Paramount pictures own Star Trek Voyager and DS9. I am not making any profit from these stories.

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What if the Borg never assimilated Annika Hansen? What if Captain Janeway captures the Maquis? Dr. Annika Hansen, raised and educated on Vulcan, is in need of an engineer to assist in her ‘Valhalla Project’. She offers the position to B’Elanna Torres, newly released from a Federation Penal Colony. Fireworks fly between these two and neither woman much likes the other. A tragic event in Annika's past forces her into a ‘temporary’ marriage with B’Elanna. This arrangement leads each woman to see past her misconceptions about the other. However, is this enough to make their marriage real? PG 17. Happy Ending.

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I have made up many of the Vulcan names for foods and geographical locations.

Note that I have also added my own interpretations to the state of Pon Farr.

In this story I have Annika Hansen's year of birth as late 2348.

I have B'Elanna Torres’ year of birth as 2349.

There is some controversy on the name and type of ship that Chakotay captains for the Maquis. The fact files refer to the name as 'Zola'. In the DS9 episode 'Sacrifice of Angels' the ship is named 'Liberty'. It is classified as an Antares class in the novel Pathways. I have seen several references that it is a Ju'day class ship named 'Val Jean'.

Vulcan words

P’pil’lay: Severing of a mind link between couples who have bonded. This occurs naturally when there is a sudden death of a spouse. A ritual p’pil’lay is performed when there is a divorce.

Plak tow: Blood fever. The last stages of Pon Farr in which the victim is irrational and illogical. Their only drive is to mate. In my story it is a situation of mate, die, or go insane. I have Plak tow occurring during a Vulcan's second Pon Farr, if they are unmated.

Pon Farr: The Vulcan mating cycle. It typically occurs every seven years. When the first Pon Farr occurs is not established. Tuvok supposedly went through his first at forty years old. T'Pol, in the series Enterprise, was in her sixties, but this was due to a virus. Spock, who is half-Human, went through Pon Farr at least twice as an adolescent in the motion picture Search for Spock. In the original series, he entered Pon Farr in his thirties. There is no reference to that incident being his first.

Kun ut so'lik: Marriage proposal.

Chocolate is thought to be an intoxicate for Vulcans. Quark, on DS9, offers a Vulcan patron chocolate and alludes to it as possibly being something sexual.

x

Klingon Words:

Klingon Blood Wine: Blood wine is stronger than the wines of Earth. It is often imbibed during ceremonies, when telling war stories and as a drink of celebration after a battle or other event.

Targ or targh. A Klingon mammal with characteristics somewhere between Terran canines and wild boars. These animals are hunted, although some are kept as pets. The heart and lungs are considered delicacies.

Gagh. Klingon serpent worms are a food item and are best eaten while the worms are still alive and fresh. There are over fifty varieties of serpent worms.

Raktajino. Klingon coffee.

Rokeg blood pie. A pie made from the blood and meat of an animal and often consumed on holidays and at celebrations.

Klingon swear words.

P‘taQ, PetaQ. A person who is ineffective, useless, and no good.

QoH. Fool

taHqeq. A person who is dishonorable, deceitful, and vile.

Klingon Rituals.

Age of Ascension Ceremony

Klingon Rite of Passage. The ceremony usually takes place when a Klingon, male or female, is around the age of thirteen. The initiate recites the ritual words "DaHjaj SuvwI'e' jiH. tIgwIj Sa'angNIS. Iw bIQtIq jIjaH." Today I am a Warrior. I must show you my heart. I travel the river of blood. Then he or she walks between two rows of warriors who apply pain sticks. The initiate then expresses his or her most heartfelt wish and feelings while under the duress of the extreme pain. The ceremony can be performed again when the warrior becomes an adult.

R'uustai

The R'uustai is a ceremony that bonds unrelated individuals as brothers and sisters. It is often used to adopt a person into a House. Each person involved wears ceremonial vests or sashes and lights three candles while invoking the memory of their mothers.

x

x

RAVEN: VALHALLA AWAITS

Part One

ANNIKA

Wednesday’s child is full of woe.”

xxx

CHAPTER ONE

xxx

Annika tiptoed through the open door, stood behind her parents, and observed their attempts to attach a device to Raven’s interface with the warp core engines. Papa said it was a way to get home. He had gone aboard the Borg ship to get the device, which he called a transwarp coil.

Annika did not like the Borg. They were creepy and scary. Many times her Papa would beam to the Borg cube and bring back some drones to Raven. He said they would not hurt her because he had gotten them from their alcoves when they were regenerating and they were unaware of their surroundings.

One he named Junior and the other Needle Fingers. Needle Fingers was the scariest. His right hand had sharp needle like fingers. Papa said that his hand was this way to enable him to do delicate work on important machinery. She feared the drone would wake up and stick her with his needles. Papa said he would use his assimilation tubules instead. He had prodded the back of Needle Finger’s left hand causing two black slithering worm-like tubes to erupt from the top of the wrist. Momma told Papa not to do that, as it would give Annika nightmares.

She did have nightmares the first time Papa brought a Borg to the ship. Seeing the metal man standing on their ship had frightened her and she had clutched Momma’s leg and cried. Momma told her it would not hurt her.

Momma took her to bed and tucked her in, giving her a kiss on her cheek. She had told Momma she wanted a kiss from Papa, but Momma said he was too busy now, but she would make sure he gave her a goodnight kiss after he was not busy anymore.

She had tried to stay awake to wait for him. But she found her eyes growing heavier and heavier, soon falling asleep. She had dreamed the Borg, Needle Fingers, was trying to stick her with his needles and his tubules. She had cried and Momma came and told her it was just a bad dream. Momma held her for a while and the next thing she knew, Momma was calling her for breakfast. Even over breakfast all Momma and Papa could do was talk about the Borg.

Because of the Borg, Papa and Momma often did not have time to read to her or look at her drawings. She felt that the Borg were more important than she was.

Yes, she hated the Borg and was glad that soon they would leave and go home. She could not really remember home. It seemed like forever that she had been aboard Raven. She did remember a little about her Aunt Irene and the sweet taste of strawberries.

Erin heard a small scuffing sound and turned to see her daughter standing in the doorway, looking at her and Magnus. “Annika, sweetheart, have you finished your lessons?

“Yes, Momma.”

“Isn’t it your bedtime?”

“I want Papa to read me a story.” Annika looked at her father, his back still to her.

He turned his head, giving her a quick glance, and said, “I’m busy, Muffin. I’ll read you a story later.”

“You always say that. But you never do it,” she pouted angrily.

Erin ordered, “Annika, go to bed.”

She stood there, her bottom lip jutting out in defiance. “I don’t want to go to bed.”

Magnus turned and said in a stern voice, “Annika. You heard your mother. Go to bed.”

She sighed and turned angrily, stomping her feet as she returned to her room.

Erin turned back to help Magnus. “It will be good to get back to the Alpha Quadrant where Annika can meet children her own age. I know it must be lonely for her not to have playmates.”

“Yes. Part of me thinks it was a bad idea to bring her. We should have taken Irene up on her offer to keep her while we were away.”

“I don’t know if I could have done that, Magnus.”

“I know. Well, that is moot. We’ll be home soon.” He grimaced as he ran a diagnostic tool over the Borg transwarp coil. He had masked his biosignature, gone aboard the Borg Cube, and removed it from one of small scout ships.

“Damn, I don’t think we will be able to make this compatible with our warp core or engines. This is the best we can do. I think it will perhaps be good for a one shot try.” He tinkered with the device for a few more seconds, and then said, “I think I should go back to the cube and retrieve another coil. This way we can have another one available, if this one fails.”

“You know how I feel about you going over there.”

“I know, but it’ll be okay. I’ll go tomorrow.”

“When will we be able to return to the Alpha Quadrant?”

“In a few days. I want to put some distance between the Borg and us before we attempt to open a transwarp corridor. Activating the transwarp core may cause our shielding to fail and the Borg might detect us. The further away we are when we do this, the safer. If the shields fail and we’re too close to the Borg… I don’t want to think about that.”

He inwardly shuttered, remembering the horrors, the atrocities, he had witnessed a month ago on the Borg cube they had been following for over a year.

It had joined three other Borg cubes and they had taken up orbit around a planet. A scan of the planet showed that it contained a population of over eight hundred million and had early warp capabilities as evidenced by a few scattered warp signatures in the planet’s vicinity.

The Hansen’s were not sure why the cubes were in orbit, but surmised that an assimilation event was about to occur.

Suddenly, they observed millions of transwarp signatures originating from the cubes and terminating onto the planet’s surface.

Raven’s communications array was flooded with distress calls sent out on all frequencies. Both had listened in horror to the panicked pleas for help. They had sent Annika to her room at the first panicked calls, not wanting to subject their daughter to the heart-rending pleas and horrified voices.

Magnus informed Erin that he would beam over to the cube they followed, to see firsthand what was taking place and learn more about the Borg process of assimilation. She had begged him not to go, but he insisted that he would be safe with the bio-shielding that would mask his presence.

When he beamed over, he could hear the cries, screams, and pleas for mercy. The Borg cube had come alive much as an ant bed stirred with a stick. Drones were leading their victims to different rooms on the ship, and leading those newly assimilated to alcoves. Some victims were only partially assimilated, but their eyes held a blank look.

He moved aside as a group of drones escorted humanoid beings, looking almost Human, except for the absence of hair and the small ears situated almost on their necks. It was hard to determine what their original skin color was as it already had the pale pasty mottling of a drone. Many already had Borg implants erupting from their faces and arms. Some had the stony countenance and dead eyes of the Borg. Others, whimpered and wailed, fear clearly evidence in their eyes. He felt a wrenching at his heart when he heard the pitiful cries of some for their loved ones.

He followed one group down a short corridor were he heard screams and groans. They were ushered into a large room and he felt his heart stop and stomach lurch at what he saw. Victims were strapped to tables, their arms and legs cut from them, and the added atrocity of having metallic limbs and implants replace them. Eyes were removed, implants replacing them. His nostrils were assaulted by the hot metallic smell of blood and fear, of Borg and machine, causing him to eject the contents of his stomach. This was a living hell.

He knew that Erin was able to see the same thing as he did. His eyepiece made a recording and sent it back to Raven. He knew Erin would have sent Annika to her room to spare the child this nightmare.

He could take no more and had beamed back to Raven, in shock. He looked into Erin’s eyes and saw the horror reflected there, knowing that she saw the same in his.

Oh, my God. Magnus?” Erin said in anguish.

