old upright piano.
Everywhere there were people. People standing, sitting in mismatched chairs at the table, cozied up on the window seat or swinging their legs from a perch on the counter. Old and grey haired, and young and energetic, everyone was busy talking, laughing and, for the adults, drinking.
Janeway was still taking it in when a voice called from her left: "Hey, Skipper! Ya made it!" Mary-Glen Cullen pushed the man seated beside her off the counter and indicated Janeway should occupy the vacated space. Putting her hands on the surface behind her she slid up beside Cullen.
"This is nice Sergeant. What's the occasion?"
"Call me Mary-Glen, or MG," she leaned close to be heard above the general din. "I'm not a sergeant of anything anymore." The man was still standing in front of them and Cullen nudged him with her foot. "Get the Skip a beer, would ya, Leon? Make yerself useful."
"Sure." The word, when said, sounded more like shore and Captain Janeway couldn't help but smile as she watched him amble off to the refrigerator.
"Don't need an excuse for a kitchen party," Cullen was saying.
"You know all these people?"
"Not really," she shrugged. "Tom Paris helped me make them up. They're sort of like people I knew, but not really. You know what I mean?"
Janeway nodded. The man was back with a brown bottle in his hand. With his other he took a small penknife from his pocket and pried the cap off. Before he handed it to her he ran his palm over to top. A little unsure Janeway took the chilled bottle and thanked him. Wiping his hand on his plaid shirt he smiled exposing uneven teeth.
"She says you got your captain's papers," he nodded in Cullen's direction.
"I suppose you could say that," Janeway sipped her beer.
"I heard of a girl out Cape I'land way that goes lobsterin'."
"Is that so..." Janeway could hear Cullen snickering beside her. She waited for him to say something else but he seemed to have run out of conversational tidbits.
Cullen gave him another nudge. "Bugger off now, Leon. Go have another drink." He turned away without protest and went to the table where he began to follow a conversation there.
"Is this where you grew up?" Janeway gestured around the big kitchen.
"Not really. I lived here for a few years when I was a teenager."
"It's nice. I think it was a good idea for you and Tom to design a program together."
Cullen gave a wry smile. "Yeah, he's OK. Loves to talk about cars, but he's OK."
"Yes, he has a thing for twentieth century automobiles." Janeway watched an older man take a odd looking instrument from its case and strap it to his chest. She smiled in recognition. "My great uncle played the accordion."
This seemed to be the cue for anyone who had an instrument to get ready to play. A young woman shooed the children from the piano, the teenager who had been wrestling took a fiddle from its case, another older man had a small tin whistle, and several others found guitars. Cullen picked up her guitar from where it rested against the counter, and retrieved a pick from her pocket. This guitar was different, more traditional in style. Janeway had given special permission for it to be replicated.
"What do you want to hear Leon?" Cullen sounded a chord to check the tuning with the other guitars.
The slow man thought for a moment then his face brightened. "She's goin' up! Yeah, that's the one!"
The accordion player tapped out the beat with his foot and the song began.
* * * * * *
The party was still in full swing when Janeway followed Cullen outside. The air was crisp, but not cold, and smelled richly of salt water and fresh mown grass. Light poured out of the big bay window wavering across the lawn in long, moving shadows. Inside the house voices rose in chorus and people danced.
"This is a wonderful program, Mary-Glen. So much detail. Did you design it all from memory?"
"C'mon, we'll walk down to the water." They had started down the dark path before Cullen answered. "Mostly it's from memory. I left all the bad stuff out, though."
Janeway didn't comment, just followed along the grassy trail that sloped gradually downward as it approached the harbour. After several minutes, they reached an open area with a small building to the right and the rocky beach a few feet below. Just before the edge was a wooden bench.
Cullen sat down, laced her fingers behind her head and sighed. It wasn't full dark, just a grey twilight that muted the landscape and made everything indistinct. Janeway could make out a small boat moving out on the water and the faint flash of a lighthouse's beacon.
"This reminds me of a place I have where I go for comfort. It's too far away to go to in real life so I recreated it on the holodeck."
"I know what you mean. I came here a lot in my mind." Although the words were said openly Cullen's expression was guarded.
"When you were in stasis on the Borg ship?" Janeway pressed as gently as she could.
"Not just that, "Cullen shrugged. "Before, in my so-called real life." For a long time she didn't continue. Below them the waves washed up and around the dark, seaweed covered rocks, filled small shining pools, then drained back out with the pull of the receding water. Over and over.
"Did you ever think about the times in your life that ...well, that shaped you. Sort of made you who you are, for better or worse?" Their eyes met.
"Yes," Janeway answered softly a cold, hard sheet of ice scattered with wreckage coming unbidden to her mind.
"Did you ever think about what it would be like to change them. Make things turn out different?"
"Yes, sometimes I do. I think everyone does."
Cullen leaned forward, clasping her hands tightly together, the uneven grip obvious to both of them. "When you first told me about this holodeck thing, and I met Tom, it's the first thing I thought of. I thought 'I'll go back and change those things'; change the stupid things that have happened in my life."
"But you decided not to?" Only a slight question.
"Yes. No matter what colours I paint my life with it's still going to be the same. God knows I had so much time to see it all played again and again."
Realization washed over Janeway like a wave over a rock. It receded and left a clear picture. Again she didn't press, just nodded and said, "I think I understand."
"Some of it was so painful I didn't want to remember," Cullen paused, took a deep breath. "I think the reason I was able to go through what I did, you know, the beating that was put on me, and then the isolation," her tone was matter-of-fact, without any trace of self promotion. "Was because of what I learned before."
Walk away. Hide in the woods. Don't let them see you hurt.
"What did you learn?"
Cullen turned on the bench and faced Janeway fully. "When I was in Bosnia... when the jeep we were in hit the landmine." She hesitated seemed to be unable to continue.
"When you saved the other soldier's life?"
"No, not that," she answered, more sure of herself. "The doctor was dead and I didn't see the corporal. There was just me and the driver. God, she was just like nineteen or something. I got her out of the wreck and dragged her away because there were people there and they were looking for anything they could take." Her words were tumbling out fast now.
"Her leg was all smashed up; I'd never seen anything like it. I couldn't stop the bleeding. I tried but I knew just like, in a flash, that she'd die." Cullen paused, wiped a hand over her face. Her eyes were deeply etched with pain.
"She looked at me and she knew it too, and she was just so calm," her voice broke and Janeway reached out to lightly touch her arm. "She looked at me and you know what she said?" Their eyes met, Cullen's glistening.
"She said, 'it's OK you're here. It'll be OK'," she hesitated again only briefly. "I wanted to say 'why, why me? What do I matter?' but it was too late."
"You wanted to know why your being there made a difference?" Janeway asked softly.
"Yeah. I'm no one special."
Now Janeway smiled broadly. "I don't think that's true; of you, or almost anyone I've ever met. You don't need to prove to yourself you're special. You just need to accept that some people believe you are. And if you care enough about those people, then you will know it's true. Then, when you know it's true, you'll believe it for yourself."
Cullen's gaze had turned inward. "Someone told me something like that once before."
