Days of Open Hand
Rating: R (so far) for language, homosexual content, violence, and other such things
Uber Setting: the year 2047; a healthy dose of X-Men and Voyager
Summary: A woman with extraordinary abilities realizes she knows very little about life, the universe, and everything when she is rescued by a group of metahumans led by a particularly captivating team captain.
Disclaimer: Paramount owns anything relating to Star Trek, and the writers and actors/actresses own a few of the words. I own the angst!
Feedback: Yes please!!! Katie_x@hotmail.com
A big thanks to Susan T, my amazing and gracious beta-reader
The pain was hot, searing, it started in her chest, radiated quickly out and paralyzed her entire body with its intensity... there wasn't even time enough to scream before the darkness engulfed her.
"Hey, are, are you okay?" The voice was quiet, fragmented by uncertainty and worry. The hand on her shoulder was just as hesitant.
"God, what happened?" she groaned as she slowly and painfully lifted herself into a seated position on the hard, unforgiving floor. Her hands didn't know whether to go to her midsection or her head as the effects of her unwise movements were sharply felt. Mercifully the various points of pain began to dissipate to just dull aches.
She finally opened her eyes, the icy blue locked on to her loan companion. At her side sat a young man, perhaps in his twenties, with unruly brown hair and youthful, albeit apprehensive, dark eyes. Those eyes now flitted from her face to seek out the dark places in the room they were in.
She also took in their uninviting surroundings. The room was dank and tiny, so small that there was barely enough room for her long frame to lie down or to stretch her sore muscles. The floor was cold cement, dirty and hard on her aching body. There were no windows; nothing existed in the room aside from herself and her companion... her cell mate. The thought made her shiver. Her eyes quickly moved to the young man. The single light source from the ceiling cast an eerie green light on the entire room and made his face, which was covered in dirt and what was probably dried blood, appear gaunt and sickly.
"Where are we?" Her voice was hoarse; her question came out raspy. Her slim, pale hand went to her neck unconsciously, but it didn't touch flesh. Her palm touched metal. She felt around the metal band that encircled her neck before a hand abruptly ended her investigation.
"Don't!" It was urgent, a warning. "If you thought the other pain was bad, trying to take that thing off is worse... trust me."
And she found that she did. He let her wrist go quickly; it was then that she noticed he too wore a metal collar.
"Thanks." She figured he had just saved her from another pain induced blackout. "I'm Annika, Annika Hansen." She let that trail off. Introductions first, and then an escape plan to get them the hell out of wherever it was that they were.
"Billy." He smiled a bit, a humorless grin. "Now that the introductions are over... no, I have no idea where we are, or who captured us, but I have a fairly good idea if these things," he touched his own metal collar, "are any indication. 'The Friends of Humanity' or 'The Human Unity League' or some other anti-metahuman bunch of crazies."
"Shit." She had been so careful hadn't she? She hadn't even used her powers in the last year and a half, the last time was when she had been hit straight on by a drunk driver whose truck had completely crumpled her beloved VW bug. And that hadn't even been a conscious use of her powers, it had been automatic self-preservation.
As she sat on the cold floor with Billy, she tried to forcefully eject the metal that would protect her from whatever anti-metahuman group it was that had captured them. She cursed again when she found she couldn't, despite how much she tried. She realized suddenly and with a start that the matching metal collars were responsible. The cold trickle of fear ran down her spine and settled in a frozen lump in the pit of her stomach.
"You can say that again," Billy touched her shoulder in comfort. "I've been here for... for a while. I... I don't even know what day it is..."
"It's Thursday," she replied, though suddenly she wasn't so sure, she had no idea how long she had been unconscious.
"I could never get the hang of Thursdays," was his dry reply. "So... I've been here for about two days now."
"Have they," she hesitated, she wasn't sure if she wanted to know the answer but she had to ask. "Have they... hurt you?"
"They've..." He caught his breath and looked away to the dirty floor. To Annika, Billy seemed to reduce in age as she looked upon his innocent looking face. "Let's just say they didn't take me out for drinks and laughs." Brown blurred eyes met compassionate, icy blue ones.
"I--" Her voice caught as tears welled in her eyes and in her throat. "I'm so sorry, Billy."
It was her turn to put a warm, comforting hand on the young man's shoulder which quaked under her touch. Tears never fell from his eyes, but perhaps that was because he had already expelled all that he had when he was enduring this imprisonment alone.
"Two days huh", he cleared his throat, the heaviness gone from his tone. "I... I want you to know that... They'll come for me. For us. They will."
His voice didn't sound desperate or unsure; the certainty in his eyes and in his voice warmed the cold fear that had made its way across every inch of her body. Billy's tight lipped smile was brief but she could tell it had been meant to be reassuring.
Just as the warmth of his words filled her with hope the clanking of sliding metal filled her chest with a fear she had never felt before in her life. She could hear the clinking of metal and the heavy falls of booted footsteps before she saw them silhouetted in the doorway. Three men, carrying rifles, dressed in well worn fatigues and combat boots. They blocked out most of the light that came from the now visible hallway as they loomed in the doorway. She couldn't see their faces but knew hatred and other terrible things were etched on them. She felt Billy's abrupt movements behind her and then she was quickly behind him as his left arm pushed her body. He stood before the guards in a protective stance.
"Leave her alone." Billy's voice was low and dangerous, something Annika would never have expected from him. The three men laughed, awful laughs.
"What's wrong, freak?" One of the men moved closer to Billy. This man was dangerous and unafraid as he drew back his rifle and brought it down on Billy's head, hard.
"Billy!" Annika caught the falling man's body and brought it slowly to the floor. Her fingers held his bleeding head in her lap. The men's laughter burned hot within her with an anger that quickly engulfed her fear. "You bastard!"
She sprang on the man who had struck Billy so harshly, so cruelly. She had surprised them all, perhaps herself the most, as her lean but toned body brought the man down quickly and with force as her fist collided with his nose.
Before she could get another good solid hit to his now bloodied face, two pairs of hands roughly pulled her away from the swearing man on the floor. She felt herself fly through the air before she collided with one of the cement walls and the air left her lungs in rush. Then the fists came. Her head, her stomach; the blows came fast. She didn't even have time enough to cry out as the fists and boots connected with her slim body. The pale blue t-shirt and the dark jeans she wore were quickly covered with the redness of her blood as she felt her nose break and probably other parts of her body.
The words they yelled at her were almost worse than the blows, sick, terrible things, filled with hate and sadistic glee, there was no humanity in them as they continued with the brutal assault. As the rifle came up to connect with her head as it had Billy's a low rumble sounded and the air seemed to vibrate around her. Finally the blows ceased as the men ran from the room. Her dark red blood stained their clothing and fists. The ringing in her ears ceased as she took uneasy breaths, yes her ribs, they had broken her ribs. Propped against the wall she could see men running frantically past in the well lit hallway as alarm klaxons rang out.
The pain in her body was so intense she wondered why she didn't black out from it Her reinforced skeletal structure came to mind despite the effects of the collar and she knew that was what had probably saved her life and her consciousness. Shouts, male ones of fear, mixed with the alarms. Annika couldn't move, didn't particularly want to move. Billy had told her someone would come for them. Hope began to fill her again but she was more cautious about it now than she had been before.
As it had been before her hope was swiftly extinguished when the man she had attacked stumbled into the cell. He looked much more agitated and less cocky than he had before she had broken his nose. Despite his frazzled appearance he was still dangerous. The rifle he had used to hit Billy was still in his hands, shaky as they were. He could still finish her and Billy and that was apparently what he had planned to do since his shaking arms lifted the rifle to point it directly at Annika. The screams of men and the blare of alarms left her ears swiftly as blood thumped loudly and sweat poured over her body. She was going to die, tonight, in this godforsaken place.
"Stop." The voice was even, male, and sure. The rifle fell as did the man who had been so close to ending Annika's life.
The owner of the voice came into view, he was dark skinned and tall, imposing but comforting. He had, after all, just saved her very existence with one word it would appear. His long fingers tapped a small star shaped piece of metal that was attached to his black outfit, the gold piece emitted a chirp when he touched it.
"I found our missing crewmen and an unknown. I request the doctor's presence. We have injured." His voice was calm, calm and strangely polite to Annika's ears.
It comforted her, and a doctor! She knew she desperately needed one after the beating she had taken. And Billy! Sweet young Billy who had wanted so much to protect her and she had failed him by provoking an attack. No! She hadn't provoked those bastards! She had done nothing!
"Who are you?" Annika's breathing came in gasps due to the pain in her midsection. Her reinforced body must have been weakened from the inhibitor collar, she thought absently.
"You may address me as Psi, less formal introductions will have to wait until we are in a secure location." Her savior crouched before her, his face impassive as he looked calmly at her strained features.
She broke contact first when a bright purple glow appeared in the middle of the room and then slowly grew until it became the size of a refrigerator. Annika gasped in astonishment as two men emerged from the swirling light before the purple glow abruptly disappeared as if it had never been there at all. One of the men was slim with sparse hair and wrinkled features that gave him a perpetually annoyed look, or perhaps, Annika considered, he was perpetually annoyed. The other man looked to be about Billy's age, with the same boyish innocence in his caramel colored features. The sparse man quickly went to Billy's prone figure. As he crouched down he rested his hands over Billy's wound and to Annika's amazement the large, hideous gash on the young man's forehead disappeared before her eyes and she watched with relief as Billy's eyes fluttered a bit and then finally opened completely. There was a moment of confusion, then it was suddenly replaced by recognition and relief.
"Doc!" Billy sat up quickly, he almost laughed with relief and delight. "Am I glad to see you!"
Annika watched as Billy's hands pressed against his chest and sides. Apparently other wounds had been repaired as well. Quickly the doctor removed himself from the floor and came to kneel before her.
"Miss?" The craggy features were compassionate if not a little bit annoyed at the term "Doc". "I'm going to heal your injuries, so I just need you to relax and try not to move. Will you do that for me?" Annika could only nod her head. "Good. You'll feel a slight elevation in your temperature. Nothing to worry about." The last bit was said in a light tone and was accompanied by a closed lipped, though meant to be reassuring, smile.
"Don't worry, Annika." Billy's smile was bright as he wiped the blood off of his face with the back of his shirt sleeve. "The Doc here will get you healed up in no time."
She didn't worry as her body began to hum and heat from an invisible force which seemed to emanate from the doctor's hands as he rested them above her bruised and battered midsection. The pain that had taken the breath from her body disappeared as if it had never existed and the only evidence of injury left behind was the blood on her clothing and skin. She took large, grateful gulps of air.
"Thank you." Annika allowed the doctor's hands, so warm, to help her from the ground. She turned to Billy who was being helped to his feet by the young man who she reasoned had created the purple glow.
"Told ya they'd come." Billy smiled grandly and she laughed softly, filled with delight that he'd be all right, that they both would.
"We must go." The dark, impassive man didn't raise his voice, but everyone knew the urgency of his even words. The police sirens that sounded at an approaching distance hastened their agreement.
"Okay, you might feel a little dizzy." The caramel colored man looked intently at Annika as he grasped her forearm. She didn't tend to appreciate strangers touching her but she assumed it was necessary.
"I don't want you to get lost." He smiled sheepishly at his explanation for his touch.
The purple glow was back, much larger now, almost encompassing the entire room. She started a bit but calmed when her other arm was grasped gently by Billy, the doctor and Psi completed the chain.
"All right, let's go." And with that the leader of the chain stepped in to the purple glow he had created and pulled gently, but unnecessarily as the rest followed quickly behind.
He was right, she did feel dizzy. One moment she was in the garishly green tinted cell and the next she was in a brightly lit room where the floor beneath her hummed against her tennis shoes. The men beside her quickly dispersed from the center of the room and sat in chairs with large computer consoles in front of them. It appeared to be a move all of them had done many times before, it looked to be second nature. Annika ended up just standing in shock as she took in her new surroundings. It looked like one of those spaceships on those old cheesy sci-fi shows her father had liked so much. Large display screens covered the walls and beneath the screens were large panels of flat multi-colored buttons and lights that blinked at seemingly random interval, all of which made it seem very important.
"Miss, please sit down over here." It was the doctor that broke her out of her musings of how much her father would have loved to be where she was right now. Annika let the doctor lead her to a low cushioned bench in the aft section. She sat a few feet away from Billy who smiled reassuringly.
"Hi!" A small strawberry blonde haired girl suddenly stood before Annika. The little girl quickly placed her right hand on Annika's shoulder and her other hand on Billy's. Annika felt an unbelievable lightness in her usually heavy, metal frame. "Okay, Slider!"
The caramel colored man... Slider apparently, took hold of the two metal collars fastened on Annika and Billy's neck and quickly pulled back. Annika gasped as the metal band passed through her neck as if her flesh wasn't even there. The metal collars quickly disappeared in a flash of purple.
"Good riddance." Slider let a look of pure disgust cross his features before he turned a smiling face to the young girl who had let her hands leave Billy and Annika to cross behind her small back.
"Great work, Naomi. The Captain will be proud of you and your completion of this very important mission." His tone was professional, almost too professional.
"Thank you, sir!" Naomi seemed to attempt to be composed and profession but she grinned, almost beamed up at Slider. Pure pride was clearly visible on her small face at such a compliment. Suddenly she turned to Annika. "I hope that wasn't scary. I know sometimes it can be."
"N-no, I..." Annika winced as she saw Naomi's smile fade, now a look that resembled shame crossed the small girl's face. Annika felt a twinge in her chest, she knew that feeling well. "Naomi, is it? I am very grateful to you. It was not scary, it was astounding."
Now Naomi did beam, brightly. She bounced onto the gray cushion as she took a seat at Annika's side. "I don't usually get to go on missions. But I'm glad I got to. Those metal necklaces aren't... good for us."
How Naomi knew this pained Annika, she rested a gentle hand on the young girl's upper back. "No, they aren't. Thank you again."
"Billy!" The sadness in Naomi's eyes was extinguished quicker than Annika could comprehend from a girl so young. "Celes wanted to come on the mission too but she was too far away! Ms. Torres and Mr. Chakotay were going to pick her up in the Delta Flyer."
"It's okay. I know she was out of the country visiting her family." Billy smiled brightly and it complimented the look of adoration in his eyes. Whoever this Celes person was, Annika thought, definitely had Billy's heart. Annika smiled at the warmth of his look.
"Annika, you're in safe hands with Ms. Wildman. I'm going to go get us something to drink. Water?"
Annika nodded and Billy removed himself from the bench with a grin that didn't quite reach his eyes. He exited though a sliding door that Annika hadn't even realized was there. Yup definitely sci-fi stuff here.
"What can you do?" Annika's gaze went back to Naomi who had just asked the question. The little girl's curious eyes rested expectantly on Annika's somewhat uncomfortable features.
"Well, I can...." Annika tried to formulate a way to say it so Naomi would understand, then shook her head. Naomi was apparently in the company of men who could create purple glows to transport people and objects, heal on contact, cause grown men to become unconscious with a word, and Naomi herself seemed to be able to make people intangible. Annika decided a demonstration would be much more efficient. "I'll show you, okay?"
Naomi was almost jumping up and down, but remained calm. She wanted to act like a grown up, but she still fidgeted with delight at the thought that she would soon have new knowledge about the tall blonde lady who sat next to her. Oh how Mezoti would be jealous, Naomi's eyes sparkled.
Billy returned and handed a bottle of water to Annika. She quickly removed the cap and took several large swallows before she smiled thanks to the brown haired man who sat across from her in a chair next to a small computer console. Annika returned her attention back to the fidgeting girl next to her.
"Naomi, please move to the other side of the bench."
Naomi did as directed and curled her legs beneath herself as she watched Annika avidly, unconsciously she held her breath.
Annika inhaled deeply and looked away from Naomi. She turned her icy blue gaze to her own outstretched arm. A loud tearing sound filled the quiet cabin and Annika knew she now had an audience. Metal spikes, three inches long ripped through the epidermis of her forearm without pain but still it didn't lend itself to a very pretty picture as the skin they erupted from tore apart, most of it fell lightly to the floor like falling leaves. The spikes broadened and then bent to fall against her arm and secured themselves with tiny metal fasteners. Openings on the flat pieces of metal revealed themselves when metal bands erupted and encircled her arm loosely at first and then tightened as they were secured and flattened so the metal that encased her was as slim as her fleshy forearm had been. She didn't allow her metallic exoskeleton to extend beyond her elbow or wrist, she didn't want to scare the young girl with her four inch metal claws that formed on the ends of her fingers.
"Wow!" Annika looked from her metal arm to Naomi's awed face. "That's so neat!"
Annika laughed, perhaps more than she should have, but that was the first time anyone had ever referred to her transformation as "neat".
"I suppose it is." Annika smiled brightly. As quickly as it appeared the metal around her arm retracted itself in a similar, albeit reversed, manner in which it came until skin appeared beneath the metal, the rosy tone bespoke its newness.
Annika looked at Psi who merely raised one of his dark angled eyebrows. Then to the doctor who quickly inputted data into his computer console with avid delight. And then to Slider whose eyes were huge, not with disgust, but with awe and wonder.
"Wait till the Captain sees this!" His excited voice seemed to unnecessarily extend the length of his words.
"Who's the Captain?" That was the second time this man had spoken about this individual and it piqued Annika's innate curiosity.
"Captain Janeway! She's the neatest lady ever!" It was Naomi who had answered with her usual enthusiasm. "You'll like her lots! She's super nice. And smart."
"Well if you like her, then she must be pretty neat." Annika smiled, though nothing Naomi said really satisfied her inquisitive mind.
"Hey, guys," an unseen man's voice sounded over a speaker system and filled the cabin. "We'll be home in ten minutes. Make sure your baggage is stored, your tray tables are up and please sit back and enjoy the rest of our flight." The voice cut off with a small chuckle.
It suddenly struck Annika that she had no idea where this "home" was, she was so caught up in all the action and excitement that she had just allowed herself to go along for the ride, something she rarely did.
"Um, where are we going? I kind of need to get home." She looked from one face to another. It was Psi who spoke, even as always.
"I regret to inform you that you cannot... go home at the moment, it is no longer safe. It's likely that 'The Friends of Humanity' now have your profile in their records and may attempt to harm you again. It is therefore logical to bring you to our secure base." Psi didn't have a whole lot of emotion in his tone, but he seemed to be trying to ease the idea of Annika going somewhere completely unfamiliar to her.
Her profile? It wasn't over? Annika was now very glad she lived alone.
"Okay, but just for tonight. I do have to get home soon."
"The Captain will want to speak with you." Psi's sure voice didn't seem to allow for any argument. Though someone did jus that.
"I think that Miss..." The doctor turned to her with an expectant look.
"Hansen, Annika Hansen." Annika sat a bit straighter, her hands rested on top of her thighs.
"I think that Miss Hansen could do well with food and a good night's sleep, perhaps a bath." He looked at her bloodied shirt with a bit of irritation and sadness, a feat he pulled off admirably.
Yup, perpetually annoyed, Annika thought.
"The inquisition can happen tomorrow. I'm sure the Captain would agree that Miss Hansen has gone through quite a harrowing ordeal and needs her rest." There was a certain smugness to his tone that just about challenged someone to disagree.
"A logical conclusion, Doctor. I was not stating that the Captain would wish to speak with Ms. Hansen this evening. Though perhaps a talk with Kes would be beneficial." Psi hadn't seemed particularly put off by the doctor's words. His voice as impassive as his face.
"A bath sounds wonderful and I am sort of hungry. I-I don't even know how long I was down in that... place." Memories of the past few hours made her shudder with a chill that she alone felt. Sympathetic eyes rested upon her and she had to look away. She didn't need sympathy, she needed to feel safe and secreted away again.
"All right, gang," the disembodied voice sounded again. "We're here."
Annika was startled, something she was quite tired of being, when a loud hissing sound preceded the opening of a door and the lowering of a ramp at the opposite side of the ship from the bench she sat upon.
"We're home!" Naomi grasped Annika's forearm, the same one that had been encased in metal moments before, and led her down the ramp.
Two women were the first visions to greet Annika as she descended the ramp with Naomi, the others not far behind. Slider and the doctor nodded politely at Naomi and Annika and then at the two women who had greeted them before they exited through a large sliding metal door on the other side of the room. Psi remained unobtrusively by the aircraft.
Annika regarded the two women before her with curious blue eyes. One was a petite woman dressed in a dark purple and pink dress with short cropped blonde hair and elfin features that held a warm smile. The other was a tall willowy woman with long chestnut colored hair and wide brown eyes, her worried eyebrows crinkled the skin between them. She was slim built and just an inch or two shorter than Annika, her frame shook as she fidgeted.
Annika felt a displacement of air beside her and quickly realized it was Billy running down the ramp. The slim brunette was lifted off the ground when Billy hugged her. Ah, Celes, Annika grinned.
"Billy! I was so scared!" Celes had tears in her eyes but they were held tight.
"I know, I'm okay though." Billy didn't loosen his hold on Celes, but he did let her feet touch the ground. "Let's just go home, okay." Celes only smiled.
"Billy..." The elfin blonde seemed to hold back a bit.
"Sure," Billy only glanced quickly to the small blonde before he turned his attention back to Celes. "But later, okay?"
"Of course," The blonde didn't shrug but it was close to it. "Just call me... anytime."
"Okay, sure, thanks." And with that Billy and Celes, arm in arm, didn't exactly run out of the cavernous room.
The petite blonde sighed contently before she turned her violet eyes to Annika. "Hello, I wanted to welcome you to our home," her voice was as warm as her smile. She appeared so young to Annika but there was something about her voice and in her eyes that seemed to give the small woman an air of wisdom and agelessness.
"Thank you... Captain Janeway?" Annika stuck out her hand for a shake. A small hand accepted it readily. Amusement filled the almost violet eyes that regarded her. This woman really did look like an elf, Annika thought, the only thing missing were pointed ears.
"No, I'm not Captain Janeway. My name is Kes. I was hoping to speak with you for a bit, if you'd like? I'm the resident counselor."
So, this was the Kes that Psi had mentioned earlier. "Maybe," Annika couldn't believe her own words. In all her years she had never given much credence to therapy. The idea of telling a complete stranger her fears and desires and things that should be kept secret, especially her abilities, had always been unappealing to her. "But first, I think I'd like to clean up a bit."
"Of course. We've set up guest quarters for you to use."
Kes' voice was smooth, silky, deeper and more full bodied than her appearance would seem to indicate, thought Annika. It had a calming effect on her that she hadn't really realized until the tension from the last few hours dissipated.
"I'm sorry I didn't get your name."
"Annika, Hansen." They should all just wear name tags, it'd be more efficient.
"She can do the coolest thing, Kes!" Naomi piped up, she had endured as much of this interaction as she could.
"I'm sure she can, Naomi," Kes looked down upon the strawberry haired girl, though that was only a few inches. "But I'm sure Ms. Hansen is exhausted so how about we wait to see tomorrow, okay. And I believe you have a certain, rather anxious, roommate waiting up for you."
"Oh!" Naomi ran to where Billy and Celes had disappeared a few moments ago before she seemed to remember something. She turned back around quickly and waved. "Bye, Annika!" And then she was off.
"How about I show you to your room?" Kes waved her hand absently as if to stop someone from approaching. Annika hadn't noticed that Psi had stepped a little closer to the two of them or when he had stepped back per Kes' action. "Before Tom gets done with post-flight protocols and volunteers to be your tour guide."
Annika shrugged and followed Kes to the metal doors that stood a few hundred feet away from where she had disembarked. When they got to the doors, Annika looked back once to check out the aircraft she had just been in and almost tripped. It was amazing. Black and sleek, almost like a stealth bomber but much smaller. She was surprised when she saw a blonde man in a black outfit, exactly like the other men who had rescued her, as he jumped rather recklessly from the open hatch near the nose and landed soundly on the ground. Roguish... Annika didn't exactly roll her eyes as she followed Kes through the sliding doors.
Kes regarded the woman who walked next to her with level violet eyes. This Annika Hansen was slim, yet feminine, and tall, so tall that Kes felt a bit like an elf next to her. Annika's blonde hair, narrow features, and icy blue eyes gave the woman a cool yet very attractive look, despite the fact that there was some dried blood on the lower part of her face. The bloodstains on the woman's light blue t-shirt would probably never get clean, Kes thought sadly. She wasn't saddened at the thought that the shirt was destroyed, but the means by which it was so irreparably ruined.
"What is this place?" Annika's voice held awe, laced with a hint of trepidation.
"It's a school." Kes kept her voice light. She almost laughed at the wave of incredulity that hit her.
"A school?" Annika looked behind her once more with disbelief as she thought about what laid behind the large sliding metal doors they had just passed through. "What kind of school has... those?" A pale hand gestured in the general direction of the two shuttlecrafts.
"A special school." Kes felt the small wave of annoyance that radiated off the tall woman and decided she shouldn't push her luck. "The main purpose of this institute is to provide a safe place for metahumans to learn more about their abilities and how to control them. Aside from powers training, this is a fully functional, albeit small and secluded boarding school. You've already met some of the faculty."
Kes stopped in front of a control panel and punched in her access code. A pair of metal doors whooshed open, it almost sounded like a sigh, Kes stepped in followed by Annika.
They rode the lift silently. Kes allowed the silence knowing the turmoil of emotions that churned in the seemingly calm and cool woman next to her. Terrible fear, frustrated anger, relief, curiosity, fatigue...
"Here we are," Kes broke the silence as the doors opened swiftly and revealed a brightly lit hallway, inviting with its warm toned color palette.
Dark beige walls and rich burgundy carpeting was offset by small low mahogany tables set on either side of wide hall with comfortable dark chestnut colored leather chairs. The two identical looking tables each had small vases of white flowers, tulips, set upon them. The appearance was that of warmth and comfort along with expense and order, the large spaced out chandeliers provided the hall with bright light, but not overly so.
"These are the guest quarters." Kes gestured towards the six closed doors, three on each side.
The petite blonde haired woman moved to the first door on the right and entered a code in to the access panel next to the dark wooden door, it slid open just as readily as the metal ones did. Kes led Annika into the room that automatically brightened when the two entered.
The room had the same feel as the hallway, warm and rich, soothing but efficient. Covering the large, main room of the guest quarters were hard wood floors, dark beige walls with mahogany borders and large windows on one side overlooked the gardens. The living room was furnished with a plush burgundy leather couch and a matching recliner. On the glass coffee table in front of the couch sat a vase full of multicolored flowers. A large cabinet filled up the wall next to the door, while across from the couch and chair there was an entertainment system. Taking up a portion of the room were a small kitchen and a dark wooden table with four chairs that sat beneath a small chandelier. There was a partition that blocked the view from the door to the bedroom and bathroom.
"I'll let you wash up. There's clothing in the bedroom closet and everything you need is in the bathroom." Kes made her way back to the door as she left Annika to take in her new surroundings that were much different than the sterile backdrop of the shuttle bay. "The fridge is well stocked, but if you want something else just call the kitchen. The number is indicated on the phone."
"Thank you." Annika's reply was soft and distant to Kes' ears.
"Annika, I'll be back in an hour." Kes smiled one last time at Annika's now relaxed back and left.
"Oh, gross." Annika took in the blood that had crusted around her mouth and on her chin with disgust. "Why didn't anyone tell me I looked like the other guy?"
Annika tore her gaze away from the mirror above the small sink and started the removal of her stained clothing. She tossed her ruined blue shirt into the garbage, angry that those bastards had ruined her favorite comfy shirt. The jeans dropped as did her dark blue panties and bra, the bloodied bra also went the way of the t-shirt. She regarded her trim waist in the mirror and turned so that she could see different sides of it. No bruising or marks at all, just the memory of the attack. She pulled herself away from the memories and sighed before she turned the shower on as hot as it would go and stepped in. She enjoyed the slight sting and the reddening of her skin as the hot water flowed over her hair, face, and body. She lowered the temperature to a more comfortable degree before she squirted purple colored shampoo into the palm of her hand and started the process of becoming herself again.
A thick lavender scent filled the steamed up bathroom and lingered on Annika's body as she wrapped a fluffy blue towel around herself. She stuffed one end of the material between her breasts to keep it secured as she padded out of the bathroom into the shocking cool air of the bedroom. She opened the small closet that stood unobtrusively in one corner of the room, most of it had been taken up by a large four poster bed. Whoever designed this room was decadent, Annika smiled in appreciation. She pulled out a large terry cloth robe, the same blue as the towel she had just dropped to the floor. After she had the robe secured she scooped up the discarded towel, along with the rest of her clothes and dumped the lot into a hamper next to the closet. Annika didn't feel like getting into clothing just yet so instead she made her way through the hall to the kitchen.
Kes had been right, the fridge was packed. Annika pulled a few items out and set them on the gray marble counter next to the refrigerator. She looked at the orange and fat free soy yogurt, thought better of it and placed them back in the fridge. She opened the freezer and pulled out a gallon of soy vanilla ice cream and placed the unopened container next to the plastic box full of lush strawberries. Now I just need a spoon, she thought happily.
Warm and clean, Annika sat at the table with her ice cream, strawberries, and pomegranate sparkling juice and started in. So avidly did she enjoy the sweetness of it all that she didn't hear the chime until the third ring. Kes probably, Annika looked up at the clock that read ten minutes until eight, right on the dot.
"Just a second." Annika looked guilty at the half eaten container of ice cream before she reluctantly replaced the lid, put the carton back in the freezer and the plastic dish now devoid of strawberries in the recycling unit. The spoon was licked clean before it was placed in the sink. Annika approached the door but stopped when she realized there was no door handle or locking mechanism on the door. The only noticeable marking was a small lit square to the side that had a small star symbol and a keypad. She took a guess and pressed the lit star. The door slid back with a sigh.
"Hi. Come on in." Kes followed Annika to the couch and sank comfortably on the opposite end from the tall blonde.
"So..." Annika wrapped her arms around her legs and turned more fully towards the small blonde woman who seemed to radiate comfort and wisdom just from her steady violet gaze. "What do you want to talk about?"
"Let's start with what you want to talk about and go from there." Kes regarded her with patient eyes until the realization that Annika had no idea where to begin dawned on her. "How are you feeling?"
"Right now?" Annika pulled her legs closer. "Angry, confused, pissed off that I'm so scared. I've never felt so... unprotected before."
"Because of your powers?" Kes was curious as to what abilities this woman possessed, her natural inclination would have been to ask Annika to demonstrate, but she stamped down the urge effectively.
"Yes." Annika looked down at her pale hands that were crossed a top the dark blue of the robe on her knees. "And because... I don't really ever use my... powers. The last time was about a year and a half ago. To save my life. And before that, I don't know, five years maybe? I don't really find a need to become a big metal box in my day to day life, you know. I guess I felt safe. That no one knew my secret. That I could lead a normal life." She looked at Kes with troubled eyes. "How did they know?"
The warmth in Kes' features faded for the first time since Annika first met her in the shuttle bay. The certainty was gone and was replaced with confusion touched with fear.
"We don't know for certain. Their computer banks were completely destroyed, self-destruct, and the men who held you captive were mercenaries for hire by the Friends of Humanity group. They didn't apprehend you, they were merely hired to hold you. Why, we don't know." She shook her blonde head, the fringed bangs shifted a bit on her forehead. "But we will find out how they located you and for what purpose," the resolve and assuredness was back. "And you are well protected here."
"I do feel... safe." Annika looked around the comforting room a bit before she looked back at Kes. "I'm very grateful to you, to Billy, to everyone, I probably would have died in that cell."
"I am truly sorry that happened to you, Annika." Kes let the sympathetic words wash over the tall blonde.
Annika straightened, the tears started to form but she held them back. "I am too. But it did, and now I'm okay, and Billy's okay. But some other people out there won't be so lucky... will they?"
"No, they won't be." Kes decided not to tell Annika about the two deaths that had already been claimed by the Friends of Humanity, a terribly inappropriate name for such a vicious group. "But we're going to try to prevent anyone else from going through what you just did."
Annika merely nodded her head in response. "Kes, I think I'd like to go to bed now."
"Of course." Kes rose quickly but gracefully to her feet. "Annika, if you need anything, just call." She indicated the phone with a wave of her hand. "Anytime."
"All right." Annika had stood too and she followed Kes to the door and pressed the star. The door slid open with another sigh. "Good night, Kes, and thank you."
"Good night." Kes offered one last smile before she turned and the door slid shut.
Annika looked at the pad and pressed the "Lock" button. She turned the lights off that had illuminated the kitchen/dining room and living room and used the moonlight that pooled in from the large bay windows to direct her way to the bedroom. She allowed the robe to drop to the floor in a heap before she moved to the small closet and pulled out an oversized navy blue t-shirt with a large "V" imprinted on the left breast. She pulled back the bedding and climbed in. As she lied there her gaze rested on the moonlit view from the large window in the bedroom. She had just resigned herself to the fact that sleep would not come when the darkness swept her away.
She woke with a start. Sweat beaded on her brow and ran down her neck. She looked around the room quickly, where was she, she didn't know at first and then she remembered. She had gotten coffee after lunch and then there had been the burning pain. She had awakened in a green lit cell with Billy, a collar around her throat that had prevented her from using her abilities, and then Billy and she had been beaten by the guards, anti-metahuman bastards.
"Well hell," breathed Annika.
She whipped the blankets from her overheated body, the remaining evidence of her nightmare. She swung her long slim legs around and settled her feet in the softness of the rug. Water, she needed water, she padded to the kitchen and downed a glass, and then another, with visible movements of her throat. She glanced at the clock and her eyebrows furrowed at the time. 3:37.
Annika placed the empty glass in the sink with an audible thunk. She debated whether or not to just begin her day, but there wasn't anything she could really do here, it wasn't her apartment after all. She decided to make some nice warm tea to help soothe her back to sleep, at least she hoped it would.
As she set the large metal teapot on the stove to heat, she contemplated her rather odd situation. She had taken a two week sabbatical after her work had been completed. She had intended on catching up on some reading or perhaps she would just sit in front of the television with plenty of Vid Chips on hand. But it hadn't quite worked out that way, so now, after having been kidnapped and beaten, she was here at a school, for people like her. She had never given great consideration to idea of anyone being like her. She had never had metahuman friends, or none that she had known about at least. It was strange to consider being some place where all the people were metahumans. Imagine... not having to hide...
She pulled the string of the tea bag as she poured the boiling water in the large white ceramic mug. Satisfied by the aroma, she made her way to the large bay windows that took up most of the outer wall of the living room. The moonlight bathed the expansive garden that she gazed down upon in an ethereal light and she decided this place was quite beautiful and well taken care of. More like a home than a school, or at least any school she had gone to. She had never attended those stuffy boarding schools the children of the people her father worked with had attended, and she was always glad for that. She thought of the garish red and blue plaid skirts and sweater vests and almost shuddered. She had preferred her torn jeans and band t-shirts, thank you very much, not to mention her dyed hot pink and purple hair when she had been a teen. She smiled at the memory until something suddenly caught her eye.
Annika's eyebrows created a crease between them as she squinted in a rather futile attempt to extend the range of her eyesight. Something had been falling from the sky. No, not falling, floating, and it was coming closer. Quickly, Annika flung herself against the wall so as not to be seen by whatever it was that had been drifting closer to her. Was it a person? Annika's curiosity won out over her self-control and common sense and she took a peek out the window. It was a person. A woman more accurately. Annika hid her body as she craned her neck to look out the window at the woman who dropped slowly and gracefully to the ground from quite an impressive height. Annika couldn't see the woman's face very clearly as it was now turned away from her, however she couldn't help but notice how the silky pink robe accentuated a slim petite frame rather attractively. Annika watched in appreciation as long slightly curled hair drifted in the wind, as if the woman were still in the sky. The woman appeared to contemplate the gardens before she turned her gaze to the bubbling fountain. Hands went to the silky waist of her robe before the woman dropped them to her side and pushed gently off the ground. She quickly floated out of Annika's sight, high above the second story window.
Annika had to take several deep even breaths before she was composed enough to emerge from her hiding spot behind the large curtains, she turned fully in front of the window again. Her neck craned up to try to catch a glimpse of the woman who had just stopped her heart. She sighed in disappointment that she could see nothing but the stars in the sky. She left the window and moved towards the couch. She set the half empty mug on the coffee table in front of her before she relaxed her tall frame against the soft, cool cushion of leather. Her mind still reeled from the sight of the woman who had descended on the garden like an angel, bathed in moonlight. When she had turned towards the fountain Annika had gotten her first clear view of the woman's face. It was a beautiful face with high clearly defined cheekbones, a strong chin, an elegant nose, and above all the most startling eyes that seemed to glow with energy. The pursed lips and furrowed brow gave the woman a sad expression that Annika wondered about. Before she had gotten her fill, the woman had gently left the ground just as gracefully as she had descended upon it and was gone.
Annika pulled the afghan that was laid across the top of the couch onto her as she settled into the couch cushions that were warmed by her body heat. Her thoughts remained on the woman in the garden before the warmth of the cushions and the blanket caused her quick unconsciousness.
Annika jumped, startled, and fell in an ungraceful heap on the floor between the coffee table and the couch she had just been so nicely and happily sleeping on.
"What the hell!"
Annika whipped the now irritating and twisted up afghan off of her body as she tried to get untangled and stand up at the same time. She finally managed to get the blanket off and stomped towards the large windows that now streamed in bright sunlight. Her hands were braced on the window sill as she took in the scene in front of her.
The rather roguish blonde haired man, Tom, Annika remembered, from the shuttle bay flew past her window in a rather haphazard way. Each time he veered quickly, it was always quickly, a loud BOOM sounded, and it was starting to royally piss off Annika who still had the residual feelings of her dream, a rather sensual one if the condition of her body was any indication. Annika creased her brow with frustration and opened the window with force.
"What the hell are you doing?" she shouted. Not the most brilliant question, but damn it Annika was pissed off and the afterglow of her dream was now becoming uncomfortable and annoying.
"Huh?" Tom skidded to a stop, visible fiery orange and yellow energy crackled and laced around him which gave the dark black and red suit he wore, similar to the one he had sported the night before, an appearance of being on fire. He smiled slowly as he bobbed in front of the open window. "Oh. Why, hello."
The tone of voice just annoyed Annika further.
"You know some people are trying to sleep around here and don't appreciate you..." She cast her hands about in the air. "Booming around."
"Sleeping? It's 11:30!" Tom smirked, seemingly not put off at all by Annika's brusque behavior.
"I didn't realize it was so late." Annika almost blushed. She realized that she had been atrociously rude, but this smirking man had interrupted a rather pleasant dream.
"No problem." Tom grinned brightly, he looked to be around Annika's age but he had a boyish look to him that seemed to make him look more innocent than Annika figured he was. "It's almost lunchtime, if you're hungry. I would be honored to escort you. You can even meet some of the others."
Annika's thoughts went back to the woman in the garden. "Sure, just let... I'm gonna go get changed."
"I'm sure no one would mind if you just wore that." And with that he boomed off leaving a rather seething Annika.
Annika hadn't particularly appreciated the once over she had just received. Who was this guy, he was like one big hormone flitting noisily around. Not at all as graceful as... Annika sighed at the thought of the star of her dream. She shook it off as she made her way to the bathroom to brush her teeth and find something a little less comfortable to wear.
She had just pulled on a blue fleece sweatshirt when her chime rang. She slipped into black flip flops and smoothed the bottom of the pullover against the dark blue yoga pants she wore. They didn't quite fit and ended at her calf, but they'd do. She made her way to the door as she tied her shoulder length blonde hair back in a ponytail. She pressed the star and stepped back as the door slid open to reveal Tom.
"Hi," his voice was bright and friendly and not just a little bit cocky. "I'm Tom Paris, your escort to our illustrious mess hall."
Annika had the urge to pop him one but reined it in, instead she looked him up and down and smirked at the agitation it caused in the cocky blonde man. "I was warned about you, Paris."
"Little ole' me?" Tom's face was a fake look of innocence and insult. He stepped back into the hallway to allow Annika to exit the flat. He walked next to her silently as he contemplated how to handle this woman. "So..."
"I'm a lesbian." Annika grinned as she continued to stroll down the hallway and left a gawking Tom in her wake.
"Oh," Tom quickly overcame the initial shock and caught up with the tall blonde.
"That's not a problem is it?" Annika continued to smirk.
"What?" Tom's cockiness actually subsided as he attempted to ascertain if this woman was needling him. "Course not. Homophobia was so 2008." He shrugged. "Sides, when you see a guy rip off his own arm and grow another in a matter of seconds, things like lesbians aren't such a big deal, ya know?" He pressed the star to open the elevator they now stood in front of.
They rode the elevator silently, though not uncomfortably. Annika allowed Tom to lead the way as they exited the lift after a few moments. It hadn't felt like they were going down so much as they had gone down quickly and then had gone sideways for a while until they had stopped.
Annika took in her new surroundings as she followed Tom down the wide hallway. On the right side she could see a large library though the windows that ran along the wall. On the other side she could see a gym. All standard looking stuff for a school that housed metahumans, Annika thought.
Tom and Annika activated the automatic doors and stepped through. The chattering of voices greeted them as Tom led her to a table that held several people she had already met and a few others she hadn't yet, but none of them were the woman she saw in the garden. Had she dreamt the whole thing?
Annika eased into an empty chair that was between Psi and the doctor. Tom Paris plopped down in a chair next to a rather surly looking woman with dark hair and eyes and smooth dark skin. On the other side of Paris sat Kes. Annika again had the urge to roll her eyes.
Tom helped himself to the large bowl of rice and steaming bowl of green curry tofu before he indicated for Annika to also help herself. She happily complied as the gurgling in her stomach became more pronounced, perhaps she should have had something a bit more substantial than ice cream and strawberries the night before.
"Ms. Hansen," Annika turned to the monotone voice of the large man that sat next to Kes. "I'm Chakotay." He waved an annoyed hand at Tom. "You've obviously already had the pleasure of meeting Paris. And Kes. Tuvok." Chakotay indicated Psi, the dark skinned man merely nodded in greeting, "and Dr. Lewis Zimmerman." The sparse haired man with the healing touch didn't smile but he did give her an even look before he turned back to his palm sized computer. "And this is B'Elanna Torres." The dark featured woman didn't smile either, but gave her an appraising look before she turned back to her own palm sized computer.
"Please, just call me Annika, I--" her voice was cut off as a bustle of noise erupted in the room from the now open doors as a flustered looking Slider and a half a dozen children followed loudly behind. Annika immediately recognized Naomi and smiled in recognition.
"See, there she is!" Naomi didn't point exactly, but she might as well have.
Annika stood up and smoothed her pullover down before she walked over to the group of children. Three teens followed Naomi. One of them was a rail thin brown haired boy who appeared to be a bit broader in the back than she would have figured he would be with his lanky frame. The other two looked similar enough that Annika figured that they were probably sister and brother. Beside Naomi was a small girl with long curly cinnamon colored hair and a skeptical, rather unimpressed look on her young face. The last of the group were a pair of twins who had the same exact expression of complete indifference on their features.
"Hello, I'm Annika." Introductions were made quickly. The teens were Icheb, Beatrice and Henry Burleigh, the skeptical looking girl was Mezoti and the twins were Rebi and Azan.
"And I'm Harry, Harry Kim." Annika drew her attention away from the kids who were now in the process of clamoring to their table to rest on Slider. His look wasn't as cocky as Tom's but no less appreciative.
Honestly, thought Annika, these men are so hormonal. At least Tom and Harry were. She gained absolutely no attention from the doctor and Psi... Lewis and Tuvok. And this Chakotay guy seemed to be as unemotional as a block of wood.
"Nice to see you again, Harry." He beamed and led her back to the table, his hand didn't touch the small of her back but she knew it was pretty close. She sat back down and devoured her meal with relish, it was really very good. She said so and Kes smiled back at her warmly.
"Neelix will appreciate that." Annika watched as Kes looked around the mess hall before her gaze settled on the man that approached their table from the other side of the room. Where the kitchen was, Annika supposed.
A stout balding man dressed in almost obnoxiously bright colors of orange and blues sat in an empty seat and helped himself to the meal he had just prepared. Before he took his first bite his eyes locked onto Annika. Annika figured he had probably just noticed her presence.
"Who do we have here?" Neelix extended his freckled, chubby hand over his full plate to Annika. "I'm Neelix. The resident chef here." His voice was high and pinched, but warm and friendly as well.
"Annika." She shook the offered hand before he let go and began to eat. "Your food is quite good."
With his mouth full, Neelix merely beamed happily, a blush faintly colored his rather bulbous nose and cheeks. And with that, Annika finished the large potion that had only resided momentarily on her plate.
A chirp interrupted the satisfied food haze Annika had been in as she had silently taken in the idle chatter of her eating companions.
"Chakotay, here." The burly man had touched the same type of metal star she had seen the night before, but now it blended in better with regular clothing than the black suits her rescuers wore. She suddenly wondered where Billy was. Probably with Celes still. Annika smiled.
"Chakotay, is Ms. Hansen there?" A warm husky voice filled Annika's ears as heat trickled down her throat to rest in the pit of her stomach like whiskey. Had her last name ever sounded so sexy?
"Yes, she's actually sitting right here." Chakotay's dark eyes rested on Annika. The intricate tattoo above his black left eyebrow crinkled as he regarded the blonde.
"Ms. Hansen," the voice hit Annika with another wave of heat. She was certain her name had never ever sounded as sexy.
"Y-yes?" Annika shifted uncomfortably in her seat as all conversation seemed to cease around her.
