The Devil's Own--Warmth 2, "Scenes from a Mating"
 

This is expected to be segment 7 (and a fitting number, as you will see) of the story cycle "Scenes from a Mating," the sequel to "Warmth." I wrote it early, out of order, because of rumors there will be a Voyager episode that will deal with much the same subject as this-- "Course: Oblivion."

Lots of sex in this one. Maybe I should subtitle it, "Voyager, The Next (AU) Generation."

Nah. But it probably would fit.
 
 

The Devil's Own
by J.A. Toner
 

Philosophers on many worlds in many quadrants of countless galaxies have considered the question without a satisfactory answer: if there is no one to perceive a sound, is there sound at all?

For millennia this world had slumbered, with no one to ask the question, let alone answer it. Vibrations that might be sounds if there were ears to hear rumbled through the cracked crust of the world as hot magma bubbled its way up from the deep core of the sphere. Hot gases and a veritable soup of complex compounds, trembling upon the edge of spontaneous life, swirled within its atmosphere and pooled upon its surface. Caverns and valleys alike glimmered with phosphorescence as all came to readiness. Deep within the depths of this world, a proto-sentience awaited the coming of that which would awaken its potential and fulfill its promise. And it waited, and waited, and waited, not even knowing how long it waited, or even that it waited.

But then, on the wings of an ethereal consciousness flying bodiless and timeless before the barely perceptible winds of possibility, what was awaited arrived.

That which might have slept forever slowly awoke, greeting the coming transformation in dazed wonderment. Whether or not they had ever been on Demon before, from now on, sounds would be.

=^=
 

::::Personal Log, B'Elanna Torres, Stardate 51874.9
 

"If you had someone down there you loved, you'd want to make sure they got back, too."

I'd said those words to Chakotay in the corridor, when he refused to let me join the away team to rescue Tom and Harry.

I think I surprised him by taking it so well when he said, "No." Later, he just as much as said it was because of Linnis. He didn't want to lose us both down there, leaving Linnis an orphan, when he really didn't need me to go. I think I knew that was his reasoning even when I was there in the corridor, asking him to let me go. I can't say I blame him. There I was in my "engineering smock," which everyone on the whole ship knows is one way I cover up my big behind. Tom says it isn't *that* big, but it's bigger than it was before Linnis. I've got some work to do getting back into shape, so I'm still wearing that dumb smock I wore to try to hide my big baby belly.

I don't think I would've let me go down, either.

But I know what really shocked him. I asked him to take Seven along to rescue Tom. I may not get along well with her, but I knew that if anyone could help find Tom and Harry, she could. Since Seven helped find them, I guess I owe her one.

I'm sure I'll have plenty of chances to return the favor, now.

When the word came they'd been found, I snuck out of engineering to go to the transporter room to meet them. Before I got there, I got word they'd been transported on to sickbay. Until the day I die, I'll remember that sick feeling I had when I pounded down that corridor towards sickbay. I'd wanted my husband, the father of our child back, but not this way.

When I got to sickbay, I wanted to tear something apart in my frustration. He was sitting there on the biobed, his head down as if in defeat, so unlike himself. None of that cocky attitude of his. I wanted to run over and gather him up in my arms and kiss him within an inch of his life, then step back and yell at him for worrying me that way.

I couldn't. When he saw me, his eyes filled with pain; and all I could say was, "We'll lick this."

The sparkling of the Doctor as he stepped through the force field was a shock. It reminded me of the time Tom went to Warp 10 and came back allergic to water. Tom couldn't breathe a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere any more. He needed to suck in "air" that was poison to the rest of us.

Maybe I should have figured out what was going from that. That was our main clue, but I didn't figure it out, not then. I couldn't imagine that the man who talked like Tom and looked like Tom and had all the memories of Tom might not actually BE Tom! My Tom, at any rate.

I felt my throat constrict as the Doctor explained it all to me. If I tried to touch his face with my bare hand, I'd damage my skin. He couldn't reach out to touch me, either. Whatever had happened to him down there had changed his body chemistry completely. It was unbelievable.

"Don't worry, Lieutenant. We'll get him back." The Doctor's assurances sounded as hollow to me as mine probably were to Tom, but what could I do? He *had* gotten Tom back after the Warp 10 experiment. Maybe I needed to have a little faith, even though patience has never been my strong suit.

Maybe we couldn't touch, but we could talk to each other. That wouldn't damage us. So, I sat down on the biobed across from him, and we chatted. I reassured him that Linnis was okay, staying with Neelix and Naomi. Naomi loved playing "mother" to Linnis. All Neelix had to do was make sure she didn't get too enthusiastic. Tom's tension eased a little while we were talking about our daughter, but we didn't get all that much time to talk before the captain called me to the lab.

Tom had such hope in his eyes when I left. He wanted to believe we'd find the answer. I was eager, too. I'd rather be working on the problem instead of sitting around talking, even if it was to my husband. I'd rather get him back.

It didn't take much to find the solution, really. A little accident, that was all. I spilled some of the planetary goo on my finger--and there it was. Another B'Elanna finger, popping up out of the liquid. I looked at the captain. She looked at me. When Chakotay signaled us a few seconds later with the news they'd found *another* Tom and Harry, he only confirmed what we already knew.

I was seething when I ran into sickbay to be with my husband--my *real* husband--and helped Sam Wildman and the Doctor pull him out of his EVA suit. That impostor was lucky I was too busy with Tom to tear him limb from limb. I didn't care what would have happened to my skin!

Later, though, when the captain spoke with the Tom clone, I couldn't help listening. He swore he had no idea he wasn't the "real" Tom Paris until the real one was found. I glanced at him, at his blue eyes searching in my direction, begging me to believe him. It was eerie. He *was* "my Tom." Even though he wasn't.

"My Tom" was still unconscious, but he'd been out of danger for a couple of hours when the clone Tom called me over and dared to ask me to agree to be cloned. I didn't know what to do at first. "Why should I do this? This planet almost cost me my husband's life! Why should I do you this . . . this favor?"

"Because I love you, B'Elanna. And I'd rather you just kill me right here than live without you and Linnis. Shut down the force field and let me drown in the poison air on this ship. Just get it over with."

He answered me so quietly, but with such intensity, that I was speechless. How could I say, "no?"

I didn't say "yes" right away, either. There were questions to be answered. It was one thing to be cloned, but could we survive down there? Could we provide ourselves with the necessities of life? Would we have anything to eat? Did we even need to eat? But if we didn't eat, would Linnis and Naomi be able to grow up there? Why bother cloning more of us if we would all die in a matter of days or weeks of starvation or exposure?

Tom and the Doctor agreed that my concerns were justified. The Tom clone volunteered to be transported back to the planet's surface to get some answers. Just before he left, he smiled at me. I felt that smile go straight to where it always goes, making me want him as much as ever. He said, "It's going to be all right. I know it now, B'Elanna. And if it is, will you . . .?"

"We'll both be there. Don't worry. And . . . " I took a deep breath. I wanted to grab his hands, but I couldn't, without burning mine. ". . . and if it isn't okay, I'll still be there. I just won't bring Linnis. I couldn't watch her suffer; you understand that, don't you? But I'll be there to keep you company. Until the end."

The look that passed between us then was the most . . . profound look, I think, that we ever shared. At that moment I knew we loved each other more than I think either one of us had ever realized. When I told him I'd be cloned for him, no matter what, I knew that we'd made the right choices back on Tantrum, when we finally got together. I knew it, and so did he.

Well, anyway, he went down to run his tests, and we found out that it *would* be all right, for all of us. The food stuffs that they replicated were all transformed, too, just the way Tom and Harry had been. The biochemistry was Demon biochemistry, but to Tom and Harry--the clone Tom and Harry--the apple tasted like an apple, the beer tasted like beer, and the leola root--God help us--tasted like leola root. Just as vile as ever. You can't win them all, I guess.

The microbiological tests came out okay, too. Cell division occurred the way it always does, and at virtually the same rate. The Doctor declared that growth and aging should proceed in the same predictable way it does in our biochemical system. There might be a slight deceleration in growth and aging, on the order of 2 to 4%, but that wasn't enough to bother ourselves about. Our lives and those of our children probably would be marginally longer than that of humans on Voyager or Earth.

So, I said yes to being cloned. The whole crew did. Even Seven. I wasn't sure about her at first. She surprised me. She'd never even wanted to be part of the crew, yet she was willing to have this avatar of herself hang around with the rest of us on Demon.

I'll admit, I looked at her differently then. She grew up, somehow, right in front of me. The captain, of course, was beaming at Seven. Some things never change, I guess.

All of us who weren't manning a critical station were in the cargo hold when we agreed to be cloned, but then the captain stunned us all with her next announcement.

There were two of us who weren't going to be able to come to the surface with us. The Doctor and Nanny *had* no DNA. They couldn't be cloned as themselves. Tom's and Harry's--clone Tom and Harry, that is--their experiments had shown that our current holoemitter technology was simply too delicate to survive in Demon's atmosphere, and we still hadn't been able to recreate the 29th century technology for mobile emitters that could have withstood it. So we were going to be without the services of the Doctor and Nanny, unless we all agreed on something radical.

The Tom and Harry clones had proposed something else. We had DNA in storage in the form of blood samples the Doctor kept for research purposes, when he was looking for a cure for something. Originally, those samples had been taken so that blood and tissues could be replicated in an emergency for medical treatments, but they weren't needed for that any more--those blood samples belonged to the dead.

Hogan. Kaplan. Bendera. Jonas. Suder. Durst. The Starfleeters who died when the Array first brought us all here, like Fitzgerald, Cavit, T'Pera, and Stadi. Even Seska! Any of them could live again on Demon, if the minds of Nanny and the Doctor could somehow be transferred to the cloned bodies. The Tom and Harry clones were sure it could be done.

