Vaxen - A Starting Place
[pwaxen@yahoo.com]
J/7 Stories

This story is dedicated to Boadicea, who inspired me with her story "The Thing He Loves." If you haven't read it, you can find it at http://members.tripod.com/~Appelsini/B6.html. If it isn't there, email me and I'll send it to you. My story will probably make more sense if you read Boadicea's first.

This story is not part of my "Element…" series.

Disclaimer: Please forgive me for brazenly usurping the characters of "Startrek: Voyager." While UPN and other parties will no doubt lay claim to them, I believe that in a larger sense they truly belong to the universe. No infringement is intended. Stash, Moss, Chester and Portman are mine. Kai belongs to Boadicea but she loaned her to me for this story.

Warning: Women fall in love with each other. If you can't get with that program, find something else to read. This story contains explicit sex. It also has non-Voyager characters and it is set in a time beyond canon. Don't say you haven't been warned.

Please do not reproduce without author's consent. Thank you.

The Love She Knows

by Vaxen (pwaxen@yahoo.com)

"How's our 'cicle today?"

She clearly heard the voice coming from the other side of the thin partition. The question had been spoken with little concern for who heard it. The first time she heard it she didn't realize the question was in reference to her, but it didn't take long to translate 'cicle to icicle then relate it to cryogenic stasis. She was smart, but that was almost all she knew about herself. They told her it was a side effect of the long stasis. People lost their memories for hours or sometimes days, but they assured her that it would eventually return.

She knew how she'd gotten there. Her stasis chamber, a Starfleet stasis chamber, had been picked up as salvage on the outer edge of the Alpha Quadrant. It appeared to come from the Delta Quadrant, but one could never be sure of the trajectories when it came to free-floating objects in space. The tube had been damaged and it's occupant assumed to be dead. Her body had been set aside, to be recycled as raw material for the replicator system. Out on the rim, nothing was wasted. Her senses had been aroused by the gentle touch of fingers stroking her cheek. Her eyes had opened to find a burly woman, who she would later know as Stash, falling back with a startled expression and yelling, "She's alive."

The days of work to keep her that way that followed became a blur. She'd been told that the damage to the regulator system of the chamber had allowed her to recover from her near fatal injuries during her 25 years in hibernation. The resulting scar tissue had to be rejuvenated to allow proper circulation. It wasn't a difficult process, but it was painful and she was kept heavily medicated during most of it.

The source of the voice came around the partition. He was a scruffy man in a gray coat that may have been white at one time. He was scanning a padd, presumably hers. "Good," he said when he finally looked at her, "you're awake. Good news and bad news all in one shot for you today. We're kicking you out of here."

"I'm free to leave?"

"I wouldn't call it free. The foundation put a fair piece of change into keeping you alive. You can bet they'll want to be repaid. I imagine they'll credit your for the cryotube they found you in, but that won't cover everything." He snuffled deeply and ran his arm under his nose, leaving a small, shiny trail across his sleeve. He made a data entry on the padd and said, "That's it, get out of here."

"Where do I go?"

"Not my problem," he said, did an about face and slammed into a mountain of woman who stood guard at the end of the partition.

"What the hell's going on here?" Stash bellowed. "She's in no condition to leave. Whose asshole idea was this?"

"Calm down, Stash," the doctor pleaded with genuine terror in his voice, try as he might to disguise it. "They had a huge accident at that ion array their dismantling near the Medusa Nebula. A lot of the minor cases are being sent here. I was told to clear out everyone who could walk. Hey, I called you didn't I. I could have had her thrown in lock-up. She is indigent."

"Yes, Moss, you're a prince. Give us a couple of minutes"

Moss shrugged his shoulders and squeezed by Stash, making as little contact as possible.

"Hi, do you remember me?" Stash's demeanor had changed to a comforting acquaintance at the turn of a breath.

"You were there when I first woke up."

"That's right. I've been here to visit you a couple of times since, but you weren't exactly in any condition for visitors. I wanted to give you this." She pulled something on a chain from her pocket. It spun in midair, catching the light in beautifully refracted colors. The woman in the bed held out her hand and Stash allowed the necklace to collapse and fold into her palm. "There's an inscription, 'KJ Love 7.' I figure you must be KJ. I don't know what 7 means. I thought it might jog your memory."

"No, I don't remember seeing this before, but if it was with me I suppose it's mine." She studied the inscription.

"What should I call you?"

"How about KJ?" It sounded awkward.

"I don't know," Stash said wrinkling her nose. "What about Kage?"

"Close enough."

"Alright, Kage. Let's get you dressed and out of here. Moss is a twit, but he is only following orders."

"Where are we going?"

"My place, unless you had something else in mind."

"No, I mean thank you. You're very kind." Kage accepted the clothes Stash handed her. They must have been borrowed. Kage would be swimming in anything that actually fit Stash.

"No big deal. In a couple of days I'll be out of here for a month anyway. It's the way the salvo-rec tours run -- one month on duty, two weeks off."

"Salvo- rec?"

"Salvage and reclamation."

Moss ducked his head around the corner. "Just remember, Stash, she's your problem the minute you walk her out of here. She decides to hop a freighter while you're out playing cosmic trash collector, the foundation will take her bill out of your pocket."

"Get stuffed, Moss," she yelled at his retreating back. "Come on, Kage. Get dressed. Let's go." Stash turned to allow Kage some privacy. Kage pulled off the hospital gown, put on the clothes, placed the pedant in her empty pocket, folded the gown and stuck it under her arm.

