Vaxen - A Starting Place
J/7 Stories

This is a standalone story. It is my version of the events that follow Star Trek: Voyager's final episode "Endgame."

Disclaimer: Star Trek and all who sail in her belong to Paramount, therefore, so do all of the characters in this story. No infringement intended. The story contains non-explicit same-sex material.

Please do not archive, reproduce, or link without author's consent. Thank you.

The Game Never Ends

by Vaxen (

It took awhile for the initial glow of returning from the Delta Quadrant to fade. Captain Janeway faded with it. She stared out the window at the lights of the Oakland shipyard and thought about the home Admiral Janeway described to her during the brief time they spent together. She would have liked her own private view of the Golden Gate Bridge, but that was in another timeline. She wasn't thinking so much about the view as the painful, longing look in Admiral Janeway's eyes when she talked about it. She envied the admiral, too, for finding a way to free herself from that constant ache by turning back the hands of time and rectifying her mistakes.

One mistake had been rectified. Still, Janeway could not escape the feeling that all was not right with the universe or least not in her little corner of it. If questioned about it, she would have been hard-pressed to explain the source of her disquietude in words.

"Shit," she muttered to herself, disgusted with her own perversity, and closed the shades. She had shaken too many hands and been embraced by too many strangers that thought they could share in the triumph of Voyager's return through her. She wanted to grab them and shake them and tell them how empty it all seemed.

Janeway needed a purpose. She had spent seven years living, breathing, eating, sleeping and dreaming purpose until she was addicted to it. She couldn't tolerate the aimless way of life she had been forced to suffer of late. She had offers. Most of them were hollow positions of prestige. Sometimes she swore if she heard herself introduced as a living legend one more time, she would erupt.

Sometimes she wished she could just disappear. It was an appealing thought. She could travel to some distant corner of the universe and melt into the masses of humanity there. For the moment she was earthbound, tediously cataloging the endless details of her unscheduled mission in the Delta Quadrant. There were occasional gatherings - lunch with a member of her former crew or a drink with the Doctor - but there was no way to recapture that essence that made Voyager her life's blood. It was disappointing. She began to beg off from invitations. She no longer sought out the company of her old Voyager mates. She was glad that her one attempt to contact Seven and Chakotay failed. She could envision what it would have been like trying to recreate with them a reality that no longer existed. Sometimes she wondered how the new couple had weathered the transition.

Janeway peered into the cold remains of her umpteenth cup of coffee and sighed. "God, give me something to do," she pleaded.

The alert on her communication system sounded as if in response to her prayer.

The couple sat across from each other in sullen silence, pretending to be absorbed in the morning paper. At least Seven was pretending to read. She found printed media the most inefficient source of information she had ever encountered. The redundancy was especially irritating. Facts were repeated over and over. The same was true of the video news feeds. In the beginning they served as tools. She used them to glean information about the human community into which she had been thrust. Now, there was no more cultural data to be harvested from this source, but she continued to perform the morning ritual and pondered why people bothered with this antiquated format when the source material was available from any data terminal through public records.

"Seven," Chakotay barked. "Are you going to eat that?" Absorbed in her thoughts, Seven did not notice that Chakotay had emerged from behind his sports section. She gave him a blank look, not comprehending his question. The paper rattled as he leaned forward. "Did you want the last piece of toast?" He spoke the words slowly as if addressing a dull child.

"I have had sufficient nourishment." Chakotay gave her a nasty glare, snatched the morsel and retreated back to his paper.

Chakotay hated it when Seven used the structured syntax that she acquired during her time with the Borg almost as much as he disliked not being allowed to call her Annika, which Seven flatly forbid. Early on he suggested to her that she try more common idioms. She knew she should have said, "I'm full," or "No, thanks," but somehow the wrong words seemed to come out. She argued that it was part of her natural inclination for accuracy exerting itself, but lately she suspected that a certain defiance had wormed its way into her consciousness.

