Chapter 1: Prologue
"Flotilla report, Stardate 59022.8, Rear Admiral Janeway reporting.
"Last night at oh-three hundred hours, we were joined by the Nova, bringing our little community's numbers up to five ships, four-hundred and seventy-eight personnel, and a combined armament comparable to a Sovereign-class ship. Unfortunately, her addition now limits our maximum cruising velocity to warp seven-point-two, and puts Deep Space 4, nine years away. Chief Engineers Torres and Grant are working on plans to upgrade the Nova's engines, while Seven of Nine has suggested merging our warp bubbles to increase our overall speed. Captain Spelor has of course objected to such a: 'highly experimental and needlessly hazardous endeavour.' He would also like his objection stated for the record...
"For the record, Captain Spelor objects...
"The flotilla is on schedule to reach the gas giant Beta Vulpeeula eight for deuterium refuelling and antimatter recharge. I've decided that while the bulk of our fleet is occupied siphoning off the gas giant, the crews will be given shore leave on Beta Vulpeeula four, with Wanderer acting as fairy. I've also decided that Voyager will perform a ship-to-ship antimatter transfer to Wanderer to limit our time in system. Captain Spelor, has objected, and would like his objection to such an: 'unnecessary and questionable manoeuvre', stated for the record...
"For the record, Captain Spelor objects...
"If nothing overly unexpected occurs, we'll be back on course for the Federation in eleven days.
"The Voyager Flotilla, Rear Admiral Janeway Commanding."
Kathryn closed the file; then leaned back in her chair, contemplating the last eleven years of her life. The Caretaker, the Kazon, the Hirogen, the Borg... Seven... she'd lived so much the last decade, experienced so much. Hell, she was on what, her ninth hair style? She'd lost crew, struggled through near starvation, survived half a dozen kidnappings... Voyager had collected more data on more phenomenon than any Starfleet vessel in history, travelled more light years...
On her maiden voyage, ship and captain were virtually guaranteed to wallow in near obscurity, maybe even destined to be destroyed on the front lines of the Dominion war. But the Delta Quadrant changed all that, it made them famous. Back home, people watched news reports on the Voyager Flotilla's progress; family and friends sent Janeway letters of thanks; Starfleet walked on eggshells with every order, terrified of what the public would think about them telling a crew who survive a decade utterly alone, what to do. And of course, there were the changes of the last few years.
The first ship to join Voyager's journey home, had been on her ninth year in the Delta Quadrant. The Wanderer, a Wambundu-class cruiser with a complement of seventy-one, slipped into formation on the twelfth year of her own extended mission. Under Captain Johnathan Dartt, they'd volunteered to divert, to speed toward Voyager to intercept her, just so that ship and crew would no longer be alone. The day they met in deep space, both crews caused two days worth of damage to Voyager's mess hall with their celebrating.
The second, the T'Pan, a D'Kyr class ship, was one of the last built by the Vulcan High Command. The crew of one-hundred and forty-seven under Captain Spelor, a veteran of the late Vulcan Confederacy, were already one-hundred years in to a volunteer mission to map around the galactic core, when High Command ordered them to meet Voyager. Captain Spelor didn't see the logic in such a diversion, and no one celebrated when they met on Voyager's three-thousand, four-hundred, and sixty-seventh day. But some good did come from their joining the small fleet. His constant complaining forced Starfleet to form a flotilla out of the three vessels, and to promote Captain Janeway to Rear Admiral to command it. Captain Spelor went on record, as objecting.
The USS Saber, the Saber-class prototype ship, crew complement forty-one, also met up with Voyager in her ninth year. Under Captain Julia Givens, her original mission was to meet the Wanderer on her way home for resupply and escort, but Captain Givens, who took the long uncharted space mission solely for the promotion, jumped at the opportunity to do something grander, more heroic. Saber often took point, often speeded ahead to scout a system, and often, took as much damage as Voyager when hostels got the jump on them.
