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Safe Passage

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1

“Seven?” Admiral Kathryn Janeway walked over to her the tall blond who stood by one of the far view ports in the almost empty mess hall. “Is something wrong?”
“Kathryn.” Seven turned, but made no effort to reach for her lover. “I am…concerned.”
Frowning, Janeway cupped Seven’s shoulder. “Something you wish to share with me? I don’t mind listening. Perhaps I can help.”
“It is not that easy. You are the commanding officer on this vessel, and these days I am familiar with the command structure. If I bring something to your attention, you are bound to act on it, as it is your duty.”
Janeway digested this. “And you don’t feel certain enough about whatever you’re concerned about doing so?”
“I may end up harming an individual if I act prematurely.”
“Is there immediate danger to the ship or any of the crew or passengers if you wait?” Janeway had to ask this, but she ached at the tormented look that ghosted over Seven’s features.
“No. If I thought so I would not hesitate to let you know.” This time Seven sounded a lot more certain. “I would never risk our mission or any of the people aboard this ship. Your ship.”
“You don’t have to tell me that,” Janeway said, slipping her hand around Seven’s waist. “If there is one person’s integrity I believe in, it’s yours.” 
Seven smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. Janeway didn’t care if there were any late-comers sitting in the corners; she leaned in and pressed her lips to Seven’s. It took a few more moments longer than usual before Seven responded to the caress, but she did. The soft, plump lips, always gentle and able to arouse, returned the kiss.
“We should go to our quarters.” Janeway withdrew. “I’ve been in a meeting with Miranda for the last hour and that woman is enough to drive the most saint-like person to the brink of despair.”
Now Seven’s smile was authentic as she tilted her head. “Miranda Priestly is a formidable person and only surpassed by one other individual.”
“Hm. I have no idea who you can mean.” Janeway was so relieved that she’d broken through Seven’s unusual anguish.
“I think you do.” Seven tucked Janeway’s arm under hers as they left the mess hall. As they reached the corridor, a shrill female voice came from around the corner.
“Please! I need help. Something’s wrong with her. Help!”

2

Seven recognized the voice and began to run. Her eidetic memory identified it belonging to Cassidy Priestly and clearly something was wrong.
As they rounded the corner, she saw Cassidy on all fours on the deck, frantically holding onto a still form on the floor. Seven and Kathryn hurried to her side and Seven placed a gentle hand on Cassidy’s shoulder.
“What has happened?”
Cassidy’s head snapped up, her eyes huge with fear. “Andy and I were coming back from the studio and she—she collapsed.” Cassidy held on to the slumped woman on the floor. 
“We will take her to sickbay,” Seven said. She heard Kathryn call for a medical site-to-site internal transport. Soon the four of them shimmered into existence in the sickbay where the Doctor met them. 
Andrea Sachs had automatically ended up on a biobed and now Seven could see how pale she was. For a startling moment, Seven couldn’t detect any life signs, but a few moments later, she realized And

it was hard, even for her, to detect.
“We have to tell mom and Caroline.” Cassidy clung to Seven’s hand. 
“We will.” Seven tapped her comm badge. “Seven of Nine to Miranda Priestly. Report to sickbay with Caroline Priestly.”
“Seven!” Kathryn flinched. “That was brusque.” She moved to stand next to the biobed where the Doctor was scanning Andrea’s still form. “Doctor?”
“Give me time, Admiral,” the Doctor muttered. He placed a cortical stimulator on Andrea’s neck and waved over a nurse. “Run the scans. Look for toxins.”
“Toxins?” Janeway eyes narrowed. “Your thoughts, Doctor?”
The Doctor pressed a sensor and a life-support arch rose and engulfed Andrea’s body. “She shows signs of it, yes. There are unknown agents in her bloodstream and I can’t explain at this point how they got there.”
“Are you saying someone has poisoned, Andy?” Cassidy asked, her voice shrill. She still held onto Seven’s human hand with her own two, which were painfully cold by now. 
“I will know more soon, Cassidy.” The Doctor’s voice grew milder as he turned to the child. “I’ve placed your…uhm, stepmother in a ventilator system, which gives her body rest and reduces the stress. Should she deteriorate, I will place her in stasis while we construct a remedy.”
Kathryn glared at the Doctor and Seven guessed her lover thought the physician was being too blunt and informative to a twelve year old child. Kathryn didn’t know Cassidy and Caroline the way Seven did, through Andrea. These girls were as brilliant as their mother must have been at their age. 
The tingling sound of a transporter gave them precious little time to prepare for the arrival of a distraught Miranda Priestly. Seven turned to watch the formidable mother of the twins re-materialize with her other daughter.
“What’s going on?” Miranda asked, her face white, but her voice still held its trademark soft, lethal tone. Her eyes homed in on the main biobed and it was as if her knees gave in for a moment. “Andrea?” She strode up to her lover and found her hand below the life-support arch.
“The Doctor says she’s been poisoned, or something.” Cassidy didn’t let go of Seven’s hand, but reached out to her twin and grabbed one of hers.
Miranda froze for a moment and turned her laser-blue eyes on the Doctor. “Poisoned?” It was obvious that heads would roll if someone didn’t explain this statement to Miranda—and did it now.

3

Miranda placed both hands on Cassidy’s shoulders, but didn’t take her eyes off the one person whom held the answers—the Doctor. 
“I’ll have more information in a minute,” the Doctor said. 
“How about letting me in on what you know now?” Miranda murmured, shifting her gaze to Andrea’s still form. The young woman she loved lay so still and pale, dark circle beneath her eyes, which weren’t entirely closed. Was she awake?
“She fainted in the corridor, Mom.” Cassidy pivoted and wrapped her arms around Miranda’s waist. “I saw how she staggered and I tried to catch her, but I couldn’t hold her. She was too heavy when she was all limp. I made sure she didn’t hit her head, though.” Cassidy stared up at her, blinking against the tears forming at the corners of her eyes.
“You did wonderfully, Bobbsey. You took good care of her.” Miranda pressed her daughter to her chest. “That’s what my daughter witnessed. And then, what happened?”
“We heard Cassidy call for help,” Kathryn said. “Seven and I ran over and ordered a medical transport. That’s it, so far.” She stepped closer to the woman she’d come to admire and call her friend. “We got her here very fast.”
“Ms. Sachs was showing respiratory distress as she arrived,” the Doctor said, his voice professional and kind. “The toxins affect her breathing, hence the life-support arc.”
“Oh, Gods.” Miranda covered her eyes with a trembling hand. “She’s not breathing on her own?”
“Yes, but not enough.”
“Doctor, the result.” The nurse gave the Doctor a data PADD and busied herself by removing Andrea’s shoes.
Miranda studied the Doctor as he read through the result. The look on his face as he raised his gaze to hers, made her lightheaded and weak. “Doctor?” 
“This is more serious than I expected,” the Doctor said. His eyes looked with empathy at Miranda and Cassidy. “An unknown toxin has entered Ms. Sachs’s system and is slowly shutting down one organ after another.”
Miranda had to steady herself against the life-support arc. “How?”
“The only two ways this could’ve happened is that Ms. Sachs either accidentally ingested it, or unknown people administered it via her food or by other means. I will have more to tell you once I decide what agents we’re looking at here.”
“Her organs…you say they’re shutting down.” Miranda was finding it hard to breathe, but kept going. “How long before…I mean, how long do we have?” She began to rock Cassidy gently as the little girl was sobbing into her chest.
“So far, the arc is enough. If her kidneys or her liver gets affected, I’m going to have to put her into stasis until we’ve figured out a remedy.”
“Stasis…” Cassidy whispered. “Mom, we have to fetch Caro before he puts her in stasis. Mom!”
“Yes. Yes, of course.” Miranda let go of Cassidy who scurried out the door. She rounded the arc and looked at Andrea who lay so still, as if she was already—no! Rejecting such thoughts of defeat, Miranda placed a gentle hand the top of Andrea’s head; the only part not covered with medical technology. She scratched Andrea’s scalp tenderly. “You rest, darling, and get better. I’m going to find whoever did this to you, and trust me, they’re going to pay.”

4

The darkness shifts into something milky grey. Somewhere, a voice, so familiar, beloved even, rises and falls. Its cadence changes as well, sometimes staccato and sometime lingering like a caress.
Why can’t she move? Where is she? Fumbling in this frightening darkness that won’t give way, she floats, up, up, and suddenly drops like a rock, only to float again.
“Andrea, darling.”
Oh, words. Words that put a name on…on her? Is she Andrea? The name is familiar too, or part of it is. Why can’t she feel her arms and legs? Is she…Is she dead?
“Pulse is climbing, Doctor. BP 180/100.”
Another voice. A stranger. Definitely a stranger. 
Something sits on her chest, pressing and pressing, making it painful to breathe. Whatever it is, it wraps around her waist, hugging in a very unpleasant way. A snake? Oh, Gods, a snake? She can’t remember her name, but she knows without a doubt, she hates snakes.
“Her heart is under too much strain. I thought her kidneys, or her liver, would be the organs to suffer first, but these readings show deterioration of her heart tissue.”
Who are they talking about? Her? Is her heart broken? No. She knows, like she knows she fears snakes, that her heart isn’t broken. She’s happy. She’s loved, cared for, and very happy. 
So why is she kept prisoner in this…this no-mans-land? Why isn’t Miranda—Miranda! Where is Miranda? Why is she here alone? What is going on? Why can’t she breathe and why is that snake still curled around her? Miranda knows about the snakes. She would never allow them to put snakes on her so Miranda must be gone.
“Easy, darling. Relax. I’m here. So are Caroline and Cassidy. And Kathryn and Seven too. We all are. Don’t be afraid. The Doctor is going to put you in stasis now. It will be like a deep sleep. When we bring you out of stasis, you’ll feel a lot better and we'll together again. I love you, Andrea.”
Miranda! Oh, sweet Gods, Miranda. She heard her, but she couldn’t speak, was unable to reciprocate. Stasis? What for? 
Her hands won’t obey when she tries to will them to move. Is she paralyzed? Are these phantom feelings in dead limbs? Is that why she’s going into stasis.
Something in the milky darkness moves. A snapping, crackling sound around her startles her, makes her whimper. She doesn’t like this. And now a hissing noise. Something is making a very loud, hissing, gurgling noise. She’s never been so afraid in her life. 
The cold. Oh, no, no, no. Such unbearable cold. Nobody can survive that. Such searing coldness, like being dipped in liquid nitrogen. It hurt and she couldn’t breathe. She was powerless to stop it. No, no, Miranda. Stop. I’m here. It’s me. Don’t do this.
Don’t do this.
▫▪▪▪▫
“I know this looks bad, Miranda,” The Doctor said. “Now she is comfortable and her vital organs are safe until we learn how to rid her of the poison.”
“Are you sure, Doctor?” Caroline said, leaning over the sealed stasis chamber where Andrea lay. “She looks…she doesn’t look peaceful mom.”
Miranda bent over the chamber and wiped at errant tears. “She can’t feel a thing, Bobbsey. The Doctor bought her time.”
“But, Mom. Look!” Cassidy pressed her index finger against the transparent aluminum.
Miranda squinted and put on her glasses. A lone teardrop left Andrea’s eyelashes on one side and ran along her temple. Surely that was a delayed effect?

