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What Can Be
Colors, faces, and sounds blurred into one continuous mass as Paris was led down numerous halls and corridors. Never remembering how she got there, Janeway was brought into a large, cavernous room. Disjointed images of drones and equipment were all she could recall, that and the inability to move or speak. She could do nothing but watch and feel. Feel the duranium saw cut through the muscle and bone as it severed her right arm. Feel the probing shards of metal as they were inserted into her skull, while the drones looked on in silence. The metal plating that was to serve as her Borg ‘uniform’ was molded into place, quickly followed by the invasive wiring common to all the Borg. Her voice became the chorus of millions, "Awaiting designation."
A sole, uniquely feminine, voice was her reply, "Lisseth is your designation."
"What is it to be human? Why does your species fight so hard to protect its imperfection?"
Long, tapered fingers encased in metallic mesh traced the newly assimilated woman’s jaw line.
"Perhaps we do not understand because we do not know what it is to be human. We have tried to… further our knowledge by using your," the Borg Queen’s features twisted slightly, "mother. Unfortunately she was useless to us."
Cold, hateful eyes raked over Janeway’s body as their owner considered the situation.
"But now we have you… and we will use you in any way we can to destroy your pitiful race."
Dead hands came up to cup the drone’s pale face as the Queen leaned forward until her face was centimeters away from Janeway’s own.
"We will live through you… and you will never leave us. You will be more to us then Locutus could ever be."
Lips met… while what was left of the Paris’ ‘soul’ cried out in disgust and panic.
Captain Janeway tore her glistening eyes from the disturbing holo-image projected in front of her, her mind wrestling with hundreds of questions… all demanding her immediate attention. Pushing all of it away, Janeway contacted the Doctor… she had a feeling his questions were about to be answered.
"There doesn’t appear to be any sort of chronological order to the memories as they are being displayed… there’s also gaps within the memories themselves… any explanation?" Captain Janeway’s single-minded personality was clearly in control as she waited impatiently for the doctor’s response.
"Actually captain, if you will notice, all the memories that are associated with her time with the Borg are in order… which I attribute to the fact that they are more traumatic then anything else displayed."
"I don’t follow."
"When a person recalls an event that is particularly traumatic, the memory is very detailed and complete." Pausing for a few moments to study the PADD in front of him, he continued. "The gaps and the chaotic flow of her other memories, I think, can be directly related to her malfunctioning processor."
"How far have you progressed with a solution?"
"Not far enough, I’m afraid."
The crushing weight of millions of minds suddenly evaporated as Lisseth was brutally cut from the collective. Intense, numbing pain was what greeted the sole drone that lay crumpled at the Borg Queen’s feet.
"Do you like pain, Lisseth? Is that why you refuse to give yourself to us? Even now, your body has not regenerated for eighty-two point three hours… can you feel the Borg implants eating away at your flesh… taking from the human part of you that which we have denied it?"
Paris could almost feel the gnawing ‘teeth’ of her nanoprobes attacking her own body… raising her mesh encased hand; she stared at the limb in disgust. She could picture the awful devices eating away at her fingers… her pale flesh being stripped away by merciless machines. Fighting back a wave of nausea, Paris fought for air.
"My name is… Janeway… there is no Lisseth… here…"
"So courageous, so very like your mother." The Queen paused to circle the huddled drone, assessing the woman within.
"We have found that pain can be very a useful tool when dealing with species such as yourself. It clouds your primitive minds, allowing your will to be much more pliable." Her face twisted itself into a cruel smile, "Shall we begin my lessons in humanity?"
Reaching down, the Queen grabbed a bit of metal plating close to Janeway’s throat, and dragged her up to eye level. Wrapping her other arm around the drone’s slim waist, the Queen embraced Paris.
Weakly trying to push the cruel figure away, Paris’ mind raced.
‘What does she want from me? What can I possibly offer this woman that millions of other minds can’t? The experiences are the same, the feelings, why me?’