"This is Kathryn Janeway, would you please come to my office? I would like to speak with you for a bit, if I could." The voice was friendly, but held a hint of command, as if the request wasn't particularly optional.
"Sure, yes, of course." Annika had already stood up.
"Thank you. Janeway out."
Annika stopped, she suddenly felt a bit light headed. She was going to meet the enigmatic Captain Janeway.
"Just take the elevator or the stairs one floor down. Her office is at the end of the hall, well actually right below us really." Tom smiled at the look of consternation that graced Annika's narrow features. "I know. It feels like you're being called to the principal's office huh? Don't worry; she's a big ole softie." The last part was said in a secretive whisper and ended with a wink.
"Uh huh." Annika moved quickly, albeit unsteadily to the door. She turned quickly around and waved nervously. "It was nice to meet you all." The doors to the Mess Hall slid closed as she departed.
"Wow." Harry's eyes had followed the retreating form with ill concealed appreciation.
Tom laughed. "Oh, Harry, Harry, Harry." The man was going to be crushed again, Tom thought sympathetically. He had been a bit disappointed that he and the tall blonde would never be anything more than perhaps friends. Tom also wondered at the look of panic that had graced the tall blonde's face. He shrugged and went back to his tofu filled plate, what he wouldn't give for a damned pepperoni pizza.
Tom had been right, Annika did have the distinct feeling that she had just been called to the principal's office. She descended the stairs swiftly and pushed open the door at the bottom of the stairwell. The hallway that greeted her was similar to the one she had just been in with Tom. Though on the side that had housed the library the space was taken up by a rather formal looking ballroom and on the opposite side was a room that appeared to be conference room.
She proceeded forward before she stepped in front of a desk there sat a rather bored looking young man with a receding hairline and a slouched posture. He barely acknowledged her presence before he tapped a button on the side of his desk.
"She's here." He slouched back in his seat, even more so now. He lifted a small computer closer to his face as he tapped a few buttons on it and appeared to be done with Annika altogether.
"Thank you, Mr. Harren." The husky voice that emanated from a small speaker on the desk seemed to hold a tone of patient irritation.
Annika quirked an eyebrow at the man's rather rude behavior but decided it wasn't really her problem. She was nervous, nervous to meet the woman who embodied that sensual husky voice that Annika had already begun to appreciate. As Annika moved in front of the large doors a beep sounded before they slid open to reveal a large office with two comfortable looking brown leather couches on one side, a closed door on the opposite side, and an ancient looking cabinet next to the huge bay windows that overlooked a large patio.
Annika stopped cold when her gaze rested on the large rich colored wooden desk that had several small items set upon it as well as a large computer console and a metal mug that had steam wafting out of it. Or more accurately she froze as the air rushed out of her when she took in the petite woman who sat behind the desk and who had yet to look up. The woman's eyes were focused on a thin metal display that had information scrolled across the flat surface. Rich, auburn hair was swept up in a French twist and revealed the elegant face Annika had caught a glimpse of early that morning. The look of sadness it had held was now replaced with concentration. The rectangular red rimmed glasses set on the end of the small slightly upturned nose and her pursed lips gave the woman a rather studious air. Annika felt the air leave her once again when the woman looked up. Blue-gray eyes, the most intense eyes Annika had ever seen, regarded her with keen intelligence. The woman set her glasses on the surface in front of her before she stood up and pushed away from her desk to come around and stand in front of Annika.
"Ms. Hansen," Kathryn Janeway held her hand out to Annika. "As I said before, my name is Kathryn Janeway, but most people around here call me 'Captain'. Please have a seat."
"I prefer to stand." Whoa, where did that come from? Annika wondered.
Oh no, she had it bad if she was already becoming contrary. Her natural defense mechanism when she was faced with a beautiful woman was to become impassive and defiant, not exactly endearing but it helped Annika feel protected. That elegant, fine boned hand that seemed to hold some sort of unseen power felt too good in her hand, brief as the shake was and her palm still tingled from the contact.
"All right," The husky voice of Kathryn Janeway held a bit of a question and Annika had caught the quick look of annoyance before it was replaced with an impeccable appearance of authority and professionalism.
Annika didn't feel too protected by her preference to stand as Janeway leaned against the front of her desk. Her arms crossed over a modest chest that was covered in a soft burgundy mock turtleneck, the long black skirt stopped at the woman's ankles which were crossed over one another, Annika wondered how far up those high healed leather boots went before she brushed the thought aside feeling slight heat in her cheeks.
"I'm not sure how much you know about what this place is but I thought I could answer some of your questions, if you'd like." Annika regarded the open features before her as she attempted to keep an impassive expression on her own.
"Kes told me this place was a school, for metahumans." Annika looked away from the rather intimidating and intense gaze the other woman had fixed on her and instead took in the rest of the office.
"Yes, that's right." Janeway's eyes never wavered even as she retrieved the mug of coffee, if the aroma was any indication, from her desk and took a long drink from it. "At the present there are four primary students and three secondary. We have a diverse curriculum here including art, mathematics, biology, music, literature and anthropology. You've already met most of the staff, the faculty at any rate, and of course... Mr. Telfer, Celes, and our Mr. Harren."
"How is Billy?"
Annika thought she saw something dark pass over Janeway's eyes before they became impassive again.
"Mr. Telfer is recuperating from his ordeal." This time Janeway's eyes did flicker away from Annika as she set the now empty mug back on the desk. "How are you feeling, Ms. Hansen?"
"How do you think I'm feeling?" Annika couldn't stop herself as much as she hadn't meant to lash out or raise her voice at the petite auburn haired woman who she noticed hadn't even flinched at the tone. "One minute I'm enjoying my holiday with a cup of coffee and the next minute I'm a prisoner being beaten to near death for no reason whatsoever other than being... different."
"I know it must have been very... difficult."
Annika's grunt was ignored as Janeway went on. "But I want you to know that we are doing everything in our power to find out who or what they used to find you and Mr. Telfer and put an end to it."
"I'd like to just go home. Return to my normal life." Annika made a move to the door as her emotions were beginning to bubble within her. She was about to cry in front of this complete stranger and there weren't many things that made Annika feel more foolish than to cry in front of someone, or really just cry in general.
"I'm sorry but that's just not an option right now." Janeway had removed herself from the desk and now stood in front of Annika. Despite the height difference, Annika felt that the other woman had all the power and that also made her blood boil with anger.
"Now I'm a prisoner here too?" Annika knew it didn't really make much sense to lash out at this woman but she was convenient and it kept her from thinking of Janeway in the manner she had that morning.
"No, not a prisoner, but we do want to make sure you're safe, Annika." The husky voice rose at the end. Annika figured Janeway was as surprised as she was that her first name fell from the other woman's lips.
"I'd feel safer if you found out how those bastards found me in the first place." Annika's voice was dangerously low, but quivered a bit as she reigned in her emotions as well as she could.
"I assure you, we will."
If Annika had thought her voice was dangerous it was nothing compared to how the husky usually warm tones dropped a few octaves and became cold hard ice, the blue-gray eyes shifted to a stormy gray before they lightened again to a slate gray.
"Would you be willing to stay until we do?" Again, there was enough of a hint of command that Annika felt she really had very little choice in the matter.
Annika looked into blue-gray eyes filled with hope and made her decision. "I'll need to retrieve some things from my apartment, the office won't be expecting me for another week or so..."
Annika's anger and frustration began to ebb a bit. This woman, these people, had saved her life, and seemed to genuinely just want to keep her safe. She almost apologized, but her stubborn pride prevented the words from forming.
"I suppose a short excursion could be in order. I'll send Ms. Torres and Kes with you, if you approve."
Annika nodded in agreement.
Janeway smiled, grateful that she had the tall blonde's cooperation. The gray now had more pronounced traces of blue. Annika wondered if this woman knew how easily her shifts in moods could be read from her eyes rather than the actual expression on her face that always seemed a bit cool and impassive.
"I'm about to lead a class if you'd like to have a look at the less conventional courses we provide here?"
Intrigued, Annika merely nodded her head. She followed the petite woman from the large office and past an oblivious Mr. Harren. Annika wondered how such a direct, authoritative woman could stand to have such an obtuse secretary. She couldn't help but pull a face as he continued to study and press buttons on the small computer console that rested on his outstretched legs.
Once they got to the elevator and well out of earshot of Harren, Janeway broke the silence as she pressed the star to hail the lift.
"Don't mind Mr. Harren." The auburn haired woman quirked one side of her mouth up into a wry grin and Annika felt heat rush through her body. "He might look a tad... unperceptive and lazy, but he really is handling a dozen or so things for me at this very moment."
Annika was surprised. She hadn't even meant to make a face at Harren, who in fact she did think was dense as a stump and lazy as well. Not a good combination in her keen mind. Annika took note that not much probably got past those blue-gray eyes of her lift companion. Despite this note, she took the opportunity to unobtrusively observe 'Captain' Janeway.
Kathryn Janeway, who stood silently next to Annika in the lift, radiated a commanding presence and a barely contained energy that almost sparked off of her and surprised Annika that she didn't catch on fire from standing so close. She could smell a subtle perfume, or perhaps it was just soap. It was rich, spicy and tickled Annika's senses. She unconsciously took a deep breath. The ding of the elevator broke the silence.
Annika followed Janeway closely as she took in the hallway that looked very similar to the metallic walled hallway she had been in with Kes after they had left the shuttle bay. The huge doors that matched those doors of the bay opened, but instead of seeing the small sleek black ships it was a cavernous room devoid of anything except for yellow grids that ran across the steel gray walls, ceiling, and floor.
"What sort of class is this?" Annika looked around the impressively large and dull looking room with skepticism.
"It's a training session. Many of us on staff instruct students in the use of their abilities according to our own capabilities. For instance, my course focuses on energy conversion and distribution." Janeway moved away from Annika to a panel on the wall and the tall blonde watched as the other woman pressed a series of codes. The gray lined metal walls, ceiling, and floor began to shimmer and she was suddenly in the middle of a sandy beach, she could almost smell the salt from the sea.
Annika had heard of holographic simulations used by the military for training purposes but she had never seen one herself and was surprised and impressed that this school had one... Who financed this operation, Annika wondered in awe. She turned as the metal doors suddenly reappeared and opened to admit three children before the doors disappeared once again.
"Professor Janeway, I'm sorry we're late." Annika recognized Mezoti. The small girl was dressed in a thick looking black suit that covered her from her lower neck down to her booted feet and gloved hands. Mezoti looked annoyed as she took in her two companions, the twins, who for the most part looked sheepish. They too wore black suits.
"Let's begin our lesson then." Kathryn Janeway's voice was warm to the children but still held a tone that deterred any deviation from her command. "Rebi, I'd like you to begin. Protect us and contain the threat."
Annika only had a moment to be confused about Janeway's words before a group of twenty soldiers materialized on the beach all bearing menacing looking rifles. Rebi stepped up so that he had a protective stance in front of Janeway, Annika, Azan, and Mezoti. Annika gasped as the small boy calmly burst into flames, his outline still clearly visible but where there had been black fabric and skin tone there was nothing but white hot color. The heat that radiated off of him caused sweat to break out over Annika's body.
Annika watched as the flaming youth took a few steps closer to the soldiers who began firing their weapons at the five metahumans. Annika gasped in amazement as a wall of fire formed quickly between Rebi and the firing squad. The bullets sizzled before they melted away completely. The fiery wall pushed forward and caused the now frightened soldiers to back away quickly and into the ocean. The flames twisted and curved around the retreating men and caused them to huddle together so as not to be touched by the flames that held them captive.
"Computer." It was Janeway, her voice clear over the roaring fire. "Freeze program." And it did the soldiers froze in whatever position they had just been in, mostly ones of fear. "Rebi, that was very well done."
As the boy powered down the wall of fire and the flames that had encompassed his own body, he merely nodded in acknowledgement though his usually indifferent expression had a ghost of a smile on it.
Janeway's clear voice sounded again. "Computer, program F42Alpha3." A bleep of acknowledgement sounded before the ocean scene and soldiers disappeared. The towering inferno of an apartment complex, took their place. "Azan!"
Azan stepped forward, like his brother his transformation was quickly accomplished, though instead of fire he turned to ice. He held out one small hand and a large layer of ice formed beneath him. As he moved his hand up the ice continued its ascent. He settled his feet onto the forming ice sheet and rode it until he was above the fiery building. The icy discharges that formed the slide turned to blasts of snow and water as he began to extinguish the fire. He skated quickly on the ice he now created with his feet and went from window to window to douse the flames.
There was a crunching of metal before Annika saw a section of the building come away, it was falling quickly towards the ground where a group of people now were, they all screamed in fear. Azan seemed to suddenly realize the fire would have to wait and sped towards the debris that was only a few stories away from crushing the twenty or so people on the ground. His small hands shot up as his slide lifted his body towards the falling brick and metal debris. The ice blast and the leverage from the ice slide angled the huge piece of wreckage so that it fell against the building and shattered into a few billion pieces of harmless ice.
"Computer, end program."
The empty yellow lined gray room formed around them again.
Azan had iced down the entire area and wasn't even damp as he returned to a more normal appearance. He turned his even dark eyes to Janeway. He seemed to wonder with an upturned eyebrow why she had ended the program.
"Azan, did you check to make sure there weren't any people in the building?" Apparently he hadn't because his face fell. "Assess all aspects of the situation before you act."
"They're just humans," Mezoti's voice was soft but unmistakable in the quiet room.
"Mezoti, all life is precious. It doesn't matter if it's a human life or a metahuman life." Janeway's tone was compassionate but hard. "You shouldn't judge a group of people by the actions of a few. That's prejudice and we don't appreciate when people make assumptions about us, do we?"
"No, Professor." Mezoti's voice was humbled but unrepentant as she uncrossed her arms and moved closer to the auburn haired woman. "I'm ready to begin."
"All right." Janeway presented Mezoti with her outstretched arm. Mezoti took the older woman's hand in hers and looked up at the smiling face rather anxiously. "You'll do just fine, Mezoti."
Annika watched as Mezoti began to flicker in and out of view. She appeared to turn invisible at will and Janeway's hand where it held onto Mezoti's also began to flicker.
"Concentrate, Mezoti. I'm right here." Janeway's voice was soothing and encouraging which helped the little girl to cease flickering before she regarded her feet. Gradually she and Janeway began to rise from the floor from an unseen force. "That's very good. I can feel the field under my feet. Now, do you want to see if you can move it sideways?"
Mezoti nodded her head and sweat began to bead on her small face as her brows knitted with the force of her concentration. It was unsteady but she accomplished her task. Just as Mezoti began to grin at her accomplishment she felt dizzy and promptly fainted, which sent herself and Janeway into a free fall.
Annika had been watching at Janeway and the little girl in amazement as they moved close to the high ceiling of the room. Janeway's mouth kept moving which seemed to ease the jerkiness of their movement with each passing word until they both suddenly dropped towards the hard ground. Annika instinctively took a step forward to catch them, despite the fact that her frame would probably have broken their bones on impact. Just as suddenly, the two women's dangerous descent stopped and Janeway held the unconscious form of Mezoti in her arms as she drifted gently down to rest next to an anxious Annika and the twins who didn't appear to have noticed anything amiss. The moonlight wasn't on Janeway this time, but Annika still thought she looked majestic and ethereal, an angel.
"She's okay, just a bit of a strain." Janeway had seen the anxious expression on Annika's face and had wanted to reassure the young woman. She turned her slate gray eyes to the little girl in her arms. "Mezoti?"
Mezoti's eyes flitted a bit before they opened fully. Janeway gently placed the girl's feet on the ground before she straightened as she stood.
"I failed." Mezoti's voice was soft and disappointment laced the two words.
"It'll take some time, but you've made excellent progress today, Mezoti. We have only just begun to use your invisibility fields to enable you to levitate." Janeway put a reassuring hand on the small shoulder of the sullen girl. "You know, it took me quite a bit of time to get the hang of flying myself. We'll try again next week, okay?"
"Okay." Mezoti's voice was still soft, but held hope.
The smile on Janeway's face formed gradually and seemed to brighten exponentially as it completely transformed her face. Annika didn't know if Mezoti would be the only who would faint this day. She felt altogether too warm and was partially glad that the smile hadn't been directed towards her or she would have very well ended up on the floor from the sheer brightness of it. Though a part of her felt silly for feeling envious of the twelve year old Mezoti.
"Perhaps we should try a slide approach like Azan's for next time, instead of a small disc." Janeway pulled back her hand and rested it on her chin. "Yes, I think that would be more stable. But remember, do not attempt to levitate without supervision, Mezoti."
"Yes, Professor." Mezoti sounded resigned and she nodded her head in agreement.
"Well, I think that's enough for today." Janeway followed the students out of the room with Annika close behind. "Ms. Ballard is most likely waiting for you at the lake."
The trio waved before they walked to the lift that would take them to their rooms. They needed to change before they set off toward the lake and the park that stood before it.
"They are... impressive." Annika broke Janeway's steady look that had followed the children. Bright blue-gray eyes regarded her with a mix of pride and regret, an odd combination, Annika thought.
"Yes, they are." Janeway's voice had gotten huskier and was a mere whisper before she breathed deeply and smiled. "I was wondering, Ms. Hansen, if you'd be willing to show me what your abilities are?"
It was a shy question and Annika felt warmth fill her chest as she looked at the inquisitive blue eyes that gazed hopefully up at her. "Um, sure, but how bout we go back in there... I need some space."
"Oh, of course." Janeway turned happily away and strolled briskly to the large metal door. Near tangible excitement sparked off of her. She was a scientist after all.
As the doors slid behind them, Annika felt apprehension grip her as she considered how much to show the other woman. Janeway generated a lot of emotions and reactions in Annika and one of the strongest was the feeling that she could trust the other woman. She took a breath before she turned back to the petite woman who stood against the wall, her level blue-gray gaze never left Annika.
With a sigh, Annika turned away and walked about twenty feet before she stopped and removed the pullover and tank top from her body in one swift motion. The rubber band from her hair was tossed on top of the clothes. Now naked from the waist up Annika began to concentrate and felt the shifting of her bones, a sensation she hadn't felt in nearly two years.
The tearing sound set her teeth on edge and the gasp she heard from the other woman in the room made her feel more ill at ease but she pressed on. The only sound now was ripping of flesh and the grinding of steel. Suddenly, five spikes measuring at around eight inches tore from her metallic spinal column. The gasp now could hardly be heard as the shifted metal began to turn and flatten against her back as did the metal spikes that had erupted from her shoulders, arms, and upper chest. The spikes all turned and flattened to Annika's body as bands of metal erupted from the sides of each. The bands of hard metal encircled her arms, her torso and her back, she allowed the metal to reach her fingertips and it ended in thick dangerous looking points. She debated whether to cover her face and thought she might as well, so her hair fell in clumps as her skull and face were being covered in metal. The final transformation was that of her eyes, which were now solid sheets of icy blue metal. She took a deep breath before she turned to meet Janeway' gaze.
Janeway's eyes were large and her right hand covered her open mouth as she regarded the half metal woman who stood before her. The metal that encased the blonde woman created thick armor like panels across her torso and shoulders, the muscles of her lean arms were striated from the metal bands that had sprouted from the spikes. But she didn't appear bulky, the exoskeleton seemed more like a metallic solidifying of her already lean tall frame. It was also the most painful looking transformation Janeway had ever witnessed, not even Chakotay's seemed as painful as Annika's had looked.
"Annika, that was..." Janeway, perhaps for the first time in her life was rendered speechless.
"Disgusting, horrible... neat?" Annika folded her metallic arms across her ample metal chest as she regarded the flustered woman before her.
"Remarkable. Extraordinary." Janeway's speech returned in a hoarse whisper. "It didn't, it doesn't hurt you?"
"No, I know it sounds horrible but actually it feels a bit like stretching, relief that I can finally be in the form that is usually hidden beneath my skin." Annika had felt a flash of warmth in her still flesh covered lower section at the whispers that had left Janeway's mouth.
"So, your entire skeletal structure is like this?" Janeway's intelligent gaze took in every centimeter of the metal body that stood in front of her. "This is merely an exoskeleton, an extension... fascinating."
"It's all right, I guess. It's not like I can fly or anything." Annika smiled, her metal lips just as full as her human ones. She took in the amazed blue gaze that still rested on her.
"Would you like to?" The question came out faster than Janeway had time to consider it.
"I think I'm a little heavy for you." Annika knew Janeway couldn't see how her gaze took in every inch of the petite compact figure before her with naked appreciation. The light blue metal optical plates hid the gaze well.
"I'm stronger than I look." Janeway quirked one side of her mouth and Annika melted a bit more as she tried not to fidget.
"Well, perhaps I'll take you up on that offer... someday." Were they flirting? Annika panicked. She was, after all, half naked here. "Um, I think I'm going to power down now..."
Janeway looked a bit confused until she realized suddenly that Annika didn't exactly want an audience. "Oh! Of course."
She turned quickly around and marched towards the door to wait for the tearing to begin anew. Janeway didn't turn around despite the deep curious-laden desire to do so. She started when a warm hand touched her shoulder. A rosy skinned Annika, her golden hair framing her flushed face, smiled at her.
"Amazing." Janeway shook her head as she smiled in return. Then she led a blushing Annika down the hall to the lift.
Kes attempted to hide her grin as she sensed the emotions that emanated thickly from both women seated stiffly in the front seat of the dark green hover car, which was presently speeding quickly away from the large iron gates of the Voyager Institute.
She mused over what she had felt from Annika in the parking garage where she had met the tall blonde and the Headmistress after being summoned by the latter to run 'a quick errand'. Kes had sensed a vague sort of excitement emanating from the older woman, but Janeway was nothing if not controlled, especially in front of Kes. After asking Kes to go with Annika to retrieve some of the woman's personal belongs, Janeway had excused herself to answer a conference call. As the auburn haired woman walked briskly away, Kes had turned her violet eyes to Annika who she noticed had watched the departing Headmistress with keen interest.
"So, Annika?" Kes had maintained a perfectly even voice. "How was your session with Professor Janeway?"
The abundant amount of emotions that had bombarded Kes at that moment had almost caused her to burst into melodic laugher. But she had learned to suppress such immediate reactions.
Annika had, for the most part, been successful in maintaining an impassive expression though the blush that had formed had made it obvious she wasn't so controlled as the woman who had just left.
"She's..." Annika hadn't known exactly what to say. "Formidable."
Kes had laughed then, a light laugh. "That she is."
Her gaze had shifted from Annika to the rather huffy figure that had been advancing steadily to their location. Speaking of formidable, Kes had thought to herself when she had taken in B'Elanna Torres in all her fiery glory.
"Now I'm a damned chauffer." B'Elanna hadn't exactly waited for the two blondes to secure themselves before she had peeled out of the parking garage with a burst of acceleration.
Now they were on their way to Annika Hansen's apartment to pick up her personal belongings before adding her to ranks of the Voyager Institute. Kes sighed happily knowing the woman felt comfortable and relaxed, most likely due to the fact that she didn't need to hide who she was from anyone on the grounds of the institute. Acceptance like that after a lifetime of hiding had to take a massive burden off of one's shoulders. Not to mention the added emotions she sensed from Annika regarding a certain auburn haired woman.
But aside from bursts of warm emotions anytime Janeway's name was mentioned, Kes sensed a growing irritation in the blonde regarding the rather annoyed brunette that drove quite recklessly down the narrow streets of San Francisco.
"Take a right up there." Annika's voice was icy and commanding. She had to grip the armrests to prevent herself from falling against the console as the car turned sharply and sped up as it bounced the passengers inside. She gestured towards a large red brick apartment building. "Okay, it's this one."
After Annika leapt gratefully out of the car, she used her code to enter the apartment complex while Kes and B'Elanna followed closely behind. She scaled the two flights of stairs easily and stopped in front of her door and pressed her hand against the scanner. It beeped its acceptance but before she could turn the knob B'Elanna's strong rough hand stopped her. Annika had been about to make a rather loud complaint, but the finger to B'Elanna's mouth which told her silently to be quiet had stopped her. B'Elanna seemed to be straining to hear and with a sniff of her nose she let Annika's hand go. Bemused, Annika turned the knob and sighed in relief at the comfort of her own apartment.
"I was wrong. Someone's been here." B'Elanna's rough voice took on an urgent, warning tone. "Looks like they ransacked the place."
Kes laughed lightly. Annika had begun to decide that the elf woman had an uncanny sense of perception, because she laughed a bit herself.
"Actually," Annika shrugged, "This is how it always looks."
B'Elanna turned her incredulous expression from the two blondes to the small apartment that looked as if a small bomb had gone off in it. Papers, books, various laptops and palmtops were strewn about as were many plates and cups and eating utensils, all of which seemed to have life growing on them. Pieces of clothing in various dirty stages were also littered liberally across the room. Even the ten speed had a few dirty socks and running clothes draped across it. The brunette didn't know how anyone could live in such a mess, not to mention the unpleasant odor. Though it might not be as readily apparent to the other two women, B'Elanna's nose wrinkled in disgust.
Off of B'Elanna's look Annika decided to get moving. "I'll just go grab a suit case from my room."
Annika managed to make a clear trail with the nudging of her feet as she shifted her way past empty pizza boxes and Vid cases. In the solitude of her room, Annika started to stuff clothing in one of her large metal suitcases that were to be used to house all of her personal items. One large suitcase was closed with a bit of effort, pieces of clothing poked out in a few places but she was satisfied that it was secured, at least for the duration of the trip back to the Institute.
Thoughts of the Institute automatically shifted to thoughts of the compact auburn haired woman who radiated a sense of command, energy, confidence, compassion, and strength all housed in a small feminine body and a lovely and elegant face. Annika could get lost in those eyes alone, not to mention those lips and that husky voice.
"Are you almost done?" B'Elanna's voice was annoyed and deep, Annika shook herself away from her musings of elegant, fine boned hands to the smaller silver suitcase that would hold all of her photo pads, palmtops, and laptops.
She rolled the larger, clothing filled, suitcase out behind her and carried the medium sized one into the living room. She set the smaller one on the couch and started to drop electronic equipment into it. Satisfied by the final drop of her stereo system and micro discs, she closed the case with a click.
"Finally! Took you..." B'Elanna's nose crinkled and she turned towards the window quickly. "Get down!"
The three women had just enough time to duck behind Annika's couch when a large gray cylindrical capsule whizzed in from the suddenly shattered window. But before it could land in the middle of the room and go off, Kes had stood up and stretched her right arm out. The cylinder hovered for a split second before it flew back from where it came. A flash of blinding light and then screams of men filled the afternoon air. The sound satisfied Kes and put a small grin on her lips.
"Let's go!" B'Elanna pulled Annika quickly up from the ground and shoved her none too gently towards the door.
Annika didn't have enough time to be surprised by the strength B'Elanna had just demonstrated before a metal suitcase hit her hard in the chest. She grabbed it before it fell to the ground and ran out of her apartment of the last two years, Annika never looked back.
Kes and Annika shoved the suitcases in the back of the vehicle before they quickly strapped in. If Annika had thought B'Elanna had driven fast getting them to her apartment, she thought they were perhaps breaking the speed of sound at this point. Her knuckles were white as she gripped the armrests of her seat.
"What the hell was that thing?" Annika looked back behind her, but gratefully did not see a vehicle in pursuit.
"A flash bomb." Kes' voice was even, but low as she explained. "When it goes off anyone in its vicinity is rendered unconscious, painfully so."
"So you can..." Annika lifted her hand, unable to find the right words.
"Yes, I have telekinetic abilities." Kes looked away as she said the next part. "And I can sense the emotions of others."
"Oh..." Annika's voice was small, so Kes probably knew that she... "OH!"
"I'm a counselor, not a voyeur." Kes smiled, somewhat guiltily. She had, after all, gained quite a bit of delighted pleasure in feeling the woman's emotions in response to the Headmistress.
"And what can you do?" Annika turned her attention to a seething B'Elanna instead of the knowing gaze of Kes.
"I'm just not someone you wanna mess with, okay?" B'Elanna hadn't taken her eyes off the road.
B'Elanna was furious that she hadn't sensed the men before they had been able to shoot that damned flash bomb through the ice princess' window. And now she had to tell Janeway that they were involved in an incident, in daylight, with how many witnesses. She seethed a bit more as she heard sirens from a distance. All this because of the icy blonde who sat next to her.
B'Elanna sighed. The tall blonde just rubbed her the wrong way but the manner in which the other woman had pulled her knees against her chest and despondently contemplated the dashboard made her break just a bit. "I possess superhuman strength, agility, speed and stamina, I have heightened senses and I heal real fast." The last part was said in a flippant manner.
"She can take down Chakotay in his full wolf form, it's quite impressive." Kes smiled happily at the darker shading that graced the brunette's cheeks.
"Wolf form?" Annika shook her head. "God, this is all so crazy."
"I heard you turn into metal." B'Elanna shrugged.
"I just meant..." what had Annika meant? "I've never known anyone else like me... like us, before, I always just kept my abilities secret and now... being surrounded by people who also have powers is a bit overwhelming." Annika smiled at B'Elanna, despite the fact the woman stared at the road in front of them. "And it's kinda nice... to not have to hide, you know?"
"Yeah, I know." She didn't smile, though her voice was lighter than it had been before. B'Elanna had turned once again towards Annika. Perhaps not such an ice princess, she considered. The rest of the car ride went by in silence.
"This is pretty daring, even for them, a daylight attack. We're missing a piece of the puzzle here, people." Janeway sipped her coffee as she paced in front of the large oak table, a feat that had been perfected over time. She stopped her pacing in order to look at each person intensely. "I want to find out what that particular piece is."
Seated around the large rectangular table were Chakotay, Tuvok, Tom, B'Elanna, Kes, Dr. Zimmerman, and Annika Hansen, who had been the only person who had visibly fidgeted under the intense gaze she had just received.
"I may have an explanation." Tuvok turned his eyes from the again pacing woman to the tall blonde who seemed to be attempting to blend in with her surroundings, despite the fact that such action was illogical since she did not possess that particular ability as far as he knew. "Ms. Hansen, what is your profession?"
"I work at Global Tech." Annika shrugged. "Why, what's that have to do with people attacking me?"
Tuvok rose one of his dark slightly angled eyebrows. "Would you please tell us the project you are currently working on?"
"All right." Annika shifted to sit straighter in the high backed chair. "About six months ago the company won a military contract to manufacture a subdermal tracking device in conjunction with an orbital array that would be able to pinpoint a soldier's exact location. It's called the Finder Project. Military personnel would have an implant just beneath the skin of their upper arm which would not only have a microchip that linked to the satellite but it would also contain genetic information on the soldier in case of disfiguring death. The implant itself would give off a homing signal if the temperature of the soldier reached lower than ninety degrees Fahrenheit. Assisting in any--"
"So, wait..." Tom interrupted with a raised hand, a look of confusion on his boyish face. "What you're saying is... the government could know exactly where every person who has one of these... implants inside of them is? Any time they want?"
"Well, yes." Annika shrugged as she continued. "It really is quite ingenious. The people on the ground and in the air would know exactly where one another were at all times. Less chance of death by friendly fire." She smiled, but the expression was not shared by anyone else in the room.
"God! Don't you realize what this means?!" The outburst came from B'Elanna, who had gotten up from her seat to stand, braced against the table with her outstretched hands.
Annika was now fairly confused and irritated that yes, apparently she didn't realize what it meant. "What are you talking about?" The annoyance directed toward herself laced her words.
"What do you mean, what am I talking about?" B'Elanna demanded. She straightened abruptly and threw her hands in the air in frustration. "You don't even get it do you?" The reddish hue on the light skin of the tall blonde ice queen gave B'Elanna the answer.
"B'Elanna," the voice was low, husky and commanding.
B'Elanna sat down with a huff, her arms crossed. She looked anywhere but at Annika. Janeway turned her attention to the blushing blonde and her gaze held extreme patience, which embarrassed Annika even more.
"Ms. Hansen, are you aware of 'the Protection of Humanity Act'?" Janeway's voice was controlled, but even she let sarcasm drip off the name of that particular contradiction in terms.
"No. Why, what is it?" Annika looked around the room. Why did she feel like she was the only one who had no idea what the hell was going on here?
"It's a piece of shit." B'Elanna mumbled the words, but not quietly enough that it was difficult to hear. Reponding to Janeway's look, she hastily added, "What? It is." She shrugged and then quickly went back to her crossed arms, slouched position.
"This particular... charming piece of legislation was introduced by our good friend Senator Hayes to Congress last week." Janeway's voice had taken on a sharp, acerbic edge. She explained further in a low voice. "Under this Act all metahumans would be required to register with the government or find themselves incarcerated as a threat to national security."
"Registration today, 'a shower and a hot meal' tomorrow." Dr. Zimmerman sighed, exasperated as he shook his head in disgust.
"Doctor," Janeway's sharp tone forstalled any more pessimistic comments from the man. She still had faith that the Act would never get approved and didn't appreciate the allusion to concentration camps, though if the legislation did go through she might have more reason to not appreciate the idea of those camps than she already did.
"Actually," Janeway turned towards Chakotay, his dark eyes were filled with anger though his voice was calm, even soft. "If this piece of... legislation were to be passed the doctor wouldn't be too far off the mark. First registration, then inhibition, research, genetic repression and destruction. Hell, they'd probably send us all off to a deserted island somewhere so we can kill each other off with our... disease."
"Oh my God!" Realization finally dawned on the usually brilliant Annika Hansen.
"Finally!" B'Elanna huffed.
Annika ignored B'Elanna for the most part as she addressed Janeway. She had risen from her chair, her icy blue eyes alight with apprehension. "You think they'd use the Finder Project on metahumans, on us?!"
"Imagine if the government knew the exact location of each and every metahuman just here in the United States." Janeway's right hand was raised, her index and middle finger pointed out to punctuate her words. "That's almost five hundred people under the watchful eye of a not so friendly government body if this Act were to be passed. And it wouldn't be a stretch to say that other governments across the world would adopt the same type of registration and tracking system." Janeway leaned in, her voice dropped to emphasize her next point. "Now, imagine if a group like 'The Friends of Humanity' somehow gained access to that tracking information. They would hunt us all down, one by one."
"Oh God!" Annika shook her head.
Why couldn't she have just gotten coffee and lived her life in blissful ignorance, why had she been captured by those bastards and then saved by these people, why? It wasn't fair. She didn't even particularly like to use her powers and had only done so a half a dozen times in her life. She didn't want this, she didn't want any of this. She hadn't asked to be different, to be a metahuman. And now the government wanted them and the company she worked for might have an insidious agenda or the military could. And what was she supposed to do? She wasn't some advocate or superhero, what was she expected to do now? She had kept her powers secret for so many years, hidden herself away, a solitary, but safe existence and now her whole world was turned upside down and she was plopped in the middle of perhaps the biggest civil rights shakeup ever. Metahumans transcended things like gender, race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, ability, age, size, ethnicity, class, education, everything. It rendered people either human or not.
Annika hadn't even realized she had run out of the room until she ended up in front of the fountain and the vast, beautiful gardens. Her breathing came in ragged gulps, either from the exertion from her sprint from the large brick building or from an anxiety attack, or both. She was bent over, her hands on top of her thighs and her head hung low, she was just getting her bearings again when a warm hand touched her shoulder.
"LEAVE ME ALONE!" Annika whipped around and the blonde hair that had escaped her ponytail flew around her flushed face. She hadn't meant to lash out, nonetheless her reinforced metal boned fist connected solidly. With Janeway.
"Oh my God!" Mortified, Annika quickly crouched down next to a very winded Kathryn Janeway. "I'm so sorry! I... I didn't mean to! I'm sorry, are you okay, of course you're not okay, you just got beamed by a piece of metal, I really didn't mean to, I'm sorry, I--"
"Annika." Janeway's voice was a whisper. She held out one of her elegant hands and looked at the tall blonde expectantly. Annika shook her head before she stood up quickly and assisted Janeway to her feet. "Well, that didn't go quite how I planned."
Janeway touched her stomach cautiously. There would probably be a bruise tomorrow but nothing serious enough to call the doctor, despite the fact that he would rant on and on if he was aware that she didn't go to him for every little injury that befell her.
She looked over to her companion whose reddened face was turned away from her. She took a few cautious steps towards the blonde, not from fear of getting the wind knocked out of her again, but because Annika looked so vulnerable with her deceptively strong arms clutched around her torso as if she were cold.
"I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to." Annika's voice was soft and sad, filled with regret.
It sounds like she's sorry for more than just the glancing blow that knocked me on my ass, thought Janeway.
"Annika, it was an accident, it's already forgotten." Janeway took another step closer. "I wanted to talk to you, if I could. I realize that... this is all new to you. We've been doing this for so long it seems like old hat to a lot of us."
"They hate us so much." Annika still didn't dare to look at the auburn haired woman that exuded such comfort and compassion with just her mere presence. "The government. Those groups. They all do. Does that get any easier over time?"
"No. It doesn't." Janeway shook her head, a sad smile on her face. "I've been involved with this Institute for twenty-seven years now, I've seen many students come and go through these grounds, assisted many families in disappearing from the world at large. I've witnessed legislation after legislation to either regulate us or destroy us make it to a congressional vote. Obviously none of them made it through, but some just barely."
"How do you keep doing it?" Annika slowly let her eyes find the other woman.
Janeway stood in front of the fountain, much in the same way she had stood the first night Annika had laid eyes on her. Hands on her small waist, chin up, expression covertly sad, introspective, and resolute.
"Because I'm an optimistic pragmatist." Janeway gestured towards a park bench. She sat down and crossed one slim leg over the other as she waited for a hesitant Annika to join her before she continued. "I know, at this moment in time, it's necessary to keep this Institute a secret. The students, the faculty, everyone here knows that their safety rests upon the fact that no one knows we're metahumans. And that's sad and unfortunate and everything else, but it's the truth. I also know that some people, some families want to be hidden away, their extraordinary abilities never used. That's their choice and I'm also involved in a group that helps them do just that. But invisibility isn't a solution to our problems. We must affect policy on a grand scale. I truly believe that there will be a time when fear and hatred towards people like us won't be as prevalent and open as it is today. A time when there will be peaceful coexistence between all people. It'll be a hell of a fight to get there, but I believe it's worth fighting for."
"Some would say you're an idealist." Annika had never really considered the possibility of coexistence. She had resigned herself to the fact that she would just always have a secret no one else could ever know about. But as she took in the determined look on the woman next to her she felt somewhat like an idealist herself. If Janeway could create that bright future from just sheer strength of will, Annika had no doubt she would see it tomorrow. Alas, the reality of the situation was what it was, that future might as well be a hundred years from now.
"I've been called worse." Janeway smirked, that half grin Annika had grown to love so much in such a short amount of time.
"I'm sorry I ran out of there like that." Annika shook her head ruefully. "I just felt like such an idiot. I still do. I had no idea. I guess I hid myself away from the world a little too well."
"You've never discussed metahumans with anyone before?" Janeway's voice held a note of skepticism, it was, after all, the hot button issue of the last several decades.
Annika turned her face away as a blush of shame reddened her cheeks. "Yes, but I never said much, I sort of thought it would give me away. I... I've said things... I didn't mean them. I'm sorry."
"You were trying to protect yourself, you don't need to apologize to me." Janeway's tone was sincere, but Annika had to chance a quick look to make sure. Yup, definitely a bit of blue to soften the slate gray along with a pardoning smile.
"Thank you." It wasn't enough, but it was all Annika could think to say. The warm brilliant smile she received in turn was enough for Annika's heart to beat a bit faster.
"Well." Janeway startled the tall blonde with her abrupt movement off the bench. She stretched her right arm out towards Annika, who readily accepted it as it helped her to her feet. "It's been a long day. How does dinner sound? I believe Neelix has prepared his world famous eggplant parmesan for this evening."
"Sounds great." Annika's hand still tingled as she and Janeway walked past the bubbling fountain enroute to the dining room. "So, you said you've been here for twenty-seven years?"
"Yes, I was a student here." Janeway almost laughed at the one raised eyebrow that received. "Then I left to go to school in England, then I conducted my work, and about seven years ago I came back here. I took on the position of Headmistress shortly after that."
There was so much information packed in those few sentences that it took Annika a bit to sort out what she wanted to ask first. How did Janeway come to be a student here? School in England? What kind of work had she done? Why did she come back? Headmistress...
"What sort of work did you do?" Annika had figured she'd garner the rest of the answers she wanted from asking that one question.
"Genetics. During my time at school I became very interested in genetic diseases, how to cure something when it's imprinted in the person's genetic makeup. My focus was on diseases that cause mental degradation. Alzheimer's primarily, but also..." Janeway trailed off as she noticed that Annika was no longer beside her. "Annika?"
"You're Dr. K. E. Janeway?" Annika looked at the other woman like she had never seen her before in her life.
The light pink blush that was beginning to form on the nose and cheeks of the auburn haired woman would have been appreciated more by the tall blonde if she hadn't been completely floored with the information she had just been given.
"Yes. I am." Janeway shrugged as she attempted to ignore the astonished look on Annika's face.
"But you, you're so... You cured Alzheimer's!" Annika looked at the petite, rather humbled looking woman that stood uneasily before her.
Of course she had heard of Dr. K. E. Janeway, you would have had to be living under a rock for the last sixteen years to not have, but Annika hadn't put two and two together until this very moment. The world renowned geneticist who had single-handedly unlocked the cure to the terrible disease, a cure that had helped millions of people all over the world, not to mention the youngest person to ever receive a Nobel Prize at the tender age of twenty-four, now stood with her hands on her hips and a slightly self-effacing look on her elegant features.
"Yes, well..." Janeway looked away from the tall blonde to the heavy doors leading to the dining room. Annika now very much appreciated the deep blush that covered the other woman's cheeks hotly.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass you." Annika didn't feel particularly sorry as the blush on the other woman occupied her attention. "Though I'm surprised, I would think people would be singing your praises wherever you went. You've helped countless people all over the world."
"Well, I..." Janeway straightened her shoulders and willed the blood to stop rushing to her face every time she received a compliment from Annika. She looked up at her tall companion and smiled a shy, but bright smile. "Shall we?"
Janeway pushed open the doors to the dining room.
Tom watched the two women as they made their slow approach to the large, oval shaped dining room table that seated all nine of the faculty members and one more for Annika. When no one appeared as if they were going to comment on Annika's rather dramatic exit from the conference room, the tall blonde seemed to relax as she took a seat next to Kes and across from B'Elanna. The two women served themselves from the platters on the table and began to enjoy Neelix's eggplant parmesan.
Tom turned his blue eyes towards his Headmistress. He wondered at the reddish hue that was just now starting to dissipate from Janeway's cheeks.
"Are you blushing?" He said it quietly, but it still garnered a few curious glances from those closest to him including Kes, who looked like she had a secret and he was going to have to convince her to tell him what it was somehow.
"Mr. Paris." Janeway gave him one of her patented death glares. "Do shut up."
That received a laugh and a quick nod from Tom. "Yes, ma'am!" He almost saluted but thought better of it. "So, Headmistress, what's on the agenda for the weekend?"
The manner in which he said 'mistress' was emphasized as it always was with him, he knew her dislike for the term so it was his way to needle her every chance he had.
"Well, I do believe the shuttle bay could use a good scrub down." She smirked at the look of disgust on Tom's face. "No, I think a bit of combat training would do us all some good. Once the congressional hearings over Hayes' bill begins I have a strong hunch many people won't be too happy."
"Do you believe the Obsidian Order would attempt to interrupt the proceedings?" Tuvok raised an eyebrow at the thought.
"I spoke with Jean-Luc earlier today, he had heard some rustlings about the Order forming again after the disaster at Reykjavik." She shook her head at the thought of how many lives had been lost in that single incident. "I wouldn't put it past them to have licked their wounds by now and return to the States once this news breaks."
"So, combat training it is!" Tom could almost feel the rush of air across his body at the thought. Not to mention knocking a few people on their asses while he was at it.
"Why, Mr. Paris, are you really in such a hurry to get knocked out of the sky?" Janeway had a sweet smile, but it didn't hide the mischievous twinkle in her bright blue eyes.
"Bring it on. I can take you out in ten seconds easy." Tom sat back in his chair, cockiness radiated off of him as he grinned at the look of complete defiance on the woman's features.
"The day you take me out is the day I step down and hand you the title of Headmaster of this school." Janeway also leaned back in her chair, it wasn't quite cockiness that radiated off of her but close to it.
"Then that day will be tomorrow because I intend to see you on your ass, Kathy." Tom's grin grew as the face that regarded him now bore a deliciously angry expression at being called "Kathy".
"Thomas Eugene Paris, you are going to be sorry." The energy inside of Janeway began to surge through her body, but she swiftly prevented it from escaping.
They continued to trade barbs as Annika leaned over towards Kes. "Are they always like this?" she whispered.
It was B'Elanna who answered with a roll of her eyes. "Yes, always."
"B'Elanna's right." Kes' violet eyes sparkled with mirth as she took in the two competitive individuals baiting one another.
Annika was surprised. "And she takes it from him?" Insubordination came to her mind. But Janeway didn't seem to mind Tom's behavior because her eyes were a bright blue, filled with amusement.
"Don't worry," Annika shifted her icy blue eyes from Kes and B'Elanna to Chakotay, who had spoken to her but was looking more in Janeway's direction. "Kathryn dishes out much more than she ever takes, especially from Paris."
This was the most emotion Annika had ever seen from the inexpressive man and she didn't think she cared for it. No, she definitely knew she didn't care for the warmth in the man's eyes when he smiled as he watched Janeway laugh, unimpressed at the cocky challenge in Tom's voice. Nor did she much care for the way he had said "Kathryn" like it was a privilege only he was accorded, in fact he was the only person she had heard call Janeway by her first name. As her eyes narrowed, Annika quickly decided she didn't care for this man, Chakotay, no she most definitely did not.