"Did you believe it then?"
"I ..." she hesitated, seemed to be thinking it over from another angle. "I don't know. Maybe a part of me did, to some extent. Maybe I just didn't let myself believe it. What I do know is I really blew it then. Of all the things I've done; all the things that have happened to me, if I could change one thing it would be walking away from her. Nothing else matters. Not the abuse I went through, not the jeep accident, not even this - how I ended up here." She took a deep breath, closed her eyes tightly for a moment. "I had a chance to make everything just not matter anymore. It would've been so different. I could have..." she hesitated unable to find the word.
"You could've healed?"
Cullen looked at the Captain with a mixture of surprise and admiration. "Yes," she paused, then made herself say the words. "I could have healed."
A foghorn sounded low in the distance and they both turned to look at the low shadow of the island where it rose darkly from the lighter shade of the water.
"I carved my name on the rocks out there, on McNutts Island. Down below the lighthouse. I wonder if it's still there?"
"When we get home, you can find out."
"Even if it is still there, no one will remember me - know who I was."
Cullen gave a wry smile and looked away.
* * * * * *
two days later
Neelix greeted Seven of Nine when she walked into the mess hall. "Welcome to the captain's "end of the void" party," he offered her a tray with small glasses of punch. When she hesitated, he smiled. "Don't worry, it's not spiked." Although she did not reply she did accept a glass, then moved on to where Captain Janeway was talking to Harry Kim.
Harry was holding his clarinet, his fingers moving idly on the keys as if rehearsing. "I haven't played in front of anyone for a long time."
"Don't be nervous, Harry. I'm sure you'll do just fine," Captain Janeway assured him.
Seven's eyes moved past them to where the mess hall seating arrangement had been removed and replaced with a small grouping of old fashioned and modern musical instruments. There were several guitars, a keyboard on a stand and something she wasn't quite sure of.
Harry saw her eyes narrow, followed her gaze and grinned. "You know, Tom told me he always wanted to play the drums in a rock band."
"I fail to see how anyone could make anything musical out of a group of rocks."
"You're not the first to say that," Harry arched his brows and grinned.
"Seven? Didn't you read the information on forms of music I gave you?" Janeway asked, concerned.
"I did." Seven let the moment drag before finishing. "I was teasing."
Harry and the Captain looked at each other and smiled. "I believe you're getting the hang of the humour thing, Seven," he touched her arm. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get ready for the gig."
Janeway took a sample of cheese from a nearby tray and chewed thoughtfully. "So, have you thought anymore about what I suggested?" she finally asked.
"About learning music?" Seven looked again at the instruments.
"Yes. I don't know if I ever told you or not, but one of the things I regret the most in my younger life was not learning to play a musical instrument. My sister is an accomplished pianist."
"I'm not sure I understand the significance of music."
"You listened to some of that disk of Mary-Glen's? Listened to the music with lyrics?"
"Yes, I did, and when I followed the words, I could see the story and see the ..."
Seven turned her head sharply to look at Janeway. "Yes, the beauty."
"To understand the significance," Janeway began lightly touching Seven's elbow and guiding her toward one of the sofas that was now under the windows. As they sat, several crew, including Harry, were taking places and preparing to begin. "You need to listen not only with your mind," Janeway continued when they were comfortable. "You need to listen with your heart."
* * * * * *
The room was nearly empty when Cullen took up her guitar for a last song. Stars were moving brightly in streams past the great windows, alien and unfamiliar yet her mind turned easily back to the bar at the beach all those many years ago.
As she put the strap over her shoulder, her eyes fell on the Captain and the tall blond woman sitting very close on one of the sofas their conversation too soft to hear. There was something to the way Janeway looked at her companion; something in her eyes, tender yet earnest. While Cullen was watching, the blond woman smiled somewhat self consciously and the Captain patted her knee grinning.
"I've never been much of a songwriter. I guess I've just been happy to do other people's songs... well, that was until the other day when this wrote itself for me." She began to play.
When the colours of life slide into shades of grey and the light fades away on the shortest day My mind turns inward and away away to the green fields of the month of May when we were together and I wanted to stay
December of the soul colours the ground and the darkness within me comes unwound On the shortest day - oh come what may All alone I'm lost to the fear on the shortest day of the year
Feeling Seven stir beside her, Captain Janeway very carefully, and without thought as to what anyone else might think, took her hand and held it warmly in her own.
* * * * * *
next day, ready room
Commander Chakotay placed the padd on the table and regarded the Captain. "So," he started. "That was a nice party last night. How are things going?"
Janeway took a sip of coffee. "Which things?"
Chakotay hesitated for a moment then dove in. "Things between you and Seven of Nine."
"Oh, I see," she tried to read the expression in his eyes and found only gentle concern there. "That's a little personal, but we're fine." Her tone was reserved despite his soft manner.
"I know, Kathryn. I was just thinking you might not have anyone you felt you could talk to about this."
Janeway sighed. "Yes, that's true. I'm just not sure there's very much to talk about. I mean," she leaned forward, toward her first officer, "the whole ship seems to know my feelings, what can there be to talk about?"
Chakotay smiled. "OK, that's fine. I just want you to know I'm here if you need me." He made no attempt to leave waiting to see if she might find something to say. He was rewarded.
"We had an interesting conversation the other evening, I must say," Janeway began, "it left me thinking about all the things we take for granted. All the things we expect others to have learned."
"And she has no experience with learning these things?" Although he did not know what things she was referring to he didn't stop her to question. Regardless, she answered it for him when she continued.
"Everything for Seven is a new experience. I think sometimes it frightens her to think of herself feeling. And then there's Cullen who doesn't want to feel. Instead of accepting what she has learning from experience, she shuts it out, turns herself cold." Janeway paused, took a deep breath. "They both need to heal, but for each of them the healing is very different. Seven needs to heal by accepting feelings, and Cullen needs to heal by allowing herself to feel again."
Chakotay watched her, slightly puzzled, as she thought this over. "Maybe it's not so different for both of them," he prompted.
"Maybe not," Janeway began, her brows drawn together in concentration. "I think, if I was to compare them, I would say one is cold on the inside and the other ..."
Uncharacteristically Chakotay didn't let her finish. "And Seven is cold on the outside."
"Or, at least," the Captain began to finish his thought, "everyone thinks she is."
"You know different?" He watched her eyes closely.
"When it comes to Seven, yes I do. I think that's what drew me to her, knowing that inside there was so much more, so much complexity, so much need to grow." She paused, looked out at the moving starscape. "I want to be a part of that. I really don't know why, I just do."
"You don't have to explain," Chakotay grasped her hand. "Sometimes these things just don't come with easy explanations."
"Say no more. Say no more." She patted their clasped hands and met his smile.
Chapter 5: Sliding into shades of grey
Captain Janeway stood at the ops station beside Ensign Kim watching the information scroll across the display. It was a small star system with one fairly large planet with a moon, a series of asteroids, and two small planetoids.