5

Janeway pulled Seven aside, both to give Miranda and her daughters some privacy, but she also had questions.
“Does this situation with Andrea have anything to do with what you told me in the mess hall earlier?” Janeway held on to Seven’s human hand.
“I do not see how it could, but I cannot rule it out either.” Paler than usual, Seven gripped Janeway’s hand harder. “Andrea is a designer. She has nothing to do with ship’s business or our mission.”
“No…but she is Miranda Priestly’s partner and Miranda is involved with the mission. We need to close Maladorian’s weapons dealing down. So what if they’re using Andy to get to Miranda?”
“Are you saying that someone aboard the Brilliance has poisoned Andrea to distract her lover, therefore keeping her from performing her duty?” Seven raised the eyebrow not covered by a Borg implant. “Why not poison Miranda directly?”
“That might attract more attention to what the real issue is. This way, we cannot be sure.”
“Yes, we can. We can trace Andrea’s steps back and determine how the poison entered her system.”
“I can help some with that,” the Doctor murmured right next to them. He had to have watched some of Tom Paris’s old movies from the 20th century as he looked the part of a private investigator from that era in the way he leaned in and spoke through the corner of his mouth.
“Go ahead, Doctor,” Janeway urged.
“The toxin is construed from several synthetic agents and bound together with yet another substance of unknown origin. On a molecular level, this is small enough to pass through the blood brain barrier. I see no injection marks on her body, either from a needle or a hypospray. My best guess is that she either inhaled it, or imbibed it.”
“Someone poisoned her food or drink.” Seven pressed her full lips to a thin line. “If she had inhaled it, shouldn’t she or others notice it? Someone else would have been affected too if that was the case.”
“Inhaled what?” Miranda’s stern voice interrupted them. “If you are discussing Andrea’s condition, I need to hear.” It was not a request. Janeway related on so many levels as Seven’s life had been in danger many times. 
The Doctor brought Miranda up to speed in a few words. Janeway kept an eye on the fashionista turned clandestine operative so she didn’t faint. She should have known better. Miranda took a deep breath and then turned to Seven.
“You think this was in something she ate?”
“Yes. Most likely. Either meant for her, or, if she switched food last minute with someone, someone else. You or any of the twins are the first that come to mind.”
“Caroline and Cassidy?” This time Miranda reached out to steady herself against the bulkhead. “My children are potential targets?”
“At this point, anyone associated with you and our mission is, yes.” Janeway placed her hand on Miranda’s shoulder and wasn’t surprised when the other woman shook it off. 
“I want security officers with my girls at all time. People you trust who worked with you on Voyager.”
“Done.”
Miranda glanced at the stasis chamber. “And one guard at Andrea’s chamber.”
“Also done.”
Miranda turned to face Janeway, her voice a low growl. “And then I want the names of the people behind this. Or their heads—whichever comes first.”

6

Seven strode into astrometrics, which was the part of the Brilliance where she felt most at home, not counting hers and Kathryn’s quarters. The large view screen, twice as large as the one aboard Voyager, stretched across two walls. There she read star charts farther into space than any other Federation vessel.
She didn’t stop to admire the screen, like she tended to do, but moved on to her computer console at the center of the vast area. On an average day, forty some people worked there at each shift, but Kathryn had put the Brilliance at yellow alert, which meant another twenty crewmembers worked double shifts and manned the extra consoles.
“Listen up,” Seven said as a way to get everyone’s attention. She found the expression lacking and would much rather use a navy whistle or something, but Kathryn maintained whistles were for dogs and other animals. “I want you to divide the sectors between you and use maximum magnification along with the strongest sensor readings.”
“What are we looking for, ma’am?” Lt. Meyk asked, always eager and ready to jump into action. Seven appreciated the young woman’s exuberance enough to overlook Meyk’s habit of breaking protocol. Seven had done the same when she was new on Voyager.
“Anything you deem anomalous, any ships that are not registered or flying outside their flight plan. We are at yellow alert for a reason. I expect you to be conscientious and use your instincts as well as your logic.” There had been a time when Seven thought instinct was a human flaw more than anything else, but that was before she encountered the Omega molecule and for a few fleeting moments saw perfection.
Someone tapped her on the shoulder, and Seven turned around, surprised. Her crew never made physical contact. 
“Miranda Priestly,” Seven said and frowned. What was Miranda doing here?
“I need you to run this along with your other search parameters,” Miranda said and handed over a computer strip. “This has something to do with our covert mission. I cannot allow any of your subordinates to run this—it has to be done at your console.”
“Very well.” Seven slipped the computer strip in a slot on the side. A vast amount of data began running alongside the regular search parameters. “I have a query, Miranda,” Seven said. “Should we not bring in Tal Celes and Nash Forster, if your suspicions are correct?”
“Tal Celes and perhaps Nash Forster, if Celes agrees. She knows Forster better than anyone of us.” Miranda pinched her nose. “I should get back to sickbay. I don’t want to leave the girls there alone with Andrea in the stasis chamber.”
“They are resourceful, strong girls.” Seven touched Miranda’s arm, not entirely comfortable about it. She would never let anyone know, not even Kathryn, that Miranda intimidated her.
“Thank you, Seven.” Miranda surprised her by reciprocating the touch by squeezing her hand. “I haven’t felt right about the whole stasis chamber solution since Cassidy claimed she saw Andrea’s tears run after the Doctor locked the stasis chamber.”
Seven frowned. “I was not aware that this was the case. Is Cassidy certain?”
“Yes.” Miranda shuddered.
“We should let my console do the work we just initiated. I will place a Borg algorithm security lock on it. We need to go back to sickbay and run a diagnostic on the stasis chamber…and on Andrea.” 

7

Kathryn strode into sickbay, her facial expression somber as she joined Seven, Miranda and the Doctor standing by Andrea’s stasis chamber. Miranda had sent the girls with Lt. Ayala to her quarters. She trusted Ayala as he was an original Voyager crewmember who originated from the Maquis movement. Devoted to the admiral, he would protect her girls.
“Did I understand correctly, Doctor,” Kathryn said with quiet dismay, “that Andy is not completely in stasis?”
“Seven’s run diagnostics on the stasis chamber, which functions perfectly.” The Doctor’s eyes seemed darkened by remorse. “However, when I ran a similar, Borg-enhanced, I might add, diagnostic on Ms. Sachs’s brain patterns, I found several parts of it to be put in stasis, but some aren’t.”
Miranda closed her eyes as pain tore through her chest. “Which parts?” she managed, her voice barely carrying.
“Her organs are in stasis, except the parts of her brains that guides her auditory and sensory abilities.”
“Audi—” Miranda gasped. “She can hear…and feel? She’s not unconscious?”
“I sedated her as I found her stress hormones levels too high, something a stasis chamber isn’t set to register. If young Cassidy hadn’t spotted those few tears, and you not brought it to Seven’s attention, the truth is, Ms. Sachs’s would have suffered a great deal longer.” 
“Andrea…” Miranda placed both hands on the stasis chamber and looked down at the pale woman lying so still. “And she’s sedated now?”
“Yes, I am monitoring her as if she was on a ventilator arc, as well as in stasis. Her brain is no longer showing any signs of distress.”
“Is the toxin you discovered to blame for this?” Kathryn asked, moving to stand next to Miranda.
“Yes. That’s the only explanation. I searched the Brilliance’s and my own databases and not found one naturally occurring incident like this. I’d say it was on purpose, an engineered method of obtaining this outcome.” The Doctor shook his head. “I cannot fathom who would do this…and to this very sweet young woman at that.”
“Whoever it is, I want them.” Miranda straightened and let her gaze wander between the other three. “I want a meeting with Tal Celes and Nash Forster.”
“They may have heard of this toxin—and this effect.” Seven nodded. 
“How’s the search for an antidote coming, Doctor?” Kathryn asked.
“I’ve got ten of my best scientists working on it, apart from myself,” the Doctor said. “It’s a complex toxin, with some alien compounds we’ve never seen before.”
Miranda fought to contain her fury, still not so much that it gave too much room to her fear and despair. She needed to stay furious enough to keep going, or she might end up a sobbing heap next to Andrea’s chamber, which wouldn’t do her lover any good. She wanted to reach into the chamber and stroke Andrea’s cheek, but as this wasn’t possible, she held her hand against the cold surface that encased her for a moment. Letting go, she turned to the others. “All right. Assemble Forster and Celes, and a few of the security detail that you trust implicitly, Kathryn. We need to do our part while the Doctor does his.” 

8

Janeway gazed around the conference table. Miranda sat to her left, Seven to her right. Nash Forster and Tal Celes sat next to Seven, which during any other circumstances would have amused her. Miranda in this mood intimidated them as well. The Doctor and Lieutenant Ayala joined in via encrypted video feeds from sickbay and Miranda’s quarters, respectively. Three more lieutenants that had served with Janeway in the Delta Quadrant sat on Miranda’s side of the table, but with two empty chairs in between.
“Does anyone have anything new to report?”
Miranda turned her head toward Nash. “I for one want to know if Maladorian habitually uses unknown toxins on innocent young women.” Her voice was soft and cold, a combination that Janeway heard matched her own low growl register.
“If you’re asking have I ever saw him poisoning someone, or giving such orders, the answer is no.” Nash spoke matter-of-factly, but her slanted golden-amber eyes darkened to an almost brown. “His way is more that of a blow’em up, shoot’em down kind of approach. Poison? Too sophisticated for him.”
“As his right hand, you ought to know,” Janeway said. 
Former right hand.” Nash shook her head. “I have one allegiance now.” She glanced at Tal. “And she wants me to do my duty to the Federation—so I do.”
This was as trustworthy and loyal as Nash would ever be. For some reason, the lethal woman loved Tal Celes and was prepared to do anything to keep her—even betray the man who wouldn’t hesitate to kill her in the most painful imaginable when he found out. 
Seven’s dataPADD beeped twice, almost making Janeway lose her train of thought. “So, if not Maladorian, even if I haven’t ruled him out, then whom?” Janeway rapped her nails against the table.
“I have erred in my judgment, Kathryn,” Seven said, her voice aplomb as usual, but the tiny infliction of pain in her voice was clear to Janeway. “I have reason to believe that I underestimated the problem you asked me about last night.”
“And you waited until now to tell me?” Janeway was astonished.
“I could not tell before, Kathryn. I only finished my simulation now.” She lifted her data PADD for emphasis. “When I saw the outcome, I realize this might just be the beginning.”
“What?” Janeway straightened and pressed her palms at the table.”
“I fear Andrea might not be the only target.”