But the Nova, crew complement seventy-eight, also prototype of her class, was special. Her captain was Mary O'Connell, Janeway's childhood friend. When the Doctor delivered his message in 2374, O'Connell was already on route to the Prometheus, and when she'd heard Katie was fifty years from the Federation boarder, she set course and made it very clear to Starfleet, that if they didn't give her orders to do so, she and her crew would rendezvous with Voyager regardless. Seven years, six months, twenty-two days, and a very unstable wormhole later, they did.
The chime from her ready room door, pull Janeway from her inventorying, and back to reality. "Come," she responded automatically.
O'Connell swaggered in like she'd just beaten Kathryn at some petty game, a smirk plastered firmly on her face. "Will Riker got married."
Voyager's admiral sat stunned for a moment. "We haven't seen or heard from one another in over a decade, and that's the first thing you say to me?"
"Got coffee seemed redundant."
Janeway stood and stared down her old friend. Damn it, she still had great hair. "Sugar?"
"Loads." Mary glared right back. "You pack your tennis racket?"
"I play velocity now."
"Your mom'd spit teeth if she knew."
"How much antimatter do you have left?"
"We're low enough that we've completely shut down the mag-fields on all but one pod. And we've had to bump the field strength up six-hundred percent on it just to get the last dregs out."
"Will you be able to make the next few days? Or will we have to tow you?"
"Nova might be smaller and slower than Voyager." O'Connell tilted her head back to look down her nose at Janeway. "But my ship will out endure yours any day."
A lopsided grin spread across Janeway's own lips. "Caramel brownie?"
"Are you replicating it?"
She nodded with a hum.
Mary shrugged, her smirk growing. "I guess I'll risk it."
"Damn I missed you."
Both women lunged forward and threw their arms around one another.
"I missed you too Katie." O'Connell stood silent for a long minute. "Eight and a half thousand light years, not to mention getting bucked like a rodeo bull through a wormhole, maybe my career... your mom better get them to build a statue for me too."
Janeway chuckled. "How much do you want to bet she already has."
"She'll never tell us."
"Phoebe will. Especially if we tell her it's the last thing we want."
"Good ol' predictably obnoxious Phoeb."
Silence drifted in around the women once again, the stress and the strain of their respective journeys, as well as the longing for the families they'd left behind, melted slightly in one another's company. Having someone Janeway knew, and in turn, O'Connell having Kathryn there, brightened the long road ahead of them. Mary made a choice to help her friend, because she felt she had to, because Katie would've done the exact same thing, and even though it made no causal sense, she knew they needed one another for the rest of the way back.
"I've only had one cup this morning." O'Connell broke the spell.
"Good god," Janeway pulled back, "how are you still standing?"
"Shear will, and the strongest desire not to find out what your deck smells like. Isn't the carpet supposed to be grey?"
Kathryn rolled her eyes as she moved to the replicator. "It's slate, and if I remember correctly, you needed anti-grav just to get across the sea of clothes in your room."
"That was North. Don't you remember her mom threw everything she left on the floor into a big camp fire one day?"
"I do remember that." Kathryn lifted a hand to her cheek in wonder. "She wouldn't speak to us for a month because you wanted to roast marshmallows over it."
"You said you'd bring the hot chocolate."
"We were terrible... Two coffees, black, one quadruple sweet, and two Janeway brownies."
"You were the worst Katie. You always acted like you were this starry-eyed proper daddy's girl, but you broke every rule and actively despised everything your parents stood for." Mary took her cup and plate from the other woman. "And you treated Vulky Hobbes Johnson like garbage." She shrugged. "You did make it up to him by sleeping with him a decade later."
"Would you stop." Janeway sat back down at her desk. "And before you even start, I have no ill feelings toward Mark, and I wish him the best."