We must get out of here,” he replied in a shaky voice.

They did not discuss what they had witnessed; knowing that to speak of such horrors would be a profanity. This, they knew, would haunt them the rest of their lives. Later, the scientist in them recorded with clinical accuracy the process of assimilation, while the Human in them wept.

He and Erin immediately stated to plan their return to the Alpha Quadrant. They had observed smaller scout ships leaving the cube and opening a transwarp corridor. He would go back to the cube, find one of the scout ships, and try to discover what technology they used to do this.

After two days, the madness of assimilation abated, the cube they were tracking broke orbit and went on its way. Raven followed and Magnus was successful in removing a transwarp coil from a scout ship.

xxx

CHAPTER TWO

xxx

Annika sat on her Papa’s knee and showed him the pictures of the Borg cube and drones she has drawn. “This one is Needle Fingers, Papa.”

“I see. That is a very good Muffin. It looks exactly like him. All of your drawings are excellent. Let’s show Momma and then we will put them on the bulkhead by my work station.”

Annika turned her head and looked at her Papa. “Papa, when are we going back to the Alpha Quadrant?”

“In a few days.”

“Why don’t we go now?”

“I have something I have to do first. And as soon as it’s done, we will be ready to go.”

“I know. You’re going to the cube and get another…trans…warp coil.”

"My, what big ears you have,” Magnus said with a smile.

Annika felt her ears and said, “My ears are not big. They are the same size as they were yesterday.”

Magnus laughed and slid Annika from his knee and to the floor. “Now, let’s show Momma your drawings before I get ready to go over to the cube.”

Later, Magnus picked up his tool bag and hung it round his shoulder. He had his bio-filter attached to his right shoulder sleeve of his shirt. He wore the video band around his head with the attached, small recorder turned up. When aboard the cube, he would turn it down over his right eye. This would allow Erin to see what he saw.

“I’m ready. I guess this will be my final trip over there.”

“Good. Please be careful, Magnus. If it looks like there will be a problem getting the transwarp coil…leave it. Take no chances.”

He kissed her cheek, giving her a reassuring smile, “I don‘t think there will be any problems.” His smile dropped and he said, “You know what to do if there are.”

Earlier, Magnus had discussed with Erin that if he were ever discovered and she were unable to immediately transport him out, she was to put Raven into its fastest warp and get a safe enough distance away to engage the transwarp coil. The danger would be too great of discovery if he were assimilated. The Borg would know from his thoughts that Raven was nearby and thus learn about the modulating shield and how to compensate for it, enabling them to discover the small ship.

Annika watched as her Papa dematerialized in a sparkle of molecules. “Bye, Papa.”

She took the chair by her mother at the ships helm. She watched the view screen, seeing the eerie green and gray of the interior of the Borg cube. The view moved down a corridor and past several drones regenerating in their alcoves.

“Annika, honey. Why don’t you go to your room for a little while? Have you finished your lessons for today?”

“But I want to see the drones and what Papa sees,” she whined.

“No. Now, don’t argue. Go to your room. I’ll let you know when Papa gets back.”

Annika pouted and slid out of the seat, heading to her room with a stiff gait and little snorting noises through her nose to show her displeasure. She went to her room only to turn around and creep down the short corridor and out into the dining area where she crawled under the table. From here, she could see the helm and the view screen in front of it.

She could see the misty green glow of the interior of the Borg cube and hear her Papa’s voice say, “I’m at the bay area for auxiliary craft.”

The view on the screen panned over various craft. Some were so close she could only see small sections of cold metal that really gave no indications of what she was looking at.

I‘ll try this one.”

The picture moved and she saw a change in the area. Was that a door sliding open? The picture continued to move, almost in a disjointed fashion. Unidentified machinery and bulkheads with equipment jittered and swayed. Then the picture stopped at a pedestal that had an assortment of flashing green and yellow lights.

Here we go.”

She saw her Papa’s hand holding a tricorder in front of the pedestal.

All indications are that this is functional. I’m going to disengage it from the manifold."

She saw both her Papa’s hands touch a pad on the pedestal and a section with a cylinder rise out of the surface. Then the picture flickered and went out, leaving only the voice.

“Magnus, I’ve lost the picture,” Erin said with evident concern.

What the…Erin, beam me out. My tricorder is picking up some kind of energy field around the craft and my bio-filter is not functioning.”

Annika saw her mother rapidly tapping in commands on the instrument pad at the helm.

“I can’t get a lock. Magnus, get clear of the shuttle.”

There was a shuffling noise and Magnus’ screamed, “God. Oh God! They’re on the shuttle! They know I’m here!”

"We are the Borg. Resistance is Futile. Your distinctiveness will be added to ours," echoed in the eerie voice of many.

"Run, Erin, Run… Arrggh."

“MAGNUS!! NO, NO, NO!” Erin screamed in panic.

Annika screamed in fear, “PAPA!”

A few seconds later, Annika was sliding from under the table and along the floor. She stopped sliding and quickly spring to her feet, looking toward the view screen where she saw the stars elongate in the familiar pattern of going to warp. She was just about to run to her momma when she was thrown to the floor.

The ship began bucking and heaving. The view screen was showing a sickening swirl of colors. She watched mesmerized, then the screen cleared, and there were only the cold points of light of a star field. The ship was not in motion and the only sounds were the clicks, whirls, and beeps of various machinery, consoles, and instruments. And the sobbing of her momma.

Danger. Warp core breech imminent in forty seconds.’

She ran to her mother, her voice frantic and pleading, “Go back. We left Papa. Momma, go back.”

Warp core breech in thirty seconds.’

Erin quickly sent out a distress signal. She exited her seat, pushing Annika aside as she rushed up to the engineering console a few feet away. She quickly keyed in the command to eject the warp core and raise Raven’s shields to maximum. She grabbed Annika, went back to her seat, pulling her daughter into her arms and hugging her tight, for comfort, more than for protection against the imminent explosion.

“Momma. Go back. Papa. Get Papa.”

Erin’s sobs and the computer’s countdown to one were the only reply.

xxx

CHAPTER THREE

ALPHA QUADRANT: THIRTEEN MONTHS LATER

xxx

Erin opened the message addressed to her on her sister-in- law’s communications array. It was from a Dr. Shonok at the Vulcan Science Academy. Her hands started to shake as she read the contents, and she felt faint…just a little off kilter.

Dr. Shonok was a senior professor at the Vulcan Science Academy and his area of expertise was Anthropology. He wanted to meet with Erin to discuss setting up a special department on the study on the Borg. He inquired if she would consider teaching the course and perhaps, head the department. He assured her that she would have no problem obtaining certification through the Ministry of Education on Vulcan.

He went on to say that Starfleet and the Federation would have no involvement in this endeavor. He could arrange to meet her, on Earth, as early as next week.

Erin read and reread what he had written. Was this an answer to her prayers? Things had not gone well for her career, and her life, since returning to the Alpha Quadrant.

Raven had not been in Federation space for more than an hour before the USS Valiant answered the distress call and took her and Annika into custody. Captain Jocelyn Butler had contacted Starfleet command and received orders to secure Erin to her quarters and to return to Starfleet command immediately.

On her return to Earth, she was charged with the theft of a Starfleet craft, crossing the Romulan Neutral Zone, and breech of contract. Starfleet and the Federation’s premise was that they funded her and Magnus’ research, even loaning them a ship, with the stipulation that Starfleet could terminate the contract at any time if they felt it necessary. Starfleet had ordered them to terminate the mission. They did not. Moreover, to make matters worse, they entered the Romulan Neutral Zone. This offense was of a serious nature that could have resulted in hostilities with the Romulan Star Empire. It was fortunate that the Romulans had not detected them.

Erin was incarcerated in a Starfleet brig, pending trail. Her sister-in-law, Magnus older sister, Irene Hansen, had obtained the best legal counsel on Earth and had taken custody of Annika until the matter was cleared.

Erin’s legal counsel arranged her release on the stipulation she not leave Earth. After ten days in a Starfleet brig, she went home, grieved for her husband, and tried to help Annika cope.

Annika refused to believe her papa was dead. The Borg had him and she was angry with Erin for leaving him and for not going back to get him. For all purposes, he was dead, but how to explain that to a six year old.

She then met with her legal counsel, James Phelps, Esquire, in New York once a week for the next three months. Five months after she returned from the Delta Quadrant, her lawyer reached a compromise with Starfleet. They would not prosecute if she would agree to go through Starfleet debriefing for the next three months. She agreed.

After a grueling three months of just about every day ‘interrogations’ she was through and could start a new life for her and Annika.

Or so she thought. She had applied to several Federation institutes of higher learning only to discover that the Federation had suspended her teaching certifications for five years for the felony charges brought against her by Starfleet. If she had had a trial and been found innocent, her certification would not have been revoked. She had plea bargained instead. She had appealed. However, it was to no avail. She would not be able to obtain a job as a professor, or even as a teacher of a kindergarten class, anywhere in the Federation.

Now, maybe this was her chance. She sent Dr. Shonok a reply and looked blankly at the screen for a moment, then noticed the ‘received’ displayed. Only thing now was to wait for him to contact her with further information.

She got up from the chair and went to the bathroom to splash cold water on her face. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and thought, ‘Magnus, how I miss you. I hope this is my chance to share our work, your work, with those who wish to know. Starfleet and the Federation are wrong to classify this and not share it with all. The Borg will come. And we should be prepared.’

She dried her face and made her way to the kitchen to help Irene with the meal preparation. She would not tell her, yet, of her correspondence with Dr. Shonok, for really, she did not have anything to tell.

xxx

Over her menu, Erin Hansen stole glances at her dinner companion. Dr. Shonok was a handsome man. Tall and broad shouldered, his dark hair sprinkled liberally with silver, his complexion olive brown.

She had met him earlier in the lobby of one of Paris’ Five Star Restaurants, The Bon Appetite. It was his suggestion that they dine here and he stated emphatically that she would be his guest.

Before meeting him, she did a little research on the Professor. She had the computer pull up his biography and any other pertinent information. He was the head of the Anthropology Department at the Vulcan Science Academy. He had held this post for thirty-five years. Prior to that, he was a full professor for forty years. It listed his degrees and where and what years he obtained them. Doing the math, Erin estimated his age to be around 110 years. Middle aged for a Vulcan. He had published books and papers, and was respected by his colleagues.