Seven had not felt this confused since her connection with the Collective was severed. She had attributed it to a lack of familiarity - both in her relationship and her surroundings. She was becoming adjusted to her surroundings. The opposite was true of her relationship with Chakotay. The longer they were together, the more confused she became. Instead of gaining familiarity and insight into Chakotay, he became distant and unfathomable. He no longer lavished her with copious attention as he had before Voyager returned to Earth. Instead he seemed to ignore her as often as not. He was more attentive in public than when they were alone, but even there he seemed more interested in seeing who was watching them than in looking at her.

All of this would have been tolerable. Seven did not need or want the fawning or lavish affection Chakotay had demonstrated during their first few months together. It was the sex that bothered Seven most of all. It had begun as a disappointment - one she had gone to some lengths to hide in the certain belief that it would improve. It did in a sense. She became more comfortable with the intimacy and even started to experience the pleasure that naturally resulted from the stimulation of sensitive nerve endings. However, the act itself became more perfunctory and by the time Seven was arriving at a state of readiness, Chakotay had already finished.

In analyzing cause and effect, Seven was uncertain just how the general waning of Chakotays affection related specifically to their sex life. It was just one of the uncertainties about their relationship that had begun to bother Seven.

She looked up and found that Chakotay was no longer sitting across the table from her. She heard muffled conversation coming from the next room. For a while she moved about the kitchen putting things in order. When she finished, the conversation was still in progress.

"...these renegade exBorg ended up in the Alpha Quadrant. They need someone to deal with it and you seem like a good choice for commander to me. B'Elanna is going." Seven was surprised to see Tom Paris's image on the communications unit.

"Command what?" Seven asked.

"Seven!" Chakotay cried, just the slightest irritation detectable in his tone.

"Is Seven there? Hi, Seven." Tom yelled, weaving back and forth as if it would help him see beyond the limited range of the viewer. "You should bring Seven with you Chakotay."

"I doubt Seven would want to deal with a bunch of outlaw Borg even if Starfleet would approve. Let me know if you hear anything more. Say 'Hi,' to B'Elanna for me."

"You got it on both counts."

The screen blanked. Chakotay rubbed his hands together briskly and turned to Seven with a smug grin.

"Starfleet wouldn't approve of me being there or you wouldn't?" Seven asked.

"Honey, you don't think they want to involve civilians. What if something happened to you?" Chakotay replied, carefully side stepping any real answer.

"Starfleet frequently utilizes civilian consultants. Who could understand the Borg better than I do?"

"These aren't Borg. They're ex-Borg."

Seven shot him an incredulous look.

"Are you going to make me say it?" Chakotay snarled.

"Say what?"

"Starfleet would never trust you."

Before Seven could respond, there was a knock at the door. Captain Janeway stood on the doorstep dressed in her uniform.

"Kathryn," Chakotay beamed, "what's going on."

"I'm here on official business. May I come in, Commander?"

Chakotay stiffened and stepped aside so she could enter. She smiled and nodded at Seven, who returned her greeting.

"Perhaps I should leave you two alone," Seven suggested.

"Actually, I'm here to speak with you, Seven."

"Perhaps I should leave you two alone," Chakotay mimicked with thinly veiled agitation.

"No, stay," Janeway said. "The two of you will probably want to discuss this anyway so you may as well get the data first hand. I would caution you to refrain from talking about this with anyone. Seven, how would you feel about accompanying me on a mission?"

"Does this concern the renegade Borg?" Seven asked.

Janeway chuckled. "Let me guess - Tom Paris."

"He suggested that Chakotay might lead the mission."

"I'm afraid that position has been filled, but Tom wouldn't have known that. What else did he tell you?"

"He didn't have any details." Chakotay cleared his throat before continuing. "Captain, do you know who is commanding the mission?"

"That would be me," Janeway returned with a winning smile.

Chakotay grinned boyishly back at her. "I don't suppose you're in need of a second officer."

Janeway's smile lost some of its dazzle. "I suggested it. I would like to have had you along, but Starfleet command opposed it."

There was a brief silence. When Janeway did not go on Chakotay asked, "Did they say why?"

"It's the Marquis business. I know Starfleet allowed you to retain the rank I gave you, but if you want to truly be a part of Starfleet again you're going to have to earn their..."

