Out in Thirty Days -- Ch. 13-15 by BCBones

Disclaimer: The characters belong to Paramount, but the story and ideas belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended. I only borrowed them for a little while, no profit will be made, except for maybe psychological. WARNING: DO NOT read if you are uncomfortable with or offended by F/F romance. Few instances of bad language. Sorry for the melodrama. Constructive comments welcome. Torres/Seven story. Rated R. BCBones@aol.com  6/00 to 11/00. (This is a step away from my Where series, as a non-related story.)

| Ch. 1-4 | Ch. 5-8 | Ch. 9-12 | Ch. 13-15 | Ch. 16-18 | Ch. 19-21 | Ch. 22-Epilogue |

Out in Thirty Days

Chapter 13

B'Elanna woke first the next morning. She guessed that Seven still wasn't used to the act of sleeping, and probably needed all the rest she could get. The ex-drone was holding her from behind as she did when they went to sleep, with the arm B'Elanna was resting her head on wrapped around the Klingon's sternum, and the other draped over her waist. Seven's hand at her stomach had inadvertently slipped between the folds of her sarong, B'Elanna discovered when she tried to slide her hips and legs off the bed. Now it rubbed against her bare belly every time she moved away, feeling like soft caresses. Cautiously, B'Elanna pulled Seven's arms down to her sides, and made her quiet escape before Seven woke up.

Seven opened her eyes and sighed. She had felt the lieutenant shift in her arms for some time, but pretended to be asleep for a little while longer. She did not intend to use subterfuge, but she did not wish to startle B'Elanna. It seemed the only way she could continue the physical contact between them was when B'Elanna allowed it or when it was not deliberate. Reluctantly, Seven sat up in bed, but stared at the comfortable covers, the one place that seemed to permit prolonged touching.

*************************

Moka stood at the stove, stirring the breakfast porridge. The diminutive Rangoon woman, dressed in a long smock and coarse apron for the cold early morning, took pleasure in cooking a good hearty meal for her young chicklets. She heard the sounds of footfalls and opening doors, and noted they would soon emerge from their cozy room. It had been a long time since she and Dannan had so much life in their house, and she promised that while it remained so, she would enjoy the warmth of the company. The company, two strangers, that had entered their lives so abruptly, were a mismatched pair upon appearances. And they were certainly more than what they appeared to be, she and Dannan supposed. But she rationalized Bey and Ani must have had their reasons for keeping their history vague. The skill and knowledge these two women possessed were far more complicated than what could be found in this part of space. But despite their complexity, she recognized to good beings when she saw them.

On this morning, Bey snuck out to the common room, still in her sleeping clothes. She greeted Moka politely and poked around the dishes already hot and lying on the table. Moka slapped her hand away when she reached for a koli fruit crepe, and chided her, good-naturedly however, for not waiting for Ani. Laughing, Bey hopped away like a child caught being naughty and went back inside to rouse the blonde, so that she could get to her breakfast. Finally, Bey returned, dragging the still sleepy, statuesque girl in tow towards the food.

Though Ani was noticeably full-grown, and her formal tone and often impassive bearing presented a certain maturity, Moka found her too be quite innocent all the same. The girl was full of questions, but that didn't annoy Moka at all. Ani was sweet, intelligent, and possessed a quick though subtle wit that Moka enjoyed, as her own sense of humor was quite dry. It was no wonder that Bey acted so protective towards Ani, especially with her recent bout of illness. Moka thanked her gods that Ani was alright. She couldn't bear to lose another innocent under this house, nor see another person going through the same loss Dannan had, when her daughter died.

After breakfast, the girls went about the house trying to help with as many chores as they could before Dannan and Edyn got back from town. It was amusing to observe the elaborate dance being performed in front of her. The more Bey tried to be solicitous, the more Ani played up the physical need for assistance yet still declined it. Moka snickered wickedly. She wished they'd just get it over with, ah, rather she meant get over it, and just admit their feelings towards each other. It was obvious to her eye how in love they were with one another. Moka shooed them back into their room to change before the menfolk came back, giving Edyn an undeserved view of his fantasy.

**********************

"You're not going, Ani," B'Elanna ordered, walking over to her clothes hung on the back of the chair across the room.

"I wish to see this tavern for myself so that I may analyze the potential dangers," Seven replied stubbornly.

"It'll only draw more attention in town if both of us were walking around together," said B'Elanna shaking her head.

"That is not a logical excuse. Your facial distinction has already been exposed. You will need someone to assist you if there is trouble." Seven stepped in front of the Klingon, blocking her from moving away from their conversation. She did not want a repeat of their argument last night, but she wasn't going to be left behind again today.

B'Elanna lifted her eyes to look at Seven. She kept her temper in check this time, having no desire to hurt the Borg again with an outburst. She knew Seven was just trying to look out for her, in own her Borg way.

"Ani, I don't have time for this. Edyn is going to be here soon, and I need to go with him to present myself to the Nokk house before tonight. Besides, he's already registered me." She rotated and walked away to the bed and laid out her clothes to change.

"I still do not approve of this arrangement. Reconsider..., please," she added, her voice lowering.

"I know you don't like this, but I can't back out now. I'd have no honor if I did," B'Elanna answered, fiddling with the clothes on the bed.

"You were not concerned with your Klingon comments welcome. honor and tradition before," Seven responded.

B'Elanna breathed deeply, somewhat stunned by the bluntness, and dipped her head ruefully. It was true, what Seven said. She had been almost ashamed of her Klingon heritage growing up on Kessicks IV. But despite her rebellion against it, her mother had in fact ingrained in her the culture and beliefs even though she tried to avoid as much of it in her life as possible.

Noticing the change in the lieutenant's mood suddenly, Seven suSeven story. Rated R.

Seven walked up behind B'Elanna and wrapped her arms around the woman's shoulders, wanting to convey her deep feelings for the lieutenant. "I only wish that you do not fight. I cannot bear to see you injured," she explained, her tone worried.

"That's okay. I know what you meant," B'Elanna replied stoically, turning around in the circle of Seven's arms. "It's the truth.... But it's not like I haven't benefited from my Klingon side all these years. I guess maybe I feel it's time to recognize and accept this part of myself."

Taking B'Elanna's face into her hands, she moved closer and told her, "It is a part of you that makes you unique. And it is your uniqueness which I find...attractive."