"No you don't. You hope the Federation media's outside his door on a regular basis, asking him how he feels about dumping a captain who's keeping her crew alive on a daily basis, sixty-thousand light years from home."
"Do they," Kathryn asked earnestly.
"Last I heard, which is probably five years ago now... they totally did."
The women broke out in matching smiles.
"Still," Janeway sobered while giving her friend a pointed look, "I wish him all the best."
O'Connell gave a sarcastic head bob. "What about you? You doinking that burly first officer of yours?"
A look of sheer disgust swept across the Redhead's face. "Mary! Must you be so crude!?" Then to her added horror, the door chimed. "No I am not, and don't you even. Keep your mouth closed, and your hands off my crew." She carefully hid her emotions behind a placid mask. "Come."
Before the door could open, the Nova's captain quickly leaned in to whisper. "Half my crew's bedding the other half. What else are we supposed to do out here?"
Janeway's expression stayed completely frozen as Seven walked in, her mind racing with ways to intercept and keep her friend's comments quiet.
"My analysis of predicted warp geometries within a multi-ship configuration." The Borg held out the data padd. "Number five-twenty-three is the most efficient."
O'Connell sprung out of her chair, swept the padd from the young woman's grasp, discarded it on Katie's desk; then offered her hand to the gorgeous, and well-endowed, blonde. "Mary Annabel O'Connell the Fourth, at your disposal, miss?"
Seven easily saw the distress written on Admiral Janeway's face, so felt choosing to ignore the newly arrived, and apparently lecherous captain, was acceptable. "However, Astrometric sensor readings indicate that the Nova's warp coils are nearing failure, and may soon fracture."
"Wait a minute now." Mary lifted her hand in front of Kathryn's face, forestalling any comment or question she might have. Katie might be in command of the fleet, but Nova was her ship, her baby. "We've been running constant diagnostics since we left Federation space, everything says she's fine for another couple of thousand light years, and she's rated for three times the distance she's travelled."
The Borg shifted her attention to the indignant woman. "Examine my findings for yourself Captain. Ignore them and witness firsthand."
O'Connell snatched the padd up off the desk and scrolled through the report, anxiety raising with every word. "There are micro-fissures everywhere."
"Mary, we'll work the problem," Janeway tried to calm.
"The coils are already crystallizing internally."
"We'll deal with it Mary."
"She'll shatter her nacelles." The Nova's captain was in full-blown panic, her ship was dying, she was dying and she didn't even see it happening. And it was entirely her fault. She threw the padd at Kathryn while hitting her combadge and sprinting for the ready room door, shoving the blonde aside as she went. "O'Connell to Nova. Drift to stop, vent drive plasma, shutdown warp core."
Seven watched the woman leave. "It seems I am no longer of interest."
Janeway skimmed the report and saw that it was as bad as Mary was reacting. The Nova's prototype engines hadn't been designed for seven years of continuous use, and with the constant negative spacial pressure on the coils, the signs of wear was pushed into the centre. On the surface, everything appeared normal, but it was just a thin crust hiding a tightly wound spring.
"Not now Seven." Kathryn took off after her friend.
"I want everyone on emergency maintenance, engineers in environment suits. We enter the nacelles as soon as she's sub-light."
"Paris," Janeway hurried onto the bridge, "stay with the Nova."
"Yes, ma'am. Matching deceleration pitch."
"I've alerted the rest of the flotilla," Ensign Kim added.
O'Connell stopped dead in her tracks before invading Kathryn's space. "You have a hot shot engineer? Torres, right?"
"We'll be out their with you, we won't let anything happen to Nova."
"I pushed her out here Kate." Tears began welling in Mary's eyes. "I can't lose her. I don't give a damn how long I'm out here, as long as I'm here with her."
Janeway nodded before turning to Seven. "Do you have an estimate for how long before the fractures reach the surface?"
The Borg examined Captain O'Connell's distort features, her posture, her demeanour, and came to the conclusion that she was acting as if a loved one were on the verge of death. "It is unlikely to occur immediately. However, it is highly likely to occur in the near future, or under additional stress."