Paris winced slightly at the next thought. ‘I’m paying for my parents’ actions… I’m the closest thing to the two of them she’ll ever get… all her hatred for them, is being centered on me… oh god…’
A faint whisper began in the back of Paris’ skull, increasing quickly into a painful blast of sound and images. Her mother… she could see, feel her mother’s arms wrapped securely around her… this was a memory taken from her childhood…
She had fallen from one of the ancient trees that dotted the acres that surrounded her grandmother’s Indiana farm and had broken her leg as she hit the solid earth. The broken bone had ripped through the skin, protruding about midway down her calf. Taking one good look at her leg, Paris had promptly fainted…
Paris’ small body was curled up in Seven’s lap as Kathryn gently stroked the sleeping child’s head. Waking slightly, Paris peered up at the softened features of her parents. Kathryn’s throaty voice awakened the child a little more.
"Awake I see… how’s my little Goldenbird?"
"I’m all right Momma."
Paris felt the arms of her mother tighten in affection as Seven listened quietly, her pale eyes locked on her daughter.
The small child’s delicate brow crinkled in confusion as she looked up at her parents. "How… how did I get to the house, Momma?"
Kathryn looked up at Seven quickly, her eyes filled with concern, before she answered the little girl.
"Your mother found you… and carried you to the house."
Looking up at the blonde woman holding her, Paris caught the flicker of pain that crossed her mother’s face as Kathryn told her this. Leaning over, Seven placed a tender kiss on her daughter’s forehead before she spoke. "You had us worried Paris."
‘She’s reliving my memories… stealing who I am!’ Renewing her struggles, Paris’ anger fueled her dying strength. "Get the hell away from me!"
Leaning further into Paris’ body, the Queen whispered gently into her ear.
"Careful Lisseth, you don’t want to hurt yourself."
Ignoring her, Paris continued her feeble attempts at escape. As her fists rammed into the Queen’s unfeeling torso, Paris tried to deactivate her connection to the hive mind. Seconds later, white-hot pain pierced her brain causing Janeway to cry out. It was then that the convulsions started…
The Queen’s cool demeanor never faltered as she quickly gave orders to a few of the assembled drones that littered her ‘throne room.’
"This drone is to be repaired and deposited in its alcove."
Blue-gray eyes flashed with rage as Captain Janeway watched the holographic image with disgust. Her jaw muscles stood out starkly as Janeway’s teeth ground together. Turning to glare at the doctor, who took a step back in pure reflex, she questioned him sharply.
"Now that you know what caused her injuries, will you have a better chance of helping her?"
"Y-yes, I believe I will. I’ll need Seven’s help and…"
"Whatever you need Doctor, you’ll have."
Cool points of contact traced their way along Paris’ face as metal-tipped fingers sought to memorize each centimeter of flesh. There was an infinite tenderness in the gesture, an almost loving expression. It was always this way with the Queen; caring for the drone that lay nestled within her grasp, hating the human that was unleashed when the connection was dropped. Once Lisseth was carefully tucked away into her alcove, the monarch would idly caress and love the armor-plated body… even now, frozen lips kissed and nibbled the jaw line, chin, and lips of her captive.
Twenty-three hours had passed since Janeway had discovered the cause of Paris’ physical and emotional injuries. Twenty-three hours, and nothing had yet been found to combat Paris’ increasingly debilitating condition. She would be dead within the next thirty-six hours…
Kathryn could feel the sickening weight of failure begin to settle right between her shoulder blades as she sat staring into space. Her ready room was a jumbled mess of PADs, readouts and various tricorders; all of which were scattered haphazardly over the desk and couch. Running her hand through tangled tresses, Captain Janeway sighed heavily in disgust. Turning, she stared out the large, bay windows that dwarfed the couch that hugged the opposite wall. Closing her eyes against the suddenly bright lighting, Kathryn felt herself drifting into a light doze. Mentally debating for several seconds, Captain Janeway allowed herself the few moments of rest.
Gently tracing the still features, Kathryn’s eyes softened… lifting the years of command and stress from her face. Her fingers traveled the slight curve of chin and cheek, coming to rest on full lips. Kathryn leaned down, trailing feather-light kisses along the pale jaw and lips. Her fingers continued downward, the tips following the chords of Seven’s neck. Kathryn’s fiery lips followed the questing fingers until they found a low dip… the hollow of Seven’s throat. Placing a single kiss on the white flesh, Kathryn’s voice came out in a low sob.
