By T’Pam

Disclaimer: Voyager and all her crew belong to Paramount/Viacom. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit will be made, as this story is just for fun.

Rated PG-15

Part Ten

B’Elanna stayed behind in the briefing room after everyone else, except the Captain, had left. She had seen the look of worry that flashed in Janeway’s eyes as she had announced her pregnancy. Neelix, however, had distracted her before she could watch the Captain further. The Captain’s congratulations had seemed genuine enough. She had hugged both her and Chakotay, telling them how pleased she was, but the worry was still in her eyes.

"Can I talk to you for a minute?" she asked.

Janeway nodded with a smile. "What’s the problem?"

"Actually, I was going to ask you that."

The Captain looked at her in surprise. "I’m sorry. I don’t understand."

"You seemed a little worried when I told you I was pregnant."

"I see. I didn’t mean to convey that. I think it’s wonderful news."

B’Elanna nodded. "I thought your congratulations were genuine, but that look of worry is still there."

Janeway frowned. "I certainly don’t mean it to be. I am a little concerned about something, but it has nothing to do with you or your pregnancy, I assure you."

"I think maybe it has. Indirectly, at least. It’s Tom, isn’t it?"

Janeway sighed and leant back in her chair. "I thought your news might upset him."

"Well it didn’t seem to. He appeared to be genuinely happy for us both."

"Yes, he did, didn’t he? I guess I’ve just been so worried about them both for so long that I’m looking for trouble that isn’t even there."

B’Elanna hesitated before continuing. "Captain, I know you feel responsible for Tom and Seven’s unhappiness, and I think you should know that Tom isn’t in love with me. He hasn’t been for a long time. Chakotay told me how awful you feel about interfering all those years ago, but if you hadn’t, I shudder to think what may have happened."

"I’ve always wondered what would have happened if I’d spoken to Tom instead of you," Janeway said thoughtfully. "Would you have still broken up if he’d told you what had been happening? Or would you have worked through the whole thing?"

B’Elanna shook her head. "The result would still have been the same. I would have still wanted to read Seven’s data and after reading it would still have come to the same conclusion. Our relationship was unhealthy."

The Captain nodded. "I suppose you’re right. Now you have Chakotay and I can see how happy you are."

B’Elanna felt herself grinning happily. "Yes, I am. We both are."

"But Tom and Seven affected the two of you as well."

B’Elanna hesitated for a moment. "In a way. Chakotay always had a slight niggling doubt in the back of his mind that I might go back to Tom and I was always worried that Tom would never be happy."

"Tom and Seven have had a very rough road, and I don’t think it’s quite over. I’m more than happy to see them past whatever’s been going on for the past two years. They both seem so much happier and closer, but there’s still something not quite right there."

"Perhaps you should have a talk to one of them, or even both of them?" B’Elanna suggested.

Janeway shook her head fiercely. "I’ve interfered far too much between them as it is. I promised myself I wouldn’t anymore. Seven won’t confide in me anyway. I destroyed her trust years ago."

"I’m sure that’s not true. She thinks of you as a mother."

Janeway shook her head once more and sighed sadly. "Unfortunately, it’s very true." She leant forward in her chair. "I did something that I regret now, something I should never have done."

"What do you mean?"

The Captain’s eyes were sad as she confided. "I could see what a lovely couple Tom and Seven made. Sometimes I can look at people and just know that they’re right for each other. I could feel it with you and Chakotay, too. I was so sure that Tom and Seven were right for each other, that I pushed them into marrying before either of them was ready. They both came to me separately before their marriage, telling me of their doubts and misgivings. The wedding should have been postponed until they both felt ready; instead I talked them into marrying. I was so sure that I was doing the right thing. But it wasn’t the right thing and they’ve both suffered because of it."

B’Elanna couldn’t help feeling a little shocked at this confession. "I see. That was---." She grappled for an appropriate word.

"It was wrong, I know. Seven has slowly stopped confiding in me, not that I blame her, and her and Tom’s relationship slowly deteriorated."

"So neither Tom nor Seven, have told you anything about why things changed between them and have now changed back?"

"No, not really. I tried to find out two years ago, but Seven refused to tell me and Tom wasn’t sure himself. I do know a little of the story, but not all of it. Now that things have improved, I don’t dare ask. I’m just hoping that they’ll manage somehow to sort it out. They’re certainly a lot happier than they were."