"Trust," Chakotay finished the statement and slouched into his chair.

"I'm very sorry, Chakotay. I didn't know you would be so interested. This makes it a bit awkward for me to ask, but we could really use your unique expertise, Seven. Would you be willing?"

"You can't expect her put herself at risk like this," Chakotay interjected.

"The risks or lack of risks have not been discussed," Seven pointed out. "I think I'm capable of making my own assessment."

Janeway sensed the tension between the couple. "I can assure you that there would be little or no risk to Seven. These ex-Borg have been terrorizing some of the distant outposts, but they're no match for a Starfleet battleship. But perhaps I should come back another time." Seven and Chakotay had been eyeing each other like two contestants in a bear bating. Janeway began to rise, but Chakotay motioned her to stay seated.

"No, I'll go," he said. "It's clear I'm not needed here." He hesitated a moment as if expecting one or both of the women to encourage him to stay. When neither did, he snatched his coat and banged out the door.

B'Elanna Torres and Seven of Nine sat in uncomfortably close proximity to one another waiting for the transport that would take them to Voyager. As the time for the scheduled departure neared, Seven became more agitated - shifting position every few minutes and making soft guttural noises deep in her throat. B'Elanna's shallow pool of patience was running dry.

Seven suddenly lurched from her chair causing it to scrape loudly across the floor.

"What is your problem?" B'Elanna growled.

"I did not mean to disturb you. I simply...I was thinking..."

"You're expecting Chakotay to show up and say 'good-bye' and he hasn't." She could tell from Seven's expression that she was right.

"We said our farewells." Seven's voice faded and she sat heavily in her chair.

"You love him and you're going to miss him?"

"No…I mean yes. It is difficult to explain."


Seven considered telling B'Elanna to mind her own business, but decided that there was little harm and possible benefit in talking to her. "This is not the way it was supposed to be. Our relationship is not as it was when we began. Then there was joy. My entire being was consumed in the process. Yet even before Voyager's return to the Alpha Quadrant, I detected a change. Small matters began to annoy me. His smug attitude. His disingenuous bonhomie. His arrogance." Seven paused a moment, realizing that B'Elanna might be insulted by Seven's evaluation of her former leader. B'Elanna just nodded. "When we reached Earth, my dissatisfaction increased. Now I feel relief to be leaving him and I am annoyed to feel relieved."

B'Elanna replied, "What you felt in the beginning was the first blush of love. It is very powerful. Some people become so addicted to it that they spend their entire lives searching for new relationships. If there's anything more intoxicating than the first blush of love it's the first blush of first love."

"I've been in love before," Seven objected.

"You're talking about the relationship you had in that cerebral Borg Utopia you called Unimatrix Zero? That wasn't love. That was a fantasy crush on mood enhancers. Welcome to the real world where couples leave the top off the toothpaste. If you want perfection when it comes to love, you're going to have a tough time. Love is what you feel despite the flaws."

There was one Borg tenet that Seven clung to. It was the quest for perfection. It was difficult to accept the notion that a relationship would have to exist without it. "If I were willing to overlook some of Chakotay's shortcomings, do you think we could repair our relationship?"

"That's pretty much how it works for Tom and me, except that you have to overcome rather than overlook. In order to overcome the small things, there has to be something bigger worth holding on to."

Seven's eye brow flicked and her hand began to curl into a grip around some invisible object.

"No, no," B'Elanna exclaimed, swatting at Seven's hand. "I'm not talking about sex. My point is that Chakotay, for all intents and purposes, was your first love and they very seldom last. It's very hard to put into words what makes a relationship real and lasting, but it doesn't sound like you and Chakotay have it."

Seven relaxed. Somehow, having B'Elanna drive the final nail into the relationship that was "Chakotay and Seven" freed her from the anxiety that gripped her and she no longer wondered or cared if he might put in an appearance for a final farewell.

There were many familiar faces gathered around the polished oval table. Besides B'Elanna, Tuvok and the doctor were part of the crew Janeway had assembled for this special mission.