"Do you wanna race right now, let's go then!" Tom stood from his seat and crossed his arms as he challenged Janeway.
"Tom," Kathryn didn't move, nor did her voice change from the false sweetness it had first adopted when instigating the challenge. "Not everything requires speed, some things require finesse to reach the proper conclusion. I know that's a concept foreign to you."
"You're just scared you'll lose." He was smirking now.
"You should know better than anyone..." The delighted energy was nearly visible, but the forever controlled Janeway kept it reined in. "I rarely lose."
"Prove it." Tom relished in the warm glow he felt emanating from Janeway. One more little push. "I'll even give you a head start."
The patronizing tone was what did it. Janeway removed herself gracefully from the table to stand defiantly in front of the taller Tom Paris though it was hard to tell who had the advantage.
"You are going to regret this. I'll see you in a crater, Tom, before the day is out. Count on it." Janeway held her right hand up, index finger extended to emphasize her words. "Meet me in front of the fountain in fifteen minutes."
She departed from the dining room in a few quick determined strides, which seemed characteristic of the diminutive auburn haired woman.
"She's gonna kill you." Tom turned towards Harry whose dark eyes were sympathetic.
"Thanks, buddy, I appreciate the overwhelming support." Tom's voice was sarcastic but not unkind.
"Just don't damage any of the property this time." Chakotay recalled the last time Paris and Kathryn had engaged in a race. They had to replace one of the walls to the gymnasium.
"Hey, that wasn't my fault!" From Chakotay's skeptical look, Tom continued, softer now. "Well, mostly it wasn't my fault. She pushed me into that wall on purpose!"
Tom remembered the amused laughter that had emanated from Janeway when he had careened into the side of the building trying to get the advantage on her during their last race.
"Well, I guess I'd better be there." Doctor Zimmerman sighed at the plights in his life. "Inevitably someone is injured and I'd rather just be there than be called out of the lab for a medical emergency."
"A most logical decision, Doctor." Tuvok's voice was even, but there was a suspicious tone to it that bespoke a joke.
Annika once more leaned over towards Kes. "How often do these races happen?" Again she was surprised, it seemed like a strange thing for the somewhat aloof and professional Headmistress Janeway to engage in.
"About once a month. Sometimes more, sometimes less." Kes' expression was one of amusement, though her lips only quirked up minimally.
"Who usually wins?" Annika thought she knew the answer but she wanted to know for sure.
"Let's just say, Tom hopes today will be the day when his confidence is justified." Kes looked over at the man who was listening intently to the advice being given to him on how to finally best Janeway.
Annika felt an unaccountable amount of pride at that. She couldn't wait to watch Janeway beat the cocky Paris at his own game. She stood with the rest as they took their dishes to the cleaning unit and proceeded in various degrees of anticipation out of the dining room.
Annika walked near the back of the procession with Kes, who had become her unofficial confidant since the elfin blonde woman already knew all of Annika's feelings. Including those about a certain auburn haired woman, she surmised. She felt she could speak freely to Kes, with no fear of judgment and with a sense that her secrets would be safe. The woman was a counselor after all.
It surprised Annika how much she had already warmed to these people... okay some people more than others. It helped that she didn't feel like she had to be so securely guarded with her abilities. The fact that she didn't have to hide who she truly was lifted a heavy burden off her shoulders she hadn't realized weighed so heavily on her until it was no longer there. The camaraderie she felt as the people who walked with her both needled and offered advice to Paris gave her a sense of belonging that she hadn't truly felt before.
"I'm just saying you shouldn't go full throttle right at first." Harry had both his hands out, palms up, as he tried to convince his best friend that his advice was the most worthy of the blonde haired man's attention. "You aren't as maneuverable when you're going that fast."
"It's a race, Harry." Tom's tone was dismissive, but not entirely unkind. "The point is to go fast, so you win."
"I'm just saying. You might want to switch tactics." Harry grinned as he added, "How many times have you won exactly?"
"Oh, shut up, Harry." Tom's tone was light.
Harry merely shrugged in response.
"You might want to take his advice, Paris." Chakotay's dark eyes sparkled with amusement. "Maybe you wouldn't crash into so many things that way."
"Yeah, Yeah. Everyone's a critic." Tom shrugged off the comment with a wave of his hand. As he walked backwards he smiled broadly, pure confidence in his eyes. "I have a feeling, ladies and gents, today will be my lucky day!"
More than a few pairs of eyes rolled at this.
"I wouldn't take bets on that." The husky tones were definitely bordering on cocky.
Annika looked up, her breath caught as she watched Janeway descend from the skies like she'd never seen her before. The form fitting mostly black outfit, similar to the ones the others had worn during their mission and the children in their training class, clung to Janeway's small frame in such a way that Annika couldn't help but notice how toned and slight the other woman's body was. As opposed to Janeway's previous attire, this outfit was sleeveless and showed off well toned upper arms and wiry forearms that distracted Annika for more than a few moments. Her eyes drifted over the red band of color that spread from one bare shoulder to the other and to the top of the high necked outfit. The rest was black and sleek right down to the calf high boots. The auburn tresses were tied into a braid and made the woman look less studious and a bit younger, or it could be the carefree expression and the bright blue eyes that did it.
It took Annika a second or two to realize that the bright glare she shielded her eyes from with a hand was not due entirely to the sun but also the woman who was suspended in midair with her arms crossed over her chest. Janeway was glowing, literally. Bright golden light not only surrounded Janeway, it sparked off of her in little tendrils of visible energy, like the rays of the sun.
Energy conversion and distribution, Annika recalled Janeway saying that was her area of expertise when it came to training the students in their abilities but she didn't really know what that could mean until now. What exactly were Janeway's abilities?
Transfixed, Annika watched Janeway as she touched ground and the golden glow that had surrounded her faded until it was only an invisible energy that emanated from the petite woman.
"Is the Dome up?" Janeway looked at the forever even features of her dear friend.
"Yes." It was a simple reply from Tuvok.
The question was more of a formality than anything else since Janeway knew Tuvok was always one step ahead of everyone else despite the fact that it wasn't always obvious. He did things swiftly, quietly, drawing little or no attention to his actions. He could quickly take in a situation and deal with it logically faster than anyone could respond or attempt to counter. That's what made him so decisive in the field. His emotional detachment made him extremely efficient. It was also what Janeway envied most, since she expended a great deal of energy to rein in the emotions she believed made her look vulnerable and uncontrolled. It seemed that Tuvok was inherently impassive, though Janeway knew that he cared for her very much and others as well.
"What dome?" Annika looked around her and didn't notice anything different.
"It's a holographic lattice that forms a false image of normalcy around the school when we are outdoors training so that no one outside of this Institute is the wiser. It also acts as a security barrier." Janeway decided that Annika needed to be brushed up on the aspects of the Institute among other things since she could tell that Annika didn't appreciate feeling as though everyone knew what was going on except for her.
"I see." Annika looked up, but still saw nothing to indicate anything amiss in the blue sky.
When she heard voices coming toward them she looked back at the main building and saw the children along with Harren, Billy, Celes and a petite woman with wild, fiery red hair that stuck out from her head in the epitome of disarray walking toward the faculty and Annika. Billy and Celes stopped in front of the tall blonde, their hands entwined.
"Hey, Annika." Billy smiled at Annika first before he turned towards Celes. "I don't think you two have been properly introduced. Celes this is Annika Hansen. Annika this is my fiancée, Celes Tal."
"It's nice to meet you, Annika".
"You too." As they shook hands in greeting, Annika was struck by the way Celes' brow crinkled and how she had an appearance of a deer caught in headlights with her large bright brown eyes. Annika then realized that was how the woman always looked because she looked about the same when she turned towards Billy with a huge smile.
"I hope Tom doesn't run into any of the trees again." The large brown eyes held an even amount of concern and amusement.
"I'm sure he learned his lesson the last time." Billy hugged the woman to his side before he turned towards Annika to explain. "Celes caused one of the mighty oaks out there severely impede his flying."
Celes merely smiled proudly.
"So, Annika, I have been meaning to come see you today, but I, anyways, how are you? I hear you're going to be staying with us. At least for a little while?" Billy had stepped closer not wanting the others to be privy to their conversation. Though the rest were too busy discussing who they thought would win and more importantly, what object they figured Tom would crash into during this race.
"Yes, that's right. And I'm doing fine. Thank you. A bit overwhelmed by everything but I think I'll adapt... eventually." Annika let a small grin grace her lips before she turned serious. "How are you, Billy?"
"I'm okay, you know..." He shrugged not wanting to dwell on the past. He had already done enough of that with Kes all morning. "So, what do you think of the Institute?"
"It's quite impressive." Annika had wanted to say more but was caught off guard by a loud BOOM!
She turned to see Tom as he was engulfed in fiery orange energy before he lifted off from the ground like a rocket. She caught a quick eye roll from Janeway before she too left the ground, just as quickly but not as obtrusively. Annika turned back to Billy and Celes.
"What kind of a race is this?"
"To see who can ground the other one first." Billy smirked as he watched the fire show from the safe distance of the ground.
He thought Tom was a nice enough guy, though he had no idea where his cockiness came from regarding their Headmistress and this almost monthly exercise of theirs. The thought of Doctor Janeway getting knocked from the sky by Tom was not only unlikely but distasteful to the young man. Billy knew that everyone at the Institute, even the antisocial and brusque Harren, respected and admired their Headmistress and Team Captain. The diminutive auburn haired woman seemed to radiate authority, compassion, confidence, and a wry sense of humor that attracted many people to her and elicited the trust of all of them with uncanny ease.
Seven years ago, it had taken Billy a few weeks into his friendship with Celes to admit that he was both extremely intimidated by Dr. Kathryn Janeway and also had a bit of a crush on her, as juvenile as it seemed at the time. Celes had just laughed kindly in understanding and had told him that she figured everyone had a bit of a crush on the aloof, yet warm woman who commanded the school with her husky voice and pointed blue-gray looks... Celes included. He almost laughed aloud at the memory of how nervous they had both been when Janeway had enlisted theirs and Harren's help on a mission to retrieve an errant metahuman who had been playing havoc with the electrical systems of New York, draining it of its power.
Billy felt a pang of guilt when he thought about the meeting he had with Janeway that followed his session with Kes earlier in the day. The Headmistress had been cool, but compassionate as Billy had relayed the story of his capture, his abuse at the hands of the guards, of Annika's arrival, and his eventual blackout due to a well placed rifle to the head. The stormy gray eyes that had met his after he had finished told him all he had needed to know despite the fact that the expression on her elegant features had been sympathetic but not overtly emotional. He had seen the guilt and anger and sorrow, all of it had been plain for him to see and again he had wondered if she knew how her eyes gave her away. Perhaps it was an ace up the sleeve that no one wanted her to be aware they had regarding how to read the enigmatic woman.
He had wanted to tell her not to feel guilty for his capture, it had been his fault and his alone, though he hadn't really done anything but go into town for a movie while Celes had been in Ireland visiting her parents. He hadn't though, he had known that she wouldn't have accepted his words so he had kept silent and she had dismissed him with one last look of apology and regret. He had left feeling horrible and had told Celes how much he regretted not being able to tell Janeway not to feel guilty. Celes had held him and told him that he could do nothing, it was how the Headmistress was, taking on the whole world without asking for assistance from anyone.
All of this was why whenever a race between Janeway and Tom took place everyone was in attendance despite some subterfuge as to the reasons why since the doctor, Tuvok, and especially Harren never admitted to anyone that they enjoyed seeing their Headmistress carefree and laughing as she always did when challenged by Tom. Billy's esteem for the cocky blonde haired man suddenly shot up as he realized with a start that these races always seemed to follow some sort of crisis in which Janeway felt particularly guilty or responsible. He hadn't realized it before since he had never been so directly involved in said crisis. Who knew Tom could be so caring... and perceptive?
BOOM! Tom had veered off quickly to avoid the bolt of heated energy that shot his way from Janeway's hand. The energy splashed hotly against the domed shield that both camouflaged their institute and protected them from outside forces.
"Come on, slowpoke, if you're gonna hit me then hit me!" Tom laughed as he veered off again when another blast of fiery energy came his way.
He gulped when he saw the sparks of energy that emitted from her eyes. Oh, she was really mad now. He needed to end this now or he was as good as done. So he went from defense to offense.
With a resounding BOOM! he flew straight towards Janeway, his arms outstretched and fists blazed with the heat of his propulsion. He looked not unlike a comet as he raced towards the hovering, gold lit woman. His forward momentum stopped abruptly as he collided straight on with her energy produced force shield. Though he was slowed down quite a bit, the momentum of his flight still knocked Janeway back as she held her arms crossed in front of her and her legs curled up to try to slow the force of Tom's collision. She couldn't stop her backwards movement but she could expand her shield and did so quickly and with extreme force. She broke the energy barrier as Tom was propelled backwards. He recovered quickly, too quickly. She had to fly directly up to avoid being barreled into. She turned as quickly as Tom did when he missed his target.
The energy that blasted against Tom's chest probably would have killed a normal person but he was not a normal person. His thermo-chemically produced flight also manifested itself as an impenetrable blast field that protected his body from injury. Despite this fact, he still dropped like a stone from the sheer force of the impact. On his back, Tom was making a quick descent to the ground with no little help from Janeway who at the moment had expanded her energy field to barrel into the torso of the falling man. She was coming at him hard and fast, and Tom couldn't hold his gaze on the woman as he chanced a look at the ground before they collided with it.
The BOOM that shook the very grounds of the Institute knocked every single spectator off their feet and to the ground, hard.
"Holy shit!" B'Elanna recovered first and was already sprinting towards the cloud of smoke that was only partially hidden by a clump of large trees.
Annika, along with the others helped the children to their feet. The doctor had quickly assessed that no one had been hurt and then he too made a dash towards their fallen comrades. After they brushed themselves off, the rest followed swiftly.
Annika hadn't truly recovered from the sight that she had just witnessed. Janeway was even more formidable than she could have imagined. The force that it must have taken to ground the human comet known as Tom must have been immense and Annika was struck with a sense of cold worry as she thought about the harm that could have befallen the auburn haired woman.
The worry was gone immediately as she heard the husky chuckling of a very smug woman. Annika let the breath out that she hadn't realized she had been holding as she took in the sight of Janeway, bent over a rather immense crater, as she laughed happily at the pouting man seated at the bottom of it.
"I almost had you." Tom's arms were crossed over his chest and he took on the appearance of a petulant child.
"Perhaps." Janeway's laughter had vanished and was replaced by a bright grin.
"Well, since my services don't seem to be needed I'll be in my lab." The doctor huffed a bit at the display of recklessness.
"Actually, Doc." Tom stood up a tad unsteadily as he rubbed his backside, feigning injury. "If you wouldn't mind?" His tone was entreating but teasing.
"Hmph." Unamused, the doctor stomped away.
"Captain?" the tone didn't sound concerned, but Janeway knew it was.
"I'm fine." She smiled reassuringly at Tuvok and patted him on the shoulder lightly before she turned to Tom who had finally scrambled his way out of the crater. "I have to admit, your recovery time has improved immensely since last time, Tom."
"Well, I just know that if I let you have any leeway you won't be grounded easily." He shrugged, his eyes alight with success despite the fact that he hadn't taken this woman down. The laughter in her bright blue eyes was enough for Tom to feel suitably cocky. His voice took on a teasing tone. Filled with innuendo. "One has to come at you hard and fast to take you down."
A few people shifted uneasily at Tom's tone. Janeway merely quirked an eyebrow before a bark of laughter erupted followed by a soft punch to Tom's shoulder.
"Keep working at it. Perhaps persistence will pay off for you, eventually." She didn't exactly wink.
Janeway's attention was diverted when the children gathered around her as they asked her a series of questions about how she put so much force in her energy fields to cause the unstoppable cannonball known as Tom Paris to fall to the ground so fast and if they could race one another. Annika noticed that Janeway was startled but diffused the issue quickly with her calm, commanding voice that allowed for no argument. Annika appreciated the way the tight thick looking material surrounded Janeway's petite form in an attractive yet modest fashion. She blushed faintly as thoughts of how such a garment was removed entered her mind's eye. She shifted her attention away from the mesmerizing woman.
Paris held his head high as Harry and B'Elanna teased him about being the one to land on his ass and how he made an impressive dent in their grounds while he did it. Annika noticed that she had never seen the dark featured woman smile as she was now. Whether it was from the presence of Harry or Tom, Annika didn't know.
Tuvok and Chakotay discussed how to expand the energy shield to broaden their illusion and also to absorb more of the energy impact than it currently was able to. Annika couldn't help but seethe a bit as Chakotay's dark eyes kept trailing over to look at Janeway's compact form, slightly glistening with the exertion of her race with Paris. Annika felt a cold trickle of worry make its way to the pit of her stomach as she wondered what Chakotay and Janeway's relationship was exactly. And if these warm gazes were only one sided. Janeway did seem oblivious, though perhaps she was just more discrete than the large tattooed man who was on the top of Annika's list of people she didn't particularly like.
Annika chanced a quick look at Kes, but the elfin woman seemed to be in deep conversation with Neelix and the fiery red-haired woman that Annika hadn't yet been introduced to.
What Annika didn't notice was the way Billy and Celes were regarding her with knowing smiles on their faces. Another one bites the dust, was what their looks seemed to say.
"Annika?" The hand on her shoulder along with the warm, husky tone made Annika's whole body tingle. She slowly turned to face Janeway, whose eyes were still bright blue, though her face had shifted to a more professional manner. "I was wondering if you would like to take a look at our databases. Ms. Ballard could show you tonight if you'd like?"
"Of course." Annika was grateful for the offer. She felt out of the loop and stupid, something that she loathed. "Thank you."
Janeway merely nodded, though a ghost of a smile still graced her lips. The tall blonde almost sighed happily, that was until the small woman moved over to the large mass that was already Annika's nemesis, Chakotay.
"Chakotay?" The burly man turned, a large grin crinkled the tattoo above his left eyebrow and creased his face to display large dimples on either side of his mouth. Annika supposed he could be considered darkly handsome if one was impressed by that sort of thing.
"That was some fancy flying up there, Kathryn." Again with the first name basis. Annika could feel the metal itching under her skin. Even more so when his warm tones elicited a blush and a shy smile from the auburn haired woman.
"Yes, well, thank you." Kathryn's blush faded right before she returned her blue eyes up to lock onto Chakotay's dark ones. "I'd like to shower first but then we can start on those reports, tonight, if you'd like."
"Of course." The dimples grew even more pronounced, if that were even possible. Annika gritted her teeth as the big man continued. "I'll bring the wine."
Annika felt like she needed to scream and then pound this man into the ground with her metal fists, but she held back. She figured Janeway would probably be less than impressed by that. Though it might make Annika feel a whole lot better.
With a soft pat to Chakotay's shoulder and a smile, Janeway lifted off and flew towards the dormitory that stood off to the side of the main school building. Many pairs of eyes watched the departing figure before conversation resumed once again.
If looks could really kill, Chakotay wouldn't have known what hit him as he died a quick death from the one Annika shot at him. Oblivious to the seething look, he and Tuvok resumed their conversation regarding the holographic shield emitters as they walked towards the dormitory.
The four younger children were now ice skating on the thick solid ice that Azan had filled the large but relatively shallow crater with. The three teens sat next to the ice rink and were in the midst of discussing how Tom could have better defended himself from their Headmistress' attacks.
"Annika?" Kes' warm tones brought the tall blonde out of her rather explicit musings of how exactly she would kill Chakotay. The elfin woman had a bit of an alarmed look on her features before her violet eyes became calm again.
"Yes?" Annika tried to make her voice even and hoped she had accomplished it well enough despite the fact that it probably didn't matter since Kes already knew her mood.
"I wasn't sure if you had a chance to meet Lyndsay yet." Kes gestured to the fiery redhead who stood next to her.
"No, I haven't. It's nice to meet you. I'm Annika." They shook hands, the shake was firm and energetic.
"Same here, Annika." Lyndsay had a palatable energy that sparked off of her, alighted hazel eyes bored into Annika's icy blue ones. "How 'bout we get on with those databases, get you all caught up. Then...hot totties all around!"
"What are..." Annika crinkled her nose at the thought of having to actually repeat the words.
Lyndsay smiled grandly and knowingly. "Cocktails, spirits, alcoholic beverages. They really teach you kids nothing these days!" The tone of voice made Annika think of her Great Aunt Irene. "All right, let's get going, not getting any younger."
And with a flourish the spunky red head was off, not exactly waiting to see if Annika followed her. Though with a shrug to Kes, she did.
"So!" It seemed that everything Lyndsay Ballard said was a yell to Annika's ears. "What the hell do you do, huh?"
"What do I do?" Annika wasn't sure how to react to this woman who had condescension in her tone that wasn't exactly unfriendly though a bit offensive to the proud Annika Hansen.
"Yeah, your gifts, or powers, or whatever you call them."
When they stopped in front of the lift, Lyndsay took off the metallic control panel that Annika hadn't even realized could be removed until that moment. The redhead punched a few quick codes in the revealed keypad and stepped away from the lift as she took Annika's arm in her hand, an instruction to also step back. Annika was about to say something in response to the question and the touch when the floor gave way and she gasped as she moved quickly down through an elevator shaft.
The only light was the floor panel that had descended from beneath. Another panel replaced it and cut off the light from the hallway as Annika and Lyndsay descended as fast as they could without their stomachs dropping. Annika was a bit unsteady when the lift stopped in front of a large metal circular door that looked heavy and impenetrable. Lyndsay punched a code into the panel next to the door, Annika wasn't able to catch a single number or letter the other woman's fingers moved so swiftly and with ease even with a code that was taking quite a few minutes to input.
"You haven't answered my question." Annika was both startled by the voice and the loud shifting of the metallic door. "Your abilities?"
Annika opened the palm of her left hand as she stretched her arm out in front of her. Within seconds the arm and hand were incased with metal, the long dangerous nails were held away from both women's bodies.
"Bitch'n." Lyndsay chuckled as Annika's hand returned to flesh. "You know, back in my day powers were much more defensive than offensive. But we have to change with the times huh?"
"Your day?" Annika quirked her left eyebrow. The redhead appeared to be several years younger than Annika's thirty years, but her tone made it seem like she had decades of experience on her.
"I'm one hundred and six years old." Lyndsay's tone made it sound like a punch line, which it quite possibly was for her.
"Oh." Annika kept her voice purposefully even. "I must say, you've aged well."
Lyndsay's hazel eyes blazed with mirth as she laughed loudly, the boisterous sound echoed in the underground cavern. The redhead still had laughter in her eyes as she led Annika through a narrow, brightly lit metallic hallway.
"So, you're just eternally youthful?" Annika watched as the redhead entered a small alcove built into one of the walls.
"Not exactly. I have the ability to shed my old body and replace it with a new one." She faced Annika as a series of purple lights passed over the entire length of her body until it bleeped with acceptance.
"Welcome, Lyndsay Ballard." The voice was flat, but feminine.
"Thank you, Computer." Lyndsay punched in another series of codes before she turned towards Annika. "Computer, one visitor, authorization Ballard Six Eight Nine Omega One."
"Authorization accepted. Welcome, visitor."
"Uh, thank you... Computer." Annika shrugged not really knowing if that had not been the right response but neither the computer nor Lyndsay said anything. The redhead was too busy punching another long series of codes. "A lot of security measures, huh?"
Annika wondered how much this tiny room alone had cost.
"You'll see why in a minute." Lyndsay punched in the last of the one hundred and eighty six key code string and stepped back as another large heavy looking metallic door started to grind loudly in its opening. "Stay close to me."
Annika did and knew exactly why in a second. The room was cavernous, dark, and vastly empty. The only thing she saw was what looked like a huge suspended platform a hundred feet above them. She didn't particular want to look down at the dark abyss below them so she didn't. Annika had no clue as to how non-fliers reached the platform since there were no stairs or much of anything that she could see. She heard a soft buzzing sound and as it came closer she could see that it was a small hover craft that one merely stepped onto instead of sitting in.
"Well, here's our ride." The clear alto of Lyndsay's voice filled the cavern.
She allowed Annika to step onto the craft ahead of her and secured the two of them with a lowered metal bar before she commanded the hovercraft to move upwards. The craft hovered next to the platform only long enough to deposit its cargo before it buzzed off again.
The computer banks that greeted Annika were the largest she had ever seen and she had seen her share of impressively large computer banks during her work with Global Tech. The display screen itself filled the upper portion of the cavern to the rocky ceiling. Annika estimated that it was a good two hundred feet long and just about that tall.
"Hot damn!" Annika was duly impressed.
"Majel here is the most advanced computer in the country." Lyndsay settled into the cushions of an oversized black leather chair as she began to press commands into the computer. "We're very proud of her."
"I would hope so!" Annika took the offered chair next to Lyndsay's, her bright blue eyes flitted around as she took in the expansive console.
"All right, where to start, hmm, we could start with, hmm no..." Lyndsay crinkled her nose as she tried to decide what to show Annika first. "Annika, how much do you know about metahuman history?"
"Not much to tell you the truth, I was..." Annika started to shift uncomfortably in her seat. She really had been an ostrich in the sand. No more, she vowed.
"In the closet?" At Annika's confused look Lyndsay grinned. "Never mind. Old phrase. All right." Lyndsay pushed away from the console to address Annika directly.
"Metahumans are an extreme minority occurring in only .0001% of the population, which means there's only about five hundred here in the United States and about eight million across the globe. Now, there are three classifications of metahumans that the UFM, which we'll get into next, have categorized: epsilon, theta, and omega. Epsilon classes are those metahumans who have low grade physical manifestations such as gills or a tail, things that make them very susceptible to anti-metahuman sentiment but don't rank high on the power scale. Theta class metahumans are those like me who have no external offensive powers but high enough physical manifestations to be considered pretty powerful. I don't die for instance. Okay, I don't stay dead at any rate. And last but certainly not least, Omega class metahumans. These occur in even less of the population than the other two classes though as I alluded before, they are occurring much more frequently now than they did when I was actually young. Omega level metahumans are what makes up most of the faculty and staff not to mention the student body at large here at the Voyager Institute. They are metahumans who manifest their abilities not only internally and physically but externally as well, and powerfully at that. There are varying power levels in each class. For instance, our dear Headmistress is a level nine Omega metahuman which is pretty powerful indeed. A level ten, which we've never actually encountered before, but theoretically, would be a metahuman that could simply destroy the world with a thought."
"I had no idea." Annika gasped at the thought of someone being capable of destroying the entire planet, with a thought. And then, not for the first time, she wondered how much power Janeway was actually capable of. She wanted to ask directly but faltered so instead she asked a more general question. "So, are there many level nine Omegas?"
"We don't know exactly how many, but there are two besides Kathryn here at this school." Finally, Annika thought, another person besides that tattoo bear of a man who called Janeway Kathryn. "Tom Paris and Kes."
"Kes?!" The warm, soft spoken petite pixie?
"Kes is very powerful, with mental abilities that rival any other person I've ever met, and I have met my share." Lyndsay thought about the elfin woman in question with sadness her in her hazel eyes. "Despite the fact that she could very well be even more powerful than a level nine Omega she doesn't dare allow herself to be. About six years ago she put mental barriers in her mind with the help of an associate that now prevents her from accessing her true mental abilities until she is ready to possess them."
"Kes is the theoretical possibility?" her voice was hushed. Annika already knew the answer but it still left her feeling shocked and not a little disturbed.
"Yes." Lyndsay didn't elaborate further as she tapped in a few codes into the console.
A three dimensional rotating image of the Earth appeared in front of the two women. Grids appeared over various potions of the forever shifting image. Bright pinpoints were scattered across the globe.
"There are forty-seven institutes including ours around the globe."
A few more codes and a block of images appeared next to the rotating earth. The first image that was brought to the fore was of a group of eighteen men and women all lined up into three rows as if they were in a class picture. Annika recognized Lyndsay among them though the woman had dark brown hair in the picture rather than the bright red she sported now.
"In 2011 there was an incident which brought metahumans to widespread public knowledge. A boy leveled his house when his abilities manifested themselves as a small, but destructive thermo-chemical blast. The boy was frightened and panicked, he couldn't control his abilities so when the police tried to apprehend him he protected himself and killed all of them. He was referred to as Demolition Boy in all the papers and news feeds."
Annika nodded her head, she had heard about this incident in vague terms from all of the televangelist and fundamentalist bigots who hated metahumans with fiery passions citing that their God had enlisted them to purge the world of all who had the "disease".
"A group of us tried to retrieve the boy to prevent him from doing any more harm but he had been unable to deal with his powers or the fact that he had killed his family along with dozens of others. He controlled his power enough to be shot down by a swat team. He was thirteen. The group of us who had failed decided that such failure in the future, especially since we had been exposed to the world at large in such a destructive manner, could not occur again. We determined that we needed a way to protect and teach burgeoning metahumans across the world so the United Federation of Metahumans was formed."
Lyndsay enlarged a few of the images and brought them to the fore. "These seven are the active members of the initial UFM: James T. Kirk, Montgomery Scott, Nyota Uhura, Hikaru Sulu, Pavel Chekov, Jean Luc Picard... and myself, of course. The other members are either retired or dead."
The images went back to the background as a set of new images appeared, all were three dimensional as if Annika could reach out and touch them they were so lifelike, despite the fact that they were suspended in the air and very large representations of people.
"The other five remaining chairs of the UFM are taken up by Julian Bashir, Benjamin Sisko, Lwaxana Troi, Alynna Nechayev, and our very own Kathryn Janeway."
Annika had tried not to make it too obvious that she had paid extra attention to the rather large and impressive image of Janeway; the woman's hands on her thin hips and her chin was raised as if to challenge anyone who would have the audacity to get too close.
"In addition to being chairs for the UFM, Nechayev and Janeway are the co-founders and co-chairpersons of the Metahuman Protection Agency for those metahumans and their families who need or want to go into hiding instead of utilizing the Voyager Institute or the many institutes around the world, these are usually Epsilon Class metahumans and their families or caretakers. There are currently two million metahumans in the MPA system worldwide."
"Amazing." Annika couldn't imagine two million metahumans, let alone that many hidden from the public.
"It really is." Lyndsay leaned back in her chair as she regarded the tall blonde next to her. "So the UFM and the MPA are the two main united fronts of metahumans globally and that's pretty much the gist of it. We try to help metahumans remain safe and learn how to use their abilities and we protect the greater public from threats, metahuman or otherwise."
"Despite the fact that a large majority of the 'greater public' would like to see as tagged like animals or worse." Annika's voice had a hard tone to it as she thought about children like Naomi being tagged and hauled off to concentration camps or the like.
"Yes, despite that." Lyndsay tried not to make the next part sound condescending though she wasn't sure if she had succeeded. "Annika. I've lived through ten decades of the majority hating the minority but I've also seen the easing of those tensions as well. I have hope that I'll see the day when anti-metahuman sentiment is something of the past, to look back on and feel shame for that and pride that we moved past it."
Annika could only nod as she bowed down to Lyndsay's greater life experience. She only hoped she would see that day in her lifetime as well.
"So, what else would you like to know?" Lyndsay's tone shifted back to her characteristic cheerfulness. "I'm sure you're dying with questions that Majel and I can answer for you in three dimensions!"
"I'd like to know more about this Institute and the people here, I always feel out of the loop and I'm kind of getting tired of gawking stupidly at everything." Annika shook her head ruefully. She had always been the best and the brightest, but here she felt dumb and naïve.
"All right, the Voyager Institute crash course, my specialty." Lyndsay quickly keyed in a number of codes. A large, three dimensional model of the rather expansive grounds of the institute appeared. The grounds rotated to give the viewer the different angles of the Institute.
"The Institute was established in the year 2020, being the third Institute to be created in the United States." Next to the Institute stood two figures with snowy white hair and friendly expressions on their faces, if they weren't stationary holograms Annika suspected they would be waving happily at the viewer.
"Oh my God!" Annika recognized the pair immediately.
Co-CEOs of Intrepid Enterprises, Owen and Lucinda Paris were multibillionaires several times over. Their company had, after all, developed the technology that revolutionized the automotive industry. Cars now ran completely on batteries, the refueling stations were powered by wind and solar energy, and they no longer needed rubber since the cars now hovered a few inches off the ground utilizing antigravity plating. Their company had also made major contributions to the medical field including the hypospray, an ingenious injection device that contained no needles, it was bloodless and not contaminated by use, so it could be used by many people and any medicine could be swapped quickly. They had also been responsible for the portable diagnosis tool known as a tricorder. Their company had also been a great contributor to the development of holographic technology. Though not for the military directly since Annika had it on good authority that the Parises never took military contracts.
It all made some sort of strange sense now. No wonder this place was so cutting edge state of the art, thought Annika, thoroughly impressed by the Institute's benefactors.
"Obviously you recognize the Parises." Lyndsay pulled up several more profiles. The people stood around absently as if they had much better things to do than pose unmoving for Annika and Lyndsay.
Annika noticed a blonde Lyndsay was in the mix as well.
"A surly bunch to be sure." Lyndsay laughed happily, she had enjoyed her time with these people immensely and was saddened when they all either retired, transferred, or died. One of the major downsides to being immortal and eternally youthful.
"The Parises were, as they often are, co-heads of the Institute from its inception until their retirement seven years ago. That's when Kathryn took over. Patterson and Ross were lost on a mission about ten years ago." The images of a rotund white haired man with a short white goatee disappeared as did a sturdy looking man with weathered features.
"Dr. Pulaski has long since retired." A smirking gray haired woman vanished.
"Lenara left to go to South America when she transferred to a new host." A slight sandy haired woman with spots that ran down the sides of her face and neck disappeared.
"And last but not least, Lwaxana ..." Lyndsay smiled up at the voluptuous curly haired brunette that always seemed to have more energy than Lyndsay ever could, despite the youthful body she had. "She's tearing apart Australia as we speak, or drinking her staff under the table." The brunette was the last to vanish.
"The first graduating class..." Eight holographic bodies dressed in form fitting slate gray outfits with dark gray padded shoulders that matched their calf high boots started to shimmer into focus. "Kathryn Janeway, William Riker, Geordi La Forge, Deanna Troi, Reginald Barclay, Jadzia Dax, Mark Johnson, and Regina McQueen."
Annika paid little to no attention to anyone but the petite auburn haired youth that stood between a broad-shouldered boy with sandy blonde hair and a muscular figure and a tall lanky girl with long dark red hair. The eighteen year old Kathryn Janeway was pretty to be sure, but there seemed to be a dark cast to her features that leant the young woman a perpetually sad and reticent look even as she smiled broadly, arms linked with the two people next to her. Annika wondered what had happened in the young woman's life to give this holographic rendition of hers this affecting look.
"She was a heartbreaker even then." Lyndsay's words and the following chuckle shook Annika out of her musings with a start.
"What?" Annika looked quickly from Lyndsay back to the image of the first graduating class.
She realized suddenly that both people who flanked the auburn haired teen had possessive expressions on their faces as they gazed down at her. Annika felt the same icy feeling that she had felt when she had seen the way that Chakotay looked at Janeway; longing in his dark eyes. These two people, as holographic as they were, now followed the large tattooed man on her list of people to despise.
"Our illustrious Headmistress has broken more hearts than I've had lives." Lyndsay's voice took on a teasing, but chastising tone. "For four years, Mark Johnson and Regina McQueen were heated rivals when it came to the affections of one amazingly brilliant and ridiculously oblivious Kathryn Janeway." She gestured to the two teens on either side of the smiling Janeway.
"So..." Annika was insanely grateful that she had such an informative tour guide into the history of Janeway as she did with the indiscreet Lyndsay Ballard. "Who won?"
"That's the thing!" Lyndsay threw up her hands as she rolled her eyes. "Neither one did! They both finally got up the courage and asked her to the UFM ball their senior year and she said..." Lyndsay laughed heartily as she tried to continue with the story for her avid audience of one. "She said sure! To both of them! She had no idea, even perhaps to this day, that their invitations to the dance were romantic overtures." The laughing redhead was in tears at this point. "So, they all three went. I can tell you, it was quite the scandal for everyone involved with the exception of the instigator of the whole mess. I can still hear Lwaxana telling her own daughter to be that adventurous."
Annika couldn't help herself as she too was brought to tears from laughing at the unfortunate pair of would be suitors. Just as she thought she had it under control the thought of them both escorting Janeway to the dance while the petite woman was without a clue in the world that she had both fulfilled their wishes and dashed their hopes sent her in painful guffaws.
Lyndsay wiped away a few tears as she finally was able to control herself as she turned to a tear faced Annika. "Let me get something very clear. Kathryn is brilliant, scarily so, she's also single minded, headstrong, and confident as all hell... when it comes to her professional life. In her personal life she's as blind as the proverbial bat and basically has no clue how to go about having one. She was like that when she was a student here and she's like that now."
"But, how, I mean, why is she like that?" Annika's heart was thumping quickly in her chest as she wondered what one would have to do to garner the affectionate attention of a woman who, at the tender age of eighteen, had been seemingly completely unaware of the intentions of two people who didn't seem to have hid it well for four straight years.
"Because she's oblivious to that sort of attention. And... perhaps because her heart has never really mended." The mirth that had filled Lyndsay's eyes quickly faded to something akin to regret and protectiveness. The red head took a deep breath before her usually cheerful voice took on a somber tone that Annika would never have expected from the light alto.
"As you may already know, metahuman abilities usually manifest around puberty, and more often than not triggered by extreme emotions or physical stress. Kathryn Janeway's abilities manifested themselves the day her parents and her little sister along with a hundred and forty-two others were killed in a plane crash when she was eleven years old. Freak engine malfunction. She had been able to save herself when the stress of the drop caused her to unconsciously trigger her force field. She was the only survivor." Lyndsay looked up at the smiling, albeit painfully restrained holographic representation of the young version of Janeway she had known well.
"My God..." Annika's voice was a mere whisper as tears filled her throat.
Lyndsay cleared her throat as she continued. "It took rescuers four hours to get to the wreckage. Four hours. The authorities never did come to a conclusion about how one lone girl survived that horrible crash. Some proclaimed it was a miracle, God himself at work." She grunted at this.
"Two weeks after the accident, Lwaxana and I went to the home of Martha Janeway, Kathryn's aunt. Instead of the Seeker Technology we have now, we had a division of the UFM that monitored unexplained occurrences, that plane crash was one of them. Sometimes people are extremely reluctant to hear us out, but Martha wanted any help she could to get Kathryn to speak again, to eat again, to get her out of her closed up bedroom and outside in the sun where she said little girls were supposed to be."
Tears of a different kind than the ones before sprang to Lyndsay's eyes as she remembered that day as if it had been yesterday. Sometimes her eidetic memory, almost computer like, was a curse. She took an uneven breath before she began again.
"Lwaxana had wanted to go in to see Kathryn alone, she had thought her psionic abilities would be able to reach the mute little girl. I had stayed with Martha... until I heard it. I have seen Lwaxana Troi in tears exactly twice in our long lives together. The first time was when her beloved husband had been killed and the second was outside of Kathryn Janeway's bedroom door." Lyndsay reached her left hand out and captured the trembling hand of the tall woman seated next to her.
"I'll never forget how Lwaxana looked at me, tears in those dark eyes of hers... 'She's screaming!' is what she said when I reached her. Then she kept repeating the same two words over and over again, 'I'm sorry'. I didn't really understand the true meaning behind her words so I just held her as she cried. Martha had come in, frantically worried, but reluctantly left us when we asked her to. After what seemed like forever, Lwaxana withdrew from me and explained what she had discovered about the little girl we were there to recruit." The red head snorted in a self-castigating way.
"Smart as a whip, that eleven year old Kathryn Janeway knew exactly what she was and a bit of what her abilities were. And that's why she never went outside, you see the sun gives her powers an extra boost as you saw earlier today, it replenishes and revitalizes and that little girl didn't want any of that. She was punishing herself for her perceived failure. For not using her abilities to save her family, her loving mother and adoring father and the little sister she had sworn to protect. She also blamed herself for not saving the other one hundred and forty-two men, women, and children on the plane. She had thought herself selfish for only saving herself, despite the fact that her manifestation had been completely unconscious on her part." Lyndsay's thoughts were transported back to that day, she could almost smell the strong scent of coffee that had been so prevalent in that brightly lit home in Connecticut almost three decades ago.
"Lwaxana!" Lyndsay held the brunette woman close to her as muffled "I'm sorry's" were pressed into her chest. "What is it, what's happening?"
"Oh my!" Lyndsay looked up at the startled and worried eyes of Martha Janeway. "What's the matter? What can I do?"
"I, I don't know, I think she's connected to Kathryn." Lyndsay was starting to become worried, she had never seen the usually vibrant but controlled woman like this aside from the day her husband had been killed.
"Kathryn!" Frantically worried for her niece, Martha stepped closer to the two women to get to Kathryn on the other side of the door, but was stopped by a raised hand.
"No, please!" It was Lwaxana. "She can't see you right now. You remind her too much of Edward." The break was over however and she resumed her mantra into Lyndsay's tear soaked chest.
"Oh... oh no..." Tears began to stream down the older woman's face as her hand came up to her mouth.
Of course, how could she have been so careless? She had been told all her life that she resembled her older brother a great deal. Sorrow, hot and heavy rested in the pit of her stomach. She had wanted so much to help, but she may have done nothing but inflict more damage on the already traumatized girl.
"Ms. Janeway... Martha, we're going to do whatever we can to help Kathryn, but I think that you might want to uh..." Lyndsay didn't know exactly how to tell the older woman to go away, but she knew she had to.
"No. No, I understand, I-I'm so sorry, I didn't, I had no idea that I..." Her voice failed as fresh tears streamed hotly from her slate gray eyes. "I-I'll be in the kitchen. Call me if..." She couldn't finish, who would need her anyways?
"We will." Lyndsay's voice took on a determined tone. "You did nothing wrong, Martha. You love Kathryn and would do nothing to intentionally hurt her, you know that and she knows that."
Martha Janeway nodded her head before she quickly escaped into the kitchen.
"Lwaxana?" She didn't respond. "Lwaxana Troi!"
Still no response from the sobbing woman. Lyndsay did the only thing she could think of to do. She pulled the crying woman from her chest and slapped her across the face. Hard.
That did garner a response. "You little blonde bitch! I could kiss you."
"You had me worried there." Lyndsay sighed with relief that whatever sort of trance the other woman had been in had now ended.
"She knows." Lwaxana sat against the wall. Physically exhausted from the crying and the powerful psionic connection she had just experienced. .
"She knows what she is." Lwaxana's voice was soft and rough, nothing like its usual timbre. "She knows a bit of what she can do. She knows that she can absorb ambient energy especially solar energies to augment her powers. That's why she won't go outside or open the blinds even a millimeter. She also knows that she survived by creating a force field around herself. And she knows she can't tell the authorities that fact. But the thing that she knows, the thing that is filling her with so much guilt and self-loathing that she screamed inside my head with a pain I haven't felt in years, the thing that will no doubt haunt her all of her life is the sole knowledge that she could have... that she had the ability if not the know how to save them, her family, she knows, she could have saved them all."
Lyndsay had been, for the first time in her fifty odd years of living, rendered completely and utterly speechless.
"And you were right, Lynds. She knows her aunt loves her, but seeing her, seeing her father's sister, it's too much for her to bear. She believes her aunt would hate her, should hate her, for not having saved Edward Janeway, Gretchen and Phoebe." Lwaxana Troi pushed herself off of the hardwood floor, albeit unsteadily, but she needed to stop wallowing in this little girl's misery and do what they were here to do.
"So, how do we play this?" Lyndsay couldn't believe how perceptive this little girl was and how wrong she was about the whole thing.
"Kathryn Janeway has a sharp, analytical mind, she'll respond to cold hard facts more than emotionally charged words of comfort." Lwaxana tried to wipe her face clean of the wet mascara that had streaked across it.
Satisfied that she looked composed and tear free, Lwaxana knocked on the white door that lay in front of them. There was no response, at least not an auditory one.
Go away! Please, Aunt Martha, leave me alone!
Who are you? What're you doing talking in my head? Leave.
My name is Lwaxana Troi, I'm a teacher at an Institute for children such as you.
Like me? What do you want?
I was hoping that I and my associate, Lyndsay, could speak with you for a bit. Perhaps we could come in?
Where's my Aunt Martha?
In the kitchen, she... knows that you are affected by her...
I didn't mean to make her sad.
She knows that, Kathryn. She loves you very much.
She'd hate me, if she knew.
I have it on pretty good authority that she wouldn't, Kathryn. She loves you very much, she wants only to help you. We also would like to help you.
I guess you can come in, if you still want to.
Thank you, Kathryn. I'm going to open the door now.
Lwaxana nodded to her blonde companion as she slowly turned the knob to the thin white door. The bright sunlight from the hall illuminated the pitch black room for just a moment before Kathryn Janeway yelled quite loudly in Lwaxana's mind to quickly shut the door, don't let the sunlight in. The older woman had complied, albeit reluctantly.
"Kathryn, I'm Lwaxana Troi and this is Lyndsay Ballard." The two women stood uncertainly in front of the closed door. They both felt intimidated by the little girl they had yet to lay eyes on. The darkness made the older women feel exposed and unsure of themselves as did the deafening silence.