After further digging, she came across an obituary dated approximately four years ago. It was his wife’s. It did not list the cause of death. Survivors were her husband, a daughter and two sons, a mother and various other relatives. There was no indication that he had remarried. There were several pictures of him, but none conveyed the presence that seemed to emanate from him in person.

He had arrived at the restaurant before her, taking a seat in the lobby. He stood when she entered and she knew he recognized her, perhaps from a picture on the intergalactic web. There would be more than enough information and pictures available. Both, when she was a graduate student and more recently, those of her return to the Alpha Quadrant and arrest by Starfleet.

He towered over her 5’8” height by at least eight inches. He wore the latest urbane fashion from Earth, which was popular throughout the Federation: A pair of charcoal trousers, short blue wrap around tunic, and a loose fitting charcoal jacket, without lapels.

She was surprised when he offered his hand for a shake. Vulcans were averse to touching others, due to their ability to sense the emotions emanating from a person. His grip was warm and firm, and he held her hand longer than was custom.

His voice was a rich, deep baritone. Erin could swear she saw a spark of interest and curiosity in his keen brown eyes when he addressed her.

She made her selection and put down her menu, folding her hands on the table’s white tablecloth. She looked up and found his dark, liquid gaze on her. This made her blush.

The waiter was back and took their order. She was surprised that he ordered a lamb dish, as she thought he would be a vegetarian, as were most Vulcans. She had ordered a shrimp Florentine, with seasoned rice.

“Let me offer my condolences on the loss of your husband,” he said sincerely.

“Thank you.” She paused and then added, deciding to be to the point, “How much do you know about our research-- mine and Magnus’?”

“I know enough to formulate that your almost two years of studying The Borg has yielded an abundant amount of information than is currently known. I know that both the Federation and Starfleet, in effect, have…silenced you. You know too much and that is why your teaching certification has been pulled.”

“The Federation said it’s because of my criminal background. I in fact, pleaded no contest. So, it’s on my record that I’m a felon,” she said wryly.

“I suspect you do not believe that reason is entirely true,” he said evenly.

She snorted sharply. “You would be correct. I think it is to keep what information on the Borg, I have, from being known by the public.”

“The fact remains; they have concealed the evidence from the governments of many planets. It is true, that the inter-council of the Federation have some knowledge of your findings.” He paused and took a sip of water, then went on, “It is my belief that you have made certain preparations to preserve you and your husband’s findings. You, in fact, have a back-up copy of your findings.”

Erin lifted her eyebrows and tried to answer innocently, “Oh. And why would you think this?”

“It is the logical thing to do. I am a scientist, Dr. Hansen, as are you. It is a common practice for researchers and scientist to make copies of their research and work. As you know yourself, research can be lost…or stolen.”

Erin looked at him suspiciously. ‘Is he a Starfleet or Federation spy?’ “Even if I do have a back up copy, as you say, how do I know I can trust you not to run to Starfleet with the information? For all I know, you’re a Starfleet spy…or a Federation spy.”

“I am sure you have done research on me, Dr. Hansen. I am what I appear to be. The head of Anthropology at the Vulcan Science Academy. I give you my word; I am not employed with the Federation or Starfleet.”

Erin smirked and lightly said, “As a past Starfleet Captain once said, ‘Vulcans can lie with the best of them’.

“Captain Jonathan Archer.” He named the man from whom the quote originated. “Then let me explain. I believe that this knowledge does not belong solely to Starfleet or the Federation, or even to you, but should be available to all.”

“Oh? And why do you believe this should be available to all?” she said facetiously.

“I surmise, for the same reason you do, Dr. Hansen, that the Borg are a threat to all quadrants of the galaxy. Perhaps, the greatest threat. What little information I have been able to obtain leads me to believe that they are intent on domination and…what is that word you use…incorporating…”

“Assimilating.”

“Yes. Assimilating all advanced species. They may be far away in the Delta Quadrant, but they do make appearances in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. They are scouting, as you would say. You know this as you encountered them in Romulan space. Moreover, there have been recent sightings…unconfirmed sightings of them in the Alpha Quadrant. We must be prepared. They are coming, Dr. Hansen. That is why I and some of my colleagues from various institutions are proposing to start a Borg institute of study, separate from any government institution, and which you will help to establish and head.”

Erin knew her mouth was hanging open. “I think you had better explain, Dr. Shonok.”

He nodded his head. “This is what we are proposing….”

xxx

CHAPTER FOUR

xxx

“I would love to stay on Earth, Irene. Annika likes it here and so do I. But, let’s face it. I have no future here. Not one Institute or University will hire me. I can’t get my papers published. I can’t get a research grant. They think the Borg are of no importance. And with Starfleet poisoning the well, and the Federation council as well…This is an offer that is an answer to my prayers.”

“Think of Annika. She has family here, and friends. It will be hard for her to live anywhere else. What about her schooling? She’s in accelerated classes.”

“Irene. This is Vulcan, not some backwater planet. They have accelerated schools there. And, she will make friends. I have already researched the schools in Hars’Ta. The Institute grounds will be located right on the outskirts of the city. The schools will be easy to travel to and from. They have excellent ratings.”

“While you will be establishing an Institute, what is Annika to do after school? You will be working many hours. Who will watch her while you work? What if she falls sick or is injured?”

“I have already checked into that. Hars’Ta is a major city. They have day care centers there as well as three hospitals and many clinics, shopping areas, as well as social centers that feature the arts.” She paused and gave her aunt a smile. “You know, you can always come with us.”

Irene waved her hand dismissively and said, “Bah, and live in a desert were one could die of heat stroke in a manner of minutes if outdoors?”

“Vulcan is not all desert, they have some areas of forest and plains.” She did not add that the temperature was considerably higher and dryer than the average on Earth.

“That may be. Nevertheless, Vulcan is no place to raise Annika. She belongs here, among her own kind.”

Erin said admonishingly, “Listen to you, Irene. You’re sounding like a xenophobe. She is a child and will quickly acclimate, as she has done here.”

“It’s a bad idea, Erin. I have nothing against Vulcans. The ones I have met are polite and well spoken. You must take into consideration that Annika is Human in her emotions and feelings. Vulcans are trained from birth to repress their emotions. She will have a hard time making friends and she will stand out. Not only because she is Human but because she acts Human.”

“She will adapt. I can’t give up this chance. It’s what Magnus would have wanted me to do. His sacrifice should not go unrecognized. It’s important that the information on the Borg is known. Starfleet and the Federation are wrong to have confiscated all of our research. They are wrong by…essentially keeping it out of the Public. The more we know, the better prepared we will be when the Borg come.” She added adamantly, “And they will come.”

“That very well may happen,” Irene agreed, and sighed, “I don’t understand. Vulcan is a part of the Federation, yet you and this…Showboat--”

“Shonok. Dr. Shonok”

“Dr. Shonok…want to start a Borg institute of study. Won’t the Federation step in and stop this? Starfleet and the Federation have all of your research.”

“Do they now?” she said with a smirk and added, “Magnus and I knew that when we returned to the Federation, that Starfleet would confiscate our research. After all, we disobeyed orders when we crossed over into the Romulan Neutral Zone on a Starfleet ship.” She paused, and smugly continued, “Information chips are an easy thing to conceal, Irene.”

“You will get into trouble for this, Erin,” Irene cautioned.

“It is my research. Magnus’ and mine. For all Starfleet knows, I have it all memorized. They stole this research from us. I will only be sharing with whoever wants to learn the research that is mine. Dr. Shonok has connections in the Ministry of Education on Vulcan, as well as connections in the government, and has already laid the ground work.”

“Opening an institute cost credits, Erin. You just can’t open a store front out in a desert and call it an institute.”

“He has the monies from donations and from his family connections. His family, from what I understand, is wealthy from the various dilithium mines they own.

“He has purchased an old monastery that includes a teaching facility. It also has domiciles of two and three bedrooms that are habitable. Annika and I will take one of those to live in, as will most staff. Other housing will be constructed as well as additional teaching space. There is also housing in the city. I’m doing this. It is right, Irene…the right thing to do.” She took her sister-in-laws hand. “Come with us, Irene.”

“I cannot. My roots are here. I need the green spring meadows, the summer wheat, and the snow blanketed forest in winter. I cannot leave.” Her eyes glistened with tears. “When will you go?”

“I’m going to Vulcan in two weeks and will be there for a month to make arrangements. Then I will come back and get Annika.”

“You will come back and visit?”

“Yes. Of course. It‘s only a day’s trip away. You will have to visit us, also.”

“I will. But, I will miss you Erin, and my Annika, living here with me. I hope they have strawberries on Vulcan. My little Annika does love strawberries,” she said as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

xxx

CHAPTER FIVE

xxx

Erin walked across the paved path under the hot Vulcan sun. She passed two of her students who nodded in greeting. She returned the nod, with a barely perceptible smile.

She then returned to her thoughts. Shonok had declared kun-ut so’lik, his intent to marry her, a few days ago and she accepted. She had grown close to him in the past ten months since coming to Vulcan. She could easily pick up his emotions from his subtle facial movements, and for the past three or four months, she noticed his eyes twinkling in her presence and there was a slight animation about his features.

He invited her to lunch frequently and sought her out for her ‘advice’ on matters pertaining to the Institute. Even though a lot of it was outside her area of expertise when it pertained to finances and the logistics of running the Institute.

He had a good sense of humor, Vulcan humor that is, which was on the dry side. He made it a point to see her everyday and often invited her out to dinner, taking her to a few of the better Vulcan dining establishments in town. He even brought her flowers on a few occasions, stating that the aesthetic qualities and scent were calming.

When he proposed, she had asked him flat out if he was in Pon Farr. Even though this was a very private subject and not discussed, she didn’t want him proposing if he were driven to do it. He was not hesitant in his replay, assuring her he was not, and informing her that Pon Farr was not due for another two years.

He then gave her all the logical reasons they should marry. He held her in high esteem, she was logical in her thinking, they had the same interests, he even professed that he had feelings for her. Oh, no, he did not say he loved her, but stated that he felt an attachment to her closer than that of friendship.

She did not love him as she had Magnus. She doubted she could ever love like that again. She was fond of him though. It was true that they had a lot in common. She wondered briefly if they would be compatible sexually and thought that perhaps they should ‘test drive the aero car’ first.

She knew it was a common fallacy among other species in the Federation that Vulcans were only sexual during Pon Farr. Her studies showed that married couples had sex about as frequently as Humans did. However, during Pon Farr, they must mate or die. Or worse yet, go insane.

He was accepting of Annika, even helping her with a school project on one occasion. Annika seemed to like him.