Seven ran her thumb over the Klingon's full lower lip, as B'Elanna's heart began to race. Seven's ability to melt her with words was uncanny. Eyes hooded, the Borg leaned in as B'Elanna stood immobilized, staring, and kissed the lieutenant. Seven felt inept by her lack of experience as her lips fluttered over B'Elanna's lightly, even though she had witnessed such displays a hundred times on Voyager. Seven felt hands running up her back, finally resting below her shoulders, pressing her closer.

B'Elanna heard the roaring of her blood in her ears as her passion for Seven began to erupt anew. The soft lips against hers tasted sweet, and she wanted to consume them, and the rest of Seven. She kissed the blonde passionately, and she moved further to deepen the contact.

Seven felt B'Elanna tongue's lick her lips fleetingly before it began to tease them open. She seemed to get the idea, and opened her mouth slightly, allowing the insistent but seductive tongue to slip in and caress her own. Seven moaned as B'Elanna explored her mouth, their tongues tangoing slowly while B'Elanna took the lead. She wasn't even aware that she was lying on her back now, on the bed with the half-Klingon poised on her elbows above her. She was enjoying the new feelings even if it seemed as though B'Elanna was intent on kissing her senseless. Her body moved on its own accord as she tried unsuccessfully to process the overwhelming sensations from every nerve, not that she was complaining. B'Elanna bit Seven's lower lip gently before releasing it when they finally broke apart for air. No words were spoken as their mutual attractions were finally being expressed. The Klingon entangled her fingers in the silky, golden locks, stroking the hair at her temples, as Seven placed her hands on the compact waist. B'Elanna bent down to kiss Seven again, as her passion began to build.

Seven stopped her, and pushed her off slightly, noticing that the folds of B'Elanna's sarong had parted and revealed a glimpse of the toned, athletic thighs, her white undergarment, and flat stomach. She reached for the tie on the left side that closed the sarong, wanting to do more exploration of her own. The folds loosened and fell open partially, though still hiding the round globes of B'Elanna's breasts from her gaze. The Borg brushed her fingers along the muscular yet smooth abdomen, as B'Elanna lowered herself over the blonde, devouring the supple lips again. Seven heard B'Elanna gasp quietly when she reached the undersides of the ample, perky breasts, that were a perfect handful for her long hands, and squeezed them slightly. It incited the Klingon's lust even more, and B'Elanna pulled at the helm of Seven's gown, wanting the girl naked immediately. Seven took the hint, and raised her butt off the bed, pulling the gown upwards while B'Elanna watched as the gown slipped away, revealing the slender legs and lean belly. The Klingon licked her lips in anticipation, ready to latch onto the first nipple that bared itself to her, as she slid one hand up a milky thigh.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. "Girls, are you still fooling around in there? We should get to town soon," Dannan said through the door.

B'Elanna sat up instantly, and glanced at the door, blushing with guilt at what she had been about to do. The quick motion flashed Seven a profile of her boob and a small but pert, light brown-rosy nipple.

They heard Edyn's muffled, bawdy response. "Oh, let them fool around."

A muffled smack was heard, followed by an "Ow!"

"We're coming," B'Elanna replied.

'I'll bet,' thought Edyn, avoiding another hit on the head from Moka's broom.

B'Elanna felt like she was a teenager again, having been caught in her room by her roommate doing something naughty with another cadet. She was about ravish the young drone into unconsciousness, though exactly how, she wasn't sure. She wrapped her sarong back around herself and hopped off the bed. She picked up her clothes that had fallen on the floor, and proceeded to dress, shyly working around the sarong. Seven sighed disappointedly at the interruption and propped herself on her elbows, watching B'Elanna scramble into her pants. She got up and proceeded to put on her beige leggings, hazel gown, and sandals. B'Elanna glanced longingly over at the tall figure, knowing she couldn't leave things the way they were. When Seven turned towards the door, she found B'Elanna in front of her.

B'Elanna gazed at Seven warmly and took her right hand into one of her own. "We'll talk about everything when we get back, I promise," she said.

Pleased, Seven smiled coyly and nodded.

"But I want you to go with Dannan this afternoon, and meet up with the freighter pilot."

Seven was about to protest, but B'Elanna stalled her. "Dannan might not know exactly what we need from the pilot. You have to help him in case the pilot tries to renegotiate. I'm not sure how long this presentation stuff with the Nokks is going to last."

The ex-drone pouted a bit, but acquiesced. "I will comply."

B'Elanna chuckled at how Seven could be so adorable. She didn't let go of Seven's hand when she lead her out of their room. Of course, Moka and Dannan noted the obvious display of affection, but it wasn't really anything they didn't already observe before or hadn't predicted. Edyn waggled his brows at B'Elanna, who glowered back at him. He shrugged his shoulders as if to reply that he was only male.

************************

Dannan covered her head with a thin hooded cloak before he and Seven walked into the seedy establishment. It was loud inside as the clientele were raising a raucous while a female band was playing synthesized music, and singing with annoyingly high pitched voices in quick repetitive phrases. The lead singers were half-dressed twin humanoid females sashaying across the stage in translucent veils. Large, black, rectangular spots ran down their sides, all the way down their legs, and their long braided hair swung back and forth with their movements. Occasionally, they allowed a few of the bolder audience to reach out and stroke them on their thighs. Dannan and Seven made their way around the tables to one of the better lit corners where their freighter pilot sat quietly watching the show across the room, sipping one of his ales.

Dannan greeted Abcedi courteously, since he was a regular client of his and introduced Seven. The Norcadian analyzed her with his gaze but said nothing. Dannan ordered a round of drinks and proceed to remind the pilot of his previous offers to B'Elanna.

Abcedi asked, "So what will it be, transport for two?"

Dannan replied, "Yes, transport for two through your route, which should take them to the next two sectors."

"Alright, I want 100 credits up front," the pilot demanded. "They can be delivered to me later in the day, to hangerbay 17."

"Ah, is that really necessary?" Dannan questioned. "Seeing that we are acquaintances.

"I'm afraid that's how I do business, Dannan. I can't have people cancel out on negotiations at the last minute," he answered, draining his cup. "Look, you'll find that every person's gonna demand the same thing, at a higher price. I'm already doing your friends a favor."

"We have not yet acquired the exact number of credits you are asking for," Seven interrupted.

Abcedi barked out a short laugh. "Then why are you here talking to me?"

"We will by the end of tonight, but we wish to make the arrangements now," justified Seven.