B’Elanna nodded. "That’s true, but sometimes Seven looks so sad and Tom acts a little strange. I just wish they’d talk to someone." She sighed and stood up. "I’d better get to engineering." As she left the room her mind was in a whirl. She was starting to have a suspicion what may be wrong and if she were right she didn’t know what to do about it.

Talking to Tom would probably be a bad idea. Even if he no longer felt the animosity towards her that he did, he would certainly not want to have a heart to heart with her about his relationship with Seven. And she couldn’t even imagine herself having a heart to heart with Seven.

She wondered why it mattered so much to her and why she was even considering interfering. She could make matters worse again. But she already knew the answer to that, of course. For her to be completely happy she knew that Tom and Seven would have to be as well. And damn it, the Captain was right. They really were right for each other.

She suddenly came up with an idea. As strange as it seemed to some people on the ship, Chakotay was now one of Tom’s best friends. She’d brief her husband on her suspicions tonight and get him to talk to Tom. With that decision made, she hurried off to engineering.


"Chakotay, don’t be so stubborn. If you’d just talk to him, we might be able to sort it out."

"We don’t have anything to sort out. What’s going on between them is their business. If Tom wants to talk to me about it, then he knows he can, but I’m not going to pry."

"Oh, for Kahless’s sake, Chakotay. I’m not asking you to find out their intimate details. Tom needs to talk to someone and you’re one of his best friends."

"No, B’Elanna. Tom has never in the past two years spoken to me about what happened between the two of them. I don’t think he’s going to start now. He’ll come to me if he needs to talk. I am not going to go to him."

"Why? It wouldn’t be the first time. You went to him before, when he needed someone. And now you’re friends."

"And if I go to him now and start fishing around, we won’t be friends for much longer. I mean it B’Elanna. I’m not doing it and that’s final."

He watched as she paced around the room, frustration showing clearly in every step she took. He understood why she wanted Tom and Seven to be happy, but there had been too much interference in their personal life as it was. He wasn’t going to add to it. If Tom asked his advice, he’d give it, but he was determined he wouldn’t push it on his friend, as B’Elanna seemed to want him to do.

"Come and sit down," he said finally, as her pacing started to give him a headache. "This is supposed to be a happy time for us. We should be celebrating, not arguing."

"We’re not arguing," B’Elanna denied. "We’re having a difference of opinion." She sighed and went over to sit in his lap. "It’s not even much of a difference really. I can understand why you don’t want to interfere."

Chakotay kissed the top of her head. "How about this? Tom and I are playing hoverball tomorrow. What if I ask him how things are and just take it from there? I’ll let him know I’m willing to listen, if he wants to talk."

B’Elanna’s answer was a hungry kiss and he found himself wondering breathlessly if he’d ever really had a chance of saying ‘no’ and meaning it.

"The area of space we are approaching is here," Seven pointed to the display screen and highlighted the relevant area at the senior staff meeting the following morning. "I am still unable to decipher what it means."

Tom leaned forward eagerly. He already knew all about it, as Seven had discussed it with him the night before.

She was completely baffled and he had privately thought how cute she looked as she frowned over her ‘inadequacy’, as she termed it.

"How far away are we?" Janeway asked, coming over to stare at the display screen with a frown.

"Less than two days. There are so many anomalous readings emanating from there that is impossible to interpret."

Janeway nodded as she looked at the readings for herself.

"Could it be a heavily populated area that is sending out some type of interference?" Chakotay asked.

"That is a possibility. I have never encountered readings of this nature. As I said, it is impossible to say."

"Not without getting a little closer anyway," Janeway remarked. "We’re still a long way away. Hopefully things will clear up, as we get nearer." She turned to B’Elanna. "See if you can maximize the sensors any further."

B’Elanna nodded as the Captain turned back to Seven. "Monitor the area at all times and let me know if there’s any change."

"Yes Captain," Seven acknowledged.

As soon as the meeting was over Tom went over to her. "I guess you’ll be putting in an all-nighter in astrometrics tonight?"

She nodded. "I believe I have no choice."

"Would you like some company?"

"Thank you, but that is not necessary."