 

9

Seven saw the shock in the others’ faces, but her main concern was elsewhere. Turning to the screen showing Lieutenant Ayala, she spoke hastily. “Lt. Ayala, Caroline and Cassidy Priestly are not to leave the quarters and nor are you. They are at the top of my list of probable targets—in fact, they might have been the intended targets from the start.”
“What?” Miranda’s voice was weak now, rather than low and threatening. “My daughters?”
“Yes.” Seven clenched her hands out of sight of the others. “I should have seen this earlier. I apologize.”
“Seven, you better tell us everything from the beginning.” Janeway patted her knee under the table, Seven guessed she tried to be reassuring, but the gesture made her feel worse as she did not think she deserved it.
“Very well. Three days ago, I noticed signs that someone was using the astrometrics star charting to plot routes, only to then erase them from the logs, as well as the backup files. I wanted to determine the identity of this individual and question them before I brought it to Kathryn’s attention.”
“Someone erases and covers their tracks and you don’t report it?” Miranda was halfway up from her chair, but sat down when Kathryn took her arm. 
“Let Seven continue.”
Miranda’s eyes were stormy, but she didn’t say anything, merely nodded at Seven.
“The reason I did not report it was, the traces I detected made it possible for me to extrapolate the routes they’d charted. They all lead to known, non-threatening destinations. Locations we already had placed in our flight plan and submitted to Starfleet. This was not about classified matters and the two individuals most likely to be the culprits had nothing on their records to cause concern.” She pulled up data from her PADD. “However, this was before today, when I realized these individuals still perform their star charting as well as transmit them on coded subspace bands, which I managed to intercept in part.”
“May I?” Kathryn reached for the PADD.
Seven handed it over, her heart now cold and barren, as she was certain she was to blame for Andrea’s condition.
“These are fragments from what I can see,” Janeway said as she scrolled down what Seven had just read. “Oh…”
“Read it.” Miranda spoke through clenched teeth.
“New orders required…lethal…still undetected…losing…mistaken identity of targets…soft targets for more impact…family members to be preferred…-xyma station…covert operative…Priestly.” Janeway looked up at Seven, her eyes narrow and stormy grey. “Who in your staff is transmitting this?”
“Unless they are being framed, the trace leads to Ensign Lisa Holmberg and Crewman Jarmoa Miax.”
“A human and a Trill?” Miranda blinked. “I want everything we have on them—“
“Ms. Priestly!” Ayala’s voice interrupted. “I just went to check on the girls and they’re not in their rooms.”
“What?” Miranda stood fully this time, knocking the chair over. She slapped her comm badge, paging her children over and over.
There was no reply. 

10

“Computer, locate Caroline Priestly,” Kathryn said, her voice calmer than the grey storm in her eyes.
Caroline Priestly is in Jefferies Tube fourteen-gamma.
Kathryn repeated the words, this time for Cassidy. “Cassidy Priestly is on deck thirteen, junction one-alpha.
“What the hell?” Miranda was ready to leave in an instant. “Where are they going?” And why had the girls split up? Miranda’s heart was pounding so hard, it hurt her rib cage.
“Wait for us,” Kathryn said from behind. 
Glancing back, Miranda saw all the others who’d been in the conference room were right behind her. 
“We need to organize. One that goes after Cassidy and the other finds Caroline.” Kathryn split the group into two teams. 
Seven added, “Jefferies Tube fourteen-gamma is located twenty-four point six meters from engineering.”
Seven, Nash, and one security officer joined Miranda to look for Caroline. As they took off down the corridor, heading for the nearest turbo lift, Miranda found it impossible to not assume the worst. She tapped her comm badge. “Computer, locate Caroline Priestly. Respond through my comm badge only.” She didn’t want anyone with malicious intent to overhear where her twins were.
“Caroline Priestly is in Jefferies Tube fourteen-gamma.”
“She hasn’t moved?” Miranda cast a panicked glance at Seven. “Why is she in the same place like that?”
“I do not know, Miranda.” Seven looked somber as they all entered the turbo lift. “Deck forty-two.” 
Miranda wondered if the turbo lift was malfunctioning and moving in slow-motion. When the door hissed open, she almost toppled one of the junior engineers waiting to enter.
“Which direction, Seven?” Miranda said as she began to run.
“Left.”
Miranda couldn’t remember ever running this fast. She kept glancing at the different Jefferies Tubes hatches and came to a stop at the sign that said fourteen-gamma. She opened it and crawled inside. Despite the muted light, she had no problem seeing all the way to the next junction. No Caroline. “Computer, locate Caroline Priestly.” Miranda could barely speak as she gasped for air.
Caroline Priestly is located in Jefferies Tube fourteen-gam—
“No, she’s not!” Miranda sobbed and slammed her palm into the tube flooring. “She’s fucking not.”
Seven passed her and kept crawling as she scanned the tube. She stopped and picked something up. “Caroline’s comm badge.” She held up the small item and plucked a tricorder from her belt. “The communication feature has been disabled. This comm badge can be traced, but not utilized to communicate.”
“Why would anyone do that?” Miranda frowned and leaned against the wall behind her. “Where is she?”
Seven had continued scanning the tube and now turned around and started crawling toward Miranda and the others. “We must leave. Now.”
“What?” Miranda shook her head. “We should look for more clues—“
Seven nudged Miranda hard. “No. There is an explosive in here set to go off any moment. Move!”

11

Janeway hurried toward the junction the computer had described as Cassidy Priestly’s location. As they reached it, it soon became obvious that the little girl wasn’t there. Janeway whipped out her tricorder while she asked the computer for clarification.
Cassidy Priestly is on deck thirteen, junction one-alpha.
“No, she’s not.” Janeway’s instrument beeped as she directed it toward the aft part of the junction. She stepped closer and saw something glimmering close to the bulkhead. “Cassidy’s comm badge.” She plucked it from the deck and ran the tricorder over it. “It’s hers.”
Tal Celes had scanned the area also and now shook her head in dismay. “She’s not within scanner range, Admiral.”
“Damn. Where is she, and why’s her comm badge here?” Janeway pinched the bridge of her nose. She was about to suggest they widen their search when the alarm klaxons blared and the ship went to red alert. “Computer! Report!” 
A high-yield explosive has occurred in Jefferies Tube fourteen-gamma.”
Janeway flinched and slapped her comm badge hard. “Janeway to Seven, what’s going on?” Please answer, darling. Please.
“Seven to Janeway,” a nearly unrecognizable voice said through massive coughing. “An explosive went off in the Jefferies Tube where the computer located Caroline Priestly, but we managed to vacate it in time to avoid the blast.” She coughed again.
“Are you all right? And the others?”
“We are all right, Kathryn. Caroline was not there, but her—“
“Comm badge was. Same here. No sign of Cassidy either.”
“Kathryn, do an extensive scan for any threat in case it was a trap as well.” Seven was breathing somewhat easier. “This is looking far too planned to be a coincidence.”
“I agree. Keep looking for your girl. We’ll do the same here.”
Janeway spent a few minutes deploying security teams all over the ship and ordering civilians to go to safe zones. If someone had put an explosive near the outer bulkheads, she could not allow any of the passengers to be hurled into open space.
“I was thinking, ma’am,” Tal said. “What someone chased the girls, or threatened them…what if they tossed their comm badges to confuse whoever was after them?”
Janeway pivoted, looking appreciatively at Tal. “You have a point. They’re clever girls. Their mother’s daughters in every sense of the word. The question is, why would they sneak out in the first place? They were safe with Ayala—” She smacked her palm on the bulkhead. “Andy. I bet they were dying to go see Andy. They love her.”
“They’re not in sickbay yet, though. The Doctor would’ve told us.” Tal tapped her chin. “There are many ways that lead to sickbay. Corridors and Jefferies Tubes.”
“We could try a bio pattern scan, but that needs to be done in a more private setting as we don’t want the wrong people to overhear.” Janeway started running down the corridor. “Let’s go.”
As soon as they reached one of the conference rooms, Janeway and Tal slipped inside while the security officers stood guard. 
“Computer, security input, Janeway-zero-zero-alpha-one-nine-one.” Janeway waited for the computer to acknowledge. Nobody would be able to hack into the system and monitor this. Seven’s Borg algorithms came saw to that. “Locate the bio patterns for Cassidy and Caroline Priestly, using their last body scan or transporter buffer.”
Locating.
Janeway tapped her foot as the computer ran the scans.
“Cassidy and Caroline Priestly are located in Jefferies Tube thirty-four beta.”
“What are their vital signs?” Janeway held her breath, somehow knowing there would be bad news.
“Cassidy Priestly’s vital signs are normal, with slightly elevated breathing and heart rate. Caroline Priestly is unconscious and showing signs of respiratory distress.”

12

Miranda had never run this fast in her life. Seven had received information via some encrypted signal directly to her cortical implant and told her they’d located her girls. 
They reached the turbo lift, and again, it seemed to take them forever to reach the deck where her girls were. “What aren’t you telling me?” Miranda gasped, trying to catch her breath.
“I cannot tell you in an unsecure area. The computer states Cassidy as all right, but Caroline seems to be unconscious.”
“What?” Miranda fought the urge to double over as Seven’s words hit her like a blow to her solar plexus. “Un-unconscious?”
“I am sorry, Miranda. There was no easy way to disclose this.” Seven’s eyes were almost transparent and filled with anger. “We are going to find them and take them to sickbay.”
“Oh, Gods.” Miranda wondered if a mother’s heart could implode from sheer terror.
The lift door opened and she ran again behind Seven as she had only vague ideas of where they were going. Seven on the other hand knew exactly and it took them less than a minute to reach the correct Jefferies Tube hatch.
Seven pulled up a tricorder and scanned the hatch, as did Nash.
“Open it!” Miranda was ready to push them aside.
“We cannot risk any potential booby traps, Miranda,” Nash cautioned. “Remember your girls are on the other side. We need to be careful.”
The sound of running feet alerted them to Janeway and her team’s presence. 
“Report,” Janeway said, also out of breath.
“No signs of any explosives or wiring.” Seven pulled at the handle and opened the door. “I will go in. I’m the strongest here, physically, and can remove them the fastest.”
Miranda was about to object when Janeway placed a hand on her arm, gripping it. “She’s right, Miranda. Let her go in.” She turned to Seven. “Use caution,” she said, her lips tense.
“Of course.” Seven climbed inside.
Miranda bent to look, but saw nothing but the back of Seven as she crawled farther inside the tube. “What do you see, Seven?” she called out, her voice trembling.
“Give me a moment, Miranda,” Seven said calmly. She shifted sideways and spoke in a calm, yet urgent voice. There was further movement and a small, tousled figure dislodged and began crawling toward them.
“Cassidy…” Miranda held out her arms and her girl scrambled the last feet so fast she fell out of the Jeffries Tube and into her mother’s arms. “Bobbsey.” Miranda hugged her child tightly, her eyes still on Seven’s back farther into the tube. “Thank Gods you’re all right.”
“Mom, I’m so sorry.” The little girl cried into Miranda’s shoulder. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“Whatever for, darling?” Miranda turned her gaze to Cassidy’s tear-filled eyes. 
“Caro…I think she’s dead…and it’s all my fault!”