"I love you, Seven… even if you could never want me…"
Jerking awake, Kathryn’s stormy eyes raked the room quickly, stopping on the solid frame that stood just inches inside her ready room. Chakotay’s uniform was slightly rumpled, which was the only sign of his fatigue. His broad frame filled the doorway while a look of quiet questioning was settled upon his handsome face. His voice was gentle, yet concerned, as his eyes never left the captain’s.
"Everything alright Kathryn?"
"Fine, just a little tired. This whole situation has run me a little ragged." She managed a weak smile as she said this, a gesture that never reached her eyes.
Chakotay nodded after a few seconds, clearly realizing that he could get no further with the captain’s impossibly strong will. Sighing slightly to himself, Chakotay stepped forward, PADD in hand, to stand directly in front of Janeway’s desk.
"Here are the latest engineering reports, B’Elanna says that the recalibration of the antimatter distribution system is ahead of schedule. She expects it to be done by 14:00 tomorrow."
"Excellent… that leaves us with two other main systems to fine tune… not bad…" Janeway trailed off as she scrolled quickly through the engineering PADD. Looking up, she nodded slightly.
"Thank you Chakotay, that will be all."
As he began to leave, her voice filled with quiet humor, Janeway called out to his departing back.
"Get some rest, you look awful."
Turning to give her a lopsided grin, Chakotay left.
Once more huddled over the various PADDs, Captain Janeway stared at the medical report scrolling across her screen. Her eyes narrowed suddenly as the last few lines of the paragraph sank in fully. Straightening her posture to match the intense scrutiny, Kathryn frantically scrolled up through the numerous pages. Mumbling slightly to herself, Janeway’s mind grappled with the data.
"It can’t be this simple… we couldn’t have missed this so easily…"
A tired, triumphant grin broke suddenly across her pale features while she stood quickly, and headed towards the door. Her steps were quick and light as the walked confidently across the bridge to the turbolift.
He turned and left, leaving Paris alone in the dark quarters that were now her prison. Her face a cold mask of indifference, the young woman walked quietly into the large bathroom connected to the modest bedroom. Glancing up, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror mounted on the far wall. Revulsion twisted her stomach as her eyes traveled along her new face, along the silvery suit that encased her healing body, and down to her once beautiful hands.
She wanted to rip the metal from her, tear out the parts of her that were Borg… she began cruelly digging the metal out… away from her body. Her breathing quickly became pained filled fits of choking as her fingers labored at their task. Finally, hands bloody and torn, Paris collapsed onto the cold tiled floor. Rising ruined hands to her scarred face, she sobbed.
"That son of a bitch!" Michelle was a fit of fury as she stared intensely at the photonic images.
"When we get back, I’m going to rip his damn testicles out through his…"
Mathew gasped slightly, while backing away a few feet just to be on the safe side.
"You don’t want to do the same thing?!"
"Steven is the least of our worries right now, okay? Right now, we need to focus on Paris, while not harming any innocent male bystanders…" His handsome face twisted slightly with disgust. "And then horribly maim that little rat bastard when we get back..."
The conversation was cut off abruptly as the Captain and Doctor briskly entered the room, both with their own cocky grins plastered across their faces. The captain’s husky voice filled the eerily quiet room.
"The answer was staring us right in the face…"
"Every time Lt. Janeway was assimilated, her cortical implant re-initialized the information stored within the collective. Along with new data, she downloaded repetitive information that used gigaquads of storing capacity. Her cortical processor wasn’t given sufficient time between assimilations to sort through the information and destroy the duplicate forms of data. Because the cortical implant had insufficient storage capabilities, the implant tried to impress the excess data into the surrounding gray matter. The human brain isn’t designed to interpret and hold information that way…
Janeway’s throaty voice cut the Doctor off. "Why wasn’t this detected earlier?"
"The cortical implant is not only hard to scan, but the data is extremely difficult to interpret… especially for someone with limited exposure to Borg technology...."
2.4 Hours Later
Faint silhouettes swam slowly in front of her eyes… the world nothing but a sea of confusion and colors. Reaching out blindly for something solid, Paris’ hand found strong fingers wrapping around hers. Trying hard to focus on the moving blurs; her eyes centered on a golden haloed face standing inches from her biobed. Squinting, Paris began picking out the faint metal wisps framing her mother’s face. Fighting to sit up on her elbows, Seven’s strong hands steadied her. Groaning softly, her hand coming up to tentatively rub her temple, Paris straightened stiffly.