Tom felt a keen sense of disappointment. "I know it’s not necessary. I’d like to do it."

"You need your sleep, but I appreciate the offer."

"Well, what if Izzy and I stop by for awhile?"

She smiled in pleasure. "I would like that a lot."

He was making his way back to the conn, when a sudden idea hit him. He whispered in Hamilton’s ear. "Can you stick around for a few minutes? I have to see Chakotay."

"Sure Tom."

"Thanks. I won’t be long."

He hurried towards the back of the bridge, saying to Tuvok as he passed. "I’m just going to see Chakotay. I’ll be back in a sec."

"This is highly irregular. Does the matter regard ship’s business?"

Tom nodded enthusiastically. "Very much so."

"Then in that event, you have my permission to leave your duty station."

Tom smiled at Tuvok’s little dig. "Actually, I haven’t officially taken over my duty station yet, but thanks. I’ll be right back."

Tuvok raised his eyebrow. "I believe you will be gone for several minutes, Lieutenant Paris, but I am sure we will manage without you."

Tom gave a small laugh and headed for Chakotay’s office, pressing the door chime as he thought about his plans for that evening. He poked his head around the door as the Commander’s voice beckoned him to enter.

"Are you busy?" he asked.

"Not really. Why?" Chakotay placed a data padd he was reading, back on his desk.

"Good," Tom said, stepping into the room. "I’ve come to ask a favor of you. And B’Elanna too, for that matter."

"Okay, what is it?" Chakotay could see the bright look of anticipation on his friend’s face and wondered what he was up to now.

"I was wondering if I could leave Izzy with you guys for a few hours tonight. Seven’s going to be stuck in astrometrics, so I thought I’d take her in a picnic dinner."

"You know Isabelle can stay with us whenever you want. But a picnic? In astrometrics?"

"Sure. Can’t you picture it? A blanket on the floor, the stars surrounding us. I think it’d be pretty romantic actually."

Chakotay smiled at the picture Tom was creating. "You’re right, it would be. Better you than me, though. If I got down on the floor like that I’d never get back up again."

Tom laughed. "You’re not that old. Although," he continued thoughtfully, "after I’ve finished with you in the holodeck this afternoon, you’ll probably feel it."

Chakotay snorted. "Who beat who, last time? If my poor old doddery memory serves me correct - and it does - I beat you by two points."

"Yeah, but who had to be practically carried from the holodeck afterwards? It wasn’t me."

"Now that is an exaggeration."

Tom gave another laugh. "We’ll soon see. Thanks for having Izzy. I’ll pick her up after we’ve finished the picnic, so she can spend some time with Seven too."

"She’s welcome anytime, although I suppose I should let B’Elanna know there’s going to be an extra monster running around tonight."

"Wouldn’t hurt," Tom said with a grin.

"I take it this is a surprise for Seven?"

"Yeah, so if you see her, don’t spoil it."

"Right." Chakotay hesitated before going on. He didn’t know how to phrase his question so settled on, "I’m really pleased to see you and Seven so happy."

"Yeah," Tom said softly, but there was a clouded look in his eyes that Chakotay couldn’t help but notice. "I’ll see you later. If I don’t hurry up and get back to the conn, Tuvok will have me on report for going AWOL." And with a wave, he was gone.

B’Elanna looked up from the circuitry she was working on. "That’s about the best I can do," she said. "Has it helped at all?"

"There is a slight improvement," Seven answered.

B’Elanna stood up and looked over Seven’s shoulder at the strange readings.

"Not enough to be much help though," she said wryly. "I’ve enhanced the sensors as far as they’ll go and we still can’t make much sense of this."

"The Captain is right. We need to get closer."

"I don’t know if we should. Who knows what we’re flying into?"

"We are still some distance away. I am hopeful that these readings will become decipherable before we are too close."

B’Elanna nodded. "I hope so, too." She stood watching over Seven’s shoulder for some seconds before sighing and bending down to pack up her tools. "So," she said from her crouched position on the floor. "You and Tom seem to be happy these days." She saw Seven stiffen slightly but hardened her resolve. "I’m really glad. I just thought you should know that."

"Thank you," Seven answered primly, still looking at her readouts. "But I have difficulty understanding why you would not."

B’Elanna straightened back up. "Look. You know me. I’m not one to beat about the bush."