"I'm ready."

"You're taking the gown."

"They told me I was wearing one when I came in. I'm only taking what I'm entitled to."

"I can't argue with that," Stash commented with a rye grin and led the way to the exit.

The hospital was climate controlled -- a fact Kage hadn't appreciated until Stash opened the door and a blast of hot, wet air hit her in the face like a fist.

"I can tell by your expression that you're not from around here, but then most people have the same reaction. There are no indigenous higher life forms on this planet. The running joke is that anything that got smart enough to realize where it was would leave. I grew up here so everything else seems strange to me."

The hospital was located at the edge of the settlement. Kage scrutinized the barren yellow landscape to the edges of the unbroken horizon. The only obstacles where the buildings behind her. The combination of atmosphere and open space threatened to overtake her senses.

"Steady," Stash advised, seeing the small woman sway. "We better get you home. Do you think you can walk?"

"I think I can manage." Kage got a funny little half smile at the thought that Stash might offer to carry her home. Her thoughts turned to more serious considerations. "I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but why are you doing this?"

Stash hesitated and looked away. She stopped, turned around and gazed past Kage at a sliver of distance horizon visible between the buildings. "I'm being paid to look after you. At first, I just figured the foundation was trying some new program -- seeing if they could cut costs by farming people out rather than keeping them in lock-up while they waited to work off their debt. That's not what this is. You know how Moss said it was my hide if you took off. It isn't true. I've got it in writing. If you skip, the foundation won't touch me." There was a long pause as Stash's eyes shifted from the horizon to look at Kage. "Who are you?"

"I only wish I knew," she sighed, the oppressive weight of her anonymity balanced heavily in the words.

"I'm sorry," said Stash. "I never liked the feeling of being caught in the middle and that's just what I feel right now. I guess it's not your fault. I just don't like not knowing."

"I know what you mean," Kage replied and seemed to shiver despite the heat.

"If it helps, I probably would have done it anyway. I feel kinda responsible for you. For the time being, lets just keep this arrangement between you and me. They didn't want me to tell you, but I hate to lie."

"I appreciate it, but who are they?"

"That's the other thing that makes me suspicious. Portman himself made me the offer. He's the top foundation man at this settlement," Stash sneered. "He wouldn't walk on the same side of the street as someone like me unless he was ordered."

"And what is the foundation?"

"Stellar Observational Nexus -- the S.O.N. Foundation, which maintains its status as a foundation by reinvesting every penny of profit into research resulting in the biggest salaries any researcher ever heard of. They only hire the best of the best. That's how I ended up here. My mother is the greatest macroradeographer alive. The foundation built this settlement just to maintain her project."

"Where are we?"

"Welcome to Septus, home of the Alpha Quadrant's largest scanning array -- it's probably the largest in the whole frickin' universe -- providing instantaneous telemetry up to fifty light years, delayed telemetry even further. Mom sure knew how to manipulate subspace."

"That kind of information could be very useful in a war."

"Interesting assessment. Maybe you were a Starfleet officer. It would help explain that tube we found you in. Starfleet is one thing you'll never find around here. No military value in Septus. This little piece of rock is just about as far from anywhere as you can get and still be somewhere. Speaking of which, we're here." They halted in front of a large structure, about one-fifth the size of the hospital.

"All this is yours?"

"Only half of it is living space. The rest is a garage for the flot. It's a racer. It's named after the sound it makes going mach one across the flats or maybe I should say would make if I could get the damn thing running. They have to offer something to keep people here. The longer you stay, the more you get. I take their money and enjoy being in the only place I ever wanted to be. I only wish I were smart enough to get a job planetside. Salvo-rec seems to be all I'm suited for."

"So the purpose of the array is to scan for refuse."

"You wouldn't thing it was worth it, but someone sure knew what they were doing. I mean, the array has been operational for 15 years so they must be making money."

"Money isn't significant."

"Now I know you're Starfleet. They're the only ones who still believe that. They may have been the only ones you ever did. No matter, if you are Starfleet, that can be our secret, too."

Kage seemed suddenly overwhelmed by the questions she felt a need to ask. Stash suggested she rest before they eat and showed her to a spare room. Stash explained that one day she intended to make a library of it, but so far had managed only a meager collection of volumes still sealed in their original packaging and a reader terminal.

When Stash was gone, Kage looked at herself in the mirror. She hadn't had a chance to really examine herself without the distraction of inquisitive eyes. A stranger looked back at her, one that was vaguely familiar. Threads of white stood out amid the shoulder length auburn tresses. Tiny creases around the sad, blue-gray eyes and thin, pale lips suggested she was in her mid-forties. The years in stasis left her complexion sallow and delicate. She looked deep into her own image until it seemed as if she might fall into it.

Red and black flashed across her vision. A memory or a self-induced illusion -- she couldn't be sure which, but as the image receded she felt certain it was significant.


Kage learned a lot about Stash over the next couple of day, enough to feel regret as she saw her to the port to begin her tour of duty on the salvo-rec freighter. With only a few days of life to look back on, a month seemed like a very long time to be without her only friend. To say, "I'll miss you," seemed inadequate. On impulse, Kage hugged Stash then kissed her on the mouth, holding contact a little longer than might be considered friendly.