13

Seven ran her tricorder over the little girl who was lying in a fetal position along the bulkhead. Caroline was pale and showed no outward signs of life, but the instrument, albeit not a medical tricorder, showed the girl had a heart rate and was in fact breathing.
Behind her, a wail of utter pain and sorrow made Seven turn her head toward the exit. Cassidy was clinging to Miranda, crying that something her fault and Miranda in turn stared right at Seven, her blue eyes burning and brimming with tears.
“She is alive, but she needs medical attention. I am taking her to sickbay.” Seven didn’t wait for an answer, but called for site-to-site transport for her and Caroline.
The rematerialized, Caroline in her arms as she still knelt on the floor. Seven saw the Doctor hurry from his office area. She hoisted the child up on the main biobed. “I found her like this in a Jefferies Tube with her sister, who is in good shape physically.” Seven watched the Doctor scan Caroline.
“She is in the same state as Ms. Sachs,” he said. “We have to assume that she’s in the same kind of distress when it comes to sensory and auditory awareness.”
“Stasis?” Seven felt how she paled. This was going to kill Miranda. Who could do this to a child?
The Doctor hurried to the wall unit hosting the stasis chambers. He pulled one forward and opened the lid. “Place her here, please, Seven.”
Seven took Caroline in her arms. Fine tremors emanating from the girl. “Wait, Doctor, there is something happening.” She held Caroline closer and the tremors stopped. Experimentally she lowered Caroline to the biobed and as soon as she let go, the tremors started again.
The Doctor had been scanning her during Seven’s ministrations and now looked surprised. “This is baffling,” he said, rubbing his holographic chin. “She seems to respond favorably to the closeness of a human presence.”
The tingling sound of the transporter produced Miranda, Cassidy and Janeway.
“Caroline…” Miranda stepped forward and blinked in surprise when Seven put the child in her arms. 
“Hold her.” Seven nodded toward the Doctor. “Repeat your scan, Doctor.”
He did and now his eyebrows nearly met his nonexistent hairline. “Even better than when you held her. She must sense this is her mother’s embrace.”
“What are you talking about?” Miranda spoke in a low growl. “Explain her condition at once.”
“She’s really not dead?” Cassidy’s voice was shrill. Kathryn stepped up behind her and placed gentle hands on her shoulders. 
“No. She’s not dead. You kept her safe until we found you two.”
Cassidy pivoted and clung to Janeway, wrapping her arms around her waist.
“I have to perform some more scans and go deeper. From what Seven discovered, physical nearness for this child is making her relax. This affects her system in a beneficial manner. Her heart rate goes down to normal and her breathing becomes less shallow and less frequent. If this is the case with her…it begs the question how this benefits Ms. Sachs.”
Miranda rocked the daughter in her arms. “So, it’s the same poison?” Her gentle voice was a true sign of how furious and distraught she was. Seven had studied the impressive woman closely ever since she first met her and knew the nuances in her tone well by now. 
“Yes. That much I am certain of, but I will of course draw blood and make sure. The symptoms are identical.”
“Does this mean Andrea is suffering needlessly in her stasis chamber when the presence of a loved one might have eased her pain?” Miranda took two steps toward the Doctor.

14

Janeway let go of Cassidy and stepped in front of the Doctor, as it looked like Miranda was going to tear his holographic head off. “Now we have to do what is best for Caroline and Andy, and also focus on catching the culprits.” 
Miranda moved back to Caroline’s still body, pulling the little girl into her arms. 
“Doctor,” Janeway continued. “Is there any way we can provide the same physical nearness to Andy, to help with any potential anxiety? Obviously Miranda is the common denominator between the two, but having her care for both might stretch her too thin and perhaps not be enough.”
“My thoughts exactly,” the Doctor said, eyeing Miranda with caution. “When it comes to Ms. Sachs—to Andy—is there anyone else among you who are as close to her heart as Miranda?”
“Seven is very close to Andy, but I would say Cassidy.” Janeway looked over her shoulder to Seven. “And we need you to help with the investigation.”
“I can take care of Andy. I love her too.” Cassidy hiccupped, her cheeks still wet, but she walked up to the stasis chamber and placed a hand on the lid.
“Yes. You are. I’m going to let the Doctor work this problem out with your help, but I need to ask you a few questions first, honey.” Janeway pulled up a stool and sat down next to Cassidy, pulling her closer again. “Why did you leave your quarters?”
“We wanted to stay with Andy while mom was working. When Lt. Ayala was busy talking with you over the comm system, Caro and I snuck out through the ventilation shaft and into the Jefferies Tube.”
“All right. Then what happened?”
“We climbed several decks down in the tubes, to not let anyone see us. It started to hurt our knees, so we decided to see if the coast was clear and use the turbo lift down to sickbay.” Cassidy began to tremble. “When we climbed out, two men were coming out from another tube across the corridor. One had a tricorder and the other some sort of little box. Or a device. I don’t know.”
“Did you recognize them?”
“No. At least I don’t think so.” Cassidy frowned. “Anyway, we started running, and the one with the tricorder said something like ‘never mind, we don’t have to chase them, we find them easy enough by tracking them’. That’s when we realized we had to toss our comm badges. We ran and ran, took the turbo lift in up and down several decks. Tossed our comm badges in two different places and hid in a Jefferies tube far away from sickbay. We figured we got away.”
“Why didn’t you page us?” Janeway frowned.
“Oh. Right.” Cassidy was leaning against Janeway now, looking tired. “We tried. The comm badges kept making chirpy sounds. We even tried to make the computer help us, but it didn’t respond.”
Janeway realized the people in pursuit of the twins had to have used some local dampening field or scrambler. “So you were hiding?”
“Yes, we thought we’d wait some and stay in the tubes and try to find the bridge or sickbay. Caroline even had an idea we could cause a malfunctioning by kicking at the gel packs behind the hatches in the bulkhead. The big hatch toward the corridor opened and somebody tossed a package or something inside. Caroline crawled over to it—I think she meant to throw it back, but something sprayed her and she fainted right away. I thought sh-she died.”
“She didn’t. We’re going to help her and Andy too.” Janeway rocked Cassidy and looked at Seven, so furious at the callous people who balk at going after children. “Now, you stay here with your mother, sister and Andy. The Doctor will find a way for you to help Andy feel better.” Janeway lead Cassidy back to her mother and nodded solemnly to her. “I’ll keep you posted, Miranda.”
“I hold you to it.”

15

Kathryn and Seven ran more in depth scans with specialized Crime Scene Tricorder. Large and bulky, they were able to find skin epithelia, strands of hair, fingerprints and residues down to the molecular level.
“I read remnants of what has to be part of the toxin on the third beam, Kathryn,” Seven said, leaning in closer. 
“Watch it. We don’t know how potent this is.” Kathryn was working further in. 
“I am being very cautious. Anything else would be counterproductive.” Seven took a sample with the CST. “I am transmitting the result to sickbay as well as engineering.”
“Good. I’m doing the same here,” Kathryn said. “The explosion isn’t much of a mystery. My take on it is that they threw in the ‘box’ and this contained both the explosive device and the toxin. Anyone who potentially survived the blast would be incapacitated by the toxin.”
The Borg tubules in Seven’s left hand wiggled in wrath-filled anticipation. Once she got her hands on these individuals, she would unleash them to penetrate their necks if that was what it took. Kathryn would not like it, but as far as Seven was concerned, anyone who goes after children—be it the Borg or nameless terrorists, you had forfeited your existence.
“We’ve accomplished everything we can here.” Kathryn crawled toward Seven and halted next to her. “Are you all right?” She frowned.
“I am functioning at acceptable parameters, but I am angry.” Seven experienced deja vu when her anger and resentment got the better of her so many times in her dealings with Kathryn.
“I know you are. As am I. We will get these people. We’re in deep space, far from the nearest settlement. They have nowhere to go. I’ve made sure there is a ship wide lockdown, and those around sensitive areas, like sickbay, the bridge, the shuttle bays and so on, all have your eminent Borg encryption.”
This made Seven smile faintly. “Good.”
Kathryn crawled closer. “We will get this under control and the girls in sickbay will get better. I will make sure of it.” She pressed her lips to Seven’s. “We haven’t rested properly since this happened. I have a few hours left in me to keep going, but then we are going to have to rest for a few hours.” Cupping Seven’s neck, Kathryn massaged the rigid muscles there. “All right?”
“Very well.” Seven doubted she would manage to rest. “I merely—“
The Doctor to Admiral Janeway.
Janeway tapped her comm badge. “Janeway here. Go ahead.”
“Your presence I required in sickbay, admiral, and Seven’s too. Andy is awake and she is sure she knows how she was poisoned.”