There were ethical considerations, sure. Lots of them! But I could see the rationale, even though they couldn't answer for themselves to give consent. Would Kurt Bendera really object to having his body resurrected? I was sure he'd say he'd be willing to give life another shot, especially with the rest of us there to keep him company. Besides, we really needed the Doctor and Nanny. There was too much data in their programs to expect any of us to be able to absorb it all and still be ourselves, too.

After a lot of discussion and a vote, we agreed. Two of the blood samples, chosen by lot from amongst the dead, would be cloned for the EMH and the HHT.

After that vote was taken, Tuvok asked if the Doctor could go back to sickbay to begin preparations for our samples. Once the Doctor was gone, Tuvok gave us another jolt. He and Vorik requested that two more samples be cloned. They wanted to recreate their bondmates.

Since Tuvok had had many melds with T'Pel over his lifetime, it wasn't difficult to believe he could successfully imprint his wife T'Pel's memories and essence into the clone of the Vulcan nurse who had died during the journey to the Delta Quadrant.

Vorik did not have this advantage, but, as it turned out, he didn't really need it. The woman he wanted to resurrect had melded minds with him here on Voyager. That's who he wanted to resurrect.

Ahni Jetal had been friendly with Vorik before his pon farr, but after that failed mating with me, he became as close to her as any Vulcan could be to a human. He realized that of all the potential mates available to him aboard Voyager, he had missed the one that most complemented him. About a week before her death, Ahni offered to become Vorik's mate. Tuvok helped them to bond with a mind meld--a full one. She'd wanted to experience Vorik's memories of the pon farr so she would know what she would have to endure when his next one came.

I remembered Ahni's coolness to me just before she died. I hadn't any idea why at the time. I also remembered how Vorik acted at her funeral and for some time afterwards. He was more rigidly controlled than I'd ever seen him. Vorik had never been as dispassionate as other Vulcans I'd known, except for then. Now I understood. He was in deep mourning for his mate.

After Ahni's death, Vorik thought it illogical to tell the whole crew about their bond. Why bother? She was gone. Only Tuvok and Kes, whose telepathic powers had already increased to the point that she had "read," and even encouraged, their becoming a couple, had known of their bonding. But even if he'd decided it *was* logical to tell us, it quickly became impossible.

When the Doctor's cyber-breakdown occurred and his ethical subroutines went loopy on us, all evidence of Ahni's existence had to be purged from the computers. No one could mention her when the Doctor was near. How terrible that must have been for Vorik! He'd never even had the chance to acknowledge what Ahni had become to him, and now he couldn't even talk about her.

He did what he could. Though her logs and history must be deleted from the computers, Vorik wanted Ahni to live on in his memories. Before they were purged, he downloaded all her personal logs onto data PADDs. It was the closest he could come to preserving her human "katra." Secretly, he stored all her possessions with his. He vowed that when Voyager came home, he would return them to her family and let them know that they had been one, even if it were only for such a short time. Kes suggested to Vorik that Ahni's blood factors still might be useful for medical treatments. Despite the fact that untruths would have to be told for the ruse to be successful, Vorik agreed saving Ahni's blood was the logical thing to do. The small vial of her blood in Sickbay was deliberately mismarked with a false name so the Doctor wouldn't know whose it was if he accidentally stumbled upon it.

In this way, Vorik had managed to save all it was possible to save to bring at least the shadow of Ahni Jetal back to life on Demon. Now he needed one more thing. Permission to clone her, so an attempt could be made to reanimate her.

There was loads of discussion about this. Ultimately, what tipped the scales in Vorik's favor was that the more DNA samples that were available to the community, the broader the gene pool on Demon would be. And the broader the gene pool, the more likely the colony would thrive. We agreed that the Doctor on Voyager would not be told about Ahni, but on Demon, he'd have to know. Hopefully, when he had an inherited human personality rather than just a computerized personality matrix, he'd be okay. Besides, Ahni wouldn't be dead any more. Maybe he wouldn't feel so guilty then.

In the end, five people who had died were cloned, and more might have been if we could have figured a way to give them at least a semblance of their personalities. In addition to T'Pera and Ahni, Alyssa Kaplan was chosen by lot to be Nanny. We decided that two Doctors, mental "twins," would be created. Captain Janeway suggested two groups of clones should be left on the planet to improve the odds of the colony's survival.  When we told him about it later, the EMH agreed that there was a lot of medical knowledge the colony would need to have available, and besides, he had more than enough subroutines to contribute to two people. I'm not making any comment on that! I liked the idea of saving another guy, though, to decrease the chance that "the Ahni factor" would cause us to lose the Doctor. Two men's names were pulled at random. Pete Durst and Kurt Bendera won a second chance at life.

We decided, however, that the two Doctors and Nanny weren't going to get just the EMH and HHT personality subroutines and memory engrams. We agreed the personal logs of Kaplan, Durst, and Bendera should be sent down to Demon, too, along with replicated copies of their possessions we had in storage being taken home to their families. We couldn't totally recreate their personalities, of course, or most of their memories, but at least those thoughts they'd wanted preserved could be passed on to their "descendants." It was only fair. The clones might never want to listen to them, but they should have the opportunity to know who they came from, if they wanted to.

At any rate, once this tricky stuff was decided, the Doctor was called back in to take blood samples from the living. Linnis cried for a few seconds when the Doctor pricked her foot, but with one chuck under the chin by Neelix, she stopped crying and smiled, the tears still running down her face. I think she was more surprised than anything. It really didn't hurt, and . . ."::::

"B'Elanna, aren't you finished with that log entry yet? You've been dictating that thing for over an hour!" Having entered their quarters quietly, Tom startled his wife when he passed where she was sitting, engrossed as she was in dictating into her data PADD.

"Tom! . . . uh. 'End personal log.' You know, Tom, you're always doing that." Hissing with annoyance, B'Elanna placed the PADD down on the seat next to her.

"Doing what?"

"Interrupting me in the middle of a log entry."

"If you spend hours making log entries, of course I'm going to interrupt you!" he agreed, speaking as quietly as he could as he crept lightly to the cradle to check on his daughter. Linnis was sleeping soundly.

"Our log entries are important! Future generations are going to want to look back and see just what happened to create the colony."

Breathing a deep sigh of relief as he slipped off his uniform jacket, Tom stretched luxuriously as he tossed the discarded garment onto a storage crate. "I know they're important. That doesn't mean you have to document the founding of the entire colony in one night." Slipping behind B'Elanna, he teased in a sultry voice, "Now that I'm off duty, I've got better things to do than make log entries. You can always bring the PADD to bed with you and finish later, all snuggled up close to me."

"Right. Like I'd really be able to concentrate on dictating a log entry that close to you."

"Are you saying I'm irresistible, Lieutenant?"

"Very funny, Tom. Ha, ha. Now, where have I heard that before?"

"You've got to admit the surroundings are about right."

"Better not be any earthquakes, though," B'Elanna laughed. "We do have this strange affinity for caverns, don't we, Tom?"

"It's a lot warmer than the last time we were in a cave together. Making little Linnis . . ." He wrapped his arms around his wife and touched the back of her neck lightly with his lips as both fell silent.

Their surroundings evoked many memories in both of them. The ambient light from  the silver pool running along one wall gleamed against rough rock walls, highlighting colorful veins of minerals running through the stalactites and stalagmites buttressing the ceiling of the large, yet somehow comfortable, chamber. These were not standardized, Starfleet-issue crew quarters. This was a raw, natural setting. All of them would have to get used to living like this for some time to come. There were many tasks more important to the new colony's immediate future than building housing units like those they'd had on Voyager. A large number of caves were available for housing, needing only minimal modification, if any, to make them seem like home to the inhabitants.

After several quiet moments enjoying her husband's touch, B'Elanna whispered soberly, "So how are they?"

He knew exactly who "they" were. "Sedated. Tuvok's wife and Ahni are in Vulcan healing trances, but we tested the new sedative hypos on the others. They work fine. We woke up Alyssa, Kurt, and Pete just briefly, but . . ."

As his hesitation lengthened, B'Elanna asked him with concern, "What's the matter, Tom? Didn't the memory engrams download right?"

"Oh, no, that went fine. They've got the computer memories all right. Alyssa's got Nanny's, and both Kurt and Pete have the Doctor's, but . . . it's really odd. The Doctor's and Nanny's personalities are there, but they're . . . submerged into the personalities of the people they were cloned from. There's a lot of Alyssa in Nanny now. And the two Doctors are really different, from what I could tell. Pete even called himself by his own name before we did and asked why we were calling him Doc. We woke up Kurt first, and when he started asking questions about how he knew so much more about medicine than he used to, the captain told him a lot had happened since he became 'unconscious'. He accepted that, and we put him back to sleep. That warned us, so we just woke each of them up, to make sure they had the memories they were supposed to and told them it was too complicated for a complete explanation now--that they needed to rest up. The captain wants to talk to them tomorrow, one at a time, in case they get upset."

"That is strange. What about T'Pel--or is she going to stay T'Pera? And Ahni?"

"T'Pel. She said that for Tuvok's sake, she should use that name. T'Pera was unbonded, and she feels it's 'logical' to preserve the name Tuvok would prefer. She's got the memories of T'Pel that Tuvok gave her, but she's a little like T'Pera was, according to Tuvok. I met her, but I never got to know her. I was only on the ship a few days before she was killed."

"Personality is inherited, isn't it?"

"Yes, to a degree, so that can explain how some of T'Pera is in T'Pel. But Ahni. B'Elanna, she really *is* Ahni. It's incredible. She remembered her birthday party! In fact, she remembers everything right up to getting her last assignment with Harry and the Doctor. "

"So? Vorik and Tuvok did that mind meld . . ."