Stash was flustered and a little embarrassed at first, but managed a smile as she told Kage to make herself at home and that she was welcome to whatever she needed, wishing her luck with her new job. After Kage left, Stash heard catcalls echoing across the port from the pad where her shuttle was docked. A crewmate had witnessed the scene and injudiciously decided to tease Stash. Stash gave him a fixed smile and as she walked by, smacked him across the chest and onto his backside.

The next day, Kage found little time to be lonely. The foundation ran her through a battery of tests designed to determine how they might best recoup their investment in her. At one point she was asked if she would like the foundation to research her past, to see if there were some other way she might recover her debt to them. Kage declined, determined to find whatever there was to know on her own. By law, the foundation was authorized and required to search records for criminal activity using verifiably unaltered fingerprints. Foundation policy prohibited any further search without the individual's authorization.

Kage was surprised, at the end of the day, when she was summoned to the office of Mislar Portman. Unlike Stash, who was big and solid, Portman was big but soft and flabby. Kage hugged her clothing to herself in an effort to offset to coolness of the room. Portman kept it cold to compensate for the heat trapped in his body by folds of flesh. Even so, there was a faint sheen of perspiration across his heavy brow. Kage speculated that he must have made an enemy somewhere up the line to be assigned to Septus.

"Have a seat," he offered affably. "I understand you've chosen to be known as Kage. Are you sure you wouldn't like us to look into your past? I can't imagine you enjoy being here. It could be years before your debt is fulfilled. You may have assets you don't know about."

"Thank you for your offer. Perhaps later. Right now I'm satisfied to remain on Septus."

His face registered the slightest hint of irritation. "As you wish. I wouldn't be here myself except…" He left the statement unfinished and shifted his bulk nervously in his overstuffed chair. "I understand you're sharing quarters with Nastasia White."

It took her a moment to recognize Stash's full name and acknowledge.

"You are entitled to your own quarters once you've begun to work."

"I will discuss the matter with Ms. White when she returns."

"Yes, of course," he remarked. "Concerning the matter of your employment," he continued, pretending to peruse the padd he had already examined thoroughly, "you scored unusually high in several categories – science, particularly physics seems to be your forte."

Kage reflected on the testing and the strange sensation of answering questions without knowing how she knew the answers, yet being absolutely certain they were correct. There was no origin for her knowledge and she was troubled by it.

"Your psychological profile indicates that you are stable despite the trauma you've been through. It also shows that you have strong leadership skills." Portman paused, almost as if he expected a response. "We usually start indigents off in some unskilled capacity, but in your case, I think the foundation would benefit from further investment in training." Something in his tone hinted that he actually felt the opposite. "You'll report for salvage and reclamation training in the morning. My secretary will take care of you. Good day, Ms. Kage, and welcome to S.O.N. Foundation." For a moment it looked as though he might rise and offer her his hand, but settled for a forced smile and a quick nod. He instructed his secretary to take care of Kage.

Once in the outer office, the secretary kept giving her sidelong glances as he downloaded information and authorization to a padd.

"Is there something you want?" Kage barked in a tone that caused the secretary to reflexively draw himself to attention.

"Sorry," he said, somewhat shamefaced. "It's just that I got a look at your record. No offense, but it's nothing special. Mind you, it's respectable and you're at least qualified for the training if not more, but I can't figure why Portman decided to handle you himself. He doesn't usually review employment tests much less conduct interviews. I can't help wondering what makes you special."

That dark region of her mind that represented the past she had forgotten opened before her like a chasm and she suspected that if she could only pump the depths of it she could understand. She swallowed the misery, smiled at the secretary and answered, "When I find out, I'll let you know."


Stash poked her head through the shuttlecraft doorway and took a deep breath of the muggy air, letting it fill her lungs with the comfort of home. It had been a long time since she returned home to a warm welcome and it made her heart jump to see Kage's pleasant face approaching her from across the port. They embraced and Stash, in her enthusiasm, lifted Kage off her feet.

"You wouldn't believe everything that's happened since you left," Kage stated breathlessly.

"You're looking great. Septus must agree with you."

"If I'm looking great it's despite Septus. How was your tour?"

"Nothing unusual. We came back with a full belly and two more in tow. That always makes the foundation happy."

"Do you have any plans?"

"Not for the moment, but I want to work on my flot sometime during the next two weeks."

"Good, then I'm taking you out to celebrate. We're going to be crewmates."

"You've been assigned to salvo-rec?" Stash cheered, both surprised and delighted and walked Kage out of the port. "How could you have completed the training this soon?"

"It's as if I was born to it. Maybe I was a salvo-rec in Starfleet."

"Doesn't sound like Starfleet's kind of operation, besides, I think S.O.N. pretty much has the market cornered. When you say crewmate, do you mean you've been assigned to the same tour I'm on?"

"At least for now. I can't wait to get back."

"Back?"

"All through the training, especially during the simulations, I had the feeling that I belonged in space." There was a sparkle in Kage's eyes that hadn't been there when Stash last saw her. It was very attractive and somewhat distracting, so much so that she walked right by the Backside of the Moon, which served a passable meal and generously strong drink.

Kage and Stash placed their order at the bar. A motion in the crowded room caught their eyes. It was Portman's secretary. He beckoned them over then continues to carry on an animated conversation with the group that surrounded him. The drinks arrived and they made their way to his table.

"Slumming, Chester?" Stash greeted the impeccably dressed man. He did seem a little out of place with his somewhat rougher company.

"Oh Stash, you know I'm just a rocket jockey at heart. Now be nice to me or I won't tell you the big news."

"Like the big news won't be all over this settlement in fifteen minutes anyway."