"I'm afraid that won't work well with my crew. Listen, I would like to help, but I' ve turned down other offers based on your friend's deal with me. I can't wait any longer. I need to give my crew their salaries before we depart tomorrow," the pilot explained, sipping the last of his ale.

Seven ordered him an expensive brew to delay his departure. "Can you send a subspace message instead? That will not require you to decline other offers," she countered.

"Yes, I could. You can send over the specifications and credits before I leave tomorrow."

Seven nodded. It was better than nothing, and she didn't want to end the conversation empty-handed, having to explain herself later to B'Elanna.

"I'll be back in a week and a half or so. By that time, you may have all the credits, and I'll be happy to provide you two with transport," the Norcadian offered.

***********************

"I am not getting into that costume!" B'Elanna asserted, as she and Edyn made their way through the streets to the Nokk tavern. B'Elanna held the hem of her hood over her nose to cover her face.

"Believe me, it will make a strong impression on the leader of the House of EnNokk. It's his tournament challenge that I've entered you in," Edyn persuaded, trying to keep up with the fiery woman who stalked off between the food stands.

"It will make an impression, alright, but the WRONG kind!" she snapped back.

For a moment, Edyn pictured the slim Klingon in the flimsy outfit he picked up for her, his eyes glinting. He ran to catch up with her. Several minutes later, they arrived at the Nokk tavern. Boisterous noises could be heard coming from the inside of the door. As Edyn greeted the Nokk that stood next to the entrance, B'Elanna got her first look at the species. The Nokk was imposing, about as tall as Seven, with shoulder length tawny hair. He, or was it she, looked mainly humanoid, with a flat forehead, deep-set gray eyes, tanned bronze skin, aquiline nose, thick lips, and a single canine protruding upwards at the right corner of his mouth. He looked well-muscled under his knee-length, sleeveless khaki tunic and trousers, and stood menacingly before them. Not all that bad looking in her opinion.

The ratty junk dealer walked up to the fella and asked for entry. The Nokk spared them a glance, B'Elanna in particular, and opened the door for them. Edyn led them inside, and B'Elanna was immediately overwhelmed by the smell of sweat and beer. The tavern was a deep structure, and all the tables and chairs had been shoved aside to make room for the number of warriors that were presenting themselves. Many were sparring or wrestling in the background, surrounded by cheering or jeering spectators. Edyn and B'Elanna weaved their way through the crowd, majority of which were Nokks, their bodies large and even larger, who all seemed to have hair ranging from tawny to almost black hair, clean shaven faces, and fit physiques. The fighters were wearing jerseys and loose-fitting pants of various rich but dark colors in patterns of significance. The spectators were more elegantly dressed in suits and tunics of corresponding colors to their warriors. Edyn walked up to the group which was sitting on the sidelines, drinking beer and commenting on the various participants. Her "sponsor" approached the eldest of the bunch, a Nokk with slightly graying locks at his temples, that stood in contrast to his darker brown hair. He had incredibly deep-set black eyes that reflected intelligence, a rugged face with a strong, square jaw, and noble bearing.

"LenNokk," he addressed cordially, dipping his head slightly. "May I present to you my challenger?"

B'Elanna stepped up to the front, lowered her hood as rehearsed, and copied Edyn's gesture of goodwill. She stood still, chin lifted as she felt the group appraise her. LenNokk squinted at her, then raised his brow.

"Doesn't she talk?" he demanded, his voice rumbled in a deep baritone. The burly warriors next to him snickered.

"Of course, honored one," Edyn replied carefully.

The half-Klingon took her cue and spoke proudly, "I am Beylanna, daughter of Miral of the House of Prasba, from Qo'noS. I present myself with a challenge to the house of EnNokk. I would be honored to compete against any warrior of your choosing and will abide by the rules of your noble ritual."

Edyn was surprised at what the introduction revealed about the hot-blooded hottie, but he didn't show it on his face. He noted that the members of the House were impressed by the greeting. Though they were of different cultures, the formality with which Beylanna spoke with was very familiar.

"Welcome, House of Prasba. We have not met your kind before, but the respect with which you speak demonstrates us that you are deserving of this honor," answered LenNokk. "And what gift do you bring which we may received as a symbol of your respect for our Honored ritual?"

B'Elanna reached into her satchel, hung over her shoulder, and brought out the gleaming, jagged crystal of dilithium and a star chart. "I, Beylanna, come with a gift of 'Winter's Tears.' May its brilliance reflect that of the mighty House of EnNokk."

A red clad warrior left of LenNokk stepped forward to formally receive the gift, bowing in acknowledgement to the challenger.

"Your gift is worthy," accepted LenNokk, evaluating the shimmering rock. "As for your opponent...the decision has yet to be made. You are allowed to familiarize yourself with the surroundings. Come back before me in one parsec, and you will demonstrate your skills briefly."

"I will do as you ask," B'Elanna responded.

She and Edyn took their leave of the group, who turned their attention again to the fighting pairs in the middle of the room. B'Elanna let out a deep breath, glad she passed the initial introduction. Edyn lead her to the bar on the right side of the tavern, and ordered drinks for them. They rested against the counter as Edyn pointed out the different Nokk Houses present. A number of other species were participating including a few Hirogen, Norcadians, and a couple of buff members of Kal's species, to B'Elanna's revulsion. Actually, she wouldn't mind smacking a few of them around, still sore over what Seven had been put through in their hands. B'Elanna observed a few sparring sessions between Nokks. Gradually, she began to pick out the differences between the males and females. The females were exceptionally trim, and their muscles were well-defined. Their faces had a softer look to them, their eyes not quite so deep, with long lashes. They still had the same confident bearings and possessed admirable combat skills. Men and women were fighting each other on equal terms. B'Elanna saw someone approach her in the corner of her eye, but calmly sipped her beverage. She didn't want to jump the gun, especially since she was a guest in the tavern. Finally, the person next to her addressed her.

"You are the one who requested an audience with my family members." The voice was light and musical, and belonged to a Nokk female.

B'Elanna turned to answer the Nokk, and found herself looking into an exceptionally pretty face, with bright hazel eyes, dark brown hair, and a body with cinnamon-colored skin, much more tanned than even her own. She was dressed more formally than the sparring warriors, in a long purple gown with a scooped neck and cinched waist, that showed off her sleek arms. The female looked back at her with interest.