"That's just it, B'Elanna. The mind meld took place a week before that assignment--and before the surprise party. How could she have remembered getting sent off with Harry and the Doc? "

"That's right! And her blood sample must have been taken years ago, when she first was assigned to Voyager."

"Exactly. It's totally unexpected that she knows so much. It's good for Vorik, of course, and for her, too, in the long run. Still. Everything about this is really weird."

"I know. I've been thinking about this whenever I've had a spare moment, Tom. How were *our* memories and personalities reproduced when only our DNA was taken?"

"We don't know, B'Elanna. We've all been talking about that. With Harry and I, we understand how it could have happened. The goo touched our bodies; it's not so farfetched that it could absorb our personalities and memories somehow at the same time. But the rest of you? Maybe personality is inherited, but memories? How did that happen? Even from blood samples taken today--we don't know of any mechanism for memory to be encoded in DNA. There's no room, for starters!"

B'Elanna shivered, despite the warmth in the cavern. Tom wrapped her more tightly within the circle of his arms and kissed her gently as she sighed, "I don't want to think about it any more today."

"Good. I've got something better to do right now than talk about the mystery of creation."

"Oh, really? What, may I ask, might that be?"

"I'm in the mood for a little creation, but there's no mystery about it. We've got a home now. Shall we start filling it up with brothers and sisters for Linnis? What do you say?"

"I'm not in any rush for another baby, Tom. But I wouldn't mind . . . practicing . . . for next time."

"Just what I'm in the mood for." As he finished speaking, he put his lips to better use, meeting up with B'Elanna's for a deep, heart-felt kiss. The warm cavern seemed even warmer, pulsing with imminent life, as his hands moved down to her waist and began to fumble with her pants closure.

"Maybe we should adjourn to bed before we get any further."

"Sounds good to me," he answered seductively.

As they traversed the chamber from the chair-like stone outcropping where B'Elanna had been sitting to the blankets that were to serve as their bedding, they helped each other shed a trail of garments over the stone floor. By the time they sank down onto their makeshift bed, both were naked, stroking each other in the ways they knew stirred each other to excitement. They kept their enjoyment under control, keeping quiet, in deference to the child sleeping in an alcove off the main chamber of the cavern. They kept very quiet. Very, very quiet. Maybe too quiet.

Just as Tom's mouth slipped below B'Elanna's navel along its amorous journey to its intended destination, a familiar wail was heard. So were several Klingon curses as milk began to dribble from B'Elanna's nipples. "Damn! I knew we wasted too much time jabbering," Tom muttered, looking down at his throbbing member, which now would have to wait a considerable amount of time before being relieved of its tension.

B'Elanna snorted as she rose up and walked to the cradle, clucking apologies to her vocal, angry infant. As soon as she was picked up, Linnis shuddered in relief and sought out B'Elanna's nipple. B'Elanna walked back to bed with Linnis in her arms, already tugging hungrily at her breast.

Settling herself down in Tom's arms, she apologized under her breath when her backbone bumped against his erection, provoking a grunt from her husband. He had to be uncomfortable, considering his current distended state. As he wiggled into a less uncomfortable position, she asked, "You will remember where we left off, won't you?"

"I'll make sure we don't skip any steps, if that's what you mean."

"That's what I mean." Jostling around, they managed to find a more comfortable position for all of them. Linnis happily sucked away at her late-night snack while B'Elanna rested on her side. Tom's warm body supported her from behind. For a while, the only sounds were tiny murmurs from Linnis, sighing in contentment as her belly filled.

B'Elanna was the one to finally break the silence. "And Seven? How's she?"

"Shook up, B'Elanna. Really shook. The captain and Harry were with her, trying to calm her down when I left to come back home. I've never seen her like that before."

"Do you think she'll be okay?"

"Yeah. But it's going to be an adjustment. A big one. Bigger even than when Seven came to Voyager, I think."

B'Elanna turned to look into her husband's eyes, filled with sympathy for Seven of Nine. "You know, we really shouldn't call her that any more."

=^=

". . . the lark, the herald of the morn,
No nightingale: look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east:
Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.
I must be gone and live, or stay and die.

Juliet: Yon light is not daylight, I know it, I:
It is some meteor that the sun exhales,
To be to thee this night a torch-bearer,
And light thee on thy way to Mantua:
Therefore stay yet, thou need'st not to be gone.

Romeo: Let me be ta'en, let me be put to death;
I am content, so thou wilt have it so.
I'll say yon gray is not the morning's eye,
'Tis but the pale reflex of Cynthia's brow;
Nor that is not the lark whose notes do beat
The vaulty heaven so high above our heads:
I have more care to stay than will to go.--
Come, death, and welcome! Juliet wills it so.--"
 

"Seven, that was perfect. Letter perfect. And from just one quick reading of the PADD," said Harry encouragingly. He lifted his eyes from the copy of the balcony scene from "Romeo and Juliet" she had been reciting. "You see, your memory is fine."

"My memory may be intact, but the rest of my neurological system no longer performs adequately. I fail to comprehend why part of my brain continues to function optimally without my implants when the rest does not."

Janeway patted Seven's arm solicitously. "I imagine Annika Hansen must have been born with an eidetic memory--that gift must have come from your parents, not your Borg implants. I'm sure you'll find other ways in which you're still the same Seven you always were. You were never just a Borg drone; you have your own individual talents. Now you'll have a chance to find out what they are without wondering if they come from being Borg or from yourself."

"And we'll help you in any way we can, Seven," Harry added.

"How can you help me? Can you rebuild my implants?"

Harry sighed. "You know we don't have the technology to do that here. Even on Voyager, we'd be limited in how much of that we could do. We'll have to help you adjust to the way things have changed for you."

"You mean I must adapt."

"Yes, Seven. That pretty much says it," Harry said, resting his hand on her shoulder.

Seven sat tailor-style on the floor between Harry and Janeway. Her back was hunched over, no longer proudly erect as it always had been when she had sailed imperiously through the corridors of Voyager. Huddled in the cavern, she looked more like a lost child than the grown woman who had already lived several lives--and who would now have to switch gears once again. From human to Borg. From Borg to part Borg/part human. And now, that part Borg/part human was a Demon-transformed human, without a trace of Borg nanoprobes or devices in her body. In an uncertain voice, she hesitantly repeated, "I . . . must . . . adapt."

The three of them sat together wordlessly for several moments, with Captain Janeway still resting her hand on Seven's forearm while Harry gently rubbed Seven's back. At another time, so much contact might have resulted in an explosion from Seven. Not this time. Finally, she sighed and looked towards Harry. "Ensign Kim. You said you would help me?"

"Yes, Seven. Anything."

"Will you permit me to remain here, in your quarters? I do not wish to move to the cave assigned to me. I do not wish . . . to be alone."

Harry looked up at the captain, who silently gestured assent. "Sure, Seven. We'll get all your things moved here. Do you want to get them now?"

The captain answered, "I'll have them moved here, Harry. There's an extra chamber opening off this one. I'll reassign it to Seven for the time being, until she's ready to be on her own again."

Seven looked at Harry and then at the captain. She almost seemed ready to say something. Finally, she managed a quavery, "Acceptable."

Janeway took to her feet. "Well, if you don't mind, I'm going to get back to my quarters now. I've got some things to finish up with."

"Yes, it's getting late, Captain. You should get some rest."

Harry stood up and looked down at Seven. She seemed dazed still, but when she raised her face to Harry, she raised her hands to him. Harry helped Seven get to her feet.

"I wouldn't mind getting a little sleep, Harry. It's been a busy day. It's not every day someone gets turned into an identical twin." The captain's drawling attempt at humor provoked the desired smile from Harry, but Seven stood next to him, her hands still clenching his as if she needed to balance this suddenly alien body of hers on the uneven floor, her face a frozen mask of confusion.

"Don't worry about Seven, Captain. I'll make sure she's okay."

"If you need anything at all, just use your commbadge to signal for me. Both of you."

Seven managed a brief nod before turning away to pick up the blanket the three of them had spread out on the floor to sit upon. "I will place this in the other chamber, Ensign Kim."

"Fine, Seven."

When she'd left, Janeway whispered to Harry, "Are you sure you don't mind, Harry? I can move her into quarters with Chakotay and me."

"No, it's fine, Captain. I'd like to help her. We've gotten to be pretty good friends in the last few months, and she seems so lost. I guess she is lost--she lost who she was. The rest of us weren't changed at all, in comparison to the way she was."

"I'd say you understand about loss as well as any of us. Maybe better than the rest of us."

"I had good friends to help me when Kes was . . . transformed. It's only fair I give back to somebody else. I guess I feel a little responsible, too. If it weren't for Tom and me getting cloned, the rest of you wouldn't have been. Then she wouldn't have even been in this predicament."

The captain looked shrewdly at her young officer, who had lost his wife only a few months ago and now, in this persona, at least, had given up any chance to return to his family in the Alpha Quadrant. "I'm glad you've become friends, Harry. You may be able to help her in ways I never could."

"I hope so, Captain. Send her things over. Well, I guess she's not going to need that regeneration unit, will she?"

"No. I'll send everything else, though. Have a good night, Harry."

"Good night, Captain."

When Captain Janeway glanced over her shoulder as she was about to leave Harry's cavern, she saw him carrying his own blanket into the adjoining chamber to give to Seven. The captain stifled a smile.

=^=

"Smells good, Chakotay."

Chakotay paused from stirring the stew he was preparing. A bag, suspended by a sturdy cord from a rock outcrop near the ceiling, was filled with a fragrant mix of "Demonized" vegetables. Their very late supper was cooking rapidly, thanks to the heat rising from the bubbling pool in the front room of the cavern. "It's about time you showed up. I thought I might have to eat this all myself."

"You'd better not. I'm famished."

