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"That was easy. Too easy," Tom commented.
Zare stared up at the hole in the ceiling above her while everyone else hovered outside an open door nearby. Rachel stepped into the door frame.
"It's clear," she said.
Tom nodded at the group. They carefully made their way inside. He stopped to look at Zare with worry. "That must be where B'Elanna and Rachel were attacked."
"It's up there," Zare muttered.
Tom's eyes widened so much they nearly bumped into each other. He tried to shake it off. "Perhaps we should split up after all," he dropped his voice to a whisper.
Zare briefly glanced forward at him, then back up at the hole. "I think it's..." She turned almost fully around while still looking up. The part of the ceiling where she was staring at creaked, putting Tom even further on edge. "Can you hear that?"
"The creak," Tom whispered as he edged for the door.
"No, the scratching sound," Zare whispered back.
Tom almost didn't want to hear it, but he tried anyway. He wasn't sure whether to be relieved that he couldn't or not. Another creak made him step into the room.
"Guys, change of plans. We should go to the other lab first," he whispered while pointing at the ceiling.
The Doctor's forehead was overtook by worried lines. "Where is it, I'll follow you when I'm done here." Everyone turned to him. "They shouldn't be able to hurt me, unless I'm unfortunate enough to get hit in the emitter. There's only two here, it won't take long."
Tom peeked outside just in time to see Zare standing with her back to him, and her phaser rifle pointed up at the hole. That didn't make him feel any better. "Now would be good."
Everyone but Rachel and B'Elanna hurried back outside, then down the corridor away from Zare. B'Elanna quietly stepped over to Tom's side. Rachel meanwhile walked over to the Doctor.
"With a Slayer here it's suddenly shy. It makes no sense," she whispered.
"I'm not taking any chances," Tom whispered back.
Rachel headed over to the pair. "I told him where the other lab is, I'll tell you as well. You two go, I'll see if I can get a protection spell on Zare."
"No, I'll stay until you're finished," Tom said. Rachel was surprised, B'Elanna more so. "The Captain is always the last to leave."
B'Elanna smiled and shook her head. "Yes, Captain's sure are stubborn." Tom shook his head. She turned to Rachel, "you said it wasn't far when we were last here."
"Um yes. Turn to the right at the first junction, five doors down. It's partly open, you can't miss it," Rachel said nervously. "We went left last time, good thing too."
B'Elanna nodded and turned to Tom. He gave her a smile. She ran off to join the rest of the group waiting for her, just out of sight around the corner.
"I think it's eating something," Zare said uneasily.
Several different images flashed through Tom's head, making him shudder horribly. "Rach?" He was grateful that the other woman was already quietly chanting something under her breath. "Zare, don't do anything, just guard the Doc and..."
"I know," Zare only mimed.
Rachel pointed her hand towards Zare, her whole body began to shimmer like B'Elanna's did earlier. "That's it. Hopefully it won't detect her for a while. We should go," Rachel whispered. She hurried off.
Tom sighed in relief, "okay." He glanced back at Zare one more time before following her.
Zare carefully stepped backwards towards the open door. The distinctive sound of a pod being open made her look over her shoulder.
"These pods are far more damaged than the others," she heard the Doctor say quietly.
Zare looked up at the hole one more time before walking inside the lab. Once inside she saw what he meant immediately. Several of the pods had their doors ripped apart, some were smashed to pieces. Nobody was inside any of these extremely damaged ones, which made Zare more worried than relieved. They were broken into for a reason, she thought. The one the Doctor was working on didn't appear damaged, yet the light inside it was flickering on and off.
She hurried over when the Doctor began to lift the woman out of it. "It's all right, I've got her." He gently lay her on the floor and immediately began to scan her with his tricorder. "Her pod was starting to fail. Another hour or so and she would have run out of air."
The door was her main focus again. As long as she could hear whatever it was scratching around above them, she couldn't relax. "I don't understand, why didn't it attack?"
"You want it to?" the Doctor said in a bemused tone.
"No, but if it did I'd know what I'm dealing with," Zare mumbled. The Doctor briefly glanced up at her, she noticed it in the corner of her eye. "James told me they went straight for him, it makes sense that they would. At least until the Soft sent Frenit after him instead. Here it's avoiding me and attacking others, why?"
"I see. I think it's more interesting that we're apparently not in a Softmicron structure, yet we're encountering similar experiments," the Doctor said.
What he said made her shoulders tense up, her heart started beating a little faster. "My god."
"Yes, the others seemed to have brushed that off. I guess there's a lot going on," the Doctor sighed.
"No, it's definitely Softmicron," Zare said quietly.
"I agree, the evidence suggests..." the Doctor said while treating the woman on the floor.
Zare glanced towards one of the broken computer stations in the centre of the room. "At least it is now."
B'Elanna headed straight for the computer in the centre, the others carefully looked around the similar room they had woken up in. Tom stopped at one of the few pods that still had lights emanating from it. He quickly scanned it.
"Something's been bugging me," B'Elanna said while she studied the console.
"Just something?" Ian questioned with a slight smirk.
B'Elanna ignored that for now. "If the goal here was to create super humanoids, which they've obviously done, why is no one here? The building is sinking, these things are smashing the place up..."
"Maybe the bosses, scientists have been murdered. They turned on them," Tom tried to answer.
"Perhaps, but it doesn't explain why the Soft have similar..." B'Elanna said.
The whole room jumped as a loud bang shook a nearby wall. The ones who dared to look saw two of the pods on the wall had shut down, one even started to tip towards the floor, tearing up more of the wall as it did.
Something made her keep looking backwards to check, not that she could see the refugees from where they were. There was a bad feeling lingering in her chest.
The two aliens behind her were getting more anxious with every glance she made. The leader felt she had to say something. "Something wrong?"
"No," Lena answered instinctively. That feeling again made her look backwards again. Once she was done she looked down at the tricorder. Its faint light had given up as well, now it was just a worthless piece of metal. "I hope not."
The downward sloped path they walked on levelled off, from there it was lit like all the others they had walked down. The two aliens seemed relieved, but to Lena they seemed dimmer, like the tower or the anomaly was absorbing the energy from the fire too.
An opening was not far ahead of them. The aliens were surprised when she stopped suddenly. The feeling was back, but this time it was straight ahead that was giving her a knot in her stomach.
"Stay back," she told them while pointing her rifle.
The alien doctor stepped forward to place a hand on it. Lena frowned and looked down to push it away. Then she noticed it. The rifle was starting to flicker on and off like the tricorder did before. Angrily she hung it back on her shoulder and reached into her jacket, only to be reminded that she lost her sword during the Frenit fight. "Great."
"We should turn back. There's no one on guard duty, that on its own is suspicious," the leader said.
"Ohno, I insist you stay," a voice behind them said. Everyone swung around to see the protesting alien walk down the hill towards them. The leader narrowed her eyes at him. "Oh, don't look at me like that. You should have known. What did you say I was? Reckless, impulsive."
"More like stupid. This isn't going to help anyone," the leader hissed.
Lena heard footsteps behind her, she swung around. The alien doctor looked over his shoulder as well. Several figures stepped out of the shadows of the entrance ahead of them.
"I'm stupid? I'm not the Slayer who came here without a functioning weapon," the alien couldn't help but laugh.
"Enough!" the leader snapped.
The alien stopped a good few feet away from them, passing a malicious smile towards Lena. "It's almost like you're new at this, little girl. That can't be so."
"Eigan, stop this foolishness," the alien doctor grumbled. "These things will kill us. We should go."
"And lead them to the others? Oh Doc, I didn't know you had it in you," the alien laughed while pointing at the newcomers.
"He's not Eigan," Lena said. The alien pretended to look shocked and faked a gasp. "He's a Softmicron."
Eigan smiled pitifully at her. "Oh, was I that obvious?"
Lena turned so Eigan was on one side, and the newcomers were on the other. They were standing strangely still, it didn't look like they were even breathing. Their unblinking hollow eyes stuck out the most to her. She instead focused on Eigan on her right. "Go, I'll take care of them."
Eigan laughed sinisterly. "Without a weapon? Yes please, that should be interesting." To his surprise she stepped over to him instead.
"Not for you," she said. As soon as her fist started to raise the people behind her lunged forward. Their feet scraping against the dirt got her attention, so she quickly turned back and rushed forward.
The alien doctor ran forward to escape, Eigan stopped him by grabbing his arm. "Now, now. You wanted to come. You brought this on yourself."
Lena swung the rifle at the first alien that reached her right in the face. It broke in half as it struck, it also knocked the alien to the floor. The remaining two tackled her to the ground. As soon as she hit the floor they started delivering the punches.
Eigan grunted as the alien doctor pulled himself out of his grip. Eigan responded by clicking his fingers. One of the aliens attacking Lena bolted up, it then shot after the runaway alien so fast it was a blur to anyone watching. He screamed as he was pushed to the ground.
"Stop this now!" the leader bellowed at him. He just smirked as she confronted him.
Lena blocked a few hits, then kicked the last one away with her right leg. It rolled away just in time for yet another one to appear from the entrance. She focused on the alien doctor as his screams faded away. For the first time she was thankful the corridors were so dark. She could just make out the outline of his attacker standing back up.
"What is the point of this? What will this do?" the leader demanded.
"He's one of the aliens who attacked your..." Lena had time to spit out before the newer alien ran towards her. She ducked and rolled away from this one. "Planet. They're..." She blocked an incoming punch from the other, then hit back. "Shape shifters."
"She knows," Eigan laughed. The leader glared at him. "What? Did you really think the Slayers would invite you to their ship?" The one Lena didn't hit punched her hard to the ground. "That one may be too stupid to notice, but the other might not be."
"Slayers can't sense us. We could have escaped this wretched planet," the leader snarled.
