Neelix entered Astrometrics at, what seemed to Seven’s eye at least, an erratic pace when compared to his usual easy, ambling gait. His face showed every sign of anxiety and preoccupation, his hands occasionally clutching at his sides in a self-protecting gesture as his eyes refused to focus. Seven had learned to expect these reactions from the Voyager crew at any time they anticipated interacting with her, and it was always particularly evident in Cargo Bay 2 and Astrometrics where she herself felt relatively comfortable. However, Neelix seems to be especially afflicted today, and she quickly decided that it would be best to allow him to conduct whatever business he had with her as quickly as possible. Although she couldn’t immediately fathom a scenario of why he would seek her out, but that was beside the point. “Neelix?” She prompted as she moved from a console on one side of the doorway to one on the other; allowing conversation to wholly distract from her work was inefficient.
She couldn’t fail to notice his slight jump as she swept round behind him, but he quickly recovered. “Oh, there you are…I didn’t see you.”
“Are you looking for me?” Seven queried absently as the Talaxian shifted to stand by her shoulder.
“Yes, as a matter of fact I am.” Neelix confirmed, “I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
Seven turned her head to meet his gaze briefly, long enough for her to confirm that there was real concern behind the platitude, though the concept was mildly confusing, technically he’d already disrupted her work, though this time it didn’t bother her. “You are not.” She assured him calmly as she again moved consoles, this time to the central one in front of the viewscreen.
“I…” Neelix began, swallowing slightly before he moved closer to her, “I want to apologise for my outburst the other day, in the Mess Hall.”
“No apology is necessary.” Seven replied simply before continuing on her round of the readings presented by the different consoles. Commander Chakotay would be here to collect the morning status report for Astrometrics in two hours and she hadn’t completed it yet.
“No, no, please…” Neelix pressed as he trailed her steps, reminding Seven of said outburst when she’d had to interrupt the medical tricorder scan multiple times in order to accommodate his inability to stand still. “My behaviour was uncalled for, I didn’t mean the things I said.” He gave her a weak but honest smile, “But I feel a lot better now, Commander Chakotay has helped me to…understand a few things.” Seven’s only reply to that was a thoughtful nod of understanding, the Commander was better than most of the crewmembers at explaining things with sufficient clarity. Still, Neelix continued, the tone of his voice reflecting stronger, more definitive emotion. “I want you to know that I don’t blame you…for bringing me back to life I mean. In fact, what you did was very thoughtful.”
“I would’ve done the same for any member of this crew.” Seven told him firmly as she tried to focus on a vital energy reading from a local plasma storm, it could be pertinent to navigation. The urge her crewmates seemed to feel to validate and praise her action was unnecessary in her mind, it had helped Voyager to salvage a crewmember and she knew that if anyone else had access to knowledge of Species 149’s medical techniques, they would’ve done the same. Therefore she didn’t see why her action should esteem special merit.
“Yes.” Neelix answered softly, regarding her gently, “I’m sure you would have.”
Seven looked up at him then, oddly reassured, despite her earlier dismissal of the need of praise, that Neelix wasn’t expressing surprise over what she had done. “Is there anything else?”
“No.” Neelix responded quickly, starting to turn away before he changed his mind, biting his lip for a split second, and leaned in closer to her again, “Yes.” He admitted, “Seven, I think you’ve made a wonderful addition to this crew.” He waited for her to look at him, her own surprise hardly disguised. “I know it’s been difficult for you, making the transition from Borg to human…” He stopped as he considered, “…or half-human…” He amended before realising that wasn’t right for the woman in front of him either, “…or whatever it is you’ve become. Actually, you’re just plain Seven to me…”
Seeing that he was becoming bogged down in semantics, humanoids were irritatingly imprecise, Seven cut him off. “Your point Mr Neelix?”
Neelix gazed over at the viewscreen in front of them for a few moments before turning back to her, “I guess that I just want to say…you’re surrounded by people who care about you, and whether you know it or not Voyager is going to be a very good home to you. It certainly was to me.”
Seven felt her brow furrow deeply, “Was?” she echoed, “Do you intend to leave?”
Neelix’s eyes widened in the face of such a blunt but perceptive, question. “Leave?” he repeated faintly, almost whispering the word, before his face settled into a quietly resigned expression, “No…I’ll be around.” He blinked once, then twice, but Seven still thought she could see moisture gleaming vaguely in his amber eyes. “Goodbye.”