The large planet seemed to have a primitive agricultural settlement near the equator and, not far away, a series of structures of a much higher technological sophistication. Sensors could not determine the purpose of the structures or pick out any life forms near them. Also, they could not provide any more detailed information about another similar series of buildings on the other side of the planet. Circling the planet in a high orbit was a satellite equipped with sensing and communicating devices.
Janeway was curious. "Tom," she called to the helmsman. "Do you think we could get a shuttle past that satellite without alerting its detection grid?"
Paris called up information on his own console. "I think so. It will take some snazzy flying, but you're not going to get the chance to look at both of those clusters of buildings unless..." When he hesitated she completed the thought for him.
"We take two shuttles."
Chakotay looked at her with disapproval. "I don't think we need to take such a big chance with either our people or equipment."
"I don't see any evidence of a threat," Janeway paced down the stairs to the command center, stood looking at Chakotay. "Besides, we need to get out, stretch our legs a bit, give ourselves something to do now that we are out of that damn void."
"I just think caution is in order. Those structures could be a lot of different things, and even if our sensors can't locate any life forms near them that doesn't mean there aren't any."
"Very prudent. We won't disturb the agricultural colony, just take a look at those strange buildings. While we're gone, you can take Voyager and look over those asteroids." Janeway started toward the ready room. "Tom, prepare the Delta Flyer. Harry, get a second shuttle ready." She stopped short as something occurred to her. "Computer, where is Sergeant Cullen?"
"Mary-Glenneth Cullen is in the mess hall."
Chakotay was behind her when she entered the ready room. "Captain, I don't think taking her is advisable."
Janeway turned to face him. "No, it probably isn't a good idea, but I think I'll take the chance."
The first officer stepped back slightly. "Do you have something in mind, Kathryn?"
"Possibly..." she didn't elaborate.
* * * * * *
Seven of Nine waited until everyone left the mess hall except for Cullen and Neelix who was out of sight in the galley. She approached the woman hesitantly.
Cullen was studying a computer terminal as she sat on a stool in front of the keyboard. "I saw you lurking in the corner," Cullen said without looking up as Seven stopped in front of her.
"I do not lurk."
"Whatever. Anyway you waited until everyone was gone to get me alone," she finally looked up and met the tall woman's gaze. "What can I do for you?"
"It is a private thing."
Cullen raised her eyebrows. "Let me guess, you want to know how to let Captain Janeway down gently -- and what a mistake that would be."
Seven had to think this over for a moment. "That was a figure of speech, I believe. No, I do not wish to 'let her down gently' and if I did it would not be of your concern. As well," her voice became tinged with impatience, "it would be a mistake indeed."
"Well, we agree on something. She's got it bad for you, you know," Cullen watched closely for a reaction but was disappointed.
"I'm very well aware of this fact and it is still not why I wished to speak with you. Do you want to know why I am here, or not?"
"Sure do," Cullen propped her chin on her fist and, not for the first time, admired the physical attributes of the woman in front of her. Not that anything physical could be hidden with what she wore. It must be a hell of a thing working beside her everyday. "Fire away."
Seven extended the padd she was holding. "I have been listening to some of the music stored on those disks I found with you. Captain Janeway suggested I listen to, and possibly learn to perform, music. This is my choice."
Cullen looked at the information on the padd and sucked in a sharp breath. "Whoa," was all she could say.
"This is not a suitable choice?"
"No, actually it's a great song. I'm just surprised is all." She handed the padd back and called up the song on the terminal in front of her. Everything from the disks she had with her was now loaded into the ship's computer system including all the hours of music from the recordable CD she had made herself.
"You're going to sing?" Seven nodded slowly in answer. Cullen picked up her guitar, adjusted the capo on the neck. "OK, now I can't finger pick this like I used to, bear in mind." She sounded the first chord. "Does that sound right?"
"No, higher. I am sorry for what I said to you previously."
"This is about my hand?" She moved the capo up to the third fret, strummed the chord again.
"Yes, that key. I said you were weak and it was unkind. I did not realize you might think of your disabling injury."
Cullen wiggled her fingers. "Don't worry about it. I can still play."
"Then I will not worry."
"Good. Now that we've cleared the air between us... I'll follow you on this; you just go ahead and sing it. And don't expect it to be perfect the first time. It might take a little doing."
Seven arched a brow as if to say 'I do expect perfection', but choose not to give voice to the thought.
Cullen played the gently flowing notes of the opening and Seven began to sing.
Neither of them noticed as Captain Janeway walked into the room. The sound of Seven's voice, and the words she was singing, stopped her dead in her tracks. Not wanting to intrude, she stepped back close to the galley counter and just out of sight.
The voice was perfectly pitched, clear and very expressive. The words could easily have been something Seven herself would say. When they reached the chorus and Cullen came in harmonizing below Seven, Janeway felt the air squeeze out of her lungs and saw the room slowly begin to spin. The music lifted her, carried her out and away to a place where she floated, surrounded by peace and the essence of love personified in the voice of Seven of Nine.
She didn't want it ever to end.
But, after a few wonderful minutes it did, and she found herself moving forward without thinking consciously about walking. Cullen noticed her first and Janeway realized her face must have given away her emotion when the woman put her guitar aside and left she and Seven alone.
"That was beautiful," Janeway traced her hand along Seven's upper arm.
"I did not know you were listening," Seven could feel an intense radiance coming from the woman before her and did not know what to do.
"I know. That's part of the reason it was so lovely."
"If I had known you were present, it would not have changed anything. I was singing as if you were here. I was thinking of you."
For the second time in a very short time Janeway felt the room around her spin.
* * * * * *
The smaller shuttle followed the Delta Flyer as it moved along the dark side of the planet hidden from view of the satellite. Mary-Glen Cullen sat in the second seat next to Janeway idly tapping out a repetitive rhythm on the arm rests as she watched the view before them.
"So, are you a good driver or should I have my seatbelt on?"
Janeway gave her a slow smile. "I'm a good driver." She entered several commands into the control panel, looked again at Cullen. "What do you think of the scenery?"
"Reminds me of a video game - not real," she answered easily.
"Really? I would've thought you'd be impressed."
Cullen thought about this for a moment. "I guess it's like everything else in the last little while. None of it has seemed all that real."
There was another moment of silence between them broken only by Janeway exchanging a few quick words with the other shuttle. The Delta Flyer then proceeded onward along the curve of the planet while the shuttle piloted by Janeway began a descent to the surface.
"That moment in the mess with you and Seven was pretty real, though." Cullen watched Janeway try to hide a smile.
"Yes, it was. She only sang once before and that was under unusual circumstances. I wasn't sure she would sing again," she hesitated then added, "I'm glad she did."
"Girl's got a voice, I'll say that for her. Shame to waste it."
Janeway spent a moment precisely aligning their trajectory. "The song she was singing...."
Cullen gave a broad, full smile. "Nice wasn't it? The woman who wrote and sang it, wrote it for someone she loved who had died and how she now has their child to raise. Did Seven have someone who died? Someone she misses?"
The lyrics played over in Janeway's mind, softly, plaintively and filled with a sense of isolation, but an aloneness that was also coloured with hope. "Her family, maybe, they were all taken by the Borg. But, I think, the sense of loneliness in the song is what appeals to her the most. Whatever it was, it was perfect."