Seven of Nine felt more comfortable in this conference room than she had anywhere else since Voyager's return to Earth. Such was not the case when she first came back aboard. While some of the command staff had previously served on Voyager, most of the general crew were new. Her normal attire attracted unwelcome attention. At the doctor's encouragement, she adopted the Starfleet uniform of the science division, minus any rank insignia. Her new look elicited an approving smile from Janeway the first time she saw it.

"You all have exceptional qualifications in one area or more when it comes to the Borg." Janeway was saying. "Some of you have had practical experience with the Borg. To others, the Borg has been an exercise in academics - compiling and reviewing data that has been collected as a result of humanity's encounters with them. We need to merge these two aspects into something superior to either experience or knowledge alone. I'm not interested in reputations, so you can check your egos at the door. This crew is going to function as a team. That's an order."

There were one or two guilty expressions as Janeway's gaze swept the room, but she could see that all of her senior officers were either with her or coming around to her way of thinking.

"Those of you who haven't met Seven of Nine certainly know of her. She is the amalgam of knowledge and experience when it comes to the Borg. Technically, she is here as a civilian consultant, but I want you to accord her the respect due to any Starfleet officer.

"The Borg we are facing is unlike any we've dealt with in the past. They do not assimilate. They do not conquer. They destroy randomly and leave wreckage in their wake."

"Are we sure the Borg queen is dead?" a fresh, young lieutenant inquired.

"All of the evidence points to that conclusion." Evidence aside, Janeway had every confidence that her future self had fulfilled her final mission, killing the queen and setting Voyager free of the Delta Quadrant.

"Then maybe the new queen has a different agenda," someone offered.

"Maybe there is no new queen."

"Seven, what do you think?"

"The queen did not have an agenda," Seven stated. "The collective had a goal - perfection. The queen functioned as a focal point for the goal. This necessitated a certain autonomy, much as I had when I was a liaison to Voyager; before my link to the collective was severed. However, her purpose, like mine, continued to be defined by the collective. The queen had control, but only as a means to make the many voices one."

"So without a queen…"

"Drones are capable of establishing subnets," said Seven. "Beyond that, I can only speculate."

"If the queen had survived," it was the young lieutenant again, "or been replaced, couldn't she or her successor be seeking revenge?"

"Revenge is not efficient," Seven responded, with a cool glare.

"Whatever the cause may be, we won't know anything for sure until we make contact. I'm not expecting a gracious welcome. You have your assignments. I want daily progress reports. Dismissed."

The din of over lapping conversation began to fill the room as the meeting dispersed. Janeway touched Seven on the elbow and gestured for her to stay.

"I like your new outfit," Janeway commented.

"It does not violate Starfleet regulations?"

"Not at all. Even Neelix wore the uniform for a time, but your collar looks a little naked with nothing on it."

"To wear rank insignia would be a violation."

"Yes, but I don't think this will break any rules." Janeway handed Seven a small box. Inside was a clump of metal about the size of a pip. On closer inspection Seven found that it depicted two crossed anchors covered by a shield. Perched on top of the shield was a bird with its wing spread.

"It's a naval officer crest," Janeway explained as she took it from Seven's fingers and attached it to her collar. "It's no longer in official use by any branch of the military, so I don't see how it does any harm."

Seven felt strangely moved by the gesture. "Thank you, Captain. I will always wear it."

"So you don't think the Borg's recent behavior has anything to do with the queen?" Janeway asked.

"It may have everything to do with the queen, but only because she is dead. How else would one explain the failure to assimilate technology at the outposts that were attacked?"

It's one of many puzzles I hope will be solved when we find them." Janeway moved nearer, closing the natural gap between her and Seven. Softly she said, "I'm sorry about the difficulty I caused between you and Chakotay. If I didn't need you so badly I wouldn't have asked."

"You caused no difficulty between us that did not already exist."

"Are you all right?"

"I will be. I have learned that Chakotay and I were not compatible."

"No." Janeway's expression was sympathetic, but Seven detected an inexplicable gleam in her eyes.

"You knew this?"

"I may have had some misgivings, but I was genuinely happy for you. The annals of successful relationships are filled with incongruities, but I did feel that someone else might be more suited to your special qualities."