16

Miranda had asked Cassidy to lay snuggled up against Caroline, to keep the otherwise agitated twin calm. Cassidy immediately gathered several pillows that she stacked to half sit next to her sister and not miss a thing as the Doctor lifted Andrea from the stasis chamber.
“M’randa?” Slurry, but with her eyes open and apparently not in too much discomfort,” Andrea looked over the Doctor’s shoulders at her lover and held out her hand.
“I’m right here, darling.” Miranda hurried to the other biobed. It was when they’d opened the stasis chamber to bring Andrea out to lie next to Cassidy, to see if that had the same effect as Miranda’s presences had on Caroline, that Andrea had shocked them all by opening her eyes and talking to them. “Take it easy until you find your bearings.” Miranda bent over Andrea and kissed her forehead and cheeks.
“I’m all right.” Frowning, Andrea looked over at the other biobed. “Caroline?” 
“She’s been poisoned too,” Miranda said, her voice catching. “As long as we hold her, the Doctor can stabilize her vital signs. We didn’t realize that about you. We may have hurt you more than necessary. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. All b-better now.” Andrea hugged her weakly. “Got to find the two busineschmen…”
“What?” Miranda couldn’t make out what Andrea was saying.
“From that space station where Nas wash. No. Where Nash was.” Coughing and beginning to show signs of distress, Andrea waved off the Doctor who immediately showed up with his scanner. “No! The two men. Businessmen, from the space station.”
“You recognized some men from the space station aboard the Brilliance?” Miranda tried to puzzle together what Andrea meant. “But Nash has been aboard for a long time now. Months. And these men only act now? Hm.”
“I overheard them, but didn’t know at the time what they meant.” Andrea insisted on sitting up. “Better. They talked about shipments, several times. The last time, it dawned on me that they might mean weapons or something like that. Like Maladorian. I wasn’t sure, but I tried to listen in more and I suppose they must’ve caught on to me, because that’s when my coffee tasted funny. Sweet, or something. I don’t use sweeteners.”
“They put something in your coffee.” Furious, Miranda gazed between Andrea and her daughter. “And when was this, darling?”
“Today. No. I mean, I began to feel ill pretty soon after I had the coffee. I went to collect the girls like we agreed and…I don’t remember so much after that other than flickering images from sickbay. From the stasis chamber.” She began looking distressed again and Miranda held Andrea close. “You’re doing much better now. Right, Doctor?”
“Yes, Miranda.” The Doctor managed to worm his scanner around Andrea, despite her being in Miranda’s arms. “The toxin is still there, but has somehow gone dormant. This means I cannot permit Andy to leave sickbay. Not until I can render it harmless or eradicate it. I took the liberty of paging the admiral and Seven.”
“Get Nash and Tal as well,” ordered Miranda. “I have an idea about these men and their true objective, but I want to know what the others think.” She kissed the top of Andrea’s head. “And you, my darling, will do what I never do, heed the Doctor’s warning. I cannot lose you or the girls. It’s as simple as that.”
Andrea cupped Miranda’s cheek, her fingers trembling a little. “I know.”
The door opened and let Janeway and Seven inside. Miranda was relieved to see them. Janeway had not only become a close friend, but she was also one of the very few people in Miranda’s life whom she dared to lean on when things went awry.
“Report,” Janeway barked and even her stern voice was reassuring.
“Doctor, we need more stools and chairs.” Miranda waved the newcomers over. “Tal and Nash are joining us.” She reached into Andrea’s bag who still sat by the stasis chamber. “Darling, you’re very good at drawing. Can you sketch the faces of the men you overheard talking? Don’t show the girls until you’re done.”
Janeway looked at them with new energy. “You’re on to something.”
Miranda turned to Janeway. “Yes. And if I’m right, this has everything to do with Maladorian and nothing to do with weapons.”

17

Janeway looked at the face of the two men that Andy had managed to sketch. One was human with narrow, hard eyes and full lips. His square jaw and high cheekbones made him ruggedly handsome, but he still wasn’t anyone she’d noticed aboard the Brilliance. Then again, one face among five thousand…impossible odds.
The other man seemed to be half K’tarian. Like Naomi Wildman, whose human mother had served aboard Voyager, had the same protruding spikes on her forehead as this man. He also boasted full lips and there was something cruel about his mouth, something disdainful. This man looked familiar, somehow.
“We need to get these sketches out to every security officer.” Janeway raised her hand to forestall Miranda’s objections. “We have nothing that proves any of the Brilliance’s crew has anything to do with these two. They seem to operate alone, or perhaps with other civilians, I’m not sure.” She motioned for Miranda to speak. “Can you tell me what you mean by this being Maladorian’s handiwork, but that it didn’t have anything to do with his arms dealing?”
“He’s going after my family. It’s personal. I took Tal, and then Nash, away from his inner circle. He must have some connections in a very high position within the Federation if he knows I’m more than a mere fashion editor. Soon his henchmen will go after my family, or me, or perhaps one of you as you are also my friends. I can’t prove this, but I know it.”
“I don’t disagree,” Nash said, tossing her long braid over her shoulder. “Maladorian is known to hold a grudge forever. If you cross him, there is no going back. You’re his enemy. Simple as that.”
“Do you have family or friends that might be in danger?” Miranda asked.
“My family is right here.” Nash placed a hand on Tal’s arm. “If he hurts her, he’s a dead man.”
“Yes. He is.” Miranda was pale, but her blue eyes glimmered of something dark and dangerous. “He went after the ones I love the most. He’s forfeited—“
“It’s when we turn this into a personal vendetta and lose focus that he wins.” Janeway interrupted Miranda’s words of cold fury. “We need to come up with a plan how to take these men into custody and also to deal with Maladorian and his people once and for all. Going off on a half-cocked mission of personal revenge is probably what he’s hoping for. If we allow ourselves to take a step back and remain cool and collected, we’ll get him.”
“Cool and collected?” Miranda rose, agitation and nerves obviously making it hard for her to sit still. “How can you even think I can sit idly by— “I don’t think you should do that at all.” Janeway rose as well. “Listen to me. You have a brilliant tactical mind and so has Seven. I’m not half bad and neither are Nash and Tal. If we pull our resources, I bet we can come up with a plan that catches him with his pants around his ankles. He won’t see us coming.”
“Precisely.” Seven nodded. “We should not capture these two men to begin with, but instead let them assume they succeeded in their endeavor.”
“What do you mean?” Miranda turned and glared at Seven.
“We should put out a message that we will hold a memorial service for Caroline Priestly and jettison her body in a photon torpedo shell.”

 

18

“What?” Miranda couldn’t believe her ears. “Are you insane?”
“I assure you, Miranda; I am of sound mind and body.” Seven didn’t falter. “We will move Caroline and Cassidy to secure quarters aboard one of the larger shuttles and place a force field around them. We can blame Andrea’s absence on how she must care for Caroline and also that she’s still recuperating.”
Miranda began to understand. She could inhale a little easier with each new breath. “And my girls stay on this force field protected shuttle with security personnel and medical professionals.” She tapped her lower lip and sat down again next to Andrea’s biobed. “And then what?”
“Andrea will be our bait.” Seven kept standing and Miranda could practically see her brilliant mind working. “Having made a recovery, she is now all you have to live for together with Cassidy. We will spread the rumor that Cassidy is suffering a major depression after losing her twin and is being treated in your quarters by the Doctor. This makes Andrea the prime target and you as well.”
“We can set up new and tighter surveillance of subspace transmissions,” Janeway said. “This way, we can intercept any messages to and from Maladorian regarding their new orders. If there is no such transmission, we will have to assume that they’ve already received the orders they need at any contingency.”
“It’s not too hard to figure out. He wants me to first back off and lower my guard and make it easier for him to kill me.” Miranda shook her head and took Andrea’s hand. “Are you up for this playacting, darling?” she asked, looking worriedly at her young lover.
“To keep you and the girls safe, I’ll do anything. You know that.” Andrea spoke somberly. “If they possess more of the toxin or the explosive, we shouldn’t limit ourselves into thinking they will only go after us. You need to put some safety measures in place to protect the civilians.”
Miranda nodded and turned to Janeway. “She’s right. What about some fire drills? This way we can be somewhat prepared how long it takes for us to shift the civilians to the safe areas in case we need to separate the disk from the propulsion part of the ship.”
“Yet another good idea.” Janeway kept tapping at her dataPADD, taking notes as one after another, the women sitting next to Andrea’s biobed came up with ideas.
Eventually, it seemed they had a plan. Miranda’s heart was trembling in her chest when she considered of having to attend her own daughter’s fake funeral. She had to couch Cassidy on how to act during the service and it wasn’t that her daughter wasn’t bright enough to pull it off. She had been through a lot the last few days. This was more than any child should have to deal with.
“She will be all right. I will make sure Caroline knows I’m with her. It will work, Miranda. We’ll get them. And Maladorian.” Andrea wrapped her arms around Miranda’s neck. “I love you,” she whispered. “Now go make preparations with Kathryn and the others. I’ll tend to the girls.”
“You can barely sit up,” Miranda said, still so very worried about Andrea who looked so pale.
“That may be, but I can still hold our girls in my arms, even if I have to lie down.”
This made Miranda smile for the first time in days. Trust Andrea to manage this as well.

19

Shuttle bay One was packed with people wanting to offer their condolences to Miranda. Seven stood to her left as Kathryn held the eulogy next to the photon torpedo casing. Knowing how good at acting Kathryn could be; Seven had seen this during a number of negotiations, it was still eerie to observe how pale her lover looked as she spoke of Caroline Priestly. 
As she glanced at the crowd, Seven wondered if the two men responsible for this charade were present. If they did, and if they were suspicious enough to scan the torpedo shell, they would find readings of a dead person of Caroline’s size in there. The fact that this was entirely manufactured by a holo-emitter paired with some Borg ingenuity was undetectable by a regular scanner.
Miranda looked stoic, but her face was stark white, and her blue eyes brimmed with tears. No doubt, she envisioned this nightmarish scene being authentic. Seven had to swallow hard as well when she thought of the two girls tucked into a big bed with Seven under strict surveillance. Last Seven saw them; Andrea had lain in the middle with Cassidy snuggled up next to her as she cradled Caroline’s semi-unconscious form. Seven had programmed the computer to answer accordingly if anyone managed to perform a ship wide search for any of the three on the bed.
“And now, we commit Caroline Priestly to the vast unknown, where her remains will be conserved by space for all eternity. Her mind and soul will remain with us until we find the one who stole her young life and forever changed the lives of her mother and twin sister. Once we know the truth, we hope Caroline will be at peace. For the rest of us, this healing has only begun.” Kathryn stepped to the side and let the four ensigns responsible for the torpedo shell step forward. They moved the hover frame carry the shell to the airlock. There everything went automatically and soon it jettisoned the empty shell into space.
“Thank you, everyone, for joining Miranda Priestly and us during this sad event,” Kathryn said and let her gaze wandering among the attendants. “I want to take this opportunity to also ask all of you to be very careful, especially around people you don’t know.”
People started to leave and some of the senior fleet officers stopped by and gave Miranda their condolences. Seven soon saw the signs of this becoming too much for her. Miranda started to tremble and her lips grew paler and thinner by the second.
“This is it for now. I am taking you to Cassidy.” Nodding pointedly at Kathryn, Seven put an arm around Miranda’s shoulders and led her toward the smaller turbo lift at the far end of the shuttle bay. “Here. This will take us there in less than two point four minutes.”
“Thank you.” Miranda drew a deep breath and startled Seven by wrapping her arms around her neck. “Seven. That was perfectly horrible.”
Unaccustomed for other people than Kathryn to ever touch her, not counting the twins and Naomi Wildman, Seven still found it natural to stroke Miranda’s back. “We will soon be with both your girls and Andrea. There you will shake the feeling that this might have been real.” She shuddered. “As will I.”
“You felt it too?” Miranda let go and looked up at Seven.”
“I did.”
“Awful. Absolutely awful.”
“Yes.” The lift stopped and Seven made sure the corridor was empty before they exited it. “Four doors down to the right.”
“Am I silly to fear they won’t be there when I walk inside?” Miranda wiped her hands on her trousers.
“Not at all.”
With slow, jerky movements, Miranda punched in the security code for her girls’ quarters.