"Bully," Chester pouted, but quickly recovered. "Guess who's coming to town."

"The Borg."

"Bite your tongue. Guess again."

"Chester," Stash growled.

"OK, it's Anna Strom."

Stunned couldn't half describe the look on Stash's face. "When?" she finally asked.

"Four weeks. A month. I heard she left headquarters over a month ago."

"Any idea why she's coming here?"

"That's the nervous part, no one knows. Portman is fit to be diced. I don't think he has any more idea what's going on than I do, but you can bet she's not coming here to tell us what a good job we've been doing."

Stash gave him a distracted nod of agreement. "Thanks, Chester. Have a nice evening."

"You too, Stash," he replied, eyeballing Kage.

They found a somewhat quieter table in a corner. Kage examined the look of dismay on her friend's face and encouraged her to take a sip of beer. Stash looked at her mug and it reminded her they were supposed to be there to celebrate. She raised the glass and in a weak voice managed, "Cheers."

"What's this all about?" Kage asked, ignoring the toast.

"People like Anna Strom don't come to Septus. She's never been here -- not even when the project was started. Even my mother never met her, not in person, and now she's coming here."

"You make her sound like some kind of legend."

"She is a woman of mythical proportion -- brains, beauty, wealth and power. Out of nowhere and nothing she created the single largest organization this quadrant has ever seen. I remember some of the subspace band conversations she had with Mother when the project was in the development stage. She understood what Mother was talking about – all that temporal mechanics and subspace manipulation. I caught a glimpse of her once or twice. She was stunning."

"Why would she come here?"

Stash snorted without humor. "Change. The most likely change I can see is shutting down the settlement. This is a company town. Without the foundation there is nothing on Septus. I'd have to leave."

The last sentence was almost a whimper. Kage's heart ached for her beleaguered friend. "If she didn't come here to start this project, do you really think she would make the trip all the way out here to terminate it?"

The logic of Kage's argument seemed to seep through Stash's misery. "You're right," she agreed, "People like that don't bother with people like us. What would motivate her?"

"Power?"

"It's hard to imagine anyone that powerful wanting more and why would she have to come here?" Stash drained the last of her beer and signaled for another. She silently waited for the refill, studying the foam running back down to the bottom of her empty glass as if it might some how reveal an answer to the mystery. Suddenly, Stash's face brightened. "It's personal."

"Personal?"

"There isn't any business she couldn't handle from the other side of the galaxy. All she has to do is say now and it happens. She doesn't need to check up on things. She has eyes and ears everywhere, the kind you build and the kind you buy. There's somebody here she wants and she wants them so bad she's not willing to leave it to her lackeys. This is someone she's going to take care of herself." Stash was warming to the whole idea and more importantly, as far as Kage was concerned, the smile had returned to her lips. "I hope it's Portman and I hope he fries."

With the air of gloom dispelled, the celebration continued. The drinks flowed. Chester passed their table and Stash offered him her theory. He liked it and found the idea of Portman being the target appealing. He inviting them to join him and they both agreed that it would be a good idea for Kage to meet the kind of people she was going to be cooped up with for a month. Despite, their rough appearance, most of them were as open as Stash once she got to know them. They each insisted on buying a round of drinks for the rookie. By the time the two women stumbled out of the bar, they were hard pressed to navigate the short distance to Stash's quarters.

"Home at last," Stash sighed as she propped herself up against the door jam. Kage strolled under her arm and wove her way down the hall. "I've really got to work on that flot this time, just as soon as I recover from the hangover I'm going to have tomorrow."

Kage came up short and backtracked to take Stash's hand and lead her to the door that separated the main living quarters from the storage workroom. "I have a little surprise for you," she whispered with a slight slur.

The lights in the large storage area came on as soon as their presence was detected. Where Stash had left a disorganized array of vehicle parts, a fully assembled and functional flot stood, two huge jets gleaming with power and ready to whisk her across the flat sands of Septus at terrifying speeds.

"Oh, Kage. It's wonderful." Stash ran her hands across the seamless, aerodynamic contours of the vehicle, caressing it tenderly. "How did you do it?"

"It's almost as if it did itself. I seem to know a little bit about a lot of things. Now all you have to do is find someone to race."

"That's never a problem. How can I thank you?"

"How can I ever thank you?" Kage rejoined. She moved up beside Stash, who continued to stroke the flot, and put an arm around her waist. Stashed turned her head and their eyes locked. Kage studied Stashes warm, brown eyes, windows to a soul that could reflect coolness or kindness but never cruelty. Stash circled her head with her hand and stroked the hair at the nape of Kage's neck. Her eyes became slits and her lips parted slightly as her head rolled to one side. The sight of her moist mouth was too inviting to resist. Stash covered it with her own and was rewarded with the inquisitive probing of a soft, warm tongue.

"I want to be with you tonight," Kage moaned when they finally parted.

"You will," was all that Stash could manage before she fell on her again, driven half to distraction by the need for contact. A trail of discarded garments marked their progress from the storage workroom to Kage's bed. By the time they reached it, they were both naked.

Kage sat on the edge of the bed. Stash knelt on the floor between her parted legs and teased the erect nipple of one breast with her mouth as she cupped the other in her hand. Kage ran her hands across Stash's shoulders and down her back, enveloping her in her arms and delighting in her substantiality. The attention her breasts were receiving began to take a toll on Kage's already perilous composure as waves of warmth surfaced inside of her. Kage let her body go limp and as she fell back, Stash moved up on the bed beside her, continuing to stimulate the responsive tips the of globes as her free hand searched across a small patch of tight curls for the treasure hidden within. Stash fingered the slit and was rewarded with an outcry of desire.