After giving the stew another quick stir, Chakotay put down the spoon. Standing, he grabbed a pad and pulled the cord carefully, swinging the bag away from the pool and grabbing it by the handle. "I'll be needing that large bowl over there, Kathryn."

She picked up the container and held it while he poured the stew into the bowl. When the bag was empty, he deftly jerked up on the cord, causing the loop on the outcrop to slip off and disengage. "That's a pretty neat trick, Commander. You're very handy to have around. Something you picked up as a boy from your father?"

"No, survival training. I could have learned it as a boy, if I'd ever bothered to. And I thought we'd decided to give up ranks here, *Captain.*"

"I'm sorry, Chakotay. Old habits die hard. Or maybe I'm just too hungry to think straight."

"We can't have that. Let's fill up your stomach and maybe you'll remember my name."

"Yes, let's eat, CHAKOTAY," she emphasized, smiling crookedly.

He produced two small bowls and filled them with stew. Little was said by either of them while they quickly consumed two helpings apiece, followed by a few cups of the herbal tea keeping warm in a pot by the pool. "Coffee tomorrow, Kathryn. I didn't feel like fooling with brewing it tonight."

"What? Oh, that's all right. This is fine for tonight. I'm too tired for coffee now, believe it or not," she said, distractedly.

"That's a first."

"A first time for everything." She sighed, swirling the last sip of her tea around the bottom of her cup. "There's going to be a lot of firsts, for quite a while, I think."

"Yes, I'm sure," he agreed. "You know, I halfway thought you'd bring Seven with you when you came back."

"I was going to bring her back. She asked to stay with Harry tonight."

"Really?"

"Now, stop that. You know Harry has no nefarious designs on her. Harry, of all people!"

"I don't know about that. They've gotten pretty close."

She smiled. "I said, 'nefarious designs.' I didn't mean to imply they haven't gotten close enough for something to happen between them. I wouldn't be surprised if Seven stayed with Harry indefinitely. Maybe always, after what happened. I just meant that Harry won't push her into anything too quickly."

"What happened? Being cloned?"

"I was referring to when she first woke up after being cloned. She was terribly upset. Tom went to see what was wrong, but she insisted that Harry come to her, too. While Tom was checking her out with the tricorder, Harry was comforting her."

"It must have been a shock not to be Borg at all any more--not even in the limited way she's been since she was severed from the Collective," Chakotay mused as he sipped the last bit of tea from his cup.

"Yes, it was a big shock, in more ways than one. Chakotay, I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to tell you this before, but the reason Seven was the last one to be . . . duplicated . . . was because Tuvok and his security team needed to be in place around her."

"Security team? Why?"

"When she agreed to be cloned, Seven took me aside and asked me to have them there. She wasn't sure what would happen when her nanoprobes were duplicated. She thought she might end up reverting to a full Borg. If that happened, she wanted us to destroy her immediately, before she had a chance to adapt to phaser fire."

Chakotay stared at Kathryn dumbly. "Gods, I didn't even think of that. It's ironic. And then she didn't have any nanoprobes at all in that blood sample!"

"Which is very strange, Chakotay. It's hard to believe. From the concentration of nanoprobes in her bloodstream, there should have been dozens of them, if not hundreds, in a vial with that volume of blood in it. The Doctor on Voyager swore he did nothing to remove them, yet when Tom checked our remaining sample, there weren't any there, either. It's like the nanoprobes were screened out of her blood. I can't explain it. Tom has no idea how this could be possible. None of the science team has a clue as to how that could have happened, but it did. Seven isn't Borg at all."

"It certainly puts a new wrinkle into her new life here. She really isn't Seven of Nine. She's Annika Hansen."

"Yes, I guess that's true, Chakotay. But she has Seven's memories--all of them, as far as we can tell. Harry and I just checked. She still has an eidetic memory. She remembers being a drone and being Seven. You know how we chewed over the morality of how Kaplan, Durst, Ahni, and the others who were dead would feel about being brought to new life when they couldn't be asked in advance? I never expected to have to deal with Seven having such a completely new life, too."

"Life's like that."

"Yes, new curves are thrown at us all the time."

They fell silent as they grappled with the changes they had embraced, some, as they now knew all too well, without understanding the full implications. They would have to learn to deal with these unexpected repercussions, as well as the expected ones.

The bubbling pool in the rocky cavern was an alien setting for them, too. A new curve had been thrown at them, even though both had willingly accepted it.

Kathryn looked up into the warm pair of brown eyes staring solemnly at her. She wondered what he was thinking, and then she knew. His expression was one she remembered well, from another time when life had thrown a curve at them and they'd thought their lives as they had known them had ended. They'd begun a new relationship with each other on the planet they'd called New Earth, only to be "rescued" and returned to Voyager. That time, they'd resumed their old lives. New Earth had been so different from Demon, yet from Kathryn Janeway's point of view, Demon's challenging environment was closer to New Earth than to life on Voyager.

As his look of longing penetrated her soul, a sigh escaped her lips.

He misunderstood. Wincing in response, he said, a grim smile on his face. "Having second thoughts, Kathryn?"

"Too late for second thoughts now. We're here! And even if we could find a way to survive on Voyager, Voyager's flown away. We have to make do, no matter what reservations we might have."

"I mean about us."

"Do you really think I'd have second thoughts about that, Chakotay? No. I said I'd get my crew home. And this crew *is* home. I've kept my promise to them. Since I'm not a starship captain any more, certain protocols no longer need apply." Picking up his strong left hand in both of hers, Janeway gently massaged his fingers and said softly, "I'm not having any second thoughts. Are you?" She lifted her eyes to his, a hint of a grin teasing at the corners of her mouth before her crooked smile spread across her face.

He didn't have to answer in words. His reply glinted joyfully from his eyes, punctuated by a pair of dimples conjured up by her declaration. She leaned forward slightly, ready to kiss him. Instead, his left hand fastened onto hers and raised her up with him. "In that case, I've got something to show you."

"Aren't we going to clean up our mess first?" she said innocently.

"The dishes can wait."

"You haven't made your report to me about the equipment projections yet."

"You're an evil woman, Kathryn Janeway. I can report on the way, if you wish."

She laughed then, and so did he. He pulled her behind him, up a series of terraced rock steps that almost seemed to have been cut into the rock, through an opening to a tunnel that led back, deep into the cavern complex they'd chosen for their quarters.

After passing through two dim rooms, they slipped beneath a low opening into a large chamber. As he entered, Chakotay stooped down, picking up and turning on a wristlight. They walked several metres further, around a stone column, with the wristlight highlighting their path to a large pool of liquid. "Your bathtub, ma'am."

She laughed delightedly. "You made this for me? Chakotay, you certainly are a man of many talents."

"I didn't exactly make it, no. I found it. The best part is, this tub is large enough for two. I've tried it out already." He bent down and fumbled around a stone until he found what he was looking for. A flash of light flared out, making her dark-adapted eyes squint shut. When she opened them again, a small depression danced with soft blue fire. He moved around the pool, lighting two dozen more depressions into beauty. "I also found some flammable material and put it around here. We may not have candles, but this is a pretty close approximation."

"It's lovely, Chakotay." She told the simple truth. The flames were still mostly blue, but as they stabilized and grew taller, a golden glow tipped each of their ends, bathing the pool and the two humans in soft, romantic light.

Reaching her side again, Chakotay extinguished the gas lighter, leaving it on a stone shelf, not far from the first flame.

"Shall we?" he asked, slipping open his tunic top.

"Yes, I could use a nice, relaxing bath right about now. This has been *a day*."

They undressed unhurriedly. They could take their time, if they wished. Chakotay finished first and helped Kathryn to remove her tank top and underwear, perhaps delaying more than helping her with the sensuous way he caressed the garments away from her skin. When he stood up after slipping her last garment from her feet, they stood naked in each other's presence for the first time in almost two years. Eliminating the distance between them, they embraced, their lips meeting in a gentle kiss that became more passionate as the intervening lonely years disappeared into ephemeral memory.

At last they separated. Chakotay carefully directed her into the pool, guiding her to the submerged shelf where the two of them could sink down and sit chest deep in the warm, mineral-laden liquid that was the equivalent of water.

"Oh, Chakotay. This is marvelous. It feels so good. I really needed this."

"I can tell. Look how tight your neck and shoulders are." His fingers began to knead and massage her neck as she sighed and grunted in contentment.

"Oh, yes. Don't stop, Chakotay," Kathryn pleaded, as his hands traveled down her spine, below the level of the water. His strong, sure touch massaged her back, then began to work on her hips and buttocks as she leaned back against him. "More, please," she whispered, and he could tell that she wasn't asking him to massage her back.

His chiseled lips kissed her shoulders and neck as his hands circled around to her front. His hands closed over her full breasts and massaged them. She squirmed back against him, feeling his erection poking at the small of her back. She groaned as his hands moved further down, finding the place to slip his fingers inside her. Murmuring his name, she repositioned herself so that she could reach behind her and close her hand over his shaft. She turned her head so their lips could meet and both moaned and groaned in a counterpoint of pleasure.

When she could no longer stand it, Kathryn flipped herself around to face him, pulling her legs around his waist to pull herself closer to him. Her breasts were now above water level, and his mouth found another place to lavish attention. She whispered his name, then asked, "Here? Shall we?"

In answer, he cupped her buttocks with his hands and lifted her until his shaft slipped inside her. Settling her down until she totally enclosed him within her flesh, he stayed still for a moment, savoring the full excitement of feeling himself inside her--what he'd missed for so long. What they'd both missed for so long. Leaning forward so that his lips grazed her, he murmured, "Kathryn?"

"Yes," she gasped.

"Do you want my equipment report now?"

"Who's evil now?" she exclaimed, impudently tapping him on the shoulder with her forefinger as her entire body shook with laughter. His dimples bloomed in his cheeks as she chuckled, then sighed. The shaking caused just enough motion to begin a delectable friction wherever they touched, evoking a low, soft moan from her partner.