Cullen let a long moment pass before speaking. "Funny, this may be the far distant future but some things never change."
"What doesn't change?"
* * * * * *
later, surface of the planet
The star system's yellow sun was angling down to the horizon and into a bank of thick clouds when Captain Janeway and Cullen approached the largest of the structures. It took up most of the space in a clearing carved out of an old, thick forest. Cullen was glad of the heavy, multi-pocketed pants, long sleeve shirt and Starfleet jacket she wore. The air was chill, probably below freezing. Janeway gave no sign of any discomfort wearing her usual jumpsuit covered up with a jacket.
The Captain was studying her tricorder as they walked closer. The building was made of a metal that was now showing signs of rusting. There were no windows although, in front of them, there was the outline of a door.
Janeway replaced the instrument in the pouch on her waist opposite her phaser. "I can't tell much about what's inside," she regarded the structure. "There seems to be some electronic equipment and a lot of open space. It might be a storage facility." She started on the long walk toward the back, Cullen following.
The other end turned out to be just as unrevealing and so too were the smaller buildings when explored. They started back in the swiftly waning light an even colder breeze blowing harder against their backs. Janeway paused to secure her jacket around her and warm her hands inside the sleeves. Her face was red cheeked from the cold but her companion did not seem uncomfortable. "You don't find it cold?" she asked.
Cullen looked puzzled for a moment. "No. I thought it was my clothes keeping me warm, but I don't know," she looked at her hands which were warm despite being exposed. "Must be my cold bloodedness."
Janeway's communicator sounded before she could reply. Tom Paris announced that he and Torres and Seven were about to begin their investigation of the buildings with the rising of the sun on the other side of the planet. He went on to add that so far none of the sensing equipment on the planet, or in orbit, had noticed the Voyager crew's shuttles or their communications with the dampening fields they had put in place. Janeway allowed herself a moment of satisfaction over this precaution before acknowledging.
"Good, Tom. We can't find anything interesting here and it's getting dark and cold. We still have a long walk back to the shuttle so we'll contact you from there. Janeway out."
They had reached the front of the big building again when they heard the sound. It was a soft buzzing, like a small motor, and it was getting louder. Janeway gave Cullen a shove and they quickly took shelter behind some shrubs at the edge of the tree line.
A hovercraft came into sight, quickly lost altitude, landed on its six wheels and then traveled the rest of the distance to the structure on the ground. Two occupants got out of the open seats. If they had sensing equipment to tell them they were being watched, they were not using it. They seemed oblivious to Janeway and Cullen.
They were of moderate height, appeared to be male, were well dressed for the cold climate and armed. The first alien slung his weapon over his back and approached the building. The other made no move to accompany his companion, instead he waited casually beside the vehicle. The first activated a control and the big door slid open with a low squeal.
Janeway turned to check on Cullen but to her surprise the woman was gone. When she craned her head to see past the bushes, she saw her moving silently to the corner of the building. She had no idea what was happening; one minute she was here beside her, the next she was doing who knew what. The Captain pulled out her phaser and thumbed it on to a strong stun setting and moved out of the shelter of the brush.
The who knew what turned out to be stalking the alien beside the vehicle. Before Janeway could do anything at all, Cullen raised her right arm and plunged the small bladed knife she had clutched in her hand into the back of the alien's neck. He fell forward and when he was on the ground she struck him again several more times.
Janeway quickly closed the distance to the vehicle calling out as she did. Cullen didn't pay her any heed. She was holding the alien's weapon, looking it over as if to see how it worked. And she needed to. A burst of projectile fire came from the doorway of the building, stitching the ground in front of Cullen and pinging into or off of the hovercraft.
The human woman hit the ground instinctively firing as she did. Whether it be skill or just luck, her shots found their mark. The alien fell backward and was still. But that wasn't enough. When Cullen got to her feet, she fired several more times at the fallen humanoid.
Stepping from behind the vehicle Janeway raised her phaser. "Drop the weapon, Cullen." Her voice was as icy as the air around them.
Slowly the woman, who had just hours ago sat beside her in the shuttle and talked about music and love, turned. She held the weapon out to the side, her face carefully arranged nonchalance. "You can't kill me," her voice was almost whipped away by the strong wind. "I'm wonder woman now, remember?"
Janeway paced carefully closer. "Oh, I can kill you. This phaser has a disruption setting." Although she looked surprised, Cullen did not let go of the projectile weapon. "But I won't kill you. I won't give you what you want." A shrug was her only answer.
Janeway had reached the body of the second alien. She kept her phaser aimed at Cullen and bent to check if the man was alive. The body was already growing cold and, as she watched, his uniform became dotted with heavy snowflakes. "I told you to put that down," she said, straightening. Cullen held the weapon in both hands now, the muzzle pointed down. Janeway's anger rose.
"Who were they to you?" her voice left very little room for disobedience. "Just convenient people who happened to be around to fulfill your suicidal desire?"
"No, they're not people," Cullen took several quick steps forward and spat noisily on the body. The deliberate unconcern in her eyes had become an intense anger coloured with revulsion.
Janeway breathed in slowly. "They were the ones?"
"Yeah, them." The snow was falling thick all around them but Cullen didn't notice. "If it wasn't for them, none of this would've happened - I'd be dead. Like I should be!"
"These two, right here," Janeway moved closer and lowered her voice. "They are the ones responsible?" Cullen blinked, confused. "These two people are the ones you blame for everything and that's why they had to die?"
"They're not people!" Cullen's voice rose shrilly. "Don't call them that!"
"Oh, I know. If they're not people, then it's easier to kill them."
With an inarticulate cry, Cullen tossed aside the weapon and it clattered against the vehicle. She raised her arms upward and outward. "Just go ahead and do it!" she thumped a fist on her chest. "Kill me! OK?"
"I will not."
The Captain voice was soft but forceful. They were still for a long moment the snow swirling around them and quickly covering the ground. Finally Cullen pushed past Janeway, removed some things from the dead alien, tossed them and the weapon into the vehicle and jumped in. She fiddled with the controls while Janeway watched, eventually giving up in frustration.
"Can you drive this thing?" Janeway didn't move, just stood still with her phaser pointed down but still in her hand. She was chilled through, the fingers of her hand white; but the coldness she felt was not entirely due to the planet's weather. "Well?" Cullen prompted. "We have to get going. You're going to freeze to death out here."
Janeway shook snow from her clothes. "Me? Why are you concerned about me?"
Cullen afforded her the same look she might a very slow child. "Are you dense or what? I don't care about me! It's different for you."
A long look was the only reply before Janeway took over the seat behind the control wheel. She was able to get the vehicle started, but could find no control to raise a cabin cover nor did it seem to be able to hover. Damaged, she thought, from the projectiles that hit it.
Co-ordinating direction with her tricorder, she set off back to the shuttle. Beside her Cullen said nothing, did not even look at her except to hand her a pair of heavy gloves that had belonged to one of the dead aliens.
The aliens she had killed. Revenge is a dish best served cold indeed. And now that she's had hers what trouble has she left us in? Surely there are others on the planet. Others who would take notice of their comrades absence. Damn her!