However, how would Shonok’s children feel about her, a Human, marrying their father? They were already grown and had their own lives. It had been five years since his wife died and it was expected that he would remarry before his next Pon Farr. He informed her that he had discussed the subject with them and they agreed it was the logical thing to do. Magnus had been declared dead, officially, over a year ago. Therefore, she had agreed to marry him. Now, she had to tell Annika, and was not sure how her young daughter would take this.

She continued her walk, turning down a paved path and under a curved arch where she entered a garden area. The path took her under the shade trees to that portion of the garden where Annika had her logic and meditation class.

She heard the melodic tinkling of the garden’s fountain as the water tricked from several openings in the meter high tan and orange rock formation and spilled into the pool below. The garden and fountain had been here for well over two hundred years as part of the monastery. The fountains source was an underground spring. The runoff was used to water the flora and to irrigate a nearby vegetable garden.

She saw a group of children on the other side of the fountain under the shading canopy of an ancient Viihi tree. They were eleven young students, ages 6-12, all in the typical Vulcan meditation position, sitting on the ground, with eyes closed and their hands relaxing across their legs. Annika was easy to spot, her golden hair a ray of sunshine amid the black and brown hair of the Vulcan children. Annika was the only Human child in the class. Erin dropped back and sat on a bench by the edge of the pond to wait for her daughter’s class to end.

She thought back over the ten months that they had been on Vulcan. The first three months took some major adjusting, for not only the hot dry climate, thinner atmosphere, and stronger gravity, but also, adjusting to interacting with the Vulcan people.

Erin had become more subdued in the way she talked and interacted with her colleagues and students. However, she couldn’t manage to remove all of the enthusiasm she had for her subject, the Borg. None of her students ever complained and seemed to pay rapt attention to her lessons.

Currently, there was an enrollment of fifty- two students, the majority Vulcans. There was only a scattering of other races. She was hoping in a few years that the racial makeup would change as the Institute grew.

The current students were professors and teachers who already held degrees and doctorates from other Universities and Institutes.

A quantity of her and Magnus’ research was already downloaded and the students assessed and studied the information. She added clarification to the information in her seminars and classes.

She, Shonok, and some of the students, were classifying the information into categories dealing with everything from physics and engineering, to medical and the social structure of the Borg Collective. Upon earning a doctorate in the various fields of Borg study, these students would become teachers at the Institute.

This was just the beginning of the Institutes long-term goals. There were also plans to develop a research facility studying and applying such technology as multi-phasing shielding, that she and Magnus had developed. Starfleet already had this technology, which they obtained when they confiscated Raven, and were just now implementing it.

However, it could always be improved. Likewise, she had the specifications and schematics for the Borg transwarp coil as well as nanoprobe technology.

So far, to date, she was the only instructor. She did have peers here. There was Shonok, who was the co-founder and head of the Institute, as well as a handful of other administrators, a staff doctor, and psychologist. There were also dozens of support staff, from office managers and aides to maintenance, nutritional workers, and horticulturist to take care of the grounds.

Yes, she had adjusted quite well. However, her Annika had had a harder time adjusting and was just now fitting in.

The first few weeks, it was obvious that Annika was having problems making friends and adjusting to school. Due to her advanced intellectual skills, she was placed in an accelerated class. Unfortunately, the majority of her classmates were 2-3 years older. Annika would come home crying and angry because her classmates called her illogical and emotional when she displayed any normal emotion for a Human child her age. She complained that no one wanted to play chess with her or wanted her on their sports team. She told Erin that she did not want to return to school. Erin insisted that in a little more time she would make friends. Things only got worse. The head instructor of the school called Erin in for a conference, informing her that Annika had become emotional and angry, and had pushed another student. If her behavior continued, she would have to leave.

Erin sought the advice of the staff psychologist, Dr. Voncel, who had recently started work at the Institute. She was young for a Vulcan, only thirty-nine, in Human years, though she looked the equivalent of a Human in her early twenties. She was attractive with shoulder length dark hair, which she usually wore pulled back on the sides, and held in the back by a clip. Her eyes were hazel and her complexion light. She was slender and the same height as Erin. Voncel invited her to have tea in her office to discuss the situation, and she listened intently to Erin describe Annika’s situation, her hazel eyes focused and still.

When Erin finished relaying her story, she was almost in tears. Dr. Voncel retrieved a tissue from her satchel, went around the desk, and handed it to her. She put her hand on Erin’s shoulder for a moment, something rare for a Vulcan to do as they could often sense another’s emotions through touch.

She returned to her seat and was silent for a moment. When she spoke, there was calmness and gentleness to her voice. She would check with her colleagues to see if a child psychologist equipped to counsel Human children was available.

She advised Erin to enroll Annika in an after school class that taught Vulcan children logic and meditation. She explained that when born, Vulcans were just as emotional as most races, maybe even more so. That while Vulcan children learned much of their control of emotion from their parents and family, they also received instructions in logic and meditation techniques to center themselves and their emotions. There were several children of the staff and support staff here and they had obtained a qualified master to teach logic and meditation. Classes had already started, but she would personally talk to the Master about accepting Annika.

Erin voiced some concern that she did not want Annika to subdue her emotions to the extent Vulcans did. Dr. Voncel felt that Annika would just get a better grasp on handling her emotions and controlling them. That Erin was her main influence at home and as long as Erin displayed emotion, Annika would, while in that environment. She felt that while in public and around her Vulcan peers, she would not be prone to emotional outburst and would fit in better.

Erin took Dr. Voncel’s advice and enrolled Annika in the Logic classes. She had been in the class eight months now and Erin could see a difference. She was subdued in her emotions, more in public than at home. However, Erin did notice that she was not as prone to having temper tantrums and sulking when she didn’t get her way.

Annika had also picked up the formal Vulcan speech pattern of using few contractions when speaking Federation Standard. What bothered her though, was that Annika’s analytical abilities were a little too Vulcan. She would often use logic as an argument against what Erin wanted her to do. However, Erin reminded her who was boss and Annika couldn’t use logic to dispute that fact.

There were no more reports from Annika’s school that she was unruly and emotional. She now had several Vulcan friends, and had even invited them to her eighth birthday, which had been just a couple of weeks back. Birthdays were not celebrated on Vulcan, therefore, there was great interest by her five guests about the ’proceedings’, as one young participate put it. It was all a very subdued affair with none of the squealing, screeching, and running around caused by too much sugar from cake and ice cream. Instead, Annika and her guests spent their time putting together one of the three-dimensional puzzles that Erin had given her daughter as a gift. When it was time to blow out her birthday candles, Annika had to explain the meaning of candles and wishes. Then she added that it was all highly illogical, but it was performed, as it was custom. There were nods of agreement as there were a few ancient Vulcan customs that fit that category.

Erin and Dr. Voncel, or just Voncel, had become friends and would often lunch together and run errands to town together. Erin kept her updated on Annika’s progress. Voncel was accepting of Annika and patient, answering the many questions Annika pestered her with. Annika seemed to like her and would often regale Voncel with what she was learning or amusing anecdotes, which Voncel listened to attentively and often would comment on.

Erin was brought out of her reverie by the sound of a small gong. Master Tinil, who must had been close to two hundred years old, stood, and bowed his head, dismissing his students. They returned the bow and dispersed.

Annika saw her mother waiting in her usual spot and sedately walked up to her. She used to run up to her all excited and smiling, but now, she greeted Erin with a twinkle in her eyes and a small upturning of mouth. Erin thought that Annika did not want to display emotions in front of the other students. But, when she was home, Annika was very much Human, laughing and telling funny stories.

“How was your day Annika?”

“It was satisfactory, Momma,” Annika answered with a serious tone.

“And your lessons?”

“Very acceptable, Momma. I was one hundred percent correct in all my calculations for Algebra. And my science teacher stated I had an exceptional grasp of physics for someone of my age.” This last was said with a large amount of pride and a satisfied smile.

“That’s excellent, Annika. You will have to tell me what you learned about physics later.”

“Momma, will you prepare spaghetti for dinner tonight?”

Erin smiled. This was her daughter’s favorite dish. “Not tonight, Annika. I have invited Shonok to dinner.”

Annika frowned, and said with a touch of displeasure, “What is he preparing?”

It was customary for guests to prepare dinner for their hosts. The last time Shonok prepared dinner, Annika did not like it, and the expression on her face showed her distaste. She had refused to eat what was on her plate and Erin had made her apologize to Shonok before being dismissed to her bedroom. Shonok was a typical Vulcan about it, apologizing himself that the food was not to her liking.

“I don’t know.” Erin looked at her daughter and said seriously, “Annika, if you don’t like what he prepares, I don’t want you making ‘yuck’ faces. I want you to eat a few spoons or forks full. If he asks you how it was: You tell him it was good.”

Annika blinked and gave her mother an incredulously stare, before saying in surprise, “But, Momma, that would be dissembling.”

“You will be polite, Annika. It’s not nice to tell someone who has gone to a lot of trouble to cook for you that you don’t like what they prepared. It makes them feel bad.”

“But, Momma. That is illogical. He is Vulcan and would not feel bad.”

Erin rolled her eyes and lolled her head briefly to one side before saying, “Annika, Vulcans have feelings, too. They just don‘t show them. Tell him that it tastes…nutritious, yes nutritious. I’m sure whatever he prepares will be nutritious. Then you will not be dissembling, and you will be polite at the same time.”

Annika considered this for a moment and said more to herself than Erin, “It tastes nutritious.”

Erin smiled. She hoped ‘she’ didn’t have to use that line tonight.

xxx

Annika finished her dessert of candied tindar fruit, which was the flowing bud of a native form of prickly pear. She found the yellow, egg shaped fruit acceptable due to its slight taste of strawberries. She would have preferred having strawberries for dessert, even though they would be replicated ones and would not taste as good as the fresh ones she had when she lived on Earth.

“Are you finished, Annika?” Her mother inquired as she finished her own dessert.

Shonok had already finished and was in the kitchen to dispose of his dishes in the recycler.

“Yes, Momma. It was very good.”

“Why don’t you tell Shonok that? He is the one who prepared all the delicious food,” She said with a meaningful look at Annika, who knew what the look implied.

Dr. Shonok returned to the table and Annika said with Vulcan formality, “Dr. Shonok, The food you prepared was delicious. And, it was nutritious.”

Erin hid her smile behind her napkin.

“I am glad you approve,” He replied in an even voice.

Erin got up from the table and said, “Why don’t we all go to the living area.”

All three moved to the living area, Annika sitting on the couch next to her mother.