"I prefer to speak openly," Seven retorted.

"Good. Then the thing is that, and I know it’s none of my business, but there’s still something not right between you two and I’m hoping it has nothing to do with me."

"You are correct, Lieutenant. It is none of your business." Seven turned around to glare at her.

"If I’m involved, then in a way, it is."

"You are not involved."

"Good." B’Elanna picked up her tool bag. "Tom no longer loves me, you know," she said quietly.

"I know." Seven turned back to her console.

"Oh! Well, that’s good." B’Elanna turned around to leave, but then turned back again. "So what’s wrong then?"

"That is none of your concern."

"Did Tom do something? He seems almost guilty sometimes and you’re definitely hurt. It shows in your eyes, you know."

"Lieutenant Torres, please leave. This is not a discussion I wish to have with anyone, and certainly not you."

"I knew you’d feel that way, but the Captain refuses to interfere. She thinks she’s done enough of that already."

Seven whipped around to face her, her eyes flashing angrily. "Why is it necessary for anyone to interfere?"

"I care about Tom. I want him to be happy. And I know there’s something stopping that. I know he could be completely happy with you. You’re perfect together," she said passionately.

Seven looked at her curiously. "Why do you care so much? You have your own marriage and family to worry about. Tom is no longer your concern."

"That’s where you’re wrong. Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to get on with my life when I’m still racked with guilt over the way I treated Tom? I love Chakotay with all my heart and every time I allow myself to feel that complete happiness, a small niggling starts in the back of my mind. I acted dishonorably toward Tom and unless he can be as happy as I am, I don’t think my honor will ever be restored." She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and waited for Seven to make some scornful remark.

Seven merely stood looking at her for some time in silence, a sadness showing in her eyes. "Tom does not love me." Her voice, when she spoke, was almost a whisper, and B’Elanna had to strain to hear it.

"That’s not true. He does love you."

Seven nodded. "As a friend, a partner, the mother of his child. But he is not in love with me."

"What makes you think that?"

"He told me."

B’Elanna shook her head in disgust. "Kahless, he’s a fool."

"This should not surprise you. I have had to live with this knowledge for a long time. I heard you talking one day in our quarters. You told Tom that I was in love with him and he did not believe you. He said I loved him the way he did me. As friends."

"Oh no." She felt horrified that Seven had heard that conversation. Had heard her say she pitied her. "That was more than two years ago. He still thought he was in love with me. Is that what caused the change in your relationship?"

Seven nodded. "I thought I could continue our relationship and keep my feelings secret. I found it too difficult to keep up the pretense, so put up a barrier to protect myself. We finally got everything out in the open some weeks ago. Tom now knows my feelings. There are no more secrets. He has never lied to me. He tells me that he loves me, but is not in love with me. He reaffirmed those feelings only yesterday."

"That must be very painful for you. Is that why he acts so guilty with you sometimes?"

Seven nodded. "He feels remorse that he can not return my feelings and so tries to make it up to me. I am finding that more painful than anything else."

"As I said, Tom is a fool. Do you know that Tom and I were together for over a year before he told me he loved me? I knew he did, right from the start, but he wouldn’t acknowledge it. Wouldn’t admit it to himself, even. I know Tom almost as well as I know myself. He is in love with you. He’s just too stubborn to admit it."

Seven shook her head. "Why would he perpetrate such a painful lie?"

"He doesn’t mean to. He probably really believes what he tells you. He’s such a pig-headed idiot. He feels things so deeply. Do you know of his past history with serious relationships? Besides me, I mean."

"No, he has never mentioned any of them."

"There were only two besides me, and I made matters worse. There was a girl at the academy when he was very young. She dumped him and it hurt him so much he found it hard to cope with. He broke out in hives and almost failed that year. Considering he was a top student, you can see how badly he was affected. His second great love was also at the academy. She was killed in the accident near Caldik Prime. And then there was me."

"I do not understand."

"Each one of us broke his heart. He’s scared that will happen again."

"But he knows how much I love him."

"He thought I loved him that much too. Don’t you see? He’s denying even to himself his true feelings. He’s doing exactly the same thing as you did, only he can’t see it. He’s put a barrier up to stop himself from being hurt."

"I am not sure what to think."