O'Connell nodded as she steeled herself.
Kathryn stepped down into the bridge's pit. "Paris, Kim. Lock onto the Nova's saucer section with a tractor beam and slow her to a stop. Keep the emitter tight, and stay off the nacelles."
"Janeway to Torres. Put together a maintenance team to inspect the Nova's warp engines. Seven's found that they're under high levels of internal stress, and we need a solution."
"Understood Admiral. If there're crystals already formed inside the super structures, we need to keep other warp fields well away. Also, an inverse harmonic spacial field should force the crystals to be reabsorbed. It won't fix the problem, but it'll buy them some time."
"Any suggestions for generating one?" Kathryn eyed Tom, making sure he understood what not to do.
"Saber's got a hefty deflector dish, she could probably generate a stable field big enough to encompass both engines."
"Coordinate with Engineer Grant. Don't be afraid to take charge if he's not up to it."
"He's pretty green," O'Connell interrupted, "and all he's been doing for the past seven years is standard maintenance."
"You catch that Torres?"
"Yes ma'am, handle Nova's engineer."
Kathryn nodded absently. "Good. We need the Nova Lieutenant. Janeway out." She tapped her combadge. "Janeway to Givens-"
"We've been monitoring Admiral, we're already on it. We'll be ready as soon as you give the order."
"Acknowledged. Janeway out." She moved closer to O'Connell.
"I need a cigarette," Mary admitted drearily.
"I have bourbon."
The Nova's captain gave a weak smile. "Thanks Kate. I don't think I could go on without her."
"I know." Kathryn squeezed her friend's arm in support. "Come on, we'll suit up."
"I'd also suggest against trying to put the moves on Seven again."
"Who?" O'Connell was genuinely confused.
"Never mind. Let's go." Janeway started toward the turbolift. "Chakotay, you have the bridge, Seven, you're with me."
"Yes Admiral," the Borg dutifully replied as she followed, while ignoring Captain O'Connell's sudden realization that she was, in fact, an individual who existed within the same reality.
"Damn," Mary breathed, "screwed that up."
"Big time," Kathryn whispered back, "big, time."
Chapter 2: Family and Friends
Miral Torres pressed her face hard against the transparent aluminum window, trying in vain to get a better viewing angle. "There's mommy," she shouted as she pointed violently at one of the many identical environmental suits.
"How are you certain?" Helen Hansen focused her tricorder on the figure she believed Miral was pointing to.
"She has a kut'luch strapped to her boot. Mommy always brings a kut'luch with her."
"It could also be a magnetic resonance scanner."
The Klingon Child gave her friend a dull look. "Strapped to someone's boot?"
"It is possible." Helen spotted a figure with gold patches on either shoulder floating out of the ship's port nacelle. She shifted her scanner's beam toward Admiral Janeway. "Perhaps you could suggest a more identifying characteristic?"
"She'll be the one doing everything while everyone else is standing around being dumb?"
The Borg shot Miral an exasperated look.
Mezoti stepped in behind her sibling. "Have you located her yet?"
"I have not. I believe she may still be within the nacelle's structure."
"The warp coils will obscure accurate readings. Are you compensating for their interference?"
"I am attempting to do so, but I do not want to alert mother to our surveillance by increasing scan intensity."
"Stop talking about doing stuff and do it," Miral suddenly growled.
In the same instant, the two Borg children became aware of a figure effortlessly flying out and around the warp engine, its movements tight and precise, its corrections minimal, its re-latching to the hull efficient. The exposed metallic hand, left little question who that individual was, and Helen waved when the Elder Borg looked over at them.
"Seven of Nine to Helen and Mezoti Hansen. Why are you not in class."
The Norcadian girl fidgeted in discomfort. "All of our tutors are on duty. We believed the current most productive use of our time is to observe the repairs to the Nova."