Shonok took the straight back chair on the other side of the coffee table across from them, forgoing the soft recliner.

Erin wrapped her arm around Annika’s shoulder and looked down at her upturned face. “Annika. Dr. Shonok and I are friends, as you know. Well, I like him very much, and he likes me. We have decided to marry.”

Annika leaned away from her mother, her features registering surprise, which reflected in her voice. “But, Momma what about Papa? You are married to Papa.”

“Annika. We have talked about this before. Papa isn’t coming back. You know that.”

Annika pulled out of her mother’s arm, flinging herself off the sofa, and exclaimed adamantly, “No! The Borg have him! We will go and get him!”

Erin had a stricken look, and answered sadly, “No, Annika. He’s not coming back.”

“He is! He is! I hate you! You left Papa with the Borg. I hate you!” Annika’s voice was a high- pitched screech of outrage.

Erin left the sofa and knelt on the floor trying to take Annika in her arms. The distraught child was now crying, and roughly drew herself from her mother’s grasp and screamed, “I hate you!” She looked balefully at a seemingly surprised Shonok as well and screamed, “I hate you, too!”

She ran to her room and flung herself on her bed, screaming in rage and pain, and cried out, “Papa. I’ll save you from the Borg. I’ll get a starship and go and find you.”

xxx

CHAPTER SIX

xxx

Annika stood uncomfortably in the large reception hall as well wishers for her mother’s wedding to Shonok, socialized. Her blue organdy and satin floor length dress made her itch and it was hot. She thought it was ‘illogical’ to wear such a garment.

Her mother told her she had a choice: Wear the dress or the ornate Vulcan robes that would itch twice as much and be twice as hot. She chose the dress.

She was also tired from standing; it seemed for hours, in a hot smelly temple, with nasty smelly incense burning that made her eyes burn and water.

She only knew a few people at the reception, mostly colleagues of her mother. Her Aunt Irene stood beside her and Annika held her hand as Irene talked to Dr. Voncel. Just about all of the other guests were Vulcan, and they wore robes of various muted shades. Annika thought them pretty. They did not look like they would itch like her momma said they would.

Her mother’s dress was from Earth, and Annika thought its floor length and Ivory coloring made her mother look like a queen from a fairy tale.

At first, Annika was angry that her mother was getting married. However, her mother had a long talk with her and again explained that even though she loved Papa, she had to let go of her grief and go on with her life. She told Annika that she too, had to let Papa go and get on with her life. She stated that letting go did not mean that she wouldn’t love Papa. But Papa would want them to be happy.

Her mother told her that Aunt Irene was coming and would take her back to Earth for the summer break, which meant that school was not in session for ten weeks. This was so her mother and Shonok could go on a ‘honeymoon’ and settle in together.

The thought of staying with Aunt Irene on Earth made Annika happy but she still was not entirely mollified. She had gone to school the day after her mother‘s talk, quiet and withdrawn. She isolated herself from her friends at recess. One friend, T’Asa, who was a couple of years older, approached and sitting down by her, asked her if she were ill.

She said she did not feel well as her mother was marrying Dr. Shonok. She could not understand why. It seemed illogical to her.

T’Asa had looked around and then whispered, “It is the Pon Farr.”

Annika looked at her quizzically and said, “What is the Pon Fire?”

T‘Asa whispered, “Do not talk so loud. Pon F-A-R-R. It is not to be discussed with others. Only adults talk about it, and then where children cannot hear.”

Annika whispered back, “Then how did you hear about it?”

If I go into my closest I can hear what is being discussed in the dining room. My parents sent me to my room and closed the dining room door. That means they are discussing something they do not want me to hear. I heard them discussing my Aunt and that she had the Pon Farr. Later, my parents had an errand and left, so I used my parent’s computer and accessed information on it. I only had time to read a small amount as my parents returned and I had to shut off the computer.”

What did it say?”

It occurs when one is an adult, and every seven years. They must mate, or they will die. It makes one illogical. That is why Shonok chose your mother as a mate and not a Vulcan. He has the Pon Farr and it has made him illogical.”

You said your Aunt had it?”

Yes, five months ago. She had to mate or die. You can go insane, also.”

Did she mate?”

Yes, she mated with her betrothed. She is fine now.”

This concerned Annika. She wondered if her mother would catch the Pon Farr from Shonok.

Can one catch the Pon Farr as they can the Bolian Flu?”

Perhaps, if they are an adult they can.”

I will tell my mother to go to the doctor. Perhaps there is something she could take that will prevent her from catching it.”

When her mother picked her up from logic class, Annika asked her if Shonok had the Pon Farr. Her mother got a shocked look on her face and said, “What?” Then told her they would discuss it when they got home.

Later, her mother explained to her that Pon Farr did have to do with mating and was something that was very private for Vulcans, and was not a subject to be discussed. She assured her that Shonok did not have Pon Farr, and that Pon Farr wasn’t contagious.

Her Aunt pulled her thoughts back to the present, asking if she needed to go to the restroom. She told her no. Her Aunt said she needed to go herself and for Annika to go and set down somewhere.

Annika saw a few tables with empty chairs around them and seated herself in one of the chairs. She started swinging her feet back and forth, as she watched her mother talking to guests. Her attention was caught by a scratching noise, and turning toward the noise, she saw a Vulcan male seated in a chair at the next table, looking at her, and then drawing on a large, paper pad.

He was the strangest Vulcan she had ever seen. He had long hair that was tied back in a ponytail, a small, pointed beard, and a mustache. Facial hair was rarely seen on Vulcans. He was dressed in the typical Vulcan robes though.

He looked at her and she could see that he was smiling. Not a big smile, but a smile nonetheless. He turned the pad over and faced it toward her. She saw that he had drawn her picture in colored charcoals.

She smiled, something she rarely did while out in public. He tore the picture out of the pad and motioned for her to take it. She got out of her chair and took the picture, studying it, then gave him a wide smile and said, “Thank you.”

“You are welcome, Annika,” he said with a slight smile.

She studied him, puzzled by the smile and that he knew her name. After all, she had never met him before. “How do you know my name?”

“I am Silvik. Shonok’s youngest brother. I have heard your name and I have met your mother. You look very much like her.”

She continued to study him, noticing that his eyes seemed to crinkle in the corners like humans did when they were happy or found something amusing. No. He was not like any Vulcan she had ever met.

She then looked at the sketchpad he had put on the table and said, “Do you have more drawings, and may I see them?”

“Yes. Here take this seat, and I will show you.” He indicated a chair by him. She took the seat and he opened the sketchpad and starting showing her the pictures he had drawn of the wedding party and guests. She could recognize her mother and Shonok, her aunt Irene, and another of herself holding her aunt’s hand.

She was in awe, clearly impressed with the drawings. “They are…are…excellent. Are you an artist?”

He smiled. “Yes, I am. I have a small abode by the River Khonzza. I spend my time drawing and painting the various life forms and landscapes in that region.”

He turned more pages and showed her sketches he had made of the wildlife where he lived, telling her stories behind each picture.

She would have liked to see more, and hear more stories, but her Aunt came and got her to take her to her mother before she and Shonok left for their honeymoon.

She looked at Silvik and said with Vulcan formality, “Thank you, Mr. Silvik, for showing me your drawings and telling me about them. It was nice to meet you.”

He took her hand in his and shook it, surprising her further. ‘You are very welcome, Annika. Please call me Silvik. I will bring more drawings with me when I visit my brother and his new family.”

Annika smiled. “When will you visit?”

“I visit him three times a year. It will be in the fall.” He gave the Vulcan salute. “Live long and prosper, Annika.”

Annika had not quite mastered the salute yet and had to put her fingers on her left hand together and take her other hand and separate the ring finger and middle finger. “Live long and prosper.”

xxx

CHAPTER SEVEN

xxx

Annika heard the gong sound that indicated her meditation session was at an end. She rose and bowed to the Master and gathering her carryall bag, slung it over her shoulder and headed for home.

She followed the walk and had just turned the corner out of the garden, when she heard a, “Hey, watch it.” and a figure skidded to a stop a yard away, a hover board shooting up from under their feet and the person adroitly catching it.

She looked, with some surprise, at a dark haired very Human looking girl, close to her in age. Perhaps a little older as she noticed the shape of small breasts beneath her short sleeve blue knit top.

They studied each other for a moment, Annika taking in the dark brown, curly hair, fair complexion with a smattering of freckles across a slightly pug nose, and green eyes. They were of the same height. However, Annika was tall for a twelve year old.

The girl smiled and said, “Whoa, you’re Human. You must be Dr. Hansen’s daughter. I’ve heard about you.”

Annika blinked in surprise and said, “Who are you?”

“Judith Kleinberg. My Dad instructs a course in theoretical physics and my mom creates advanced data and computer programs. We’ve been on Vulcan about three months and just moved to the Institute a couple of weeks ago.”

Annika recalled several weeks back, her mother talking at dinner about two Humans who would be starting at the Institute. “Yes. Mother did mention that the Institute hired two Humans. Are you from Earth?”

“No. I’m a Martian. I was born on Mars and we lived there before coming here. So, what’s your first name?”

“Annika.”

Judith gave a wide smile, which showed her dimples. “That’s a pretty name. How long have you been on Vulcan?”

“Four standard Earth years, six months, two weeks and one day.”

Judith giggled. “Anyone ever tell you that you talk like a Vulcan?” She looked at Annika’s Vulcan tunic and loose fitting pants. “Dress like one, too. People ever think you‘re a Vulcan?”

“No. No one has mistaken me for a Vulcan.”

“Well, you do talk like one. Do you think I‘ll start talking like that after I‘ve been here awhile?”

“I do not know. You may, if you attend a Vulcan school and take logic classes.”

“Nope. I attend the school at the Sol Embassy. There are twenty-two of us. Most are the children of diplomats. Only two are my age. Thirteen. Tania and Kevin. Tania is ok but Kevin is a bobo,” She said this last part accompanied by a ‘yuck’ face. Something Annika had not done in a while.

Annika had no idea what ‘bobo’ meant, but for some reason she didn‘t want Judith to know. She would look it up later.

“Do you reside in the new staff housing units?” Annika inquired.

“No. In the old section, lane 3, number 4.”

That was two lanes over from Annika’s house. ”I reside in lane 1, number 6.”

“Hey, that’s nova. We’re neighbors. I’m on my way home now. Care to come over and we can have a snack. With all this heat, I think I’d like a bowl of ice cream.”