They had gone less than half the distance back to the shuttle, the snow closing in all around making it almost impossible to see, when, if that were not bad enough, the vehicle began to cough and wheeze. Janeway pounded her cold hands on the control wheel cursing as it staggered to a stop. "Come on, now we have to walk," she turned dark eyes on Cullen, levered her stiff body out of the seat and over the side, and disappeared.
Cullen blinked into the snow. "OK." she said to herself before getting out to see where the Captain had gone so abruptly. On the other side the ground dropped away with no warning and she had to grab the side of the vehicle to keep from tumbling down the embankment herself. A trail of disturbed snow marked Janeway's passage downward. Cullen began to follow it.
As she got closer to the bottom a splashing sound became more distinct. At the bottom, a stream flowed through the gully and Janeway was in the middle of it, splashing desperately as she tried to pull herself back up onto the ice. It was not strong enough to support her and broke under her weight.
Cullen found a long, sturdy tree limb and snapped it from the tree. She removed her jacket and began to wade out into the stream smashing the ice as she went. When she was within reach of Janeway with the branch, she planted her feet on the slippery stream bed and extended the rescue device. Her hands almost useless with cold, Janeway hooked an arm through one of the smaller off shooting branches. Cullen pulled her in.
"My ankle," the Captain said as she tried to stand and walk out of the water. "I think I hurt it in the fall."
"Hang on to me." Cullen supported her and got them both out of the water and onto the bank where Janeway dropped to the snow shivering violently. She accepted the dry jacket that was draped over her shoulders.
"This isn't good, Cullen," she said through chattering teeth. "We have to get out of here and back to the shuttle or at least find some shelter." She struggled to her feet and stood unsteadily.
"Can you walk at all?" Cullen was looking up at the slippery bank. Janeway put her left foot down and instantly choked back a cry of pain. "Then you'll have to hang on to me, again." Although her words were clipped, her eyes showed real concern.
It took them long enough, struggling from foothold to foothold, going up the bank that, when they reached the vehicle again, it was covered in a thick layer of snow. Janeway leaned against it catching her breath. All over she was icy despite her Starfleet clothing and her hands, in the alien gloves, were numb. She fumbled at her belt for her tricorder, swore softly when she noticed her phaser was missing. A quick look inside the jacket showed her combadge was also gone.
She looked up to see Cullen watching her inquisitively. Ice and snow were crisp on her pants and the long sleeved shirt she was now solely wearing, but she did not seem uncomfortable. "You'll have to use the tricorder," Janeway held it in her two gloved hands and crouched next to the vehicle to keep the snow off its small screen. Cullen took it gingerly in her bare hands and followed Janeway's instructions as they scanned for some area that might provide shelter. The shuttle was still over a kilometre away and the Captain knew she could not walk there. She would be frozen solid before they made it.
The scan revealed an opening in the rocks that made up the low cliff face above and ahead of them. Janeway tucked the tricorder in a jacket pocket and paused. "I should give you your jacket back," she said despite her shivering.
Cullen smiled slightly. "Don't worry," she said. "I'm OK. Besides, I got you into this." Their eyes locked for a long moment until Cullen pushed aside her melancholy and became determined. "Can you hang on to me, piggy-back like?" she moved in front of the Captain and crouched.
And she hung on as best she could, as Cullen moved gingerly up into the snow covered rocks. They paused once or twice to check their bearings with the tricorder and to give them both a chance to adjust their mutual grip.
Janeway was beginning to think it would never end this icy, white version of hell and was oddly annoyed when the woman who was carrying her on her warm back put her down in the snow and disappeared into the rocks. But she returned quickly and picked her up and then they were out of the wind and into a damp, cold cave.
"Will you be OK if I go back to the bazoo to get some stuff? I think there's some things there we can use."
Janeway's brain was too cold to make sense of what a bazoo was, so she just nodded. She closed her eyes, wrapped her arms around her legs, and tucked in her head.
Cullen found her like that, rocking slowly, when she returned from the vehicle carrying the projectile weapon and two boxes. In one was survival gear including a hand light and thin thermal blankets. She wrapped both of them around the Captain and set about trying to find fuel and something to start a fire.
* * * * * *
"What are you doing?"
Cullen looked up from the pile of sticks she was bending over. "You're feeling warmer?"
"Yes, my clothes are still icy and my feet and hands are still cold, but I can think straight again." Janeway looked around the little cave lit by a single light source she didn't recognize. Snow swirled around the opening occasionally whipping a sharp draft over them. Near the back of the cave was another drafty opening. Cullen didn't seem to notice any of this, she was concentrating on removing the top part of a metal cartridge. "You're making a fire?"
"Yup." The top came off in her hands and she tipped up the bottom pouring the powdery contents onto the sticks. "Scully did this once in an X-Files episode but it didn't work. I'm going to use a bit more gun powder, or what ever it is they use in these." She opened another cartridge and deposited its powder before picking up two soft surfaced rocks.
The first spark hit the powder causing it to burst into flames. Cullen quickly added more sticks as the flames continued to burn and very easily she had a fire going.
"Nuttin' to it," she grinned.
Janeway moved closer, removed the gloves, and began to gently rub her hands. Cullen was busy going through the contents of the boxes. When she found a metal cup, she filled it with snow and placed it carefully in the fire to heat. "I think there's some stuff here we can make something to eat out of." She ripped open a paper envelope and sniffed its contents. "Smells kinda like a cross between hot chocolate and chicken soup."
"Right now I don't care as long as its hot." Janeway began to feel the circulation returning to her hands well enough for her to begin to remove some of her cold clothing. The Starfleet material didn't absorb water, but she had been submerged in the icy stream and a layer of cold was trapped against her skin. Still when she got down as far as her grey undershirt, she hesitated.
"What's the matter?" Cullen raised an eyebrow. "You got, like, really ugly tattoos or something?" Janeway didn't answer, though she did remove the shirt. She replaced it with the dry jacket. After a moment she looked at Cullen.
"You have a very strange sense of humour."
"Us crazy people are like that."
The Captain let that comment pass busying herself with trying to remove her boots and the rest of her jumpsuit. It was then she rediscovered her injured ankle. She didn't protest when Cullen moved to help. The former medic's warm hands moved over her swollen foot with practiced ease. "It's not busted," she announced. "Probably a bad sprain. I think there's something I can wrap it up with, just a minute."
When she went to rummage in the retrieved gear, Janeway wiggled out of the rest of her garments and wrapped herself in the thermal blankets. Cullen returned with a bandage roll.
"I don't believe you're crazy, Mary-Glen. You have some problems to get through, but you're not crazy."
"Can you say understatement?" Cullen's hands paused in their work with the bandage.
"Don't be silly with me. You know exactly what you're doing every minute."
Janeway watched as she finished binding her ankle then rocked back on her heels. She seemed to be thinking this over; her eyes were focused over Janeway's head and her jaw was moving as she ground her teeth.
"And you don't?" Cullen finally said. "Why did you bring me here? Did you know they would be here?"