"I've got a very good idea about the state of the only equipment I want to worry about at the moment. Let's use it the way it was intended, shall we?" she growled into his ear.

He had no objections to that suggestion at all. Soon the bathing chamber echoed with the cries of a very satisfied first officer and his captain, though they had shed those titles forever. They reverted to what they had always been but could not express openly aboard Voyager: a man and a woman whose love for each other was rivaled only by the strength of their friendship.

=^=

B'Elanna leaned back on her elbows, enjoying the sight of her husband's buttocks as they retreated away from her. When he reached the small alcove where the cradle was, he turned, standing briefly in profile.

In his arms, their daughter slept contentedly, pillowed upon her father's fuzzy chest. Her small, soft features were "smooshed" against her father's shoulder; and though she couldn't see Linnis' face in the dim light of the cavern, B'Elanna smiled at the peaceful expression that she knew was there. She knew how Tom must look, too. Full of pride and love, as he always did when he held his daughter. The cocky playboy pilot was completely in thrall to the fruit of his loins. There was no sign of "Tom the pig" when the devoted father cuddled his Linnis.

Before Tom bent down to put the baby into her bed, he gently kissed the top of her fuzzy dark head. B'Elanna smiled. Here was one female that never made her feel jealous when Tom paid court to her. She was still amazed at just how besotted by their child she'd become--just as much as her husband. Miraculous. After the trials they'd endured in their own families, this was totally unexpected for both of them. Perhaps there was hope. Healing might be possible in the universe after all. If B'Elanna could do anything to assure Linnis of a long life, she would do it, even if the price would be her own life.

She watched him ease the baby down and caught her breath. This was the critical moment. She exhaled thankfully several seconds later. No crying. There would be time now for the amorous pursuits interrupted so rudely by Linnis earlier.

Tom, however, didn't return to B'Elanna immediately. He took a few steps from the cradle, then sauntered languidly to the far corner of the cavern, flexing his arms and shoulders while stretching his back. B'Elanna's smile of amusement grew. She was familiar with this game of Tom's. He was teasing her, displaying his body shamelessly while far out of reach. He wanted her to chase him. Well, two could play that game.

While she admired the pleasing interplay of the muscles of his back and shoulders, B'Elanna extended herself onto her right side. As Tom reached for the ceiling, B'Elanna stretched her entire body catlike on the blankets of their bed. As she ruminated at the unfairness of life, that his sympathetic weight gain from her pregnancy had all but melted away while she still had to work at getting the extra fat off her buttocks, hips, and thighs (Thank Kahless she was nursing Linnis!), she undulated on the bed. Idly, she noted that nursing had made a noticeable difference in helping her get back into shape. The fact that her breasts were fuller than normal thanks to nursing was simply a side benefit. She would have to work harder than him to get rid of the rest of her baby fat, of course. The curse of being female.

Not that it seemed like a particularly heinous curse at the moment. By not getting up and tackling him, the way she usually did, she'd attracted Tom's attention. Squirming around on the bed hadn't hurt, either. He was just standing in the corner now, gazing at B'Elanna with a familiar gleam in his eyes.

Now was the time to use the heavy ammunition.

Rolling onto her back, B'Elanna spread-eagled her legs, sighing, lazily rubbing her labia with the fingers of one hand while squeezing her nipples with the other. She couldn't see Tom's face, but she didn't have to. She could hear him moan as his bare feet slapped across the floor to their bed. In seconds he was looming over her, the look of a starving man on his face. She commented, "I was beginning to wonder if I needed to send you an engraved invitation."

"Bitch," he murmured, but with the smirk on his face that turned the word into an endearment.

"Pig," she purred, using the same inflection of affection as he had.

It was time for capitulation. She spread her legs a little wider and began to moan from her self stimulation.

Tom groaned and sank onto his knees next to her. She had him.

"You need me to remind you where you left off?" she gasped, as she pulled his right hand down to replace her fingers with his. At that overt invitation, he began to play with her expertly, massaging her nub until B'Elanna wanted to cry out, although she choked it back. The last thing she wanted to do was wake Linnis again.

His mouth descended to her breast. His tongue lapped at her nipple while the fingers of his free hand stroked her forehead ridges gently, in a motion she found intensely erotic. Moving his mouth up to kiss her mouth again, he leaned his body down just enough for the golden down on his chest to barely graze against her nipples. It drove her wild--as he was very well aware it would.

Lifting his mouth away from hers, he gazed into her eyes. All the love she had ever wanted a man to give her but had never expected to see shone out of his eyes. She wanted to speak but found no words to say. That wasn't a problem. As usual, he was ready with a quip of his own. "No, you didn't need to remind me. I just feel like taking my time, now that we won't be interrupted again."

She was going to say, "How do you know we won't be interrupted," when he began to kiss his way down her body. The words stuck in her throat. She knew exactly what he was going to do, and as many times as he did it to her, she never tired of it. When he reached her navel, he moved between her knees, slipped his hands beneath her buttocks, and began to suckle her until she was panting desperately, her hand stuffed into her mouth to keep a scream from erupting out of it in the face of his unrelenting, wonderful torment.

He kept at her until she came, and then he kept at her some more until she came again. At that point she grabbed him by the hair to pull his face up to her mouth for a long kiss. His face was smeared with the waters that had flowed out of her from his attentions. Her nose couldn't detect any variance from her normal scent; his familiar masculine odor assailed her nostrils. Her body responded to his in the same old way. His body felt the way it always had, his firm muscles working beneath his warm, soft skin.

Tom must have been thinking along the same lines, for when they broke off the kiss, he said, "I know our body chemistry isn't the same, but so help me, you taste just like you always have."

"Our brains must be telling us it's still us."

"Brains. Hearts. Souls. I don't care." He kissed her again. As he arched himself over her, he added softly, "B'Elanna. Thank you."

"For what?" she panted, genuinely puzzled.

"For being here with me."

Her lips curled into a smile as she gazed into those crystalline blue eyes, shining down at her, just as they always did. "You can't get rid of me that easily, Flyboy," she whispered.

Then his hands were upon her, opening her passage to ease his way within. They moved together, just as they always had, making love until he exploded inside her. And, as always, she cried out his name as she shuddered her own release, completing the act that would create, in the not too distant future, their son, one of the first of the native-born generation of Demon.

=^=

After Seven's things had been delivered by Hamilton and Mbete, as promised, Harry pulled his own gear to one corner of his cavern. His cavern. He halfway expected he'd be calling it home for the rest of his life.

Since he'd given Seven the blankets issued to him, he took Seven's blankets for himself, folding and spreading them out the best he could to form a bed. Every one of the colonists had been issued several of these special blankets, replicated to be able to withstand the heat and harsh conditions of Demon. If the replicators held up, maybe sometime over the next few days they could get something more substantial for cushioning. They certainly had enough power to make pretty much whatever they wanted. There was plenty of deuterium here for them to use.

Harry could hear Seven scrabbling around in the next cavern chamber, probably making herself a bed, too. Harry wondered if she would be able to sleep. She'd been so used to going into her alcove, even though she hadn't physically needed as many hours regenerating as she spent there.

The alcove and its power generator which had been sent down from Voyager were sitting in the cavern where Seven had been expected to make her quarters. Harry could understand completely why she hadn't wanted to go there by herself, to be reminded of what had happened to her. However, he still wasn't sure why he'd agreed to let her stay here with him so easily. That was unusually impulsive of him, but for the last couple of days, "Impulsive" seemed to have become Harry's middle name.

Having Seven a few meters away, just around the other side of a rock wall, would be enough to keep Harry awake all night if he weren't tired. Fortunately, he was exhausted. All he wanted to do was collapse, even on a lumpy, hard bed like this one promised to be.

As he crumpled gratefully upon his makeshift bed and pulled the top blanket over himself, Harry's thoughts turned to the events of the day. It was hard to credit everything that had happened. He and Tom being replicated, more or less, first and foremost. He could understand, intellectually, how this goo had recreated him from the "real" Harry Kim, but he still couldn't figure out how he had acquired Harry Kim's intellect. A predisposition to behave a certain way because of inherited personality tendencies and past history, yeah, he could buy that. But how the hell had they gotten all of those memories? Carried in their DNA? Couldn't be. Why, if anything . . .

A groan from the next room interrupted his train of thoughts. "Seven? You okay in there?"

The only reply was another groan, and then a long drawn out moan. Harry untangled himself from his blankets and ran around the corner to the other chamber.

His eyes were treated to the sight of Seven of Nine kneeling on a pile of bedding, moaning--and stark naked. Harry tried to pull his eyes away from her body but could not, not until another moan from her dragged his attention to her face. His heart ached more than the increasingly bothersome pressure in his groin at the fear in her eyes. "They just peel away, like clothing I no longer require," she murmured. "They are no longer a part of me."

Borg components and pieces of implants were scattered in front of her on the floor of the cavern, next to the larger pile of her clothing. Her right hand pulled the web of her exoskeleton away from her left arm as she spoke. Holding out the lacy, useless piece of equipment, she dropped it onto her discarded garments. Sitting down, she bent her left leg to enable her to unroll the matching network of exoskeleton wrap that extended from her upper thigh to her toes. She looked dazed.

Harry tried to look away. In her current position, more of Seven's very considerable physical charms were revealed to him than when she'd been kneeling. He couldn't. In fascination and increasing arousal, he watched her remove the last bit of that which had marked her Borg from her foot. When she'd finished, Seven touched her hand to her eyes and sobbed, "My nose is wet."

"It's okay. It'll be okay." Despite his initial reluctance to get near her, knowing where it could lead, Harry rushed over to kneel before Seven. Gathering her into his arms, he said, "You're crying. Just go ahead. It should make you feel better."