"You were once fond of the commander?"

Janeway blushed. "There was a time when I thought we would be spending the rest of our lives alone together - literally. Looking back, I think it was my way of adapting to the situation, but it did give me some insight into Chakotay and his prospects as a mate."

Seven sighed. She was tired of Chakotay and relationships and romance.

"Join me tonight for dinner," Janeway said. "There's so much work we need to do right now, but I want to talk more. I miss our conversations."

"I would be honored."

"Good. 1900 hours in my quarters."

The Captain's quarters had changed very little. A calmness settled over Seven and she decided that this is what coming home must feel like. Janeway offered her a drink. Since her initial disaster consuming champagne, Seven had experimented with controlled intake of alcohol. She thought about the way modest amounts made her feel and decided she wanted to experience that feeling this evening. She accepted a glass of sherry.

The table was already set when Seven arrived. Janeway declined her offer of assistance. Seven wandered the main suite observing objects. Some were familiar. Some, especially among the books, were new. A few were obvious souvenirs of their journey through the Delta Quadrant. One she recognized as a Borg implant.

"Is this mine?" Seven asked.

"Yes, it is or at least it was. It's the first implant the doctor removed when your body began to reject the Borg technology. I guess I kept it. I thought that one day you might want it. You're welcome to it."

Seven held if in her fingers and fondled it before returning it to its place on the shelf. "I would be pleased to know that you have it."

"And I would be pleased to keep it. I've gotten used to having it around. It reminds me of how far you've come. Now, sit down and eat."

She wasn't sure if it was the effects of the wine or a general bliss, but the dinner tasted extraordinarily good and she savored every mouthful. The two women talked little about their present situation, dwelling mostly on the past. Seven was surprised to find herself laughing at incidents from the Delta Quadrant that at the time hadn't been amusing at all. They sat at the table, both sipping after dinner coffee. Janeway related the story of Naomi coming to her ready room when Seven was abducted by the Borg queen with a plan to rescue her. Seven was moved to reach out and place her hand on top of Janeway's. The captain stiffened at her touch.

Seven pulled away and stood. "I should return to astrometrics. There are some tasks that require my attention before I regenerate."

"Do you really have to go?" asked Janeway, recovering her usual grace.

"I believe I should," said Seven, aware that the moment had passed. Whatever euphoric bubble had surrounded them was burst. "Thank you for the meal. I enjoyed it very much."

"You're welcome. It was my pleasure. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Good night, Captain." Seven walked down the corridor trying to shake off a curious sense of disappointment.

For once, Janeway was grateful for the limitations of time and space. It gave Voyager's crew the chance to work over the rough spots. By the time her operations officer announced, "One Borg scout ship dead ahead," they were prepared.

"On screen," Janeway commanded.

"Captain, they're moving away."

"Helm, lay in a pursuit course. We've got them now."

"They're accelerating. We're going to need maximum warp just to keep up with them."

"Give it all we've got and a little more if you can find it." Janeway leaned forward.

Tuvok sat at her left hand, as her second in command, just as he had before his covert mission to infiltrate the Marquis. He observed, "We won't be able to maintain this speed for any extended period. Pursuit may be futile."

"We'll do what we can. Helm, keep me advised."

For several hours Voyager stayed to her course - the Borg ship remaining tantalizingly out of reach. Except for the routine updates from helm and operations, the bridge was silent -devoid of the usual banter.

"Torres to the bridge. Captain, I'm sorry, but several systems are approaching critical. If we don't reduce speed soon we're going to start losing them."

"Are the Borg showing any signs of wear?"

"I'm afraid not," the ensign at ops reported.

"Reduce speed to warp five. Continue to track their progress."

"The Borg ship is dropping to impulse."

"Red alert! All hands, battle stations! Execute evasive maneuver gamma-one."

In the seconds it took Voyager's crew to reach, it was too late. The ship was suddenly engulfed in a Borg armada.

"There are a dozen scout vessels, three spheres and two cubes. Their weapons are NOT armed and we're being hailed."