As fingers approached the swollen bundle that ached to be touched, Kage's mind seemed to slip momentarily into another reality. Stash was morphed into a smaller woman, who ministered her needs with the same loving care. The illusion vanished, but instead of surrendering to confusion, the experience heightened her passion. Stash responded to the growing hunger with a kiss on the inside of Kage's thigh. She took a deep breath of musk before parting the slit and began to devour the ripe feast.

Kage writhed, wrapping one hand in Stash's dark, brown hair and the other in the loose bedding. Kage looked down to find a golden river of light, blond hair flowing between her legs. The river shifted - a head turning up - and two diamond-blue eyes met hers.

Kage arched in ecstasy and cried out, "Seven," as the bottom fell out of the world. It took Stash several moments to comprehend the meaning. By that time, Kage had succumbed to the effects of the orgasm and too much alcohol. Stash stroked the cheek of the unconscious woman then molded her body around the slight form before passing out.


Stash woke first, the morning sun shining mercilessly through the uncovered window. She briefly wondered if they had provided entertainment for the neighbors the night before.

She and Kage had separated as they slept. Kage lay on her side with one arm dangling off the edge of the bed. Stash did not move, but looked past her at the library shelves. All of the volumes were unsealed and more had been added. Her gaze shifted back to the woman beside her. Stash thought about the first days of her last tour and the number of times she put her hands to her lips, remembering Kage's parting kiss. Once or twice she entertained the thought that maybe Kay would want to stay on Septus. The fantasy dissolved when confronted by the reality of Kage's restless spirit. The memory of her orgasmic declaration caused Stash to sigh.

The sound and the growing illumination caused Kage to stir and roll over. She blinked at the ceiling several times before turning her head toward Stash. Fragments of memory from the night before came tumbling into her consciousness. She turned her eyes back to the ceiling.

"Good morning," said Stash.

"Stash, I'm sorry." Kage responded, her voice heavy with guilt.

"You don't need to say anything," Stash interrupted. "There was or is someone else. I understand. Do you remember who Seven is?"

"She is my passion. I can see her face in my mind and I know I love her, but that is all. But after twenty-five years…" A tear leaked from the corner of her eye, seeping across her temple and into her hair.

Wanting to comfort Kage but feeling vulnerably naked, Stash began to edge her way off the bed.

"Please don't leave," Kage entreated, taking hold of Stash and burying her head in the broad, bare shoulder. "I'm sorry I have so little to offer you. I wish I could tell you there is no one else and I will always be here. Seven is my passion. She may always be, but you are my companion. You have been since the day you rescued me from the hospital. I don't know how things will turn out, but for now I'd like to be with you. Is it enough?"

Stash had thought she would always to alone. Her associations were generally with men and they were usually held at arm's length. For the first time in what seemed like a very long time, she felt the loneliness ebb. She had never been anyone's passion, but she could be happy being this woman's companion. For now, it was enough.

"Yes," Stash replied and kissed Kage on the brow.


"Stash, congratulations. I hear you won a race." Moss was being entirely too friendly. It put Stash on her guard. "Say, how's that friend of yours?"

"You should know, she was in here for her pre-flight exam yesterday."

"Sure, but that was only twenty minutes. You're around her a lot more. I thought you might have noticed something."

"What sort of something?" Stash asked, wondering where this fishing expedition was going.

"She says she hasn't remembered anything. She should have by now."

"Are you asking because you're concerned or are you saying she's a liar?"

"If she's lying I don't care, but if she's not, there may be more going on than just a little case of cryo-frost."

"What are you saying?"

"Maybe there's something she wants to forget." Moss leaned closer and his voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. "You know, the accident with the cryotube wasn't an accident. Someone knew what they were doing and rigged it that way."

"How many people know about this?"

"This is just between you and me," Moss said with a wicked grin. "I only share with you."

Stash graced him with a genuine smile. "I don't care what people say about you, you're alright."

Moss put his hand over his heart. "I'm touched."

"Thanks," Stash said and turned for the door.

"You know," Moss called after her, "Strom left for Septus just about the same time the tube was found."

"I know." Stash's countenance darkened. "Thanks, again."


A siren wailed and red lights flashed.

Salvo-rec was a mundane occupation as space endeavors went, especially in the sector around Septus. Floating debris seldom posed a threat, much less fought back. The stunned freighter crew were frozen in place, confused by the unfamiliar clamor, but the gut twisting wrench of the massive vessel taking a hit to the port side sent them scurrying to their stations awaiting orders. A second blast battered them and all eyes on the bridge turned to the command chair.

The captain was a career man. He's been commanding freighters for over a decade and could accomplish a tow-and-dock maneuver with his eyes closed. This was the first time he had ever heard an attack warning.

Kage at ops quickly gathered information anticipating the captain's call for status. "Captain," she snapped, bringing the officer back to himself. "Sensors indicate a weapons station of Taltac origin," she continued. "It's set to automated proximity activation."

"We've got to get away from it. Bring her about. Full power to impulse," the captain ordered as another hit rocked them.

"It's too late for that," Kage argued. "This ship has standard shields. They'll survive an asteroid shower, but not the concentrated energy of weapon discharge. They won't last long enough for us to get out of range." She paused, waiting for the captain to respond, then something inside of her seemed to click. "Helm, hard port thrusters. Adjust course to intercept the weapons station."