"No, I certainly did not," Janeway answered honestly. "And if you can't figure out why I brought you with me, I'd be very surprised." She pulled the ultra-thin blankets tighter around her. Looking at Cullen with just her single layer of clothes was making her feel cold again.
"You wanted me to prove myself to you."
Janeway sighed. "I wanted you to prove yourself to you!"
Cullen's look was blank. Janeway continued. "I knew this planet had volatile weather and it might catch us unprepared. I was willing to take a chance on you, see if you would work with me to get both of us through some possible hardship. Survival training, if you will."
There was a soft hiss as the water cup in the fire boiled over. Cullen used one of the wet gloves to retrieve it, then mixed in two envelopes of powder. She handed both cup and glove to Janeway.
"Enjoy. Hope it's not poisonous."
The Captain didn't respond to the quip. She held the cup close and breathed in the steam. "I realize I misjudged you in thinking everything about you was black and white. Revenge is a simple emotion, but you jeopardized all of us when you did that. Then you helped to keep me from freezing to death. I guess I don't really understand you."
"It doesn't matter. I did what I had to do."
"Now you feel better; you got back at them for all the pain they caused you?"
Even to herself Cullen realized she sounded like a child when she said: "Yeah, all of them."
Janeway's eyes were bright in the light from the small fire. "All of them who hurt you in your life?"
"Yeah." Cullen had pulled her knees up to her chest.
"Since when you were a child?"
"Yeah." She began to rock steadily, forward and back.
"Now you've punished them, time to move on. Time to concentrate on the good things you have and get on with life."
Cullen made a dismissive sound, kept rocking.
"Deal with it and let it go. You won't get past it until you face it and accept it. You were hurt many times in your life and it was wrong, but you'll never heal yourself if you keep dragging it around with you like so much dirty laundry."
Arms tight around her legs, Cullen didn't make a sound though she watched Janeway closely. Janeway met that gaze.
"You've had the revenge you felt you needed, now let it go and live."
"You gave me back my life but not my reason. I have none, remember?"
"Damn you," Janeway said softly.
"I already am damned. I have a body that will never die and the only reason I have for living is dying." Her scowl was ferocious.
"Then why did you pull me out of that brook? Why didn't you just let me drown if all you care about is yourself?"
"Because you don't deserve to die!"
"And you do?"
In one very fast movement Cullen was on her feet and out the cave entrance into the snow. Janeway waited for her to return. Waited while she finished the hot drink; waited while her body was dry enough and her clothes warm enough to put back on, and waited while the fire burned precariously low. Only then did Cullen reappear carrying an armload of reasonably dry wood for the fire.
She said nothing just shook herself free of snow, rebuilt the fire and accepted the thin blanket Janeway offered. Then she lay down on the sandy floor of the cave, compacted her body into a tight curl and closed her eyes.
Chapter 6: All alone I had to find some meaning
dawn, surface of the planet
The bright, yellow sun burst through a break in the clouds and cast a long arm across the low plain, over the tops of the evergreens and down into, then up out of again, the gully directly below. It moved up the hillside, reaching and stretching its benevolent life-giving force until it touched the face of Kathryn Janeway with a warm caress.
She stood still at the mouth of the small cave, almost knee deep in snow, breathing in chill air, and feeling only warmth and an easy peacefulness. As she stood, eyes closed to the brilliant morning, she became aware of a soft voice coming from in front of her and to her left.
The voice was singing in a sweet lilt, the tender words almost as warm as the sunshine."I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be."
Mary-Glen Cullen was sitting on a large rock that had been brushed clean of snow. She was facing down the hillside, the alien weapon resting lightly in her lap. After a time, her voice trailed off and she sat quietly in the sun.
"Lovely morning," Janeway said eventually.
"It's ironic. I thought a strange world half way across the galaxy would be a little more interesting. Instead it reminds me of Saskatchewan."
"It happens. Planets with similar gravity and atmosphere often have flora somewhat like Earth." Changing the subject Janeway held out the Starfleet jacket. "Please put this on. You're making me cold looking at you."
Cullen turned and regarded her silently. It seemed an endless moment until she eventually moved, hopping down from the rock and taking the offered garment.
"We have to get going," Janeway started. "We've been out of contact with the other group. They'll be concerned." She didn't add that the owners of the hovercraft they had taken could easily trace them to this spot and might be just a bit irritated if they had already found the bodies of their comrades.
"I've made you something to help you walk," Cullen indicated a makeshift crutch made from a tree limb. It was stuck in the snow nearby. While Janeway tested it out, she went into the cave to get the rest of their belongings.
At the shuttle, Janeway ran a medical tricorder over her injury and listened to several messages the comm system had recorded. At first they were routine queries as to her and Cullen's status from a somewhat worried Delta Flyer crew, then there was a message from Torres that indicated their group was in trouble.
"We've been spotted, I think." The engineer's voice was tense. "I don't know if you're in trouble or you just can't answer because of some technical problem." There was a long pause. "If you don't hear from us anymore after this, you'll know something's wrong."
There was no more.
* * * * * *
later, other side of the planet
Janeway had traced the unresponsive combadges and life form readings of Torres, Paris and Seven of Nine to a small encampment at the edge of the agricultural colony. Besides the three Voyager crew, there were six of the aliens she and Cullen had encountered and many more unknown life forms within the fencing enclosing the large colony.
From a low ridge a half a kilometre distant, Janeway scanned the encampment with a magnifying night viewer. It was completely dark on this side of the planet and pleasantly warm. The moon above was a dull half full providing a minimum of illumination. A sharp contrast to the brightness and snowy chill they had just departed. Cullen lay beside her in the damp soil clutching her stolen weapon and humming softly to herself.
The viewer picked out a fenced stockade and inside were two figures. The Captain sharpened the focus and identified Torres and Paris. Tom was standing, looking down at B'Elanna, gesturing and talking to the sitting engineer. Both of them were manacled at the ankle and the restraint was chained to a stake in the ground. She could see at least one guard walking about the perimeter.
Janeway handed the viewer to Cullen and used her tricorder to scan for Seven's exact location. She found her inside a small hut not far from the stockade that held Torres and Paris. Unlike them, she wasn't alone; three of the aliens were also in the hut.
"Tell me about them, Cullen. What do you remember that could help us get Tom, B'Elanna and Seven out of there?"
Cullen gave an indifferent shrug and made no reply. Janeway was irritated. "Try, at least! They need your help. Why have they separated Seven?"
"They probably like her gadgets," Cullen wasn't meeting the Captain's eyes. She gestured vaguely to her own face. "Her Borg stuff. They probably want to pick it off her. They like anything they can sell; gadgets and stuff are special. People are just bodies to sell. That's probably who's in there," she indicated the agricultural area. "Slave workers, or whatever you want to call them."
Janeway felt a slow chill creep into her bones. It took effort to push it down and focus. She checked her tricorder again. Voyager was still several hours away but something else was closer. A small, unknown ship had just entered the atmosphere. Nothing like having your decisions made for you, she thought.
"We have to go in there, now. Voyager won't make it in time, and we've got company. There's another ship coming" She hesitated, looked at the woman beside her. "Are you with me on this, Mary-Glen?"