Lena looked up at her, her eyes shut tightly. Another alien appeared while the one still standing threw a kick at her. A quick roll to one side helped her evade that. Quickly she leapt back onto her feet.
"But no... you thought it would be better to kill her," the leader said. Eigan just smirked in response. "The other will come. What will you do then?"
One of the new aliens grabbed Lena from behind while the other charged at her.
"He'll find a group of refugees lost, waiting for his beloved sister who will never return," Eigan sneered. "We'll escape and at least one overpowered freak will be out of the picture."
"James," Lena mumbled to herself, her eyes shut tight again. Before the alien could strike her she swung both of her legs up to kick it away. The one holding her responded by throwing her into the rock face while her legs were still off the ground.
"Once we have his ship we can invite a few of our own and well..." Eigan sniggered. The wall Lena crashed into started crumbling, rocks fell all around her. She quickly crawled out of its path just in time for it to collapse completely. Rocks still managed to hit her and the remaining aliens, knocking them to the ground. Eigan merely covered his eyes as dust overtook the whole area, like it was nothing. "We'll have this fun all over again."
Once the dust started to settle he noticed a shadow in front of him. He smiled, assuming it was the leader. Then he noticed her lying on the ground beside him. Before he could glance ahead of him again a fist flew into his face. The leader's eyes widened as his body slumped to the ground next to her.
Lena coughed to try and keep the dust out of her lungs, everytime she breathed in afterwards it would just happen anyway. It was the least of her worries as she heard more footsteps behind her. Slowly and discreetly she turned her head to one side.
As if it came out of nowhere, a female Borg drone appeared behind James.
"Look out!" Lena screamed, but the drone had already swiped its artificial arm across the back of his head.
Lena only had time to see yet another face in front of her, before its owner delivered its own punch. The force sent her flying backwards onto the ground. She barely noticed, the girl's face was all she could focus on.
Her short brown hair now down to her knees. Her matching eyes were carved out and replaced by a void of darkness. The face that was usually so expressive just looked like a mask, devoid of anything with a soul.
The girl standing before her was no longer someone she knew, someone she considered a friend long ago.
The blow was hard and brutal enough to knock him to the floor. Lena could only watch as he struck the ground.
The Borg drone stared at her with lifeless eyes.
"Tani," Lena said barely above a whisper.
She was just a shell, programmed to follow orders. To kill. It approached her to do just that. Lena didn't have a choice. She dragged her failing rifle out and aimed it to fire, instinctively it picked up speed.
The axe flew towards the drone, but it just grabbed it. The grip it held snapped the weapon in half. Lena saw the pieces fall down beside her unconscious brother, bleeding from his head.
Rage filled her heart. It took complete control of her. Before she could think about it, a fist flew at the one responsible, over and over.
Lena's finger went to press the fire command, but she hesitated. The blow would kill her. She instead reached to change the settings. Due to the power failure it took a few tries. The shell of Tani didn't show her the same mercy. Instead it raised its foot over her head.
"You killed my brother," she cried over and over. Unaware that the body lying nearby still moved but gently, she continued throwing punches. One left her open, the drone used it to pierce her neck with the assimilation needles.
The controls blackened out completely.
Voices rushed at her with such force she screamed as loud as she could to be heard. Skin crawled, her blood ran cold. Her body fell to the floor.
Somehow the shell stopped right before its foot touched her face. She looked up, expecting it to be attacking her. Instead she saw it frozen above her, a blade sticking out of its stomach. It then disappeared in a flash. The shell collapsed to the ground beside her.
"Tani!" she screamed so loud the rocks started to fall from the remaining walls again. Her body was pulled up to her feet, she was being dragged back up the hill. The shell on the floor didn't move. Its eyes still black and wide open. Her screams followed her and her rescuer all the way out of the tunnel.
The cold air hit them both hard like a punch to the ribs, it rushed to Lena's lungs, forcing her to stop screaming and breathe. It hurt to do it. Everytime she inhaled it felt like the air was attacking her, forcing her diaphragm to jump up to defend itself. An arm was around her shoulders, keeping that part of her warm at least. Another hand reached over to put an oxygen mask over her mouth. Once the hand moved away, she brought her own left hand up to clutch onto it.
As it got easier to breathe she noticed they weren't even outside yet. Her back was resting against the rocks as well as the arm on her shoulder, she could still make out a rock face opposite her. The cold air lingered in from her left. They were close.
Finally she looked up and left to see a figure with a visor and mask on their face. It didn't matter, she knew who it was. Still she couldn't relax. Tani's face was carved into her mind.
"How could this happen?" she thought. "Why?" Her body started to ache, her energy faded. The fight she suffered was catching up with her. The area around her began to fade away.
B'Elanna side stepped closer to the door, carefully she peered around the door frame.
"Careful," Tom said for the twentieth time.
Both ways were clear. She pulled herself back just in time for another loud bang to knock the second pod off the wall. Everyone cringed as it smashed into pieces onto the floor.
Tom was even more worried than before, he was starting to sweat. "Time to go. B'Elanna, you remember where that other lab you found was?"
"Not from here. I'd have to go part way back to the corridor we left Zare," B'Elanna replied.
The wall was cracked, it was groaning under the strain.
"Better than here, go," Tom ordered while pointing at the door.
Everyone carefully headed for it while B'Elanna kept a watchful eye on the corridor. Only Tom was left when the crack turned into a small hole, large enough to fit a fist through. He lingered on the still active pods in the lab, his heart sank. B'Elanna grabbed his sleeve and pulled him outside.
"Which..." Triah stuttered.
B'Elanna answered by running down to the right. The others quickly followed her.
The Doctor nodded, he carefully picked up the still form lying in front of him, then straightened to his feet. Zare glanced at him briefly, then back up at the ceiling outside. He ran by her and down the corridor, away from the hole in the ceiling. Zare was a little less careful when she knelt down to pick up a body sitting against the wall. She needed to hurry. Once the man was over her shoulder she ran after the Doctor.
The ceiling above them started to groan, something scratched behind them.
Zare noticed the Doctor picked up speed, she did so to catch up. They just reached a junction. "It's okay. It isn't following. Which way?"
"Once we hit the junction, we turn left," the Doctor answered.
B'Elanna stopped to look behind her. Everyone else did as well, Tom hurried over to her side. "What?"
"Zare and the Doctor, they'll not know where to go," she said.
Tom cringed, "they'll run right into that thing."
"I'll tell them. I've been wandering around this dungeon for weeks," Rachel said.
Antony didn't like that at all, he stood in front of her to stare down into her eyes. "Not alone you're not."
"Weeks, do I want to know what you've been eating this whole time?" Ian muttered. Triah gave him a disgusted glare.
Rachel overheard and glared back. "Only you would go there. And no, I should. Next to the girl, I'm the only one who can deter these things."
"He's right. Nobody goes alone," Tom butted in. He pointed at Triah who shook her head, then at Ian. "Once you've got them, bring them to the lab you and B'Elanna found."
"You don't need to tell me once," Rachel muttered.
She hurried off in the other direction. Ian and Antony ran after her. The rest of the group continued going down the same way.
"Lets hope there's something useful in there. We've got a long wait ahead of us," Tom said.
The three plane style ships hovered slowly in orbit, as if they were waiting for something. Whatever it was they didn't have to wait long. A flash in the distance made them fly away from the planet towards it. They soon apprehended the Katane as it approached the planet.
"They're hailing," one of the alien crew said from the back.
Yana gave Ersa a knowing glance. He nodded back and climbed to his feet. "Open a channel, Markal."
The alien nodded his head. He typed in a few controls. The black metal visor blocking the viewscreen lifted up so they could see the three ships ahead of them. It immediately changed to show a brightly lit and advanced bridge. Three aliens manned it. The Katane crew were surprised to see that they were four armed like the aliens described from the surface.
"This is Commander Ersa of the Katane. What's your business here?" Ersa said.
The alien closer to the front of the bridge scowled at him, showing a lizard type tongue briefly. "You first. This is our territory, not yours."
Yana frowned while everyone else worried to say the least. Ersa kept his internally. "I was under the impression that this was a pre-warp world."
"If it were, you would have no business here," the alien on the screen said suspiciously.
"We're looking for someone. They attacked our homeworld," Ersa explained. The two aliens at the back glanced at one another, the leader watched Ersa closely. "A silver vessel, large and badly damaged. We heard they abandoned ship near here."
"You heard wrong Katane. That ship was stolen. No one from it is here," the leader hissed.
"You wouldn't want them on your planet. Can we at least rule that out?" Ersa said calmly.
The leader looked back at his comrades. One of them shook his head. The leader turned back to stare at Ersa. "That is not your concern. Leave at once."
"So there is?" Ersa said. "Let us help you find them. The crimes they committed on our world have left us devastated. We deserve retribution, don't you agree?"
The leader smirked at him as he leaned closer to the screen. "I would if you didn't already have Humans onboard." Ersa's face tightened. "You tried to hide them from us, but we're not stupid. Hand them over and I'll think about sparing your vessel."
"What's with the attitude? We only have two. Their entire crew need to be punished," Ersa improvised.
"That we can help with," the leader sneered. He raised both of his right hands. The screen changed back to space view.
"They're charging weapons. At least I think so, it's some sort of energy build up," another alien said.
The door at the back of the bridge opened. Harry and Craig hurried out of it to join Ersa. He shook his head. "I don't know how they got through your fake sensor readings."
"It's all right. These ships are probably more advanced than the ones we encountered at Shurouva," Harry said. The ship trembled, he quickly grabbed onto a nearby railing. "Plan B."
Ersa rushed forward to the only unmanned station. "Hold on." He typed in a few commands, then the ship lurched violently to the right.