"You don’t have to believe me if you don’t want to. Just look into his eyes the next time you’re together, and you’ll see I’m right. You may have to be patient and wait some time before he realizes how he feels about you, but the love is there. It’s plain, when you know what to look for."

She then turned to leave once more, but Seven’s voice halted her. "B’Elanna!" She turned to see Seven standing there with tears in her eyes, which she wiped away. "Thank you."

Her smile lit up her whole face and B’Elanna smiled back. "You’re welcome."

Seven looked deeply into Tom’s eyes as he handed her a small delicate white rose. "A beautiful flower, for a beautiful lady," he said huskily.

She sniffed the flower gently. "It’s lovely."

The picnic had been a thoughtful, loving gesture and she had enjoyed it immensely. She leaned over and kissed him thoroughly, watching his face closely as they parted. His eyes shone as he smiled down at her. Hope surged within her as she began to suspect that B’Elanna was right.

"This has been a wonderful evening," she said softly, nestling back into his arms.

Tom had set the picnic blanket next to the wall, so that they could lean back against it, and lighted two candles he had brought with him. With the lights down low and the view coming from the huge screen in front of them the setting was peaceful and romantic.

They stayed like that for quite some time, before Tom packed everything up and left to go and fetch Isabelle.

Seven felt the happiness glowing inside of her as she thought about the way he often looked at her, in a new light. Did it mean he loved her? She wasn’t completely sure, but wanted to believe it desperately.

The bubble of happiness stayed with her all the following day, even though her lack of progress concerning the upcoming area of space was a concern. She didn’t like the feeling of inadequacy that this invoked within her. And she really didn’t like having to report this at the meeting the Captain called that evening.

"We’re only ten hours away and we still don’t know what it is we are heading into," Janeway said in exasperation. "We can’t fly blindly in there. We have no idea what we may have to deal with."

"Should we continue heading the way we are?" Chakotay asked. "What about avoiding the area of space altogether?"

"That is possible," Seven told him. "But our new course would add an extra fifteen months to our journey."

"Not to mention the rough ride," Tom put in. "There’s all sorts of asteroid fields and space debris if we decide to go around."

"Either way, it looks like we’re in for some fun," B’Elanna commented dryly.

Janeway nodded. "I think we’ll keep on this present course for now. Move in as near as we can without jeopardizing the ship and then make a decision as to which way we should proceed. You never know. A little closer and these readings might actually start to make sense."

"Well, you were right Captain," B’Elanna announced as they all gathered together once more the following morning, bright and early. "The readings are definitely making sense now and Seven and I think we know what we’re heading into. It’s a web of some sort, although I won’t pretend to understand the technology behind it, but it seems to act as a type of - magnet."

"A magnet?" Kathryn echoed. She didn’t like the sound of this.

"That is the best analogy that we can associate with," Seven explained. "The signals appear to attract certain properties."

"Like a spider web attracts a fly," Tom put in.

Kathryn acknowledged his comment with a wry smile. She didn’t want to be some fly caught in a spider’s web.

"What type of properties?" Chakotay was asking. "Is the ship safe?"

"We are not certain," Seven answered.

"It is logical to assume that this web has been positioned to allure ships into it," Tuvok said thoughtfully. "A magnet attracts metal."

"Normally," B’Elanna agreed. "But not this one. It’s set up to attract something else, but we don’t know what."

"Well, I don’t think we should get any nearer," she told them grimly. "It’s obviously a trap of some sort. If we get too close, we may end up stuck in this web." She turned to Ensign Anderson, who was in charge of operations. "Have you found any signs of life in there at all?"

The Ensign shook her head. "No Captain, but the signals are interfering too much."

"Well the web must have been put there by someone," Chakotay said reasonably. "Perhaps we should try to contact them?"

She nodded. "You’re right. Ensign, send out a universal greeting on all frequencies and tell Culhane to come to a complete stop." As Ensign Anderson nodded and quickly left the briefing room, she then turned to the rest of her senior staff. "It looks as if we may have to go around after all. Tom, do you and Seven have an alternate course?"

Tom gave a small nod. "But as I said last night, it’s going to be rough and it’s going to be rough for quite some time."

"As far as the long range scanners can project, it appears that the conditions will remain the same," Seven added.