"And we desired to watch you mommy," Helen added.
There was a long pause before their parent replied. "You are not to participate in violent play with Miral Torres."
"We will comply."
"If you do not behave inappropriately, you may choose what we will consume for evening meal." After a moment, Seven quickly added, "it must be nutritional items commonly consumed for dinner, not 'snack food'."
Helen threw her hands up in celebration. "May I also modify this tricorder?"
"Is it one of mine?"
"Yes mommy, it is."
"Then you may do so, but you must do so with caution."
"Seven," the older of the two hazarded. "I have a matter I need to discuss with you upon your return."
"Is it urgent?"
Mezoti hesitated. "It may become so in the near future."
"You do not wish to inform me over subspace communications?"
"I," she faltered again. "The Doctor's modification was successful and biologic function has been restored."
There was another pause from the eldest Borg. "Stand by, Seven of Nine out."
The three stood watching their respective mothers, Miral loudly chewing on some unknown Klingon candy, all wondering how long it would be before their parent would be free to spend time with them. Helen and Mezoti thought Miral was luckiest in that regard, as her father was frequently available, Seven of Nine however, had her time constantly monopolized. But they did not envy their friend. Because the elder Borg's time was finite, she sought to maximize the efficient use of it, planning every activity to the microsecond to increase its enjoyability.
Helen gasped and turned from the window as a transporter beam enveloped the distant figure. She had a reasonable assumption of what its immediate outcome would be.
As soon as the cycle completed, Seven removed her environmental suit's helmet; then fixed an assessing eye on her youngest adopted daughter. "Do you require assistance?" Although her attention was focused on her own child, she noted Miral edging away.
Helen, wide-eyed and smiling, nodded.
"What is it you require?"
"A physical gesture of affection?"
Seven reached out and gently patted her sub-unit on her head.
A mixture of irritation and disappointment spread over the youngest Borg's face. "That was not an acceptable response to my request."
"It was not," Seven questioned, seeming serious. "Is this acceptable?" She then knelt down and pulled the girl into an embrace, hugging her closely for nineteen-point-six seconds. When she pulled away, she kissed Helen on the forehead. Her facial expression however, did not soften. "You will not engage in physical activities with Miral while you are alone with her. If you become damaged again due to her violent play, I will be forced to request a transfer to one of the other ships."
Helen became visibly stricken. "Not the T'Pan!"
The Borg relaxed her features, taking on a reassuring look. "No. It would not be my intention to punish you, it would be my intention to protect you from harm."
The girl continued to be apprehensive, knowing full well that her sometimes playmate could be unpredictable, and often got them both into trouble without her consent. "I will comply."
"If you continue to behave acceptably, you may also choose dessert."
"I will comply," Helen repeated, this time with excitement.
Seven held out her hand to Mezoti. "I will assist you with your biological needs." Then guided the Norcadian into the corridor when she took it.
As soon as the door closed, Miral moved back to the centre of the window. "Your mom's mean."
"She is not," Helen insisted. "Your mother is too compliant to your requests. You lack structure."
"At least my mom doesn't make stupid normal things into rewards."
Seven released Mezoti's hand when they arrived at the biological waste receptacle in their quarters. The girl in turn, looked up questioningly.
"How do I proceed?"
"I am uncertain," the Borg answered honestly. "I am cognizant however, that you must remove your clothing from the waist down, and sit on the 'toilet' to direct your urine into it."
The girl hesitated, uncertain.
"Do you require I leave? Do you... need privacy?"
"No," Mezoti answered quickly, "I cannot proceed without your assistance."
"Very well." A tension Seven hadn't noticed forming, dissipated from her chest.
After a moment more, the girl did as she was instructed; then seated herself on the open surface. It was as uncomfortable as she'd suspected. "What do I do now?"
Seven searched her collective memories, but found nothing. She turned for the door.