"Um,...yes," B'Elanna replied tersely. 'Great start, you idiot,' the Klingon thought to herself.

The Nokk tilted her head to the side, and regarded the Klingon with amusement. When LenNokk told her of the new participant, she expected someone more...robust. This alien look peculiarly petite to participate in her House's tournament.

"I am EnNokkia, niece to LenNokk the Great," she introduced herself.

"Beylanna, of the House of Prasba."

B'Elanna held her arm out, but EnNokkia looked at it perplexed. The lieutenant reached over and took her arm to perform the traditional grasp of friendship. She thought big gestures like these would impress the Nokk. EnNokkia seemed to get the idea and returned the squeeze.

"I wished to meet the female warrior who requested permission to challenge a member of my House," she explained.

"I guess I don't exactly meet your expectations," B'Elanna noted wryly.

EnNokkia did not expect humor to come from a warrior during the period of preparation. Perhaps, this female had the confidence to win the fight. It was notably refreshing. Usually she received boastful, arrogant responses from Nokks who had tried to put on airs in front of her.

"No, you do not," EnNokkia said with a smile that showed off her sharp, white canine.

Chapter 14

B'Elanna returned her smile with a smaller one of her own. The Klingon asked if EnNokkia was participating in the tournament, but the pretty Nokk said no, in a disappointed tone. She was not allowed to because of her delicate profession as an artist for the House, though she did practice the combat skills. And from the looks of her, B'Elanna surmised, she must practice a lot. EnNokkia complimented B'Elanna on her formal presentation to the House, for which B'Elanna flushed. The lieutenant told her about the similarities between her own Klingon culture and the Nokk's. Just then, Edyn returned from speaking to a member of another House in order to get the scoop. He informed her it was time to return to LenNokk and finish presenting herself. EnNokkia asked to accompany them, and B'Elanna welcomed her. Once again they walked through the throng of people, and B'Elanna wondered which one of these warriors was going to be her opponent that night. Edyn led her to a corner where the competitors were being measured and examined. A graying Nokk waved her over as several warriors looked on, all sizing her up. They seemed to loom above her as the older member measured her height, arm span, and leg span.

The last thing he did was tell her to undress so that she could be weighed. Huffing for a moment and sparing a withering look at Edyn, who by then found himself drooling, B'Elanna stripped down to her Star Fleet issue sports top and briefs. Luckily, she had changed into the conservative undies this morning. EnNokkia eyed her appreciatively, unbeknownst to the half-Klingon, who was more nervous that a group of males had congregated around her space. The Klingon's lean muscles flexed and contracted before EnNokkia's very gaze. Physique was valued greatly in Nokk society, as it honorable to keep oneself fit for service to the House if ever one was called to arms in defense of the it. The gray-haired Nokk began laying the weights to the counterbalance of the scale. He got up to five tenokks before he squinted at her in confusion.

"Is there something wrong?" B'Elanna asked pointedly, her hands on her hips.

"No, of course not," he answered the warrior quickly.

The wrong thing to do was make a comment on a female's weight, he had learned over the years. His partner, a more elderly female, urged him to get on with it, as the young woman couldn't be in her underwear all day. He laid one more tenokk and a couple of rems onto the scale, and finally the balance began to move and level off. The elderly Nokk recorded the weight measured on a tablet, and gestured for the lieutenant to get off and dress. Even Edyn seemed a bit surprised at how much the compact beauty weighed. B'Elanna scrambled back into her clothes, a little self conscious by the way the warriors alternated between looking at her and whispering among themselves.

It was time to once again, to stand before LenNokk, and during the next trial, she had to be extremely confident. The Klingon found herself under the scrutiny of the House of EnNokk, with EnNokkia joining her family's side.

"You will now demonstrate your worthiness," commanded LenNokk.

A small twenty by twenty foot space was cleared and several youthful EnNokk members stood impassively within it. One of them held a thick, square, wooden board between his hands. B'Elanna understood she was expected to break it during her exercise. She removed her short coat, shook out her limbs and stretched her supple body a few times. She gave Edyn a steady look as he stood to the side, and he clasped his hands together in what looked to be a gesture of luck.

B'Elanna began a series of Klingon katas she learned and practiced in front of her mother, after her brief stay at the Klingon monastery. She had kept practicing them all throughout her life because she had gotten into fights often, and wanted to defend herself from the more discriminating inhabitants of Kessick IV. Star Fleet self-defense would have been improper to use under the circumstances. When one of the members of the square moved in to attack her, she parried the blows and quickly brought him down with grappling, not wanting to harm the young bloods. They moved out of the way once they were defeated.

Edyn looked on with beaded sweat trickling down the sides of his face, worried that the young woman would misstep, but she never did. His heart was filled with admiration as her slick body countered every attack smoothly, until she, at last, reached the wooden board. B'Elanna hesitated for a brief second, not knowing what type of wood material it was constructed from, but only for a second before she split it with one blow of her closed fist in a reverse punch. Her knuckles came away unscathed save for a small scratch.

LenNokk was suitably impressed with the display of power and grace. "You have much skill. I believe you will be a competitive opponent."

Another Nokk warrior stepped forward to address his leader. He was about 6'1" with a deep reddish brown hair, and dressed somewhat formally, his bare arms ornamented with golden bands that clenched at his powerful biceps. The Nokk had a no-nonsense intensity about him, accentuated by the small scars all along his oval face and cleft chin, no doubt from many fights.

"You are allowing her to challenge, Great EnNokk? What about my brother? He was due for his chance of receiving honor from our House," the Nokk claimed, his green eyes flashing.

"Jae'Nokk, your brother cannot challenge this cycle of the moon, because I intend for YOU to be our champion. You brother is not ready yet, at least, not to challenge this warrior," LenNokk stated with authority.

Jae'Nokk was about to reply, but thought the better of it. It was not wise to confront the leader of the House, no matter who his mother was. Instead, he directed his condescending glare towards the half-Klingon.

"I will meet you in combat tonight. Do not waste the opportunity," he advised, his tone dripping with acidity.

**************************

Seven examined the droid's optic circuitry distractedly. She had been waiting for B'Elanna to return for the past two hours, but still, the half-Klingon did not appear. Dannan sat at his work table, fashioning a new transceiver for one of the D2 droids that had arrived that morning for repairs. He noticed the Borg's restlessness, and tried to reassure her.

"Don't worry, Ani. She'll be back soon," he told her, twisting the the knot of wires between his fingers.