That word seemed to cost him a great deal of effort to say, and Seven found herself echoing the soft tone even in her confusion, “Goodbye.” He left without further hesitation, moving with more calm and certainty now, but somehow Seven discovered that that observation left her more disturbed than the anxiety of earlier. She couldn’t pinpoint the source of the feeling, the unease prickling at her that went far deeper than confusion, but she knew it unnerved her. She attempted to rationalise the feeling even as her eyes lingered apprehensively on the now closed door, Neelix was a peculiar creature, just as she’d remarked before his brush with death, and even if he hadn’t been, her own capacity for analysing conversation was limited. As the Doctor had said, conversational skills had been a non-existent priority for the Collective. It was highly likely that she merely couldn’t grasp some hidden context in Neelix’s words. Of course such inadequacy would leave her unsettled, she concluded, but her real role on this ship was to work, interpreting conversational nuance would have to wait until her adaption to this environment had advanced further.
“You are late Commander.” Seven stated neutrally as she heard the lab’s doors open behind her, the sound followed by a strained sigh her memory attributed to Voyager’s First Officer.
She spoke without anger, as matter of fact and devoid of emotion as the Computer’s vocal interface, but Chakotay gave a short explanation anyway even as the woman remained standing at the console with her back turned to him. The stance made her look like some 20th Century Fascist statue to futuristic efficiency, the ideal of leaving the impurities of wider humanity behind, but Chakotay supposed that was what the Borg had moulded her into. “Sorry, I had an appointment with Neelix, which he didn’t keep, so I was left hanging around in my quarters waiting for awhile…” He told her shortly, running a preoccupied hand over his eyes and through his hair.
“Neelix?” Seven broke in tightly.
Chakotay blinked when he saw that she’d spun around to face him in record time, but what he really noticed was the expression on her face. Her jaw was locked, her alabaster skin was a shade paler than usual, if he didn’t know any better she almost looked…pensive. “Yes.” He answered slowly, taking a step forward when he saw a PADD resting on the console, awaiting his collection. “The report Seven?” he prompted.
Seven’s shoulders tensed even as she easily swept the PADD up and offered it to him. “Of course.” When she saw that she’d safely delivered the report her gaze dropped from his, but she neither gave him a verbal summary of the report nor dismissively returned to work, the two tactics he’d come to expect from these daily encounters, she merely continued to stand there, apparently considering something.
Chakotay took a deep breath as his conscience nagged him to investigate. “Is there something wrong Seven?” he asked guardedly.
“I am functioning within normal parameters Commander.” Seven answered quickly, as if she were reeling off part of a maintenance report, but as he watched her lips purse he knew there was more. “However…I did have a conversation with Mr Neelix earlier which I considered…strange.”
Chakotay couldn’t stop his eyebrows from rising at that, despite the real note of concern he heard in Seven’s voice, a new development for her. He was pretty sure Seven found almost all forms of conversation ‘strange’, she was a master of appearing cool and utterly detached, but he’d caught her face faltering into puzzlement more than once, like a child unable to interpret the whispers of adults. Seven visibly withdrew from him, obviously able to read at least some of his thoughts on his face, so he decided it was best to be honest about them. “I’m sorry Seven, but don’t you find a great deal of the crew’s conversation strange?”
“I do.” Seven admitted without embarrassment even as her brow furrowed slightly in weariness, “I find approximately 84.2 percent of the conversation I overhear on this ship difficult to contextualise.”
Chakotay almost smiled at that, wondering if she were wholly serious. One thing was for sure, if Seven ever learned to cross the line between seriousness and deadpan jokes, her sense of humour may well become wicked. “But this particular conversation was strange enough to make you worry?” he eventually questioned kindly. Neelix had been having a hard time; he’d seen plenty evidence of that himself, but things must’ve gotten worse for the Talaxian if it even came to Seven of Nine’s attention.
“’Worry’ is not an accurate term for what I am experiencing…” Seven countered uneasily, “But what Neelix said did strike me as…odd.”
“In what way exactly?” Chakotay carefully pressed her to elaborate before rephrasing, “Maybe you just misunderstood.”