"How are you… feeling?" Slightly startled, Paris looked up at Seven, her mind’s eye momentarily transforming her into the loving and warm visage of her mother.
Her voice slightly rougher then usual, Paris squeaked out an answer. "Alright… I guess. My head feels kind of… cloudy… foggy."
Out of the very corner of her eye, the young officer caught two more, rather fuzzy, shadows coming from her right. Her other hand gripping the edge of the bed, Paris turned her body slightly, angling towards the newcomers. The chipper voice of the holographic doctor floated over to her.
"And how is our patient doing?"
Still holding onto Seven’s metal-capped hand, she straightened.
"Just fine, Doctor. Ready and willing for duty."
"Lieutenant… I’m over here…"
"Oh, right… sorry Doctor…"
Soft, searching caresses passed between the two women as each one fought back the slowly building tide of tears. Michelle’s tall frame curled protectively around Paris’ as both gently touched the other… reassuring them of the reality of this night. Paris sat up slowly, her body inches away from the woman beneath her. Tentatively reaching out, she slowly traced the stark lines of Michelle’s uniform jacket… her fingers coming to rest of the small zipper at the neck. Her eyes questioning, Paris looked intently at the other woman whose long brown tresses hooded her dark eyes. Long, tapered fingers came up to gently cover Paris’ own, urging them to continue their task. Paris froze, transfixed by the pale hands that covered her own. The dull metallic shine of her inhuman hand contrasted sharply with Michelle’s beautifully elegant fingers. Pale blue eyes closed against the sudden sickening feeling in her stomach. Pulling away, Paris’ voice was a dull whisper.
"I… I’m not like… I used to be. There are still a lot of… implants left and I…"
"Paris, look at me… please…"
Her eyebrow knit together, her hands shaking slightly, Paris raised teary eyes. Michelle’s voice was impossibly quiet as she gently took the smaller hands in her own.
"You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, both inside and out. I never, in my wildest dreams, thought you could ever love me the way I love you. It’s truly a miracle in my eyes."
Michelle paused as she softly brushed away a few stray strands of fiery hair off Paris’ forehead. Leaning forward, Michelle dusted feather-light kisses on the pale forehead and temple… her caresses soothing.
"I love you so much… and that will never change. I promise you that."
Gathering the smaller woman in her arms, Michelle buried her face in the thick auburn hair.
"I’ll never leave you… I’ll always be here to love you with everything that I am."
Soft starlight filtering through the large bay windows bathed the two women gently. Kathryn’s pale face rose to look at the lovely golden framed one, inches above her own. Pale blue eyes stared intently into blue-gray, neither woman saying a word as they gazed at each other. Closing her eyes briefly before looking down at the carpeted floor, Kathryn turned slightly away from Seven. Her uniform clad back facing the glittering starscape, Kathryn’s eyes never lifted. Her arms crossed, with her body leaning against the high desk situated just to the right of her door, Kathryn looked her usual relaxed self. Seven’s voice filled the dimly lit captain’s quarters, oddly musical against the silence.
"I… have come to the conclusion that you have misunderstood aspects of our previous conversations."
An elegantly shaped eyebrow rose high on the smaller woman’s forehead.
Canting her head to one side, Seven pondered her captain, her human eye raking over the smaller form.
"Indeed you have. You have made the incorrect assumption that I was referring to an unknown third party."
Her curiosity thoroughly peeked now, Kathryn turned slightly to look at the stiffly standing woman. The starlight caste Seven’s face in an intricate shadow… her face a series of dips and solid planes. Her stormy eyes masked in darkness, Kathryn watched the blonde woman carefully. Her low, husky voice filled the silence.
"Then, if I may ask, who were you referring to Seven?"
The corn whirled gently in the afternoon wind, the sunlight turning its greening leaves gold. Rows of corn and grass turned the surrounding landscape into a sea of shimmering light, softly reflecting the sun’s darkening rays. The long, wrap-around porch that lay nestled to the side of the old house, overlooked the endless fields.
Two heads sat bowed together… auburn-gray and silver-gold. Their fingers gently intertwined with each other, the two women watched as the little heads poked up above the sea. Their grandchildren’s laughter floating up to them, both smiling as memories washed over them.
"Do you ever think of what… might have been…?"
"No, Kathryn… I think only of you."