Yana tightly gripped her station as another two hits slammed into their shields. Craig tried to stumble over in between them, he eventually made it over. He noticed the planet come into view on the front screen. "How much time will we have?" he asked.
"Little more than ten of your minutes. Why?" Yana answered.
"I'm going to need some of the tricks you used to get on Voyager," Craig said. Yana looked at him in surprise.
Hidden by the surrounding mountains and the lack of light, the Enterprise stood on a small patch of raised land. Its few lights near the top of it barely pierced the darkness.
Inside the starship it wasn't much better. The only lights came from the few consoles online on the bridge. One of the bigger command chairs had been uprooted from the floor and laid down so the back was on the floor. The top half of Lena's body rested on top of it. Everyone on the bridge stood around her.
"The air's getting a lot thinner on the surface. I don't think we have much time left," James said.
Kiara knelt down on the spot. She reached out to brush a strand of hair out of Lena's eyes, then she stroked the side of her face. "Will she be okay?"
Jessie smiled down at her. "Yeah, she just needed a rest." Kiara didn't believe her but she smiled back anyway. Jessie walked away with James at her side. "I'm definitely no expert here but that wasn't just the oxygen being a little thin."
"I know," James sighed while glancing down at the floor.
"I know a panic attack when I hear about one. What on earth happened?" Jessie said quietly.
"Tani... she was one of the experiments," James answered even if he still had trouble believing it. Jessie's eyes were very wide. "I didn't know until I'd already killed her. I had no choice though."
"You probably did her a favour," Jessie smiled sympathetically at him. "I wonder how she got here."
James shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe it was like Janet and she was kidnapped during a tower mission. Or it happened when the Enterprise was abandoned."
Kiara sighed in relief as Lena's eyes began to open. They widened in panic as they spotted Kiara. "What?" she said weakly.
"It's okay. James found the people you rescued and got them beamed up. Then he found you," Kiara said softly. "It's fine."
"No..." Lena stuttered. James and Jessie looked over as she tried to sit up. "No it's not. Why?"
James walked over, he was about to kneel down on her opposite side when she dragged herself onto her feet. The glare she was giving him was very Janeway like. Then she spotted Jessie in the corner of her eye and it only made her madder. "What the hell is the matter with you?"
"Lena," James said as soft as he could. He was shoved roughly, thankfully it was a little weaker than usual so he kept his footing. "What... why are you mad at me for? You were the one that ran away, worrying me half to death."
"Look if you want to bring your about to burst pregnant wife with you, that's your business. But don't bring my daughter into this hellhole," Lena spat at him. "Beam me back and take her home, now!"
Kiara climbed to her feet to put a hand on her arm. "Lena, it wasn't his idea. I wanted to come."
"Oh... I'm sure Duncan wanted to come too but do I see him here?" Lena grumbled. She looked around anyway. "Nope. So you can say no to kids!"
Kiara's shoulders slumped. James shook his head, "Kiara was worried sick about you, this isn't helping."
"James can't tell us what to do, Lena. Kiara's like you, if she wants to do something she'll do it," Jessie said. "As for me, if he said no I'd probably sneak onboard somehow."
Lena rolled her eyes while James stared at his wife with a raised eyebrow. "Oh so we're all stupid are we? Great," Lena muttered.
"I'm glad you think you were, it's a start," James said.
"So what did you do? Lock them up in a room without consoles, knocked them out?" Lena questioned bitterly. "Why are they on the bridge for that matter?"
"Parts of the surface can still handle large buildings that weren't built by shape shifters, so I thought it could handle a starship landing on it," James replied. Lena didn't look any calmer with that answer. "No one hallucinates down here."
Jessie nodded. "The two hour journey alone with a sore loser was interesting to say the least."
Kiara frowned at her. "You had a stack of jokers hidden, I'm sure of it."
Lena stared between the two, her eyes wide. She instead focused on James. "You really are hopeless aren't you? What was the point of bringing them? You didn't have to do it."
"You're only proving yourself wrong," James muttered in response. Lena stared at him blankly, though her eyes were still full of anger. "You need help Lena. You can't keep..."
"I need help!? You're the one killing people all willy nilly. If you're not killing, you're endangering people," Lena snapped.
Jessie stepped forward, her own eyes started to burn. "Now wait a minute..."
James put a hand on her shoulder, "it's okay. If you want to hate me for what I did to Tani, fine, be my guest. I however wouldn't have brought Jessie or Kiara here if I didn't think it was safe to do it. I brought them here to help you cos I obviously couldn't."
"What are you talking about?" Lena demanded.
"Only a few weeks ago you weren't even here," Jessie said carefully. Lena's face froze, both what was said and her reaction made Kiara wince. "I don't want to sound harsh but that's what makes this whole thing so... I don't know, terrifying? What you've been through needs more than a few days recovery. You can't sleep it off or even cry it off..."
Lena sighed impatiently, "I'm fine. What's the big deal? I thought coming back from the dead was a good thing."
"It is, it's great," Kiara said. "But do you remember what you were like only a week ago? You've gone from being mostly catatonic to raging super hero in that little time. Emphasis on the word raging."
"Super hero, now I've heard everything," Lena muttered.
James cringed a little, "I don't like the term anymore than you do, but it fits. You've been so dead set on trying to save people, do your job, you've forgotten yourself. It wouldn't be all bad if I didn't get the idea that it's almost like a distraction for you."
"Unlike some people I'm not selfish, so excuse me for doing my job. Someone has to," Lena muttered. She walked off towards the Jeffries tube hatch. Kiara hurried after her.
"Are you all right? Do you want me to stay?" Jessie questioned.
James turned to her, his head gently shook. "I'm fine, she's just... It doesn't bother me."
"Liar," Jessie smiled warmly at him. She gave him a quick hug which turned into a longer one from his side. Once he let go she gave him a nod and followed the other two girls into the Jeffries tube. He heard her complain only a few seconds after she climbed in. "God, I'm knackered already."
"It's okay, you should stay," James said.
"Crap he heard me," Jessie's voice whispered to herself. James smirked a little. "I'm fine, really." Another few seconds she complained again, "I swear these are smaller tubes than Voyager."
Metal was being shredded like paper, the sound of it echoed down the corridor. Zare held her hand out to one side, signalling the Doctor and one of the recently awoken Enterprise crew to stop. They already had, frozen by the sounds they were hearing. The one she carried before lay blissfully unaware against the wall next to the Doctor. He crouched down to get ready to carry him away.
An inhumane screech even stalled Zare from stepping forward for a moment. She steeled herself forward towards the broken door. Once she was there it took everything she had not to gasp. The entire lab didn't even look like one. Scraps of metal were scattered around, wires shredded and some still sparked uncontrollably. They weren't the only things ripped apart, it was hard not to gag at the sight.
She didn't have to worry about that for long. The humanoid hunched like an animal over the top of a smashed pod focused on her abruptly. It dropped what it was holding and pounced for her. Zare just had time to swing the rifle out in front of her, but not enough to fire it. It pushed her to the ground.
Outside the Doctor and crewmember winced at every noise they heard, they both felt utterly helpless. The Doctor then noticed several figures running towards them.
"We're too late," Ian stuttered. "Zare?"
The Doctor gestured to the door. Rachel scowled towards it, she shook her head. "It's seen her, I can't give her another cloak spell. I'll have to try something else."
"Get back!" Zare screamed.
Rachel stumbled backwards, almost bumping into the two men with her. It was just in time as the creature rolled on its side from the door and literally into the wall. Zare staggered out, already covered in cuts. The Doctor was about to tend to her when she waved him off. "Get whoever's left out of there. I'll keep it busy." She followed the creature through the hole in the wall. The screeching sounds continued.
Ian hurried forward to help the Doctor lift the unconscious person up to their feet. Antony dared to have a look inside the lab, what he saw made him feel sick. "Oh god."
"Get these two out of here, please," the Doctor said in his direction.
Antony looked at him with a pale face and nodded. He ran over to help Ian with the unconscious man. They and the crewmember already awake rushed down the corridor Rachel and the others came from. Antony looked over his shoulder while he did so. "Rach?"
"I've got a few tricks left in me yet. I'll watch your back," Rachel said to the Doctor. He looked at her worried, but nodded anyway.
The Katane twisted around to the left in a corkscrew pattern to avoid a few more hits. It fired some back of its own. Only two of them hit the enemy. One more hit from them made the Katane shields flash into sight.
"The shield strength's lowering. Re-modulate the shields," Harry ordered. "How long?"
"Almost..." Markal answered. He glanced up at the viewscreen, the planet filled the whole bottom half of it. A flash appeared above it, something flew from it. "Now."
Ersa typed in a few commands, they felt the ship dip down. It felt to the Human crewmembers like being on a roller coaster. Everyone clung onto something to avoid being pulled into the ceiling.
The alien ships continued forward while the Katane dropped towards the planet. They seemed more interested in the ship flying straight towards them. They noticed it veer off to their left early to sneak into orbit but they had already seen them. They sped along to follow them. Meanwhile the Katane levelled off to skim the edge of the planet's atmosphere.
Chakotay smiled at the viewscreen, the alien ships and Voyager's tail were showing on it. The red alert lights and klaxon were already on.
"Predictable," he said. "Do it."
Damien groaned in disgust at Opps. He reluctantly tapped in a few commands.
Everyone else kept a close eye on the viewscreen. A few seconds later the tail of Voyager shimmered and then disappeared from sight.
"Temporary cloak is active," Damien muttered.
"Andrews, change course. Lets keep them on their toes for a bit," Chakotay ordered. "Tactical, alias with helm. Fire weapons with every course change." Jodie just did a hand gesture to show her acknowledgment.
Harry watched on the Katane viewscreen as Voyager disappeared. He sighed in relief.