“Perhaps.” Seven conceded, “But I do not believe I misunderstood his sentiment, it is merely I cannot quite understand his reasons for speaking to me thus.” Chakotay gestured to her to continue and she took a deep breath of her own, “Upon entering Astrometrics, Mr Neelix was…insistent that he apologise for his outburst in the Mess Hall…”
“Outburst?” Chakotay echoed, “I knew you found him in the Mess Hall when the nanoprobe treatment stopped functioning but neither of you mentioned…”
“It was of little relevance at the time Commander and is less so now.” Seven assured him, but gave a short explanation when she saw exasperation, an expression she was familiar with on the faces of her crewmates, pass briefly over Chakotay’s features. “When I sought him out to check his status on the Doctor’s behalf, Neelix reacted badly, becoming overwrought. He claimed that he was not really alive, that he shouldn’t be alive, that I had no right to revive him…” She jumped, her narrative grinding to a halt, when Chakotay momentarily touched her arm.
“It sounds like he got quite riled up at you. Did that hurt your feelings?” he probed, quickly withdrawing his hand. The moment of empathy had been more instinctive than well thought out, he suspected now that he’d found the root of the issue in Seven rather than Neelix, maybe she didn’t know how to deal with the guilt such a rebuke would fairly arouse?
Her response was as immediate as it was sharply defensive. “I have no feelings to hurt Commander.” She informed him frostily, but the façade quickly slipped. “Perhaps…” She amended warily, “I was made momentarily uncomfortable by Neelix’s confrontational attitude, but considering that it was very soon after revealed that he was in the process of reverting to a necrotic state at the time, his irrational behaviour was understandable.”
“I agree, but knowing Neelix like I do I can also that that it’s not strange for Neelix to want to apologise to you when he’s feeling rational again.” Chakotay replied, “In fact it would be strange for him not to.”
Seven absorbed this for a few seconds but her frown remained, “Still, he was excessively insistent, even after I assured him that an apology was unnecessary. He went to great pains to tell me that he did not…blame me for resuscitating him. He said…” Her voice wavered perceptively, “…that I was thoughtful.”
Chakotay gave her a small smile, “You were thoughtful. Not many people would’ve done what you did, many of us were surprised, myself included.”
“Why?” Seven questioned abruptly, “Do you not mean that you were surprised that such a medical technique existed? As I told Neelix, I would’ve followed the same course of action for any member of this crew.” She didn’t quite sound offended, if she was it was too subtle for Chakotay to catch, but perhaps frustrated.
“Well…” Chakotay began awkwardly, “We were certainly shocked that you managed to revive him eighteen hours after death…” He trailed off as he grimaced at the memory, he had after all been in a shuttle with that corpse for all of those eighteen hours, “But I wouldn’t say that we don’t believe you’re capable of being thoughtful…” As he considered his reaction, he mentally admitted that he had been shocked, when Seven had stalked into Sickbay talking about ‘salvaging’ Neelix as if he were blown out computer components and not a friend. He’d known even then though that her manner was warping his judgement, Seven could not be called selfish in the traditional sense. It was more like she was utterly detached not only from others but from herself as well. She’d offered to sacrifice herself to the Caatati in order to return the ship’s warp core without blinking an eyelid after all.
Seven shook her head, sensing that he was falling into the human habit of trapping himself into a verbal corner. “Such opinion is irrelevant to me. What I don’t understand is why Neelix seems to be suffering from emotional deterioration, isn’t he relieved to be alive? It is not a direct result of the treatment, I myself have been revived in the same fashion by the Collective three times and have not…”
“I’m sure he is relieved Seven, deep down, which is why he was so insistent in…expressing gratitude to you.” Chakotay started thoughtfully, deciding to push the disturbing fact that Seven had undergone death and resurrection so often, and here she was now trying to revive her humanity, “But surely you can understand that he’s been affected by the experience of dying? His perspective on life has changed forever.”
“I have come to the conclusion that the Collective’s perspective on life and death is very different to that of most individuals.” Seven replied, noticing Chakotay’s wry grimace of agreement. “But…” She began again, “I will concede, as I did to Lt Cmdr. Tuvok also, that my view has altered somewhat since I was disconnected from the Collective.” Her face clouded over as she made that quiet admission, but as soon as the last word had left her mouth she straightened once again, the window to her emotions once again opaque as she kept a tight grasp on facts, “Be that as it may, brooding on the inevitability of death does not make it less so. Neelix is wasting his energy.”