They had to shield their eyes as a bright glow suddenly appeared in front of them. As their vision adjusted from the dark to the suddenly brightly lit room they finally saw the little girl they had come to Connecticut to retrieve.
Kathryn Janeway stood on the small rumpled bed ablaze with a golden glow that both engulfed and swirled haphazardly around her tiny frame. She was small for her age and looked painfully thin in the light pink t-shirt and gray pajama bottoms she wore. Her long red hair floated with the glowing tendrils as if she were underwater. Her eyes were large and energy sparked from them as she evenly gazed at the two women who had come into her self-imposed prison.
"Kathryn?" Lwaxana couldn't read much emotion coming off the glowing girl and that worried her.
I'm sorry, you let the light in, I have to let it out or it will stay with me.
The glow began to fade as did the agitation the two older women had felt when it had first appeared.
Kathryn, may we talk aloud?
I don't like to.
Why don't you like to?
I sound like my mother.
I'm so sorry for your immense loss, Kathryn.
Yes, everyone is. If they only knew.
None of it was your fault. You couldn't have saved them, Kathryn.
You don't know that. I saved myself. I could have extended the protective field to save my mother, my daddy, and little Phoebe.
But you didn't erect that field consciously did you?
No. But that was my fault. I knew I was different. If I had known more about my abilities I could have saved them all.
The pitch black darkness returned.
Kathryn, I can't alleviate your guilt over the tragedy of what happened to you and your family. That's for you to do. What I can do is tell you the facts. You are an eleven year old metahuman, perhaps the youngest occurrence to date. Usually it manifests late into the thirteenth year or early fourteenth year for girls and later in boys coinciding with puberty. But in your case, you manifested your abilities due to extreme emotional strain and unconscious self-preservation. You said you've known you were different. How?
Yes. I felt like a plant because I gained energy from the sun. I never got sun burnt, ever. I loved being outside in the bright sun. It made me happy and it made me feel like I could fly if I wanted to.
That's an internal physical manifestation of your abilities. Those are usually subtle and can exist from birth in a more latent form until puberty is reached. You've never had an external manifestation such as the one that protected you. Have you?
It was not within your abilities or knowledge to have saved them, Kathryn. As much as you would like it to have been. That is the fact of the situation.
Then I'm stupid for not knowing.
Inexperienced and undisciplined. You are far from stupid, Kathryn. You are extremely perceptive. I don't know if I've met a metahuman who has been as self-aware as you before their external manifestation.
So, that's what you do. You teach... metahumans to use their abilities?
Among other things yes, our primary objective is to provide a safe place for metahumans to learn about their abilities and how to control them.
My mother was a teacher.
I'm sure she was a wonderful teacher and would be proud to have such a smart daughter.
I miss them.
I know you do, Kathryn. But they do still remain with you, in your heart and in your mind. They are a part of you, forever.
Lyndsay heard the muffled sobs before Lwaxana, but didn't respond first. The telepath was already at the bed when Lyndsay made her clumsy way there. She couldn't see in the darkness so she felt her way to the end of the bed and sat. The weeping was louder now, but even more muffled and Lyndsay's heart went out to the little girl who she imagined was enfolded in the arms of Lwaxana.
"Let's get you some sun, Kathryn, it'll make you feel better." Lwaxana stroked the long hair of the small girl in her arms that had just finished crying and was in the process of wiping the hot tears away with the back of her small hand.
When she heard Kathryn's thoughts, Lwaxana's voice became firm. "You do deserve it. So how about it?"
"Okay," Kathryn's voice was whisper soft and raspy from disuse.
Lwaxana gave the little girl a reassuring hug before she moved away from the bed to where the window was. Her ability to locate it aided by faint thoughts from Kathryn.
The long drapes were thick and heavy and were very securely duct taped to the window it covered, not a sliver of light escaped. Lwaxana ignored the wrenching of her heart as best she could before she carefully tore away the many layers of thick gray tape until the drapes hung loosely as they were meant to.
Light began to streak through the gap between the two long hanging drapes. Lwaxana took a deep breath and made the gap larger until the entire window was exposed and the sunlight spilled into the small bedroom, illuminating its content. She turned slowly around and found Lyndsay standing by the bed next to the pale little girl.
Shimmering golden light surrounded Kathryn Janeway as she, with a determined look on her small face, stepped forward.
"I'd like to go to your school."
"And we'd like to have you, Kathryn."
"So, she attended the New York Institute for Gifted Youngsters until the Voyager Institute opened and the three of us and a few others transferred to the West Coast." Lyndsay's voice remained relatively even as she wiped the last of the tears from her hazel eyes.
She hadn't thought about that day for so long and now she remembered why.
"I don't even know what to say." Annika, like Lyndsay, wiped the tears from her own cheeks.
"I say, we're done here for today." Lyndsay stood abruptly and held her hand out to Annika. "And that we need some good stiff drinks."
"I believe you mean 'hot totties'." Annika attempted a bit of levity as she allowed herself to be helped from the cushions of the chair. "And I say, bring them on."
When the lift doors opened Annika was surprised to find herself not in the dormitories or the main building, but in the hallway that led to the training room she had been in earlier that day with Janeway and three of the students. She glanced curiously at her red headed companion.
"You'll see in a minute." Lyndsay grinned brightly as she led the tall blonde woman down the metal lined hallway. Large sliding doors opened with a whoosh as the two women approached the training room.
The sight that greeted them elicited a gasp from Annika. No one would ever have known there had been a cavernous rather dull gray room there as it was replaced by a dimly lit, almost cozy if not a bit divvy bar with three large pool tables in the middle of the room and tables with stools and booths scattered liberally around the wood lined walls with pictures of turn of the century movie stars and other celebrity pictures hung from them.
Annika didn't recognize the bartender, the pianist, or the older blonde haired woman in an almost scandalous purple dress who flitted about the room. She did recognize seven of the thirty or so patrons. Tom, Harry, Celes, and Billy were all at one of the large pool tables in the midst of a game by the look of the balls scattered on the green surface. Kes, Neelix, and B'Elanna were seated in one of the huge, red upholstered crescent shaped booths that had a clear line of sight at the game. Several glasses, empty and semi-full, were in front of them on the large circular table.
"This is remarkable!" Annika had thought the demonstration during Janeway's class was impressive but this detailed work of craftsmanship was truly awe-inspiring. She actually felt like she had just stepped into a real pub rather than a representation of it made with lights and magnetic fields. The place seemed alive with the chatter of holograms and the subtle sounds of the grand piano. She could even hear faint sounds of hover cars and passing people.
"Welcome to Sandrine's!" Lyndsay swept her right arm out in a flourish.
Annika blushed mildly when Lyndsay's declaration elicited the attention of everyone in the bar even the pianist.
"Hey!" Tom Paris waved his cueless hand. "Come on over, we're just about to waste Billy and Celes here."
With a skeptical laugh, Lyndsay led Annika down the short flight of stairs that went from the newly revealed glass doors to the main floor. They took their seats on two stools at a high table next to the game.
"Tom..." Harry looked at the balls and then at his cocky friend. "They're beating us."
"That's what they're supposed to think, Harry. We're setting them up for the big hustle." Tom's voice was sure but his blue eyes betrayed him. "Actually, why don't we just start a fresh game?"
"No way, Tom." Billy set up for his next shot. "I've got a wedding to pay for." He sank the ball with an orange stripe in a side pocket.
"Fine fine, I'd be happy to contribute to the almost newlyweds." Tom watched with dismay as another striped ball flew straight into a corner pocket with ease. "Damn."
"Paris, why do you insist on playing games that you aren't particularly good at?" Lyndsay's voice held mirth and a teasing tone that prodded the cocky man, without being unkind.
"It's at times like these," Tom watched as the eight ball was no more, "that I wonder."
When there were only solid colored balls left sadly on the green surface, Tom took out his money strip and pressed his thumb to the activator. The blue light indicated the account was opened and with a melodramatic sigh he transferred two hundred dollars to William Telfer's personal account, which bleeped in ill concealed delight in the dark haired man's pants pocket.
"I need a drink." Tom put his cue back in its holder before he made his way to the bar, not quite pouting but close to it.
"Are you ever going to tell, Tom?" Celes looked at her fiancée with a mixture of admonishment and adoration.
"I was serious when I said I have a wedding to pay for." Billy's face was boyish with the large grin plastered on it.
"Why haven't you told him, Harry?" Lyndsay looked at the dark featured man who merely shrugged his shoulders.
"Told him what?" Annika, again, felt out of the loop. Tomorrow she would spend the whole day in front of that enormous display screen, just so she didn't feel so inept all the time.
"Billy uses his abilities to sort of push balls where he wants them to go." Celes now looked more amused than anything else. "It really is quite underhanded of him."
"Telekinesis?" Annika marveled at the idea of being to move objects with her mind.
"No, not really, I have control over gravity and density and can make the air move objects where I want them to." Billy demonstrated with the eight ball. The black ball moved slowly from the pocket to a few feet off the table. "It's a matter of making the ball light and the air heavy."
"I see." Annika followed the descent of the ball until it was once again nestled in the corner pocket.
"So," Billy turned his large, innocent seeming grin on Annika. "Wanna play?"
"I think I'm going to take Tom's lead and get a drink." Annika grinned at the faux look of disappointment on Billy's face.
"At your service, my lady." Tom would have bowed if he hadn't been holding a small circular tray full of an assorted array of mixed drinks and bottles of beer. He carefully set the tray onto the high table before any of the liquid found its way out of the various glasses.
"Thanks." Annika chose a small tumbler full of red liquid which turned out to be cranberry juice and vodka, the good stuff too, it went down smooth. As she took another sip she let her gaze move around the bar. "This place is amazing. Who designed it?"
"I did." Tom smiled proudly. If he wasn't all that good at playing pool or taking down auburn haired Headmistresses, he was very accomplished at designing holographic simulations. "Since we're sort of confined to the Institute, especially when classes are going on we have to create our own entertainment. Sandrine's was a place I used to hang out when I went to school in France."
"Did you go to an Institute like this one?" Annika found herself immensely curious about the history of those around her. Whose lives seemed to be less secretive and much more exciting than hers.
"Yeah, but it specialized in flight and propulsion." Tom took a swig of his beer as he shrugged. "But I think I spent more time in Sandrine's than in a classroom."
There was something in his voice that wasn't exactly light in Annika's mind, but she decided that if he didn't say more then she wouldn't ask. And he didn't so she didn't.
"How 'bout we go join the others?" Harry knew exactly what Tom's tone had meant and decided to intervene when the silence became a bit too heavy for his liking... which took about a second.
"Sure." Tom took another swig before he grabbed another beer and headed towards the large booth that sat in a corner a few feet away from the pool tables. The rest said nothing as they gathered their drinks and followed the blonde haired man.
Annika was startled when she felt apprehension at the sight of Kes. She was ashamed of the unease she felt towards what Kes was capable of, since that kind of fear was not so different than the fear humans showed metahumans. Annika felt even worse when she saw the violet eyes look away in understanding. Deciding not to allow irrational fear get the better of her Annika scrunched in close to the blonde pixie as the rest piled in on either side of the expansive booth, effectively trapping B'Elanna, Neelix, and Kes in the middle of the red cushions.
"So, Annika," Harry tried not to shift uncomfortably as those icy blue eyes rested on him. "What'd you think of Majel?"
He did shift in his seat when a delighted and radiant smile graced the blonde's narrow features.
"Amazing! I've never seen a computer comparable to it." If Annika was embarrassed by the attention she was receiving from the people at the large round table she didn't show it. "That display screen alone is a marvel. Truly impressive."
"Nothing but the best for the folks." Tom hadn't seemed to have spoken to anyone in particular as he took a distracted drink from his beer bottle.
Of course, the Parises are Tom's parents. Though there seemed to be a story there as well, thought Annika. Who would have thought the cocky flyboy would have a chip on his shoulder. What she did know about these people was unbelievably little.
"So, what brought you all to this Institute?" It seemed a fairly straight forward question, but it garnered a few uneasy movements from a couple of the people around the table.
"Well, we all have our recruitment story or something similar. So, would you rather hear the short or the long of it?" Neelix's voice was high pinched and friendly which seemed characteristic of the stout freckled man who always seemed to smell of a mixture of spices that didn't quite overwhelm, but close to it.
"I've got a drink in my hand and no place to be, so the long, I suppose." Annika leaned back into the welcoming cushions as she crossed her long legs. "Plus, I'm very curious about all of you."
"About us?" Harry's voice wasn't exactly unsqueaky.
"Well, yes. I have to admit the idea of sitting here, talking with you all about being metahuman and how you came to be here is very intriguing to me." Annika felt that she had to be truthful despite the fact that she wasn't always quite so open with people, especially strangers.
"Should we draw straws then?" B'Elanna's voice held its characteristic snarkiness, but she didn't seem that put off by Annika's words.
A smile didn't grace B'Elanna's lips, but neither did the almost snarl that had been permanently on it when they had gone to Annika's apartment. Had that just been earlier that day, Annika felt like it was a lifetime ago.
"Who's had the most to drink?" Lyndsay looked around the table and spotted who had the most empty glasses in front of them. "Why don't you go?"
Kes drank the last of her gin and tonic down before she turned her violet eyes to the tall blonde seated next to her. She had felt the apprehension in Annika's emotions but decided it wasn't her place to delve deeper though she could make a guess as to what had made the tall blonde woman uneasy. The idea of someone being capable of destroying the world was not something to be easily shaken off. Though, Kes smiled inwardly, Annika had attempted to do so admirably.
All eyes on her, Kes' melodic tones began her tale. "Well, it started off as many stories often do, the night was... sultry."
"Kes, get down!" The voice was commanding, but filled with fear.
He pushed the petite blonde behind him, against the rain soaked brick wall, as he put his broader frame protectively in front of her. He redirected his attention to the heavily armed men in front of them. No part of their skin was revealed to them, though cracks of lightning displayed that they were all carrying large black rifles.
Before the dark haired man could move forward in a futile attempt to protect his small friend a rifle to the head brought him to his knees. Then he knew no more as he fell heavily to the ground.
"Ayala!" Kes tried to get to her fallen friend but a kick to her face took her down next to the dark haired man who had blood oozing from a nasty gash on his forehead.
"Mutie freaks." The voice was male, and with another crack of lightning revealed that he wasn't masked like the eight men dressed in black from head to toe. His face was a hideous expression of hatred. "Take them down like the filth they are."
With clicks that were only partially muted by the downpour of rain the rifles of the men went up at the command.
"Please!" Kes screamed over the roar of water and thunder that rumbled across her shivering, drenched frame. "Don't do this. We've done nothing wrong."
The unmasked man spoke again, with disgust. "You were born, mutie, that's enough for us." He pointed a small hand rifle at her. "Ready your aim men, we'll see them bleed for us tonight."
Before the first finger could pull the trigger to fire, the rifles and their owners were in the air, suspended. Even though he was surprised, the leader of the group yelled his final order.
The bullets rained from the sky and mixed with the water as they headed toward Kes and her fallen friend.
"No." Kes' voice was soft, calm, but no less in command as she lifted one hand and stopped the small pieces of metal that would have ended her life and that of her friend.
With a fiery red glow to her usually violet eyes the bullets sizzled and smoked as did the men who were suspended in the air. The screams were cut off as one by one they lost consciousness due to the immense pain that shot through their bodies. Feeling ones blood boil was not the most pleasant of experiences. Kes' eyes flared once again, the boiling stopped and a cooling began. With another thought she woke each of the men from the pain induced state of unconsciousness.
She wasn't nearly done with them. She could see into the minds of each and every one of them. Men who would have liked nothing better than to kill her and Ayala and then gone off to have drinks and brag about bagging another "mutie freak".
She could see clearly what Augris, the unmasked team leader, had done to his own son when the small boy had sprouted butterfly like wings from his pointed shoulder blades. Kes made Augris' blood move vigorously through his body with the rising of its temperature at the vision she saw of the blood that had covered the man's hands after he had viciously torn the beautiful gossamer wings from his son's body. Blood started oozing from Augris' nose as the memory of when the old hateful man had dragged his bleeding and crying son down to the basement and... Kes blocked the rest of the memory out but she thought she could actually hear the little boy's screams. Or maybe that was his father's that were filling her ears.
The memories of the other men who were suspended in the air weren't much better than Augris'. Strangers, past lovers, neighbors, school children, and other metahumans were killed quickly only if they had been very lucky... others had suffered brutality and hatred for hours sometimes days. In Kes' head, the screams of the victims were overcome and drowned out by the screams of their tormentors and killers. Kes smiled brightly.
Kes, please stop this.
She kept the men suspended, but cooled the temperature of their blood to an unpleasant but livable degree. The pained whimpers kept the smile on her lips even as she turned towards the person who had spoken to her in her mind.
A bald, slim built man in a dark suit stood under a large black umbrella at the entrance of the alleyway. He was flanked by two people dressed in long dark trench coats. One was a large man with short brown hair and a closely cropped beard, the other was a woman with long wavy dark chocolate colored hair and large brown eyes.
Kes addressed the bald man in the suit and ignored the other two completely.
I don't want to. I like their screams.
This isn't you, Kes. You're not a killer.
I'm doing the world a favor. These men are monsters.
They are monsters. But you'll become one too if you continue on this path.
Leave me alone. And get out of my head. Or I'll make you.
Kes, if you do this you can never go back.
Maybe I don't want to go back.
You were supposed to help people. Isn't that what you do, Kes? Help people?
I am helping people. The world will be much better off without these men in it. Do you know what Terla did to little Latika before he chopped the little boy's head off, or really while he was doing it? He had enjoyed the blood and the screams.
There's another way, Kes. I can show you. If you'll let me.
These men are rabid animals that need to be put down.
They are. But not this way. This way is no better than theirs.
You're boring me. Let me have my fun.
Fun? Is that what you're going to tell Ayala?
He'll understand. They were going to kill him after all.
What about Linnis? Andrew? The other children?
I'm doing it for them. These men. If they knew where the children were...
They'd do what you are about to do. Is it so different, Kes?
I fail to see how?
These men do horrible things. No remorse. No thoughts of compassion or mercy.
And is this what you call compassion and mercy?
What would you do, Picard? Let them go on their merry way? So they can keep on killing us, one brutal death after another.
Yes, I would let them go on their merry way, as you put it. But no, I wouldn't allow them to keep killing as they have been.
So, what would you do?
Erase that which gives them their appetites for murder and pain.
That's why you brought her?
Yes. She's going to make them confess to every single one of their heinous crimes and the human justice system will deal with them.
If the police would even care.
If they do not then these men will. It will eat away at them until there is nothing left as it would you if you were to kill them. Let us take care of it, Kes. Please. For your sake, if not theirs.
If it were anyone but you, Picard, they'd already be dead
Thank you, Kes
With wet thuds, men fell in awkward and pained heaps onto the grimy, rain drenched alley. None were able to move, they barely had enough energy to breath, ragged as it was. But they'd live, though not pleasantly for at least a little while.
Picard gestured towards the tall bearded man unnecessarily since the burly man had already made his approach to the heap of men on the ground.
William Riker put his hands over the bodies and concentrated on extracting the memories of the last hour or so when the group of men had first locked onto Kes and Ayala. He erased the images of the pair from each of the men's minds with ease. Now it was the wavy haired woman's turn.
Deanna Troi had inherited her mother's dark wavy hair, almost black eyes which only left slivers of white, and the voluptuous figure. She had also inherited her mother's metahuman gene code. She rested the tips of her fingers to her forehead and reached into the minds of the fallen men. She whispered to them in melodic low tones. They were instructions to go to the nearest police station and confess to the twenty-two murders that had been committed between the nine men. The whereabouts to the murder weapons and the locations of the bodies were to be disclosed. All of this was to be done immediately after they were able to walk again.
While Riker and Troi were in the midst of accomplishing their mission, Kes had attempted to regain control. Finally her eyes went from fiery red to the violet shade they normally were. She turned towards Jean-Luc Picard.
It's getting harder for me to contain myself, Jean-Luc.
Kes' gaze held intense worry, but only minimal regret as she took in the figures that were crumpled on the ground.
You held on, Kes, that's what matters. Your... other half wasn't able to take complete control of your mental capabilities or else those men would have already been dead or worse.
Picard had stepped closer to the woman and the prone man who she had helped into a seated position against her slight frame.
That's the thing... I don't know where the separation is anymore. We were both killing those men and we were both not allowing ourselves to. If you had been a few minutes later I have no doubt that we would have had our fun and those men would have been dead.
She looked up at the man she thought of as her mentor.
It scares me.
Picard put a reassuring hand on the young woman's shoulder, but inside he wasn't so reassured. Kes had the potential to be very powerful. Perhaps the most powerful metahuman to ever exist. And Picard had seen the destruction some of the very powerful could cause. He would hate to see the warm hearted, compassionate woman lose herself to that sort of power. The old adage was correct, Picard had seen it happen to so many others. That power, that need for more, it corrupted even the strongest.
Kes was already such a fragile woman, having lost both her parents early in her childhood and then having been shipped to a detention center for young metahumans in the heart of Scotland. Picard knew some of what had happened there, which made his heart wrench for the woman. But he also knew with a deep sadness and anger that she kept some of what had happened to her there deeply buried, perhaps even to herself. And that was where the division between Kes' personalities began. One was hell bent on revenge, seeing evil humans everywhere, and more often than not, being absolutely correct.
And then on the other hand, there was the Kes he loved. The Kes that had a warm, caring heart that reached out to everyone she came into contact with whether she was conscious of it or not. He knew that she was not above feeling anger towards humans who displayed open hostility and hatred toward metahumans, but she didn't act offensively to it. She was forever patient, hoping that the day that humans and metahumans could coexist peacefully would not be that far off.
The brunette stood above them. The rain came down heavily over all of them. And the thunder and lightning indicated it wasn't anywhere near done yet.
We've finished. I think it'll be a few hours until they're able to walk again, but when they do it'll be in to police custody.
Thank you, Deanna.
He helped Kes to her feet as Riker and Deanna hoisted Ayala to his.
Kes led the group out of the alleyway and down the street to where the hover taxies were lined up. She signaled for one with her money clip and stepped back as it pulled up. She heard a muffled groan and turned towards the dark haired man being held up by Deanna and Riker.
"Kes? What happened?" Kes looked into the dazed eyes of her friend and smiled, though if one looked closely enough they would have seen that it didn't reach her violet eyes that were tinted mildly with a fiery red color.
"You took a bit of a spill there and used your head to cushion your fall." Kes helped him into the backseat of the hover craft. Riker had already extracted the memories necessary to keep Kes' secret from the dark haired man, which included the attack from Augris' men.
"Well, it's gotta be good for something, right?" Ayala cringed as he felt the blood on his head. "That's definitely going to leave a mark."
Kes turned towards the darkly dressed trio. "I'm going to take Ayala to the hospital."
"Kes?" Picard's voice held apprehension at letting the young woman go off by herself, and if she would actually return to the Institute.
I'll see you later
Kes didn't wait for an answer as she closed the door to the bright yellow, black checkered, hover car.
Kes hadn't wanted to leave Ayala at the hospital but he had to stay for observation since he had a concussion and visiting hours were very much over. She could have probably convinced the nurses and doctors to allow her to stay, but she hadn't felt entirely in control enough to be fiddling with people's free will like that.
So, instead, she was in a hover cab on her way back to the institute she had begun to loathe. All those psionic metahumans, always in each others' heads whether they wanted to be or not. Things like memories, secrets, dreams, and idle thoughts were open to everyone unless you purposefully blocked them from other telepaths and that was tiring and considered to be a bit rude since not everyone had that ability.
Kes did, and she didn't care if it was rude or not, she hid things from everyone. She hid that she was a metahuman from Ayala, the only person she spoke vocally to on a regular basis. He had befriended her over a cup of coffee, an overture on his part to the woman who frequented the greenhouse where he worked. Kes smiled at the memory of his thoughts when he had asked her out; nervousness, fear of rejection, anticipation. Kes had said yes, but had made it sweetly clear that they were just going to be friends. He had just shrugged, but she heard the thought in his head. Damn.
What she hid from Picard and the others was starting to weigh heavily on her. The initial impulse had been to dampen any demands from her darker side, having thought that she would lose herself to that darkness. But as stories of metahumans being murdered and kidnapped, cures for their "disease" being called for by televangelists and renowned scientists alike, had made her question why she showed such restraint for people who showed none to her and her kind.
When Kes had told Picard she was scared, it wasn't for the thought of killing Augris and his men, but the knowledge that she probably would have slept fine that night and all the subsequent ones after having killed them. More so than she would tonight.
Kes could feel the buildup of psionic energy within her body that she hadn't even begun to release earlier that evening. It was becoming increasingly more difficult for her to let it just dissipate within herself rather than release it externally. But she knew if she released the type of buildup she had in herself at the moment a lot of people would be hurt or worse so she kept herself restrained. Always restrained. It was becoming a strain that she was beginning to have thoughts about disregarding.
She knew that if she ever became an imminent threat to humanity she would be put down like a rabid animal by Picard and the others at the Institute and perhaps the whole of the UFM would be brought in to stop her. Or at least they would attempt to. Kes knew if she ever did give in completely they would have to kill her quickly in order to stop her devastation of the planet as a whole.
Kes was brought out of her thoughts as the hover taxi stopped in front of the iron gates of the Institute. She activated her money strip before she exited the car. It was late, the children would already be in bed and she was glad. Her thoughts could be more easily hidden from the youths when they slumbered.
Good, Kes. Please join me
She entered her code and palm scan into the door before it opened to admit her into the main building where Picard was waiting for her in the library. She took the flight of stairs and exited into the dimly lit hallway. She didn't exactly take a deep breath before she activated the sliding, wooden doors of the library but she did straighten perceptibly. She knew what she had to do.
Kes, please have a seat
She did. Across from his own large red cushioned chair, she sat on a similarly upholstered couch.
You promised that you could help me control my abilities
And you have, to a certain extent, but you couldn't help me to control myself
Kes, I'm sorry-
No, now is not the time for apologizes. I know what I must do. I'm leaving.
I don't think that's the most prudent course of action, Kes. You're very... powerful.
You mean dangerous.
Yes, that too.
You can help me with that.
What do you propose?
Mental barriers and locks. You have the ability to create barricades in people's minds. I want you to do it to mine.
Kes, you want me to limit your powers and your access to your own memories
You already know the answer to that question.
I don't think I feel comfortable doing that to you
Would you be more comfortable with killing me, because that is what it would eventually come down to
We would find another way
Yes, and that would be me killing you first. I've thought about this, Jean-Luc, it's what needs to be done. If not for your sake than mine. It's getting harder and harder to resist, to contain, and to remember why I'm doing so in the first place
Which abilities do you want to retain
Defensive ones, telekinesis. I don't want to retain my pyrokinetic abilities, they are favored by my darker half. Nor my powers to manipulate others. I don't want to be a telepath anymore either. I'm sick of hearing everything in everyone else's head all the time. I lose myself in it sometimes and I don't want that any longer. I want to speak with my voice and not in this silent manner we've all become so accustomed to.
Kes, this is quite the undertaking, are you sure you want to go through with this?
No, but I know I must
I want to talk you out of this but I already know that I wouldn't be successful
No, you would not. So, you'll help me?
Yes I will
Good, let's begin
I'm leaving in the morning
Where will you go?
Oh, Picard, don't be petty. It's beneath you. Tuvok made his choice. And now I'm making mine. Kathryn Janeway has the capabilities to kill me and Tuvok would provide the unyielding support to allow her to do so. No one at this Institute can say the same
No, you are right. That woman is going to be an insufferable bear during the next luncheon. Smugness hidden beneath that sweet smile of hers
Kes laughed, loudly, at Picard's thoughts on the auburn haired Headmistress of the San Francisco based Institute that specialized in high level Omega class metahumans. Janeway was the ideal Headmistress for the Voyager Institute, being one of the highest Omegas on record herself, higher than even Kes at present.
Kes knew Picard had thought Janeway had merely swooped down and captured Tuvok, but he and she knew better. Tuvok had begun to tire of the lack of privacy, the voices, and the constant bombardment of emotions that swirled around the psionic based campus. Janeway, from what Kes had garnered from the others never having met the woman herself, could be as unemotional as the ever impassive Tuvok and the dark man had been attracted to that. So a few months ago, he had requested a position and she had granted him one. Much to the smarting of Picard.
Picard reached into her mind without hesitation and she did not resist in the slightest. She trusted him to do what needed to be done. After long moments suspended in a psychic link, he disengaged from her mind. His labored breathing the only sound in the room.
Kes looked at a large tome that rested on a table a few feet away, it moved slowly towards her as she concentrated on it. She commanded it to burst into flames, but it didn't oblige, much to her delight.
"Thank you." Kes looked at the exhausted man and felt a strong pang of remorse, pride, and sadness that she would soon be gone. She could no longer read his thoughts, but she felt his emotions and she was glad that she retained enough of her telepathy to be empathic.
"Kes, you could still stay here. With us." He already knew what her answer would be but he had to try.
"Jean-Luc, you know I need to go." She hugged the man who was too British upper lippy to cry, but not to hug the woman tightly to him. "Thank you... for everything. And you did help me. More than you'll ever know."
He didn't question how she had known his thoughts, he had left enough so she could read emotions and he was glad he did. This woman with a compassionate heart would do great things, he was sure of it.
"We should get some sleep. Morning will come soon." He let the young woman go as he stood. "I'll contact Janeway tonight."
Kes just smiled as mumblings of "that woman" exited with the man who had perhaps, just saved the world.
Kes was seated at the science station near the aft of the small shuttle that would take her to her new home. The Voyager Institute in San Francisco, California, United States. She was getting accustomed to the fact that she couldn't hear the thoughts of the other passengers that were no doubt about her. She could, however, feel strong emotions from each and every one of them. It wasn't nearly as intrusive as being a telepath and Kes reveled in the sense of privacy she had regained, for herself and for others.
The usually calm and reserved William T. Riker had strong waves of anxiety wafting off of him in almost visible rays of light, at least that's what it seemed to Kes. Kes wasn't sure if it was only due to her or where they were headed. Riker's old stomping grounds as he and the woman seated next to him had been some of the first students to graduate from the small, secluded school. Perhaps it was also due to who currently headed the Institute in question, fellow alumni of Riker's and Troi's, one Dr. Kathryn Janeway.
For her part, Deanna Troi had mirth radiating off of her that took the place of the relief that she had given off when she had been told that Kes had found a way to nullify some of the more destructive aspects of her mind and abilities. The slim, brunette had enveloped Kes in a warm hug of comfort when Kes had told her that she was going to leave England. Kes had felt nothing but an overwhelming sense of love from the other woman and she had tightened her hold. She would miss them, she knew this, but this was for the best.
"Oh, Will." Deanna pointed a chastising, but amused glare at her fiancée. Vocal speech was now necessary for Kes' benefit and the others had adjusted accordingly. "That was how many years ago now?"
The large bearded man let out an exasperated breath as he crossed his arms over his broad chest. His fiancée thumped him playfully on the shoulder before she turned her amazingly large dark brown eyes to Kes, who had a questioning look on her elfin features.
"As you probably already know, Will and I went to school with Kathryn Janeway." Kes nodded at the brunette. "She has the legendary status of being the only woman to have declined a date with our dear Mr. Riker here."
The loud giggles that followed from the two women did very little to alleviate the pouting look on the bearded man's face despite the fact that he was much too old and seemingly refined to have such a petulant expression.
"It's really not that funny." Will shifted suddenly to the side due to the push his fiancée had provided. "That woman..."
"Oh, come off it, Will." Troi's laughter had subsided to a smirk. "She already had Mark and Regina vying for her, did you really think she'd respond to you and your lines... 'So, what're you doing Friday night because you could be doing something with me'?" Her voice had adopted a low, faux seductive tone.
It had been a long time since Kes had laughed this much and her sides hurt, but it felt good. She wiped tears from her eyes as she took in the pair. She didn't need to be an empath to know that they loved each other immensely despite the look of mild insult on the man's features and the look of complete smugness on the woman's.
"You didn't really say that, did you, Will?" Picard's voice was even but there was a hint of amusement and reprimand in it.
"Well..." Riker looked away, he had, in fact, said something to that effect to the petite eighteen year old Kathryn Janeway after class one day.
"He sure did!" Troi was again laughing uproariously at the memory and the red hue that colored the man's cheeks. "And do you know what she said in response?"
"I would assume she said 'no'." Picard's lips twitched minutely, almost giving his amusement away.
"She said, and I quote, 'why, Mr. Riker, what exactly do you think the two of us could be doing together on a Friday night'?" Tears were streaming now as the cabin exploded with laughter, except from the beet red bearded man.
Troi's imitation had been pretty spot on if memory served her right. Kathryn Janeway had always had a somewhat too sweet and condescending tone whenever addressing the unwanted advances from people like Will, who at that time had been quite hormonal and not exactly subtle in his advances.
"You have to understand, Kes." Troi couldn't quite alleviate the aches in her sides from laughing so much, but it didn't quell her from continuing to needle the man she loved. "I have never seen a woman withstand the twinkling blue eyes and roguish smile. I count myself as well. But she did and in such a way that I thought Will would explode with embarrassment."
"She has this way of making you feel about eight inches tall." Will had regained some of his dignity back, but there were still splotches of red on his cheeks. "I felt like a bug she didn't know whether to squash with her foot or merely flick away."
"You had it easy though." Troi put a warm hand on the man's knee. A subtle move, but with an inherent apology in it for putting him on the spot in front of Kes and their leader, Picard.
"It's true. I still can't imagine being poor Hobbes and Regina." Will shook his head at the thought of the young Kathryn Janeway and her apparent blindness of the fact that her two best friends were madly in love with her. Had been since she had arrived on campus the first day The Voyager Institute opened its doors.
And he knew why. Even at the tender age of fourteen, Janeway radiated contradictions in terms. She was scarily brilliant, strong willed, shy, warm and compassionate while still being cool and aloof. She had an amazing confidence that radiated off of her along with a vulnerability that made people ache with wanting to hold the small woman who seemed to be made of pure steel and determination.
Will saw the questioning gaze from the pixie like woman across from him. He had momentarily forgotten that his thoughts could no longer be read by her so he explained.
"Mark Johnson and Regina McQueen were Kathryn Janeway's two best friends and not so secret admirers." He shook his head again at Janeway's innate brilliance and impossible dimness. He poked his fiancée lightly in her side. "I seem to recall a pretty embarrassed girl at the UFM ball when her mother had suggested none too quietly that perhaps she should take a page from Kathryn Janeway's book and date two people at the same time."
"Well, subtlety is not among my mother's attributes." Troi blushed lightly from the memory of the outburst from her mother upon seeing a sedately dressed Janeway escorted by the visibly proud and anxious Johnson and McQueen. "Besides, she just thought it was friends going to a dance together. I still wonder to this day if Kathryn knew that the two really despised one another and only socialized together because she was there."
"That woman had her nose so far in those damned books I doubt she knew much of anything besides genetic codes and quantum mechanics." Riker still couldn't quite believe how the auburn haired teen could miss the signals that her friends had sent her over the course of four years. Everyone else knew after all.
"Uh hey, guys." The voice blared from the speaker in the passenger section of the small shuttle. "We're here." The voice was light and seemed to end in a question mark despite the fact what the owner said was a statement.
"Indeed, Mr. Barclay, cloak to maximum." Picard's voice was even and confident. "Hail, Janeway."
"Sure, right away." The happy voice cut off.
Kes felt the deck shake as they slowed their speed over the grounds of her new home.
"Janeway, here." The husky voice filled the cabin. Kes felt warmth immediately radiating from everyone in the small space. She also felt extremely warmed by the tone.
"Dr. Janeway, this is Jean-Luc Picard. Permission to land." Picard himself was not altogether unaffected by her voice, which always reminded him of whisky and jazz.
"Of course, we've been waiting for you, Jean-Luc. I'm sending the coordinates to Reg now. See you soon. Janeway, out."
Unconscious breaths expelled as the deck plating shook, a clear indication that their landing was underway.
Kes was the first out of her seat when the shuttle aft doors opened with a hiss of air. She was giddy with excitement, the sadness of having to leave Ayala and the children was replaced by curiosity at what this new place would bring her, who she would meet and what experiences she would have.
As she was the first out of the shuttle she was the first to be greeted by Kathryn Janeway, along with Tuvok. Kes tried to connect the person she had read about and heard about from her fellow shuttle mates with the woman who stood before her. Yes, she could see this woman, even at the young age of eighteen, calmly and firmly telling a hormonal Will Riker "no". The woman had an authoritative but not an entirely unfriendly air around her. The thing that surprised Kes the most was the fact that the woman before her was quite small, only an inch or two taller than Kes' diminutive frame, and just as petite. The cream colored skirt suit the older woman wore accentuated a feminine body while still being extremely modest and professional. Kes wasn't usually caught off guard, but she was when her violet eyes met the unwavering gaze of brilliant bright blue-gray ones. Another thing Kes suddenly realized was that she couldn't see waves of emotions from this woman like she had with her shuttle companions. The auburn haired woman was as hidden emotionally as the dark skinned man who stood tall next to her, his hands behind his back.
"Kes, welcome to our Institute." Kathryn Janeway presented Kes with a firm, warm handshake from a small, fine boned hand that Kes knew possessed an incredible amount of power. "I'm Kathryn Janeway, it's nice to finally meet you." Janeway gestured to her companion. "Of course, you know Mr. Tuvok."
"Greetings, Kes." His voice was even, some would say completely unemotional, but Kes knew better. She also knew better than to hug him the way she had wanted to when she had first seen him outside the shuttle.
"Tuvok, it's very nice to see you again." Kes smiled and held her hands behind her back as well.
"Jean-Luc, how have you been?" As predicted there was only a light sweetness to Janeway's tone, but Picard knew the woman was smirking inwardly as her eyes shifted to a twinkling blue. He would never tell her that her eyes betrayed her. It was too mesmerizing and informative to watch the color shifts.
"Well, Kathryn, and you?" His voice was even, though his lips smirked at the residual feelings Will and Deanna's stories about the woman in front of him had stirred in him, amusement being the prominent one.
"Never better." Kathryn Janeway turned her intense blue gaze away from Picard to the three who had disembarked the shuttle shortly after Kes and Jean-Luc. "Well, what do we have here? The newly engaged."
Greetings and handshakes were exchanged. Janeway had never been known for effusive physical greetings so no one initiated a hug, not wanting to make the Headmistress uncomfortable. Though each of their palms felt warmed after having been held by the woman, despite the quickness of the shakes.
"That was an impressive landing, Reg, sure I can't convince you to come and be our resident pilot?" Janeway put a soft hand on the man's bicep.
Reginald Barclay had also gone to school with Janeway and as it did then, it did now, his voice completely and utterly failed him. "I-I-thank you, b-but no, I'm q-quite happy, w-where I am."
Kes hadn't heard Reg stutter in well over two years and felt for the man as unease radiated off him. Janeway feigned not to notice and merely smiled up at the blushing man.
"Well, can't blame me for trying." She shifted the attention swiftly away from Barclay to Picard, much to the stuttering man's relief and Kes' as well. "Will you all be staying for a bit? Dinner will be ready within the next hour or so."
"I regret to have to decline, Kathryn." Picard looked away from the gaze to Kes. "We just wanted to make sure Kes arrived at her new home all right."
"Of course." The gray overlaid the blue that had been there, though her smile never wavered. "It was nice to see you all. Jean-Luc, I'll be seeing you at next month's luncheon."
The mirth was back as was the twinkle. She would, of course, brag subtly at how she had gained one of Picard's protégés, a game the two played for no other reason than they were competitors at heart.
As the men approached the shuttle, Deanna stopped to give Kes one last hug. She surprised everyone when she also gave the Headmistress a warm, prolonged one. If Janeway was startled, she covered it up quickly as she hugged the woman back.
"Please take care of her, Kathryn." Deanna's voice was soft and pleading.
"You know I will, Deanna." The confidence was softened as the voice was a mere whisper.
"Of course." Deanna slowly let her arms loosen around the woman until they dropped to her sides. "Mother has been asking about you."
Deanna remembered having been insanely jealous of Kathryn Janeway when she had first met her. She had never seen Lwaxana so fiercely protective of anyone in her life. Though after her mother had told her of Kathryn's history, Deanna had also become very protective of the reticent red haired girl. Such tragedy. Having lost her father when she had been young, Deanna understood what it was to lose a parent... but to have lost both and your little sister, the tragedy the other little girl had experienced broke Deanna's heart and brought out the protective side that the Troi women were renowned for, though no one told them that fact.
"I've been terrible lately. I'll be sure to give her a call tonight." Kathryn knew the hours she had put in the last year had made her horribly unsociable. As if she could have ever been called sociable.
"She'll like that. Take care, Kathryn." With a final smile, Troi followed her fiancée into the shuttle.
Kes watched as the shuttle lifted off, turned invisible due to its cloak, and with a slight hum left the grounds. She turned back to the quiet pair who had also watched the ascent.
"Kes, how about we get you settled in before I leave you in Mr. Tuvok's capable hands?" Janeway, a tactile person Kes noticed, knew better than to touch the tall man, but there was subtle warmth that passed through both of them. Kes marveled at this. "You two can catch up while he shows you around the Institute."
"Thank you, Dr. Janeway."
"Call me 'Captain', everyone else does... or Headmistress in a pinch." Janeway did touch Kes, on the upper part of her back as she led her to the three story dormitory.
"A nickname of sorts." She smiled as she entered the access code required to enter the building.
Kes and Tuvok followed the woman with the quick, determined gait. Kes wondered what the rush was, or if Janeway always like this. She figured the latter was probably true. The woman had a lot of energy that almost sparked off of her. Kes knew the feeling well. Though not anymore. There was only a little regret at that.
"Here we are." Janeway entered another series of codes on a lit panel by a brown, wooden door.
The wooden door swooshed open with a sigh. The two women stepped into the large space that looked more like a flat than a dorm room. Tuvok also entered and now stood unobtrusively to the side of the entrance as the two women moved around the room.
"Captain?" Kes thought the nickname suited the older woman, odd as it was. "I want to tell you how grateful I am, for allowing me to come here. It means a lot to me to be here."
"You are an exceptional teacher, Kes, and from what I've heard from Jean-Luc and others, an exceptional person, we're fortunate to have you here." Kathryn had stopped in front of the large bay windows that overlooked the gardens. She now regarded Kes with keen blue-gray eyes.
"But you are aware of... what I'm capable of..." Kes looked away, ashamed. She was surprised when warm fingers led her chin and eyes back towards Janeway.
"What we all are, Kes." Janeway's eyes were steely, leaving no room for doubt. "That's why places like this institution exist in the first place. To help us all learn how to control our abilities, not to fear them."
"If-if I were to lose control, I want you to..." Kes took a deep breath to find her courage, she found it in the slate gray eyes that regarded her. "I want you to kill me."
"Kes, I'm confident that one day you'll have full command over your mind's abilities." Janeway knew that wasn't an answer. As did Kes.
"Yes, hopefully that day will come, but if it doesn't and I do become a threat, you must kill me." Kes' voice held no room for disagreement.
"Kes, if that day were to come; where there would be no other option but to kill you to save you from yourself and to protect others... Yes, I would kill you, without hesitation." Janeway took the small woman's shoulders in her hands and bent forward to look into the violet eyes that were beginning to brim with determined tears.
"And if that day were to ever come for me... I'd expect nothing less from you either."
"I promise. Thank you. Thank you so much." Kes had flung herself at the older woman and cried, grateful beyond words that if she were to become a monster her fate would be swift. "Thank you."
"Wow," it wasn't Annika who had said it, but she shared Harry's sentiments when Kes' story ended, a mesmerizing albeit lengthy history of how the small pixie woman found herself at the Voyager Institute.
"I don't think I've ever told all of that to anyone before." Kes' hand would have trembled on the table if not for the reassuring warmth of the hand of the tall blonde next to her. "At least not so detailed." She laughed quietly. "Or so long."
"Thank you for sharing it with us, Kes." Neelix's voice was choked with emotion as he watched the woman he secretly loved take a drink from her small glass.
"It feels good to share." Kes shrugged off the affections she felt from Neelix. She too had warm feelings for the man, but she didn't entertain thoughts about them very often. She was simply not ready to engage in any sort of romantic endeavors.
"Still, thank you, Kes." Annika squeezed the hand in hers before she let it go to retrieve her own glass. Her throat felt dry after the emotional story Kes had just told.
"You know it's your fault." Lyndsay looked playfully accusing as she regarded Annika. "Since you've never heard our ramblings, we have someone new to spiel to."
"I enjoy your stories immensely. They're just so amazing." Annika thought about her rather sedate life and marveled at Kes' story once again.
"See, you're an avid audience and we attention hogs love it!" Lyndsay threw back her drink with a chuckle. "Well, the time is late, the mind is willing, but the body is not."
The fiery red head scooted out of the booth a bit unsteadily. She stood before the table with a falsely reprimanding expression.
"Don't stay up too late, children." She only stumbled a few times before she reached the door that led out of the holographic bar.
"I suppose it is pretty late." Annika looked at her watch, surprised that the time had gotten away from her as much as it had. Twelve thirty-seven, really?
"What do you have planned for tomorrow, Annika?" Tom helped B'Elanna to her feet after he had exited the booth. "Gonna join our training session?"
"I have a date with Majel tomorrow, but I'm too curious to not watch the lot of you go after one another." Annika helped Kes to her feet, which were much steadier than Annika's despite the fact that the small pixie woman had basically drunk everyone under the table.