"That would have been handy when we attacked," Yana pointed out.
"It would but only Damien knows how to make one, and he's not easy to convince," Harry said. He turned to Craig, who was busy fiddling with a tricorder, "ready?"
Craig glanced towards him, "sure."
"Isn't this cloak thing risky? What if the shape shifters believe they're gone and come for us?" Ersa questioned.
"They won't," Harry said while pointing at the screen. Ersa just missed a phaser beam hit the alien ships out of nowhere. "Yana, energise."
Yana nodded, she pressed one command then glanced behind her at the two Humans. They disappeared in a shimmer.
Kiara followed the trail of violently opened doors and linear corridors so far, but now she was at a loss. The crossroad she reached gave her no new clues. She was about to resort to dipping between the two when a clatter to her right echoed down the corridor, followed by angry grunts. Kiara quickly followed that, luckily she didn't have to go far. She had forgotten how big this ship was, the chase wiped her out way back in the Jeffries tube.
Kneeling on the floor, head to shoulders inside a wall panel, the person ahead of her could have been anyone. A distinct voice swearing inside of it confirmed it was definitely her.
"You know why I'm here, right?"
She heard a sigh mixed in with the shuffling sounds inside the panel. "I'm fine!" Lena's muffled response was.
"No, not that," Kiara said, shaking her head. "Why I came back from Q training early."
The corridor was silent for a moment. Lena seemed to be still as well. Kiara waited for her to say something, anything. "No," was all she got.
"I missed you, and I felt bad for hurting you. I guess I also wanted to show you the progress I made, so you'd be proud of me," Kiara explained through the lump in her throat. Her torso started to tremble as she spoke. "Most of all, I wanted to help you with this."
"Q's teach you how to re-wire a hacker's power distribution thingy?" Lena muttered a little impatiently.
Kiara's hands flew to her hips, her eyebrows dropped down in anger. "No, and what? Why are you doing that?"
She was still inside the panel, but Kiara definitely heard a scoff fly out of it. "You think big brother will let me go back down there? Hardly."
Kiara had more than enough now. She stomped over to pull her out by the arm. All she managed to do was pull her elbow back slightly. "That's just it, right there! You've got this huge burden on your shoulders, why not share it to lighten it a little?"
"I can handle the heavy lifting, that's the point," Lena mumbled. Kiara tried again to pull her out, this time she succeeded but not in the way she expected. Instead Lena pulled herself out, bumping her head on the edge of the panel in the process. "Damn it," was the response to that. When she straightened herself up Kiara steeled herself for the Janeway death glare, but instead all she could see were her tired eyes losing their spark.
"Lena please, that's why I left this ship in the first place," Kiara quickly pleaded before she could. "It's why I'm back now. I wanted to be useful, to you. I want to help you so you'd live."
"It's not your job to help me. You're my daughter, not some minion or something," Lena said bitterly. "Besides, I ruined that for you so you can't."
Kiara's bottom lip threatened to slide further out while her trembling worsened. "No you didn't, I did. I can't help you now as a Q, but I can in other ways surely. Like now."
Lena gestured to the open panel, which now that she was out of it was clearly just a cluttered mess of wires. "Be my guest."
"No," Kiara said sternly. Lena turned to stick her head back inside it again. "You're not alone in this. Without us James wouldn't have been able to save you. He'd have to stay onboard the ship wouldn't he?" Lena stopped only to lightly sigh. "With us here on the surface you two can rescue another camp or two, we can beam you back. Tell me, how easy was this rescue mission when it was just the two of you?"
"We only failed the first camp because James..." Lena protested.
Kiara firmly shook her head, "you failed cos you had little time after faffing around with a backup EMH, as well as charging in without really thinking about it."
"Please, when did I ever come up with plans? Sometimes you have to act fast, which he's forgotten," Lena snapped.
"When did you start blaming James for everything? You were one of the few people on his side not long ago," Kiara asked sadly.
Lena's eyes widened as anger started to boil over. "I'll call him out if he does screw up, that's more than fair. He'd do the same."
"That's not what's happening here and you know it," Kiara said.
Lena was about to snap back when she spotted Jessie approaching from the same direction Kiara had earlier. Kiara noticed a frown on her face and looked over her shoulder to see the newcomer as well.
"How did she climb down so many decks like that?" Lena wondered quietly.
Kiara shrugged then turned her head back. "We still have time. Do you want to tell me?" Lena's eyebrow raised. "Why are you so angry with him? It's obvious to me, so it'll be obvious to everyone. Why do you insist on fighting alone?"
"I..." Lena said as the anger in her eyes fizzled away. There wasn't much left once it was gone, Kiara was instantly reminded of what she was like when she returned. It scared her more than she liked.
"God, you couldn't have picked a computer on Deck Two or something?" Jessie complained breathlessly once she caught up.
"He didn't ask you to chase me, did he?" Lena asked plainly.
"Nah, he wanted me to stay. I should have," Jessie said, finally catching her breath. Once she did she pointed a stern glare her way. "What are you doing anyway? You're not planning on leaving alone, again?"
"What choice do I have now? You and Kiara are here, it'll take you another five hours to climb back to the bridge. Who'll..." Lena said.
Jessie rolled her eyes while she had been talking. "Yeah, yeah. I came down here as I remembered James saying something about a map. One of the refugees had one. I thought it would be useful. I guess you thought your previous plan of running in blind and hoping for the best would be more efficient."
"Jess," Kiara complained, her eyes shut tightly.
Jessie shook her head a couple of times. "Sorry, I get a little pissy after climbing down a hundred decks, crawling through stick thin tubes, only to find the girl I want to help is running away again."
Lena looked away at nothing in particular, but Jessie wasn't done talking. "I can't describe how strange and off putting it is to have been gone for so long, and come back. Whether or not you feel it's a good thing right now is irrelevant. The journey from the resurrection to normality is bloody hard, indescribably strange but it's worth slogging through it. If you try to rush through it, pretend nothing's wrong, then you'll end up flipping the dark side button a few too many times and lose who you are in the struggle."
Kiara looked down at the floor and bit her lip gently. Lena continued to stare towards the wall.
"Or you'll do what I did. Isolate yourself so much that even the people who love you will lose hope and give up. Forget dying, that's the loneliest feeling in this world. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy," Jessie said. "I hope I'm wrong, but you're starting down that path. There's still time to walk away from it though. I'll get this map and all four of us will figure out a plan together. Okay?"
"Fine," Lena mumbled, surprising Kiara into glancing back up. She noticed her expression hadn't changed from before, but agreeing with one of them was a step forward at least.
The bright lights in the lab were giving almost everyone nagging headaches. B'Elanna was the only one that didn't seem bothered about it, she was too engrossed in one of the alien computers. Tom stood beside her anxiously tapping his folded arms.
"Environmental systems, security protocols, power control... this is definitely the main bridge of the building," she said.
"Great," Tom said unenthusiastically.
"It will be if I can figure out how to use any of them and which consoles they are," B'Elanna said. Her finger pointed at one part, "no, maybe that one's environmental control. It's very similar to this one."
Danny stepped forward while squinting her eyes. "What? You can't tell."
"Strangely enough the names of the systems are not in English," B'Elanna said in a mocking tone. Her finger tapped one of them. "This one, I think is a data bank." The tapping seemed to activate something. Lights shone out from the glass floor, generating a 3D holographic image of a oval shaped building hovering in the air. Tom had to tap B'Elanna on the shoulder so she could turn around and see it.
A computerised voice began to speak from one of the computers. At first it was gibberish, then the universal translators in their commbadges worked to turn it into English for them. "System defences activated star cycle fourteen, graviton shift three." The holographic building lowered a little while an image of the hills rose up from the glass. "Interphasic shields active." The building fell straight through the land as if it wasn't there at all. Once it merged the image of the hills disappeared. "Energy conversion period active. Estimated endurance time; seven point nine hundred star cycles. Re-activation protocols awaiting command. Life cycle almost complete."
"What the hell," was all Danny could say.
"I'm still going to need a translation," Tom said while pulling a face.
B'Elanna's eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. "Amazing. Drawing energy from the planet was not its primary function. It's a means of hiding itself from detection."
Tom stared at her with wide eyes, he wasn't the only one. "Come again?" he asked.
"Really?" B'Elanna was surprised at his confusion. "System defences were activated and the building lowered into the ground to hide. The energy conversion didn't begin until then. It talks about endurance time. It looks like its time is almost up."
"What on earth do people who make things like this need to hide from?" Triah asked.
"The locals are just simple people in a pre-industrial age. If I understand right, star cycle means a year on this planet," Tom said. Everyone waited for him to continue. He just shrugged. "I was thinking out loud."
B'Elanna smiled at him, "you're on the right track. Its cycle is almost complete, which means its been here for seven hundred of this planet's years. We don't know how long that is, but it's obvious that it wasn't being hidden from these people."
"I dunno, seeing that thing floating above your head would be worrisome to us, let alone primitive people," Danny pointed out.
"Could it be the Softmicron? Did they build and hide it, or was it being hidden from them?" Tom wondered.
"Softmicron. Class two being, shape shifting abilities," the computer said. "Threat level three. Inferior technology and limited weaponry. Infiltration threat only."
"Inferior technology?" Tom stammered. B'Elanna gave him a similar worried look. "The Soft are inferior to whoever built this? I'm getting 8472 in Borg space chills from this. This can't be good."
B'Elanna turned back to the computer. "Maybe seven hundred years ago they were inferior. Now..."
"Now they have similar technology; energy draining buildings, that can hide by the way, strength boosting pods. The tables have turned," Danny commented.
"The tables have... how do you figure?" Triah mumbled.