Her blue eyes looked up at him, partially obscured by the tears spilling down over her cheeks. Relaxing into his hold, Seven put her arms around Harry, rested her head against his chest, and let the tears come.

For a minute or two they remained that way, with Harry stroking the bare skin of Seven's back as she cried out her pain. Somehow, his rational, observant self was able to note the absence of any hint of Borgified flesh, even as his emotional self was in a turmoil as he grew increasingly more uncomfortable physically. Patting her lightly on the shoulder to soothe her, Harry caught the fresh scent of her hair. He longed to follow up each pat with a kiss on her neck, but he had to control himself. It wasn't time yet for something like this, for either of them. Too short a time had passed since his bereavement. She had barely had time to adjust to being an individual, and now she needed to adjust to being totally human, not Borg. It was impossible. They were impossible. He kept saying that to himself, in a silent litany, as if he needed to convince himself that it was all true.

Finally, her shoulders stopped shaking. Harry held her lightly in his arms as she shuddered a few times. "There, isn't that better?" he asked.

"My eyes are sore."

"Crying does that. The tissues get swollen." Harry tilted her head away from his chest and very gently used his thumb to smooth away the tears. Her face looked different without the spidery implant in front of her right ear and the ocular piece over her left eye. The eye had generated as a fully human one, as the right one had always been. Despite the puffiness from her tears, he could see at least a measure of peace in her eyes. "Here, let me help you up, so maybe you can get your clothes back . . ."

As Harry stood up and bent down to grab Seven's arm, he realized his hand had made contact with a body part that was much softer and fleshier than the elbow he'd been aiming for. With more calm than she had shown in hours, Seven said, "I didn't expect you to 'help me up' by the mammary tissues, Harry Kim."

Mortified, Harry let go and arose, backing away a few steps, stuttering, "I'm sorry," several times in succession. "I was reaching for your elbow!"

"Ensign Kim, an apology is not required. I believe I prefer the touch of your hand on my breast to my elbow."

"Seven . . ." Harry didn't think it was possible to be more embarrassed. He was wrong.

"It is true. The touch of your hand is very pleasant--more so than the feel of my own hand touching there. It is . . . comforting. Why is that?"

"Well, I guess . . . . I, uh, it's just . . . "

"You are disturbed by touching me there? Or are you disturbed by holding me in your arms?"

"Seven, I usually know the difference between an elbow and a . . . other parts better than that. And no, I liked holding you in my arms. It wasn't disturbing. Exactly." Harry crossed his arms and looked down towards his toes. Dissembling was never his strong suit.

"You disliked touching my breast?"

From their past history, he knew she wasn't going to let this go. "Not at all. It's just that it's inappropriate for me to touch you there. In this situation. Seven, really, if you're better now, I think I should go lie down in my chamber again." He glanced up as he began to turn away, but a quick glimpse of her face kept him from completing the motion. "Seven, you aren't going to cry again, are you?"

Clearly, she was holding back more sobs. Finally she managed to choke out, "I do not know if I am going to weep again. I don't know anything about what I'm going to do. Now, or in the future. I did not anticipate becoming so . . . so different."

Harry was torn between leaving, as he knew he should, and kneeling down to comfort her. He compromised by continuing to stand before her, saying, "You will adjust to this. We all will. It's just going to take some time to adapt."

"Time to adapt. That has been all that I have been doing for almost a year. I do not know how many more adaptations I can make and still continue to function at all."

He knelt down and cautiously put his hands on her shoulders, very aware of where his hands were in relation to her bosom to make sure they were far enough from her breasts he would be unlikely to touch her accidentally again--especially since the brief brush of his hand against their pillowy softness had burned into his memory. He longed to feel them again.

"You're a strong person, Seven. You *will* adapt, but it's going to take some time. Maybe a year isn't enough for your first change, let alone this new one. I've admired the way you've worked to make yourself adjust to Voyager and the crew, even though you never wanted to be with us. And I'll help you, in any way I can."

"Any way?"

"Yes, Seven. Any way. What do you want me to do for you?"

"I would like you to hold me . . . and touch my breast again."

"Seven, I . . ." Harry had no idea what to say to her. After an awkward silence he realized the truth would be best. "I would like to hold you and touch you, but I don't dare. If I do, it will lead to us doing things that I don't think either one of us is ready for."

"You are afraid it will lead to copulation."

He gulped. "Yes, I think it will. You're still too new to individuality. You need to learn to be yourself, alone, before you get involved with anyone. If you try to do it too soon, it may lead to your getting hurt."

"I understand your desire not to hurt me. You will not. I am ready to explore that part of my individuality. I have wished to explore it for many weeks now, but I haven't known how to do it. Now I . . . I need to explore it. I have been alone too much, Harry Kim."

Harry squeezed her by the shoulders. "You should be comforted, Seven, but that doesn't necessarily mean sex."

"But I wish it to be with sex."

Harry stared into her eyes. Beautiful blue eyes which reminded him so much of someone else's. He was about to murmur that he wasn't ready to have sex with anyone yet, when she added, "And I believe you wish to have sex with me, too, Harry Kim. Even without my ocular implant, I can see that your pupils have dilated. And the erection of your penis is visible beneath your uniform."

After a moment's shocked silence, Harry laughed out loud, provoking Seven into pulling back from him with a wounded look upon her face. In the process, she almost dislodged his hands from their safe hold on her shoulders. "I'm sorry Seven, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings," he apologized. "You're just so straightforward about everything."

"Am I wrong about your arousal?"

Sighing, Harry said, "No, you're not wrong. But it's a very big step you're suggesting, for both of us."

"Perhaps. It is why I am here."

"What? What do you mean?"

"Seven of Nine decided to be cloned because she wished to be your mate but does not expect this to occur on Voyager. She requested being cloned so I would be here for you on Demon."

Harry stared at Seven, totally flummoxed by her statement. "I had no idea . . . she feels that way about me . . . or him, I guess I should say. It's funny the way you talk about that Seven of Nine. Everyone else talks as if they really are the same person."

Seven looked away, troubled. "I am not an exact duplicate of that Seven of Nine, the way all of you are of your templates. I am not Borg any more, not in any way. My components are only the ones that Annika Hansen was born with. I have memories about what it was like to be Borg, just as she does, but I don't think the way she does. There is a . . . a gap between my thoughts now. I no longer process information the same way--not as quickly. It is very . . . disconcerting."

"Seven . . ." Harry pulled her close to him, slipping his arms around her back and giving her a gentle hug.

"I do not believe you should call me that. Not any more."

Harry rested his cheek on hers, aware of the softness of her skin and the warmth emanating from her body. "You want us to call you Annika now?"

"Yes," she said, after the barest of hesitations. "That is a better designation for me now. More precise."

"All right . . . Annika."

He held her close, aware of her breath on his neck and the many slight movements she was making, probably from discomfort. Their position was awkward. Because of the way she was sitting, with her legs scissored before her, there wasn't much room for him to kneel before her. And his erection was getting painful enough that he would have to do something about it soon. He knew how his companion would deal with it, but he really didn't think he could do it, not yet, even though the urge to be with her was almost overwhelming.

Straightening up again, Harry gazed into her eyes. If he looked anywhere else on her body, he was likely to lose control. "Sev . . . Annika, why don't you lie down? I'll pull up the blankets to cover you up, and you can rest."

"How do I do that?" she said in a tone that suggested panic. "I have not simply 'rested' for many years."

"It's easy. Just lie here and relax, and . . . "

"You will stay here with me?"

"It's better I don't."

"I do not wish to be alone. It is difficult. Silent."

"You miss the voice of the Borg?"

"I did." After a moment's pause during which she seemed to be groping for something to say, she continued, "On Voyager I substituted the review of the Starfleet database when I regenerated for the voices of the Collective. I could tell myself that the computer's voice was the same, or almost the same, as a neural link. But now, there can be no voices, no link with anyone else. If I cannot have the link of minds, I would have the linking of bodies."

"You see, that's what I mean," Harry said softly. "You aren't ready for that yet. You don't understand what you're asking."

"I am asking for you to copulate with me. To engage in the act of sexual intercourse so I will not be alone any more."

"How can I do that to you? It's not something you do just so you won't be alone."

"What am I to do to make myself ready, Harry Kim? Shall I visit the holodeck and speak to teenaged holocharacters about their life, to see what I've missed? There are no holoemitters here. They were unable to tolerate the conditions. Shall I giggle and flirt, as I learned in the schoolroom? With whom should I do this? You? There is no one here who is an adolescent. I am not an adolescent. I am a woman, twenty-six standard years old. I may not have lived the pattern of life that everyone else has. I do not know all the social skills the Doctor spoke to me about, but I know what I desire. I am not a child, although most of you persist in treating me as one." . . ."

"Annika . . . "

Ignoring his attempt to interrupt, she grasped his left hand, saying "I need you to touch me, here." She rested his hand upon her right breast. Guiding his right hand between her legs she continued, ". . . and here." Her eyes widened at the second contact. She had surprised herself with the sensation his hand's touch created, but you did not remove it.

"Sev . . . Annika. I know you're not a child, but there's more to this than the act itself. You need to learn that first, and you need to feel something for the one you are with. It shouldn't be just to avoid being alone."

"I am aware of this. I have things I would like to say to you--feelings for you--but I don't know how to speak them. I think you can teach me how, but it will take time. In the meantime, must I be lonely? And must you be lonely, too?"

"If I must be lonely for a while, than I must! It's not that I don't want to be with you! But maybe you'll want somebody else later, Annika. Why tie yourself down to me just because I'm available now?"