Annika was intrigued and curious. She had little contact with Humans her age. The last time was when she visited her Aunt Irene some months back. This was when one of her male cousins, Eric, who was a couple of years younger, spent a few days visiting.

“That would be acceptable. I will need to stop by my house and wait another hour for my mother to come home.”

“Why not leave her a message. You can use our comm array. I have to call Dad anyway. You know how parents are,” Judith said with a roll of her eyes and added, “I have to check in with him or Mom every couple of hours now that school’s out.”

Annika agreed that she would do that, and the two headed for Judith’s home with the sound of Judith’s conversation running a mile a nano second.

xxx

CHAPTER EIGHT

xxx

Judith and Annika, or Jude and Nick, as they now referred to each other, danced the latest dance steps to the sounds coming from all corners of Annika’s bedroom. The sound dampeners were at maximum to keep the booming volume and raucous noise from insidiously invading the rest of the house. The room swirled in a dizzying array of color in sync with the music from the latest album by the Klingon and Human group, Deathstar.

Jude had received the music crystal for her sixteenth birthday, which was today.

In two weeks was Nick’s fifteenth birthday and Nick had invited Jude to go to Earth, where they would spend two weeks with Aunt Irene, and visit all the major cities.

Both girls were excited by the trip, Jude telling Nick to hit her mother up for credits so they could do some ‘damage’ shopping for clothes and things.

The song ended and Nick let herself fall on her back onto the mattress, breathing heavily.

Jude flopped down beside her and after a few moments of catching her breath, said, “Let’s go get something to drink. I’m parched. Something to eat, too.”

“Sure.” Nick jumped up pulling Jude with her and they headed for the kitchen.

When they entered, Jude saw with some dismay that Nick’s uncle Silvik was sitting on a stool at the bar, eating. The guy gave her the hee-bees, and had done so ever since she met him almost three years ago. He always visited his brother several times a year, staying for a couple of weeks.

Nick liked him, though. She had several pieces of his artwork hanging on the wall in her room. Mostly nature studies, but one was of a sketch he had done of Nick when she was eight.

He was a well known artist and sometimes traveled off world to art shows and gallery openings. He always brought Nick some souvenir from the places he had been.

He just wasn’t ‘right’ somehow. You would have never thought he was a Vulcan, except he had the pointed ears and slanted eyebrows. He smiled and sometimes chuckled. This was just too weird for a Vulcan.

Nick had told her he was a follower of some cult that believed Vulcans should show their emotions.

She watched as Nick programmed the replicator. She glanced over at Silvik and noticed him following Nick’s movements with his eyes. It looked; well, to put it bluntly, as if he was ’checking’ her out.

It was one thing for the boys at the Embassy school to ‘check’ Nick out when she took her to the Embassy dance last week. They were close to Nick’s age. And Nick was a very pretty girl. She was half a head taller than Jude was, and still growing. Nick had every guy at the school asking her to dance. Well, except for Charles and Darrel. They were hot for each other. Several of the girls asked her to dance, too.

She did dance with them, and a few tried to chat her up. They were not even put off by her Vulky way of acting.

Jude was used to Nick acting Vulky. It was always fun to see if you could get her to laugh and joke around. Nick had the most beautiful smile that she had ever seen. She had a good sense of humor too. You had to be sharp to catch it though. Her Dad said it was as dry as a Vulcan desert.

Jude wasn’t jealous that Nick had admirers. She had a few herself. She had to laugh though when some of her male classmates wanted to know Nick’s comm-number, because Nick didn’t have an interest in boys. She liked the girls. Jude thought if she herself were a lesbian, she would go for Nick. It would make a person proud to have a girlfriend like that. It did make her proud to have a best friend like Nick.

She had learned about Nick’s preference for girls about six months ago. Nick had told her she liked an older female classmate in her physics class at the Vulcan Science Academy. But, she couldn’t show it or people at the Science Academy would think her emotional and too Human.

Jude told her maybe it was just a crush and it would disappear. Jude had had a few crushes on a few of the older boys at her school. She told Nick she would get over it as soon as some other person who was cute came along.

Sure enough, about a month later, Nick said she had a crush on a new professor that taught her astronomy class. She pulled up the Academy’s register of professors on her computer and showed her the picture of Dr. T’Leris. Jude thought she was kinda cute, for an older woman. Nick said that Dr. T’Leris was impressed with her paper that she had done on dwarf brown stars, and she had received the best score in her class.

That was another thing about Nick. She was a genius, the smartest person Jude knew. She helped Jude with her Trigonometry homework when she was stumped. Nick had graduated Vulcan public school last year at fourteen and started taking classes at the Vulcan Science Academy and the Borg Institute.

Nick’s goal was to teach at the Borg Institute and set up research on the Borg transwarp coil. She told Jude that the Federation had worked on the concept of a transwarp coil using Borg schematics. However, it was not compatible and research had come to a standstill. Nick’s goal was to make one compatible. She said with her transwarp coil, people would be able to go and settle in other galaxies. There would be new wonders to explore and things that one could only dream about and imagine. Jude knew she could do it.

Jude wouldn’t graduate from high school until next year. She was smart herself and was planning to major in AI Theory and Applications, as well as Data processing. She already knew a lot about computer programming and the concepts behind Artificial Intelligence from her mom‘s work. She hoped to get a job at the Borg Institute when she graduated. Nick said she could work for her when she got her research program going.

Nick had finished at the replicator and carried a tray with two colas, chips, and bean dip over to Jude. “Do you want to eat here or in my room?”

Jude sure didn’t want to eat with Silvik watching. “Let’s eat in your room and listen to some music.”

“Fine.”

Jude waited until Nick passed her to follow. But before she did, she glanced at Silvik and saw his eyes following Nick. Jude felt a shudder go down her back.

xxx

CHAPTER NINE

xxx

There was an air of excitement about the Institute brought on by the events at Wolf 359. The Borg had invaded Federation space. One cube had crushed thirty-nine Starfleet ships, killed, and assimilated thousands of Starfleet Personnel. The Battle started out with few causalities as Starfleet Vessels had modulating shielding that the Hansen’s had engineered for Raven while in the Delta Quadrant. However, the Borg knew how to compensate. They had more than likely assimilated this knowledge from Magnus Hansen and, more recently, from Captain Jean Luc Picard.

The Federation had not been prepared, as they had not taken the Borg threat seriously. Dr. Erin Hansen was proven right. However, it was a hollow victory given the loss. She felt like Cassandra, the Trojan Princess and priestess who foretold Troy’s doom, only to have no one heed her warnings.

Now, she was in demand by the Federation Council wanting her ‘expertise’ on the Borg.

The Hansen-Shonok Institute was besieged with applicants wanting to attend. The different Federation worlds sent representatives wanting to grant the Institute money if they would accept their brightest students.

However, Dr. Hansen and the Institute’s Board of Directors maintained that they would remain an independent entity free from Federation and any other governmental involvement.

Currently the enrollment was at 3600 with sixty-four faculty members. The Institute would decide, based on merit, which students would attend. They would accept monies as donations, but no stipulations need be attached.

The Institute was no longer a voice crying in the Wilderness. It was now the voice of authority on the Borg.

Donations begin to flood in. There were plans on the drawing board to expand the campus and housing. In two years, the estimated student enrollment would more than double.

xxx

CHAPTER TEN

xxx

Three years after Wolf 359, Annika Hansen, now age nineteen and holding a Doctorate in Mathematics and Quantum Physics from the Vulcan Science Academy and a Doctorate in Borg Studies from the Hansen-Shonok Institute, was now accepted as a full Professor at the latter.

She taught both mathematics and Quantum Physics. Her students were receptive, and while teaching was satisfactory, her real interest was in research and development of Borg technology. Especially as pertained to the Borg transwarp coil.

She already had plans on the drawing board for laboratories and research facilities. Her first endeavor toward this goal was finding a starship suitable enough to meet the requirements of not only a research vessel but capable of being engineered to fit with a transwarp coil.

She had talked to her mother and Shonok about it. Shonok knew all about the Institute’s finances. He stated all the donations coming in were earmarked for expanding the campus and hiring and training new staff. However, he would talk to the finance department and see if any funds could be spared. Perhaps, she could find a used ship somewhere to purchase.

Two months later, he gave her the amount of credits that she could use in finding a ship.

xxx

The Starfleet work shuttle lightly touched down in the shuttle bay of the Soyuz class vessel, Valdez. Jude exited the shuttle with Annika close behind, followed by a Vulcan engineer named Stron, who her friend contracted to go over the various ships that would be up for auction. The Valdez was currently a part of the mothball fleet of Starfleet and located inside the massive storage station in orbit around Mars.

Four months after receiving funds for a ship, Annika had found information on the intergalactic web of the annual liquidation auction of Starfleet surplus, which was in another month. Old decommissioned ships and shuttles below a certain class were included in the auction. These were usually science vessels and some transport and supply vessels. Of course, they had been stripped of all armaments and weapons. Most would need major overhauling of the warp core, engines, and various other equipment and components.

They had arrived two days before the auction to take advantage of the pre-sale inspection. This was the second day. They stayed at one of the hotels, Jude recommended, named the Vista Inn. Jude and Annika shared a room and Stron had his own.

The first day they had only a few hours to look at the inventory. They had seen two ships, both of them out of the question due to the amount of overhauling they needed.

They had looked at another two this morning. One had potential: An old Oberth class vessel decommissioned some 42 years ago.

The Valdez, although of 24th century design, had been in use until twenty three years ago. Its warp core and engines, as well as computer system, and other operating systems, had been updated twenty nine years ago. It last saw service as a Cadet training vessel. The spec sheet indicated that it could obtain maximum warp of 8.2.

They made their way through the dusty shuttle bay. Their guide was a Starfleet cadet, named Soene, a Bolian. He was one of the many Starfleet cadets assigned as guides.

The ships up for auction were activated to full life support. They exited Valdez’s shuttle bay and proceeded down a corridor, their footsteps muffled by the carpeting. Even with life support functioning, the ship was eerily quiet except for the occasional creak and clink of metal expanding minutely due to the heated interior that warded off the absolute cold of space. Absent was the underlying hum of life pumping through the ship by its heart: The engine.

“Ehhew, this smells like those old monastery vaults under the Admin building at the Institute,” Jude groused and scrunched up her nose. “Remember that time we went in them and turned out our hand light to see how dark it was?”

“Yes, and you dropped the light and we could not see to find it,” Annika said dryly. “We had to get on our hands and knees and crawl around on the dirty and dusty floor until we located it. However, not before you banged my nose with your head and caused it to bleed.”