"Is it Chak's time of the month yet?" Tom received a teasing, though hard punch to his shoulder from B'Elanna at that. "Ouch. What was that for?"
"You're a pig, Tom." She didn't quite smile, but Annika thought B'Elanna had a twinkle in her dark eyes. Hmm, interesting, thought the tall blonde as she regarded the blonde haired man and the dark featured woman.
"It's not until next week." Billy shrugged as he explained. "I have it marked on my calendar. What? I know when to avoid him when he's in that kind of mood."
"Mood?" Annika looked from Billy to Tom and B'Elanna.
"Yeah, once a month the big guy gets into a real foul mood, well around us, not so much with the Headmistress." As usual, Tom's voice was teasing at the term, despite the fact that the woman in question was nowhere around.
"It coincides with the full moon." B'Elanna explained.
"I frankly think it's just an excuse to release some pent up tension." Tom shrugged but was kept from saying more with a stern look from B'Elanna.
"I think it's time for bed, before Tom says anymore and has to be taken to sickbay." Harry patted the man in question on the back forestalling any hesitation from Tom that he should heed his advice.
"Good night." Harry and Tom were still talking, but in low enough tones that the others couldn't hear it as they exited the bar.
With a belated good bye B'Elanna followed, swearing loudly at Tom as she did.
"Ah, before I forget, Celes and I compiled this for you." Billy held a palm top towards Annika, who curiously took it from the smiling man. "It's a map and just some general info about the Institute. So you can find your way around better."
"Oh, thank you. I have to admit, I think I would have gotten a little turned around if I hadn't had an escort all day." Annika looked at the palm sized computer with enthusiasm.
"Well, good night." Billy enclosed his fiancée's hand.
"See you tomorrow." Celes, hand in hand with Billy, exited through the metal doors.
"Meals on the weekends are usually up to the staff, but I usually make enough for a lucky few." Neelix winked at Annika, his grin was bright but tight lipped. "So, if you're an early riser, come to the mess for my world famous omelet ala Neelix."
Annika watched the stout man as he waved good night, and with one last unidentifiable expression towards Kes, he left to go to his quarters, as he always did, very much alone.
Kes, for the most part, revealed nothing though someone noticed her discomfort.
"Are you okay?" Annika's voice held sympathy. She wondered who counseled the counselor.
"Yes, I'm fine." Kes appeared to want to say more but she refrained. It was late and her story had drained her. "Just a bit tired."
"Well, shall we then?" Annika tried to smile reassuringly, but didn't think she had pulled if off very well.
"Yes." Kes stopped by the door and she glanced around the bar one final time. "Computer, end program."
The room, the people, the piano music, and the now emptied glasses vanished in a flourish as the two women walked silently out of the cold, metal box devoid of any warmth or life.
Annika threw the blankets away from her body. She looked at the clock near the bed. 4:42, the green numbers seemed to mock her. Like the night before, she couldn't sleep with any amount of success.
She had broken into a sweat over visions of men in all black pointing rifles at children, some with wings, some with horns and others with gills. Then she had overheated her body when the image of a petite auburn haired woman with angel wings came unbidden in her dream. Annika ran her hands along her abdomen at the remembrance but quickly brought it away to instead run through her shoulder length blonde hair. She was embarrassed at her body's reaction to dream images of Kathryn Janeway. She felt it somehow unsavory or at the very least inappropriate to think of the other woman in such a way, but apparently her subconscious had no such qualms about it.
The alcohol she had consumed only a few hours before still left an unpleasant taste in her mouth despite the vigorous cleansing she had done before she had gone to bed. She walked silently through the small flat to the kitchen, opened a bottle of water and finished it in a few large gulps. She wiped the excess from her lips with the back of her hand. Better, she thought.
Moonlight streamed through the large bay windows in the living room and Annika found herself extremely curious if the nocturnal visitor would return. She moved cautiously through the darkened living room, despite the fact that she felt a bit silly to do so since she was the only one there. She felt her chest constrict with nervousness to see the woman who had occupied her thoughts since she first laid eyes on her only about twenty-four hours ago.
The stories that Lyndsay and Kes had told her alluded to a woman who was single mindedly determined to be the object of no one's affections had made Annika uneasy. She couldn't say she had particularly strong feelings for the Headmistress, they had only just met. But Annika felt drawn to her, to the woman's strength, her sadness, her compassion, her humor... everything was alluring to Annika. The woman's voice, her eyes, her hands, the way she looked in a modest, some could say frumpy, long sleeved mock turtleneck and narrow ankle length skirt. Not to mention the outfit Janeway had sported when racing Paris. The well toned woman's arms had glistened in the sun with a strength and beauty that left Annika's mouth dry at the vision her mind's eye provided for her.
So lost in thoughts about how those hands would feel Annika didn't hear the rustlings that would have alerted her that something, or someone, was heading towards the building she was in. What had was the low growling of that particular someone. Annika was startled out of her musings and had the grace to blush at the feelings that were only now leaving her sweating body. What had startled her? Annika peered through the window seeing nothing by the night sky. Had she imagined something or was it just a bird or something else equally as innocuous.
And then she saw it. It wasn't particularly large, but was tall and thin. What was large were the bat like wings the being had sprouting from its back. Annika realized that the skin tone of the being had allowed it to blend in with the shadows until it had descended next to the fountain, moonlight poured over him, she saw that it was a man now. His small chest and torso were bare and his bottom half was clad in thick black material. The skin was almost black it was so dark green. It was the growling that made Annika's skin twitch with anticipation. It was low, menacing, and she was taken back when small flares of fire came from the being's parted lips.
If that hadn't startled Annika enough, she saw another figure descend from the night sky. Janeway.
Annika didn't think she just acted. Her full on metallic exoskeleton was in place before she had even left the flat. She ran quickly down the stairs and out the door. Her feet made metallic clanks as she ran around the side of the building where the garden was. Her claws were out as she prepared for the worst. What she found stopped her dead in her tracks.
Janeway was gazing up at the dark green batlike creature, who Annika could see clearly for the first time. A boy, it was merely a boy. He was nodding his head at whatever Janeway was saying to him as she held one of his bare biceps in her hand. Little sparks of fire still escaped the boy's lips, but neither he nor Janeway seemed to find it the least bit distracting as Annika did.
Realizing that Janeway was in no danger and that she was being particularly irrational as this school was a place for metahumans after all, Annika took a few hopefully quiet steps towards the dorm. However metal, as a rule, is not the quietest form to move in.
Damn. Annika turned slowly around to find two heads tilted in curiosity. She was sure she was a sight, all metal and torn pajamas. She thought about powering down, but that would leave her feeling even more exposed than she already felt, so she maintained her metal form.
"I'm sorry, I heard a noise and sort of... panicked." It wasn't a complete lie, but she could tell the other two hadn't quite bought it. The boy in particular had a downcast look about his dark green features and bright yellow eyes that showed no signs of irises or pupils.
"Icheb." Janeway turned towards the boy. "Excellent progress. We'll try another route tomorrow evening, all right."
"Yes, Professor." He didn't look at Annika as he lifted off the ground and flew to the students' dorm with a gust of wind in his wake that brushed Janeway's auburn tresses from her face and neck.
"Icheb?" Annika was truly confused, the rail thin boy?
"Yes. Icheb." Janeway's voice held a hint of anger. Annika feared it was directed towards her and for some reason she felt deserving of it.
"But... how, when I saw him he looked..." Annika struggled to find the right word.
"Normal?" Janeway's gaze was on the sky Icheb had just recently vacated. "Yes, he didn't want to frighten you before we could explain. My fault."
"No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have reacted as I just did." Annika watched as the woman still gazed at the sky. "I saw him and heard a growl, the fire, I guess I just sort of thought it was an intruder."
"He was out of breath. The growl and the fire." Janeway explained quietly. "Icheb uses a portable holographic projector to make him appear as he was before... before his parents altered his genetic code."
Janeway crossed her arms over her small chest as she turned to look at Annika. "They weren't satisfied to just have a winged boy. They wanted a weapon to use against humanity, so they accelerated his development so he would be an Omega level metahuman. Capable of external projections of energy. In his case he breathes fire."
"That's... I didn't even know that was possible." Annika shook her metal head in amazement.
"Well, the Brunalis were quite brilliant if not entirely compassionate as to how they carried out their genetic manipulations." Not for the first time, Janeway was glad their work had been destroyed.
The pain that Icheb had undergone as his brown feathered wings were shorn off to be replaced by thick, scaly ones akin to the ones that now made up his epidermis had apparently been immense according to Kes. Janeway had been sickened when she was told this. It was completely unconscionable for a parent to do that to their child. For anyone to do that to another living being.
"What happened to them?" Annika could tell from Janeway's tone that these people weren't particularly highly regarded by the Headmistress.
"Their lab was bombed, they had saved Icheb but couldn't save themselves. His body withstood the explosion, theirs did not." Janeway shook her head in regret, so much loss and for what. "I'm sorry we frightened you."
"That's all right, I'm actually sort of glad it was a false alarm, not sure what I would have done if it hadn't been." Annika smiled, her metallic lips twisted upward.
"I'm sure you would have thought of something." Janeway walked towards Annika, intending to lead them back to the dorm. "What are you doing up at this ungodly hour anyways?"
"I could ask you the same thing." Annika quirked an eyebrow, the metal crescent above her left eye arched up smoothly.
"Well, I'm a renowned insomniac." Janeway had her half grin that Annika thought was rather endearing, but there was also something hidden beneath the smile, a sadness. "And... Icheb doesn't feel comfortable flying around the grounds when it's daylight."
Annika was disappointed to see the half grin vanish. She didn't know what to say exactly to offer the woman comfort, or if the other woman would be willing to take it if she had found the words to show that she cared. What Annika really wanted was to hug the woman to her, but the hard cold metal probably wouldn't be that soothing to Janeway.
"We really need to do something about your attire if you're going to transform more often." Janeway's mood shifted to one of humor so suddenly that Annika felt herself struggling to catch up with the other woman's quick changes in mood.
Annika chanced a look down at herself and was thankful that she had kept some modicum of modesty, but her outfit looked like a rabid animal had its way with it. She laughed lightly at the sight she must be.
"Were you planning on trying to get some sleep or would you care to join me for a cup of coffee?" Janeway desperately needed a cup, one of the few vices she allowed herself.
Icheb had worn her out with their long flight and the sun was yet to rise to help replenish her sleep deprived body. She was sure the doctor, Tuvok, Chakotay and who knows who else would have a few words to say to her if they knew she hardly ever slept, that she allowed the sun to maintain her strength.
"I think I'm a bit too wired now to even attempt contemplating going back to sleep." Annika didn't add that she would never sacrifice a chance to be in the other woman's presence, especially just the two of them. "Though perhaps I could change first."
"Yes, yes, of course." Janeway didn't feel quite ready to begin the day yet either. She had sweated during her excursion with Icheb and the thick black material that clung to her frame like a second skin was becoming an annoyance. "I'll just meet you outside your room, say twenty minutes?"
"Sounds great." Annika kept her voice level, though she couldn't help the upturning of her lips.
"See you then." Janeway gave one last departing smile before she lifted gracefully off the ground and towards her quarters on the other side of the main building as the staff/guest dormitory.
As per the usual, Annika watched with amazement.
"Hoo boy," she whispered into the now empty night sky as she walked back to the dormitory. The sun was just beginning to peak over the horizon.
Annika felt ridiculously giddy and nervous when she heard the chime to her door. She put the brush on the sink, took one last look at her freshly showered self and headed for the door. She took a deep cleansing breath as she smoothed her hands down the front of her red pullover to the thick waistband of her black yoga pants before she pressed the star to unlock the door. It slid open with its customary sigh.
Annika took in the sight of a freshly showered, if the slightly damp tied back hair was any indication, and glowing Janeway. The waves of golden light seemed to sparkle and shimmer around the other woman as opposed to the tumultuous display Annika had seen the day before. Though nothing sparkled as much as the bright blue eyes that regarded Annika with a twinkle. Annika chanced a quick look at the attire of the other woman. A snug olive green tunic gaped modestly in the middle of the petite woman's upper chest as the material crossed over one another and tied in a large knot at the back. A long charcoal gray skirt clung to her slim hips and thighs before flowing out to reach the woman's ankles. Simple dark green flats completed the ensemble. It was the total opposite of flashy and it completely and utterly captivated Annika who couldn't believe how truly tiny the slim woman before her was since her personality made her seem larger than life.
"Hello, again." Annika was sure that damned voice would kill her one day, but she'd die happy if the husky tones were the last things she heard. "I brought you these."
Janeway held a pile of thick looking fabrics in front of her towards Annika. Curious, Annika took the offered bundle.
"Thank you, please come in."
Janeway smiled and followed Annika as the tall blonde moved away from the door with her new gifts to the dining room table where she laid the fabrics out.
Three thick looking one piece outfits were stretched out on top of the dark wood of the table. One of the outfits was a shiny silver, the other a dark blue with slate gray sleeves and the last was a dark plum color. Annika sent a curious glance to the auburn haired woman.
"They're made of a special fabric that allows for transformations without tearing one's clothing to ribbons." Janeway didn't add that the fabric also allowed for people to use their external energies without burning up their clothing as well.
"Amazing." Annika was curious to try the outfits out but she was more eager to have coffee with Janeway. "So, coffee?"
"You don't have to tell me twice." Janeway's eyes became even bluer at the mention of her elixir in life, her one true indulgence for herself. The tall blonde was grinning as she followed the older woman out of her flat and into the brightly lit hallway.
"Another addict I see." Annika smiled brightly at the light mood she felt she was in. Mostly due to the grinning petite woman next to her. They entered the lift to take them to the mess.
"Oh, yes." Janeway's voice became gravely serious. "Coffee, the finest organic suspension ever devised. It's gotten me through the worse of the past few years. I like to think of it as my secret weapon." Janeway looked even sterner as she pointed one elegant finger at Annika. "Don't tell anyone."
"Of course not." Annika's voice had also adopted the faux seriousness that equaled Janeway's. She nodded in a most earnest fashion.
"I didn't think to ask you earlier." Janeway's gait was quick and steady after they exited the lift, even Annika, with her longer legs, had to work to keep up. "How did you find Majel?"
"It's astounding, I was quite impressed, though I have to admit, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of what is stored in those databases." Annika wasn't at all tempted to tell the woman what she had learned about one Kathryn Janeway the night before. "I'd like to go in again if Lyndsay is up for it."
"You might have to wait a bit until she sobers up, but then I'm sure she'd love to show you all the secrets Majel has."
Annika was surprised that there was no reproach in the older woman's tone regarding the imbibing that her staff did. But, with a mental shrug, she supposed it was the weekend and they were all adults. She wondered if Janeway ever frequented Sandrine's so she asked.
"Oh, no. I mean, I've seen it, but I don't think my staff would fully be able to relax if they knew I was around."
There was something that Annika had barely noticed in the tone, the eyes as always betrayed the impassive expression. Regret? Loneliness? Or something akin to that. Again Annika ached to hug the woman. She brushed the desire aside forcefully as they entered the mess hall.
The strong smell of coffee that permeated the mess hall caused Janeway to stop in mid-stride and just appreciate the scent as she closed her eyes with a smile. Neelix is too good to me, Janeway thought as she shook herself out of her coffee scent induced haze of happiness.
"Captain!" Neelix had wandered out of the kitchen and had spotted the auburn haired woman in mid sniff. He also noticed her amused tall blonde companion.
"Good to see you both this morning. Annika, I see you wanted to take me up on my offer of omelet ala Neelix not to mention my special blend of coffee." He tilted his head in such a manner that it seemed to indicate he had no doubts about seeing Annika bright and early in the morning ready for breakfast.
"Obviously I had to after having sampled some of your other wonderful works, Neelix." The stout man positively beamed at such a compliment and his freckles became more pronounced as he blushed.
He decided to turn the tables a bit.
"Captain, I don't know if it's the way the mess hall lights are hitting you this morning but you look radiant!" He almost chuckled at the happily surprised, flattered, and abashed expression that had found its way onto the usually impassive face of their adored Headmistress. "Is... that a new shade of lipstick?" He made little circles with his finger above his own mouth.
"Oh, no, it's the same shade, I always wear it." Janeway damned her fair complexion that she knew was quite red at this point. Neelix always had this effect on her whenever he paid her compliments on her appearance despite the fact that she figured he was just being nice.
"Well, you look beautiful! Not that you don't always look beautiful."
Annika had taken in the interaction between Neelix and Janeway with large eyes and a slightly open mouth. She always found it incredibly adorable whenever Janeway blushed. For such a successful, brilliant, very attractive, powerful woman Kathryn Janeway did not take compliments with any sort of aplomb. Instead she blushed either faintly, if it happened to be a compliment about her abilities, or hotly, if it was about her physical appearance. Annika's esteem for Neelix shot up. It was obviously a practiced, though seemingly sincere, maneuver to let Janeway drop her impassive mask.
"Neelix." The voice was pleading as Janeway raised her hand to forestall any more compliments from the beaming man.
"Well, I have coffee ready and I'll have those omelets whipped up in no time!"
Neelix rushed back into a kitchen and surprised Annika with his speed and returned with a small tray filled with a large metal carafe, a half a dozen white coffee cups, and a cream and sugar dish. He set the lot on the table in front of him and sped back to the kitchen. Sounds of sizzling food soon followed.
Janeway pounced on the carafe. Careful not to spill, she filled two cups, took one and gave it to Annika, and then picked up the second one. If Annika had thought Janeway looked dazed when they had first entered the mess hall it was nothing compared to how the woman looked now with the steaming cup close to her nose as she closed her eyes and let the first cup of the day envelop her with its scent.
Janeway let out a low moan that sent shivers down Annika's spine. The sip Janeway took was slow and savored. And with a crooked grin she opened her eyes to the sight of Annika looking somewhat oddly at her.
"You do like your coffee." The voice was a bit lower than Annika would have liked it to have been, but the sight of Janeway enjoying her coffee had settled a warmth in her that she again thought was not entirely on the up and up. Gratefully, it seemed Janeway was oblivious to anything from Annika that could be construed as lewd.
"Yes, I do." Janeway took another loving sip of her beloved blend. Neelix really did make the best coffee, she sighed happily.
The stout man soon came out with three plates on a large oval tray. He presented his masterpieces to the women seated at one of the circular tables and took a seat himself. Janeway thanked him profusely for the delicious looking meal with a large toothy smile and a warm hand on his broad shoulder. He didn't quite blush.
"This is wonderful!" Annika savored the bits of mushroom and eggs. Neelix was certainly an accomplished cook.
"Thank you." Neelix beamed at the tall blonde. "Tom is always saying that soy eggs don't taste anything like 'real' eggs and I always tell him 'you're right, soy eggs are better'!"
Neelix laughed, a pinched high pitched giggle that would have set Annika's teeth on edge if she wasn't endeared to the man, at the very least for making Janeway blush more than she'd ever seen before.
"So you're vegetarian, Neelix?" Annika had never limited her diet in any way and she wondered about people who did.
"Yes, well, I don't feel too comfortable eating things I turn into."
"Oh. I see." Annika really didn't, but she merely smiled a bit before she went back to the omelet she had already decimated.
"Captain? Where's Chakotay, he's usually the first one here."
"Oh, well, we had a bit of a late night last night." Janeway smiled as she remembered the look on Chakotay's face when she had suggested they just stay up a bit later to finish all of the midterm evaluations.
Janeway didn't notice the way Annika had stopped the motion of her fork at hearing that. Her eyebrows narrowed, her full lips were held tight. No, none of this was noticed by Janeway. But it didn't pass the always watchful eyes of Neelix.
"Oh yes!" Neelix decided to interject for an explanation of why the Headmistress and Chakotay were up so late together. "How go the evaluations?"
"Oh, very well, the students are doing marvelously. I'm confident Mezoti will be levitating with confidence by the end of the year." Janeway wanted so much for the little girl to have some semblance of assurance in her abilities. "It just takes awhile to properly go through them all. Poor Chakotay was pretty restless by the time we were finished. He's also a bit nocturnal and goes on walks around the grounds almost every Friday night."
She added the last part for Annika's benefit, since Neelix and mostly everyone else knew about the massive, black-haired lone wolf that could usually be found prowling the grounds on Friday nights.
What Janeway, and Annika, didn't know and what Neelix had on pretty good authority was the reason why Chakotay prowled the grounds every Friday night. The reason was seated across from him enjoying her coffee, black as usual, and talking about some of the other students to a captivated Annika.
Friday nights were when the Headmistress and Chakotay had their meetings to discuss the week that was just finishing up. Now, Neelix wasn't a genius, but he was observant and he knew that those meetings were both wonderful and frustrating to the tattooed man. Neelix had to feel sorry for the man. Kathryn Janeway was perhaps the most brilliant person Neelix had ever met, she was also perceptive and seemed to know everything that was happening on her grounds except for the fact that almost every single person who came onto it aside from perhaps the younger children and the always unemotional Mr. Tuvok, though Neelix had some doubts about the stoic man, had developed a crush or something more regarding the auburn haired Headmistress. For most people, the reality that Janeway was completely unattainable led their feelings to turn from a crush or infatuation to respect and loyalty. Not Chakotay though, who was head over heels in love with the oblivious Janeway. Anyone could see it. Hell, Neelix reasoned, Annika could see it and she's only been here a day.
Neelix was also observant enough to notice that Annika was the latest person to be enthralled by the petite woman. He wondered if he should warn her, but thought better of it. Who knows? Perhaps this time around will be different. He doubted it, but stranger things had happened. Annika just couldn't be as reticent about her feelings as people like Chakotay were. Janeway needed to be hit over the head to realize that someone was attracted to her. Like Nechayev did every time she visited the Institute. It was harmless fun between old friends now, but Neelix couldn't believe some of what the older woman would say to their always proper Headmistress. If he had thought he could make Janeway blush hotly, it was nothing compared to that woman from the New Republic of Russia. Neelix almost blushed himself at the memory of Nechayev asking Janeway if she had anything underneath that "delicious looking" form fitting combat suit. He actually did smirk at the fact that the fiery blonde woman who always kept Janeway on her toes was due to arrive next week for their monthly meeting regarding the MPA. Neelix absolutely loved when Nechayev visited. The whole Institute would be abuzz and Janeway would be beside herself in attempting to divert one of her oldest friends' attention away from any comments about her physical attributes, especially in front of her amused staff, though they attempted to hide it as best they could. Well, most all of them were amused, the man coming through the doors was not all that taken with Alynna Nechayev.
"Chakotay, good morning!" Neelix stood up in greeting at the tattooed man who had already begun to smile upon seeing Janeway.
"Good morning, Neelix, Ms. Hansen, Kathryn." If it hadn't been completely even his voice would have betrayed him with the softness he wanted to add to that last name but never had the nerve to.
He took a seat next to Kathryn and across from Annika and Neelix. He happily helped himself to the coffee and refilled Janeway's cup as well. Chakotay didn't notice the seething look cast his way from the tall blonde nor the smirk that was hidden behind a well placed coffee cup from Neelix.
"So, combat training today?" Chakotay already knew the answer but he wanted to hear the low husky tones of the woman he was completely in love with and who simply had no idea of that fact.
"Yes, I think it'll do us all good. I know I felt a bit rusty yesterday with Tom." Janeway took another sip of her coffee before she saw three incredulous expressions staring at her. "Well, usually it doesn't take me that long to drop Mr. Paris on his ass." She smirked smugly.
"Hey!" The man in question, along with Harry, entered the mess hall with a disgruntled expression, as put on as it was. "I resent that! I almost had you there for a minute."
"Of course, Tom, keep telling yourself that." Janeway smiled brightly, though her lips were somewhat hidden behind her coffee cup, her sparkling blue eyes were not.
"Hey, Chief, scoot over." Tom insinuated himself between the large tattooed man with now narrowed dark eyes and Janeway.
"Don't call me that." Chakotay for his part complied.
Chakotay didn't exactly despise Tom, at least not anymore, but the brusque man bothered him immensely. He seemed to really like needling him for whatever reason. Chakotay knew why he didn't particularly like Tom, aside from the man's cocky personality. Tom was the only person who seemed completely at ease in Janeway's presence. Something the others' were immensely envious of. Chakotay, himself, still felt intimidated at times by the diminutive woman.
"So, Headmistress, wanna have a go with me again today?" Tom's voice dropped to a silky tone that earned him a gentle push from the woman in question.
"You're incorrigible, Mr. Paris. How many times do I have to knock you out of the sky before you realize you'll never take me down?" Janeway loved the easy way she could banter with Tom, no one else seemed willing to trade teasing barbs with her like he did.
"Just a few more times, I promise." His boyish grin amused a few and annoyed two in particular. A pair of icy blue eyes and dark brown ones regarded the blonde man with mixed emotions of envy and aggravation. "I'm in top form today, are you?"
"Top enough for you, Tom." Janeway gracefully removed herself from the table. Her coffee cup in one hand and the other was rested against the flat of her stomach. "Let me get changed and I'll show you just how much."
With one last twinkle in her eyes she left the mess hall, coffee cup and all.
"I don't know how she stops herself from smacking you in the face, Paris." Chakotay along with every single person at the table had watched the departing figure in various stages of appreciation.
"What's the matter, Chak?" Tom brought the coffee cup up to his lips while maintaining his twinkling blue eyes on the dark haired man next to him. "Jealous?"
"Of you, Paris? Don't bet your life on it." Chakotay removed himself from the table, his lumbering body not at all as graceful as the woman's who had just departed. He left the table frustrated that Paris was right, he was jealous.
"Why do you always have to do that?" Harry had watched the usual heated display between Tom and Chakotay with unease.
"What?" No one bought the innocent expression Tom's boyish face held.
"Come on, Tom." Harry rolled his eyes. "You always have to start something with Chakotay, how come?"
Tom wouldn't tell the others the real reason, so he merely shrugged. "Cause it's fun, the big guy gets so worked up."
Not believing they would receive a straight answer the other three began discussing the relative merits of keeping one's thoughts to oneself.
Tom shrugged, he didn't have to tell them that he didn't particularly appreciate the possessive gaze Chakotay always rested on Janeway. It was so controlling and rubbed Tom the wrong way. If that big tattooed block of wood thought that he would succeed where all others had failed Tom was going to be there to tell him otherwise. And the way Chakotay said "Kathryn" all sweet and stuff made Tom's stomach turn. The big guy always said it like he was accorded some special privilege no one else had, most people were too respectful in Tom's mind to always call their Headmistress by her first name. And finally, the way Chakotay prowled around at night when his hormones were all up in a tizzy from being alone with Janeway worried and angered Tom. At times, especially on the full moon, he was deathly afraid that Chakotay would lose control. He had recurring nightmares about it and had woken up sweaty and sick to his stomach, he had even vomited a few times when the dreams had been particularly vivid. Maybe he should talk to Kes... but he didn't really want to talk about the images he had seen in his nightmares to anyone. Better to try to forget the whole thing.
"Hey, earth to Tom, you ready to go or what?" Harry and the rest had already deposited their dishes in the cleaning unit and were now looking expectantly at the distracted fair haired man.
"Yeah, I'm ready." As Tom took one last gulp of his now cool coffee he hoped he would be paired off with Chakotay today.
Lyndsay Ballard yawned with a wide mouth and a sigh as she punched in a few commands with one hand and held a large steaming cup of coffee in the other. She took a sip of the highly caffeine enriched brew before she turned towards the preoccupied icy blonde seated next to her.
"Hey, you there?" Lyndsay watched as now focused icy eyes found hers.
"Sorry, just a lot of stuff floating around." She indicated with a finger pointed to her head.
Annika had been distracted since her breakfast with Janeway all the way to her meeting with Lyndsay to go over more of the information in Majel's databanks. The altercation between Chakotay and Tom was intriguing and disconcerting to her. The two men had seemed relatively fine with one another, well okay they sort of ignored one another, until Janeway had left and then it was like a switch had went off and instead of indifference there was aggression. Annika had always thought Chakotay was unemotional and Tom was carefree, but it appeared that Janeway brought out affection and jealousy from the bigger man and a confrontational side in Tom that wasn't all that kindhearted.
Annika wondered if Janeway knew about this antagonism between the two men. It seemed that people at the Institute, herself included, kept a great deal from the Headmistress and so she figured it was another one of those things that the auburn haired woman wasn't privy to.
"Wanna talk about it?" Lyndsay's usually cheerful alto was colored with weariness and concern. She took another grateful sip of the coffee Annika had brought her.
Annika watched the display screen flicker to life as she allowed her own curiosity to get the best of her. "What's up with Chakotay and Tom?"
"Have they always been at each other's throats you mean?" Lyndsay watched the cautious nod of the head of the tall blonde. "No one really has a concrete answer to why. Tom never tells and Chakotay is never asked. Though a few of us have our theories. Idle gossip mostly."
"You people do seem to like your gossip." Annika's tone held amusement, a teasing tone.
"Look who's talking." Lyndsay's hazel eyes also glinted with amusement. "You should just be happy I'm a blabber mouth. And I remember everything."
Annika was indeed very happy about those two facts.
"So, what's the 'idle gossip'?"
"Well, it's not hard to see Chakotay has a bit of thing for Kathryn." Lyndsay perused the personal files and lined them in the order she wanted to reveal them to her companion with a press of a few flat wide keys.
"A bit of a thing?" Annika raised an incredulous eyebrow at that.
"All right, he's head over heels... but you didn't hear it from me." Lyndsay pointed a stern finger at the nodding Annika. "And rumor has it that Tom also has the same bit of a thing for her ever since she busted him out of jail."
"Jail?" Annika's voice squeaked as she yelped.
"Eesh, a bit too much info... you'll have to talk to Tom about that." Idle gossip was one thing... Tom's criminal history was quite another. Annika's eyes were still large and expectant, so Lyndsay continued.
"I don't buy it though. I've seen two people vying for her affections and this isn't really the same. Sure Tom is full of innuendo and bravado and stuff but he knows Janeway doesn't take him seriously and even more importantly Kathryn knows he doesn't take it seriously, so it's just some cocky banter between the two of them. But away from Janeway, Tom is... more protective than anything else. Though why he thinks he needs to protect Kathryn from Chakotay, I haven't a clue. Tom is oddly secretive."
"Does... Chakotay stand a chance?" Annika was afraid of the answer but had to ask the seemingly all knowing Lyndsay.
"With Kathryn?" It came out as a laugh. "You mean if the big guy actually came up with the nerve to tell her... well, I guess I don't really know." The voice was less sure near the end.
"So you think he does?" It came out as a panicked rush.
"I only see them interact within a group. Not when they're working alone, late into the night. With just a bottle of wine..." Lyndsay began to notice the red tinge to the pale skin of her companion and decided enough needling.
"Annika, Kathryn is the most stubborn single minded woman I've ever met. Her focus is entirely on this school and the rest of the metahuman population she's sworn to protect not to mention having to deal with humans and their bigoted legislation and hate crimes against us. In her mind, I truly believe that she decided early on that romance was not a luxury she could afford having."
"Oh." Annika looked away, some hope for herself dimmed while the fear that Janeway and Chakotay would get together vanished a bit as well.
"Annika." It was a warning.
"What?" She was defensive, icy blue eyes sparked.
"Don't 'what' me, young lady." Lyndsay turned in her seat to give Annika a look that reminded the blonde of her white haired great aunt when little Anni used to swipe strawberries before dinner. "I know that look, I've seen it many times on many faces."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Annika's blush did little to convince the woman seated next to her.
"Oh, okay..." Lyndsay's voice held a patronizing tone that increased the redness on Annika's face and neck. The red head pushed a single flat gray button.
"Senator Hayes," the husky tones filled the cavernous room suddenly. "What you are suggesting is nothing less than the mass transportation of United States citizens to camps that are not unlike ones used during the Second World War. If you think that..."
Lyndsay paused the recording and watched as the icy blue eyes took in the holographic recreation of Kathryn Janeway at a Senate hearing that took place several years ago. The red head remembered the Headmistress was at her most deadly that day, dressed in a sharp dark gray pin stripped suit and uncharacteristic heels, the outfit was modest, professional, and a killer. Lyndsay remembered with disgust what Kes had informed her that day when they were there as Janeway's aides. The outfit had certainly thrown Hayes off. Pig. If he only knew.
"Majel, please give the biometric readings of Annika Hansen you took in the last thirty seconds." Lyndsay sat back smugly.
"Annika Hansen's respiration increased by .7 percent, the temperature of her skin increased by .4 percent, her pupils dilated by .1 percent, her..." Majel was cut off by a single finger from Lyndsay.
"That wasn't very nice." Annika crossed her pale arms over her ample chest as she still regarded the rather imposing figure of the woman who had caused all the increases in her body.
"It's not very nice to lie to an old woman, especially so poorly." Lyndsay erased the image of Janeway and could almost feel the disappointment it caused in Annika.
"So you found me out." Annika didn't know exactly what she had hoped to hide from the perceptive woman who was seven decades her senior.
"It wasn't a hard thing to do. But really, Annika, I like you. You've got spunk, but... you, I don't want you to get your hopes up." Lyndsay rested a warm hand on the other woman's slim shoulder. "Kathryn Janeway has been alone for the past seven years and she'd be content to be alone for the next seventy."
"She's lonely." It was a whisper, though it held certainty.
"Yes, she is."
Nothing much got past Lyndsay, not the false smiles and sad gray eyes Janeway had whenever her staff had social outings on the holodeck or outside school grounds. Kathryn always declined to join in despite the fact that every single one of them had asked, almost pleaded for her to come with.
The glimmer of resolve in Annika's gaze added steel to Lyndsay's voice.
"But, that doesn't change anything, Annika." Lyndsay sighed as she tried to convince the young woman to resign herself to the fact that Kathryn Janeway's solitude was self-enforced and therefore, unbreakable. "She is who she is. We've all tried to get her to let her hair down but she won't. Oh, she'll eat with us sometimes and has her dinner meetings with Chakotay, but nothing much beyond that. She keeps her distance, she always has."
"I just can't believe that you all just let her be so alone." Annika was exasperated at what she saw as a complete lack of trying from Janeway's staff... her friends?
"No one lets Kathryn Janeway do anything, she does it all herself." Lyndsay was also becoming exasperated. "Annika, try to understand. We've all tried, desperately, I've been at it for twenty-nine years now. Her own solitude is something she decided a long, long time ago and one thing you should know about her is that if she's decided on something, nothing, I mean nothing, can deter her."
"She's so-" Annika was becoming increasingly despondent regarding her prospects with Janeway.
"Infuriating, impossible, damned stubborn... yup, that's her." Lyndsay laughed more to relieve her of her own frustration than anything else. "I'm sorry, Annika, but that's the way it is with her. I've seen many people try and I've seen them all fail to get past the wall she's built up and reinforced over the years."
"That's unfortunate... for everyone, I think." Annika shook her head.
"Yes, I have no doubt that it is." Lyndsay knew a bit of the person behind the cool profession persona of Headmistress Janeway and figured that if Kathryn showed even more of herself then every single person would be in her thrall. "So... let's start huh?"
"Yeah, okay." Annika was still recovering from her sharp disappointment. Could she even be friends with Janeway or was that too much closeness for the auburn haired woman. How... lonely.
"These," Lyndsay brought six images into view with a press of a button. "Are the Theta Class metahumans here at the Institute. Naomi Wildman, level 3."
The little girl's standing image was brought to the fore. The strawberry blonde looked quite professional. She had an even expression and her little hands behind her back.
"Has the ability to phase herself and others she is in physical contact with through solid matter without harm. B'Elanna Torres, codename: Warrior, level 4." The wavy haired surly woman's image replaced Naomi's. "Abilities include superhuman strength, agility, speed and stamina, heightened senses, and almost instantaneous healing from physical injury."
The image of a grinning red headed Lyndsay replaced B'Elanna's spot. "I'm a level 5 Theta class metahuman. My codename is Cocoon 'cause I wrap myself in a thick fibrous cocoon to either heal from injury or to reverse aging, I could very well be immortal, and I have a damned good memory."
"Neelix is a level 6, which is usually where low grade metamorphs reside, his codename is Zoo. He has the ability to take on the abilities and appearance of certain animals." Neelix went to the background in a whoosh. "The man who is an island, Mortimer Harren, codename: Solo, level 8, which is the highest level we have here. He has the ability to self-duplicate. Though you don't really see a lot of him, keeps mostly to himself."
Annika suddenly realized with a snort what Janeway had meant when she had told her that Harren was doing many tasks for her despite the fact the man was sitting oblivious at the reception desk.
"And last but not least, Chakotay." The tattooed man that Annika had a great dislike towards came almost obtrusively to the fore, at least that's what it seemed to the tall blonde. "Level 8, codename: Lycan, simply put he's a werewolf."
"I think I remember Kes saying something about... a full wolf form." Annika wondered how her reinforced metal body would stand up to Chakotay. She was tempted to see, perhaps during their combat training.
"Yeah, it's something he doesn't do often, but it's pretty impressive to see."
Lyndsay didn't add that he adopted that form when he was especially emotional about something, usually during the full moon, and usually having to do with Janeway in some fashion. It couldn't be more inopportune for Nechayev to be visiting the Institute next week, Lyndsay thought. The tattooed man was never more aggravated than when the Russian Headmistress visited her old and dear friend, Kathryn Janeway.
"So, those are the Theta's." The six images vanished with a few key strokes provided by Lyndsay.
"What am I?"
"I believe you'd be in Theta class, I don't know about your level, we'd have to measure you." Lyndsay was curious to see Annika in full on metal form, see how she faired against B'Elanna or Chakotay.
"Now for the Omegas, which this Institute specializes in." Fourteen figures shimmered into existence. The first to come to the fore was Mezoti. "Mezoti Norcadian, level 3, she has the ability to render herself and people or objects she is in physical contact with invisible. She's just beginning to create invisible energy fields that might lead to force field generation and levitation... especially if Kathryn has anything to say about it, which she always does."
"The rest of the children are level fives. Azan Wysanti is an elemental morph and controls ice. Rebi Wysanti is a fire morph. Beatrice Burleigh astral projects, can transport her physical body to the location of her astral one and is in the beginning stages of learning how to enter the minds of others while in an astral state. Icheb Brunali used to be a Theta until his damned parents had their way with him. He has wing propelled flight, a tough enough scaly hide to survive an explosion and projects flames from his mouth... so a dragon, I guess. Henry Burleigh has the ability to project sonic screams into concussive blasts and is beginning to learn how to create a sonic repulsion field to induce flight." The four children melded into the blurred background.
"The engaged couple are level sixes. Celes Tal, codename: Botany, has the ability to manipulate plant life. William Telfer, codename: ZeroG, has control over gravity and density which he uses to create force fields and to fly."
"Lewis Zimmerman, the doctor, level 7, has the ability to heal the physical injuries of others and heals spontaneously himself." The sparse man disappeared from the foreground.
"Harry Kim, level 7, codename: Slider, has the ability to teleport himself and others from one place to another by creating small interspatial flexures... wormholes. Kathryn thinks he has the potential for time travel." The dark featured man vanished back to the dim background.
"Tuvok, our only level 8 Omega, codename: Psi, has the ability to overload another's mind causing pain, memory loss, loss of consciousness, vegetative state or death after having created a psionic link into that person's mind and has latent telepathic abilities if he is in physical contact with another person." Lyndsay grimaced as she thought about the man's so called "mind melds" because she had it on good authority that it was neither pleasant for Tuvok or the person he's melded with.
"As I said yesterday, we have three level 9 Omega's here at the Institute, the most of any of the forty-seven schools around the world." Lyndsay was not ashamed to admit that she was proud of that fact. Level 9's were the rarest type of metahuman. Supposedly there were only a dozen in the world.
"The lowest level 9 here is Tom Paris, codename: Launch, as you saw yesterday he has the ability to release thermo-chemical energy to induce flight and has superhuman physical resistance, for when he crashes into things, which he does... often." Lyndsay grinned at the thought of the huge crater he had left. "He also is pretty unstoppable once he gets going."
"Kes, as you heard last night, could be pretty damned powerful, but despite the fact that she's limited she's still a level 9, she's Empath and retains her telekinetic abilities."
"And last, but certainly not least, the Captain, Kathryn Janeway is the highest level 9 metahuman in the United States and one of the highest in the world, her abilities deal with energy absorption, conversion, and projection. She absorbs ambient energy at all times, especially solar energy, and uses it to refuel or to augment. She can also absorb projected energy. So other metahumans with energy weapons stand little chance against her, she'd just absorb what they threw at her and be stronger for it. She can expel energy in a variety of ways. Either as heated blasts shot from her hands or eyes, as concussive beams of energy with varying degrees of strength, so she could punch through a mountain or push a feather lightly away from her, and as a force field of energy. Her flight is similar to Tom's, but it burns less hot than his does."
Annika bit back her exclamation, not wanting Lyndsay to comment on it, but she couldn't help the feeling of amazement at what power Janeway actually possessed. The fact that Kathryn Janeway was one of the most powerful beings on the planet, and the most powerful in the States, made the tall blonde feel extremely humbled not to mention impressed. She also felt a twinge of relief mixed with disappointment. Janeway could obviously handle herself, but Annika had felt protectiveness towards the diminutive woman that now seemed to be unwarranted and probably unwanted.
"So, that's our intrepid bunch." Lyndsay sat back in her chair and crossed her legs as her hands rested on top of the armrests.
"Impressive." Annika was impressed, but she was distracted by thoughts of Janeway, of how she should try to reconcile the unapproachable closed off woman with the warm friendly woman that Annika much preferred.
"How 'bout we get some lunch?" The red head didn't wait for an answer as she stood up and stretched her limbs with a yawn. "I could use a break, you?"
"Sure." Annika followed the red head's lead and stood and stretched out her long limbs with decided cracking sounds during her movements.
"You should know," Lyndsay's voice adopted a teasingly serious tone as she led Annika onto the hovercraft that would take them to the large metal exit. "You're gonna be tested on this stuff."
Annika laughed. "And you should know you're not the only one with a good memory." The tall blonde had an eidetic memory that had stood her in good stead in her education and occupation.
"Oh, well! Great!" Lyndsay's clear alto resounded in the small metal lined hall way they walked through. "Wait 'til you see everyone in action. Are you gonna suit up?"
Annika thought of the smiling auburn haired woman who had stood outside her door that morning with a bundle of multicolored outfits in her deceptively powerful arms, she sighed at the memory, clear and precise as it was.
"I was thinking about it." Annika's voice was interrupted as the loud grinding metal drowned out all sound after Lyndsay put in her code and stood back. "But I'm not sure I'm ready to do any... combat training, I've never really used my abilities like that."
"How have you used them?" Lyndsay was seriously curious as she waited for the lift to take them to a more brightly lit and homier place than where they had just come from.
"Well, I was in a car accident about two years ago, drunk driver, large truck, totally demolished my car... bastard... and I just sort of changed, it was a reflex more than anything else. It saved my life though." Annika had never experienced her transformation so quickly, it had scared her at the time that she didn't have complete control over it. But she also had to admit that if she hadn't had an automatic reaction she would have been dead.
"Sounds like your invulnerability is pretty high then." Lyndsay had an added bounce to her step. Having Annika here made everything seem a bit new and exciting. It was a shame that life as a metahuman could ever become mundane, but... it did.
"I guess, I don't know." Annika shrugged. She hadn't really considered that she was invulnerable, how invulnerable she was made her curious. "Could we... test it?"
"Sure, we can do some lab work and measurements later when the Doc and Kathryn aren't busy with the training." Lyndsay tried to not let any emotion color how she included the Headmistress, since Janeway was always in the labs when new metahumans were being tested. She brushed off her attempt. Walking on eggshells around Annika was dumb and probably not necessary. The tall icy blonde wasn't some hormonal teen after all.
"Great." Annika purposefully kept her voice even, but positive.
She couldn't let Lyndsay know how excited and nervous she was at the prospect of showing off her powers to Janeway. She didn't need the red head to be uncomfortable around her whenever the Headmistress was mentioned. She was, after all, not some hormonal teenager.
"So, what do you feel like?" Lyndsay opened the large fridge and pulled out a few items that looked all right to her. Mostly leftovers and things for salads and sandwiches were stuffed inside.
"I'll have this." Annika took possession of a large dish full of the leftover green curry tofu and brown rice she had eaten yesterday, she thought it had been delicious then and wanted to see if it was as delicious now. She figured it would be.
If Lyndsay thought it strange when Annika popped open the lid and started in on the cold dish with a fork, she feigned otherwise. "Ooh 'kay."
The red head pulled a few sparkling waters out of the fridge and her own salad before she led a still eating Annika out of the kitchen and into the small staff dining room. They were only seated for a minute or two before a bustle from the door interrupted their lunch. It was the low husky chuckling of a woman and a voice of a man that drew the two women's attention to the opening door.
"I'm just saying if it wasn't for that stupid tree I would have had you!" Tom's voice was booming and exasperated at yet another failed attempt at grounding the petite woman next to him.
"Yes, Tom, whatever you say." Janeway's voice held little conviction as she rested a warm hand on the man's shoulder.
Suddenly realizing they had an audience, the auburn haired woman turned to find a set of hazel eyes and a set of icy blue ones looking at her and a slightly disheveled Tom, who still had pieces of leaves and small twigs in his hair and attached to his form fitting dark blue outfit.
"Hello." The flushed face and the bright blue eyes made the already golden lit Janeway radiate even more brilliantly. Not to mention the full toothed smile she sported. She moved towards the table with her usual grace and quickness that was characteristic of the small woman. Utterly oblivious to the effect her tousled auburn locks and the way her red and black outfit held her small form snugly had on Annika.