"Open a channel."

"We are the Borg. Resistance is futile. You will surrender Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix Zero One,"

"I will not surrender any member of my crew," Janeway responded with vehemence. Her declaration was met with silence. "Status?"

"The Borg have broken the communications link, but they continue to shadow our course."

"Weapons? Transporters?" Janeway asked.

"Weapons still powered down and no signs of any attempt to board Voyager."

"What the hell are they up to?" Janeway growled rhetorically.

"They are waiting," Seven replied.

"But for what?"

"For me." Seven took a step back from the console and clasped her hands behind her back.

"But why?" Janeway stood and turned to face her.

"There is only one way to find out. They have already demonstrated that we cannot outrun them. What other option do we have?"

"If they don't give us another option we'll just have to make one," Janeway stated. "I guess it's time we started putting our amassed Borg expertise to work."

"Captain," Seven interjected, "if I might have a word alone with you first."

"In my ready room." Janeway waited until the door closed behind them to say, "You can't talk me into this, Seven."

"I don't need to convince you. These Borg lured us here. This was a trap."

Janeway crossed her arms over her chest and bowed her head in guilt. "How could they have known? How could they have know that you would be with us?"

"It was easy to surmise that I would be asked to help. What is remarkable is that they have made no attempt to board Voyager. They could have taken me by force. They want something from me."

"But what?"

"As I stated, there is only one way to know."

"Captain to the bridge."

Janeway rushed from the ready room, followed by Seven.

"A Borg sphere is approaching at high warp. It is firing on the other Borg ships, which are charging weapons."

"The cavalry riding to our rescue?" Janeway queried.

"I think not," Tuvok answered. "They are on a collision course with Voyager."

"Target engines and fire," Janeway ordered.

"Firing. No damage. The sphere will impact with Voyager in 30 seconds."

The bridge trembled and the inertial dampeners strained to stay on-line.

"What was that?"

"A Borg cube maneuvered into the path of the oncoming sphere. The sphere has been destroyed. The cube sustained heavy damage and the Borg are hailing. Channel open."

"Surrender Seven of Nine."

"Close channel," Janeway snorted in disgust.

"Captain, you must comply," Seven pleaded.

"Borg that won't attack us but hold us captive. Borg that attack us only to be destroyed by other Borg. Has the universe lost its mind?" Janeway shook her head.

"Couldn't Seven activate her neural transceiver, tap in to see what's going on?" It was the lieutenant with the revenge theory.

"Yes," Seven agreed. "Then I will know what they know."

"Proceed," Janeway reluctantly agreed.

Seven closed her eyes and almost immediately her knees buckled. She would have crashed to the deck had a pair of ready hands not caught her.

"Bring her here," Janeway instructed, motioning toward her command chair. "Seven, are you OK?"

"The Collective is filled with chaos. I was not prepared. I will try again," Seven said, closing her eyes again before Janeway could protest. Seven's brow furrowed, but she otherwise maintained her composure.

"Chaos," Seven whispered. "Several drones have asserted themselves since the queen's demise. Some want to control the Collective. Some want to destroy it in order to force each drone to become an individual again. The Borg who surrounded us want me to return to the Collective and become the queen. It seems that I had been groomed as the queen's successor for some time. This is why I was assigned as an adjunct to Unimatrix One. This is why I was selected to experience autonomy as a liaison to Voyager. This is why the queen blackmailed me into returning to the Borg. The assimilation of humanity was only part of the plan. All of this she was able to hide from the Collective until her death."

"The Borg who attacked us…?"

"…were trying to kill me. They want to keep me from becoming queen. Many drones have re-established their individuality. They want to force this lot on all drones."

"Then we have to escape," said Janeway. "We can support their cause."

Seven said, "There is no escape. Even if we could evade our escort, the other faction will pursue us until I am dead. You must let me go or kill me."

"I won't let you die and I won't let them take you."

"Captain, you must trust me. They will not be getting the queen they expect. I believe I can help the Borg become individuals without the trauma of having it forced upon them. I believe I can do this and still remain myself."

"Are you sure?" Janeway asked. "I couldn't stand to lose you."