Danny shrugged casually, "think about it. These people hid this thing and haven't come back for it. The Softmicron meanwhile are using similar stuff. What happened doesn't take a genius to figure out."
Tom felt the blood drain from his face, B'Elanna looked back at him to see it. "I hoped I was the only one thinking the same thing," he said.
Only a mile or so away, Craig and Harry stood near the entrance to the mine that tunneled nearby. Harry was busy working on a device stuck in the ground. Craig kept fishing around in his pocket with one hand, while the other kept a firm grip on a phaser rifle.
Unlike the awayteam's time outside, the pair were lucky enough to have beamed down at night. Nobody was around, the planet was too primitive for street or path lighting. The only light they had came from the device Harry was using, his tricorder and the rifle.
The device whirred into life, Harry smiled at it. "Great, that's the last one. Hopefully that'll be enough for the Katane to get through the interference from the mine."
Craig pulled a device from his pocket to quickly check it. It flashed once so he put it away again. Harry looked over with a frown.
"What was that?"
"What?" Craig pretended to be confused.
Harry shrugged, "I thought I saw another light. Oh well." He tapped his commbadge with his spare hand. "Kim to Katane. The transport emitters are in place."
"All right, Jita scan for localised lifesigns."
The pair waited, Harry patiently but Craig not so much. He was getting more and more tense by the second.
"Confirmed. We're picking up the structure. They're spread out throughout. Not all of them are Human."
Harry sighed in relief. "That's okay, lock onto the Humans, a hologram and any other biosigns that match the ones we gave you. Hopefully the Enterprise didn't pick up any unknown aliens on its mission."
"Okay, it'll take a while to selectively transport. Standby."
Craig reached into his pocket again, his eyes closed. "Yana." Harry glanced at him again with a bigger frown, just in time to see him disappear in a transporter beam.
"What the, Craig?" he stuttered.
Tom looked around for anything that he could understand, anything to distract him. The thought of what he had just learned was still nagging away in the back of his mind. The hologram of the structure was still hanging around in the centre of the room. The rest of the group stayed along the edge as if it would hurt them. B'Elanna kept herself occupied by continuing to study the controls.
A lot of the room cringed as distant screams echoed above them, then another but louder not far from them. The walls shuddered and groaned.
Triah rubbed her own arms, she seemed to shrink inside them. "Oh god, they're getting closer aren't they?"
Ian glanced over to a very worried Antony, he kept glancing at the door expectantly. "Maybe we should go check on them. Anything could have happened," Ian suggested.
Tom stopped at one of the computers, this one seemed to be covered with dozens of little screens showing empty corridors. "Hold onto that thought. I think I found the Security console."
B'Elanna looked over, "really?"
"Hmm, I don't see anything," Tom said as he scanned them. "Here I was expecting corridors filled with black eyed monsters."
Antony sighed, "Rach, you'd better be safe."
"This place is huge, this can't be it. I don't even see any rooms," Tom mused. His finger tapped anywhere to see if anything changed. It took a few tries as a few taps only enlarged images. The one to the right made them all disappear and different ones filtered in. His eyes widened as every single one of them displayed similar rooms to ones they'd been in. A lot of them were ripped to shreds or just burning rubble. He gestured his hand so anyone curious knew to come over. "Guys!"
Just as he did so the door nearby trembled from a single knock. Everyone froze on the spot. It did it again and again, each time it got more frantic. Antony gave in and ran over to open it. The whole room were relieved to see the Doctor holding a female crewmember on the other side.
Only Danny walked over to join Tom, she regretted her curiosity as the first screen she saw was littered with not just rubble, but dead people as well. "Oh god."
Tom's eye was on a different screen. The door to that particular lab was open, something was there but he couldn't make it out. There was barely any movement but it was enough to get his attention.
"Rachel, where is she?" Antony panicked. He looked outside to see they were the only arrivals.
The Doctor gently put down the woman he was carrying as quickly as he could. "There were two of them, one came through the ceiling. She stayed behind."
Tom jumped as the slight movement turned into a lot, it happened so suddenly too. He swung around. "Doc, you're with me." He didn't give anyone any time to argue with him, he just ran out of the lab. The Doctor frowned and followed.
Danny tried to find the screen he was looking at. None of them really stuck out any more than the others. Then she found it. "Uh... oh boy." Everyone left were now looking at her in suspense. The lump forming in her throat stopped her from saying anything.
Her leg was about to give out. It screamed in agony. One more step, she thought. It could barely handle that, she stumbled to the floor. The best Rachel could do was crawl on her hands and knees. The blood from the gash on her face dripped onto the floor, that was the last thing on her mind.
The few metres she had to crawl felt like it took ten minutes, not seconds. While she dragged her damaged leg, it brushed against some wall debris causing her to recoil and almost scream out. Instead she forced herself to sit against what was left of the wall. She was so close, she could see it perfectly.
Footsteps approached but at this point she didn't care to even check. She couldn't run or even crawl. There wasn't much energy left in her.
"Oh my god," an unfamiliar voice stuttered from where the footsteps came from.
Somebody ran by her, just stopping a foot or so away to crouch down. He blocked her view of it, all she could see was the back of this young man she hadn't seen before.
"Craig, Craig? What the hell are you doing? Will you just answer me," Harry's voice rang out from him.
Craig couldn't hear him. All he could see was the woman lying in the doorway in front of him. He didn't see much wrong with her. A deep scratch on her arm, a bruise on her face, several cuts. She even still had a rifle in her arm. Something just hit her and she fell, he didn't understand it. His hand shook as it went to check for a pulse.
Rachel shook her head, even that took a lot of effort to do. "They... two of them. I tried."
Craig couldn't hear her either. He had his hand on her neck for a good minute, he felt nothing. A tear dropped from his eye, dribbled down his cheek and escaped from his face. It dropped down on the girl's. Harry's voice tried to get in touch with him again, this time he heard it. He grabbed the commbadge from his chest to put it on her shoulder, doing so he tapped it. His whole body was shaking but he had to get back to his feet.
"Harry. Just beam me back, there's a woman nearby too. We'll need medical attention," he said through the tears.
Rachel stared after him as he walked away. A device was pulled from his pocket. It flashed once from a numerical display. She couldn't see it anymore as he placed it onto a wall.
"Craig, what was the point in beaming in? We were gonna transport any... fine. Get him out of there."
Tom and the Doctor ran around the corner. Both of them stalled at the sight in front of them. The Doctor ran forward first, but the two women disappeared in a transporter beam before he could get there. Tom noticed the third person in the corridor, he wasn't sure what to make of that.
"Craig?" he said.
"Tom. It won't be long," the figure said quietly. Tom and the Doctor heard the pain in his voice.
"What are you doing here, on your own?" the Doctor asked.
Craig glanced down at the floor. Tom and the Doctor then saw the device on the wall counting down to something. "I'm... I'm helping."
"Is that what I think..." Tom stuttered. He barely got a nod. "We're still here."
"You won't be," Craig said. His hand went up to touch the device again, he kept a tight hold of it. "I'll delay it until you leave, if you're worried. They won't beam an explosive onboard, so they won't get me."
"Craig, don't be a fool. It's got a countdown for a reason," the Doctor said.
Craig turned his head slightly, the Doctor and Tom saw his tear streaked face and the haunted look in his eyes. "What is that reason? The Softmicron keep building more and more of these things, we lose more and more Slayers. They're..." He closed his eyes, more tears escaped through the cracks. "They're people, good people trying to help. Soon, there will be none left."
"Craig. She didn't look that bad, she was beamed away," Tom tried to assure him.
"Who'll be next?" Craig said, obviously ignoring his words. "James, Lena? God... she's not, she's just a sweet, funny, clever girl. What did she do to deserve this? I can't stand it anymore."
The Doctor stepped forward, it made Craig recoil back a little but his hold on the device didn't waver. "You can help her." He got a bitter laugh, so quiet he only just made it out. "You can help by being by her side, supporting her. That's enough."
"Where was Zare's support? Who was by her side?" Craig stammered. "Kevin, Sandi. They all died alone, didn't they? It'll happen to Lena too. I can't stop that. I can't, won't watch it. I'd rather die."
Tom felt he knew what to say, he had to. "Lena died as her support system fell. Her mother, Kiara, Chakotay. If you die here things will happen as you think."
"I brought her back into this hell. She knows that," Craig muttered bitterly. "She won't care."
"So you'll die an idiot. A self pitying idiot," Tom said but not in a harsh tone. It was still enough for the Doctor to stare at him bewilderedly. "If you want her to live, stay around. Help her. Damn it, atone for what you've done. Take responsibility. Lena needs you more than you realise."
More tears fell, the lump in his throat throbbed. He stared at the countdown on the device, it seemed to slow down as he did. A hand clasped his shoulder. Sometime during his stare Tom had approached him. The Doctor was right behind him.
"Come on. We can all help her together. That's the Voyager way, isn't it?" Tom said with a friendly smile.
To his relief Craig finally moved his hand off the deadly device. They walked quickly away. It wasn't long before the transporters took them away from it.
"The Katane's saying they've got everyone," Damien said in a bored voice.
Chakotay stepped forward towards the helm. "Get us out of here, warp nine."
"Aye, aye," Nathan said while typing in the commands. The viewscreen showed the stars streaking ahead of them.
The alien ships had no idea, they missed the flash of light behind them. On the other side of the planet the Katane did a U turn to warp off in the same direction.
The tower lurked in the distance, little more than a shadow in the dim light. Lena couldn't keep her eyes from it. The people hurrying by her, shivering in the freezing cold didn't seem to see it. Her eyes had adjusted, gotten used to it being there. It was taunting, almost daring her. As long as it existed it would continue to drain the very soul of the planet. If it was gone, maybe they'd have extra time to save more of its people. At the very least there would be less of the monsters to bring terror to the remaining survivors.