"Locked and loaded." Cullen patted her weapon.
An argument was in progress inside the hut. Janeway could see very little through the cracks in the rough boards. Seven wasn't involved, in fact the aliens seemed to be disagreeing about what to do with her. One voice loudly proposed they wait until the ship arrived, then take her on board to do the extractions. The technology was Borg; it would fetch a high price the next time they met with their trading partners.
"Species 956," Seven of Nine interrupted. "Unworthy of assimilation, yet useful, your violent tendencies ..." Her next sound was an "oof" of expelled air.
"Quiet!" another voice began. "I say we do what we can to her now. I saw the small ship land, we could be attacked any time. The other two are useless. We don't have room to take them once our ship lands, and we certainly don't have time to train them to work in the fields." There was a long pause then a decisive conclusion. "You two go, kill them now. When you get back, we'll start with the Borg."
The others seemed to accede to this authority and picked up there weapons to depart. Janeway gripped Cullen's arm, hard. "You stay here, and don't do anything stupid, alright?" she said before slipping off in pursuit.
Cullen watched the last remaining alien captor pace around Seven inside the hut. Every once in a while he would give her a sharp slap about the head. She didn't respond, just sat stoically silent. He quickly tired of the game, but as time went on and his companions did not return, his impatience mounted.
Moving very cautiously, Cullen rounded the corner to the front of the hut. Behind her she saw a flash of light then heard the chatter of the alien projectile weapons. When she looked back into the hut, the alien commander was leaning over Seven with several instruments in his hands.
She didn't consciously decide; it just seemed to happen. One minute she was watching, the next she was standing in the doorway.
The response was instant. The alien put Seven between himself and the intruder. "I'll kill her!"
"Geeez, tell me something I don't know!"
The firefight continued behind them unabated. Cullen had no choice but to wait for his next move. She could not fire without the distinct possibility of hitting Seven. The move was not long in coming.
"I'll extract the Borg nanoprobes," he moved one of the instruments to Seven's neck. "I will have what I want, and she will die."
His hand stopped. Hurriedly Cullen continued. "Mine are better. Take mine." The alien only scoffed. "Tell him, Seven." He lessened his pressure on her neck; he was listening.
"She was taken by the Borg and implanted with a superior version of nanoprobe." As she spoke the alien was shifting his eyes between Cullen and another, larger, scanning instrument. "This technology was lost to the Borg. It will be very valuable to them should you attempt to return it."
He seemed to agree. Holding the extraction instrument against Seven's neck, he released the manacles that held her to the chair where she sat and forced her to stand. "Drop the rifle," he ordered Cullen as he pushed Seven forward, still squarely behind her.
Cullen dropped it out away from her body. Her eyes met Seven's and she winked. It was very quiet in the hut and outside. The implication of this silence became suddenly apparent to the alien. With a hard shove, he pushed Seven aside and lunged at Cullen pressing the instrument to her neck and activating it.
There were voices above and around her. Soft voices, gentle with concern. She lay listening, floating. There was no pain.
"I killed him, Captain."
"Can you, Seven? The nanoprobes..."
"No. I cannot. The extraction instrument..." the voice was clipped, frustrated. "I ... there is nothing ... nothing..."
She opened her eyes then. Captain Janeway was kneeling above her, brows knit with worry. Seven of Nine was on the other side, her usually immaculate blond hair tousled, and her eyes showing tension and agitation.
Cullen's gaze moved past them, upward to the intense pinpoints of light scattered across the sky. The light melded, began to fade into grey.
A light wind passed down through the old pine tree and rumpled the fabric of the walls of the tent. She shivered inside the sleeping bag and very slowly moved closer to the warm body next to her. "I'm awake," a voice said against her ear. "Are you scared too, Mary-Glen?" She moved to answer, wanting to place her mouth next to her friend's ear, but instead she brushed a cool cheek. Then, surprisingly, yet so naturally, her lips found another mouth and she answered with a kiss.
She was standing knee deep and barefoot in a dark brown swiftly flowing stream. Ahead, in the water, four evenly spaced wooden beams were half hidden under the rocks of the bottom of the brook. They looked like railway ties. Why here? What was their purpose? Her mind began to sift through possibilities each more fanciful than the next. When she climbed out of the brook and started on the path toward home, she was sure a great treasure must be concealed there. Soon she would return and find it! Yes, soon.
The smooth, polished rafters reached up into the gloom below the ceiling of the church. The light was muted, restrained, illuminating in reserved splendour the stained glass windows, the pews draped with green boughs and red bows and the quiet, attentive people. Everything was always so hushed on Christmas Eve as if an event so awesome, so magnificent in its ability to touch the hearts of all, was about to occur. She could never quite grasp its significance; that otherworldly emotional sensation that once a year stilled everyone's stridency and left them sitting here in silent tribute. Then the first song began and the voices reached up into the gloom of the rafters and the light shone like the angel on the top of the Christmas tree.
The grey light blurred the edges of the face above her and though she felt herself rapidly slipping downward there was something very urgent she had to say.
"Don't waste time." To her own ears her voice sounded far away. "You'll miss all the good things."
"Do you promise?" It was so urgent that she know.
This was good, but there was also something else.
"I did good, didn't I? I did OK?"
"Yes, you did."
A hand was holding hers as the indistinct grey darkened, moving into black. A peaceful, safe blackness.
* * * * * *
5 days later, Voyager mess hall
Seven of Nine was frustrated. "I am holding the A," she told Harry Kim. His smile was gentle and his words non-confrontational yet she felt as if nothing could go right.
"You're letting it slide flat. Keep it steady and strong."
She began again progressing through the verse, one eye on the written notation in front of her, the other on Harry as he counted the time with a wave of his hand. Once again, when she reached the same place in the chorus, she faltered on the A.
It was obvious to both of them. "Maybe we should go on to something else," Harry encouraged. He scrolled through various selections on his padd, stopped on one, and passed the padd to Seven. "How about this one? I've heard you do it well."
Seven frowned at the padd. "I have only sung this song once."
"All the more reason to practice." He played several chords on the keyboard, nodded to Seven to begin.
All alone I ... didn't like the feeling All alone I ... sat and cried All alone I ... had to find some meaning In the center of the pain I felt inside
All alone I ... came into this world All alone I ...will someday die
At that moment her voice would not obey her. It stopped short and would not continue. As this happened she felt the frustration swell through her. Frustration and something else. Something stronger. Something that felt as if it would engulf her in hot furor.
She threw the padd at the floor, watched it bounce off the carpet. This felt good, but not nearly good enough so she kicked it. The padd flew across the mess hall and cracked against the plated window. For a split second she pondered pursuing it and crushing it in her hands.
Harry Kim swallowed hard. They were alone in the mess hall; for once even Neelix was not there. "Are you alright, Seven?"
She turned intense, angry eyes on him and he felt his heart do a backflip, but not as it used to do when she looked at him. "No, I am not!" Her right hand came crashing down on a padd resting on the keyboard. The alloy buckled and the plastic cracked, cutting her. This only furthered her fury and she began to systematically flatten the hapless data device.