20

The first sign of trouble were the unconscious security officers on the floor inside the door. Miranda grabbed for her phaser and scanned the room. Her girls laid clinging together on the bed, Cassidy alert and Caroline looking dazed and groggy. Andrea was nowhere in sight.
“What happened?” Miranda said, rushing forward to the girls as Seven moved to secure the rest of the room while calling security and Janeway.
“D-don’t touch us, Mom.” Cassidy was trembling, but not moving. 
Miranda frowned. “What’s going on?”
“The men. They transported in. Shot the guards. Did something to the Doctor and took Andy.”
“Why can’t I touch you?”
Cassidy blinked back tears. “They put something in the bed and I heard the K’tarian say to the other one that you’d get a nasty surprise once you got here.”
“Seven. Your tricorder.” Miranda snapped her head to her friend. “Or better yet, you scan the bed and my girls.” She was so upset now, she was shaking. The scan would not be accurate and might actually trigger something if she tried it.
Seven scanned the bed and stopped as the tricorder beeped insistently. “Miranda, there is a high yield explosive on the right side of Caroline, right next to her hip. If we move either them or the bed cover, it will go off.”
“Gods.” Her knees weakening, Miranda feared she might faint. Seconds later, the universe righted itself and the fuzzy grey edges of her field of vision went away. “Send out a ship wide notice about Andrea’s disappearance.”
“Belay that.” Janeway entered the quarters. “Are they dead?” She motioned for the security officers on the floor.
“Stunned. Medical staff is en route.” Seven walked over to her. “We are dealing with the same type of explosives as we encountered in the Jefferies Tube.”
“Why aren’t you going to look for Andrea?” Miranda interrupted. 
“Because I they just found her in a turbo lift. Security personnel are there…taking care of her.”
“Is she all right?” Miranda spoke with tense lips, expecting the worst. 
“She is all right, but she has a device strapped to her upper body, no doubt of the same make that’s in your daughter’s bed.”

21

Janeway saw the last of the color drain from Miranda’s face and this time, she knew the woman would pass out. She moved quickly and pushed Miranda into a chair. “Head down between your knees, Miranda. Now.”
Miranda’s breath came in staccato, shallow gushes. “I c-can’t take it.” Her voice was barely audible.
“Mom?” One of the girls spoke in a shrill voice. “Mom?”
“You must remain still, Cassidy,” Seven said and sat down next to the bed. “You cannot shift, even if I understand you wish you tend to your mother. She is upset that you and Andrea are in jeopardy. If you listen to me and do as I say, I will have you both out of the bed safely.”
Amazed at how calm and reassuring Seven sounded, Janeway kept Miranda bent over for yet another twenty seconds before she allowed her to sit up.
“Andrea?”
“We haven’t heard anything, which is good.”
“No explosion you mean?” A twin piped up again from the bed.
“No, that’s not what I meant, exactly.” Janeway winced at how her words could be interpreted. “I meant, my security personnel are experts and they’re working on freeing her, like Seven is doing here.” She stood after giving Miranda a stern glance. “Remain seated. I mean it. You cannot disrupt the girls.”
“I hear you.”
Walking over to Seven who carefully folded back the blankets from the foot of the bed and up, she took over the tricorder. “You’re doing fine. I say you can keep doing that for forty-five centimeters more. By then you’re ten centimeters away from the charge.”
“Understood.” Seven peeled the covers up and off the girls by rolling it slowly. “I am going to need a plasma coolant aerosol. We should all wear protective masks.”
Janeway glanced at a security officer behind her. “Do it.”
“Aye, ma’am.” He left the quarters for a moment and then returned. “ETA of the equipment in two minutes, Admiral.”
Nodding, Janeway turned to keep scanning when her comm badge beeped. “Take over, Ensign.” She handed the security officer the tricorder and stepped out into the corridor before responding.
“Janeway here.”
“Admiral,” a male voice said, “we have managed to remove the vest of Ms. Sachs, but we’re not being as successful with the collar.”
“Excuse me? Did you say collar?” Janeway pressed a hand to the back of her neck.
“Yes, Admiral. The perpetrator has booby-trapped what looks like a regular dog’s collar and we cannot detach it without risking...”
…decapitating her. Janeway finished his grim sentence and blue-tipped fury seared through her. “I’m going to join you. Keep her calm until I get there.” She had an idea how Andrea could still be saved, but if it failed, Janeway didn’t want anyone else to be responsible, but herself. The risk was far too great.

22

Andy tried to remain calm, but the cramped area in the turbo lift and the urgency around her as the man and woman from security tried to free her from the damn bomb, was making her tremble.
“Move aside,” a throaty voice said and Andy wanted to weep when she saw Janeway. The admiral stepped inside the turbo lift, wearing protective gear and carrying some, probably intended for Andy.
“Hello there,” Janeway said softly and knelt next to Andy. “Here. Let’s get this on.” She held up the vest.
“Why?” Andy spoke through clattering teeth. “If this thing on my neck goes off, that won’t do me any good.”
“Humor me.” Janeway helped ease Andy into the vest. “Now let’s see what we have here.” She scanned and inspected the collar. “Was it the same men as before?” she asked by way of conversation. 
“Yes. I don’t get how they can move about the Brilliance and not get caught. Especially the K’tarian. I haven’t seen many of them aboard since we left San Francisco.” 
“Neither have I.” Janeway stopped working for two seconds. “Now there’s a thought. Thank you.”
“For what?” Wearily, Andy sat with her head tipped backward. “Please tell me Miranda doesn’t know about this? The collar?”
“She does, I’m afraid.” Janeway looked at her with sympathy. “Did you see what went on at the quarters before they took you away?”
“No. One man beamed away with me instantly. The other…” She flinched, making Janeway hold up a warning hand. “The girls? Did they do anything to Cassidy and Caroline?”
Janeway looked like she debated whether to level with Andy or not.
“Tell me. Please. I won’t freak out and set this thing off, I promise. Kathryn?”
“There is a similar device as this next to the girls under the covers. Seven is dealing with it.”
“Oh, Gods,” Andy whispered. “And Miranda?”
“Isn’t doing so well. Frightened for her daughters and heartsick that she can’t be with you.”
“Oh, no. Poor Miranda. She loathes being helpless. This will not bode well for those guys once she gets her hands on them. They’re going to regret it, no matter the outcome.”
“The outcome is going to be great. I forbid you to consider any other option.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Smiling wanly, Andy tried to stay positive, but all she envisioned was two scared girls right next to a bomb. She prayed Seven would yet again come through, like she had so many times aboard Voyager.
“I’m down to the last two circuits.” Janeway was perspiring, small beads of sweat forming on her forehead. 
“Wait, wait.” Andy held up a hand. “What if it’s the wrong one? What happens to you?”
Janeway looked astonished. “It’s not the wrong one. We’re both going to be fine. Both of us.”
“Kathryn, listen to me.” Andy spoke urgently. “Align the instrument and give it to me. Show me what sensor to push and then get out of here.”
Janeway looked shocked. “I most certainly will not.”
“Yes, you will. For my sake. For Seven’s sake. You will give me the instrument once you’ve aligned it and tell me where to push. I mean it.” She gazed firmly at Janeway, not trembling at all. “Show me.”
Subdued, Janeway seemed to realize Andy wasn’t going to give in. “Very well.” She worked some more on the circuits, held the instrument still, and had Andy raise her hand to it. Placing Andy’s fingers on the right setting, she bent and kissed her forehead. “Press all three sensors at once when you’re ready. It will be fine.”
“Okay.” Andy watched Janeway pull back. The turbo lift doors closed and she heard the melodic sound of a force field slamming in place. She took a deep breath. “Computer. Record private message for Miranda Priestly.”
Recording.” 
“Miranda, I’m about to try and fix this damn collar. I’m trying my best not to freak out and I really, really want to be back in your arms at this point. I pray the girls are safe and sound soon. If I screw this up, and I’ll try not to, know that I loveyou. You and the girls are my family, my everything. I wanted you to know that. End recording. Send message to Miranda Priestly if I expire.”
The computer beeped its confirmation. Andy smiled wistfully and pressed the sensors.

23

Miranda hugged herself where she knelt on the floor next to the bed where her girl was trying to not move a muscle. It had been about fifteen minutes since Kathryn left, but it felt like hours. 
“Is Andy going to be all right, Mom?” Cassidy whispered. Her eyes followed Seven’s every move. 
“Of course she is.” Miranda did her best to convince herself of these words as well. “Kathryn is there to help her. She won’t let anything happen to Andy.”
“Just like Seven is helping us.” 
“I will now remove Cassidy from the bed as she is farthest from the device.” Seven motioned for Miranda to move back and give her space. “Once she is away from the bed, I want you to carry her to the corridor, behind the force field.”
Miranda wanted to object that she couldn’t leave Caroline, but knew she had to make sure Cassidy would be safe, or she may lose all of her children. “Understood.”
Slowly, Seven pealed the covers back from Cassidy and placed them on top of Caroline. “When I pull you toward me, you must not try to grab your sister,” she cautioned Cassidy. “You must be unmoving and limp, and do exactly what I tell you. I will make sure you understand so do not worry about making a mistake. You will be fine.”
Cassidy swallowed hard. “Yes, Seven.”
Miranda did her own fair share of swallowing. Once Seven had freed one of her children from the covers, she pushed her hands underneath Cassidy and tugged the little girl toward her. Miranda knew Seven’s superior physical strength made the maneuver easy, but she still bit the inside of her cheek until she tasted blood.
“Straighten your arm and flatten it against the bed.” Gently, Seven eased Cassidy free off her sister and handed her over to Miranda. “Go.”
Miranda looked into the eyes of her remaining daughter and saw how Caroline struggled to keep from shaking as the toxins still caused havoc with her system. Now with her sister not there to hold her, she was close to convulsing.
“Get her out, Seven. Please.” 
“Go!” Seven didn’t lift her gaze anymore to Miranda, but her voice left no room for misunderstanding.
Miranda rushed out the door, the guards ushering them forward and closing the force field behind them. She tore free from the proffered hands of support and sank to the floor with her child clinging to her neck.
“Mom, Mom, I shouldn’t have left her.” Crying, Cassidy clung to her. “She was shaking and that’s going to set the bomb off and she’s going to…and Seven who’s trying to save her. What if they…?” Her voice broke and she sobbed inconsolably against Miranda’s neck. 
“Seven will get your sister out of there. Caroline will rejoin us and she’ll recover from the toxin, like Andrea did.” The thought of her lover, the young woman whom she loved against all odds, made Miranda shiver. She told herself they would all survive this and once they had, the hunt was on. No matter what, there would be nowhere for these two men to hide.
Then her world crumbled around her an explosion tore through the door of the quarters she just left. The force field stopped it from reaching them, but everything behind it was pulverized.