The ground beneath her right foot began to crack, she slid it to one side before it broke apart any further.
"One sec, the transporters need a bit of a boost," Jessie's voice rang in her and James' ears.
Lena slowly looked across at the people standing near her, mostly gathered around her older brother. He had given up his thick jacket at some point while she was thinking, or even during the journey to the surface. As her head instinctively turned back to the tower she noticed a trio of kids huddled inside the coat. She was about to remove her own for anyone else who needed it when the comm link in her ear protection sparked up again.
"Okay got it. Like before it'll be one mass transport. Stay together."
This was her last chance, she had to take it.
"Um James... one lifesign's disappeared."
James' head darted around, his eyes wide. He then noticed a pair of discarded ear muffs lying on the ground. "Lena."
"If I don't transport now I'll have to find somewhere else to steal power from..."
"It's okay, do it. I'll go get her," James said. He didn't wait for Jessie to object, he walked quickly away from the group. All of them stared after him, unsure what was happening. They disappeared in a transporter beam seconds later, leaving him behind.
"Why? She knows we can't stay here much longer, we don't have enough power to rescue any more if we do."
James looked around, a dark shadow caught his eye. He focused on it for a while. It pierced the sky and blended in with the black clouds that lingered there. He knew exactly where she had gone. Ten years ago he would have done the same thing.
"The experiments. Hundreds of them she said. They'd make the survivors last few days, well..." he shuddered at the thought.
"I won't talk you out of it. Just please be careful. I'll work on the transporters."
James nodded. He ran towards the hills as fast as he could. Even when he reached them he couldn't see any sign of her. The star in the sky was long gone, the flashlight in his hand barely made it through the thick black in front of him. He knew it wasn't going to find her that way, so he stopped and listened.
Nothing was around, no wildlife, no wind, no people. The deathly silence and his limited view were a deadly combination, it made him feel like he was standing in nothing. At least now one of them was useful. It meant he could hear Lena's footsteps so clearly, even her light breathing, he knew exactly where to start climbing.
The air seemed to be getting thinner the longer he walked. It was making this steep hill harder to climb up. The sounds were getting louder. His eyes began to adjust to a shadow not far in front of him. It seemed to have stopped. The flashlight was pointed in its direction, it was immediately slapped out of his hand when he did. It clattered to the ground, its shallow light barely shone on him and the figure in front.
"Lena..." he said.
"What are you doing, James? You're..." Lena spat at him.
The fear he had felt before when she had ran off alone again was quickly taken over by anger. "Me? I'm not the one running off on my own again, towards an army of genetically enhanced aliens."
"I'm the Chosen. This is what we do, remember?" Lena said.
"No, no it's not," James said, throwing her off. "There's no point to this Lena. You don't need to kill anything, the planet will do it in a matter of days, maybe hours. This is just suicide,"
"Hmph, I forgot I was talking to the master of doing suicidal things. You're nothing but a hypocrite," Lena scoffed.
"Maybe, maybe not. The difference here is I've had people who talked me out of that, held me back, helped me grow out of it. One of them was you," James said. "I realise you're going through something I'll never understand, but I do understand the need to distract from the pain, and gain control of something. The helplessness is overwhelming. I know, I've done all this myself."
"It isn't anything like that. A lot of people have suffered, died to make me a Chosen. I should do something with it, otherwise it was all for nothing," Lena said, the pain dripping from her voice.
James remembered being a little relieved to see her look like her old self again at the start of the mission. She seemed eager to help out, spend time with him as well. The few smiles and jokes appeared genuine at the time, looking back on them he wondered if they really were. What she said struck the wrong chord, he didn't like it one bit. This was the real reason she went with him. He didn't want it this way. "You're Human first, Lena. Please don't forget that."
"I know that but..." Lena looked a little hurt at those familiar words.
"When I was your age I found out what I really was. I thought that if I didn't involve myself with any bad thing that happened, do something, then I'd be letting everyone down. That I'd be a failure. If I didn't win, I'd punish myself harder each time. If I did, I'd berate myself for not doing it better," James tried to explain.
Lena only shook her head like she disagreed.
"It nearly destroyed me. I hurt Jessie everytime I did this, people hated me no matter what I did. I was barely me anymore, just some freak in a Human shell. I got injured, it didn't matter. If I died, it was worth it," James continued, his face was grimacing at recalling this. Lena turned her head to look at him, she felt her eyes widen. "I don't want you to go through that. It took me a long time to remember that my Humanity was what kept me alive, it's not a weakness."
"Maybe for you," Lena said quietly and timidly while looking down to the ground.
James' shoulders slumped. "Yeah I never said it wasn't hard. I think... no I know it's why both of us are still here. It's why we were picked in the first place."
"I really hope there's time for an intermission here, cos I've got something that kills your whole theory," a familiar voice said.
James and Lena looked up towards the top of the hill, they could just make out an outline of a humanoid. Lena noticed it only had one arm, making her extremely tense. James' eyes meanwhile narrowed, despite him feeling just as tense and worried as she was.
"Frenit," he said.
"Why the surprise? Didn't sis mention it?" the voice sneered while the outline disappeared into the shadow of the hill. The footsteps they both heard gave away how far he was, he was getting far too close for either of their liking. "Shame." The noise hinted that he stopped and close by too. "What, no what are you doing here whines?"
"You like hanging around towers, what's there to ask?" James muttered.
Frenit smirked at him. "Do you really think you'll defeat them all? That's the beauty of them. Only two Chosens, three towers each to destroy on so many worlds. I may as well put you out of your misery."
"One of you, two of us," Lena said. "Or even better, four arms versus one."
Frenit's smirk faded away, not that either of them noticed. "Are we still gloating about that? Big bro got lucky."
Lena looked towards James, the very little light from the flashlight barely touched upon his torso so she couldn't see his reaction to anything. She asked anyway, "you did that?"
"Oh please, you should have seen what I did to him," Frenit said with his smirk back. James rolled his eyes while reaching for something behind his back. "The difference between us both was I was holding back. In fact..."
James swung a sword around towards where he figured Frenit's head was. To Lena something flew through the light, reflecting it down the hill. The faint outline she saw of Frenit blurred and disappeared. The crunch she heard told her he had merely jumped backwards. It didn't take long for her eyes to re-adjust to his new position and gave him his outline back.
"Typical James. Rude and would much rather die horribly. I suppose I can honour that," he laughed.
His leg swung out to strike towards Lena first. Her only hint to this was the motion created a tiny breeze that sounded louder than it was. Lena quickly brought her arms up to defend herself. His foot slammed into her right, it was forceful enough to make her stumble backwards. The pain that erupted from the blow made it hard for her to keep it up, it fell to her side. She heard a loud thud as James tackled him immediately after the kick. The ground, or what was left of it, crackled and groaned as they both hit the ground.
Frenit only laughed as James followed this up with a punch, which he quickly blocked. The sword he was carrying swung towards his neck while his only arm was distracted. "Predictable," Frenit spat as he swung both his legs up to kick him away before the blade could do any damage. With the slope going down just behind him, the push made him lose his balance just long enough to stumble to the floor and start rolling downward.
Lena had very little idea what had happened, all she could see were blurs amongst the shadows. She went with what she heard and followed Frenit's voice forward, aiming both of her weapons. The phaser rifle fired, briefly lighting up the area in front of her. It just missed him by an inch, so she moved it to the right assuming he would dodge or attack after getting back up. This time it only lit up the terrain, she raised her melee weapon quickly.
Something hard, yet shaped like a fist struck her in the face. Despite it dazing her she swung her weapon forward and across. The second slice got a little resistance and she heard a ripping sound. The growl she got afterwards told her exactly where he was. He would expect another hit, so instead she ducked down to swing around on one foot and kick with the other.
She definitely hit something, the bang was clear as day. What she heard next threw her off. What sounded like a gust of wind blowing over her head. There was no time to think about it. Her sword flew out of her hands and she felt a hand reach around to grab her throat from behind. Her whole body was lifted off the ground, the pain resulting in her neck made it hard to say anything or even breathe normally.
Footsteps approached, then stopped not far from in front of them. The flashlight was weakly shone in her direction. She could just make out her brother only a few feet ahead of them. During the scuffle she had no idea what Frenit had done to him, she was relieved he was all right whatever it was.
"Why are you fighting back? I thought you wanted to die," Frenit teased her. He was so close, his voice sounded like a loud shout. "Why didn't you let your little sis go? I did," he laughed.
The strange comment caught James off guard, he stopped and backed away a bit in case Frenit would do something literal. "What?"
"Look at me now," Frenit continued talking anyway, slowly turning his head towards Lena. Even in the dark she could feel his eyes drilling into her. "Stronger, free."
"What the hell are you talking about?" James grumbled. "No I don't care, let her go. She's done nothing to you, I on the other hand."
Frenit chuckled without opening his mouth. "Yes, she's very... job oriented isn't she? Little regard for her life." He sneered down at her, she recoiled in disgust. "Why, I bet the only reason you ran from me before was so you could save those poor helpless people."
James began to lunge forward but Frenit saw it coming, he tightened his grip on Lena's throat forcing him to stop. Lena dropped the rifle during the struggle.
"I've destroyed so many Slayers like her, it just isn't as satisfying as it used to be," Frenit said wistfully. "Although that womanising prick wasn't much fun either. I didn't even notice he was there until he was dead." The laugh he ended his sentence with chilled the pair of them much more than the environment ever could.
"James, just go..." Lena said through the pain. She knew it would make Frenit laugh and she was right, it still made her shudder in revulsion. Her free hand reached into a jacket pocket while he did.