"I fail to see how you can remain calm. We both disagree with her method of obtaining the credits. There is still time to prevent this from proceeding further," Seven urged. She moved her chair closer to Dannan's. "Bey respects you, Dannan. She will listen to you if you tell her not to fight."

"Perhaps. But it's not just me that she has made her decision against. She chose to ignore your requests, and that demonstrates to me how resolved she is," he said, looking straight into the Borg's eyes. "Bey is concerned for your well-being. And no amount of arguing or pleading from me or Moka will change her mind."

Seven looked away, blushing at the man's words. Dannan noted that his words had achieved the right effect, seeing as how the pink had risen on the young woman's cheeks. Dannan pushed the wires back into the opening and tapped the panel back in place. Seven stood up and walked away, gazing out into the streets from the window.

Dannan continued, "Which is why I will no longer openly oppose her decision."

Seven turned, frowning. "Please explain?" she asked.

"To do so would cause her distress, and would divert her attention away from what she needs to really concentrate on. We must put her mind at ease," Dannan explained. "She must know she has our full support."

Seven nodded. "She will have it," declared the ex-drone. "However, I must tell you I will do what I have to, to insure Bey's safety as well."

Before Dannan could question what she meant by that particular statement, the shop door opened, and Edyn and B'Elanna entered. The ratty-faced dealer strolled into the room, beaming from ear to ear. B'Elanna trailed in after him, and was greeted by the subtle smile on Seven's face. Seven's eyes lighted when she saw her lieutenant approach her side.

"How did it go?" Dannan inquired, as he took Edyn's hand in a grasp of greeting.

"Fantastic. Bey made a big impression at the presentation." He continued, "At least, I found myself admiring her attributes."

Dannan elbowed him, as B'Elanna gave him a dirty look, which Seven mirrored.

"As well as LenNokk,...the entire House of EnNokk." He couldn't resist adding, "...and their young mistress, EnNokkia." He grinned impudently at the fiery warrior, whose eyes suddenly shot wide open.

Seven quirked her brow with the last statement. Stepping close to Edyn, she said, "Perhaps, you should tell us exactly what happened."

**********************

The wind had picked up that day, and many of the inhabitants of the planet were left trying to find shelter. People walked around with their cloaks held up to their noses as they moved through the streets, as stall owners continued to peddle their merchandise to anyone wandering around. Two figures made their way to a make-shift tent that housed an open bar. They were glad to be finally out of the sandy storm, and sat down at a free table. Kal and Orn took off their cloaks and shook off the sand that had been trapped in the folds. A waiter came by and took their orders for food and drinks. Kal leaned back in his chair, and glanced around the tent for people he knew. A mixed group of aliens took up several benches in the middle, and it looked as though they were gambling. The roll of dice could be heard in between the ruckus of laughter and swearing. Kal grabbed his beer once it had been placed in front of him, and started to guzzle it down. He was done quickly, and ordered another one before the waiter even finished setting the plates.

A thin, young Nokk ran under the tent, huffing and puffiing, apparently from the exertion. In his hand, he held a roll of paper, which he lifted high before the crowd in the tent.

"I have the list!" he exclaimed excitedly, waving it around like bait to predators.

One of the members of the crowd, a tall fella with a webbed neck, narrow face and mustard-colored skin, came forth and took the paper from the young man's hand. He unrolled the list and glanced over it, immediately smiling. He patted the Nokk on the shoulder, and led him towards the tables. Kal recognized Wex, the man now holding the list, another fellow Mewk whom he had served with on another ship several years ago. The man was crafty, and had a good sense of where the money was and how to get it.

"Here it is, my friends. The list of competitors in the Nokk tournament, their names, identifying descriptions, and measurements. There seems to be only a few non-Nokks entered into the tournament this moon," announced Wex. He leaned over and murmured something to the young Nokk, who quickly brought over a standing board, and proceeded to copy the competitors, their statistics, and their opponents onto the board.

Kal put down his drink, and told Orn, "I'll be back. I need to say hello to an old friend."

Kal sauntered over to the table where his friend sat reading off the names of the contestants. The rowdy bunch of aliens were already talking about the fighters, and who they thought were going to win. Money was starting to jingle in their pockets, and soon, the betting would begin as well.

"Wex!" the gang leader shouted out.

The bookie turned to see who yelled out his name, and grinned when he saw his former shipmate amongst the crowd.

"Kal, you old scamp. What are you doing on this forsaken planet?" Wex asked.

"Repairs to my ship. It's a long story," Kal muttered, not wanting to mention his embarrassing incident with the two escaped females. "So this is what you've been up to."

"Aye, I carved out a nice little niche for myself here," the other Mewk agreed. "What about you? You want to place a bet?"

"Humph.... Maybe, if you've got some insider's info I could use," Kal hinted.

"For you, of course. It looks to me like there's an interesting match between a young Nokk, and a new alien warrior. The Nokk has been 5 to 1, and has a mean streak to him. Could be interesting to see who wins, 'cause his opponent's a female. The statistics are skewered towards the Nokk, but I'm betting on the female."

"Let me see," Kal asked, holding out his hand for the list. Wex handed him the paper and pointed out the statistics for both the warriors.

"Those betters are ignoring the fact that the female weighs like a middle class fighter. There's got to be something different about this alien," reasoned Wex. "There's no way she could weigh that much without something peculiar about her anatomy."

'Peculiar, alright. Brown skin, dark hair, forehead ridges, 2.25 metros tall,... I know exactly who you are.' Kal thought to himself, almost crumpling the paper in his fists, already planning his revenge.

Chapter 15

Seven and B'Elanna were out in the backyard to Dannan's shop, where they had retreated to after the Borg had heard about what happened at the Nokk tavern. Seven had asked a great deal of questions regarding the whole presentation, but also inquired about some very specific details regarding EnNokkia, to B'Elanna's chagrin. Now the Borg was quiet, and B'Elanna couldn't help but wonder what the heck was going through the woman's mind. She didn't want to hope that Seven could be jealous. Edyn and Dannan were still out in the front, probably discussing what was going to happen later that night.

Seven sat on a storage container, and watched as the half-Klingon flexed her limber body to work out the last kinks before her fight tonight. Normally, she would be fascinated by the exhibition, but at the moment, she couldn't help her feelings of nervousness.

"I know this is bothering you, Ani," B'Elanna commented, as she raised her leg high against the wall and bent forward to stretch her hamstrings and calves out.