"What do you think you're doing?" the captain screamed.

"Taltac stations have a vulnerable spot like a soft under belly. The course adjust adjustment puts us on a trajectory to intercept and attack that spot."

"With what?"

"The closest thing we have to a weapon -- the cutter torch. We're going to have to come in fast and close to use it and still avoid being destroyed. If we're lucky, we can disable power."

The captain was caught between the prospect of putting his command in the hands of someone he barely knew and that of certain death. It was a short debate. "Someone will need to man the cutter." He got out of his chair and swiftly headed aft. "Kage, the bridge is yours. I only hope you know what you're doing."

"Trust me," she said in a voice that resonated confidence. "Helm?"

"Course laid in. Giving it all she's got. This thing wasn't made for fast acceleration."

"Fortunately, that weapons station isn't in top working order either. If it were we'd all be cosmic dust by now. How close can you get us?"

"Would you like to reach out and touch it?" The helmsman's face shined with the effects of stress and adrenaline.

"Steady, not too close. If we hit a containment module we don't want to get caught in the backwash. Just close enough for the cutter to do its damage."

"Kage, what's going on?" asked Stash, who had just appeared on the bridge.

"Stash, were did you come from?"

"I was in cargo hold 5 when something hit us and alarms went off. We've got a hole the size of a shuttlecraft down there. A force field is keeping the air in for now. I've secured the compartment."

"Good. We're under attack. I need to check damage control. Can you cover ops for me?

A dozen questions sprang to mind and were summarily dismissed. "I'm on it." She relieved Kage at her station.

"Stash, let me know when we're within 30 kilometers of the weapons station. Then give me updates in 5 kilometer intervals." Kage moved to check ship's status and opened the ship's internal communications system. "Captain, are you ready?"

"I'm in place and the cutter in online. We're going to have to be within five kilometers to be at all effective - three would be better."

"Helm?"

"No problem."

"Good," said Kage, "because we're probably only going to get one shot at this."

"30 kilometers."

"Captain, how's your targeting?"

"Not yet."

"25 kilometers…20 kilometers…15 kilometers…"

"I have a target."

"10 kilometers…5, 4, 3…"

"Fire," Kage ordered.

A beam of white-hot energy emitted from the freighter, cutting a ragged gash across the station. The weapons ceased firing as the freighter passed the zenith of its arcing course and continued to move away from the station.

"It stopped," Stash called from ops. "We made it."

The helmsman let out a canine howl, but stuck to his boards. Stash flopped back in her seat. Kage breathed a sigh.

"What's happening? Somebody report." The captain's voice sounded strained.

"The weapons platform has been disabled." Kage answered. "We sustained damage to cargo holds 5 and 1. Containment fields are holding. Power levels returning to normal. Navigation, propulsion and communications online."

"Good work, Kage. I'm on my way."

Kage shifted her eyes away from the display to find Stash staring at her. Kage jerked back from the console as if it had singed her.

"Are you alright?" Stashed asked, rising and approaching.

"Yes, I guess I am. I'm not sure how that happened. It was like a reflex."

"Well, you've got good reflexes," Stash teased.

"Maybe it's because I just finished the training," she offered, but even as she said it she knew better. They didn't cover defense defects on Taltac weapons platforms in salvo-rec training.

"The captain will be here soon. He'll probably contact Septus. Someone is going to have to deal with that platform and we're in serious need of repair. You're first tour of duty was a short one, but it was memorable."

Kage managed a wan smile.


Portman was perspiring more heavily than usual and with good reason. For one thing, he had raised the room temperature to accommodate his guest, who was also giving him nervous sweats. A tall woman wearing a muted blue suit stood before his desk. The first thing he noticed about her was her spectacular figure. This created yet another source of heat for the corpulent executive. His damp clothes clung to him in suffocating layers.

He had offered her his chair but she declined, preferring to stand. Her hair was jet black, swept back in a flattering chignon. Her face was flawed only by the patch that covered her right eye. Her other eye was dark, so much so that it was impossible to tell were the iris stopped and the pupil began. She fixed the disarming organ of sight upon the man standing behind his desk.

"You don't look well, Mr. Portman," she said. "Perhaps you should sit."

Portman abandoned courtesy for comfort and almost immediately regretted it. He couldn't count the number of time that he had kept people standing opposite his desk, enjoying the feeling of superiority it gave him. He never imagined anyone could be in the same position yet make him feel uneasy and inferior.

"Where is the woman who was retrieved from the cryotube?"

"She was assigned to salvo-rec. Her crew shipped out two weeks ago."

"You will contact the ship and order it to return."

"Ms. Strom?"

"Immediately," she stated in a low, flat tone that left no room for argument.

Portman keyed the intercom on his desk. "Chester, contact the ship Ms. Kage is assigned to and order it to return to Septus at once."

"The Torrington is already on its way back," the secretary replied. "It was damaged in an attack."

Lines of tension appeared across Anna Strom's brow. "Who is this?" she said, pointing to the intercom speaker. "I wish to speak to him."

"Chester, could you step into my office for a minute."

Chester appeared at the door looking apprehensive.

"Was anyone injured in the attack?" Strom asked, urgently.

"The crew is alright. Only the freighter was damaged." The look of relief on Strom's face encouraged Chester and his anxiety abated. "I understand that Kage was the hero of the hours. Evidently, she's dealt with this kind of situation before."