"Harry Kim. There are 149 beings on this planet, including those who died but who have been salvaged through their DNA. At least half of these beings are female, and contrary to rumors that passed around Voyager, I prefer the idea of being physically linked with a man. Many of the males are already mated. Even before we came here, on Voyager, Seven of Nine recognized that there was only one who would suit all her requirements for a mate. You. That is why I am here. If you are attracted to me also, why should we wait for a later time to begin a life together? I am tired of waiting until I have 'adjusted.' It appears that human life is merely one adjustment after another. Does everyone else wait? Did Lieutenants Torres and Paris decide to wait when they conceived their child? No. The Doctor told me they did not feel ready to become parents at first, but they adapted. Why should I be any different?"

As this uncharacteristic torrent of words rushed out, Harry was reminded of someone else who had been in a hurry to mate. He felt a quick stab of pain as the image of Kes, so sure her Elogium would soon be upon her that she found the husband she wanted to share it with, arose in his mind. Such an impulsive thing to do! The past few days weren't the first time Harry Kim had done something impulsively. For all the brevity of their union, Harry would never have refused Kes, even if he had known then how soon the end would come. Was this another time to act without agonizing over every detail ahead of time?

As these thoughts rushed through his mind, Harry realized he was still kneeling before Seven with his hands touching the intimate spots where she'd placed them. One hand rested gently against her breast while the other touched her pubis. He looked into Seven's eyes and saw pain and longing. She was expressing it in an unorthodox manner, but that was the way Seven had always been. Perhaps there was more there, too--perhaps she did feel something for him other than the desire not to be alone.

Harry knew what he wanted to do. He was only human (or transformed human--they had yet to decide on a name for their race). His hands itched to stroke her; his body ached to join with hers, but he had to be sure he wasn't taking advantage of her, or at least, be as sure as he could be that he wasn't.

"If we do this, I may hurt you."

"No, Harry Kim. I do not believe you would ever bring me pain."

Her lips were slightly open. Her breast was moving beneath his hand as air pushed in and out of her lungs. Harry closed his eyes for a second, then he leaned forward and kissed her softly on her full lips. His hand closed over her breast in a gentle, kneading motion. The middle finger of his right hand stiffened as he teased it into her. As he began to encounter the damp flesh there, he felt her stiffen and gasp slightly.

Then she moved forward, kissing him more deeply, leaning into both of his hands so that his hand held her bosom more snugly and the questing finger penetrated more deeply between the lips of her vulva. As she leaned, her hands moved from Harry's waist down to his thigh. One hand moved over the bulge in his pants and carefully cupped it where it was constrained beneath the cloth of his uniform.

Harry was lost. How could he hold himself back from this? Especially since he'd never wanted to hold back in the first place. All his arguments were for his ears, not Seven's. Not Annika's. But now that he permitted himself to remember, he heard a wispy, dear voice, even as it was fading away from him, begging him not to mourn for her so much that he did not allow himself to love again. Harry knew he loved Annika. If she couldn't put a name to what she felt yet, perhaps it was enough that he could.

Slipping both of his hands to her narrow waist, he separated from her kiss and looked into Annika's face. When her eyes opened, he could see she meant every word she'd said. Her lips turned upwards slightly in a semi-smile. He'd have to work on smiling with her. He demonstrated a smile and took to his feet again.

Harry slid down the fastener from his tunic top and pulled it off. As he grasped the hem of his undershirt, Annika comprehended what he was doing and undid his pants closure. Her nails scratched lightly against his skin as she dragged down both his over pants and his briefs in one motion, freeing his penis from imprisonment and causing Annika to draw a quick breath at the sight. Quickly divesting himself of the garments and dropping them on the same pile of clothing that Annika had made, Harry started to kneel down again before suddenly starting and saying, "Wait."

Walking around the rock wall, Harry retrieved his blankets and carried them back to where Annika was sitting. Her dismay disappeared when she saw what he carried. It was a matter of a minute for the two of them to make a bed with all their blankets piled together. When they were done, Harry pulled Annika down, put his arms around her, and began to kiss her lightly on the face.

"Harry Kim?"

"Just call me Harry."

"Harry. I wanted to tell you that the sensation of your skin against mine is pleasing."

"Yes, yours is, too," he said, smiling. "All your skin is, not just here." Harry took both thumbs and began to rub the areolas around her nipples in slow, delicate circles.

She didn't need to say anything. Her deepened breathing spoke for her. After a few moments, she carefully touched his stiffly swollen organ, prompting a long groan from him. "Does this please you, also?"

When he could speak again, he asked her, "Yes. How does this feel?" His hands had moved down again, this time with his fingers slipping deeper inside her as she moaned lightly into another kiss.

Unhurriedly, despite the pain he was feeling in his groin, Harry took Annika on a tour of her own body, letting her experience sensations at which her second-hand memories from assimilated drones had only hinted. Before long she took more initiative, learning the ways she could bring pleasure to him, too. Eventually, they both lay down on the hard bedroll bed. Even though his own need by that time was so great he wanted to push into her as deeply as he could, he took her virginity carefully, with tenderness.

It wouldn't have been right to force from Annika the gift she was only too happy to give him. Herself. And when they were done, neither felt alone any more.

=^=

The Wraith reluctantly separated from the form which she had inhabited for the last two hours. Especially for that last, glorious hour.

Soon they would never need to be separate again, but first there were tasks to perform, loose ends to tie up, before her restless spirit could at last have the chance to rest.

The innate sentience of the planet seethed more strongly into her consciousness as she left the body she had been visiting. The planet's insatiable hunger for the transformation which the Wraith was bringing to fruition washed through her, dizzying in its intensity. "Patience, be patient. It's coming," the Wraith counseled. "It won't be long now."

If the Wraith had had form, a smile would have glowed over her face. In this non-corporeal state, however, all she could do was "think" humorously. That is, it would be if thinking was the right word for the way her consciousness now operated. She wasn't really sure. Perhaps "a true and certain knowledge" said it best.

For a long time she had been like this: perception beyond the realm of the senses, pure knowledge gained as if through osmosis, and driving it all, a thirst to comprehend the universe and how it worked. She'd been like that even when she'd had form. While still in her body, she'd been curious--insatiably so--with a subtle strength and powerful bravery deceptively housed within her slight, delicate-looking humanoid shape. When the change had come, her power had increased tremendously, even though there was so much else she'd been forced to give up.

As she reassured the eager intelligence below, her centre of consciousness floated up to the upper strata of the atmosphere. The explorers from across the galaxy had thought those gases noxious and given the planet the name of Demon. To their biochemistry, it was a hellish place. They would never see beauty here, but their descendants would. The Wraith transmitted images of the time to come, and the intelligence quieted to a willful expectancy. It would come, but only in its own time.

Extending her consciousness over the barren landscape, the Wraith perceived tiny fissures forming in the rocks of the lowlands. The primordial stuff that carried the unique promise of creating biological substances, even sentient life, from its own chameleon-like matter needed access to the surface of the land. It welled up through tiny cracks in soil and bedrock. In a matter of days, thanks to that substance, the basins and hillsides of the land would be covered with enough soil to support vegetation.

Indeed, the Wraith knew from her travels that this would be happening very soon. The people who came from across the galaxy would feed the DNA of grasses, flowers, and tubers native to the planets from which they had come to the life-bringing pools, just as they had given of their own, so that these species could also be transformed, to survive and thrive in the harsh conditions of Demon. The acidic pools of liquid which would become the waters of the land would nourish them to astonishing growth, until the basins and hillsides would be clothed in beauty. The beauty of life.

Most of the explorers from across the galaxy, the Voyagers, would not see this transmogrified landscape as beautiful, should they ever return. Oh, some of them would. Certainly the Vulcans, who were used to the hot, dry desert panoramas of their home planet, would find loveliness. A few who came from colonies or civilizations on marginal worlds might also, but Demon would never teem with life the way some habitats do.

To the eyes of the clones, who preferred to be called colonists, Demon would soon be blooming. Even the most ambivalent of them would be thankful that their template had permitted his or her DNA to be reproduced and adapted for this new land. This would be home from now on. They were the ancestors of a new race.

The Wraith, hovering high over the landscape, opened her perceptions to the thoughts of some of those colonists. The established couples, their search for home finally come to an end, were already settling down into a blissful domesticity. Passionately, in the case of some. The Wraith longed for lips to turn up into a smile as she realized what Paris and Torres were doing on this first night in their new home. Not exactly unexpected, especially when the eagerness of the planet's sentience for the establishment of a native populace was considered.

Thanks to this influence, even some of the newly minted couples were comforting themselves in that most fundamental of humanoid ways, despite the newness of their unions. Wildman and Carey confirmed what had been an open secret and settled down with Naomi. Ayala and Nicoletti had surprised everyone when they declared their intentions to unite. No one had known of the secret passion Nicoletti had felt for Ayala except the man himself. He'd reluctantly held himself back from her as long as there was a chance to reunite with his wife and sons. Once the clone of Ayala had no hope of return, he'd gladly returned Susan's affections.

And Kathryn and Chakotay had finally ceased their courtship dance, taking hold of the destiny they'd denied themselves for two years. The simmering tensions that had been briefly relieved on New Earth, only to be renewed more painfully upon the pair's return by their positions on Voyager, could only be satisfactorily resolved in one way. Why wait, when time was such a precious commodity, especially for corporeal beings already fated for short lifespans?

The Wraith knew just how precious time was--far too precious a thing to waste. She had learned that the hard way, when her promised nine years had turned out to be only four. She herself had been transformed long before her time.

Her sorrow was great when she'd first been forced to leave all that she knew. Despite the wonderful things her Ocampan spirit was now capable of doing, she missed those she'd loved on Voyager. She'd stayed close for a while, as she'd promised Harry, ready to help when she could, although she'd been relegated to the role of bystander.