"Hey!" Annika was grateful that Lyndsay had spoken so she didn't have to.
"Ladies." Tom, who was beaming brightly, nodded his head in greeting before he walked swiftly into the kitchen to retrieve two bottles of ice cold water for him and his nemesis.
In the meantime, Janeway took a seat in a chair opposite of Annika and next to Lyndsay. "So, what have you two been up to?"
"Going through the roster of this misfit crew you have here." Lyndsay's voice was upbeat but she had a feeling of annoyance that Janeway was always so bloody oblivious. She didn't dare look in Annika's direction.
Janeway, for her part, merely smiled, even brighter and larger than before, if that was even possible.
"What can I say, they're a fine crew." A humbled sort of pride colored her words.
"So," Tom plopped down in the only vacant chair left and handed Janeway a bottle, which she took with a nod and smile of thanks. "When do we get to see you out there in the field?"
"Um," Annika tried not to fidget, but the tantalizing glimpse of collarbones was very distracting to her so she faced Tom instead. "I don't know, I guess."
"We were talking about getting her to the labs, to get her measured." Lyndsay watched as a glow that could only be due to scientific curiosity filled Janeway's eyes.
"Of course, training is going to last the better part of today, but how about we get the doctor and do it later this evening or perhaps tomorrow?" Janeway had taken large drinks from her water and was, at the present, letting her cool and damp hand rest on the lower part of her neck. The move did not go unnoticed by anyone.
"Great!" Lyndsay again felt the need to interject since Annika was obviously preoccupied by tiny droplets of water on fair skin.
"You guys should really come out and at least watch though." Tom wiped residual water from his lips as he looked at the red head and blonde in front of him. "You don't wanna be cooped up with Majel on a day like today."
"We've still got a lot of ground to cover, but we'll hopefully be out before dinner." Lyndsay felt herself itching to do a bit of hand to hand combat training with Torres, which usually occurred sometime in the late afternoon on days like these.
"Well," Janeway removed herself from the table, bottle of water in hand. "We'll just see you later then."
Tom also stood up from the table. "Yeah, later."
Two sets of eyes followed the pair until the doors closed behind them.
Lyndsay was surprised by the outburst next to her and jumped in response.
"Annika?" She took in the flushed features of the tall blonde who was now pacing in front of the table.
"That woman!" Annika pointed an accusing finger at the closed door as she came to an abrupt halt. "Is either the most oblivious person alive or she knows exactly what she's doing!"
Lyndsay's surprise was quickly being replaced by annoyance. "Kathryn Janeway is not a... a tease!"
"Late night dinners with Chakotay? These games of hers with Tom!" Annika's face flushed hotly at the thought of either of those two men touching Janeway, which served to incense her more.
"And the seemingly obvious effect she has on you!" Lyndsay had also stood and pointed an accusing finger at the seething blonde. "She doesn't know! I can assure you that she doesn't have an inkling of the effect she has on... well, hell, mostly everyone! Even that metahuman hating bastard Hayes has entertained not so nice thoughts about her! She. Does. Not. Know! Her... obliviousness, her utter blindness. It's innate, it's ingrained, and it's well practiced! It's protection from getting too close. From getting hurt. And, sure, it prevents her from experiencing what everyone should be so lucky to experience, but it's her choice and she made it a long, long time ago whether she's fully conscious of that fact or not!"
Annika was beginning to feel embarrassed at her own outburst and that heated her face and spurred on her anger. "She's a damned coward then!"
"YOU! You've been here for a day and you think you know her, I've known her for twenty-nine years and I don't even know her! So don't think because you have the hots for her that you know anything about her, Missy!" Lyndsay couldn't help it, Kathryn Janeway had experienced more pain than anyone could imagine and didn't need some closeted metahuman from silicon valley to come here and say she was a coward for being socially inept and closed off.
Annika felt like her whole body was on fire. She felt ashamed, but also seethed from the condescension she had just received. But she was kept quiet by Lyndsay.
"Look, the fact is, no one ever tells her because they know she doesn't want to know, and because they're all too chicken shit, if you're brave enough to be straight forward and honest and not act like a hormone driven teenager every time she's in the room then be my guest. But, I feel like I should tell you, it won't be easy. And..." Lyndsay's voice adopted a deadly quality that surprised even her. "If you were to do anything to ever hurt her, I'd be the first in a long line to kill you."
"Jesus, Lyndsay." Annika couldn't believe the very sincere threat she had just received.
"I'm serious, Annika. Like I said, you don't know her, you don't know what she's endured or what she's sacrificed for the good of millions of complete strangers." Her voice softened at the flow of memories. "Maybe if you did, you'd understand why I'm asking you, pleading with you, to forget about your attraction and move on."
"Then tell me! Make me understand!" Annika didn't like to be told what to do, especially when it came to her feelings. And she was insulted. She didn't just want to sleep with Janeway, she wanted to know everything about her, all of her was fascinating to Annika.
"No, those aren't my stories to tell." Lyndsay realized that her blabbing tendencies already revealed far too much. "Annika?"
The blonde had taken her seat again and had her head in her hands. She looked up with a stricken expression. "I don't know what to do. I've never felt like this with anyone before. Especially not anyone I had just met. But, you're right, I don't know her, not really. I'm... sorry, about what I said about her. It wasn't nice and it's not what I really believe."
"Thank you, Annika. I appreciate your position, I do. But I should point out any sort of disrespect for Kathryn Janeway would not have been handled by a lot of the others as mildly as I just did, and that's just because I'm a patient old woman." Lyndsay almost laughed at the skeptical expression on the blonde's narrow features. "You'd probably be in sickbay right now if you had said that in front of B'Elanna."
Lyndsay cringed inwardly as she imagined what B'Elanna's reaction would have been if she had been the one to hear Annika calling their Headmistress "a coward". Bloody pulp came to mind. Janeway's motley crew was nothing if not fiercely protective of their leader.
"I think," Lyndsay put a reassuring hand on the other woman's shoulder. "We need some ice cream."
The two women didn't speak of Kathryn Janeway the rest of the afternoon as Lyndsay droned on about the logistics of the school and the various other schools scattered across the globe and Annika kept her attention focused on the red head only enough to retain the information as her mind was focused on other things, a single person in particular.
Annika declined Lyndsay's invitation to watch the rest of the training with her, telling the red head she was tired and intended to take a nap, which wasn't so far off the mark since she had gotten very little sleep the night before. So, after Lyndsay gave her one final parting look, Annika made her way back to her room, closed the curtains and curled up with a light green blanket on the leather couch. She drifted into a deep sleep while thinking about auburn hair and bright blue eyes.
A knock on the door roused Annika out of her deep slumber with a start. She lifted herself slowly from the couch and looked around the dimly lit room as she attempted to get her bearings. She rubbed her eyes and realized what had awoken her as another knock sounded, louder this time. She pulled the blanket around her lanky frame and made her way with bare feet to the front door and pressed the star. Annika let out a relieved breath when she saw who was on the other side.
"Annika." Kes' smile was soft as she took in the rumpled form of the tall blonde. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."
"It's okay." Annika's voice was thick still with sleep, but she smiled for the ease she felt with the small pixie like woman. "Did you want to come in?"
"Thank you." Kes walked slowly past Annika and stopped when she got to the table and saw the three outfits laid out. She didn't comment on them though as she turned to watch Annika approach.
"Did, did you want something?" Annika pulled the blanket closer to her body as she worried that Lyndsay had told Kes what had transpired. Embarrassment at what she had said about Janeway colored her cheeks.
"I just wanted to see how you were." Kes' expression held no judgment but Annika heated even more with the knowledge that Lyndsay had indeed told the small blonde woman what had happened.
"I'm fine." Annika didn't know why she had just lied to the woman in front of her since Kes was sure to know what she was feeling. She decided it was useless to try to fool Kes, so she let out a sigh before she answered again, this time truthfully. "Embarrassed, ashamed... confused, frustrated, but I'm sure you know all that already."
"I do, but I thought you might want to talk about why you're feeling that way." Kes took a seat at the table and watched as Annika sat down across from her, the blanket tight around the woman's body.
"Didn't Lyndsay already tell you?" Annika had been sure the red head had.
"All she said was that you might want someone to talk to." Kes rested her hands on the table in front of her, almost touching the silver fabric.
"Well, the short of it is, I made a complete ass out of myself and Lyndsay called me on it." Annika still smarted from the reprimanding words she had received earlier that day.
"Lyndsay does have a way to hammer her points home." Kes smiled encouragingly at the downcast blonde. "Would you like to tell me more about what happened? I thought you two were getting along quite well."
"We were." Annika was worried that she had ruined the budding friendship. "I, I made her mad, it was my fault. I said some stupid things and she corrected me. I deserved it."
"Perhaps." Kes knew that Lyndsay had felt responsible for whatever had transpired between the two women, but had felt no regret. "But we all say things that we might not necessarily mean when in the heat of the moment, or if we just don't have all the necessary information."
"I said some... not so kind things to say about the... Headmistress." Annika's eyes flickered to Kes, but the violet eyes never wavered nor lost their warmth.
"I see." Kes was too much of a professional to allow her personal feelings to color her words or her expression, but she felt a protective fire start in the pit of her stomach for the auburn haired woman who inspired that protectiveness in all her staff whether some would admit to it or not. Lyndsay would without hesitation.
"I thought some things that weren't true and I voiced them." Annika had to look down again as she began to reveal the altercation she had with Lyndsay.
"What sorts of things?" Kes kept her violet eyes on the blonde. Again, her face and voice held no judgment.
"I thought that, that Janeway knew the sort of... allure she had over some people, and, that she, well, exploited it, I guess." Annika knew it sounded even worse now than it had in the heated moments with the red head. "And when Lyndsay informed me in no uncertain terms that Janeway was not a 'tease' and that she had cultivated obliviousness to an art form to protect herself from getting hurt I... I called Janeway a coward."
"I... see." Now Kes had to work at keeping her voice soft and even. She could just imagine what that statement would have elicited in Lyndsay Ballard.
"I know! It was awful. It's not like I even think it's true. I don't even know why I said it." Annika hid her eyes behind her hands, not wanting to see the look she assumed was on Kes' face.
"Then, why did you?" Kes was seriously curious about why Annika would make such an erroneous statement about a woman she had really just met and thus knew very little about.
"I guess, I don't know, I guess I just felt frustrated and I lashed out." Annika shook her head ruefully.
"What caused your frustration?" Kes had a fairly good sense as to what had frustrated Annika, but she wanted to hear it from the woman herself.
"I've been feeling so inept lately. And not just being thrust into a life as a fully fledged metahuman, but... with Janeway as well. I'm just not used to feeling this out of sorts around another person." Annika had since removed her hands from in front of her eyes and was gazing down at the outfits still strewn on the table. "I guess when I saw her earlier today, with Tom, I just couldn't believe she wasn't aware of the effect she had on me. And obviously not just on me. And then Tom and she were joking around. And she had dinner last night with Chakotay and... it's none of my business I guess."
"You were jealous?" It all seemed pretty straight forward in Kes' mind.
"Do you believe in love at first sight, Kes?" Annika's voice was questioning but strengthened with resolve.
Kes had to take a moment to think about the question just posed to her. She hesitated before she began again.
"I don't know, Annika. I guess I always thought a person needed to really know another person in order for it to be love. I figure something as sudden as a chance meeting or a first meeting at any rate is more of a physical attraction than an emotional one." Kes' violet eyes locked on to icy blue ones. "Do you believe that you're in love with Kathryn Janeway?"
"No, no, I wouldn't say that, but I feel like I could fall, easily." Annika almost couldn't believe how open she was being with Kes, she had never spoken so openly to anyone about her emotions and was surprised at how good it felt, to at least talk about it. "Do you know when I first laid eyes on Kathryn Janeway?"
"Yesterday? In her office?" Kes shrugged.
"No. No, it was my first night here. She was in the gardens. She didn't see me. I couldn't sleep so I made some tea and was just sort of looking out the living room window, at nothing really. And then I saw something, in the distance, it frightened me at first, but my curiosity got the better of me and so I peeked, and that's when I saw her. She descended from the moonlit sky like an angel. I couldn't see her face at first, only the silky robe she was wearing and the long hair that drifted on the air. Then she turned and I laid eyes on her fully then. She struck me as beautiful... and tragic. She had this... terrible sadness about her that made me instantly want to reach out to her. To hold her and tell her everything was going to be all right. How crazy is that? A total stranger." Annika shook her head as her voice ended in a whisper.
"Annika," Kes had to clear her throat in order to speak again. "I don't want to tell you what you are feeling. That's for you to decide. What I will tell you is this. You were privy to something you were not supposed to be. A... vulnerability that Kathryn Janeway shares with no one. I know it's there though. Most people have a sense of it. Something in her voice. Or the way she moves. A subtle lift of her chin or straightening of her shoulders. And her eyes. One only needs to look there and one can see almost everything. She is one of the strongest people I've ever known, has unimaginable power and a steely resolve that makes her quite formidable. Not to mention her intellect. She has endured things that are horrible and unimaginable and has come out stronger and more determined for it. But for all this she has a great capacity to be hurt, she knows this, better than any of us know, and that is what prevents any one from getting too close and why she'll resign herself to the loneliness as opposed to the alternative."
Annika could feel her heart drop as her shoulders slumped in resignation. "Is that your way of telling me to steer clear?"
"No, not at all, I'm merely trying to impress upon you how difficult it will be." Off of Annika's questioning Kes' eyes twinkled. "To win Kathryn Janeway's heart."
"What?" Annika was sure Lyndsay would not approve of Kes' encouraging expression. "You're actually telling me that I should... go for it?"
"Annika, there's nothing sadder than a missed opportunity." Kes ignored the pang she felt at the opportunities she had let pass in her life... Ayala, Tom, Neelix... all affection ignored because she was too scared of what she would become and what her friends and possible lover would have to do to stop her.
"Do you, do you think I possibly have a chance at all?" Annika's voice was hitched in anxiousness.
"Honestly? I don't know." Kes instantly felt the hopelessness that she had inspired in the young woman across from her, but she couldn't lie, though she could attempt to explain.
"In the six years that I've known her, Kathryn Janeway has had many... suitors, but to my knowledge never taken a lover. Though there is always some speculation. It's more or less good natured imaginings here at the Institute. And no one really puts any credence in the idle gossip that is circulated at UFM events." Kes was aware that the rumored pairing up of Janeway with Alynna Nechayev was always a favorite much to the shy unease of the former and the extreme amusement of the latter.
"And before I knew her... I can't really say..." Kes had heard a bit of talk about one person in Janeway's past but that was just it, a bit of talk. The only person who knew for sure was someone no one could ever get to divulge secrets about their Headmistress. Tuvok was an exceptional confidant that way.
"What should I do?" Annika was oscillating between fear and hope, but leaning towards the hope end of the spectrum.
"I'm not certain. Like I said, I've never seen anyone be successful in having her return their affections, or intentions." Kes tried to think of all the admirers Janeway had both secret and otherwise in the last six years. "I can't tell you why they've all failed. But I can tell you why some have." She thought of Chakotay. "You have to make your intentions known." Then Kes thought of Nechayev. "But not too well known. It's a fine line and it's difficult to negotiate I'm sure. I wish I had more helpful things to tell you. But I don't. My suggestion to you is to allow time for her to get to know you, really know you."
"Thank you, Kes, I-I didn't expect you to be so..." Annika couldn't quite find the words.
"I have a pretty good sense about people, Annika. And... I like you." Kes smiled warmly, she did indeed like the woman seated in front of her. There was depth in Annika Hansen that they've only scratched the surface of. "I would never try to deter you, only caution you."
"Well, still, thank you." Annika felt fortified. Kes on her side did a lot to ease the smarting she had taken after Lyndsay's reprimand.
"Some of us were going to leave the grounds for a little while. Get some dinner?"
It was an invitation Annika quickly agreed to. She thought a taste of the real world would do her some good.
"Those mutie freaks shouldn't be allowed anywhere near our children! Let alone be teaching them! They're diseased! And I for one am glad he's gone!" Annika watched with disgust as the woman being interviewed on the local news feed held her daughter in her arms while being supported by her wife. The image was replaced by the news anchors.
"The recent firing of an Oakland High teacher has brought out hundreds of people, both supporters of the metahuman community and opponents, violence erupted when..."
Annika stopped listening as she turned her attention back to the group she was currently seated with. The people before her all bore similar expressions of disgust, frustration, and sadly, familiarity. Annika could still never understand how a person could hate a complete stranger with such malice. Her respect for the people rose to an even higher degree since they all had sworn to protect the same people who wanted them exiled if not worse.
"God damned idiots." B'Elanna took a large drink from her dark liquid filled pint.
"B'Elanna." Harry's tone was cautioning as he looked around the crowded bar, late afternoon happy hour in full swing.
"Oh please, let one of these bastards try it. I'm not all glowy and fancy like you all. I'll just punch him really hard without the light show." The liquid in her glass vanished with one long drink.
"Yeah, right, I'm sure the Captain would be really impressed by that display." Harry could just imagine the dress down B'Elanna would receive if she had an altercation with one of the many humans that littered the bar.
"Unlike you, Harry, I don't cower in fear from Janeway." B'Elanna signaled for the bartender with a wave of her hand, she would never admit to anyone that Janeway did indeed intimidate the hell out of her. The woman's dress downs were legendary, B'Elanna knew all too well having experienced them first hand.
"I don't 'cower in fear'..." Harry's voice trailed off uncertainly and very unconvincingly.
"Sure, fine, whatever." B'Elanna voice was skeptical as she held her empty glass up to signal to the bartender what she wanted.
"I don't!" Harry's voice was becoming shrill and Tom decided to intervene.
"Hey, why didn't we see you out there today?" Tom turned towards the somewhat distracted tall blonde seated across from him and next to Kes and Neelix.
"I, uh, went over a lot of information with Lyndsay and decided a nap was preferable to getting my ass kicked." Annika was impressed at how light her tone was. Especially on the name of the red headed woman who had opted out of joining them for dinner and drinks.
"Aw, we would have gone easy on the new kid." Tom's light blue eyes sparkled as he teased the tall blonde. What he didn't see were the narrowing of dark ones. Someone did though.
"I'm going to get... tested to see if I can stand up to any of you in a fight." Annika didn't quite know how to ease into a revelation that she was infatuated with their Headmistress and Tom was stupidly oblivious to not notice how B'Elanna's dark brown eyes lit up when he entered the room. Was everyone blind at this Institute, seriously!
"Well, you'll actually see the Doc in a good mood then." Harry had recovered a more even tone since his courage was no longer being attacked. "Not to mention the Captain."
"Science geeks," B'Elanna explained in a rather patronizing tone.
"Nothing wrong with that." Annika prided herself at being a bit of tech head geek.
B'Elanna grunted in response as she took the first drink of her newly acquired beer. A low chirping sound prevented her from taking another one. Then there were a series of chirping sounded around the table. B'Elanna was the first to activate her communications badge that had been previously hidden beneath her shirt collar.
"We found them." The Captain's low, husky tone filled B'Elanna's senses and she grinned, pointed teeth visible.
"Understood." B'Elanna knew Janeway didn't need more of a response than that so she didn't give one. Instead she addressed the people at the table; all except for Annika had small star shaped pins visibly attached to their shirts.
"All right, people." B'Elanna stood and downed the rest of her beer in one large drink. Her voice was filled with excitement and anticipation. "Let's go bag us some bad guys."
"We're hovering a hundred meters above the roof." Everyone heard the Captain's voice but the unspoken instructions were for one person in particular.
"Back here." Harry swiftly led the group to the secluded part of the large bar where the restrooms were located. He opened a portal that was just big enough to allow for a person to go through. He was the last to quickly go through and end up in the passenger section of the Delta Flyer.
Harry could feel a subtle hum from the deck plating as the shuttle sped away from the area above the bar. He took his normal position at the operations station to join the others as they focused their attention on the slim auburn haired woman who had her hands on her hips and a steely expression on her face.
Janeway's voice filled the cabin, a clear sense of command radiated off of her. "For the last ten hours the tracers we tagged the mercenaries of 'The Friends of Humanity' with have continued their northern movement until roughly fifteen minutes ago when the signals came together and stopped. We suspect their headquarters is located in the mountains near Mt. Hood, secluded from the public, a perfect place to take metahumans for research."
Janeway didn't add the "and worse" knowing everyone present were quite aware of what being in the hands of an anti-metahuman group would be like for a captive. Many knew first hand. Janeway certainly did.
"Our mission is to secure the tracking device they are utilizing and to rescue any and all captives they might have. We'll divide into two teams. Alpha team will consist of Harry, Kes, the doctor, and myself. Our task will be to retrieve any prisoners. Beta team will be B'Elanna, Tuvok, and Neelix. They will find the tracking system. Neutralize the threat, do not eliminate. Is that clear?" Janeway's voice held no room for argument so it was a moot point that still garnered a few "yes, Captains" around the shuttle. "Good. Let's suit up, people. We'll be there in ten minutes."
Annika watched as Tom, B'Elanna, Harry, Kes and Neelix entered the aft part of the shuttle, the small metal door slid back into place with a soft click. Her attention was drawn to the petite woman in red and black.
"Annika," Janeway had stepped closer, invading the tall blonde's personal space, though she didn't back away from the invasion in the slightest as gray clouded eyes looked up at her. "I think you'd better suit up too I'm going to have you stay in the shuttle with Tom but it might be best if you had your defenses up."
"Okay, sure, but I-" she wanted to tell Janeway she would help but she also knew that she wasn't at all prepared to be in a situation such as a rescue/reconnaissance mission against heavily armed people. "I'll go... 'suit up'."
Annika turned away from the small woman that radiated power and vulnerability, something the tall blonde didn't understand how one could do so easily but it was one of the many contradictory things Janeway was capable of displaying at the same time.
The door that led to the aft section opened with a sigh as Annika moved in front of it. She took in the sight of the five super powered beings that now looked every inch the superhero they apparently were. They were all sporting outfits similar to the ones Annika had seen when she was rescued that night that seemed a lifetime ago, not just the inconceivable two days it actually was.
There were slight variations to the outfits. Harry's had thin yellow piping that ran across his shoulders and upper chest right above the star shaped piece of metal they all sported on the upper part of their left breasts. B'Elanna's outfit was a dark silver as opposed to the black Harry's was, and it was sleeveless revealing well muscled arms, the thick dangerous looking spikes that stuck out from the top of the dark featured woman's gloved hands and the tip of her boots definitely gave her a threatening look and Annika was glad they were on the same side. Kes had a dark midnight blue outfit that had ribbed thickness around the woman's small shoulders and upper chest. Neelix had the most vibrantly colored outfit on, orange and dark blue-green contrasted loudly on the stout man's outfit. Tom's outfit was the same style he always sported, but this one had red piping along the arms and legs that gave him a somewhat streamlined appearance.
"I'm supposed to suit up too." Annika looked at the five-some who were already making their way to the door.
Kes stopped with a knowing look. She nodded to the rest as they exited and turned her attention to the anxious blonde.
"Let's find you a suit then." She led Annika to the area where Celes' suits were hung up since the brunette was the only one nearly as tall as the blonde next to her. She retrieved a light red, almost burnt orange, and dark forest green outfit from the small alcove and handed it to Annika.
"Thank you." Annika held the outfit in front of her, somewhat unsure as to how such a garment was put on. She shrugged as she started removing her comfy clothing for the sake of the thick outfit she was expected to where.
Kes had turned around after the "thank you" she had received to give Annika her privacy. After a few swear words, Kes heard the uneasy sound of skin tearing apart and metal churning and twisting into place. It set her teeth on edge, even the rearranging of bones that sounded whenever Chakotay transformed was nothing compared to the sound of Annika's transformation. When the screeching had ceased, Kes turned around. Nearly six feet of silver metal and red and green fabric greeted her with a wry grin to full, albeit gray shinning lips.
The tight, thick outfit clung to the feminine body of Annika Hansen in a flattering, somewhat immodest fashion. She was more voluptuous than Celes and filled the suit out more than with the slim brunette. But the suit served its purpose. Unlike the other clothing Annika destroyed after her transformation the suit had accommodated by opening when needing to and then closing quickly after the purpose of the opening was served.
Kes ignored the pile of skin that was on the floor, at least she did her best to. "How does it feel?"
"Uncomfortable." Annika never usually wore anything quite as tight as the outfit she had on, it felt restrictive and exposing.
"You get used to it." Kes had to grin impishly at the annoyed expression on metallic features. "We'd better join the others."
As they entered the main passenger section Kes could feel the appreciation for Annika's attire radiating from a few people, none were Janeway however. The auburn haired woman was at the best of times muddled to Kes' empathic senses. There was something about her energy conversion that allowed her to mask her thoughts and emotions from psionics. That's why Kes had to try to read the woman in more conventional ways. And at the moment all she could read from Janeway was a strong sense of duty and authority.
"Mr. Neelix, if you would." The gravely tones were commanding, but polite.
"Of course, Captain." Neelix smiled broadly before he moved towards the middle of the shuttle and reformed his body so that he took on the appearance of a bat.
Without having to be instructed to do so, Harry opened a small portal for Neelix that led to outside the shuttle.
"Captain, transport mark is set." Neelix's pinched tones emanated from the star shaped gold piece of metal on Janeway's chest a few moments later.
"All right, Harry. Do it."
Without hesitation, Harry concentrated on where Neelix set up the marker before he created an interspatial flexure that opened widely in the shuttle, illuminating everything in it with its purple haze.
B'Elanna and Tuvok were the first to enter and quickly disappear. Janeway waited until Kes and the doctor vanished before she too entered the aperture. Harry was the last and he and the purple glow vanished from the shuttle. This left Annika alone with the pilot.
"Hey," Tom's voice made it apparent she wasn't in fact alone as it emanated from the speaker before a sliding door revealed him in the cockpit. "Come on up here. You can help me monitor the situation."
Annika entered the small cockpit and took the empty co-pilot seat that was situated a few feet away from Tom. The control panel in front of her was lit up brightly though she didn't have a clue as to what the multicolored buttons did so she kept her heavy metal hands in her lap.
"These are our people." Tom pointed to a small series of red blips on a large monitor that were dividing along the grid. "And these are the tagged bad guys." A few dozen green blips were scattered across the grid.
Annika felt a sudden rush of fear for the seven metahumans on the ground, for one in particular. "Do you...? I hope they'll be all right."
Two sets of light blue eyes never wavered from the large monitor or the communications array.
Tom's voice was distracted as he spoke to Annika. "Easy as pie."
Tuvok let his gloved hands drop to his side as swiftly and easily as the two guards had when he pressed his two fingers and thumb into their shoulders and into their minds the order to pass out quite quickly.
The two would-be protectors of the compound were now sprawled out figures at the feet of several of the beings that the two men had dedicated their lives to destroy. Metahumans. The scourge of the earth. Natural enemies of Normals, which was how this freedom fighter group considered themselves. Metahumans, like the auburn haired woman who looked upon them with a mixture of resignation and regret, were less than animals in their eyes. They should all be destroyed for the mockery they made of the human image and their great creator. The two men would have said all of this amidst their battery of firepower if they hadn't been so graciously and mercifully knocked unconscious.
"Sensors picked up a large amount of power coming from two hundred feet below ground. But I'm betting there's a cadre of guards keeping post." Janeway made the smallest of motions with her auburn head to the dark featured woman in dark silver and spikes.
B'Elanna required no more instruction as she made her way past the sleeping guards to the rather rundown gas station that sat upon the subterranean compound. She pressed her gloved hand against the door and used all of her enhanced senses to determine how many more guards were to be their greeting party. She could hear slow steady heartbeats of six individuals, the smell that proved the strongest was that of beer, she hoped they weren't too drunk to give her a good fight. B'Elanna knew Janeway thought discretion was the better part of valor but B'Elanna loved a good hand to hand brawl, not a light show or some magic trick that rendered people incapacitated a bit too nicely for B'Elanna's taste. She wanted it to be painful for these bigots. B'Elanna held up both her hands which indicated silently how many guards were inside to the auburn haired woman who began giving soft spoken instructions to the other metahumans in their group. As she watched Janeway give out orders, B'Elanna wondered not for the first time why Janeway wouldn't allow a bit more force to be used. B'Elanna unfortunately knew first hand that Janeway wasn't unaware of what these anti-metahuman groups were capable of. Three years ago they had, after all, shared a cell together. But those dark thoughts were for another time, B'Elanna needed to rein in her temper and focus or she'd be answering to the seemingly diminutive, deceptively powerful woman before her.
B'Elanna had only enough time to remove her hand from the door of the gas station before she felt it. A displacement of air and the smell of metal was her only warning as she was thrown several yards by the force of the explosion that shook the ground and engulfed the gas station in a blaze of yellow and white fire.
B'Elanna could feel her seared flesh and muscle tissue regenerate itself before she even hit the dirt. It still hurt like hell, but she knew that her broken spine would repair itself within the time it took the doctor to put his healing hands on her. Her internal organs, that were at the moment lying next to her, would have to be put back in before they began to heal and begin working properly again. That would be a delayed procedure unfortunately since one of her arms was a few hundred feet away and the other one was holding on as best it could with a dislodged bone. She'd have to wait until her limbs were grown anew.
"Well, shit!" B'Elanna watched as the rest of her teammates darted away from plasma bursts that shook the ground and created smoking craters. Then she smelled the acrid smell of an energy field and could detect the faint outline of the barrier that now protected those on the ground. Harry's strong arms hoisted her to her still forming feet and she knew she shouldn't have found humor at how greenly tinted the skin of the man's face had gotten, but she did.
B'Elanna's attention was quickly drawn from her amused observation to the fiery being that presently hovered several hundred feet above her. The auburn haired woman appeared to be facing off with a rather intimidating airship, which in fact she was. B'Elanna had to appreciate the craftsmanship of the bronze aircraft, it looked like a long blade with deadly looking spikes extended from its aft section and appeared to be made to slice through its opponent rather than use the plasma discharges it currently was. Except now these plasma explosions were no longer targeted on the ground but were trained solely on the seemingly ineffectual being that was firing energy blasts of her own against the energy shield that protected the craft while she attempted to maintain her own protective covering from the heavy firepower now directed solely on her. Despite the fact that Janeway was a rather small fighter there was enough power contained in the woman that B'Elanna had only a little worry within her at who would win the firefight.
The tendons and muscle tissue, not to mention bone and skin finally restored themselves enough for B'Elanna to dislodge herself from Harry's supportive hold and throw a heavy punch into the helmeted face of one of the many guards that had streamed out of the rather large smoking hole that now revealed a large elevator shaft. The man went down hard, as most people who went against B'Elanna did, and in a great deal of pain before he mercifully passed out after his cheek and jaw bone shattered underneath the eruption of his skin.
A streak of orange and black ran past B'Elanna at an incredible speed before it pounced on her would be attacker. The man let out a horrified scream right before the large jungle cat knocked him out cold with a powerful paw to the face. Satisfied that this guard was incapacitated, Neelix jumped to the next one who also made a squeaky note of protest before he too was rendered immobile.
B'Elanna smelled the tell tale sign of teleportation as she watched Kes, the doctor, and Harry disappear into a swirling vortex that had a scent not unlike sulfur mixed with raspberries. She knew Janeway would not be deterred from a rescue operation even when being fired upon heavily with plasma discharges that shook the ground as they went off a few hundred feet above the trio of metahumans and twenty or more heavily armed guards.
It usually only required one hit from B'Elanna to render a man unconscious but she decided she'd make it two as she took away any chance the man would have to reproduce or have a symmetrical face. She rolled her eyes as Tuvok's offense was to speak quietly and calmly, sure it was effective but it lacked any excitement.
After she dispatched a few more guards, B'Elanna began to grow concerned that she could no longer make out her Captain in the bright white glow that had filled up a good portion of the air around the auburn haired woman and was beginning to engulf the bronze ship. B'Elanna wasn't exactly sure how much energy Janeway could absorb without overtaxing her body and well... perhaps exploding, taking everything in close proximity with her. Before she had much more time to contemplate the growing blaze in the sky B'Elanna heard a cut off scream of pain and the bright glow erupted enough to decimate the starboard side of the ship rendering the plasma canon inoperative and the ship struggled to remain in the sky. Like a wounded animal the ship limped away at a slow but steady pace from the abbreviated blaze until that too could no longer be seen as the woman and the energy that crackled around her vanished amongst the clouds. It was only when she could no longer see Janeway that she noticed the metallic smell and the redness of a pool of blood.
"WE HAVE TO HELP THEM!"
Annika watched, horrified, as a dangerous looking vessel materialized seemingly out of thin air after an explosion had brought Tom Paris' keen attention to the monitors showing their team members on the ground. Their team was fine aside from B'Elanna, who looked a mess, but he knew with some awe and not a little bit of a greenish tinge to his features that she'd eventually be all right and even more so, ready to fight. She was nothing if not resilient and Tom had to respect her immensely for that. Tom had been ready to bring the Delta Flyers weapons online until a husky, steely voice stopped his hand.
"Janeway to Delta Flyer, maintain position and cloak, Harry will be transporting any survivors and will need you to stay where you are. Do not attempt to engage. I repeat, Mr. Paris, do not engage."
Tom's hands stilled immediately over the panel though a soft curse had accompanied his compliance with an order he knew he had to obey despite his strong desire not to. He had felt the combustible heated energy within his body begging to be released but he knew he couldn't, he had disappointed Janeway before by not following orders and despite his belief that it was the right course of action considering it was her against a heavily armed vessel he had no real choice other than to comply. Janeway's dress downs were infamous not for any sort of heated exchange or coming to blows but the fact that all she had to do was look at you with those steel colored eyes and say how very deeply you had disappointed her and you knew never to make the same mistake again.
In flashes of purple, the passenger section of the Delta Flyer had quickly been filled with injured metahumans. Most had not been severely hurt and had only required the warm touch of the doctor. Much to the physician's disgust, the majority of the injuries that had befallen the metahumans had not been the result of the plasma discharge. If their human guards had been brought aboard the doctor would have been torn to uphold his oath as a physician and done some harm of his own.
Now that the survivors along with Kes, the doctor, and Harry had all been transported on aboard, Paris wondered if he would be allowed to engage now. He didn't see why not. He plotted a rapid approach vector after he had turned the Delta Flyer toward the firefight that filled a large area with blinding white light.
He and Annika watched with awe and wonder as Janeway maintained her firm stance against the deadly looking vessel. Her own shield had been decimated so all she could do now was absorb the unrelenting firepower. The blaze of energy that engulfed her was enough for Tom to feel the heat from it. When the Delta Flyer moved into tactical position and the fight was close enough they could finally make out the woman within the energy field they had no time to react as a portion at the top of the ship opened to reveal a man who resembled the ship he had just emerged from right down to the barbed spike that had been expelled from his arm.
"CAPTAIN!" Tom had already been out of his harness and to the aft section door before he remembered he hadn't been the only one to witness the sickening scene of a five foot spike as it impaled the woman who had only flickered for an instant before she had damaged the ship enough to cause its quick retreat.
"Annika!" Tom watched as the glow erupted upward until only a hint of it shone through the clouds. He shook the blonde who had a horrified and sickened expression on her narrow features. Her eyes hadn't left the glass even as he had shaken her into awareness. "Try to stay calm and keep strapped in. I'm sending Harry up here."
Tom didn't wait to get more of a reaction than a small nod before he barely missed the sliding doors as he entered in a rush to the passenger section.
"Harry, I need you at the helm! When everyone's onboard get us the hell out of here. Fast!" Tom didn't break stride as he said the next part in a rush. "The Captain's down."
With a nod and a look of badly concealed worry, Harry quickly left one of the injured passengers. He contacted Neelix and created a portal between the ground and the aft section before he entered the cockpit.
"Doc, the Captain's been injured. One of Culluh's spikes." Tom moved to the small elfin woman who had been speaking soft words to a group of children, six to ten year olds. "Kes, I'll need your help."
"Of course." Kes attempted to keep her own fear for the auburn haired woman at bay, she could sense an almost overwhelming wave of it from the blonde haired man who barely maintained a calm voice as he took charge of the situation.
Most of the passengers had failed to maintain their footing as a deafening explosion shook the small craft. Kes, held securely in Tom's arms, was out of the Delta Flyer before the last vibration was felt. They flew in bursts of thermo chemical propulsion towards the faint glow that seemed to be fading fast. Finally they found her. Kathryn Janeway. She seemed to be suspended in air uncertainly by pure strength of will alone. Blood poured from the gaping wound in her left side that still housed the five foot barbed spike that had ripped apart whatever soft tissue it had found when it had entered her body. She looked paler than Kes had ever seen her and sweat poured from her face. Without so much as a breath of time to assess the situation further Kes used her powers to keep the woman suspended and to communicate silently that she had her. Kes knew her Captain understood from her nod as she closed her eyes. Just as quickly as they had left the Flyer they were rapidly flying back towards it with their precious cargo next to them.
"Place her here, Kes." Despite the doctor's calm words, Kes knew he was horrified by the sight that had presented itself when she, Tom, and a barely conscious Janeway had entered the aft door where more privacy could be found for the injured woman. Kes set the Captain onto her side a top the pulled out medical bed as gently as she could. The Captain's blood quickly soaked through the gray-blue material.
"That sick bastard." Tom watched with sickness in his stomach and a coldness in his chest as the doctor pressed a hypospray to Janeway's neck. His comment hadn't gone unnoticed and Kes and the doctor silently agreed. Jal Culluh was known for his sadistic glee in inflicting terrible pain on his opponents.
"I can repair the damage and stop the bleeding, but the poison from the barbs is already working its way into her bloodstream. We need to get her back to the Institute." The doctor closed his bio scanner with a soft click as he turned haunted dark eyes to his two companions. "But first... we need to get this spike out of her. I can't risk sedating her or her immune functions will be compromised and that's all that's holding back the paralysis that normally occurs."
"Do it." The words were groggy but unmistakable. Janeway's hands gripped the left side of the bed as she closed her eyes against the inevitable. It had seemed an eternal agony when the spike had split her open and she knew its exit wasn't going to be anything less.
"I'm sorry." Tom watched the gray eyes open and felt the catch in his throat as she said it was all right. Tom shook his head as he approached the bed. It was all right that she had a five foot poisoned spike in her side and that without the bliss of unconsciousness she had to have the thing pulled out of her. He tried to hold back the tears that threatened to burst forth as she closed her eyes again.
Kes had stayed at Janeway's side and put a cool hand on the woman's forehead. She tried to instill the comfort she herself did not feel to the woman whose emotions were revealed fully perhaps for the very first time in Kes' interactions with their Captain. And what she felt both surprised her and didn't at all. The most overwhelming emotions she felt from the injured woman were regret and guilt. Kes shifted her violet eyes to the tear streaked face of the young man next to her and understood with a sad shake of her head as to the reason why Kathryn Janeway felt guilty. Tom would never forgive himself for the pain he knew he had to cause in the woman that, Kes knew even if Tom didn't, he loved above all others. His savior.
"Tom." Kes' voice didn't bring his light blue eyes to her, but he did nod his head.
With a strong healing hand to the Captain's shoulder and hip the doctor helped keep her still as Tom brushed the tears away from his cheeks, took a deep breath, and with a low, loud cry that sounded not unlike a wounded animal pulled the spike from the woman who had also cried out though hers was quickly swallowed and held back.
Tom threw the offending object as far away from him as he could. A feeling of warm wetness drew his disgusted face from where the spike now laid to his hands and he almost cried out again at what he saw. Kathryn Janeway's dark red blood covered his palms and fingers and it was this horrific realization that made his legs give out.
"What are you doing?"
Harry had barely enough time to unharness the restraint he had just secured around his torso when he had taken Tom's place at the helm before he reached the tall blonde. With a gentle, but tight grip he prevented her activation of the cockpit door and received a strong blow to his chest for his efforts.
"She's hurt!" Annika ignored the look of pain and confusion that was etched onto the man's boyish features as he recovered with on hand on his chest. "We need to help her!"
Harry gripped the arms of the tall, rather imposing metal construct that was Annika Hansen and with a seriousness to his features that seemed to age him in an instant and effectively caught her attention. "The doctor is doing everything he can. We need to get everyone onboard and get back to the Institute. The Captain will be fine. She's always fine."
Annika's flat icy blue eyes saw the worry that was etched on the man's face despite his words. It was then that she realized the Institute and this small cadre of superhumans would fall apart instantly if by some unfortunate miracle their Captain Janeway wasn't fine and no one ever allowed themselves to even contemplate that outcome. Reluctantly, Annika deferred to the man's wishes for no other reason than her compassion for him that he would not do well to see up-close what she had only seen from a distance and the sickening sight it had been.
"Neelix to Harry."
"Go ahead." Harry replaced his harness after he was sure Annika wouldn't attempt to leave the cockpit again. It had taken him a great deal of effort not to immediately go to the aft section himself to assure himself that the Captain was in fact fine, but Harry Kim was nothing if not a good officer, duty bound so here he remained.
"Acknowledged, we're heading home." Harry punched a series of commands into the console before he turned his dark eyes to his companion. "Are you okay?"
"What?" The voice was quiet and distant to Harry's ears. He repeated the question.
"Fine, fine. Isn't that what everybody here is? Just fine." Annika didn't wait for an answer as she muted out any response by her slow transformation.
Harry tried not to gape as the metal seemed to melt beneath a layer of rose tinted skin. He would have liked to have said Annika was much less intimidating in this form but he couldn't.
"What the hell just happened?" B'Elanna's voice filled the cockpit as she pushed her way between Harry and Annika to look down at Harry with a growl deep in her throat.
The dark woman ignored the look of repulsion that the blonde had on her expression, whether it was from the liberal amount of blood that was dried onto her uniform or the residual smell of cooked flesh that still clung to her silver suit, B'Elanna couldn't have cared less. What she did care about was the brilliant flash of light that had shook the ground and what had happened to the Captain to have left such a pool of blood in her wake.
Harry, used to B'Elanna being covered in someone else's blood and the dangerous look on her dark features, looked much more indifferent than Annika as he calmly told her of the situation while he still piloted the ship. "The Orion Syndicate is back."
"No shit, tell me something I don't know." B'Elanna crossed her muscular arms across her chest as she waited for more of an explanation. She was worried and that worry was turning into red hot rage. "Janeway. What happened to Janeway?"
"She was hit by one of Culluh's spikes, she's..." Harry was about to say she was fine, but the reality was he had no idea if that was true or not. No one had contacted him to say either way, and he had to admit that he was about ready to go to the back to see for himself.
But before Harry could say another word, B'Elanna whipped around and struck the bulkhead that contained the sliding door. An impressive fist sized crater appeared in the gray metal wall and some of it stuck to the large spikes on her hand. "I should have killed that bastard when I had the chance."
"Yeah, you should have." Tom's voice was quiet as he entered the cockpit before he motioned his wish to take Harry's place at the helm. "Move, buddy, you drive too damned slow."
"Tom?" B'Elanna Torres was quite accustomed to being covered in blood whether it be her own or someone else's, she was not however at all prepared to see the man she secretly loved with a smattering of blood across his torso and hands. "What the hell is happening back there? How's Janeway?"
If any of them noticed how pale his face was, how strongly set his jaw was, the redness of his pale blue eyes, or how he repeatedly wiped his hands onto his pant legs they thought best not to say so.
Tom had almost forgotten that they didn't know, they hadn't been back there when he had pulled two feet of spike through her body, how blood had gushed from the wound for a second before the doctor had managed to heal it, how that red warm fluid had sprayed onto his chest and neck, his hands, how he had fallen on his knees and had hyperventilated as he had whenever he had been too overwhelmed as a child. They didn't know. "She-she's in a coma."
Tom didn't dare look away from his panel to see the expressions, but he had heard the curses and gasps of breath.
"Tom..." B'Elanna tried to ignore the sticky nearly dried blood that deposited onto her hand as she grasped one of Tom's in one of hers. She knew whose blood it was and she felt herself feel nothing but sympathy for the man who had performed the necessary act. "Please. Tell us what's going on. Will she be all right?"
"The Doc says he won't know until he can purge the poison from her body." With a few steady key strokes the engines groaned at the amount of energy rerouted to them to be even more efficient than they normally were. The craft shook around them, but Tom kept accelerating. They needed to get her back to the Institute, now.
"Are we close enough for transport?" Harry buried his worry, his voice was hard and determined.
"Almost." Tom watched the monitor and nodded when it approached transporter range.
But before Harry could activate the door, Tom's firm hand on his arm stopped him abruptly. He looked down at Tom's face, serious and more strained than he had ever seen it, which quickly dampened his desire to go to the apt section.
"She's in a bad way, Harry. I just... you should be prepared." Reluctantly, Tom eased his grip off of his friend's arm and redirected his attention to his panel.
After an unsure nod, Harry left the cockpit, walked past Neelix, who had apparently gathered the children around him to tell them fantastical stories, and then finally, entered the aft section.
"Oh God." Harry Kim froze as he looked upon his Captain. Shaking his head, he brought himself out of his paralyzing fear and horror and with effort made himself move slowly but steadily towards her prone form.
The doctor and Kes had already readied Janeway for transport. She had been placed onto a hover gurney, her bloodied uniform had been removed and she was covered by a shiny silver thermo blanket. Her still form and relaxed expression made it seem like she was merely asleep, but the appearance of her skin said otherwise. It was a deathly pallor with a grayish tinge, but what were most disturbing were the thick blue veins that were raised unnaturally across her pale skin that had been caused by the poison coursing through her veins.