"Do not leave." Mezoti grabbed the Elder Borg's wrist.
"Do not worry, I will return shortly, I am only retrieving a tricorder." Seven waited until the girl released her before retrieving the device. She then knelt down beside the Norcadian, showing her a continuous scan of her body to better help her visualize. "Attempt to contract and isolate muscle groups."
Mezoti did as requested, watching the results as she went. When she apparently found the right area, Seven grasped her leg, tighter than she would normally.
"Acceptable. Attempt to do so again." As the girl did as she was instructed, the Borg intensified her grip. "Now inhale, and relax that muscle group as you exhale." She released her hold as Mezoti complied.
"Do not be discouraged. Visualize your urethral sphincter opening and releasing the pressure in your bladder."
Closing her eyes, Mezoti attempted to relax all the tension from every part of herself that she was aware of. On the third try, a curious sensation crawled up her spine and over her shoulders; then, her whole body shivered without cause.
Seven watched her daughter deflate as the sound of urination filled the room, a satisfied and contented half smile blossoming over her lips. "Has your discomfort decreased?"
The girl nodded happily.
Once the task was completed, Seven made a few calculations. "You have expressed six-point-eight litres of fluid in thirty-one seconds. You are a superior urinator."
When Mezoti opened her eyes, she was greeted by a pride filled face. "I am?"
"Yes Mezoti," the Borg cupped her child's cheek, gently caressing the implant above her temple, "you are." Seven was uncertain how long the moment lasted before she pulled away. There was more instruction required. "You must now press this button to cleanse your genital area. It will sting slightly."
Curiosity instantly gripped the girl. "How do you know this?"
"I have utilized this function when I have," Seven abruptly went silent. "I have found this feature acceptable to," again she halted; then stood, placing her hands behind her back. "I have found use for this function."
The look of intrigue disappeared from Mezoti's face with a jolt as she engaged the unit. "That was not slightly."
"You will adapt to the sensation. You may now reposition your clothing and wash your hands."
Mezoti examined her extremities. "I have not urinated on them." She presented them to the Borg. "They are not soiled."
"Regardless, it is human custom to cleanse your hands after utilizing a waste receptacle. If you fail to do so, others will inevitably discover this, and mock you."
"That is not logical."
"I concur. However, I found simply being in a lavatory, regardless of actions taken, is sufficient cause for others to enact this custom." Seven's gaze became unfocused. "Even if your entry was to repair a plasma conduit... The mockery may also last several days... And may spontaneously restart..."
"I will comply." Mezoti proceeded to obey without further question, dismayed by her mother's emotional reaction.
Seven followed suit when her child's task was complete; then retook the girl's hand. "If you require my assistance in this matter in the future, contact me immediately. You are not required to wait for an opportune time, your correct biologic function takes precedence."
"Thank you mother." The Norcadian's grasp tightened slightly, just as Seven's became firmer in return.
"Your mom hates me because she hates my mom," Miral complained.
Helen waited patiently as her friend removed the tricorder's power stabilization translator. "Mother does not hate you, she is concerned for my safety, and believes you lack concern for your own and others."
The Klingon leaned back to give the Borg access to the secondary processor. "I'm a warrior engineer, concern is for the old and weak."
"If one does not proceed with sufficient care, one will not live long enough to fight or repair another day."
"I'd rather die as a child then cower as an old woman."
"I would rather continue having you as a friend than draw the irate of a fully mature Borg adjunct."
"I'm not afraid of your mom," Miral scoffed; then immediately fell silent as said parent entered the room.
Seven gave the two children an assessing glance. For the moment, they appeared to be peaceably dismantling a tricorder between them. She turned to Mezoti. "Remain here, and contact me should the situation deteriorate."
"I will comply." The girl picked up her mother's helmet to hand to her. "Will you be released from duty before dinner?"