Strom graced him with a faint smile. "That's quite possible. Thank you for the information. You've been most helpful."

"You're welcome, Ms. Strom. It was a pleasure to meet you."

"And you," she replied as he backed out of the room.

"Well, I guess that's settled. Can I make some arrangement for you -- find a suitable place for you to stay?"

"My ship is my home. I have lived aboard spacecraft most of my life. However, there is one other matter. Someone has been investigating Ms. Kage and her background." The look on Portman's face told her all she needed to know about who it was.

"Without my authorization?" Portman blustered. "I'll find out who it is and put an end to this."

"I trust you will."

"Is there anything else?"

"Yes, I would like you to accompany me to my ship."

"Now?"

"Is that a problem?"

"I'll have to cancel an engagement."

"I will wait for you in the reception area," she said and let herself out.

Chester was surprised to see her again. She had transported into Portman's office and he assumed she would be leaving the same way.

"You know Ms. Kage?" she asked him.

"I've met her a few times. She's a good friend of my friend Stash. She seems like a nice person."

"She is. Is she well?"

"Aside from the memory loss, she seems fine."

"She doesn't remember anything?"

"Maybe, Stash said something once about a woman."

"Is Chester your only name?" Strom asked, shifting her weight to one foot.

"Chester Worthington."

"Mr. Worthington, I don't think I have to tell you that Ms. Kage is important to me." She paused. "Secretaries often know as much about a company as the managers they work for. Are you one of those secretaries, Mr. Worthington?"

It took him a moment to adjust to the sudden segue. "I'd say I know as much as Mr. Portman."

"Mr. Portman lacks discretion in the use of his authority. His position is about to become vacant. Would you be interested?"

"Are you sure?" he asked, somewhat skeptical of his good fortune.

"I feel that you would look after the best interests of the foundation and that you are capable of discretion."

"I think we have an understanding, Ms. Strom."

"I believe we do, Mr. Worthington."

The door opened and Portman hauled his rumpled mass out of the office. "All taken care of. Ready anytime you are."

"Thank you again, Chester," Strom said, offering him her hand.

"You're most welcome, Ms. Strom."

Strom tapped the small pin on her lapel and spoke. "Two to transport."


Long shadows of sunset occupied the dwelling by the time Stash and Kage arrived home. The living room was dimly lit by the final rays of the dying day, filling it with a soft yellow glow. At first, neither woman noticed the silent guest that sat in a corner chair, blending into the shadows.

Stash saw her first and called for lights. She and Kage squinted, but the woman seemed immune to the effects of the sudden illumination.

"I've seen you before," Stash declared. "You're Anna Strom."

"Yes and I know who you are. How is your mother?"

"Fine," Stash replied, dumbfounded by the casual inquiry from an intruder. "What are you doing here?"

Strom answered by turning her eyes on Kage. Stash followed her gaze.

With all eyes on her, Kage became self-conscious. Strom's unflinching gaze got the better of her curiosity. "Do you know me?"

"I know you," Strom replied with the slightest quaver. She cleared her throat. "You used to know me, but I'm not sure either of us is the same person we were when we last met. I understand you don't remember anything prior to arriving on Septus?"

Kage shook her head.

"You don't recognize me, but then, I have changed."

"How do I know you?" Kage asked.

Strom did not respond. Instead she lowered her head, carefully removing the patch across her eye and looked up to reveal the crystal blue iris the patch had hidden. She closed both of her eyes. When she opened them, the left eye colored to match the right and a sculptured metal object materialized to frame the top and outside edge of the eye.

"Seven." It was a strangled sound. In the blink of those too familiar eyes, a lifetime returned -- events, emotions, people and places were all there. Her mind felt like ice held to a flame and she sank to her knees under the weight of memories.

"Kathryn," Seven croaked in a voice long devoid of emotion and rushed to kneel beside her beloved, comforting her in her arms. Janeway fell against her as the melting ice become rivers that flowed down her cheeks. Seven looked up at the sound as Stash moved away, feeling like an intruder in her own home. Seven looked at her with imploring eyes.

Stash knew this day would come and she had dreaded it. Now that it had arrived, it was almost a relief. The Kage she knew was gone. Stash relaxed with a sigh and gently said. "You need to be alone. I'll be outside if you want me."

For several minutes Janeway continued to cry and Seven continued to hold her, swaying in a soothing rhythm that eventually brought the paroxysms to an end.

"How could I let you?" Janeway asked, her voice still thick.

"Because you loved me. Because you forgave me. Because you knew I couldn't live without you."

"But the prohibitions and the penalty. To allowed you to create a life from my tissues…"

"It was a mistake. If I'd known, if I'd realized sooner that over time you could heal under regulated stasis, I could have waited -- I have waited for over 40 years. I don't know which was more difficult -- the years on Voyager when I thought there was nothing I could do for your or the years since that I spent searching for you."

"What happened to Kai, my clone? Did anyone ever find out."

"No, all anyone ever knew was that Chakotay and I had a child. Chakotay took her. He loved her in a way that I never could. She was too much of you and yet too little. Chakotay believed that I let you die, that it was a corpse we jettisoned in your cryotube before returning to the Alpha Quadrant.