"What I feel is irrelevant now," Seven answered.

B'Elanna dropped her leg, and walked over to where the blonde sat. "Of course it's relevant," B'Elanna told her, frowning at the negative remark Seven made toward herself.

Seven shook her head, in the most human way. "No, not now. You must focus on the competition. Regardless of my...feelings...," Seven admitted.

"I support you completely, Bey. I know you will succeed, for me," she whispered, "and for yourself."

A little startled, the lieutenant leaned her body against the container next to Seven. "Wow. Thanks for the vote of confidence," B'Elanna replied, brows raised amazement. No one had ever told her anything like that before.

"You have mine. All of my confidence," Seven whispered, sliding her Borg hand under B'Elanna's, and interlacing their fingers.

B'Elanna looked up shyly at Seven from the sight of their hands locked together, and found it difficult to speak with a lump in her throat.

"You promised we would talk," Seven began.

"Right.... Talk...," B'Elanna murmured. The Klingon's mind was drawing a total blank, and her throat had gone dry. She didn't know why it was so hard.

"But this is not the right time, and you are not ready," Seven concluded, noting the way the lieutenant stopped speaking in full sentences.

Regretfully, the ex-drone released their hands, and stood up stiffly. She walked to the center of the yard and looked back at B'Elanna, hands linked behind her back as usual.

"Perhaps, I should show you some Tsunkatse moves," she suggested, moving her hands and feet into position.

B'Elanna smiled but eyed her cautiously. "Are you sure you're up to it, Seven?," she asked, knowing that Seven was not quite fully recovered.

Seven quirked her brow, and beckoned the half-Klingon over.

Her limbs were, unfortunately, not entirely back to normal. The Borg's movements lacked their usual grace and coordination. Still, B'Elanna was game. It distracted from the difficult conversation ahead of them. B'Elanna pushed herself away from the storage container, and approached Seven's side, taking the same pose. She copied the moves Seven made, and when the ex-drone faltered, B'Elanna was right by her side.

"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea," B'Elanna observed after catching Seven, her arms around the lithe waist.

"I am alright, Bey. You do not need to support me," Seven sighed, questioning why it was easier for B'Elanna to touch her when she was damaged.

"Sorry," she apologized, removing her hands. "Why don't you just tell me what to do, and adjust my moves if you need to?"

"Of course," Seven agreed.

The two women spent the hour practicing, as they hid their feelings behind reassuring touches they gave one another. B'Elanna enjoyed each time Seven corrected her limbs or posture, as it progressed to the point where Seven began embracing her from behind to direct her movements. B'Elanna liked the way Seven took control of her body, or rather, practically commandeered it. She wondered if they could ever do anything together again that wouldn't involve sexual tension between her and Seven, at least from her perception.

But more than that, B'Elanna wanted to love the young Borg, the way she deserved to be loved. She couldn't ignore, however, the rumors she had heard on board Voyager. And if they were true, she didn't want to step in between the Captain and Seven, because she respected Janeway, and because it was wrong.

"Are you paying attention, Bey?" Seven broke her reverie.

"What? Um...yes. Well, maybe I got a bit distracted."

"I suppose better now than during the tournament," Seven noted dryly.

"Of course. 'Cause I'm going to kick butt tonight," B'Elanna joked, grinning at the ex-drone.

"No doubt you will be magnificent. I look forward to seeing you win."

B'Elanna stopped grinning instantly, and frowned. "Ani, you're staying at Dannan's tonight," she told her.

Seven's face darkened, but her voice did not raise. "I wish to go with you. You will need...a friendly face in the crowd," she persuaded. "Please do not make me stay behind again."

B'Elanna walked a few steps away, staring off into the crop of nearby buildings. "I won't be able to concentrate if I know you're out there in the crowd watching." She turned to face Seven, and added, "I don't want you to do something impulsive if you think things start looking bad for me. I don't want you to see me..."

"You will not fail. And I will not interfere! I will comply with your commands, but allow me to accompany you," Seven replied with a hint of distress.

B'Elanna crossed over to the Borg, and took hold her arms to comfort her. "I don't want the tournament to dredge up any bad memories for you. It'll be over quickly, anyway, and I'll be home right after.... Ani, promise me you won't go there."

Seven turned her face away stubbornly. Seven would not allow the lieutenant to place herself in danger without her looking out for the half-Klingon. An idea in her mind clicked.

"You will not see me there," Seven answered dejectedly.

B'Elanna pulled the woman to her, wrapping her arms around Seven, and hugged her tightly. She hoped the young Borg would eventually understand. Seven was moved by the spontaneous gesture of affection, and put her own arms around B'Elanna's neck, resting her cheek against the proud brow. She wished the moment would never end, as they held each other. Seven wondered if this was what the Doctor referred to as being in love. If this was, then she was in love with the half-Klingon. They stayed in each other arms for a while longer until Edyn came to get B'Elanna.

**********************

B'Elanna sat on the bench inside the tavern. The fights were being held in the lot behind the structure. Several of the other Houses participating in this moon's tournament had already determined their winners. Edyn was going over some of the rules at the last minute, but for the most part, the fight was a no-holds-barred approach. She had gotten a glimpse of the arena when she first arrived, and it was somewhat intimidating, she had to admit. The pit was only four feet deep to allow the House members and spectators view of the fight. The square arena itself was curtained off tightly with a full line-up of Nokk warriors, each holding a short wooden staff. They kept the fight inside the arena. Outside the pit, tables and benches were filled with spectators, but the far side of the square was reserved for the House that sponsored the particular fight to look on. The area was lit brightly by tall torches that flamed strongly against the mild winds.

The Klingon felt butterflies in her stomach, despite all the reassurances she had received. Even EnNokkia had come by to wish her luck, with Edyn winking at B'Elanna as the young lady bestowed a kiss on her forehead. The lieutenant had been in countless combat situations before, but this was the first time it had held any type of cultural significance for her. Her own House's honor was at stake, as well as her personal pride. To fail was a disgrace, and perhaps, a one way ticket straight to Gre'thor. Surprisingly, to calm herself, she began a Vulcan meditation Tuvok had taught her.