“Hey, it was your big nose that hit ‘my’ head.”

They stopped in front of the open doors of a turbo lift.

Jude grimaced. “You sure this thing is safe?”

“Jude, you have said that on each ship we have been inspecting,” Annika said.

“I just don’t want to end up at the bottom of some shaft, flattened out.”

Stron had removed his tricorder and ran it over the instrument panel. “My readings indicate that it is safe, Ms. Kleinberg.”

Jude looked at the engineer pointedly, and said facetiously, “Why, thank you…Mister Stron.” She had asked the Engineer to call her by her name Judith, or Jude. Ms. Kleinberg made her sound her mother’s age.

They got in the turbo lift to go the short ride to the engineering deck.

“Now, Mister Stron…we’re here and you can do your…thang,” said Jude with a smirk.

Cadet Soene and Stron waited until Jude and Annika exited the lift, the two women then stepping aside and allowing them to lead the way.

Jude watched Stron walking in front of her and said out of the side of her mouth to Annika, “Cute butt.”

Annika snorted in amusement and said, “Behave.”

“What fun is there in that?”

“We are not here to have fun.”

Jude sighed. “More the pity.” She then brightened and said, “Tonight, we‘re going to have fun at a little place I know in Mars Port called The Junction. Always good music and plenty of company, of all orientations. Maybe we can find you a hot mama.”

Annika lifted her left eyebrow and dryly said, “I think not.”

“Hey, you’re going, you promised if I came with you to Mars, we would go out one night, and I get to pick the place. Besides, you’re going to be my man-bait. You’ll step into the place and the men will be buzzing to you like bees to honey. I‘ll pick off a cute one for moi.”

“I will go. However, I will not be bait.”

Jude snorted. “You gonna put a sack over your head?” She looked pointedly at Nick’s amble breasts and smirked. “Or, over your body? Cause you can’t hide what you got, Nick. They‘ll be buzzing.”

They stepped into engineering and for the next two hours Stron and Annika checked over the warp core and engines.

Jude ran a diagnostic on the data system in engineering and used the engineering computers to access the computers ship wide. She ran a diagnostic on these too. Satisfied that they checked out, she announced, “Everything clear on the data systems. They should be able to analyze the warp core and engines.”

She moved to one side as Stron accessed the data entry pad. She looked at him a moment, admiring his tall height, broad shoulders, and typical Vulcan dark hair. Then there were his eyes. She thought them beautiful with the long dark lashes framing their rich brown amber color. She could see both intelligence and curiosity in their depths. And they conveyed something else, too. Warmth.

On their flight from Vulcan to Mars, she had talked to him about his work. His family’s engineering consulting firm employed him. They traveled all over the Federation working on different engineering problems as well as surveying and inspecting starships for prospective buyers.

He is one cute guy. Wonder if he’s married? Or, if his family adheres to the old custom and he has a betrothed.”

For the past 100 years, childhood betrothing was becoming less and less common. Many Vulcan parents now left the choice of mates to their offspring. This was brought about by broader contact with other species. Many marriages occurred well before a Vulcan’s first Pon Farr, which on average occurred when a Vulcan was in their sixth decade. Though there were occasion when it could occur earlier or later.

As Stron read the results of the various displays and diagnostics, he glanced at Judith and said, “You must possess a highly logical mind to be so proficient in your work with data.”

Judith smirked and wryly said, “Yeah. Hard to believe isn’t it?”

He didn’t say anything and his face remained neutral.

Judith looked at him and laughed when he didn’t reply, and said, “From the brow of Chaos springs forth Order, as Athena from the brow of Zeus.”

He regarded her with a quirk of his eyebrows, causing her to laugh again.

xxx

“I conclude, Dr. Hansen, that the Valdez is the better choice. As I stated previously, it is structurally sound and would require minimal investment into refurbishing and updating all systems,” Stron then presented his data padd to Annika.

She accepted it and put it on the small table surface where they were sitting, located in her and Jude’s hotel room. She inclined her head and said, “Thank you, Stron. I will read over your report later. I am inclined to agree with your assessment. Hopefully, we will be the high bidder at tomorrow’s auction.”

Jude pushed back her chair and stood, saying with a cheery voice and smile, “Now that business is over for the day…let’s get ready to Par-tee.” She did a little dancing shake of her body when she said this repeating, “Party, party, party.”

She then looked at Stron, who despite being Vulcan regarded her curiously, and she said, “Oh, and Stron, that includes you, too.”

She saw him raise his eyebrows, the universal sign of surprise. Even Vulcans did it. Before he could reply, she said, “I’ll need all the help I can get keeping the bees from swarming Nick.”

She heard her friend snort.

Stron asked, “Bees?”

“You’ll see what I mean when we’re at the nightclub tonight.”

He hesitated, apparently undecided.

Annika said, “Stron, you are not required to go.”

Jude put her hands on her hips and looked at Stron. “Okay, if you don’t want to go. But, I would really, really like for you to go with us.”

He looked at her for a moment and said, “I will go.”

xxx

Annika signed the necessary papers and gave the Starfleet clerk a draft for the payment. The Valdez was hers. Well, actually the Institute’s. However, she would be the person who would get the most benefit from the ship.

She gathered up the receipt, and other necessary paperwork, and joined Jude and Stron who were standing in the doorway of the Starfleet Office.

“Stron, I have deposited the necessary funds for you to hire a crew to bring the Valdez to Vulcan. Here is the access number for the account.” She handed him a PADD. “Contact me if you need assistance or have questions.”

“I shall do so, Dr. Hansen. I will start to employ the necessary crew tonight. I will contact you when we can be expected on Vulcan. I thank you for this opportunity to be of service to you, Dr. Hansen.”

Annika nodded and replied, “You are a knowledgeable engineer and have rendered exemplary service to me and the Institute. I look forward to working with you in the future.” She held up her hand in the Vulcan salute. “Live long and prosper.”

He imitated her actions. “Live long and prosper.”

He looked at Judith who stood beside Annika. “Live long and prosper…Judith.”

Jude smiled and returned the salute. “Live long and prosper, Stron.” She then added, “See ya on Vulcan.”

xxx

Jude stood on the observation deck of the Morning Star, a passenger ship heading home to Vulcan. She looked at the passing stars. Annika joined her.

After a minute of watching the passing streaks of light, Jude said, “I was thinking…maybe I ought to go back to Mars and assist in bringing the ship home. You know, make sure the computers and data systems are performing correctly.”

Annika looked at her friend’s reflection in the transparent aluminum view window. She met her friends eyes and quirked her lips into a subtle smirk. “I do not believe that is necessary. I am sure Stron will employ a data technician.”

“Yeah, but…think of all the credits you can save.”

“Ah. So, you wish to save the Institute credits. That is your motive?”

Jude looked at Annika‘s reflection and read the amusement on her friends face. “You know it’s not.”

Annika then turned from the reflection and looked at Jude, who returned her gaze. “It is Stron. You are attracted to him.”

“Yes. I think he’s also…interested. Of course, he’s very Vulcan about it. Still, he did inform me he wasn’t married or betrothed. And, he did ask about my studies and plans for the future. You know, when a Vulcan is curious about someone, it usually indicates they’re interested.”

“Jude. You were the one to ‘interrogate’ him on his marital status. And this was after you got him intoxicated.”

“How did I know he couldn’t hold his chocolate soda? It was only one drink,” Jude said defensively.

“You have lived among Vulcans long enough to know that their physiology reacts to chocolate as an intoxicate.”

Jude protested, “Hey. I know that. I was just buying a friend a drink. So, space me. You know, I bought you one and it would be impolite not to get him one. It wasn’t my intention of getting him intoxicated. It was only one measly soda.”

When Nick raised her left eyebrow and gave her a pointed look, Jude said sheepishly, “I just wanted him to…relax a little. Anyway, what do you think? You read Vulcans pretty well. You think he might be interested?”

Annika thought about the conversation she heard between Jude and Stron at the nightclub last night. By the facial movements and expressions, made more readable by his consumption of chocolate, and his questions to Jude, she thought so.

“Yes. I did get the impression that he may be interested. I have no problem if you should return to Mars and assist in bringing…Raven, to Vulcan.”

Raven. I like it.” She hugged Annika. “Thanks Nick.”

“However, I must caution you to forgo plying him with chocolate. After all, I do want Raven brought home in one piece.”

xxx

CHAPTER ELEVEN

xxx

Annika moved her head from side to side to lessen the tension in her neck muscles. Her classes were over but instead of returning home she decided to finish planning her lessons for next week. Besides, Jude had contacted her this morning stating that they would arrive on Vulcan later that day. After securing Raven in the berth on Ta’hona, one of Vulcan’s orbiting civilian space stations, she and Stron would meet Annika here, at the office, and they would go out to dinner.

The expected time would be around 19:15. She checked the chronometer on the wall. It was 19:08.

She went back to work and a couple of minutes later heard her pneumatic door open and close.

Without looking up she said, “I trust Raven is secured?”

She heard muffled footsteps approach, and she glanced up, finding herself staring into the eyes of Silvik. “Silvik?”

He stopped some three feet away, staring intently at her with glazed and bloodshot eyes, his hair disheveled, and his robes hanging lankly on his body. He was not due to visit for another two months, and she became alarmed and stood. “Silvik, are you ill? Why are you here?” The concern inflected in her voice.

“I wish to declare Kun ut so’lik. Will you accept?” His breathing was harsh and his eyes devoured her.

Her heart stopped for an instant in surprise and shock. Then his meaning struck her mind as if they were a bolt of lightning, blistering it with the words, Pon Farr.

She drew her breath in sharply and said, “I must decline, Silvik. You are betrothed to another. She is--”

He screamed, spittle flying, “NO! It is you I want! It is you I will have as my mate!”

Annika took a step back, only to have Silvik step toward her, causing her to back away behind her chair, putting it between them.

She said sharply, “Silvik, you will leave now! Computer--”

However, before she could issue the command to contact security he had slammed his fist upon the small desktop comm, crushing it.

She moved quickly around the desk saying in a panicked voice, “Computer, contact security,” on the chance that her comm was still functional.

She bolted for the door and was almost out when he grabbed her roughly from behind and slung her back in. She hit her desk and fell to her knees. She screamed and tried to rise.

He was kneeling before her and grabbed her roughly by the shoulders, slamming her back against the desk.

“You are my mate, Annika. You shall see. You will want me as I want you.”