"I am uncertain. I will however, endeavour to take a 'break' and join you for evening meal." She regarded her rapidly maturing sub-unit for a moment. "Should I be unable to comply, I request that you ensure Helen and Icheb consume sufficient nutrients."
A combination of fear and delight blossomed in Mezoti's chest. "I will endeavour to do so."
"Acceptable." Seven moved to Helen. "I am leaving to rejoin the repair teams."
The child looked up, smiling. "Goodbye mommy."
Seven hoped for a more substantial gesture, but kept her disappointment from showing. Frequently her children experienced difficulties with departures, and could not fault them for it, the partial loss of Tuvok teaching her what it felt like to no longer have access to an accustomed individual. She stood, replaced her helmet; then tapped her combadge.
O'Connell came flying over to Janeway's perch, slamming down so hard it sent vibrations up both women's bodies. "Where's that hotshot of yours."
Kathryn gestured to the Nova's keel. "Torres is getting ready for the antimatter transfer."
"Not her," Mary barked, "the cybernetically enhanced woman."
"She's attending to one of her children."
"She's got kids?"
"Yes." Janeway shook her head at her friend's continued antics. "Seven has three adopted children."
"Oh." Some of O'Connell's tension ebbed away, like something in the universe had suddenly fallen into place. "I was going to say, she doesn't really have that, 'I've had babies taken out of me' look, more of a, 'put babies in me' look."
"For the life of me, I can't remember why we ever became friends."
"My family had a replicator."
The Admiral rolled her eyes. "That's not why."
"Guess it was my hover car then," Mary quipped.
"Would you stop?"
"Me? You're the one questioning why we're friends. Your mother would be aghast at your behaviour."
Kathryn lifted a finger, prepared to give the other woman a telling off the likes of which she hadn't seen since high school. But her combadge interrupted. "Voyager to Admiral Janeway. Seven would like to transport to your location ma'am."
"Proceed." She refocused on the Nova's captain. "Seven's not going to understand or indulge in your humour. Be precise, specific, and for god’s sake, don't make a fool out of yourself by flirting with her."
"There isn't a man or woman alive who can resist the O'Connell charm."
"Keep it to yourself." Janeway glared at Mary as the transporter beam engaged. "That's an order."
Seven's boots latched to the hull them moment she fully materialized. She offered a data padd to the Admiral. "I have completed my inspection of the Nova's port nacelle. I have not conducted one on the starboard, however, it is highly likely to be in similar condition."
O'Connell snatched the padd from Kathryn's hand. "Nova's mine, I don't care what orders you think you can give me." Then immediately became distressed. "Oh my god, she's on the verge of being crippled."
Janeway read over her friend's arm. "It's alright Mary, we had to rebuild Voyager's engines out here, we'll get Nova's fixed up."
"She tried to tell me, I didn't listen."
"Mary, you couldn't have known. All these fractures and crystallizations are nearly a meter under the surface, you'd have to stop and perform a level one diagnosis to even get a hint of what was going on."
"No," O'Connell shook her head, "she was trying to tell me, her energy absorption efficiency was down to eighty-nine percent, but I kept pushing."
Seven's enhanced brow lifted. She could not understand why Admiral Janeway was entertaining this individual's self-delusions. "I find it highly unlikely that this ship would have the capabilities to diagnose this defect, nor do I believe a reduction in particle leaching from the drive plasma is an efficient or suitable means to communicate such deficiencies."
Janeway placed her palms on Mary's shoulders, trying to forestall the outburst she knew was coming.
"You listen here miss," O'Connell began, her command tone just as tightly controlled and as dangerous as Kathryn's. "Starships are living breathing things. A trillion interconnections, thousands of individual components, dozens of integrated systems. Each ship's unique, each one responds differently to stimuli, and if you can't learn her moods, you don't deserve to touch her."
"Such personifications of inanimate objects are not productive," Seven stated with finality. "Interconnections, components, systems, are variables which can be evaluated and responded to. There is no need to ascribe human characteristics to malfunctions."