"For two year I sold myself. The nanoprobes I once gave freely on Voyager fetched a handsome price in the markets of the Alpha Quadrant. During those years I learned about commerce and developed a plan. I created the S.O.N. Foundation, built giant arrays and populated the galaxy along the Delta Quadrant border with them. Sometimes I feared that I would never see you again." A silent tear migrated across Seven's cheek. Janeway caught as her hand caressed a face that was somewhat older than when she last touched it, but looked nowhere near the nearly three-quarters of a century she actually was. The two women appeared to be almost the same age.

A faint ringing, like a moist finger circling the rim of a crystal goblet, hung in the air. Seven disentangled herself from Janeway and retrieved a phaser from her pocket. By the time the shimmering air had materialized into a human form her weapon was trained on it. She might have fired, but the hesitation of recognition was all the time the interloper needed to train her own weapon on Janeway.

They stood on either side of her -- one Kathryn Janeway to the left of her, one to the right -- alike as twins but not.

"She has to die, Seven," the intruder declared. "There can't be two of us."

"How did you know?" Seven asked.

"Chakotay told me. He suspected what you had done, that you wouldn't let go her. He did what he could to protect me. He warned me. He may not have fathered me but he was still my father."

"Was?"

"He's dead," she stated and left the words hanging. Seven was surprised to find that the news of his death could touch her. "All I have left is my mother -- the two of you -- the one who created and carried me and the one who provided me with life."

"And without her you wouldn't exist," Seven insisted. "You owe her something for that."

"I owe both of you equally for that, but not in the way you intended it. I'm not here for recriminations or revenge. I'm here to make sure Captain Kai Chakotay doesn't become a non-person and I don't think you have it in you to stop me. In fact, I'm willing to bet my life on it." The muscles of her hand tensed around the phaser.

"No!" Seven shouted -- an order and a plea. "That won't help you. If she dies, the foundation is automatically authorized to search her background -- to recover the debt. You'd be discovered."

"Not if you ordered the debt cancelled. After all, Anna Strom, you are S.O.N Foundation."

"I won't do it."

"Do you understand what it's like to live with the constant threat of having everything taken away just because someone else had your DNA first?"

"There's another way," Janeway broke in. "I could leave."

"Yes," Seven agreed. "We're at the far edge of the galaxy. Kathryn and I can take my ship and leave the quadrant. No one will know."

Kai's grip relaxed ever so slightly. "Someone has already been making inquiries. That's what alerted me."

"That problem has been eliminated. There will be no more unauthorized investigations."

Kai found Seven's words both reassuring and a little frightening. She hesitated a few moments before holstering her weapon. "Then I suppose I should get back to my ship. I have a Taltac weapons platform to dispose of."

"You were ordered here?"

"Ironic, isn't it?" Kai mused. "I was the closest because I was keeping track of you, so when your foundation requested help, they sent me." She looked at Janeway. "I wish you luck with what's left of your life. It might have been interesting to know you better."

"Good luck to you, Captain Chakotay."

Kai moved within inches of Seven, took her face in her hands to pull her closer and kissed her, just as Seven had kissed the teenage Kai at the funeral service for Janeway. "I've waited 25 years to do that," she said, tapping her commbadge. "Transport, lock on my signal and energize."

"We should also leave," Seven suggested when Kai was gone.

"I want to say goodbye to Stash."

"I understand," she replied reluctantly and handed Janeway a communicator. "Call me when you're ready."

Janeway found Stash sitting on the front step, staring into the night sky. "You're leaving," Stash uttered without moving. "I'm not going to see you again."

"It's the way it has to be."

"I guess I always knew it would end like this, but a part of me hoped it wouldn't."

"Stash, I don't know how to thank…"

Stash raised her hands as if to block a blow. "No, Kage, don't do this."

"It's Kathryn."

"You'll always be Kage to me." Stash took the smaller hand in her own and stood. "Just say, 'Goodbye.'" They embraced and held on to each other until Stash released Janeway and pushed her to arm's length. "I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you, too," Janeway replied and realizing there was nothing more to say, she activated the communicator. "Seven, I'm ready."


It was difficult to say which the crowd at Backside of the Moon were more intent on celebrating -- the promotion of Chester or the loss of Portman. Either way, the customers were in rare form, except for Stash, who was even more subdued than her usual taciturn self.

"Stash, it's a party," Chester encouraged. "I'm the boss and you're my assistant. This is cause for great joy. A toast to sanity in an insane universe." Stash raised her bottle and clinked it listlessly against his glass, then set it down without drinking. Stash's new job had been Strom's last order before her ship left orbit. She suspected that it was also Kage's parting gift. Stash would no longer be forced to leave the planet she loved. "And I'm so glad Starfleet didn't decide to hang around," Chester continued, "although I would like to know why they stopped here. I am the boss. I'm supposed to be told these things."

For a moment, Stash considered telling Chester about the scene she had witnessed through her living room window. She didn't think he would do anything with the information, but decided not to take the chance. "Chester, there are some things you don't want to know."

"You might just be right," he answered. "To benightedness."

"Benightedness," she replied and drained the bottle.


100 years later

"How's our 'cicle today?" The patient looked up to find the fresh-faced young doctor who had spoken hovering over him, apparently waiting for a response.

"Where the hell am I?" was the response.

"You're in a hospital on Septus."

"OK, now who the hell am I?" The man's fleshy face trembled with aggravation.

"Calm down. You're suffering from cryogenic amnesia. It will pass. You were found in a Starfleet cryotube. I tell you, those things were built to last. We're not sure who you are, but we found this pinned to your clothes." The doctor handed him a note from the bed stand. It read: "Mislar Portman, property of Stellar Observation Nexus Foundation."