"No, stay. You know I thought I hit the jackpot when I finally found one Slayer worth torturing," Frenit said mockingly. "Completely clueless, self absorbed, pathetically flawed and weak. I haven't had this much fun in centuries."
"So your dead daughter and missing arm is all part of the act, huh? Here I thought you were struggling with a weak and pathetic Slayer, my bad," James said in a similar tone.
Frenit growled just as Lena pulled a small dagger from her pocket, then quickly stabbed behind her. His growl turned into an angry yelp, his hand loosened its grip. Lena fell to the ground just on the cusp of the hill, it forced her into a brief roll. James quickly stepped forward to stop it and help her to her feet.
"Dead daughter," Lena stuttered through her bruised throat.
Frenit snarled. "Perhaps I should return the favour!"
"Let go of your sister. Lost in battle. Daughter, welcome home," Lena mumbled. Frenit and James stared at her, Frenit coldly and James just confused. Lena swallowed the huge lump now in her throat, her skin tingled and it wasn't because of the cold. "This planet, this is your homeworld. You were him, the Slayer in the legend." She got a growl directed at her. "You were like us long ago."
James' eyes were now wide, he had no idea where to even start with that.
"Nonsense. Why would you make up something as disgusting as that?" Frenit snapped.
James stared at him, his jaw threatened to drop. "You... it's true?" Frenit's head darted in his direction. "If it wasn't true you'd find an accusation like that hilarious. That last fight we had you threatened to make me exactly like you. Your abnormal strength, your obsession with making Slayers suffer. It makes sense."
"Enough of this. Perhaps I've left you alive for far too long," Frenit growled.
"Like you were, you mean. How old did you say you were not long after we met, fifty?" James said quietly. Lena's eyes widened as they darted at him, her lips mimed his last word.
Frenit faked a laugh, "you remembered that? I'm touched. That was just to scare you, looked like it worked too."
"I remember everything from that night, as well as the one where you won," James said, a particular memory repeated in his head. "That little girl you sired was your real daughter. You were not merely another Slayer, you were a one that had children. I didn't know."
He knew it was coming but Frenit's angry punch still managed to hit him, he had tried to dodge it and it struck him hard in the shoulder. It was enough to push him backwards.
"You! Do not dare mention her, I..." Frenit snarled. "It doesn't matter. She was my last weakness, and you have plenty more for me to pick from." He eyed Lena hungrily.
"You let a vampire take your soul, your entire existence and this is worth bragging about? And we're the weak ones?" she stuttered.
Frenit burst out into malicious laughter, bringing him near to tears. While he did that he crouched down to collect the sword Lena had lost. James raised his own just in case.
"Yes, for the moment. No need to fight the inevitable," Frenit sneered. He brushed the edge of the blade across his own cheek, down to his throat while his eyes shifted to stare James down instead. "What impact did I make as the oldest Slayer? Nothing but an old wives tale. Six hundred years as the strongest vampire; a lasting legacy, a deserved reputation."
"I swear, we spend more time yapping than fighting," James said to Lena. She was too dazed to really hear it though.
Frenit ignored him and continued, "isn't it true of you too? Infamous for death and darkness. Does anyone talk about your good deeds?" He cackled as he saw James' eyes narrow and his sword grip tighten. "Of course not. They feared you all your life, you're already on the dark path. Little sister is willing to die needlessly to save this same world. Save people who are frightened of her."
"Are you getting to the point anytime soon or will I have to be sired too to hear the end?" James muttered.
Frenit smirked, "history is doomed to repeat itself..."
"That's a yes," James butted in.
Undeterred Frenit continued, "as usual you put on this sarcastic bravado act, but you fool no one. You know where this is going. Your fate is to be exactly like me. You tried to be normal but in the end you will lose the fight. I'm just offering a shortcut."
With a flick of his wrist the sword swiped across to point it at Lena. It made enough noise for James to quickly block it with his own. Frenit smiled. "It's not that bad, you know already as you've tasted it before. The strength, the invincibility that comes with it. You're going to die sometime soon anyway, so why resist? Little Lena agrees, doesn't she?"
"No. That's all you have. Just strength and little else. You're nothing. I... I don't want to end up that way," Lena cried. Her head shook angrily.
Frenit showed his offense with a loud snarl. "Does it matter? Big brother is already on borrowed time. Death is inevitable. Hanging on to your pointless existence on Voyager will ultimately destroy you before that happens."
He turned his head towards James. He could just make out the cold stare he was giving him. "Why even bother? You worry about your own lives, you're worrying about everyone else, you beat yourself up if it goes wrong and it will go wrong. And for what, what difference does it make?" Lena's fists clenched tightly.
"So you can say that you care, that you're one of them? If you truly cared you'd accept your role as a weapon and commit yourself to that. No mistakes, no concern, nothing." James pulled back his sword so it was no longer pressing against Frenit's. It was just in Lena's line of sight, she worried about what he was going to do next. "Can you honestly say you both are better fighters, better guardians because you can cry over a little death here and there."
The sword swung back towards Frenit's, knocking it flying to one side. The sound of it flying through the thin air allowed Lena's eyes to follow it to its landing spot. She remained still for now.
"Of course not," Frenit chuckled anyway. "Does trying to be both make you happy? You're flawed at being Slayers, weak and pathetic. And you're flawed at being Human; too strong to grow up with the other kids, too much of a risk to have your own. Why be a failure of two things, when you could excel at one? We all know that you can never be 100% Human, so it's not a hard choice now is it?"
Lena hoped he would see it, she sent a small smirk James' way. She didn't have to see it, a sixth sense told her he was already doing the same.
"No, it's not," James said before he lunged forward. Frenit knew it was coming, he flipped backwards. Lena quickly dashed to one side to collect the discarded sword. Instead of running straight forward she waited for any kind of opening. Frenit landed on the top of the hill and sneered down at them both.
"Shall we leave it to fate?" he said as one of the lights circling the tower briefly lit him up.
James stepped closer, carefully. "Stop. The experiments are on the other side, they'll see you," Lena warned.
A fake pout appeared on the vampire's face to mock them. "That'd be a shame, wouldn't it?" A tiny rock lay near his feet, he gently nudged one towards it. It still flew away down the other side of the hill, every little sound it made as it collided with another rock or the ground were so loud and clear, each one made the pair cringe. Finally it stopped. The next sound they heard trembled the ground, it roared towards them. Frenit smiled at them deviously. "Oops."
James looked towards Lena, he didn't have to say it and neither did she. They had no choice but to run the other way.
Frenit rolled his eyes. He crouched down, then leapt forward. James and Lena were forced to stop as he landed in front of them, the crunch of the ground was so loud the Enterprise crew would have heard it.
"Now, there's only two ways this can go..." Frenit started to say. Before he could finish or even turn around he was attacked by swords on both sides. He grabbed one with his bare hand and leaned back to dodge the other. Lena pulled her sword away, slicing straight through his palm. James swung his to the left. It only sliced through air as Frenit ducked down briefly. When he straightened he aimed a kick towards Lena. He laughed as she stumbled backwards, almost losing her footing. James responded in kind with a kneecap to the ribs, then a hard punch to the face.
Naturally Frenit just laughed it off. James was about to take another swipe with his sword when Frenit ran at him full speed. Lena heard the sickening crunch as they collided, then again as they hit the ground. She clutched her sword handle tightly, her jaw clenched.
James tried to push him off of him, Frenit pushed his only arm into his throat with full strength. One of his knees were lifted up and pressed against his victim's stomach to hold him down further.
"Now we can wait here until they arrive to rip you apart, or..." he snarled. His head lowered down so they were almost nose to nose. "Or I'll give you the strength to fight them off." He was spat in the face, which he took for an answer. A smile spread across his lips as he got a brief whiff of blood from it. "Very well." He bared his teeth and went in for the neck.
Something stopped him at the last second. A piercing and burning pain in his chest. James looked around him, he just managed to make out Lena's silhouette in the edge of the little light there was. That wasn't all, something in her hand had impaled his attacker. The light reflected off of it.
"You..." Frenit grunted. "Missed." His arm left James' throat to try to reach around and grab at what was causing his pain. James slid his own sword across horizontally to his chest, then pushed it forward into Frenit's neck.
"I won't," he croaked through his own damaged throat. Just as he pushed forward, Lena jerked her own weapon further to the left. Frenit seemed to smile as his whole body disintegrated. James tried to move to one side to avoid getting all of his remains all over him. There wasn't much time to though, most of his body was covered in dust.
"James, we've..." Lena stuttered as he quietly tried to cough some of it out of his throat. She held her spare hand out for him, he took it and quickly got to his feet. Then he noticed the look of panic in her eyes. The thundering roar was close now, he didn't know if he wanted to look or not. "They're here."
James dared to turn his head and look at what she was seeing. Shadows covered the top of the hill. The sound hadn't stopped, yet they were strangely still. The pair of them could hear the shallow breathing coming from every single one of them.
Lena slowly stepped back a bit, then to her left. She crouched down to recover the rifle. The lights on it were flickering, the rifle was dying. She hoped she'd get at least one shot out of it. James stepped back to follow her.
"If we run from here, they're fast enough to catch us," he said quietly. He regretted that immediately as Lena's gasp sounded like a small terrified squeak. "I can hold them off if you..."
"No," Lena said defiantly despite that, her voice shook though. "We weren't meant to fight alone. I'll be fine."
James closed his eyes and nodded. When he opened them he reached out his left hand towards her. She sensed it but she couldn't grab it as her closest one gripped a sword handle tightly. His wrapped around it anyway and clutched it tightly.
It was more than enough to get her to stop trembling. Lena still felt afraid but she felt she had the strength to do this now. Once he let go of her hand she raised her sword and pointed the rifle. James raised his own weapon.