"We're coming within transporter range, Harry."
Tom's voice over the speaker brought Harry's eyes away from the Captain and he nodded to the doctor and Kes, who had their hands on the gurney handles and were prepared for transport. Harry concentrated on sickbay at the Voyager Institute and then created the large purple glowing portal that would take them there.
After the transport had been completed a pale and anxious Harry stood out of the way as he watched the doctor and three different individuals all known as Mortimer Harren as they carefully moved the captain to one of the gray biobeds and activated the mechanical arch that would monitor her vitals. One of the Harren's moved away from the biobed to address Harry.
"She needs to be prepped for surgery." Harren pulled the mask back up over his nose and mouth as he assumed that was enough of a dismissal.
Despite the brusque words Harry stood in place, sweat formed across his brow and he found it hard to swallow past the worried, warm lump that had formed in his throat. He didn't hear Kes call his name and only noticed her when she laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"Harry, we're going to do everything we can for her, but we need to begin right away." Kes' voice held warmth and sympathy, but it was also a firm dismissal. So with a nod of his head and one last look of worry he complied and departed from the room in a daze and blood thundered in his ears, which prevented him from hearing the locking and sterilization mechanism for the surgical bay.
Harry had seen her injured before. Over the years, they had all had their fair share of close calls, almost each and every one of them had needed medical attention and sometimes surgery. The doctor's inherent abilities were nothing short of amazing, but sometimes even his healing touch wasn't enough, so their sickbay was as state of the art as the rest of Institute and no one had ever been mortally wounded in the years Harry had been at the Voyager Institute. But now, having seen the Captain and knowing how devastating Culluh's spikes could be, Harry felt a sickening coldness form in his chest brought on by extreme worry that this could really be it, the Captain could possibly die. Harry couldn't bring himself to contemplate the thought for long. He truly couldn't image how they would all carry on and manage without her. They all owed her so much.
"How is she?"
Harry didn't even remember when he had taken a seat in one of the dark gray chairs in the waiting area outside of Sickbay. The soft, concerned voice brought him out of his daze and he looked up to find a pair of dark ones, not looking at him but at the double doors that secured the medical area.
"She's in a coma..." Harry shook his head. He absently watched Chakotay as he lowered his bulky frame into a chair next to his. The man had a flush to his dark face and he looked as if he couldn't quite bring himself to take deep enough breaths.
Chakotay had been with Lindsay in the Communications Room when the call from the away team had been answered. Tom's voice had an odd tone, one that Chakotay had never heard before, it was serious and had something dark within it that seemed to give a great weight to each of his words.
"The Captain's been severely injured by one of Culluh's spikes, Harry's transporting them directly to Sickbay, have some of the Harrens meet them there, so that-"
Chakotay hadn't waited to hear another word. He had moved through the premises faster than his lumbering form would seem to indicate possible and had reached the waiting area outside of Sickbay in three minutes. That was where he found Harry, who had a stricken expression on his features that had caused a wave of icy fear to stab within Chakotay. It had taken considerable effort to even form the words that asked how Kathryn was.
Now, Chakotay and Harry mirrored one another as they sat uneasily in their chairs, two pairs of dark eyes were held fast on the double doors as they waited anxiously for the sparse figure of the doctor to come forth.
The two men paid no attention to the numerous footfalls of approaching people and only looked toward the entrance when the wooden door opened with a low expulsion of air. Still garbed in their combat outfits, and a series of facial features that all indicated worry Tom, B'Elanna and Annika entered the room. Chakotay found himself surprised that he would see the newcomer and with such a concerned expression on her narrow features, but he didn't give it too much thought. His thoughts were with the woman he loved.
Silently the trio took up the remaining seats and all seemed buried deep in their own thoughts. Tom still absently wiped his hands onto his pant legs despite them no longer having a trace of her blood on them. He and B'Elanna had both went through the sterilization field upon their entrance to the medical wing and though the blood had been removed from both of them Tom still felt the warmth of her blood on his hands.
Seated silently in a chair in the corner Annika felt out of place and disconnected from those who now spoke words of comfort and encouragement to one another in low, soft tones that she paid little attention to as she contemplated her appropriateness or lack thereof for being in the waiting room. She wondered at her own immense worry for the woman in the surgical bay, at the sympathy for those around her, for the dread she felt deep within herself that left her cold and sweaty.
Annika had always kept herself from feeling too much for those around her. She had no close friends, her co-workers remained just that, and any romantic inclinations anyone had for her were always efficiently discouraged with strong, unyielding denials on her part. Emotional attachment to anyone seemed illogical since she could never truly be herself if anyone were to know her secret they would no doubt distance themselves and so she did it first, besides she had decided long ago that she needed no one. She liked her solitude. Her freedom. Her oneness.
But now, after only a few days, she felt a kinship with these people. She knew it was partially because they were like her, metahumans kept hidden from the world, but it was more than that. She felt like she had been adopted by an already expansive and eclectic family. She found that she liked her assimilation into this collective.
And then there were her feelings for the matriarch of that family. It was without question that she was attracted to the Headmistress, but again it was much more than that. The woman was strong, intelligent, decisive and compassionate but apart from all that there was an underlying vulnerability, a softness, a deep rooted sadness that Annika couldn't help but be affected strongly by; all of which the auburn haired woman attempted to maintain hidden behind a mask of professionalism and impassivity. Annika felt herself wanting to reach out, to comfort and console, but feeling frightened by the prospect of what all that could mean. She had thought herself incapable of falling in love, especially with a near stranger, but she thought there was no better way to describe what she was experiencing.
Annika had thought the worst possibility would be that Janeway would rebuff any advances, but now there was an even graver consideration. What if the woman did not survive? As she covertly observed those seated around her, Annika extended her thoughts past herself and to those who she knew were also immensely concerned. B'Elanna had stopped Tom's incessant movements of his hands on the fabric of his pants many moments ago with her gloved hands that still contained dangerous looking spikes. The pair remained silent, but Annika could almost feel the worry and fear that emanated from both... and also the comfort they attempted to bestow onto one another. Harry had begun pacing and if the constant movement annoyed anyone no one thought to mention it. The young man had a sheen of perspiration across his forehead and his dark eyes were large as they continually shifted their attention to the Surgical Bay doors. And then there was Chakotay, his lumbering form was hunched over as he kept his clasped hands between his spread knees and his eyes never left the metal doors. A shadow settled upon the man's features and despite the stoniness of his expression, Annika couldn't help but be apprehensive of the suggestion of danger it presented.
With that apprehension were the tell tale tingling across her fair skin that told her that the metal within her wanted to emerge, to do its job, to defend and protect her. She kept the response at bay as she shifted in her chair.
When the doors finally opened, Annika had to force herself to remain calm as she stood with the others in the waiting room to be addressed by the doctor. The sparsely haired man with his craggy features indicated very little and it seemed an eternity until he spoke, his voice was soft and even, dry and impassive.
"I've healed the Captain's injuries and the poison has been effectively purged from her system." The doctor quickly forestalled any clamoring of delight with dark pointed looks. He appeared displeased by something which deepened the lines of his face. "Despite this she has yet to wake from her coma. What concerns me is the high level of degradation to her immune processes. Her present immunodeficiency leaves her open to a host of opportunistic infections. I've already begun antibody infusions but I can't explain why her levels are so low. Or why her T-cell count continues to fall."
"Will she be all right, Doctor?" Chakotay's voice remained steady, but the way his hands shook betrayed his disquiet.
"I have a rather... unconventional idea, I'm not sure if it'll work until I try it. And even if it does I'm afraid that unless I can discover the root cause of such a severe immunodeficiency it'll be a continual problem for her, one that might require even more extreme measures." The doctor smiled tightly as he tried to reassure those around him while still being clear about the danger that still surrounded their leader. "Mr. Paris, your assistance please."
"Uh, sure, Doc." Tom Paris gently released his hold on B'Elanna's strong hands as he tried to convey one last measure of comfort to the dark featured woman. Then his light blue eyes fell on Annika. There was something there, Tom was sure of it despite how intangible it seemed. After he moved away from the huddle of people he laid a soft hand on Annika's shoulder. His voice was low and much surer than he felt. "She'll pull through, she always does."
After an uncertain nod of the head that proved to be Annika's only response, Tom followed the doctor through the surgical bay doors. He attempted to keep his attention on what the doctor was telling him, but uncontrollably his gaze would find its way to the woman beneath the blue tinged sterilization field. She looked pale, vulnerable and so very small. Nothing like the formidable woman he knew she was. His blue eyes rose and met the violet ones of Kes, who stood next to the sterilization field and sympathy for one another was shared.
"Do you understand what I'm asking you to do?" The already lined features of the doctor were deepened further with a mixture of concern and determination.
"Yeah, it's just... I've never done anything like that before." Tom's light blue eyes looked upon their fallen leader and an almost debilitating doubt befell him. What if he failed? Failed her? What would they do then?
"She thinks you're fully capable of this, Tom, you can do it." Kes placed a biometric monitor onto Tom's chest and led him to the occupied biobed. "Just concentrate on your hands not your feet."
"And try not to destroy my sickbay." Despite the gruff tone the doctor's encouraging smile, that didn't quite reach his eyes, did its job for Tom felt a sense of immense purpose, a determination he rarely found surged through him much like the thermo-chemical energy that began to radiate hotly from his form.
The doctor and Kes maintained a protective distance away from the glowing man as they monitored the Captain's and Tom's vitals.
Beneath the sterilization field, the Captain's body began to glow, similarly to the way Tom's hands did, which were pressed against the top of the dome shaped field.
After several minutes had elapsed, Janeway's vitals began to improve considerably.
"It's working." The doctor's large smile faded instantly when he took his eyes off the monitor and saw the sight before him.
The blue sterilization field had fallen away, apparently destroyed by the energy transfer. And though the Captain still appeared to be unconscious her small hands gripped the alarmed man who stood above her now raised form. The energy that coursed through her body engulfed both her and the rather disempowered Tom and it was too hot for the doctor or Kes to approach safely. So, instead he yelled a warning urgently to the man seemingly trapped within a cocoon of crackling orange and white energy of fiery heat. "Power down! You're releasing too much energy!"
"Tom!" Kes willed her usually soft and warm tones to reach to a volume that would cut through the thundering of the thermo-chemical energy that was being expelled by their Captain.
"I can't! She won't let go!" There would have been a time, not that long ago, that the naked body of Kathryn Janeway pressed tightly against him would have been a fantasy made true although he couldn't recall being this scared in any of his fantasies. Sure Tom thought Janeway could be incredibly intimidating when she wanted to be, but he had never been truly frightened of her until this moment. She wasn't awake, but something within her made her latch onto Tom and his emitted energy and not let go. Self-preservation, Tom would have perhaps supposed if he had not been worried about destroying the entire Institute with this much power output on his part that was beginning to drain all of his strength not to mention his consciousness and absorption on the part of this woman.
"Oh, for the love of..." Annoyed, the doctor loaded a hypospray, took a deep breath and attempted to will his physical form to withstand the destructive energy bursts enough for him to complete his task. With one last sigh of discontent, he entered the field and tried to ignore the searing of his flesh as he made his way quickly to Tom's side and pressed the hypospray against the man's neck. Tom dropped like a stone and the great mass of energy he had been emitting abruptly vanished, though the woman who had absorbed all of it was still a fiery glow.
With a raised hand Kes took control of Tom's limp body and moved the man towards her before she deposited him onto a bio bed.
Without the energy to absorb the Captain's unconscious form dropped back to the bed though the stolen power still crackled hotly around her like a fiery octopus, a rather pissed off one, with tendrils flailing dangerously about. With a low expulsion of breath and a reemergence of his epidermis across his face and hands, the doctor steadily moved away from the unconscious woman. "Computer, erect a level five force field around the surgical bio bed. Kes, vital status."
"All immunodeficiency has been remedied, Doctor." Kes' soft violet gaze and warm tones conveyed her relief and happiness.
"Well, I suppose it's a good thing we know that Mr. Paris is a competent battery charger." The doctor shook his head sardonically as he observed the blaze of a woman on the other side of the force field. "Perhaps it worked a little too well. I don't want her inadvertently destroying my sickbay."
After she made sure Tom was all right, Kes moved away from the bio bed to stand next to the doctor. Even outside of the force field they could still feel the heat within from the crackling orange tendrils of powerful energy. Impossibly, the woman who emanated the vast amount of thermo-chemical discharge from her body was still very much asleep.
The doctor allowed his eyes to depart from the blazing form and to that of the monitor which contained the readout of her vitals. The doctor wondered at the possibilities of why Janeway's immune system had been so devastated. He had a few ideas but he couldn't be certain of without speaking with her. He was already preparing himself for the formidable coercion that would be required for the woman to take his medical advice.
"Doctor..." There was a measure of awe and apprehension in Kes' voice as she unconsciously took several steps away from the force field that she had a great fear would be decimated in a very short amount of time.
The doctor had difficulty looking directly at the floating figure of Kathryn Janeway, as if she were the sun itself, the white blaze that surrounded her was far too brilliant for frail human eyes. Unsure of what unconscious actions she would take the doctor decided to err on the side of caution and increased the strength of the force field that surrounded the roaring blaze.
"Doctor, I believe we should drop the 'field." Kes' voice still had a hint of disbelief to it but her words were made with a measure of certainty. "She can't release the excess if she is trapped within it."
"I can't have an extremely powered-up sleepwalker on my hands, Kes." The doctor huffed as he continued to adjust the power output of the force field. He just knew she was going to destroy his sickbay one of these days.
What happened to good old fashioned defensive powers, he thought to himself with a low grumble.
"It'll only be a matter of time before she destroys the force field anyways." Kes' voice never rose above her normal warm tones, but the determination found in her violet eyes made the doctor question his own reluctance. The small hand on his shoulder helped as well. "I will go with her."
A moment of hesitation was permitted before the doctor sighed with discontent as he lowered the protective energy barrier. With Kes, he watched as Kathryn Janeway rose like a flaming spectre. The high ceiling of the sickbay, which was reinforced tritanium began to bubble with the intensity of heat that wafted off the fiery woman. Another series of commands from the doctor opened a small ventilation shaft at the apex of the rounded ceiling. The opening of the vents that let out into the night sky were too slim for even a petite woman like Kathryn Janeway to pass through, until Kes used her mind to bend the metal slates to accommodate the blazing form.
"Kes." The doctor watched with worry as Kes began her ascent. "Be careful."
"I will, Doctor." Kes smiled softly before she mentally lifted herself through the broken vent and into the crispness of the evening air only seconds after Janeway.
The night sky was set ablaze by the woman who hovered high above the expansive grounds of the Institute she loved so much. The energy barrier that encompassed the campus in a sizeable nearly invisible dome flickered uneasily by the bombardment of thermo-chemical energy that flared in large waves off the petite airbone woman who at present looked little like the cool, professional detached and always in perfect control Headmistress and more like a mythical being, a fiery phoenix risen from the ashes to take its revenge.
Kes' restrained powers were being put to the test by the intense amount of concentration it took the small elfin woman to propel the flares of energy that came her way from her vulnerable body and into the nearly impenetrable force field dome. Sweat began to form across her brow and a headache was deeply entrenched behind her eyes. She knew she couldn't keep this up forever and forced herself to move to a safer distance. Unlike the doctor, her epidermis wouldn't spontaneously grow back.
Kes lifted one of her small hands to absently wipe away the blood from her upper lip as she used the other along with her rather impressive strength of will to mentally push the excess energy that poured from Janeway in white hot flames into the absorbing lattice of the force field.
Kes thought she could hear an alarm sound from somewhere very far away. She tasted the coppery flavor of her own blood as it flowed onto her tongue. Kes resisted the urge to spit out the red fluid that had pooled inside her mouth, instead she concentrated on not blacking out as flashes of light blurred her vision and her limbs began to feel far too heavy for her to hold up. She felt incredibly warm and sweat made her pale skin glisten in the light of the night made impossibly bright by Kathryn Janeway.
An entreating voice buried deep within Kes whispered words of temptation as it enticed her to utilize the powers that still existed within her, merely buried by mental obstructions.
"NO!" With the scream of defiance, Kes propelled the last of the excess waves of energy into the dampening field.
A low sigh of relief was expelled between her lips as finally Janeway looked normal, floating unconsciously in the evening sky, shimmering golden glow and all.
The left corner of Kes' blood smeared mouth curved up as she quickly gathered Janeway's small, nude form into her arms before she descended from the air steadily with the auburn head of her precious cargo tucked under her chin as she did. The protectiveness and love she felt for the woman cradled gently and surely in her arms made Kes' chest feel warm, her heart full, and a reassuring calm to settle over her as they slowly lowered through the mangled ventilation shaft.
"God, I thought you'd never get back here!" The doctor's voice was shrill as he hurried over with a medical tricorder and ran the small blinking probe over both Kes' and Janeway's forms even before their feet touched the Sickbay floor. "The Dome nearly destabilized! Tuvok made a campus wide alert, I don't think I've ever seen him that concerned before; he nearly raised an eyebrow."
"Only 'nearly'?" Kes smiled teasingly as she was assisted by the doctor in lowering Kathryn Janeway's unconscious body onto the nearest biobed.
A silver blanket was laid upon Janeway's nakedness by Kes as the doctor continued running scans to ensure that both were all right. He let a sigh of relief escape between his lips as he closed the tricorder with an audible click after he found that after an analgesic for Kes, a good night's sleep for the duo, and then a neuro-stimulant for Kathryn Janeway in the morning, the two women should be just fine.
The hiss of the hypospray preceded the relief from the pain that had been planted firmly behind Kes' eyes and with her warm tones she extended her most sincere thanks to the doctor for his prompt administration. She examined the craggier than usual features of the sparsely haired man before she gently ushered him to the double doors of his Sickbay.
"Leaving my patient is highly irresponsible, Kes, despite the fact that I have been at my wits end as to what to do with her." The doctor shook his head at his lowly lot in life. "Sleepwalking, nearly destroying my Sickbay, not to mention the self-destructive activities she is most likely engaging in. And you know she's not going to listen to what I say. Why would she? It's not like I'm a physician or anything. Honestly, I used to be a renowned Doctor."
"You are still very much 'renowned'." Kes' tone never lost its sincerity despite the fact that she was still maneuvering the man from the room. "Doctor, you've healed so many people today, I know you're exhausted. Don't worry about, Kathryn, if anything changes during the night I'll contact you immediately. And as for her... 'destructive behavior', between you, Tuvok, Chakotay, and me, we'll get through to her."
"Hmph, it'd take a megaton explosion to get through that thick skull of hers." Despite the doctor's annoyed tones, Kes could sense the extreme worry that was just now beginning to leave him and understood him and his gruffness fully in that moment.
Kes had the strongest of urges to hug him to her and laugh happily, but then she would be required to explain herself and more so to explain his own emotions to the doctor and she was unwilling to take such action. Instead, she activated the Sickbay doors and waved goodnight to the still grumbling Doctor.
Only when the doors closed after him did Kes allow her smile to grow to a full blown grin as she shook her head only once accompanied with a good-natured rolling of her violet eyes before she turned her gaze to the only other occupant in the room. The shimmering golden light that surrounded the auburn haired woman who slumbered peacefully on was the only indication of the amount of immense power the small woman wielded. Though Kes figured Janeway would need a different sort of strength to endure the constant bombardment of lectures regarding her health she was sure to be receiving at great length from numerous people.
"Rest while you can, my friend."
"She'll pull through, she always does."
Annika felt herself nod absently as she watched Tom being ushered into the sickbay by the doctor. She let a high pitched squeak out when a rough hand landed on her shoulder. Her blonde head turned and she caught a glimpse of bloodied spikes before the hand was quickly removed.
"Come on, Blondie."
Without a conscious thought of where they were going, Annika followed closely behind the retreating, stomping form of B'Elanna Torres. The heavy, metal soles of the dark woman's boots clanked noisily against the floors of the hallway as she steadily made her way out of the oppressive scents of the medical wing of the Institute.
Their journey to the underground facility and through it was made in silence though Annika did sneak questioning glances at the woman next to her. Large metal doors opened as the pair approached and Annika recognized the yellow lined gray room that housed the Institute's impressive training room that utilized holographic projections.
"Computer, activate program Torres four-Alpha."
"What are-" The words had barely the chance to escape as Annika squealed her surprise and swiftly ducked as a rather large man in army fatigues swung at her head with a massive, leather gloved fist.
The man was fast despite his lumbering body and he recovered from her deflection easily and ran head-on into Annika's slim midsection which bowled her over. She landed on the harsh metal floor with a groan before it was muffled by the eruption of metal and a male scream of agony.
"Oh, gross." Annika pushed the dead hologram off of her metallic body and tried not to think about how the blood felt quite real splattered across her torso. She didn't have to try too hard since she was quickly and thoroughly distracted by the group of six men equally as big as the one lying in a dark pool of his own blood as they attempted to pummel her with their fists.
The hit to her left side might have been actually painful if she wasn't fully protected by her dense metal exoplating and she had to admit she found some satisfaction in the surprised look that quickly vanished when the heal of her palm connected with the man's nose. More blood covered her borrowed utilitarian orange and leafy green outfit when she used her extended, sharply tipped nails to divest two of the holograms of various internal organs. The cut off screams of the holograms and the triumphant noises from her sparring partner filled her senses as she found a strange feeling of relaxation in the mindless slaughtering of fake beings.
Out of the corner of her eye, Annika detected the quick motions of B'Elanna, who moved at superhuman speeds as her elbow connected with the solar plexus of one of the men and if the cracking sounds were any indication, crushed them before the man gurgled his last bloody breath and fell to the floor.
"Eech!" Annika tried not to be too distracted or disgusted when the sickening crack of one of the hologram's neck sounded loudly when B'Elanna picked the man up with one powerful arm and torpedoed him face first into the unyielding floor.
She had more pressing matters to attend to as she was thrown to the ground by the massive bulk that was upon her and presently attempting to bash her face in with his fists. The sound of Annika's metallic head hitting the metal of the floor sounded unpleasant, but painful it was not. What was painful, however, for the hologram at least was the gleaming silver fist that collided with his face which ceased his functioning efficiently.
Annika pushed the metal back beneath newly formed skin after B'Elanna's spiked gloved fist smashed the face of the last of the twenty holograms her program had created. The disarrayed bodies and sometimes remains of the men were at the two women's feet and Annika couldn't help but release another, though more restrained, "eech".
"Computer, end program." Her breath labored, B'Elanna wiped the sweat from her forehead with a feral grin on her face before she clapped her hand against Annika's shoulder. "Not bad."
"Thanks... I think." Annika wiped the now non-existent blood from the front of her outfit as she followed B'Elanna from the room towards the turbolift.
The behavior of the dark haired woman confused Annika, but she couldn't say that it didn't feel somewhat reassuring to have the powerful woman as her guide, this program a distraction for her and she reasoned for B'Elanna as well. Her light blue eyes glanced again and again at the woman who led her from the building and into the crispness of the breezy night air. They settled their forms onto the cement stoop in front of the mahogany double doors of the main building of the Institute as their bodies cooled off.
As B'Elanna pulled a hand sized rubber container, dark red in color, out of a large hidden pouch on her thigh the tall blonde could no longer keep her question within her.
"Why are you being so nice to me?" She hadn't meant to ask so skeptically, almost confrontationally. But in all honesty, she knew that B'Elanna's program had been an olive branch of sorts, albeit a violent and bloody olive branch, but also one that kept with the dark woman's persona Annika figured.
A low snort was Annika's answer until the spiked hand that held the dark red canteen collided with her now unprotected, fleshy uniform clad chest. "Here."
Annika took the canteen with a small grimace as she rubbed her chest with her other hand. She wondered if there would be a bruise and whether it would be advantageous for her to always be in her metallic form around B'Elanna. The blonde opened the lid of the container and took a deep inhalation of the liquid held inside.
"Ugh, what is that?" In truth it smelled like something one would put in an outdated automobile.
"Blood wine." B'Elanna shrugged as she took the canteen blindingly fast from Annika's grasp and took a long drink from it before she slammed it back into the blonde's chest who barely had time to catch it.
"Seriously?" Annika held the container away from her as far as she could as she wrinkled her nose in disgust.
B'Elanna exhaled a long suffering sigh as she rolled her eyes. "Against popular belief I don't actually drink blood. It's just whiskey... and something a bit extra."
Annika looked at B'Elanna questioningly for a moment before she tipped the container back and a small amount of the ruby colored liquid fell into her mouth. Her body lurched suddenly as the fluid hit her stomach, tears welled in her icy blue eyes and a string of coughs emitted from her as she handed the canteen to her companion. With a hand to her overheated throat, she wheezed out her opinion. "G-good."
B'Elanna shrugged again when she offered the canteen to the blonde and it was rejected after she had taken a few swigs herself.
"So..." Annika pulled her knees to her chest as she hugged them close against her body with her arms. She felt the briskness of the cool evening air, though the heat from the single sip of B'Elanna's "blood wine" prevented her from being too chilled while she watched B'Elanna close the canteen and replace it back into her thigh pocket. "Are you going to answer my question?"
With conviction in her voice and assuredness in her dark eyes, B'Elanna answered, "I've figured you out, Blondie."
"What's that supposed-"
The deafening sound and immense heat roaring off the blazing white spectre that was Kathryn Janeway as she flew high into the night sky leaving a flaming orange trail in her wake made Annika forget whatever she had been about to say as she stood up abruptly from the cement of the stoop.
"Holy shit!" B'Elanna grabbed Annika's shoulder and pushed the startled blonde into the safety of the porch.
A low grunt emitted from the blonde as she collided with the brick wall of the Institute main building. After she regained her breath, Annika attempted to disengage from the strong hold B'Elanna had her in, but was ultimately unsuccessful so instead all she was able to do was peer over the dark woman's shoulder.
"Oh my God!" Annika froze in B'Elanna's grasp as both gaped at the woman suspended high above them. The heat from the fiery woman caused sweat to breakout across both their bodies, but fortunately neither was close enough to be scorched. Though that could be due to the great waves of orange and white fire being pushed into the curved energy barrier from the mere strength of Kes' thoughts Annika figured when she saw the small elfin woman with her arms in front of her floating somewhat uncertainly next to the blaze.
The alarm klaxons that rang out was no match to the sound that was made when energy collided with energy and so B'Elanna and Annika stood and watched, transfixed by the sight of the two powerful women, one of which whose energy outfit flowed blazingly around her to make what looked like massive fiery wings in the night sky. Time itself seemed to stop as unimaginable power was released from Janeway and redirected by Kes, until finally, thankfully, the flames abated and what was left was a soft golden glow that surrounded Janeway's floating, nude form.
B'Elanna slowly released Annika and the pair moved unsteadily back to the cement stoop and watched from a sizeable distance as Kes gathered the form of Kathryn Janeway into her arms before they descended from whence they came. B'Elanna and Annika being ignored as they were by Kes, looked to one another for confirmation that they had just seen what they had in fact just witnessed.
"Is she going to be okay?" Annika's wide, icy blue eyes turned from B'Elanna to the blue flickering of the domed energy barrier that had just received a barrage of released power.
"How should I know?" Irritated by how unnerved she had been, B'Elanna forced a shrug of nonchalance as she retrieved her dark red rubber flask, popped the top, and took a hearty swig. "Come on, let's get back to Sickbay. See what the Doc has to say."
"Yeah, okay." Annika had rolled her eyes at the tone, but she still followed B'Elanna back into the brick building.
Before the pair of women made it to the turbolift, the doors to it opened to reveal a rather haggard Tom Paris.
"Ladies." The grin was there, but it barely broke through the worn expression of the blonde haired man.
Despite the doctor's best efforts, Tom still felt like something vital had just been ripped out of him, which, as he thought about it, had been. In short, Kathryn Janeway had sucked him dry. The usual spark of unrelenting energy that flowed through his body had been all but drained from him during that seemingly brief embrace he had experience in Sickbay. He couldn't blame the woman, she had been acting on pure instinct after all, but that still didn't relieve the unease that he could be overtaken so easily. He also knew when their Headmistress does awaken she will most likely feel guilty if not a tad bit embarrassed about the whole ordeal. She had, after all, been tightly pressed against him with nothing but a visible golden glow about her. Once everything returned to normal he knew despite his better judgment that he would definitely have to remind her of that fact.
"Tom, what's going on? How's Janeway?" B'Elanna almost reached out to the depleted man, but thought better of it and instead folded her arms across her chest.
"Well the way the Doc was bitching up a storm I'd say she's going to be fine. Kes is keeping an eye on her now." Tom placed a warm hand on the small, dark featured woman as he tried to brighten up if only to make her less surly. "So I heard I missed quite the light show outside."
"Yeah, Janeway was blasting the Dome all to hell. It was pretty amazing." B'Elanna had to grin broadly, not only from her approval of the amount of raw power Janeway had exhibited, but also for the fact that their illustrious leader was all right. "She absorbed a lot of energy today. I guess I didn't really know how much she could take in."
Not being an Omega class metahuman had never bothered B'Elanna, she liked her abilities and thought them practical for her disposition, but that still didn't prevent her from being in awe of some of those around her with incredible amounts of energy at their disposal. Though she never let on that she was impressed, of course.
"Apparently a lot." Tom absently rubbed his upper chest as he remembered how the hot glow that was always present had been extracted forcibly during the power exchange. He felt empty without it and not a little afraid that this would be a permanent condition, though the doctor assured him that it couldn't possibly be unless "genetics be damned".
"Are you okay?" Annika, who had apparently been forgotten about completely since two pairs of startled eyes looked her way.
"Oh yeah, sure, of course." A smile to convince upturned his lips as he pulled himself more upright. He did wonder idly if he looked as awful as he felt. Probably, he figured, if the skeptical looks were any indication. "Nothing a little of your blood wine wouldn't fix."
"What you need is sleep." B'Elanna walked a few steps towards the front door before she stopped and turned on her heels. "Don't make me throw you over my shoulder and drag your sorry ass to bed, Paris."
"Promises, promises." Tom didn't actually believe B'Elanna would make good on her threat, but he had to admit a part of him was actually excited and nervous by the prospect, though he hid it beneath a boyish smirk as he walked languidly towards the dark featured woman.
Resigned to the fact that she had been the third wheel for several moments, Annika didn't follow the pair instead she mumbled out her plan of action. "Yeah, you two go on, I'm just going to check in on Kes. See if she needs anything."
A few mumbled, idle farewells accompanied the departing couple before they entered into what was quickly becoming the early hours of a new day.
Annika couldn't help but raise one of her eyebrows in bemusement. She wondered to herself if Tom and B'Elanna's mutual attraction was as obvious to the others as it was to Annika. Since it was none of her business, she shrugged off the contemplation before she entered the lift.
As the turbolift ascended to the top level of the building, Annika finally allowed herself to relax fully since they had been interrupted at the pub.
Annika couldn't exactly say she knew exactly what had just transpired in the last several hours, but one thing she had to acknowledge with some certainty was that she was well over her head. She wasn't a combative person by nature, nor was she exactly heroic, self-sacrificing, or fearless. She had a quiet life filled with mundane activities, people, and things. Usually the most excitement she had was when one of her favorite old movies was transferred to microdisc. She was out of her league here where it seemed heroic displays was common place, self-sacrifice part of the deal, and all were fearless; even the youngest of the children seemed unafraid.
Many things had unnerved her this long night. The gunmen on the ground that imprisoned metahumans, other metahumans killing humans and attacking their own kind as well, and above all there was the woman in the center of all of Annika's intense emotions. She had never felt so much fear in her life than when she had watched that awful looking spike when it had impaled Janeway. And then the next time she saw the woman, she had been a blazing spectre of fire and light. She hadn't been anywhere near close enough to make out much detail, but she did know that the way Kes had cradled the seemingly naked form of Kathryn Janeway in her arms when they had descended into the opening in the doomed roof she had felt almost crippled by the fact that Kathryn Janeway was way out of her league.
Even with that knowledge Annika steadily made her way to Sickbay. Unlike most doors, the large metal ones to the medical bay did not open upon her approach. She looked to the side of the door for an admittance panel, but found only smooth steel. Deflated, she turned to leave until Kes' voice sounded in the room.
"Who is it?" The voice wasn't unkind, but did seem to command an immediate answer.
"It's Annika." Her blonde head quirked to one side as she spoke into the empty room. "I just wanted to see if... you, uh, needed anything."
"Thank you, could you bring me a bottle of water, please?"
Annika found the fridge that resembled the rest of the dark wood shelves, pulled out two bottles, and after she exhaled a deep breath, she made her way through the now open doors into the dim lighting of Sickbay.
Any words that Annika might have had in way of greeting died in her throat as she took in the vision that made her heart catch almost painfully in her chest from the sheer amount of affection that rolled off in waves from the small, pixie-like woman. Kes stood next to the gray cushioned bed that held Kathryn Janeway whose small body, covered gently by a silver colored blanket, was curled into the fetal position as she slumbered on her right side.
Kes' hands stilled their motions as Annika made her quiet approach. After she had dismissed the doctor, Kes had released Janeway's thick auburn hair from the tight braid it had been trapped in which now, due to her manual manipulation, flowed across the blue-gray pillow in waves.
Annika wondered if she had ever seen anything more affecting in her life than the sight of a slumbering Kathryn Janeway; her elegant features in repose never looked more vulnerable, delicate and beautiful.
"Annika." Kes' gentle tone suddenly pulled the blonde haired woman from her reverie.
"I'm sorry." Annika didn't know for what she was exactly apologizing for, but she still felt the need to. Was it for the fact that Janeway had been so severely injured? Or was it that she felt guilty at how easily her thoughts turned to her base desires.
"There's no need to apologize for your feelings." Kes took the proffered water bottle from Annika's hold. "Come, seat with me."
With one last parting glance at the resting figure, Annika followed Kes from the surgical bay to a small office that was positioned in the middle of Sickbay encompassed in glass so whoever was in it could look out upon each one of the twenty biobeds that created a large circle.
Kes walked past the doctor's chair before she seated herself in one of the black pleather chairs that reclined back slightly. Her violet eyes easily made out the form of Kathryn Janeway outside the glass window and Kes knew that any sign of distress from the auburn haired woman would be announced by the monitoring sensors of the mechanical arch that fitted above the sleeping woman's torso. Those violet eyes shifted to watch Annika as the tall blonde settled against the cushions of the black sofa that fitted against the low gray wall.
"So, she's going to be all right?" Annika hands fidgeted with the water bottle in her hand as she tried to make her voice as light as possible.
"Yes, she'll be fine." Kes peered through the glass window at the person in question. "She just needs some sleep."
Kes almost laughed at the understatement of her conclusion. The small elfin like woman wondered when it had been that Kathryn Janeway had slept a full night's sleep. She suddenly wondered if Janeway even could remember that far back.
"How're you?" Kes watched the blonde shrug uneasily under her violet gaze. A storm of emotions bombarded her as icy blue eyes finally met hers.
"A part of me thinks you're all nuts." Annika's hands absently brushed at the combat suit she was garbed in and thought that perhaps she was the crazy one, pretending to be a ... a superhero. "And the other part thinks perhaps you're the most amazing people I'll ever meet. But I don't know if I'm cut out for this kind of life."
"If you could go back to your old life, one of zero responsibility and of heavily guarded secrecy, would you want to?" Kes actually did very much want the answer to this question.
Perhaps, Kes reasoned, Annika wasn't suited to be a part of their cadre. Perhaps the blonde would rather be put in the Metahuman Protection Program. Kes didn't think so, didn't want that to be Annika's answer, but she couldn't force this life upon anyone and wouldn't want to even if she had that ability.
"I don't know." Annika shook her head at her own fear, but she had to be honest and knew Kes would settle for nothing less. "I thought I liked my life. I had adapted to it well. No one knew what I was and I liked that. But then it all changed, didn't it? Now a lot of people know and I can't really go back to my old life. I have to either stay here until whoever is responsible for my kidnapping is found or I would have to go into hiding, right?"
"Is that what's scaring you? The life that was lost to you?" Kes looked pointed at the other woman as if she could pry the truth from Annika with her violet gaze. "Or are you afraid of something else?"
"You all could die out there!" Annika bolted from the sofa as she threw up her hands in frustration. "Doesn't that scare you?"
"Sometimes it does. Sometimes we can be debilitated by our fears." Kes knew that she had been nearly paralyzed with fear when she had been much younger, after she had been released from the internment camp where she had seen both her parents slaughtered before her eyes at the age of eight. What had helped her was helping others and the family that had been created within the Institute in England and later the one she became a part of here at the Voyager Institute.
"Then how? How do you do it? Why do you do it?" Annika stopped her pacing as she waited for the warm tones to answer her.
"It's not about our fear. It's about hope." Kes looked out the glass again to look at the woman who had for all extents and purposes brought them all together. "We're not miracle workers. Or superheroes, or heroes at all really. We're just people who have hopes for the future. We do it for ourselves as much as for anyone else."
Annika followed Kes' gaze and wondered at the unwavering trust that one woman seemed to so easily inspire. "Do you do it for her?"
Kes had moved closer to the window and now placed one small hand on it where she could see Janeway. "A lot of us wouldn't be here if not for her."
Annika wasn't sure if Kes had meant "here" as in the Institute or "here" meaning alive. Either or both perhaps, she reasoned.
"But she could have died tonight." It was a fact that Annika had to point out, was she the only one who had noticed this one overwhelming detail. Was she the only one who had felt fear stab coldly in her chest?
Hand still pressed to the glass, Kes turned her head in order to address Annika. "And that scared you as well."
Icy blue eyes narrowed warily. "Didn't it scare you?"
"Yes." Kes' violet eyes maintained their even gaze on Annika as she answered. "It did."
"But you'll go off and do something else tomorrow and if not tomorrow then the next day until you're all dead or the world is a better place, is that about right?" Annika moved so that she stood next to Kes, her icy blue eyes peered through the glass as well. "What is it you all hope to accomplish with all of... this?"
"A better future."
Kes had to admit, if only to herself, that there were many days where that brighter future that they all hoped for seemed like a fantasy that could never be made real. But she persevered because the days when she believed that her hope was justified gave her a sense of purpose, one greater than herself.
"What else are we to do? Hide? Hope the anti-metahuman populace will leave us alone? Hope the government doesn't decide metahumans are a threat to national security and come after us? None of that seems like a viable option." After a low sigh Kes softened the tone of her voice that had begun to take on a sharp edge to it. "So... we fight. And we'll continue to until yes either we're all dead or the world is a better place. It's who we are. It's what we all decided to dedicate our lives to do. But it is a choice. You have choices, Annika. What will you choose?"
"I decided after all of the stuff that has happened to me in the past few days that I wouldn't keep my head in the sand any longer." Annika pulled her gaze from the slumbering woman to look more directly at Kes. "But I'm not a soldier or a teacher or all that brave and heroic. I do want to help, but I don't know how useful I would be since I don't even know everything about my abilities."
"Well then," Kes smiled at what she had figured would be Annika's inevitable decision. "It's a good thing you're at a school, hmm?"
And Kes knew exactly the person to teach Annika.
Blue-gray eyes opened slowly to the lowered lighting of Sickbay as Kathryn Janeway awakened to the soft beeping sounds of monitoring equipment and the slow rhythmic breathing that indicated sleep. A warmth at her side caused her gaze to drift to where a small woman with short blonde hair slumbered upon the gray sheets, her head cradled in crossed arms that rested on the biobed that Janeway had occupied for a time unknown to her.
"Oh, Kes." Tones made deeply husky from sleep revealed deep affection as did the warmth in Janeway's blue-gray eyes as she brushed a gentle hand over the sleeping woman's hair.
Though she couldn't quite recall what had all transpired from when she had been in the aft section of the Delta Flyer, Janeway thought she could safely assume from the fact that she was in Sickbay under the arch of the medical monitor that created a mechanical bridge across her torso that she had been more seriously injured than she had thought.
Guilt for what she had put her crew through sent a sliver of pain to her chest, but she pushed away such selfish indulgence from her mind as she pressed the release button to the monitors before they disconnected and slid into openings at either side of the biobed.
Carefully so as to not disturb Kes, Janeway removed herself from the bed as she wrapped the thermo blanket around her slim frame. Satisfied that her modesty was secured, she moved around to the other side of the bed to where Kes slept. Gently she lifted Kes into her arms, the pixie like woman felt light in her arms as she carried her to the biobed to the left of the surgical one that Janeway had so recently awakened from. After she tenderly deposited Kes' small form onto the biobed, Janeway pulled a thermo blanket from the drawer underneath and covered Kes with it.
She granted herself one last look of warmth to the sleeping woman before she moved steadily out of the surgical bay of Sickbay and into the locker room on the other side of the vast room.
The lights activated upon her entrance as she walked through the locker room to the showering units. The thermo blanket was tossed into the cleaning unit before she stepped into an alcove and activated the hot water. The warmth of the cascading water and the soap upon her body ridded her skin the medicinal scent that had always turned her stomach and she greeted the floral scents of shampoo and cleanser with an appreciative smile.
The shower was spent putting together her schedule for the day. The first thing she was required to do was to ensure that the liberated metahumans they had retrieved from Oregon were secure and guarantee their continual safety.
Perhaps she could have Nechayev come a few days early to help her to relocate the liberated metahumans. On the other hand, maybe she should suggest that she travel to the NRR instead despite her aversion to leaving her Institute. But it might be more beneficial for her modesty.
After the soap had been washed away she turned the unit off and toweled her fragrant skin dry. After she deposited the towel in the same receptacle as her discarded blanket, Janeway retrieved a pile of folded clothing from one of the many lockers.
Now clad in a pale blue t-shirt, a dark blue cotton hoodie with matching pants and white sandals Janeway departed from the locker room as she pulled her long, damp, auburn hair into a loose French twist.
The always cool, controlled and authoritative Professor Kathryn Janeway M.D., Headmistress of the Voyager Institute, the youngest person to receive a Nobel Prize, and the most powerful metahuman in the United States of America, let out a high-pitched and very surprised squeak when she was forced to stop abruptly in her movements to avoid running full on into the rather stern looking Doctor Zimmerman.
With a strained voice kept low for Kes' benefit, the doctor glared at the auburn haired woman with narrow, some could say beady, dark eyes. "What do you think you're doing? You shouldn't be out of bed."
"Doctor," Janeway's voice was also restrained though there was a modicum of sharpness within it. "I'm perfectly fine."
"Well now you are!" Doctor quickly turned to where Kes slumbered on, sighed, turned his gaze back to Janeway, rolled his eyes, and then crossed his arms over his chest. "After you sucked Mr. Paris almost to the point of doing irreparable harm, after you almost destroyed my Sickbay. Not to mention the Dome that was almost obliterated because of you and after Kes was the only thing standing in your way from doing massive damage to the Institute."
Kathryn Janeway's head had reared back at such an uncharacteristic expulsion of anger from the physician. He knew how to get to her by way of what she had done to others not really to herself. "Are Tom and Kes all right?"
The doctor waved one hand dismissively. "Oh they're fine."
After a sigh of relief, Janeway nodded in understanding.
"Kathryn," the doctor's voice was steady, determined, and filled with the care he felt for the stubborn woman before him. "What you are doing to yourself is disastrous for your body. Not to mention your mind."
Quelled by his concern instead of his annoyance, she could only nod her head as he led her by the arm to his office.
"When was the last time you actually had a full eight hours of sleep? Do you even remember?"
Janeway pursed her lips in irritation. "Oh, Doctor, it hasn't been that long."
"Then when?" His own lack of patience crept into his voice.
"Probably," her voice was hesitant as she realized exactly how long it had actually been. "Before Kes came here."
"THAT WAS...!" Again the doctor looked suddenly over at Kes whose ability to sleep through his thunderous expulsions was impressive. "That was over six years ago!"
"Doctor, I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself, thank you." The somewhat derisive tone and the statement of an untruth did not benefit her in the slightest made evident by the man's skeptical snort and annoyed rolling of his eyes.
"I could make several arguments that prove that statement false, but we don't have all day." Having had five years of dealing with the obstinate women before him, the doctor knew full well that he mind as well be talking to his tricorder for all the good his words would do though despite that knowledge he was always determined to at least try. Perhaps hell would freeze over and she would actually take his medical advice. "You work absurdly long hours under constant stress, eating on the run, without sufficient exercise or rest. Your body is crying out for mercy. When did you last take a vacation? Or done something pleasurable, for recreation?"
"Doctor, I'm really very busy." In truth she couldn't quite remember when she had taken a break from the Institute or her obligations to the UFM and the MPA, but she didn't want him to know that. This badgering was bad enough without mixing in specifics.
"Oh, I know very well how busy you are." The dismissive hand waved once again. "But you aren't a machine. Even you need sleep to replenish and repair your body. The solar energy you absorb throughout the day is no substitute for a good night's rest. If you don't change your behavior your body is going to get burnt out. Again. And I'm not so sure Mr. Paris will be up to the task of recharging you for another time."
"That was a very dangerous thing you had him do." Her softened tone was more remorseful than accusatory. She could still feel the stolen energy as it coursed hotly through her slim body. And she had to admit to the dark confession if only to herself that it felt good... and that she wanted more.
"Yes, well, I had to do something." For a moment the doctor's bravado diminished into the softness of his own tone. "I'll be the first admit it was a bit... unconventional. It certainly wouldn't be something I would suggest doing again anytime soon. But it did work... though almost to the detriment of my Sickbay. I think the force field strength could be a little higher. You never know when-ahem."