"You might get to spend your days on a posh and prissy vessel like Voyager, woman, but most of us get to live *with* a ship who's got character."
"Voyager is not prissy," Janeway interjected, her own temper flaring, "and she's hardly posh, *and* she's taken on more battle scars than Nova will ever. My ship is not fair game for you to attack, just because you're feeling vulnerable because of yours."
"You think your shiny little Intrepid-class can stand toe to toe in a beat down with Nova? Try it. Her shields will swallow a dozen torpedo's before you could even scratch her paint. And while you're trying to wail on her skull, she'll carve up your hull like a thanksgiving day turkey."
Kathryn's eyes narrowed, her posture, aggressive. "If you'd like to know how well a Nova-class survives the Delta quadrant, I suggest you ask the Equinox crew. If you'd like a few spare parts, we have what's left of her in cargo bay two."
O'Connell balled her fists as she leaned into Janeway's space. " Ransom was a desperate idiot, and Equinox didn't break until you got involved. Tell me Kathryn, did you let Equinox go because it was the only way to save everyone, or did you bury her because you thought she and Ransom deserved it."
"How dare you-"
"You offered her up as sacrifice to save *your* Voyager-"
"The lifeforms were targeting both ships-"
"And you figured they'd keep going unless you offered them up a means of revenge-"
"Ransom made that decision-"
"And if he hadn't, you would've crippled her yourself and thrown them all on the Pyre!"
"You're goddamn right I would've! They violated everything Starfleet and the Federation stood for, they were committing genocide on an interdimetional scale! They bloodied all our hands with their actions! The lifeforms could've followed Equinox all the way home and taken their anger out on every goddamn ship that looked like her! Equinox was marked the nanosecond Ransom jettisoned his morals for self-preservation! If he'd had any self-respect, any care for the Federation at all, he would've flown Equinox straight into a star!"
Both women were fuming, both their breaths heaving, both ready to knock the other's ass off the hull. Seven stood in mild shock, contemplating how the disagreement deteriorated so quickly.
"Torres to Janeway and O'Connell. We're ready for the transfer."
Kathryn looked around herself. In her anger, she hadn't notice Voyager manoeuvring belly to belly with Nova. "Proceed at your discretion Lieutenant."
Mary turned to the warp core's ejection port; the whole dance of lining up, removing the panels, patching in an umbilical, had gone on entirely without her. "O'Connell to Grant. This is Lieutenant Torres' show, proceed as directed."
"Givens to Janeway. We're finished our modification, Saber's standing by."
"Understood." Kathryn avoided her friends eyes. "You're right, I threw Equinox to the wolves to save Voyager, and I barely made a gesture of trying to save Ransom."
O'Connell continued staring at the glowing umbilical. "Probably for the best. At least this way, he got to sacrifice himself to make amends."
"No one will ever call him a hero."
"No they will not."
Silence once again descended around the group, the vacuum of space deadening the sounds of the activity going on around them. Seven continued to contemplate their actions, as well as the level of hostility demonstrated by the two individuals. They claimed to be friends, and seemed to have apologized to one another, but the level of anger directed at the other, confused the Borg. There was also another fact that had not escaped Seven's consideration.
"Were you not cognizant that your argument was being monitored by a number of the crews?"
"Well shit," Mary breathed. "That's what we get for the ubiquity of close proximity communication in environmental suits." She paused. "By the way, if I find anyone passing around copies of this conversation, I *will* replicate and boil you in oil."
"I'm sure Spelor's already drafting a complaint to Starfleet command." Janeway smirked.
"Owww," O'Connell mocked, "so scared. A fossil formed before the Federation's going to tell on me. Whatever will I do?"
Kathryn became swept away with her friend's carefree attitude. "Object of course. For the record."
"Captain Dartt to the Fleet. Red alert, two incoming tracks, warp nine-point-oh, intercept six hours."