24

Janeway pushed herself through the door to the turbo lift and down next to the sobbing young woman. Tears of shock and relief poured down Andy’s face and after removing the now harmless collar, Janeway pulled her into her arms. 
“You’re fine. You’re all right, Andy. I have you.”
“Oh, Gods, Kathryn. I—I thought…” Gasping, Andy clung to her. “It’s all gone. All of it?”
“All of it. Can you stand? We have to get you somewhere safe.”
“Safe?” Andy laughed, a shrill, hollow sound. “I’ve been locked up in secret quarters with your best guards. There’s nothing left that’s safe.
Janeway didn’t blame Andy for feeling like that. “Listen. I’m not going to let either you or the others out of my sight until we’ve caught these men. If they want to get their hands on you, or the twins, they have to go through me.” 
“Wow. Now that tone I have more faith in.” Andy looked up at Janeway. “I can get up now.”
“Good. Come on.” Janeway pulled her up and kept a close eye on her so she didn’t faint. “We need to get back to the girls and Miranda—”
A distant rumble caused reverberations traveling through the deck plates. Andy grabbed Janeway’s arms in a vice-like grip. “Th-the girls?”
“Janeway to Seven of Nine.” Janeway’s blood ran cold through her veins, chilling every part of her. “Seven, respond. Seven!” Pushing her fingers through her hair, Janeway tapped her foot as stress permeated her. “Janeway to Seven, come in.” Nothing. “Janeway to Miranda Priestly.”
“Kathryn?” Miranda’s voice was barely recognizable. In the background she heard the voice of a sobbing child.
“One of the girls…just the one?” Andy pressed her hand over her throat where she’d carried a bomb only moments ago. “Which one?”
“Report, Miranda,” Janeway barked, hoping to reach the dazed woman on the other end.
“Seven saved Cassidy. She was working on Caro-Caroline, when the bomb in the bed went off.” Miranda sounded like a woman without hope. Janeway knew how she felt, but she wasn’t prepared to accept it.
“Computer. Site-to-site transport to the location of Miranda Priestly for two.” She pulled Andrea who didn’t have her comm badge on, closer as the tingling sensation of the transporter took hold.
The mayhem that met them was discouraging. Andy fell to her knees next to Miranda and that was when Janeway realized she had not told Miranda her lover was all right.
“Andrea!” Miranda and Cassidy held on to her like they were drowning and she alone could save them.
“Oh, Miranda,” Andy cried, hugging both of them.
“Report,” Janeway barked as her heart shattered in her chest. The complete destruction of the quarters spoke for itself.
“We’ve tried our tricorders, ma’am, but they don’t work due to the residue in the air. Neither do our comm badges. I sent Crewman Peters to alert the medics and repair crews from the closest working comm console.”
“Good.” From where Janeway stood, she saw straight into space through the corridor bulkhead and into the destroyed quarters. Inside, the woman she loved beyond anything and everything, had given her life to try and save a child. Janeway moaned quietly, but harnessed her pain. There was still work to do. She would fall apart later and never recover. This was an undeniable fact.
“Are the emergency force fields in place?” she asked unnecessarily, but she had to focus on details or she would lose it. There was no debris floating outside the Brilliance, which meant the force field contained the explosion.
“Yes, ma’am, we—oh!” the ensign’s eyes grew huge as he stared at something behind her. “Admiral! Look!”
Janeway pivoted and stared in disbelief, sure she was hallucinating right along the ensign. From what she saw, a tall, blonde woman stood in what used to be the doorway, carrying a listless child in her arms. “S-Seven?” Janeway whispered. 
The woman heard her, because she turned her head a looked at Janeway with dazed eyes. The child didn’t move, but Janeway saw her breathing. How was this possible? After another moment of utter shock, Janeway began moving toward Seven and her burden. “Lower the inner part of the force field,” she ordered and a few long steps later she hugged both Seven and the child tightly. “Oh, Gods, Seven. Darling, I was sure you died in there.”
“We almost did.” Seven staggered sideways. “I must admit, my hearing on my human ear seems to be detrimentally affected. I also need to sit down.” This last part came out with disgust, which made Janeway give a broken chuckle.
“Come. Over here.” Janeway led Seven over to where Miranda was sitting with Andy and Cassidy tucked against her, so wrapped up in a mother’s grief, she hadn’t noticed what was going on. “Miranda. Miranda!” Janeway knelt next to Seven who had simply slid to the floor next to them. She shook Miranda’s leg and had to pinch her to break through her agony. “Seven and Caroline are here. They are not dead.”
Miranda’s red eyes blinked at her, in total bewilderment. “What?”
Andy and Cassidy reacted faster. “Caro!” Cassidy pulled her sister toward her and cradled her in her arms. “Caro, Caro, Caro…” She cried and rocked her sister. “Oh, please open your eyes. Please, please…”
Andy placed a gentle hand on Miranda’s cheek and forced her to look down at both her daughters. “Look, Miranda. They’re both here now. Look.”
Miranda looked for a few moments longer and life began to seep back into her system before their very eyes. Her skin flushed, her eyes went from dull grey to bright blue, and she hugged her daughters close. All three of them fell into Andy’s arms. 
As soon as Caroline was no longer in Seven’s care, Janeway wrapped her arms around her again and held her like she would never let her go again. “How did you manage this? You truly are my miracle, Seven, do you realize that?”
“I do not, but I am pleased I was able to use my Borg implants to erect an emergency force field bubble around Caroline and myself. I was not certain it would hold, but it did. I was unable to prevent the damage done to our ears.”
“The Doctor can repair busted eardrums. That can be fixed. The most important thing for all of us is that you saved the two of you. You’re amazing. Wonderful, beautiful, amazing—I said that already, didn’t I?” Janeway laughed, her nerves collapsing as she spoke. Her laughter somehow changed into crying. Tears streamed down her cheeks and only the fact that she was in Seven’s arms made her think she could survive a scare like this one.
“Holy shit,” a voice said from behind, making Janeway glance over her shoulder.
Nash and Tal stood there, eyes huge as they regarded the destruction. “You all right? All of you?” Mouth agape, Tal leaned into Nash. “That’s amazing.”
“We can celebrate later,” Nash said somberly. “I have worked with your eminent computers to run some scans. You will find my theory very interesting—and very rewarding.”
Janeway sat up, but didn’t let go of Seven, not yet. “Go on.”
Nash nudged Tal. “You tell them. It was your hunch.”
Tal blushed. “All right. I kept thinking there was something familiar about one of the faces of the men in the portraits Andy drew. Oddly enough not the human man, but the K’tarian. So we worked on the sketches and ran them against the database afterward.” She took a deep breath. “The computer states there is a 94% chance the K’tarian is Maladorian himself.”

 

25

Janeway stood together with Seven; her hand still nestled at the small of her back. “Have you confirmed these results?” she asked gravely.
“Three times.” Tal handed Janeway a data PADD. “It’s him.”
“And he’s on my ship. Attacking people in my care.” The blood drained from her cheeks as Janeway turned to Seven. “Now that we have this information, is there any chance you can device a search algorithm for these men?”
“Yes.” Speaking in her usual sonorous voice, Seven squared her shoulders, clasping her hands behind her back. Janeway, who still was holding on to her lover, patted her hands. 
“Good. Do it. I can think of one place for these three to be safe,” Janeway continued, motioning toward Andy, Caroline and Cassidy. “We’re taking them with us to the bridge and erect level ten force fields.”
“That didn’t do much good last time,” Miranda objected and rose as well. She stood among her children and Andy, her eyes calmer now, but with a flat, eerie expression flickering over them every few moments. This was a woman pushed to her limits when it came to personal torment. She should take Miranda out of the equation and continue without her, but this might shove Miranda over the edge. 
“You don’t understand, Miranda.” Janeway looked at the pale faces of the three people on the floor. “We will erect force fields around the bridge, yes, but we will also use Seven’s special programs and do so with each individual. Each one of Caroline, Cassidy and Andy will have their own force field contouring along their outline. Even if Maladorian beams onto the bridge and fires, he won’t penetrate their force fields, nor will he be able to grab them or beam them off the ship. I have a hunch that is his next mission, once he figures out this one failed.”
Miranda mulled this over. “All right. But I won’t let them out of my sight until he’s caught.”
“I understand that.” Oh, did she ever. She glanced over at Seven who was already working on a station further down the corridor. “I suggest we all move to the bridge. If we help these three over to Seven, we can all beam site-to-site.”
Janeway bent and helped Cassidy to her feet as one of the guards lifted Caroline in his arms. Andy insisted on walking on her own, supported by Miranda. Janeway knew she wouldn’t exhale until they rematerialized on the bridge.


xxxXXXxxx


Miranda wondered how long she would have to live with the ice cold knot in the pit of her stomach. She only had to look at her children or Andrea, and the fear of losing them made it impossible to breathe.
The bridge had visitor’s chairs along one of the bulkheads and here Cassidy and Andrea sat while Caroline was still reclining with her head in Andrea’s lap. Miranda barely saw the faint shimmer against their skin, but it was there. This was the only reason Miranda was able to function at all. If someone other than herself, Janeway, or Seven, tried to touch these three, the force field would render them unconscious.
“I have a location for the human masked as a K’tarian.” Seven spoke curtly. “I suggest I go with a small security detail to not alert them of our findings.”
Janeway seemed reluctant, but Miranda knew Seven’s plan was sound.
“How about erecting a personal shield for yourself?” Miranda said, tilting her head. “Just to be safe.”
Seven looked like she meant to object, but glanced at Janeway, which made her features softened marginally. “Very well.”
“Thank you,” Janeway mouthed and together with Miranda she watched Seven and three security officers leave the bridge. 