Harry did the only logical thing he could. "Ensign Kim to Captain Janeway."
"Seven!" There was no reply as Seven continued to pummel the keyboard and stand.
"Annika Hansen!" She stopped her swing mid-way and turned to the source of the voice. Captain Janeway stood just inside the mess hall doors, her arms crossed over her chest. "What are you doing?"
It was like a wash of cold water over her. She looked down at the destruction she had caused and then to the blood on her hand. Another feeling invaded in the place of the quickly receding rage. She felt helpless, profoundly so, and an undefined pain.
"What is this about?" The Captain's voice was softer and when she stood next to Seven, her posture was more open. "Harry told me you were singing and suddenly became angry."
"I am not sure." Her breathing felt tight and strained. With effort, she began to analyze her actions and the intense emotion. "The song. I was singing and then I thought of her, and I felt ..." she paused unable to come up with a descriptive word. Seven hung her head and squeezed her eyes closed.
"Before, the song had made me think of you," she continued with effort. "And now, when I sing it, all I can think of, all I can see, is her and what she did."
Clinically and precisely, Seven of Nine had related the events which had taken place in the hut after they were all back aboard Voyager. Janeway had not been concerned with Seven's lack of emotional reaction, it was normal. But now, in the face of this unusual outburst, she wondered just what would be normal from now on.
"It is not unusual for someone to feel pain and even anger when they are the survivor; I know, it happened to me."
"She exchanged her life for mine. I did not ask for this!"
"No you didn't, but you must accept it for what it is: a gift."
Seven's head snapped around at those words and Janeway heard more emotion come from Seven than she thought might ever be possible when the ex-Borg said:
"It is not a gift! It is a burden!"
"Whatever you want to think of it as," Janeway gripped her arm. "You must live with it. Hate her for doing it. Hate yourself for surviving. It doesn't matter. But it's done and you're still here."
Seven raised her right hand and studied the blood dried into the lines of her palm. "Then I will hate, I can feel nothing else." Quickly she pushed past Janeway toward the door. "And I will never sing again," she said before the doors closed behind her.
* * * * * *
Captain Kathryn Janeway sat in the dimness of her quarters. Outside the stars streaked by in long unending lines the view permanently distorted by the ship's warp field. Twice she had started off to find Seven, once making it as far as the turbolift. Now she sat silent and still, unable to do anything as time crawled on.
Helplessness held her in a cold grasp and she could not rid herself of the feeling she had failed. In the end Cullen had gotten exactly what she wanted, handing over the mantle of her pain to Seven. And now Seven was struggling to accept the reality; the reality of her helplessness to affect events around her. As she sat, her reality was the helplessness she felt at being unable to change things for Seven. If she could only wave her hand and make it all go away.
That's silly of course. If I were somehow to shelter and protect her from all the awful realities of life, she will never learn. Never learn to feel. To know those moments of pain and those moments of joy.
Don't waste time, Cullen's voice rattled around her consciousness like a bouncing ball careening off her helplessness, her guilt, her ineffectiveness. With a final hard plunge, it crashed headlong into her desire.
I cannot force her to feel; she must accept her past and face her future ... alone. Anything more would be wrong.
An indicator light began to flash on the terminal in front of her. She had set the door chime to answer a potential visitor with the words the Captain does not wish to be disturbed, yet a part of her was unwilling to close herself off completely, just in case. She leaned forward and touched a control.
Seven of Nine stood outside the door to her quarters.
She didn't have to consider it.
When Seven entered Captain Janeway's quarters, the Captain was sitting, one leg tucked under her, on the sofa. Her boots had been removed as well as her uniform tunic. In the dim light Seven's eyes followed the definition of her arms, bare under the grey undershirt.
Janeway did not speak, only sat placid as Seven studied her. The ex-Borg's eyes traveled her upper body, settled on her face.
"I am not sure why I am here."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"No," she took three steps and stopped just at the end of the low table unable to go any farther. Janeway watched her; watched the raw emotion contort her beautiful features. She ached to take away that pain.
Don't waste time... This time those words were not about what she shouldn't do, but what she should do. In a heartbeat she was before Seven, her arms going around the taller woman. She didn't know whether or not she was surprised when she felt the other woman's arms encircle her and her cheek rest against the top of her head.
For a long tender moment they were still, Seven breathing deeply, sometimes raggedly. Janeway's hands caressed her back under the smooth material of her uniform, but she did not try to speak.
"I feel ..." Seven pulled back until her eyes met Janeway's and the Captain could see in those eyes an openness and need. And it was a need not of helplessness but a need of expectation.
"Yes, I know. What do you want to do about it?"
"I want to feel more."
Everything around her became softly indistinct. There was only the feel and warmth of the body next to her, a body that she could sense with an exultant rush, returned her own yearning. This feeling, more than anything, released her joy. The joy that was manifest when she gently took Seven's chin in her palm and guided her mouth down to meet her own.
Seven was rigid only for the barest nanosecond before responding. As the kiss was returned to her with an eagerness that clearly asked for more, Janeway realized the meeting, the joining of body and will was instinctive. No longer was it something that needed to be learned.
The proof of this elemental, innate correctness was in the way Seven breathed into the kiss, her hands moving on Janeway's back and arms, with such intense reluctance to release. The way she quivered when touched herself yet greeted the touch with hunger.
Then it was the way they moved toward the Captain's sleeping room almost stumbling in their need not to be separated. After which it was the way clothing was removed slowly and reverently to the skin underneath, the touch of which was intoxicating to both.
Then came the exploration: the cycle of touch and response, each thing new at this moment, but primal in its familiarity. Over and again until all unknowns were met and the ache for fulfilment could not be denied.
After this it was the way pleasure was accepted and given, the feeling reaching upward and beyond simple sensation until, it seemed, all it could do was burst like the shining of so many stars.
* * * * * *
three days later, Voyager mess hall
Harry Kim, once a Juilliard trained musician, now a Starfleet Ensign on board a starship far from home, was at the keyboard. Seven of Nine, once an unfeeling drone, an insignificant cog in a huge machine, and before that Annika Hansen, a very young girl with her life ahead of her, stood in front of her crewmates, her friends and the woman who had become her lover. She was ready to sing.
"I was given a gift. By all of you and also by someone we knew only briefly. I wish to try to repay that kindness."
As the intro was played and her cue quickly approached, she met Captain Janeway's eyes and smiled softly, if somewhat shyly. The smile was returned.
Spend all your time waiting for that second chance For a break that would make it OK There's always some reason to feel not good enough And it's hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction, oh, beautiful release Memories seep from my veins They may be empty, oh, and weightless... and maybe I'll find some peace tonight
In the arms of the angel, far away from here From this dark, cold hotel room And they endlessness that you feel You are pulled from the wreckage Of your silent reverie In the arms of the angel, May you find some comfort here
Within the immensity of space nothing holds sway on the universe except light and time. Within the immensity of the human being, the light is the sweetness and power of love. Love does not change, yet has the ability to change everything it touches. And time... time is only what you make of it.
LMB Jan 2/99 and Jan10/99