The drumming began outside, signaling the start of the tournament procession. First, the elders of the House of EnNokk would leave the tavern and seat themselves to judge the fight. Then, their champion would follow, and finally B'Elanna would enter as the challenger. The lieutenant stood up, letting her long, belted red jersey hang down to her knees. The fitted jersey was sleeveless, showing off her sleek arms, and its sides were split from her hips down to allow her lower limbs freedom to kick. She wore the black loose-fitting pants that all the warriors wore, but tailored to her size. The crest of the EnNokk House was embroidered in black onto the front of the jersey, and B'Elanna looked at the wondrous design. The triangular shape was made of up sharp, wavy, abstract flames at the three corners that merged and swirled around the center of the design, a circular meander which looped and linked back around itself to where she couldn't see its beginning or its end. Peering at it carefully, the shape seemed to take on a serpentine appearance. Whoever created it must have been a great shaman, or at least a very drugged up one.

Finally, the drum beats changed, indicating it was her turn to present herself in the arena. Edyn was allowed to accompany her to her corner of the pit as a coach and sponsor. Steadily she walked through the doorway of the tavern, trying her best to ignore the quiet gazes from the crowd, and focused her eyes, instead, on the honored family across the pit. She made her way down the ramp to the arena where the line of Nokk warriors parted briefly to allow them both through. She stopped when she met Jae'Nokk, who wore the same crest on his hunter green jersey, and his coach in the center of the square, and they all turned to face the House of EnNokk. B'Elanna saw EnNokkia, who smiled briefly at her favored competitor, sitting to the left of LenNokk. She wore a stunning gown of emerald green, and a black choker with a matching jewel.

Suddenly, the Nokk warriors, surrounding the combatants, struck the floor mightily and synchronously with their staffs, and then began an unwavering baritone chant. Edyn winced as his own eardrums vibrated to the sonic pulsations that were emitted. When the chant ended, LenNokk stood and addressed the entire gathering.

"Welcome to our Ritual of the Third Ivory Moon, a celebration of life and honor that has passed from generation to generation among my people. The House of EnNokk extends its hospitality to its guests, so drink well and enjoy the skills of combat to be demonstrated here tonight. Our family presents these two warriors who seek honor for themselves, Jae'Nokk of the House of EnNokk, our champion, and Beylanna, Daughter of Miral of the House of Prasba. Let the tournament begin!" he announced, raising his steel goblet in the air.

The crowd erupted in loud response and applaud, and tipped their glasses to the sponsoring House. The excitement of a new fight swept through the people as they chattered, often arguing among themselves who they thought was going to win. No one noticed a lone cloaked figure that came through the tavern gates, and settled itself at one of the tables overlooking the pit, on the right side. When a small, fat Tarkadian tried to point out that the seat had already been reserved, the figure glared back menacingly. Then smirked as the fat man backed off and scooted even further away down the bench they shared.

B'Elanna went to her respective corner to prepare herself for the coming violence. She bounced up and down on the dirt that covered the arena floor. It was a thick yellow, pasty soil that was seedy more than grainy, preventing it from being used to blind opponents, she supposed. It also would cushion any falls. Edyn looked at the young woman, checking to see if the Klingon was ready. He didn't realize until now how diminutive she seemed compared to her opponent. At 2.25 metros tall (5'5"), he could hardly believe she weighed in at the middle weight class for Nokks. He took the box which he had been handed while waiting in the tavern, as it held the weapons for the first round, and opened it for B'Elanna.

"T-batons...?" B'Elanna questioned as she reached in and took the weapons, one in each hand.

They were solid, blunt instruments that could do a lot of damage. These were heavy, probably made from hardwood covered with black lacquer and polished to a fine finish. She twirled them around to get the feel for their weight and balance.

"Remember, each round is three minutes. Only the first allows weapons, after that they are taken from you. If you are completely disarmed, then you will lose the round," Edyn reminded her.

"Got it," she replied. B'Elanna spun one baton around so that the longer length paralleled her left forearm to block attacks. She would use her right arm, the stronger one, to attack.

The warriors pounded their staffs again, and two Nokk maidens entered the square bringing goblets of wine on their trays. One of the warriors indicated to B'Elanna to down the drink offered to her. B'Elanna threw a questioning glance at Edyn, who shrugged his shoulders.

LenNokk raised his cup and told the fighters, "Drink the wine of Nokk, the God of our Ivory Moon. May it put fire in your bellies and bravery in your hearts!"

B'Elanna choked down the concoction, noting the way it burned her throat and fell into her stomach like lead. Fortunately, she had a Klingon physiology to lean back on.

"Uh-oh," Edyn murmured nervously, wringing his hands.

"What do you mean 'uh-oh'?" asked B'Elanna, as she wiped her mouth.

"The wine of Nokk is very potent, and I believe you have to down one before each round," Edyn answered, frank concern over his face.

"What? You didn't know I had to drink this stuff?!" demanded B'Elanna as she watched as Edyn was pushed behind the Nokk line-up. The crowd roared as the match was about to begin.

"Yes, well,...this is the first time I've actually done this sort of thing!" Edyn yelled over the heads of the warriors.

"Now you tell me!" B'Elanna growled back, her eyes flashing dangerous with murderous intent.

"Ah, Beylanna behind YOU!"

B'Elanna turned to see Jae'Nokk approach, but not fast enough to dodge the first blow across her face. Neither was she fast enough to avoid the next thrust to her stomach. She staggered away, landing against the wooden wall of staffs which pushed her back into the square arena. Her cheek stung, but she knew the first blow wasn't the cause of her unsteadiness. Everything began to blur as the wine took its effect, and her Klingon physiology wasn't helping. Jae'Nokk curled his lips in contempt, as he observed the way the woman swayed uncontrollably on her feet. Her hands barely held onto her weapons. 'And LenNokk thought this alien was a worthy opponent? How senile could our leader be?'

B'Elanna shook her head to clear it, but her balance remained shaky, and she felt like puking right on the edge of the pit over a couple of boots. Blinking, she saw Jae running up towards her and she swung out to meet him. Their batons cracked loudly together, and the crowd cheered with frenzy as real fighting began. B'Elanna tried hard to defend herself as it rained blow after blow, so she barely had time to strike out offensively. A hit caught her on her elbow, and B'Elanna spun away, trying to shake off the numbness and tingling that traveled down her arm. Jae barreled towards her again with a roar, and B'Elanna hurled the baton at him, end over end like tomahawk, to buy herself some time to recover. Lucky for him, Jae ducked quickly enough, and the baton shot across the arena, and took out one of the other Nokks. The crowd laughed as the warrior fell backwards, knocked out cold, but his presence in the barrier was replaced nonchalantly by another warrior, a female Nokk.