xxxXXXxxx


Seven moved along the corridor toward the aft mess hall, an establishment mainly frequented by the maintenance personnel from the lower decks. They were a special breed, Kathryn maintained, who liked to keep amongst themselves. Working in the bowels of the Brilliance was something they took great pride in and they didn’t blend well with the rest of the crowd most of the time.
No wonder Maladorian had found it so much easier to hide here. Security had search this deck, but that was before they had more information about him. The Brilliance with its huge crew compliment and passengers possessed many places to hide. 
“According to our scans, he’s in the far left of the bar area together with another human male.” Lt. Treville said, her eyes narrow slits. “I recommend that Tebek and Jumira cover the starboard exit if they run.”
“Affirmative. Set your phasers to heavy stun. We want him alive if attainable.” Seven raised her weapon for emphasis. “However, if they appear determined to put someone else’s life at risk, do what needs to be done, no matter what.”
Treville and the two mail security officers nodded. The two men took off toward the starboard exit and after two minutes, two discreet clicks from Seven’s comm badge confirmed they were in place. She sent two clicks back and entered the mess hall with Treville; their weapon’s obscured between them.
At the far end of the bar, the two men sat together, focused on a data PADD between them on the counter. Seven strode toward them, not about to let them get the upper hand by discovering her first. 
As the human man glanced up and went rigid, the K’tarian hoisted a disruptor of unknown origin and directed it at Seven. 
“I suggest you refrain from firing,” Seven said. “You have three other phasers directed at you.”
“At least I’ll get the pleasure of knowing I take you with me,” Maladorian said with an ugly sneer.”
“And this is where your reasoning is flawed, Maladorian.” Seven had to hide a smirk at his stunned expression. “Yes, we are aware of your identity.” She saw him fire his disruptor, felt it impact with her force field, which held perfectly. Both men flew off their chairs as the heavy stun phaser beams hit them from two directions.
“Seven of Nine to Janeway.”
“Janeway here. Report.” A faint tremor in Kathryn’s voice was the only evidence of her emotions.
“Subjects are identified and rendered harmless. Ensigns Tebek and Jumira are placing them in maximum security restraints.”
“Take them to the bridge.” Kathryn paused briefly. “Well done, everybody. Well done.”


xxxXXXxxx


Miranda stood before the two maximum security cells, guarded by triple force fields and two security officers each. Janeway wasn’t taking any chances, and not only with them attempting to break free, but with someone like Miranda who wanted to see them suffer and die a slow, agonizing death.
“Ah. Ms. Priestly. Fashionista and spy all wrapped up into one lovely package.” Maladorian stood, his true human appearance restored by the Doctor. He was a handsome, burly man, and Miranda had never hated anyone more.
“Maladorian. Nice to see you locked up where you belong.”
“Oh, I’m not worried.” He chuckled. “This won’t last long.” He motioned around him at the stark cell. “Can’t say it’s my style of living.”
“I would enjoy it as long as I could if I were you. I overheard Janeway talk to her superior officers via subspace. They’re talking maximum security storage for you. You know? One of those asteroid facilities where everything is concrete, rock, and impenetrable metal alloys. Makes the brig here look like Risa in comparison, doesn’t it?”
Maladorian’s face changed into a foul sneer. “You bitch. If you think I don’t have contingency plans and will be far gone before anyone places me anywhere—
“Contingency plans?” Miranda tapped her chin. “Hm. Oh, right. You’re referring to the armada of fifteen or so attack craft that were; with the emphasis on were hiding behind a nebula two parsecs from here?” She chuckled. “I wouldn’t count on them. The Enterprise happened to be in the neighborhood and Jean-Luc is an old friend of mine, so he took care of that for me. The attack craft didn’t have much to offer to when facing the flagship in combat.” She shook her head in mock sorrow. “Seven of Nine and the Brilliance’s chief engineer found the rest of the small explosives you planted around the ship in very strategic places. You did a good job masking their location, I’ll give you that, but you hadn’t counted on the ingenuity of our Borg.” Miranda wasn’t going to reveal how Seven had scanned for Maladorian and his cohort in crime’s DNA rather than any masked devices. That should be something for them to ponder. If she couldn’t kill them, she would at least mess with their minds.
“Just you wait,” Maladorian hissed. “You assume you have Nash’s full cooperation, but I know better. If you stupid enough to trust her, think again. She only cares about herself and whoever pays her the best. And I have always paid that woman handsomely.”
“Nash Forster is no longer part of your organization, but, you know, some among your organization might still consider she’s your right hand. You haven’t told anyone she went AWOL and sided with your enemy, have you? Didn’t you find it pretty embarrassing that the woman you kept so close, but not as close as you’d hoped as she never became your lover, betrayed you? I think so. Maybe you told the truth to one or two, but all in all, the vast part of your network will still assume Nash Forster is the one they turn to when you are unavailable. You can see where this might be good for the success of my mission. This way I’ll take you and your organization down with ease. We’ll send in Forster and Celes, they take over the operation and start dismantling it as they send your people straight into the loving arms of the Federation authorities. I’ll make sure you have at least some means of following the news casts. Wouldn’t want you to miss out on it all. That’d be inhumane.”
Miranda stood there, watching as the man before her disintegrated with rage. He shouted obscenities that even the universal translator couldn’t keep up with and his face was now a dark plum color. Very unbecoming.
Turning, Miranda walked out of the brig, knowing she would not go back. She’d achieved what she came to do and now all she wanted was to rejoin her girls and Andrea. She longed to curl up with them on the large bed in their quarters. Once Caroline recuperated they would spend a few days in one of the holodecks at a beach on a tropical island.
Hurrying, the last of the ice in her belly melted away. All Miranda had to do was focus on her family and she would be all right. 

Epilogue

Kathryn stood inside the door to their quarters and watched the tall, statuesque blond over by the view port. Seven nodded wordlessly and reached out her hand. “Kathryn.”
“Seven.” Kathryn closed the distance with long strides and took the proffered hand. Seven’s human hand. Quickly she took the Borg hand as well and squeezed it.
“I cannot thank you enough for all you’ve done over the last few days.”
Seven blinked. “I thought you might be displeased that I did not connect the evidence sooner.”
“What?” Kathryn pulled Seven into her arms. “Oh, darling, no. No. You are the reason Andrea and the twins are alive, and the rest of us not in the hands of Maladorian and his cohorts. We owe you everything, Seven. Don’t ever doubt that.”
“You are certain?” Seven was trembling. “I—I could not bear to disappoint you, Kathryn.”
“You never do.” Kathryn pulled Seven’s head toward her and kissed her full lips. She parted them decisively, knowing she needed the closeness as much as Seven needed reassuring. “I love you, Annika.” She rarely used Seven’s given name, but this was one of the rare times it felt natural. “With all my heart, I love you.”
“I love you too, Kathryn.” Seven kissed down Kathryn’s neck and began to unclasp her uniform. “And I need you.”
“Oh, Gods, Seven. I need you too. It’s been so long.” Kathryn trembled under Seven’s skilled hands. Soon all her clothes pooled around her feet and she did her best to tear Seven’s uniform from her lithe body.
“Allow me,” Seven said, smiling. She removed the last of her garments and lifted Kathryn, one arm under her knees and one behind her back. “Bed?”
“Most certainly.” Kathryn clung to Seven and buried her face in her neck, using one hand to pull out the two pins that held the blond hair in an austere twist.
The bed, their bed, was as soft and welcoming as Kathryn remembered. The notion of how close it had been for her to have to sleep alone forever made Kathryn shudder and she pushed it away, out of her mind. Seven was alive; she was herewhere she belonged. It had taken them years to confess to love and to act on their feelings. Nothing was going to destroy that. Nothing.
Seven shifted, moved in between Kathryn’s legs and began devouring her with the perfect fervor. She tugged at Kathryn’s nipples with her lips and teeth, soothed with her tongue, and nibbled them again. 
Kathryn whimpered and arched her back, trying to get even closer. She wrapped her legs around her lover, her hips undulating. She wanted Seven to take her, to keep her, to make her belong with this wondrous creature again and again.
“Now, Seven. I can’t wait.” 
Seven explored Kathryn’s drenched folds, clearly found her ready and entered her with two fingers, and later, a third. “Like this, my love?” Seven lowered herself further, nuzzling the sparse hair at the junction of Kathryn’s legs. She parted the engorged lips and flickered her tongue across the aching clitoris, making Kathryn stretch her legs and whimper. “Oh, please…”
Moving her hand faster, Seven seemed to know what Kathryn needed. She curled her fingers slightly, found the rough patch on the front of the wall inside her lover. Kathryn cried out when Seven found the right place to massage with insistent fingertips, because her back arched until she feared it would break.
“I…I need to come. I need it so much…I need you…” Kathryn heard herself chant as the fire raged inside her. 


xxxXXXxxx


Seven flattened her tongue against Kathryn’s clitoris and placed her lips around it, sucking gently. Using her thumb, she made sure to lubricate it well before she pressed against Kathryn’s lower opening. She had done this once before, but the result had been encouraging even if Kathryn had been quite shocked at her response.
Now, Kathryn was too far gone to feel embarrassed or shocked. As Seven massaged the puckered opening, Kathryn moaned huskily, over and over, rocking her hips as if trying desperately to impale herself.
“May I?” Seven murmured against Kathryn’s drenched flesh.
“Yes!” Obviously impatient, Kathryn pulled her knees further up, now fully exposed. “Please, please…”
Not wanting Kathryn to beg, ever, Seven pressed the tip of her thumb inside, moving it carefully. Her own sex burned and she knew if she rubbed against the bedding or any part of Kathryn, she would orgasm. Trembling, Seven pressed her thumb in further, now using all four fingers to take Kathryn.
“Seven! Yes, oh yes…oh Gods.” Kathryn reached above her and held on to the headboard. Her inner muscles contracted rhythmically and she convulsed at the same pace. Letting go of the headboard she reached for Seven. “Hold me, hold me.” Kathryn shuddered as she wrapped her arms around Seven who shook despite her superior physique.
“Your turn,” Kathryn gasped, clearly not fully recovered. “Your turn, my darling.” She pushed her hand down between them and cupped Seven’s soaked core. She entered with two fingers and that was all it took. As soon as she grazed Seven’s clitoris and brushed by the area inside that was so incredibly arousing, Seven came in long, shuddering convulsions.
“Kathryn…” She clung to her lover, feeling so very safe and loved. “My Kathryn.”
“Don’t leave me, Seven. You can’t leave me.” Kathryn cried silent tears against her shoulder and Seven’s own tears welled up. 
“Nor you. We have to be together. It is detrimental to our wellbeing if we are not.”
Laughing through the tears, Kathryn nodded. “You are quite astute, my darling. Absolutely right.”
“Yes. I know.”
Kathryn used the bed sheet to dry both their tears, chuckling weakly as she did, before she pulled the blankets up around them. “Now I just want to hold you and hear you breathe until it’s my turn to play with you.”
“Ah. Very well.” Seven smiled and closed her eyes. She was going to rest for a little while. As Seven relaxed, Kathryn began to breathe in that familiar, slow, even pace that proved she was fast asleep. Certain she could stay awake to keep vigil, Seven sighed as an irresistible sleep overcame her.

END