Seven took Janeway's hand. "I will always be with you. Trust me."

"Open a channel to the Borg," Janeway commanded.


"This is Captain Janeway. Seven of Nine and I will be transporting to your vessel. Send us coordinates."

"Coordinates received."

Janeway helped Seven to her feet. "Tuvok, you're in command. Transport us to the coordinates."

"Transporter energizing."

Janeway and Seven materialized in a room that was reminiscent of the chamber where Janeway had encountered the queen. Seven brushed her forehead with her finger tips. "I am receiving instructions. I must go, but there is something I must say to you, Captain."

"You don't need to say a thing." Taking Seven's face between her hands, she kissed Seven's mouth. Seven returned the kiss with a passion that melted in a sensuous embrace.

"You have my heart," Seven whispered, "but I must go." They disentangled in stages until only their hands were touching. Palms slid across fingers until contact was finally broken at the tips. Seven walked to the center of the room and placed her hand on a console. Her body went rigid. Janeway could see movement under Seven's uniform, but only realized what was happening when body armor emerged out of her sleeve.

Janeway tapped furiously at her commbadge, but the signal was blocked.

Seven's transformation continued. The implants were shed from Seven's face and her skin became ashen as clumps of blonde hair tumbled to the floor. Her uniform dissolved away, except for the naval officer crest, which attached to become a part of the armor at her throat. Seven's body relaxed. She looked at Janeway with strange, metallic eyes and said, "My work has begun. Return to your ship."

Janeway wasn't surprised to see Chakotay at a social gathering with a gorgeous young woman on his arm. However, she was surprised when he introduced her.

"Kathryn, this is my wife, Adele."

Janeway made no attempt to hide her disapproval. "It hasn't been that long since you broke up with Seven."

"Actually, we knew each other before Seven went on that mission with you." Chakotay didn't even have the good grace to look guilty. "About the mission… Ah, Adele, honey, will you excuse us for a moment."

"Sure, Choka. Anything you say," Adele replied and moved off into the crowd.

"I've been hearing all kinds of rumors about that mission." Chakotay's voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. "When it comes to the Borg the news services always put on whatever spin they think will sell the most advertising. What really happened?"

Janeway found herself pouring out the details despite her reservations. Perhaps it was a need to unburden. When she came to the part where Seven began to transform into the queen, Janeway could barely hold back the tears. Chakotay was taken aback by the intensity of the pain in Janeway's face.

"There you are, Kathryn." Both Janeway and Chakotay turned their heads as a willowy figure slid up next to Janeway, took her by the arm and leaned into her with comfortable familiarity.

"Seven!?" Chakotay exclaimed.

"Commander," Seven responded. "It is still commander isn't it?"

"But you said she was the Borg queen," he remarked to Janeway as if accusing her of a lie.

"I hadn't gotten to the good part," Janeway explained as an aside to Seven. "Would you like to finish the story?"

"I did become the queen. I created a new collective out of the tattered fragments of the old one and gave them a new goal - community. It was a compromise between re-establishing the old order and destroying it. After the collective became a community, I was no longer needed."

"You think that will solve the Borg problem," Chakotay said with his practiced superciliousness.

"I did what I could. I no longer strive for perfection and neither do the Borg. Thus, there is no motive to assimilate others for now, but there is no telling what tomorrow will bring."

"Honey, who is this?" Adele had reappeared at Chakotay's side, clutching his arm possessively.

"Allow me to make the introductions," Janeway offered. "Seven this is Chakotay's wife, Adele. Adele, this is my spouse, Seven of Nine."

Seven extended her hand. Adele paused a moment before taking it. Chakotay stood with his mouth hanging open.

"Yes, Chakotay," said Janeway, "I know this was sudden and I don't have your good excuse, but it seemed right."

Seven put her cheek next to Janeway's and whispered. As Seven moved away, her tongue flicked at Janeway's ear.

"Oh, Annika," Janeway murmured. She cleared her throat. "If you'll excuse us, I think the party is dying and I hate to be the last to leave."

She folded her hand into Seven's and walked away.