The shadows finally charged down towards them. Lena quickly fired the rifle, it sent a pitiful looking widespread shot at them before it died. It slowed them down for merely a second. She was more annoyed than anything else.
"It's still a weapon," she muttered while raising it like it was a sword.
The first few reached them. Both threw everything they had at them, all the while slowly making their way down the hill.
A loud roar emanated from above, it was approaching. Lena looked up to see a large shadow skimming underneath the black clouds. As it got closer she noticed a faint red light emanated from the nearest side, then she noticed the silver. Something flew towards her head, before she could duck or block it somebody grabbed a hold of her and dragged her down.
The shadow in the sky was overhead, the wind from it passing by so close pushed a few of the attackers off their feet. A bright light enveloped the pair before they could recover. The experiments looked around to find they were alone.
The silver shadow pushed into the clouds and disappeared too.
The atmosphere was grim, everyone there were trying to absorb every piece of information they had gone through. Tom covered his tired face with his hand, his fingers squeezed the top of his nose a couple of times to ease the headache forming there.
"The good news is none of the recovered crewmembers show signs of DNA alteration," the Doctor said to break the silence. "Perhaps the experiments were made intentionally long ago, and the pods were made to only store until that was done."
"I still don't get why that thing was on a primitive planet in the first place," Chakotay said.
Harry leaned forward to lean on the table, his chin rested on his hands. "The Softmicron on the ship looked just like the aliens Tom described."
"That means nothing. They probably do that to fool people into thinking the planet is theirs," Chakotay said.
"Who says it isn't?" B'Elanna mumbled. Everyone looked at her. "The evidence suggests they stole the technology. The people who were experimented on were native to the planet, some had been in the pods for centuries. At the very least they have a firm grip on it, at least until Craig destroyed the structure."
Harry shook his head angrily. "He never said anything but he was acting shady. Why hide it, I probably would have approved of it."
"Not if you knew his state of mind at the time," the Doctor said sadly.
Tom brought himself back into the meeting, his hand rested on the desk. "Zare's death shook him, he couldn't have known until he arrived."
"Yes but he was worried about Lena already. Zare made him snap, but he clearly wasn't in a fit state of mind during the mission," the Doctor pointed out. No one disagreed with him, no one wanted to say that either.
Tom tried to shake off the image of Craig's face during the whole exchange. "Have we heard from the Enterprise yet?"
"No. The last we heard was James taking it back inside. They'd have to cut the communications to save power," Harry answered.
"We're falling apart at the seams," Tom thought aloud. The rest of the room looked uncomfortable. His other hand clenched into a fist and lightly slammed onto the desk, his eyes were fiercely determined. "Yeah we have a huge problem on our hands, but we're not going to get anywhere with people having break downs and running off to do their own thing. We need to be united here or we won't be so lucky next time. We may not be lucky now, the Enterprise may not return." He saw Chakotay flinch in the corner of his eye. "We're not doing anything else until we have a plan and we're all behind it. Agreed?"
Harry nodded, "agreed."
"So no tower hunting, no anomaly surfing, no shuttle stealing, no suicide runs. Nothing. We need to go through the Enterprise's logs more thoroughly, talk to people in the region, investigate. This problem isn't going away but it sure isn't going to fall to bits in a hurry either," Tom said.
Chakotay sighed, "we get it Tom." Tom was a little annoyed he interrupted him. "This is one of the rare moments where you're right and not inappropriate, don't ruin it by speechifying."
B'Elanna couldn't help but smile at the two of them. "I wouldn't stand for that if I were you."
Tom smiled back, even if it didn't have much energy in it. "No, I need it. The last thing I need is a yes man."
"But we still need to be together anyway and agree before we act," Chakotay said with a light smirk.
Tom groaned and went to squeeze the top of his nose again. "Oh I'm too tired for this."
Neelix had been awfully quiet, he thought now was the best time to speak up. "We've got some time to kill. As morale officer I order everyone to the Mess Hall for some dinner. I won't take no for answer."
"If it's your food, will you take oh god no for an answer?" B'Elanna teased.
Neelix huffed to himself, "no, no I will not."
Tom nodded, "that doesn't sound like a bad idea. Who knows when the Enterprise will return."
The last remaining console online flickered a few times before giving up. There wasn't much left, just a tiny flashlight sitting in between them to stop the bridge falling into total darkness.
James sighed as he glanced back at the newly dead console. Lena wasn't too worried, the engines were still whirring away beneath them.
"I guess all we can do is ride it out now, huh?" he said.
"Yeah. Maybe it was a little pointless to lock everyone else up in the Cargo Bay. It's not like they can hallucinate something to stop us from leaving," Lena said.
James thought about it and shuddered. "No, but I imagine a hallucination about a certain someone's clothes turning into a dress or something, would make the rest of our trip a bit... unpleasant."
Lena giggled at the thought. "That's definitely worse than some butched up aliens on steroids."
"Jess thinks I'm humouring her when I say stuff like this. The truth is though when she puts her mind and rage into it, she can get things done," James said with a smile. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
"Hmph, that's not really true," Lena mumbled, her smile faded. "If I listened to her, we wouldn't have nearly died. I'm sorry."
"It's okay," James shook his head.
Lena gave him an angry frown. "I'm not saying sorry for doing something little like stepping on your toe or stealing your favourite knife. I dragged you into a fight with Frenit and an army of experiments probably as strong as us. I'd be a little mad at least."
"What do you want me to say?" James questioned, he lightly shrugged. "I understand, you know that. When your suicidal hero trip endangers an entire planet, then you can complain about the quick apology acceptance."
"That never happened. At least not in my perspective," Lena said quietly, her head dipped down.
"It did though. I honestly thought I wasn't strong enough to be Chosen, but strong enough to fight and at least delay the threat. Turns out that I was wrong and probably billions almost died. If it wasn't for Jessie..." James said, the guilt made him trail off. Lena looked at him again. "I didn't even learn my lesson, that's the worst part of it. I kept doing things like that. At least you learned yours the first time."
"Second. I ran away twice," Lena muttered.
James shrugged, "better than too many to count."
"Mine probably is too. I died because of one of them," Lena said, biting her lip at the end.
The memories of that incident made James lower his head and close his eyes. "Yeah, I suppose you're right."
"You know you gave me some good advice a long time ago, to me. Though you were a lot older than you are now," Lena said, getting slowly irritated. "God, I can't get used to this stupid other timeline, dimension thing."
"We'll just go with long ago as the other dimension was your past, that's all that matters," James said.
Lena sighed deeply, "sure. You and the Chosens had a job to do, a one that you found had been attempted by past Chosens."
"Oh, that happened in this timeframe too," James said.
"No it didn't," Lena said with a shake of her head. "Zare saw it as her duty to fight these demons, alone." James frowned at her. "Her brother was too young, you were a Natural. Her brother chased after her, thinking he would save her. You saw them both die."
"Oh. This is advice?" James said.
Lena smiled bitterly, "no. You only lived because you knew it wasn't a winnable fight. You knew you had to back down or you'd die. It was pointless. It apparently took you a long time to really believe it yourself and you had to live with that guilt until then." She looked him in the eye. "Sometimes it's okay to run. It could be the bravest and hardest thing you'll ever do."
James smiled back, but his was closer to a smirk. "Wow. Other me sounds way too mature to be me."
"Oh he wasn't," Lena smirked as well. "He just knew how to survive, he had to. He was alone. No Zare, no Sandi and Kevin. I was far too young. I wanted to help him so badly. I guess that's where this has come from. My memory of that need is back."
"Well you got your wish. You did just that," James said.
Lena shook her head timidly. "At what cost? I was fifteen, eight years from now, fleeing alone from a Borg ship. The next I was a fifteen year old version of my own daughter, unknowingly in the same year I was born. Even when I knew this, it was all I remembered, my past was a lie. My real past was lost. I didn't understand why. Why did the timeline need to be changed, why was it so important that I was here fifteen years earlier?"
"I know. It was me," James answered grimly. Lena stared at him, her eyes were puzzled. "Kes told me a little of it. I died, I wasn't strong enough the way I was. I needed you to be strong enough to survive and that's why your life was erased. I can't blame you for resenting me, subconscious or otherwise."
"But... you didn't ask for it," Lena protested. It still brought a smile to her face. "At least that's something else you and I have in common." James smiled back at her just as she reached forward to take his hand. He clutched it right back.
"I... hope Tani will forgive me," she whispered after some silence.
"You? I was the one who killed her," James stuttered.
Lena shut her eyes tightly. "I grew up with her, or I used to think that. My only memories of her now are when we were on Voyager and we weren't on best terms then. Yet I still, I still couldn't save her from whatever they did to her."
"Lena, I doubt she was even in there. What they do, it seems to destroy them from the inside out," James said. "I doubt she would hold the memory thing against you either, it's not your fault."
"It's not just that though. Most of my training was onboard the Borg sphere. All of my knowledge, experience was put there. It's gone now. Everything I know, everything I can do is only from what I learned the last few years on Voyager and Enterprise," Lena stuttered. James could sense the fear in her voice, her hand gripped his tighter. "And the little I learned from other dimension you. I don't know if I'm going to be able to do this."
"I don't think that's true. You didn't want to save Tani because you still cared about her, you couldn't hurt her. The memory of your childhood together may be gone, but your feelings for her aren't, that much is obvious," James said. "There's more to us than just memories, Lena. We both didn't know we were siblings and you treat me as such anyway. Somehow I knew it too, I remember dreaming about you before we had even met."
"But..." Lena stammered.
"I don't see any proof that I'm wrong, do you? I have a lot more I could bore you with," James said with another smile.
Lena felt a smile creep back onto her face. He didn't expect what she said next, "bore me then. I've got a lot of catching up to do."
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