After a time of mostly watching, she realized something that her father, her guide, had never fully grasped, possibly because of the limitations his Ocampan corporeal lifetime had imposed upon his imagination. The explorer daughter had been exposed to so much more that she perceived something wonderful. Time was not linear for her. She could go anywhere, anywhen, yet come back to the exact split second at which she'd left any time, without missing anything of the lives of those she supervised. So she did.

She traveled back in time to see her parents in their prime. She saw Neelix as a young man and met his family. She flew off to Earth and saw the world she always had known she wouldn't live to see with corporeal eyes. She flitted around the galaxy, exploring the dimension she had always lived in, as well as those she had not. The past and the future were all the same as the present to her. Like a Q, she flowed from one reality to another.

Yet, always, she returned to Voyager and to those she loved, never leaving Harry alone at a critical juncture.

In her powerful new formless state, she could do things to help them. When a transwarp experiment went badly, she made sure that Voyager was thrown clear, ten years closer to home and well out of Borg space. She made sure that Voyager held together when the Hirogen Array exploded. She pushed the vessel forward to outrun the damage to subspace when Omega deconstructed it for parsecs. In a dozen little ways, she made differences in the way power was utilized so that Voyager, on the verge of ruin, would stay together long enough to resolve its problem and continue its journey home.

If the time she experienced this could be sensed by those restricted to linear time, the equivalent of several centuries of consciousness passed as she explored farther and farther afield, especially into the future. It was exciting, but wearying to the soul, too. She could understand why the Q had become, in their immortality, so jaded; but the Wraith wasn't a Q. She learned a bitter truth: while she could go anywhere and anywhen and could funnel energy to help those she wished to aid, there was one thing she couldn't do. She couldn't make them hear her.

All of her formidable mental powers, her telepathy, could not bridge the gap between her reality and Harry's. Oh, if she wished, she could manipulate a computer to leave him a message, perhaps. "Hi, Love, it's me!" What good was that? She longed to hold him, to feel him, to share thoughts with him the way she used to. She could not . . . unless . . .

She could become like Tieran. She could become a possessor, one of those who takes over another's mind and body. Having had it done to her, she refused to even consider being such a one herself, for a very long time.

In this state, however, time was what she had too much of. Eventually, her scruples broke down in the face of a disturbing discovery. In all of her travels, one thing she found that upset her beyond measure, one thing which made her want to stop her wanderings and simply experience life--and to help those she'd loved on Voyager.

In all the dimensions, in all the times, Voyager rarely made it home. Sometimes the Kazon, despite their blundering, were marshaled by Seska sufficiently enough to maroon the crew on Hanon IV. The Vidiians successfully caught up to Voyager and turned the crew into spare parts in others. The ship was blown up by the captain to save an alternate universe Voyager in still another (and she remembered that incident vividly from her own lifetime). The Voth imprisoned the crew forever in one scenario. The crew had to abandon a fatally crippled Voyager to settle a new world they called Aurora in yet another. In others the entire crew was stranded in the Habitat for generations; destroyed or transformed out of all resemblance to reality by the Krenim; all killed (except for a sorrowful Chakotay and a heart-rendingly embittered Harry) during an experiment with an exotic technology when Voyager crashed onto a world of ice. Sometimes they were all assimilated by the Borg; eradicated by Species 8472; hijacked by thieves; wiped out in the Omega particle explosion; irradiated into a ghost ship in an insidious nebula; made into trophies of the hunt by the Hirogen. Time and time again Voyager was lost, sometimes simply because it ran out of power before reaching a safe haven.

As many times as she searched the futures, the results were depressingly the same. In only a handful of time streams did Voyager have even a chance at making it home.

One thing was common in all the dimensions where Voyager survived. Each time, Voyager had made a stop on a desolate, seemingly insignificant world, antithetical to the body chemistry of the dwellers on the vessel. There, abundant deuterium was found, enough to power the ship through its upcoming journey through a deadly nebula, enough to risk entering a dark place for a trip that was anticipated to last for a couple of years. In each of those dimensions where Voyager succeeded in getting home, a colony of clones was left behind on this grim planet, created from the DNA of Voyager's inhabitants, transformed so that they could subsist on this new world.

When the Wraith examined these time streams closely, she recognized the agent that had permitted this miraculous transformation.

The Wraith.

Her presence was not necessary to enable the proto-sentient goo of the planet to turn itself into bodies. The minds, however, needed an extra push, so that the memories and personalities of the templates could be transferred to the new beings, making them exact duplicates mentally, although their bodies bore the new, adapted body chemistry.

The goo could transform matter, but it couldn't capture thought. The powers of the Wraith could, however, ferrying a duplicate set of memories and personality to each clone, to animate them with what could only be described as a soul.

After this pivotal event, the creation of the new civilization on Demon, multiple realities branched off, as was inevitable, but the Wraith saw that in every time stream in which Voyager made it home to Earth, this had occurred: new life on Demon was traded for the power for Voyager to survive and continue its journey successfully.

It was no surprise to the Wraith that the crew would be so generous with the very essence of their selves that they would permit such a thing. In her time on Voyager, she had learned of this generosity. For her to be the agent of their continued existence was a blessing to her, even if it were a cruel irony. She could not communicate to the ones she loved, even though she could help duplicate their minds and save their lives.

She did what needed to be done, in each of those time streams, creating the new colony from her own will and the goo fed with specks of blood from the crew of Voyager. She ferried the souls of the crew of Voyager to the clones. Since time itself was no barrier to her, she slipped back to capture the spirits of Kaplan, Jetal, Durst and Bendera, so that they truly were resurrected, even though no one ever could discover how that could be. Only T'Pera was not transferred, for the Wraith discovered that the young Vulcan woman preferred to assume the mind and memories of the one whose katra was imprinted on her. It was illogical for two beings to inhabit one body, T'Pera believed.

Finally, when there was only one reality more to be created, the Wraith knew that her own journey was nearly over. She could not be the shepherdess of Voyager's trek any longer. Her soul was too weary to travel further. She wanted to rest. She understood, finally, why her people eventually ended their non-corporeal lives to find the peace of joining with infinity, as other races do.

It's frustrating to have such power, yet, ultimately, to be merely a voyeur.

The Wraith wanted peace, but first, she wanted to recapture a measure of the life which the Krenim's attack and her living backwards through time had cheated her from living. Before she willingly consigned her spirit to oblivion, she wanted to have a life.

The Wraith had the power to do this, but only by sharing another's body. She was sure she could do it without becoming a Tieran. She could fold herself into another, live and feel and touch and experience what the other did, but as a silent partner. What T'Pera spurned, the Wraith did not.

Her first impulse, of course, was to tuck her Self away into a corner of one organ of her beloved, to be held literally within his heart. She dismissed that notion, however, for she'd learned something about the many possible futures she visited. In most of the realities in which Voyager survived, one woman on the ship had become to Harry what Kes once had been. His wife. This woman was not an obvious choice, many thought, yet as the Wraith watched all those futures unfold, she found herself wondering why Seven and Harry did not join in every one of them. They turned out to be well suited to each other, in so many ways. On Demon, they did end up together. Every time.

For this to happen, of course, Seven of Nine could not be Borg. For the being who could throw Voyager ten years journey away to avoid a terrible accident, making sure no nanoprobes entered a certain vial of blood was no great task.

So, the Wraith made a critical decision. She would keep her promise to Harry and continue to watch over him, but not in every timeline. She'd done enough by giving all those Voyagers the chance to survive by helping them on Demon. On Demon, therefore, the Wraith would stay, tucked into the form of another, yet feeling the love and happiness that had been denied her in her own corporeal life. Guarding one form of Harry, she would wish the rest a long and happy life.

There were many dangers for those on Voyager without her, yet even with her, there was little she could do more often than not. She could foresee some of the tragedies that might come, yet there were triumphs ahead, as well. It was up to each member of the crew, when each choice was made, to decide what fate would come--which splinter of reality would become his or her own.

On Demon, the Wraith knew that there would be an Andrew Kim, held in the arms of his mother and her silent partner. He would be the son of Harry, but not of Linnis Kim. Linnis Paris still would become Linnis Kim, but she would be Andrew Kim's wife, not his mother. Time would heal itself in this way, on Demon.

The joined souls of the Wraith and Seven of Nine, who from this time forward would be known as Annika Kim, would be impregnated with the seed of life by Harry Kim. Annika would bear his children and feel the tug of her progeny suckling at her breast. Annika and Harry would watch over them, guide them as they grew into adulthood, living the span of life of humans, not the short ones of the Ocampan race. The Wraith told herself that it was probably better this way. With their time less limited, the wondrous gifts of intellect and invention they would inherit from their parents would contribute to the building of the new civilization, just as Annika and Harry had before them.

And finally, when it was time for Annika Kim to close her eyes for the last time, surrounded by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, the Wraith would accompany Seven's soul on that last great journey into the great mystery of infinity. No more roaming, for either of them.

All of these wondrous events would take place, but not now. Tomorrow she would see to the imprinting of the mentalities of the colonists onto their own duplicates. This second group of clones/colonists would enrich the other side of Demon with their presence, to improve the chances that the colonized planet would thrive and grow with maximum genetic diversity, as was destined. A few last things must be accomplished, final tasks had to be performed, and then the Wraith could slip permanently into her new role as the silent partner in the life of Seven of Nine and partake of the lifetime of love she could never know any other way.

But that was for tomorrow. For now, the gentle yet strong spirit that had once been called Kes would settle back into the body of Annika for the rest of the night, to enjoy being held again in the arms of her beloved. Their beloved?

Kes did not care what the proper terminology might be. She was happy to share.

=^=

In her sleep, the newly deflowered Annika Hansen stirred briefly. Shifting her weight to be held more snugly within the warm, encircling arms of her husband-to-be, Harry Kim, she breathed out an audible sigh of contentment.

And smiled.
 
 
 

End
 
 

 Back to: Meandering With Jamelia Through the Delta Quadrant