Jae tried to swipe B'Elanna across the face again, but this time B'Elanna blocked it, and slugged him a good right cross in the eye. He dropped back, blinking away the tears, and B'Elanna pressed her advantage even though she was starting to see two of him. She swung an over-handed blow with her remaining baton in her left hand, but he caught her arm with his own left hand after he discarded a baton aside, and gripped it in an arm lock. His fallen baton was pulled away by one of the Nokk warriors with a staff, and disappeared behind the sea of legs.

Torquing the Klingon's arm outward, Jae pivoted behind B'Elanna and stabbed viciously at her lower back where her kidney laid. B'Elanna screamed in pain as the small blunt end struck her flesh, the nerves in her spine shouting out to her brain. If she had been a full Klingon, her kidneys would have nestled lower in a broader pelvis, protected.

"Maybe you should go back to where you came from, warrior." Jae mocked maliciously, his green eyes blazing. "You deserve nothing from this ritual!"

Jae'Nokk jabbed her again and again, and B'Elanna cried out in frustration as the hurt brought her almost to her knees and the grip kept her immobilized. Gritting her teeth, she crouched low and somersaulted backwards, twisting both their arms and relieving the pressure on hers. Taken by surprise, Jae'Nokk flipped with her to prevent his own elbow from breaking, his grip loosening with the pain, and he landed hard on his backside B'Elanna stumbled away, supporting the small of her back.

Bending over, she slowed her breathing to control the sharp pangs that still radiated from her injury, and she wondered if she was bleeding internally. The muscles in her back spasmed periodically from the irritated nerves. Time was up when Jae'Nokk flipped to his feet and started another charge at the Klingon. B'Elanna tumbled forward, avoiding the wide swing aimed at her chest, and landed on her feet just as Jae'Nokk passed over her.

"Harrgugh!" Grunting with a vengeance, B'Elanna whipped him hard on his lower back with an audible thud as she stood up, while his momentum took him forward, crashing into the staffs. The crowd had erupted with cheer again when the lieutenant returned the "favor" to the Nokk, but all B'Elanna could hear was the beat of her own heart and the rush of blood in her ears, as her anger grew.

"Paybacks are a bitch," she told him.

Another tall, dark figure entered the back lot of the tavern, just in time to see the vicious exchange occurring in the arena. The figure sat high up on one of the tiered benches that overlooked the left side of the pit, satisfied to see that the expected adversaries were fighting. When it appeared the Klingon was about to lose, the figure rose quickly, tensing. However, the woman warrior had a strong will for survival as well as a competitive spirit, and came back fighting hard. Meanwhile, the cloaked individual at the table noticed the sudden movement out of the corner of an eye, and glanced at the silhouette in recognition. The sight of the shadowy figure brought on unbidden thoughts of punishment due, but for now the focus remained steadfastly on the tournament.

Jae'Nokk turned to face B'Elanna, but he was still clearly reeling from the blow. B'Elanna dragged her feet towards the middle of the ring, as he met her half way. They caught each other's swipes, and grappled back and forth clutching at one another's wrists and rods, snarling at each other.

"Oofffff!" Jae'Nokk grunted.

B'Elanna kicked Jae's right knee out from under him, and his leg smacked against the floor. But he was able to wrench his baton away from the lieutenant, and swept her off her feet with it. B'Elanna rolled away fast, though the wind was knocked out of her, and stood up. Seeing Jae'Nokk run towards her again, she flipped her baton so that she held the straight end, and swung the T-prong to block his attacks.

-Smack!- -SMACK!- -THWACK!-

They traded swings again, as the crowd watched them parry and feint, back and forth across the arena, the dirt kicking up into the air. B'Elanna took another strike against her stomach that pushed her backwards, but she retaliated with straight kick to Jae'Nokk's chin. Her boot cut into the skin of his jaw, and he bled bright red down his neck, staining his jersey. The Nokk tried a forward thrust to her sternum, but B'Elanna used the opportunity to hook his baton between the T-prong of her stick. With one quick flick of her wrist, she ripped the Nokk's baton out of his grasp, and both adversaries watched as the weapon sailed upwards in a parabolic curve, heading out of the pit. A screen of wooden staffs rose straight up, and blocked the soaring instrument before it could injure a spectator. The baton fell passively to the ground with a dead thump, before it was removed.

Jae'Nokk recovered from his loss, and kicked the lieutenant's baton out of her hand while she was still distracted. Weaponless, they went at each other with bare-handed hostility, landing a kick on each other's chest and knocking their opponent down simultaneously. When they both hit the ground, the column of warriors pounded their staffs in unison once again, signaling the end of the round.

B'Elanna trod over to her corner of the pit, or at least where she found Edyn waiting for her. He tried to wrap her in a towel, but she pushed him away, too hot and glistening with sweat. He doused her with cool water instead, then wiped her face and arms down, rubbing intently on the muscles to keep them from cramping up. He examined the right side of her face which bore a large, reddened bruise, and compressed the bleeding from her elbow. But she couldn't stand the touch for more than a few seconds, so agitated as she was.

"Beylanna..." he started, attempting to calm the half-Klingon.

"What?!" she demanded testily, gulping handfuls of water.

"Be careful out there," he replied. "Don't let him get you all riled up."

"Too late for that," she told him, as she paced like a panther trapped in a cage.

Edyn watched in worry, having never seen the young woman so disturbed before. She was not acting like herself at all. Perhaps it was the mixture of the wine, the atmosphere, and what was at stake. Jae'Nokk did nothing to help the situation, as he stared arrogantly from his side of the arena, trying to rally his supporters with the wave of his arm. The Nokk wasn't in great shape himself, after B'Elanna left her mark on his face, which was starting to swell in a few places. The crowd responded uproariously either with cheers or even some jeers, many of them conversing among themselves, no doubt over what had taken place during the first round.

'Stupid idiot,' Edyn reproached the Nokk in his mind, questioning why the ass had been chosen to compete in the first place. 'The blockhead has no sense of honor whatsoever. Now they'll both end up killing each other.'


Author's Note:

  1. In Jeri Taylor's ST: Voyager novel: Pathways, B'Elanna's mother was originally named Prasba, which was subsequently changed in the tv series to Miral for easier pronounciation.

Continue to Chapters 16-18

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