She had been afraid of that. "We may not have any choice. Are the other pilots up to the challenge? You’re not going to be able to handle this without some backup, Tom."

"Most of them," he answered her. "There are a couple that I’d prefer to roster off for the next few days, but the rest should be all right. I’m more concerned with the inertial dampers. Is the ship able to withstand a constant beating for what may turn out to be weeks, for all we know?"

B’Elanna slowly nodded. "Our energy reserves aren’t that great, but the ship’s in pretty good shape at the moment. I can’t guarantee what shape we’ll all be in at the end of it, though."

"That will have to do," Kathryn told her. "Neelix, what about food supplies? I doubt whether we’ll be able to stop anywhere."

"We have enough for three weeks without having to ration," the Talaxian answered swiftly.

"Good. Now, the next thing we should----." She was interrupted by a beep of her commbadge.

"Anderson to Janeway. Captain, you’d better get out here. We’ve got a serious problem. Culhane’s come to a complete stop, but we’re still moving towards the planet."

"Damn," she muttered, standing up and making her way to the bridge, with everyone close on her heels.

"Report," she barked as she made her way to the helm.

"Captain," Culhane reported. "We’re at full stop, but we’re still moving forward."

"Full reverse," she ordered as Tom quickly took over the helm.

"It’s not working," Tom said a few seconds later. "We’re still moving forward."

"We are caught in some type of tractor beam," Tuvok reported from his station.



B’Elanna swore at her engineering console. "I think it’s coming from the web."

Kathryn looked at her in astonishment. "How? We’re still more than an hour away. Nothing’s that powerful."

"Well it looks like this is," B’Elanna said quickly.

Kathryn turned to Chakotay. "Send a pulse back through the beam. See if you can disrupt it."

"I’m on it," Chakotay said tersely. "No effect."

"Captain," Anderson called out suddenly. "We’re being hailed."

"On screen."

The screen flickered and a humanoid male replaced the stars. He looked very old, his face covered with a long white beard and his white hair long. He was also dressed in white - a long sleeved gown of some sort. The most startling thing about him was his eyes. They were coal black and didn’t appear to have any pupils, or irises.

He smiled at them coldly. "I am the guardian of this sector. All Borg must be destroyed. Resistance is futile." The last three words were practically spat out.

"I am Captain Kathryn Janeway of the USS Starship Voyager. There seems to be some mistake. We are not Borg."

"My sensors have locked onto you. You must be Borg,"

"I can assure you that we are not. You can see that for yourself."

The guardian regarded her thoughtfully before replying. "Then you are working with the Borg. You will still be destroyed."

"We are not working with the Borg. Why have your sensors locked on to us?"

"Your ship has many different species on board and it has Borg technology."

"I see. Well that doesn’t mean that we’re Borg or working with them. We have been forced to incorporate some Borg technology with our own. We are from the United Federation of Planets, which compromises many different peoples. That is why there are so many different ‘species’ aboard our ship."

The guardian closed his eyes and was silent for a few moments. "I believe you are telling me the truth," he finally said as his eyes opened once more. He waved his hand. "You are free."

Tom turned back to look at her. "Captain, we’re no longer moving."

She nodded, never taking her eyes from the man on the viewscreen. "Thank you. Would you care to explain to me what just happened? What this web is for?"

"The Borg have decimated this area of space. They have wiped out entire worlds and civilizations. We can not let it continue."

"Who are you?" she asked softly.

"I am the guardian. There are so few of us left, and I am old and weak."

"I see," she said, not seeing at all. "Why did you try to trap us?"

"The sensors indicated that you were Borg. Normal ships are able to pass through safely, but the sensors are set to attract the Borg and when those evil beings are close enough their whole ship is incinerated. I have destroyed many Borg in this way."

"You have set up an elaborate trap to destroy the Borg," Tuvok commented. "Why?"

"I told you. We can no longer let them continue. It is my mission to stop them."

"All by yourself?" Tom asked incredulously, before he could stop himself.

The guardian looked at him for a few moments before replying. "Yes. We are few and scattered throughout the galaxies. The Borg have become a major concern to us. I have been sent here, as I have had many successes over the past centuries. I am attempting to expand this ‘web’, as you call it, to keep the Borg contained in one area of this galaxy. It is proving a difficult task and I have many more years of work to do."