Chakotay was intrigued by her admission that the Borg had a perspective on death, but he could read her well enough to see that she wasn’t comfortable confiding to him about it. Unlike the route the Captain and the Doctor seemed to be taking with her, it wasn’t his prerogative to prod and poke at Seven until she revealed a flicker of humanity. He didn’t believe that approach would help her, or any of them, in the long run. If you threatened or frightened a semi-feral animal often enough, they would eventually turn around and bite you no matter how kind to them you were the rest of the time, and Seven had already proven to be a scorpion ready to sting. He would though, have to ask Tuvok about that conversation, exploring spirituality with Seven of Nine would surely be enlightening on some level. “I don’t disagree with you that death is inevitable Seven, but that doesn’t mean we can all arbitrarily dismiss the fear that brings.” He sighed heavily when he saw that Seven still appeared unconvinced, “Look, let me put it another way… Your perspective on things changed radically after we freed you from the Collective, right?”
Seven peered at him uncertainly, “Yes.” She answered finally, “But the Captain seems to believe my perspective will alter more radically as I learn to…” She shifted awkwardly, “…embrace my humanity.”
“She could very well be right about that.” Chakotay remarked with nod, finding, now that he was faced with the girl himself, that he couldn’t repeat the opinion he’d repeated to the Captain that Seven would probably only ever be human by degree, if it all. A twinge of guilt assailed him, wasn’t it he himself who, just weeks ago, had been assuring her that she’d come to understand love one day? He felt like a hypocrite. “But I think we can agree here that the transition has been very difficult for you…” He paused, wondering how far to push his point, “Let’s be honest, it’s been traumatic and terrifying for you.”
Emotion splashed over Seven’s pale face like tins of paint being spilled over a blank canvas. Pain, fear, shame, he could see it with an almost disturbing starkness, and even a little…gratitude. He wondered if he had been the first to acknowledge her difficulties without pussy footing around how extreme they were. The startled step back she took told him yes. “Yes.” She answered in a clipped tone, her face stiff as if his words had frozen it. “That would be a relatively accurate assessment of my experience.” She admitted, her voice betraying her extinguished eyes with a strangled note of distress.
“Well…” Chakotay cleared his throat, ashamed of himself. Hadn’t he just broken his own rule and provoked her humanity? “What I’m saying is that in this near-death experience of his, Neelix’s perspective on life as been altered as irreparably as yours has. He’s scared and upset right now, and we as a crew need to help him through that.”
“Yes.” Seven murmured softly, gaze averted. The silence hung between them, Chakotay thought about leaving, but something held him back. That intuition was proven right when Seven spoke again, “Neelix had one final piece of advice to me in our conversation. He said that I am surrounded by people who care about me and that, whether I know it or not, Voyager is going to be a very good home to me…”
Chakotay smiled, reaching out to her again, pleased when she didn’t flinch back like before. “I happen to agree with him on that score, do you?”
Seven inhaled, her train of thought interrupted by his words. “I am beginning to.” She said warily. Suddenly she looked exhausted, completely drained to the point of looking ill, but a second later she recovered her usual collected countenance. “’It certainly was to me’, that’s what Neelix said, referring to Voyager as a home.”
Chakotay felt a chill that he’d learned to recognise as a warning run down his back. “Was?” he echoed, “You’re sure he said ‘was’?”
“Yes Commander.” Seven confirmed with a nod, “I questioned him myself on whether he intended to leave and he replied with, ‘No, I’ll be around’.”
Chakotay was disturbed by how deliberately vague that answer was, he had no doubt Seven was quoting verbatim. The warning bells ringing in his head grew louder. “And you didn’t believe him?” he questioned. He’d misjudged her anxiety; obviously something in Seven had been alarmed by Neelix’s tone just as he was now. She just didn’t know what to do with the intuition.
Seven pressed her lips together, his question stumping her. “It is not that I did not believe him, I have always observed Mr Neelix to be very sincere, and this instance was no different, but it was…odd.”
“It is.” Chakotay agreed tightly, starting to turn back towards the door, “I’m going to go talk to him again right now…”
He saw Seven’s fingers dance over the console out of the corner of his eye, and then she stole a quick glance down. “The internal sensors report that he is currently in the Mess Hall Commander, I suggest you proceed there.”
Chakotay breathed a strained chuckle, “You read my mind.” This time the smile he gave her was as warm as it was gentle, “And you definitely are thoughtful.”
Seven didn’t think to return the smile, instead debating an appropriate response, before uneasily settling, though her voice was appreciative, on, “Thank you Commander.” As Chakotay gave her one last fleeting smile in reply then departed, she found her gaze once again lingering on the closed door.