The finger and the thumb which pinched the bridge of the auburn haired woman's nose had put a sudden stop to the doctor's rambling and it was a tossup as to who looked more annoyed at the moment. Perhaps it was the doctor since he had the bravery to lend his next piece of advice.
"Maybe you should talk to Kes."
He knew it was, perhaps, not the best thing to say when she reared her head back, slate gray eyes flashed in warning, and her lips were pursed in a decidedly displeased manner. But the doctor was not a coward nor was he used to backing down especially when it came to health manners, so he crossed his arms over his chest and met her stare for his own.
"As your physician your health is of paramount importance to me." One arm remained crossed while the other was occupied with being raised up so that two of his fingers and thumb could rub at the crease between his eyebrows. A low sigh escaped before he opened his eyes to find that her expression had softened considerably. Though less intimidating she was not.
After taking a few calming breaths her voice quieted in its sincerity. "I... appreciate your concern, Doctor. I do. But my sleep is hardly something to be worried about. Now, if you'll excuse me I have a lot of things I need to take care of. "
"You are without a doubt the most exasperating woman I have ever met." As he expressed this opinion with a few seconds of shakes of his head, eye rolls, and huffs of breath he pulled a small, thin circular disc from his pocket. "I know you aren't going to listen to me about things I know nothing about, like health matters, but as your Doctor, and as your friend, I insist you wear this neurocortical monitor unless you want me to employ our regulation one twenty one, section A and confine you here to Sickbay."
Gray eyes narrowed as she begrudgingly accepted the proffered monitor with some humor mixed with true suspicion in her tone. "You wouldn't dare."
"I think you know the answer to that." For the first time during their entire exchange, the doctor smiled while he watched her lift her hair away from her neck in order to place the monitor behind her ear upon her parietal bone.
"I'd like the medical evaluations of the metahumans from Oregon in two hours." Gone was anything other than the cool professional tone that most knew from the auburn haired woman.
"I'll have them ready." The doctor watched the woman depart from Sickbay until the metal doors closed behind her. "You know I could have used your help."
"The last thing she would have responded to is the two of us ganging up on her, Doctor." Seated crossed leg upon the biobed, the pixie like woman shook her blonde head ruefully. "But I might know someone who could talk some sense into her."
The otherwise silent, expansive office was interrupted sharply by the cracking that sounded from the lone occupant's slim neck. Gone was the dark blue cotton clothing she had sported only twenty minutes ago. Now her slim body was concealed beneath a demure dark brown subtly pinstriped skirt suit which complimented her figure attractively though modestly. The suit along with the tightly constructed French twist of thick auburn hair made the woman look professional if not a bit severe.
Kathryn Janeway allowed herself a few moments to indulge in her one true, and publically known, vice. Coffee, black. She enjoyed the pleasure she received from the mere smell before her lightly painted lips parted to admit that hot, bitter liquid. A small smile played on her lips as they pressed together after the coffee was secured.
The headache that had formed during her conversation with Doctor Zimmerman had all but vanished since her departure from Sickbay, but she knew the reprieve would only be temporary. It had been quite early when she had made her way to her quarters, changed, and then took her private lift directly to her office and so she had been gratefully spared a barrage of entreaties from her staff. But as the early morning began to progressively move to a more reasonable time, she was sure it wouldn't be long before she was bombarded my communiqués and by the more brave, face-to-face meetings.
She knew she was perhaps being ungracious by rebuffing their concerns, but she didn't require them to worry themselves regarding her. She had taken care of herself quite competently for the thirty plus years before she had come back to the Voyager Institute and she thought, since then as well. But the doctor was nothing if not annoyingly persistent. Another headache began to form behind her eyes as she redirected her thoughts to what was more important, namely the rescued metahumans and Annika Hansen.
The group of fourteen metahumans rescued from the underground compound in Oregon would be processed through the MPA program and then relocated to where ever would be most suited for them, their powers and their wishes. They would be offered sessions with Kes. If some wanted to merely return to their previous lives then they would be required to have a session with Tuvok in order to maintain the secrecy of the Institute and the people therein. This is what would occupy most of her time this day though she did hold out hope that there would be some time to get Annika into the lab.
The stunningly beautiful and somewhat icy, though oddly and charmingly awkward tall blonde woman was nothing short of highly intriguing to Kathryn Janeway. She couldn't help but feel sympathy for the other woman, since she had just been summarily thrust from her life into theirs after all. But above that, Janeway sensed a great amount of power and strength that remained untapped, undiscovered, and unharnessed that simmered just below the surface. There was something about the blonde that made Janeway believe whole heartedly that if Annika Hansen were given a task she would step up to the plate and be a force to be reckoned with. She knew that much power kept hidden and under wraps could only be contained for so long before it broke free. And that feeling made her relieved that they had found Annika before anyone else had, the Obsidian Order for instance.
The fact that she had felt her fingers tingle upon their first meeting was of no consequence to the Headmistress of the Voyager Institute, or at least that was what she kept telling herself. It meant nothing. Nothing at all.
PART II of Days of Open Hand
Slim, nimble fingers released a succession of buttons as Kathryn Janeway divested herself of the cream-colored silk blouse that she had worn for the last twelve hours. Janeway stretched the muscles of her back and allowed herself a moment to fully relax. She had spent the majority of her day finding appropriate places for fourteen rescued metahumans and she was already feeling exhausted. Any free time she had since then was what had given her the headache she possessed now. Her beloved staff had either subtly, or the exact opposite of that told her in no uncertain terms that she should take better care of herself and that if she didn't she would be hearing from them repeatedly until she complied. A part of her felt truly warmed by their concern, but a stronger part chaffed at the thought of anyone presuming to know what was best for her. They didn't know the reason behind her insomnia nor would they if it was up to her and she felt it most certainly was.
After Janeway deposited her brown pinstriped suit, blouse and undergarments into the laundry bin in her bedroom closet she moved to the section of the walk-in that contained her combat suits. Five suits were hung neatly in the small alcove. She bypassed the more thickly padded active duty black and red outfits and instead retrieved a slate gray uniform made of thinner but no less durable material.
Janeway positioned her combadge above her left breast underneath the one-inch thick band of red across her upper chest and shoulders. She rested a hand over her midsection as she inhaled deeply. The tingling in her stomach beneath the soft, closely fitted dark gray fabric betrayed her anxiousness for what was next on the agenda this day.
Annika Hansen. There was something about the woman that made Kathryn Janeway blush uncharacteristically when in her presence, to speak a bit too much or to dart her blue-gray eyes away while a crooked grin accompanied a growing warmth in the pit of her stomach; especially when icy blue eyes were fixed on her. Upon their first meeting in her own office Janeway thought perhaps the other woman was a bit cold, standoffish and contrary but she had soon discovered that any aloofness Annika projected was due to her recent experiences, her unfamiliarity with being an "out" metahuman and anxiety about the future. Janeway could sympathize, but since she had been so entrenched with her life as a metahuman for so long sympathy was the best she could do. Janeway had to admit that Annika was a breath of fresh air for the Institute and for Kathryn herself. Here was a woman she had absolutely no history with, good or bad, so there were no expectations placed on her. Kathryn smiled secretly to herself as she left her loft for she had to confess that she was curious what Annika Hansen thought of her.
A sandy colored eyebrow was raised, the only physical indication of the uncertainty and awkwardness that Annika Hansen felt strongly in response to the image of herself reflected back in the full length mirror anchored to the wall of her adopted bedroom. To say the outfit she had on was tight would have to be categorized as an understatement. The silver material seemed painted on rather than made of fabric and she wondered how she was supposed to maintain any sense of modesty.
The material was soft on her skin and she felt oddly comfortable and unrestricted by the garment. The silver was Annika's preferred outfit out of the three she had been given by the Voyager Institute's headmistress. Annika took a deep breath as she pushed thoughts of the enigmatic Dr. Janeway out of her head. She had been conducting this solo fashion show for the singular purpose of occupying her time before any news of the headmistress' condition was revealed to her, most likely by Kes.
Metal emerged from Annika's body beneath the silver outfit until it covered her entire form. She felt much less exposed in her metal sheath though the silver of her shiny body and the material of her garment seemed almost too similar now. At least this outfit didn't have odd sparkles across it like the other two.
She ran a silver metallic hand down the ridged section of the suit that covered her abdomen and marveled at the odd turn her life had taken. And she had to admit she did feel a bit like a superhero in this getup or perhaps some sort of space babe from one of the old sci-fi shows she had watched as a child with her father.
The metal quickly disappeared beneath her newly formed skin as she walked from the bedroom to the front door to answer the hail that had interrupted her idle musings of capes and spaceships. As Annika suspected, the wooden door slid open to reveal Kes with a smile on her pixyish features.
"Good morning." Kes' grin grew as she was motioned into the sunlit apartment.
"It's evening." Annika smirked as she led the way to the kitchen.
With a gentle wave of one hand Kes dismissed the response. "Details."
"Coffee?" The carafe in Annika's hand was held in offering.
"No, thank you." Kes held her hands clasped in front of her. Her lips were pursed and her violet eyes were alight with barely contained humor.
"What are you smirking at?" Annika's left eyebrow was raised with bemusement. She blew atop her coffee before she took tentative sips of the hot black liquid.
"It's just... no one would ever suspect you haven't been with us for quite some time." Kes' violet eyes surveyed the silver suit approvingly. "You certainly look the part. How does it feel?"
"You know, I think it looks tighter than it feels." Annika shrugged before she took another couple of sips from her dark blue mug. "Do I look like a bad assed superhero?"
"I know I wouldn't mess with you." Kes put her small, slim hands up in an exaggerated expression of preemptive surrender before they resumed their more natural position folded in front of her waist. "Are you nervous about getting measured?"
"I have a feeling you already know the answer to that question." The fluttering in her stomach barely allowed the dark, bitter liquid Annika had recently ingested to settle easily. "But I don't have any reason to be nervous. Right?"
"It'll be a painless endeavor I assure you." Kes smiled gently as she felt an amused thrill go through her petite frame for she knew it was not the lab work entirely, if at all, that caused waves of glowing pink nervousness to emanate from Annika. "Though Doctor Zimmerman and the headmistress might draw it out a bit. They thrive on all that lab work and science babble... I prefer my psychobabble, thank you."
"I like technobabble myself." Annika's left shoulder rolled forward as she willed any remaining tension from her body. "Have you um... seen her today?"
If Kes thought it odd that Annika had all but whispered the last part she feigned otherwise. She had tried to set Annika's mind to rest the previous evening that the headmistress was going to recover fully but some more reassurance wouldn't be too demanding. "I haven't yet. She's been busy all day relocating all the metahumans rescued from Oregon. I spent most of the morning speaking with many of them, then I took a long nap and now I'm here."
"Oh." In lieu of fidgeting with her clothing, Annika rubbed the pad of her thumb against the tip of the nails of her middle and ring fingers on her right hand. She was disappointed by Kes' response but tried not to let it show how eager she was to hear anything about Janeway.
"Don't fret you'll see her soon enough." Kes might have been concerned by the somewhat one track thoughts Annika possessed, but the blonde was just so endearingly awkward, like a school girl with her first crush, that Kes felt no need for judgment.
"Oh, I just-" Annika stopped before she smiled ruefully and the slightest bit of pink colored her cheeks. "God, I am obvious aren't I?"
"Perhaps only to me." Kes smiled gently. She knew a few others had an inkling of the kind of amorous feelings Annika had for their fearless leader. Okay perhaps more than a few. Half?
"Well, that's a relief. I don't want to be the laughing stock of the Institute my first week here." Annika felt a little better knowing that only Kes and Lyndsay knew her feelings for Kathryn Janeway. She'd be mortified if the others knew and she was the topic of the much beloved gossip that flitted about the Voyager Institute.
"I doubt anyone would laugh at you. Snicker maybe or possibly a grin here and there. Maybe a few raised eyebrows." Kes exemplified her point by raising her own lightly shaded eyebrows up and down rapidly.
Annika raised her hands in surrender. "Okay, maybe I'm being silly here."
"There are definitely worst things to be." Anything else Kes would have said was interrupted by the chirping of her combadge. "Kes here."
"We've got the lab set up."
"We'll be right down, Doctor." Kes closed the channel before she considered Annika Hansen's appearance intently. The woman had once again erected the metallic exoskeleton around herself and Kes decided the metal woman did indeed look like a bad assed superhero.
The subtle clanking of heavy metallic footfalls alerted Kathryn Janeway that the latest addition of the Voyager Institute was on her way to Doctor Zimmerman's laboratory. Janeway placed the thin hand-held computer interface known as a Personal Access Display Device onto the doctor's desk where she was currently seated as she relaxed her breathing and tried to allow the rapid beating of heart to be the only sign of her anxiousness regarding Annika Hansen.
With a slim hand, Kathryn Janeway pulled her red-rimmed glasses from their perch on the end of her nose so that they now rested next to her PADD. Then she stood and smoothed the buttoned white lab coat she had on over her dark gray jumpsuit. She had decided against crossing her arms or placing her hands on her waist thinking those postures might be seen as a bit severe. Instead she let her hands rest on the rim of the steel desk while she leaned against it.
Janeway almost jumped as the doors hissed open despite her knowing that the twin metal doors had been activated. Instinctively she emitted a scattering field for her emotions in order to keep her feelings completely masked from Kes' empathic abilities. Janeway thanked her genes for that little gift as she smiled gently but allowed an air of professionalism to surround her.
"Ms. Hansen, are you ready to proceed?" Janeway's deep husky voice was clear, even and powerful as she looked straight into Annika's metallic countenance. The headmistress wouldn't allow anything as unseemly as allowing her eyes to drift over the tantalizing curves that were griped in silver material and metal.
"Sure, of course, I'm ready." Annika cursed how she stumbled over her words but all was hidden behind the pull of her fully encased steel lips. The stumbling was perhaps due to the fact that she had always had a bit of thing for women in lab coats, especially red heads. She blamed the hours of The X-Files she had watched as a child. "And please, call me Annika. 'Ms. Hansen' makes me feel old."
"We wouldn't want that." Janeway smiled a rather crooked grin as she tilted her head in understanding.
"Ah, are we ready to begin?" Doctor Zimmerman stepped into the control room with an extra bounce in his step. Annika thought eager would be an accurate word to describe him at the moment.
"I believe we are." Janeway stepped away and let the doctor gain Annika's full attention before she asked Kes to move closer to her with a wave of her hand.
"How are you feeling, Kathryn?" Kes' warm tones betrayed nothing though she knew about the bombardment of concerned entreaties the headmistress had received throughout the day.
"Quite well thanks to you and Tom. And the doctor of course." Janeway's peripheral vision had caught the doctor's rather pointed look before he continued to place small sensors along Annika's form. "How are you, Kes?"
"Oh, I'm fine. After we returned to Sickbay I felt quite rejuvenated actually." Kes watched as something akin to regret flitted across stormy gray eyes, but before she could be sure the look was gone.
Kes couldn't read anything from the headmistress but she knew the woman felt guilty for what she thought an unnecessary risk that Tom and Kes had both taken. Kes didn't want to make Janeway feel any worse but she did want her opinion to be expressed as candidly as she could without being disrespectful.
"Kathryn." Kes kept her voice deliberately soft and was certain she wouldn't be overheard due to the doctor's rather rambunctious explanation of what the measuring session would entail. "You must know you can't continue on like this. I know you're a very private person, but I'd like to think I'm more than just a counselor, that I'm your friend."
"You are." If it had been anyone besides Kes, Kathryn Janeway would have balked at yet another attempt for her staff to tell her that she didn't know how to take care of herself despite the fact that she had done just fine the years she had been away from the Institute.
"I'm not going to tell you that you can always come and talk to me. You already know that. What I am asking is that you seriously consider why you never have." Kes let her words hang heavily in the air between her and Janeway before both women were pulled back into the present situation.
The doctor smiled grandly. "We're ready to start."
"Hmm." The doctor rubbed his chin with one hand as he watched the metal woman through the large display windows of the control room.
The metallic being in question, Annika Hansen, currently held a long weight bar in her hands above her head. Despite the great weight programmed into the bar Annika showed no sign of tiring even though she had been holding the bar up for nearly thirty minutes.
"Incredible." Kathryn Janeway's dark blue-grey eyes took in the unwavering form with a mixture of awe and appreciation. "It's not just a protective covering. Her entire musculature is reinforced. Simply astounding. How much weight is she holding up, Doctor?"
"Just over two tons." The doctor's voice and expression reflected his amazement. Without taking his eyes from the impressive display Doctor Zimmerman leaned over the control panel to press the smooth gray button for the intercom into the training room. "Ms. Hansen, I'm going to decrease the weight of the bar. After that we'll move onto the next exercise."
"Sounds good, Doctor." Annika smiled brightly despite the fact she had been enduring direction after direction from Doctor Zimmerman for the past several hours.
She had balked when the doctor had told her he wanted to see if she possessed superhuman strength while in her metal form. She wasn't Wonder Woman or anything, but she had done what was asked of her and she had been more astounded than anyone when she had instructed Doctor Zimmerman to keep increasing the weight of the bar. In the last half an hour it had become a bit of a strain but nothing she couldn't handle.
As the bar decreased rapidly in weight Annika settled it on the metal rung on the wall. After the bar was secured she stepped back into the middle of the small square gray paneled room to await more instructions. From Annika's position she could easily see the trio of spectators through the large windows of the control room that sat right below the ceiling. Annika couldn't remember seeing the usually irritated Doctor Zimmerman so alight with an enthusiasm that was almost childish and definitely endearing. He was like a kid nerd with his first chemistry set. Kes, who was assisting the doctor in keeping detailed records, projected her characteristic calm and passivity as she glanced down at Annika and then back to her PADD. And then there was Doctor Janeway who was all science woman chic in her tapered white lab coat, French twist and red-rimmed glasses. Janeway made Annika think of that ancient Bogart movie her mother used to watch on late night vids where the bookstore owner let her hair down and took off her glasses. Annika thought she'd have the headmistress keep her glasses on.
"Ms. Hansen?" Despite his enthusiasm the doctor's voice was laced with annoyance. He had called her name three times after all. "Are you quite well?"
"Uh, sorry, Doctor." Annika was thankful the blush she was seriously feeling was invisible to the others although she did catch a smirk from Kes.
"Yes, well, we'd like to do a few more tests that are a bit more... extensive." The Doctor looked to Janeway for confirmation to go ahead with the procedure. He received a curt nod. "We would like to do a full spectrum scan on you in order to produce a holographic likeness. It wouldn't do to have you injured while we tested your invulnerability."
"Oh, all right." Annika fidgeted as she looked around at the innocuous room. "I guess that's okay."
"Ms. Hansen, I assure you that it's completely harmless and that we keep the holographic files under the strictest of security measures."
Janeway's persuasive tones could probably convince Annika that shooting herself in the foot was for her own good and so with a nod of her metallic head she complied. "Let's do it then."
The doctor's voice came over the intercom once again. "All right, just stand perfectly still."
Annika did as she was told and tried very hard not to flinch when green lights from all directions suddenly flowed over her. It was painless and any fidgeting that occurred was due to the unusual feeling of being in what was essentially a copy machine. The rays of green light finally dissipated and Annika allowed the breath that she had been holding to expel from her lungs.
"All right, Ms. Hansen. You can power down and join us in the control room now."
The doctor's words received a quick nod from Annika. Then she retracted the metal so it was now nestled deeply beneath her skin. She pulled her blonde hair back into a loose bun as she walked across the gray floor feeling refreshed and energetic despite the sometimes monotonous testing she had been subjected to in the last few hours.
"Annika, please." A smirk played at her full lips as Annika Hansen used a teasing tone for her suggestion.
"Oh, yes, of course..." Janeway's blue-gray eyes shifted quickly away from the alluring image of Annika Hansen smiling brightly, the lovely way thick blonde hair in soft curls framed her glowing features and the way pale blue eyes were alight with mirth. A telling sort of tingle coursed through Janeway's slim frame, which she attempted to rid herself of since she considered the feeling inappropriate and unseemly. "Annika. Your abilities are quite impressive. These are our findings so far."
Annika took proffered PADD from Janeway's slim hand. She wasn't at all prepared for the information the small computer interface contained. "That can't be right."
"I assure you our tools are quite sophisticated." The doctor removed the small metallic monitor from Annika's neck as unobtrusively as he could before he interfaced the device directly to the computerized panel of the control room.
Annika shook her head. She felt dazed until a gentle hand clasped her shoulder. She turned her head slowly to find Janeway's blue-gray eyes looking at her sympathetically and a small comforting smile on her lips. "It's a lot to take in, I know. Would you like to sit?"
Annika nodded and allowed herself to be led to one of the upholstered gray chairs before the control panel. Her hands braced the black armrests as she settled deeply into the cushioned seat, the PADD still in her hand. "I never imagined..."
Janeway nodded her assent as she pulled another chair up so she could sit close to the shaking Annika Hansen. The hand that had been on Annika's shoulder had long since been removed but Janeway could still feel the warmth she had enjoyed through the silver fabric. She brushed the errant thought away as she folded her hands on her lap.
"I know Lyndsay thought my... invulnerability was pretty high, but I never thought I'd be able to lift over two tons of weight without breaking a sweat." Annika slowly lifted pale blue eyes from the PADD to the look brightly at a bemused Janeway before a laugh bubbled forth. It was almost a giggle. "It's amazing!"
After a moment to recover from the sudden shift in Annika, Janeway allowed a large toothy grin to appear as relief flitted through her. "It is. It's astounding. I can tell you that you're without a doubt the strongest person at this Institute and that's saying a lot. Both Chakotay and B'Elanna are formidable, but you are truly remarkable."
Without the metal casing the pink blush that covered Annika's usually alabaster cheeks was allowed to show, which charmed Janeway completely. The headmistress felt excitement explode hotly in her lower abdomen as she was swept up into Annika's enthusiasm over her newly explored abilities. Over the course of her long years here at the Institute and outside of it, Janeway was fully aware that she had become somewhat jaded. Unfortunately the extraordinary was often treated as just another day at the office, but with Annika she felt renewed and animated not to mention utterly and irrevocably regretful. Janeway deeply felt the allure the other woman possessed and knew she could never allow any notions of attraction for this latest addition to ever be realized.
"I wonder what else I'm capable of." Annika's light voice brought Janeway out of her reverie suddenly.
Stormy gray eyes made Annika discontinue any further vocalizations and her smile dimmed. Kathryn Janeway shifted in emotions quicker than anyone she had ever met. Just a second ago Janeway had been smiling brightly and her eyes a brilliant blue. Now the Institute leader was still smiling but it was dim, almost forced and the eyes held no mirth and instead they possessed a deep-seated sadness that made Annika yearn to know what thoughts lay behind those eyes.
"Let's find out, shall we?" Janeway stood from her seat and quickly divested herself of the white lab coat with a quick pull that separated the hidden snaps easily. She missed the wide appreciative icy blue gaze as she deposited the garment onto the empty chair.
Annika suddenly felt hot. Sweat began to bead at her brow and she knew it wasn't simply because Janeway's slim form was suddenly aflame but more to do with how the other woman's body was tightly encased by thin dark gray material that showed subtle curves and a firm physique that enticed her greatly. So taken was she that Annika couldn't even reply verbally and had only managed a nod before Janeway paused, bemused it would seem, and then exited into the training space.
"Annika." Kes' light-hearted tones drew Annika's attention to where she and Doctor Zimmerman manned the control panel. "You might want to watch this."
"All right." After Annika was convinced that she had recovered adequately she moved between the duo to look out the observation windows. She could see Janeway clearly. The gold and orange flames that surrounded the headmistress flowed ecstatically around her slim form, which was now white-hot as she moved closer to the center of the room. "What's going on?"
"We're going to activate a holographic representation of you and see how much heat it can handle, especially in a combat situation." The doctor leaned forward the press the intercom switch. "I'm activating the hologram now."
Sure enough a scarily accurate recreation of her made up of lights and magnetic fields appeared in the center of the room. Annika gasped as she watched the hologram that looked so much like her in metal form as it lunged at Janeway. Metallic claws skimmed across the force field Janeway erected between the hologram and herself.
"She's certainly feisty." Kes muffled a giggle with her hand as she watched the hologram of Annika continue to slash at the energy barrier with long, lethal looking claws.
"I modeled her combat personality after B'Elanna." The doctor didn't giggle, but he did smirk happily.
"I should have known." Kes' laugh burst forth unrestrained as the hologram actually growled.
"It's not going to hurt her is it?" Annika wasn't finding quite as much humor in the situation as the other two obviously were. The hologram looked vicious and out of control, persistent in its wish to do damage to Janeway.
"The safeties are on." The doctor shrugged as he continued to record the biometric data that was being transmitted via the hologram.
The hologram of Annika continued to take swipes at the protective shield Janeway maintained around her as a visible white-hot transparent bubble. Each slash of metallic claws caused the headmistress to be pushed back from the sheer force behind each hit.
Annika couldn't help but flinch, sometimes only internally, each time her image attacked Janeway. It was disturbing to watch what was essentially a reproduction of herself so out of control and vicious especially regarding the woman Annika couldn't ever imagine wanting to hurt in any way much less physically. What Annika soon realized was that she probably wouldn't be able to take Janeway on in a fight even if she wanted.
The energy field that surrounded Janeway was redirected quickly out to collide with the metallic looking form of the hologram, which caused it to slam hard into the gray paneled wall. Before the hologram could regain its fighting stance an airborne Janeway became something not unlike a flamethrower with a seemingly endless supply of energy at her disposal.
"You're holding up quite well." The doctor's idle musings brought Annika's wide blue eyes away from the inferno on the other side of the windows.
"You guys are crazy." Annika turned back to the blazing spectacle and had to smile when Kes released a soft giggle.
The flames surrounding the hologram began to dissipate as Janeway floated gracefully in the air. What was revealed after the fires had been put out elicited a gasp from Annika, a softer one from Kes, and the doctor merely hummed in the back of his throat. The hologram had large panels of silver metal erected from its arched back, which covered the rest of its crouched form. It had apparently been more than sufficient in protecting the hologram from the onslaught of solar energy projected from Janeway. The bowed figure didn't move even when Janeway came within ten feet of it as her elegant features revealed her curiosity.
Breaths were held in the control room as the trio waited to see what would happen. They didn't have to wait long and just as Annika was going to voice her anxiety the hologram acted.
Powerful metal-laced legs propelled the hologram high into the air; the heavy form collided forcefully into Janeway which caused both women to plummet toward the ground.
"Computer, delete hologram!" The doctor jumped up from his seat before he rushed to the training room with Annika and Kes in tow.
"I insist you hold still." The doctor's voice was firm, irritated and demanding as he knelt over the downed leader. He gently pulled her right hand from the firm hold she had on her left wrist as he crouched over the seated form of Kathryn Janeway. Doctor Zimmerman held the fractured wrist carefully between his hands as his healing abilities repaired the damage inflicted upon Janeway from the fall.
"Thank you, Doctor." Janeway pulled herself up from the ground with only her ego bruised rather than her body as Kes and Annika found it the appropriate moment to move to stand next to the doctor.
"Are you all right?" Annika's voice was tight with restrained concern. She was appalled when she heard a snicker from Kes' direction.
"What're you laughing at?" There was smirk to Janeway's lips as well when she looked sardonically at the blonde pixie.
"I just can't wait to see the look on Tom's face when I tell him Annika's hologram managed to do what he hasn't for seven years." Kes smiled sweetly, innocently, which was characteristic of the empath. The humor and mischievous glint in her violet eyes was barely noticeable.
Janeway decided to ignore the rib and instead address Annika's inquiry as she placed a reassuring hand on the other woman's shoulder. "Nothing injured but my pride. I didn't realize you'd be able to propel yourself so high. My mistake in underestimating you, I suppose."
"I had no idea either." Annika's left shoulder tingled from where Janeway's slim hand had rested for only a moment. "I'm sorry that... it hurt you."
"Think nothing of it." Janeway dismissed Annika's worry with a small shift of her slim shoulders. "I won't lie and say it didn't catch me off guard."
Minor heat flooded her cheeks as Annika returned the soft smile paid to her by Janeway. "It caught me off guard too! I'm not as boring as I thought I was."
"No. You're definitely not that." Janeway kept her smile purposefully nondescript as little flutters filled her lower abdomen when pale blue eyes locked onto hers.
Kes smothered a loud burst of mirth when she watched Doctor Zimmerman's brow crease as he looked from Annika to Janeway knowingly before he shook his head and sighed. The doctor mumbled his parting words as he plodded out of the training room.
Janeway, more than used to the doctor's acerbic sometimes-eccentric behavior, allowed a sidelong narrow look before she returned her attention to Annika and Kes. To the headmistress' bemusement Kes possessed a knowing expression on her pixyish features that inexplicably made Janeway conclude didn't bode particularly well for her.
Janeway led the way back to the control room with quick purposeful strides. "Ms. Hansen, the doctor will have your folder ready by tomorrow morning so you'll have all the results from the tests conducted this afternoon."
"Sounds good, thanks." Annika accepted the small PADD from Janeway before the headmistress retrieved her lab coat and put it on. Janeway gathered the rest of the PADDs that the doctor had prepared for her and finished her preparations to leave by donning her glasses.
"If you have any questions feel free to contact me. I'll probably be working late in my office tonight." Janeway turned her blue gaze to Kes and grinned crookedly. "Don't wind Tom up too much. He is quite sensitive."
"I'll be gentle." Kes tried to look convincing as she watched the headmistress depart with a stack of PADDS in her hands before she turned back to the stiffly standing woman next to her. "Breathe, Annika."
"Annika, what am I going to do with you?"
Annika Hansen stared with no little bit of awe at the raised row of six metal panels that sprouted a foot from her left forearm. The half a dozen plates lowered and smoothed across her segmented slim metallic arm with audible "snick" sounds. Then she raised them again, but decided to allow the segments of metal panes to travel all the way up to her naked shoulder.
"I'm the freakin' Batmobile." Annika's fingernails extended into sharp metallic points that were as lethal as they were elegant in their deadliness.
Annika considered what she now knew about herself that a week ago would have been unfathomable. She had been fully aware of how her metal sheath could protect her but she had no idea that her body was so empowered that it allowed her to lift a ridiculous amount of weight nearly effortlessly, propel herself more than ten feet into the air and the raised protective panels were both odd and fascinating.
The brown rice and veggie bowl or rather the black plastic bowl that had remnants of the meal was rinsed out and placed in the recycler before Annika pulled her shoulder length honey colored hair from its hold in the dark purple towel. It had been a long and rather exhausting day despite the fact that she hadn't woken up until the afternoon.
The session in the training room had lasted around three hours and despite the fact that Annika had learned a lot about her abilities she had been quite relieved when they had called it a night. Kes had invited her down to the mess hall for dinner but Annika had opted out wanting to spend time to go over the preliminary findings of her testing and to just clear her head a bit after what was an anxiety filled few minutes of interaction with the headmistress.
Annika wished she could just act cool, calm, and collected whenever she was in Kathryn Janeway's presence but she was worried that she came across as a spaz. Nothing the headmistress did or said validated Annika's worry but she maintained it nonetheless. Annika wondered with some apprehension whether her attraction for the other woman was as apparent to Janeway as it seemed to be to everyone else. The moments when her cheeks would feel warm from a touch from Janeway were when Annika figured she would be found out, but the headmistress would merely smile a nondescript pull of her lips and Annika would feel relief flood through her.
The thundering knock on her door startled Annika to such an extent that she dropped the PADD she had thought she held securely in her hand to the floor next to the chair she was seated on.
Annika wrapped the terrycloth dark blue robe more securely around her nude form as she padded barefoot to the wooden door that slid open after she pressed the admittance button. Eyebrows rose at her from the figure that leaned imposingly against the doorframe dressed in a form fitting combat suit.
"I heard you could take a hit." B'Elanna Torres' voice rumbled with an odd mixture of humor and intimidation. "You wanna suit up and spar some?"
"Uh... 'spar'?" Annika stepped back a few paces to allow the dark featured woman entry into the brightly lit flat. She pulled her robe more tightly around her at the thought of going head to head with the danger-exuding woman before her.
"Yeah. Word has it you can take down the Captain." Seated at the dining room table B'Elanna's grin revealed slightly pointed teeth and her expression showed clearly how impressed she was. "So what do you say?"
"About sparing?" Annika felt more than slightly intimidated, but she couldn't help feel provoked by the challenge she saw in the other woman's dark brown eyes.
"Well, yeah, unless you're scared." B'Elanna's lips pulled up into a sardonic smirk as her dark eyes raked over Annika's form.
"What if I slice you apart?" Annika smirked as she emphasized her point by lifting her metallic left hand which sported five lethal nails.
B'Elanna shrugged indifferently. "It'll all grow back. So... yes?"
Annika figured she did want to see what she could do and who better to do just that with than the woman before her. "I just need to suit up."
Annika wondered if perhaps she had ever had a worse idea in her life than when she had agreed to spar with B'Elanna Torres. Her metal encased left forearm shuddered under the force from the curved blade. B'Elanna twisted the crescent-shaped, two-ended scimitar in the air balletically above her head before she brought the blade down onto Annika once again. The hits were coming so quickly Annika was beginning to have difficulties combating the blows. One got through her defenses and struck her in the midsection. The metal absorbed the lethalness of the hit, but the impact forced her to the ground.
Annika released a scared squeak before she quickly rolled out of the way of an airborne, snarling armed woman seemingly bent on causing her extreme bodily harm. As B'Elanna struggled to release the blade from its imbedded position in the floor Annika recovered her footing and decided discretion wasn't the better part of valor.
With a triumphant pronouncement B'Elanna retrieved her weapon just in time to see nearly six feet of metal woman barrel headlong into her. B'Elanna felt four ribs break when Annika's heavy form crushed her to the ground. Before another breath could be taken B'Elanna's bones reformed. She bent her legs and propelled Annika off of her.
At a run B'Elanna picked up her blade before she began her assault on Annika once again. Before Annika could regain her footing the curve metal of the blade struck her back. Fortunately extra plating had been erected from her spine and absorbed most of the impact.
A heavy metal fist crushed B'Elanna's sternum when it hit and the wounded woman staggered back as dark red viscous fluid spurted from her mouth. B'Elanna's black garment already had a large amount of her own blood on it so she disregarded the addition as she blocked a vicious swipe of large metallic nails before she brought her weapon back into play.
Annika caught the curved blade meant to take her head off with her left hand as she used the other to launch B'Elanna across the room. She crushed the weapon easily between her metallic hands. Annika's full lips curled up at the shocked expression on B'Elanna's dark features.
"Showoff." B'Elanna was quite aware that Annika was extraordinarily strong, excitingly so, but to destroy her bat'leth was something else altogether since the weapon was made out of baakonite, a supposedly impervious metal alloy.
With one hand over her healing chest B'Elanna picked herself up from the floor as she watched Annika's metallic plating disappear beneath flesh. B'Elanna had a vicious impulse to pummel the non-metal woman before her but thought better of it. She could just imagine the lecture she would get from the doctor, not to mention Janeway.
"Not bad." A snap sounded when the last of the bones sealed together as B'Elanna made her way across the gray room to where Annika was taking large gulps from a lime green water bottle.
B'Elanna opted for her dark red flask as she toweled off the copious amounts of sweat that caused her bronzed skin to gleam in the bright lights of the training room. The fact that Annika looked refreshed and immaculate would have annoyed B'Elanna a lot more if she hadn't just expended the brunt of her characteristic aggression in the last hour and a half sparring session. Blood was wiped from her face after she seated herself next to Annika. B'Elanna put her feet up on the gray material of the low bench as she rested herself against the wall.
"I think you dented me." Annika wiped excess water from her lips as she set the now empty water bottle on the floor by her feet before she mimicked B'Elanna's posture. As she rubbed her upper back Annika had to wonder at the soreness in her muscles. Had she overextended herself?
"You broke forty-two bones in my body and you don't see me bitching." B'Elanna took another drink from her flask before she handed it to Annika, who took it, albeit hesitantly.
Annika sniffed at the contents of the red rubber container before she took a tentative sip and tried not to gag. "Yeah, well, half of those weren't really my fault since you were trying to punch through metal. Generally not a good idea."
"Just wanted to see how strong you really are." B'Elanna took back her blood wine, closed it and tossed the flask indifferently to the deck. "You'll do."
"That's good I guess." Annika couldn't help but smirk. The rather prickly woman seated next to her had somehow grown on Annika over the course of a few days. "Are you going to tell me what you meant last night? When you said you had me figured out."
An all-knowing expression graced B'Elanna's features as she crossed her muscled arms over her chest. "Don't think I haven't thought about taking the Captain on that big desk of hers myself."
"WHAT?" Annika's face flushed red with outrage. She was all the more disturbed when B'Elanna abruptly broke into unrestrained laughter that quickly brought tears to dark brown eyes.
"You're going to need to be a whole hell of a lot more unflappable because it's written all over your face." B'Elanna didn't add that pheromones emanated from Annika like perfume whenever Janeway was in Annika's presence. She also didn't add that Annika had a few people to contend with including one individual B'Elanna wished wasn't in the contest at all. But that was neither here nor there.
Annika thought perhaps she should be more mortified that she was so easy to read, but she had to admit that she enjoyed the freedom of being completely unhidden. And it wasn't as if she didn't know something provocative about B'Elanna.
"I won't deny that I'm... a bit enamored." Annika carefully watched B'Elanna's expression for any sign of disapproval and was relieved when she only saw amusement.
"Nothing new around here." B'Elanna shrugged carelessly. She hesitated for a moment in her elaboration, but after sighing softly she continued. "She's got something that just pulls people in; a presence or something indefinable. It's easy to fall for her I suppose."
Annika's eyebrow rose at the regretful tone of voice B'Elanna had employed and she thought for the sake of this impromptu tête-à-tête she would take the direct route to the heart of the matter. "Are you ever going to tell Tom?"
B'Elanna indulged in a split second of looking shocked, but quickly decided that if Annika could be honest so should she. "I don't know. He has a lot of... distractions. Sometimes it's hard to get his attention."
Annika could tell the breezy tone was a front and she felt sympathy for the woman before her that a few days ago she had been quite adverse to. She knew full well the identity of one person who distracted Tom and she wondered about Janeway's relationship with the man. It seemed playful almost flirtatious and Annika had felt jealous at how easily they bantered with one another, but at the same time she didn't sense anything overtly romantic or sexual about their relationship. It just seemed comfortable.
"Don't get me wrong. Absolutely nothing is going on between them. Or ever would." B'Elanna's voice was quick, convincing and made to reassure both herself and Annika. "Tom, he's a really sociable guy on the surface, but he's actually pretty reserved. I've known him for about three years now and I only know a handful of things about his life before he came to Voyager. It's just hard to break through."
"It's easy for me to say just tell him how you feel. I'm sorry." Annika tried to be reassuring but she had come to quickly realize despite the boyish appearance and seemingly outgoing personality that Tom Paris never really said much that would reveal what was simmering beneath the surface. Annika was impressed at how he so successfully managed to talk a lot without saying anything at all.
"Whatever." That one word ended the conversation as B'Elanna retrieved her flask with a heavy sigh. She took a hearty swig before she handed it to Annika, who refused the offer with a shake of her head and pursed lips. "So you're staying here for a while then huh?"
"Yeah, until all this blows over I guess." Annika pulled her knees to her chest as she relaxed more fully against the wall.
"Whatever that means." It wasn't said cruelly, but with resignation since B'Elanna had believed something similar a decade earlier. When she had been a completely different person. "After that happens, what will you do?"
Annika lifted her slim shoulders into a shrug as she thought about the simple question with the rather complex answer. "I'm not sure. Go back to my job at Global Tech or move I guess."
"You could probably work for one of the Paris corporations." B'Elanna couldn't imagine being cooped up in one of the many top secret underground tech labs that Intrepid Enterprises had across the globe and in orbit. "Or you could get a position here."
"As what, a typing instructor? The computer programs here are much more sophisticated than the ones I've ever worked with." Annika had to admit that the idea of having hands on control over the hologram technology was quite attractive to her especially since Theoretical Holography had been the subject for her Master's thesis.
"You could find something. I have my M.F.A. in Poetry so I'm the English and Literature teacher." B'Elanna tried not to be too offended by the surprised look on Annika's face. "I also instruct courses on hand-to-hand combat."
"Well that makes a lot more sense." Annika knew she shouldn't have been so dubious but she couldn't help. The woman before her had about as much of a soft touch as a bulldozer.
"Don't pretend you know anything about me, Blondie." B'Elanna was less than appreciative of the incredulous expression Annika had sported. "I had a damned good life before all the shit hit the fan. Some of my work had even been published. I had a good job, friends, even a boyfriend or two. But then it all went away."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to insult you." Annika's sincerest of apologies was rebuffed with shrug from the other woman as she drank from her red flask.
"You didn't hurt my feelings." B'Elanna prided herself in never having her emotions known by anyone aside from the accursed empathic Kes. "I just want you to understand that we all gave up our lives in one way or another either by choice or not, but we've created a world here at the Institute and a covert world within the UFM. It's far from ideal, in fact it's disgusting how we hide from humans but we do what we have to so we can all live free from persecution. I've seen what some humans would do to us and we need places like this and other safe ports so we can survive."
"It must be hard not to hate them." Annika didn't know if she even wanted to imagine the things B'Elanna had seen and perhaps experienced.
"Believe me, some of them I do. But we do have allies... like the HRC." B'Elanna could still remember the many volatile arguments she had engaged in with Janeway about how humans were nothing but a threat to metahumans her first year at the Institute. And then B'Elanna had seen the plant at Reykjavik and knew humans weren't the root of all evil. "It took me awhile to figure out that it's not all humans. But there are real bastards out there and that's sort of why I'm here in a way."
"I had no idea there were groups out there who kidnapped metahumans. The public should know about this. There'd be an outrage." Annika could feel heat rise to her cheeks.
"You forget, only fifteen percent of Americans think there's nothing wrong with a person being a metahuman. And no percentage of those are politicians." B'Elanna didn't think she was being paranoid when she suspected that there was some sort of collaboration between the government and the otherwise covert human militias that hunted metahumans. "Like the anti-metahuman group who kidnapped you won't even be charged with anything even as mundane as an illegal gun possession."
"What the hell can we do if the authorities won't do anything?" Annika thought of the men who had terrorized her in that small green lit cell only a few nights ago and how they just walk around freely after such brutality.
"Break up the bastards when we find them. Destroy their HQs. Find their arms. Release the prisoners and if need be help them reenter society." B'Elanna appreciated the indignation and fire in Annika's voice. She remembered when she had allowed herself that feeling of resentment and anger but over the course of a few years at the Voyager Institute B'Elanna feared that she had lost her edge. She thought that was mostly due to the woman who ran the Institute with disarming passion, dedication and unshakeable determination. All of these qualities B'Elanna respected despite how infuriating the headmistress could be at times.
"That's it?" Flabbergasted by the inaction perpetrated by these immensely powerful people Annika snorted indelicately.
"What should we do? Kill'em all? Actually that sounds pretty good..." B'Elanna pretended to contemplate the idea for a moment or two before she became serious. "Bottom line, it's not how we do it here. It's not always easy to stick to the rules, but you don't wanna get on the Captain's bad side. She can strip paint with that voice of hers, believe me."
Annika did. "It just doesn't seem to be enough."
B'Elanna shrugged off her agreement with the statement for she knew full well the restrictions placed on her not only by Janeway but also the directives of the United Federation of Metahumans. A penal colony that orbited the Earth was not her idea of a fun time.
"Come on, Blondie, I need a shower and we need some real drinks."
Ice clanked audibly against glass before Annika sipped the amber liquid that burned on its way down her throat. Before she could stop herself she thanked the waiter who merely nodded and left. She was constantly impressed by the holo-technology employed at the Institute. It was well above anything she had theorized would be capable when she had worked on her thesis less than a decade ago. She knew the Paris' were brilliant in the highest of technological fields but this level of sophistication was beyond what she had ever thought possible. She held the glass of whiskey up to eye level for a moment and nothing about it would have told her that it contained nothing but photons and force fields.
Annika looked up quickly to see the smirk on B'Elanna's lips.
"Not really, but he might as well have been. Quinn had more power than he was capable of managing." Her tone held just enough sorrow to inform Annika that this individual was no longer living. B'Elanna took a large drink from her bottle. "Whatever."
Sensing the need of a subject change Annika brought up the one subject she was unceasingly curious about. "How long have you been here? What brought you here in the first place?"
"Are you writing a book or something?" B'Elanna downed the rest of her beer. Before it touched the table the holographic waiter set another in front of her and took the empty.
"Fine, don't tell me." Annika rolled her eyes as she held her tumbler between her hands and leaned far back into the cool red cushions of the booth. Her long legs stretched out so that her flip-flop clad feet rested on the seat across from her. If she had thought it odd to be in a "crowded bar" in her dark blue pajama bottoms and white t-shirt she had gotten over it quickly and settled into the comfort of being one of two only real people around.
The defined muscles of B'Elanna's upper body were being displayed prominently by the tight fitting black razor-back tank top she wore with her blood red silk shorts and Annika wondered if provoking the other woman was really that good of an idea.
With one arm over the top of the booth beer in hand, B'Elanna used her other hand to rub at her forehead as she figured it wouldn't hurt to talk to the newbie. It wasn't like anyone was waiting for her back in her quarters. "What the hell, why not?"
Annika felt a strong tingle of eagerness flood her senses despite maintaining her cool exterior. With a steady hand she put the drink on the table so it could be forgotten as B'Elanna's story began to unfurl.
"Ever heard of the Maquis?"
(to be continued)