"There are many billion Borg," Tuvok told him flatly. "You can not destroy them all."

The guardian nodded. "I have come to realize this. I am old and my mind is tired. I am no longer as strong as I used to be. I have asked for help, but as there are so few of us it will be some time in coming."

"Let me get this straight," Tom asked. "You guys run around the galaxies destroying evil or something?"

"That is a rather simplistic view. We go where we are most needed. We cannot always help. Sometimes we are successful, sometimes we are not."

"I don’t understand why you haven’t set this web up closer to the Borg homeworld," Chakotay said.

"This is a very strategic area of space," the guardian answered. "Besides, I am not invulnerable. My technology can only protect me so much. I am sure the Borg could destroy me by the sheer volume of their numbers, if they became aware of what I am doing. My other successes have all been achieved slowly and steadily. I must continue the only way I know how."

"You have an immense task ahead of you," Kathryn said. "I wish we could help."

"There is nothing you can do, but I thank you for the offer. You may continue on your way. I will disable the sensors, to allow you to pass through unharmed."

The screen returned to the stars once more and she turned to Tom. "Take us in, Lieutenant. Half impulse."

"Yes Ma’am," Tom said turning back to his console. His fingers flew over the controls as he followed her orders.

"The web is down," B’Elanna reported.

She nodded as she went to her seat and sat down.

Chakotay shook his head. "One being against the whole Borg Collective? I don’t like his chances."

"No," she agreed. "But imagine if he were successful?"

Tom carefully steered the ship inside the web. For as far as his sensors could detect, there was nothing. A dark black void lay ahead and he swallowed nervously. How long did this void last? He was reminded of the time years before that they traveled within a void. It had taken months to cross and the crew had certainly been a little rough around the edges before they were through. He hoped this one wasn’t as large.

He settled back for a rather boring trip and tried to keep his mind on his sensors. Traveling through the last void is what had made him create the Captain Proton program on the holodeck. He’d been going crazy, looking for a distraction and had come up with that. He smiled as he remembered all the good times he and Harry had had with that program.

Harry had pretended to be the reluctant sidekick, but he had soon discovered that his friend had enjoyed the program as much as he did, if not more. He sighed sadly as he realized how much he missed his friend.

The void had also been the first time he had introduced Seven to the holodeck. He smiled once more and just managed to stop himself from laughing out loud as he remembered her reaction to the Captain Proton program.

A sudden beep from his station made him curse silently. What the----? "Captain, impulse engines are off line."

"What happened?"

"I don’t know, but the thrusters aren’t working either."

"Bridge to engineering."

B’Elanna, who had returned to engineering, reported. "I’m working on it Captain. I have no idea what’s going on, but warp engines are off line too."

Tom turned around to await further instructions. The Captain had stood up and was pacing around the bridge.

Chakotay frowned as he watched her. "Did the guardian lie to us? Was this another trap?"

"It looks like it. But why?" she answered.

The guardian suddenly appeared on the bridge next to Janeway and Tom jumped. Chakotay leapt out of his chair and glared at their sudden visitor. Janeway turned to glare at the guardian as well. Placing her hands on her hips, she demanded. "What’s going on here? What are you doing?"

"You lied to me," the guardian accused. His black eyes seemed to glow. "You have a Borg on board this vessel. You are in league with them."

Janeway’s hands remained on her hips. "We did not lie. The Borg you speak of is no longer part of the collective. She has been an individual for almost seven years. We are not in league with the Borg."

"I see." The guardian’s eyes lost their glow. "I must see her."

"Why?" Janeway asked. "She is no threat to you."

"I understand that. She may be an incredible help."

"What do you mean?"

"She has survived being reintegrated from the Borg. She is a unique specimen. I wish to study her."

Tom exploded from his seat at the helm. "She’s not some lab rat for you to poke and pry at."

The Captain sent him a warning glance. "You may speak to her if you wish, but my helmsman is right. She is not a specimen to be studied."

The guardian ignored her. "Take me to her."

Janeway nodded. "Come with me. She’s in astrometrics." She gave Tuvok a quick nod as they passed and he fell in behind the guardian.

"Captain," Tom called out. "Please, let me come too."

She turned around to look at him. "Very well. Chakotay, you have the bridge."

End Part Ten