She pushed the palm of her right hand hard into his chin, smacking his head back and tried to break his grasp. This only enraged him and he shook her hard, pounding her against the desk, where the back of her head hit, causing her to see flickering lights swimming in her dimming vision. She screamed again, feeling it tear her throat as some primitive beast fighting to free itself, acting on instinct alone.

She felt his hands on either side of her face. ‘The mating bond. You must fight this. Do not let him meld with you.’ She felt the push of his mind against hers. She must hold. She must not break.

His thoughts pummeled her mind over and over, until she could no longer withstand the battering. She felt her will power weaken and his thoughts stormed across the barricades.

Visions flooded her mind in a mighty rush, as a damn breaking. The wavering heat of a distant desert, a child crying and cold in the desert night, the growl of a le-matya. Sinister shadows slithered, twined, and hid monstrosities. Fear and thirst. Emotions of rage against parents and convention, against those of your own kind. Desire and lust, arousal so intense it was an ache. A vision of herself as Silvik saw her, naked to the night, bathed in starlight and heat lightning.

Then there was a wrenching pain in her head and behind her eyes. And a rending and tearing of the visions, leaving behind only the remnants of fear and fire. She heard a voice somewhere in the distance calling her. However, the roaring fire in her mind was too loud and she could hear no more.

xxx

Jude and Stron made their way down the cool, blue carpeted corridor toward Nick’s office. One of the office doors opened and Professor Serak exited.

Jude greeted him, “Good afternoon Profes--” Her words were stopped by an agonizing scream further down the hall.

“NICK!”

Stron raced down the hall before her, his Vulcan reflexes faster than hers. She and Professor Serak were right behind.

She got to the door just in time to see Stron jump on a kneeling figure, Silvik. The two started to fight, rolling, and struggling.

Nick was falling from a sitting position on the floor to her side. Jude ran to her and threw her body across her friends to protect her from the struggling men. She heard an enraged male scream and glanced around to see Silvik choking Stron. His back was to the door and Professor Serak quickly walked up and pinched his neck. Silvik fell and Stron got to his feet quickly going over to Jude and Annika.

Professor Serak stated calmly, “I will call security and medical and return immediately.” He had seen the crushed comm on Annika’s desk, and quickly exited her office.

Jude felt a still Nick beneath her. She got up on her knees and looked closely at her friend to see how injured she was. Annika whimpered and then drew herself into a fetal position.

Jude shook her shoulder lightly, and said pleadingly, “Nick… Annika. Please.”

Stron touched her lightly on the shoulder and said in a steady voice, “Judith. I believe he has mind-melded with her. He is in Plak Tow. He is…insane. I could…sense it, when we fought.”

She looked into Stron’s face, hers stricken. “What does that mean? Will she be okay? She won‘t…go into Pon Farr, will she?” Judith had heard of Humans mind melding with Vulcans in Pon Farr and going into it themselves.

“I cannot say. Help should arrive soon. I would advise you not to touch her. In her current state she may think you are her… attacker.”

She looked at him and noticed some emotion ghosting across his face, and he appeared slightly disturbed. What about you, Stron. Will you be okay?”

“Yes. The effect of…sensing his emotions, are disturbing. However, it has caused no lasting effects.”

Judith wanted to touch her best friend, but was afraid. She did not want to cause her further trauma.

Professor Serak was back. He went over to Silvik and knelt close, staring at him intently but not touching him.

A few moments later they heard the sounds of quickly running feet down the hall and knew that help had arrived.

xxx

CHAPTER TWELVE

xxx

The setting sun was blood red. The color of her blood and not the blood of those nourished here for untold millenniums.

The Traveler was a stranger here. She did not belong. The heat had stripped her strength and her thirst was great. However, the sun was retreating beyond the red mountains. Her rays were dying red embers.

The shadows of the nearby rocks stretched purple across the sands to embrace her: Cool fingers to sooth the fever on her brow. Yet her thirst remained.

The breeze caressed her face with the heavy scent of water. Yes, a small oasis in the desert. There among the shadows she caught a silver flash. Water.

She walked onward to a small pool, its edges a mother to reeds and grasses. She walked around the edge to the source, a small flow of water from the rocks. She stepped into the shallow pool among the reeds and walked to the rocks. The cool water was a balm to her tired feet. She caught the trickle from the rocks into her hands and drank. The taste was sweet nectar on her tongue and a cool river in her throat. However, she still thirsted.

She heard a noise. The crunching sound of gravel and the rub of pebbles. She lifted her eyes above her to the red rocks, turning purple in the twilight. A dark female form stood, wrapped in the shadows.

Only her eyes were seen. Dark molten eyes that held a secret. Her dark robe rippled and whispered around her in the cooling evening breeze.

The Traveler was wary of this woman. However, the woman’s eyes held her, and made her feel an inner fire.

Are you the guardian spirit of this spring? Have I trespassed?”

The woman stepped up close, her face still in shadow, and ran the back of her hand along the Traveler’s cheek, the touch soft and tender.

No. I am the spirit of fire and have come to quench your thirst.”

The Traveler was puzzled. “How can fire quench my thirst?”

The woman kissed her and the Traveler felt the fire of desire in her belly and between her thighs. “Our fires will consume each other and you will no longer thirst.”

xxx

“What you are saying is…you don’t know what damage she has to her mind. It’s been two days now and you know nothing except that she is in Pon Farr. Not just Pon Farr, but that verging on Plak Tow. How long until you know something more concrete?” Erin’s voice was steel and her eyes sharp blue blades as she stared intently at the physician.

Dr. Paran, answered, his voice calm and even, “As I informed you, the neural-cortical scans do show irregularities that have never been encountered in a Human mind that has gone through a mating bond. We do not know if this is a chemical balance caused by Pon Farr.”

Erin was familiar with Pon Farr, having married a Vulcan and gone through it with him through his mating bond. The last occurrence being some two years back. She however, was mated and the Pon Farr was effectively controlled. But this…she feared for her daughter.

He showed Erin her daughter’s brain wave scans on the view screen. Jude stepped up beside her as well as Dr. Voncel. Shonok stood back his gaze intent on the screen.

Dr. Paran put up another pattern, and then a third.

“This is your daughter’s neural scan of the areas affected by Pon Farr and this is a normal neural scan of a Human during Pon Farr. There has never been a recorded case of Humans in the advanced stages of Pon Farr…Plak Tow. That is because once Pon Farr passes, it does not reoccur as it does in Vulcans. Unless the Human comes into contact with a Vulcan in Pon Farr and another mating bond is initiated. However, they will not reach the stage of Plak Tow.”

He moved the two together. You could see they were not in sync.

He removed the Human one and superimposed the third one over Annika’s scan. There were some differences, but in certain wave patterns, they matched.

Jude heard Voncel say, “Amazing,” and glancing over to her saw that her expression showed both surprise and interest. Jude worried then. If what they were seeing could cause a Vulcan to show emotion…

Dr. Paran said, “This one is the neural pattern of a Vulcan in Plak Tow.”

“What does that mean, Dr. Paran? She will die unless she mates?”

“No. Fortunately, she is responding to the Human neural-psychotropic medication prescribed by Dr. Gary Randall. He is monitoring her response and carefully administering the amount needed. It has actually lessened her symptoms and is continuing to do so. If she were Vulcan, she would need to mate. Basically, certain areas of her brain have been ‘imprinted’ with the neural-patterns that control the mating cycle in Vulcans.”

“Shouldn’t we consult with a Human neurologist?” Erin asked.

“Dr. Randall has contacted Dr. Gloria Stewart at Starfleet Medical. She has agreed to view the evidence we have to date and to advise me. Dr. Randall is currently in a conference with her over the comm network. He will keep us updated.”

Voncel said, “Dr. Paran. There have been, similar cases on Vulcan were one can imprint their neural patterns on another. Case study 205 in 2243, study 580 in 2310, and 749 in 2436. Did you do a neural-cortical scan on Silvik before he died?”

“Yes. His pattern fit those of an ‘Imprinter‘. It is too premature to draw conclusions pertaining to Dr. Annika Hansen. We must wait until she is no longer under the influence of Pon Farr, and then we can ascertain through neural-cortical scans, and perhaps a mind meld, if a permanent change has occurred.”

“Damn it, what are you talking about, a permanent change?” Erin was losing her patience now.

Voncel said, “There have been cases, though very rare, of Vulcans possessing the ability to alter another’s brain chemicals and synapses during a mind meld and to open neural pathways. The first recorded incident was in 2243. There have been reports of other incidents throughout the centuries, but these were not verified or recorded.

“There is a certain segment of the Vulcan population which does not have telepathic abilities and are also unable to mind meld or initiate a mating bond. They do not go into Pon Farr. A male, age 64, was in this segment. His betrothed went into Pon Farr. When she initiated the mating bond, her mind opened up his neural pathways that contain and control telepathic abilities and imprinted his neural centers to produce certain chemical actions in his brain. He went into Pon Farr. This then occurred every seven years.

“He also gained the ability to mind meld with others. His brain patterns were those of the majority of Vulcans. The changes were permanent. This has occurred in three other documented cases. There are no known incidents involving other species.”

Dr. Paran added, “Silvik’s neural waves and scans show the same pattern as those that had the ability to ‘imprint’ and open up the neural pathways in those that do not have the abilities of most Vulcans.

“Also, he was in the last stages of Plak Tow. I believe that is why your daughter’s Pon Farr is advanced, and is more severe than if it were the first occurrence of Pon Farr. Apparently, this was Silvik’s second Pon Farr. It is a fact that if Vulcans do not mate at their first Pon Farr, they must mate when their second occurs are they will enter Plak Tow and die, or go insane.

“I theorize that his ability to imprint is why we are seeing anomalies in your daughter’s cortical scans.”

Erin stood in shock for a moment, before shouting, “You’re telling me that he made her brain essentially Vulcan!”

Shonok put his arm around his wife. Jude knew it must have been excruciating for him to touch her and feel her emotions.

Dr. Paran answered, “No. Her brain is not Vulcan. There has been some altering of her patterns in certain areas that do match those of Vulcans, however, we must be careful here and not draw conclusions. She is Human. This may pass after Pon Farr.”

He paused and then continued, “I read her medical records and viewed her cortical scans done in routine exams in the past. The analyses done over the years indicate that she has an increased amount of synaptic activity in those areas that control telepathic and psychic abilities.”

“Yes. I am aware of that. As does mine. We both possess latent abilities.”

“When compared to her neural scans done now, these areas show these synaptic pulses to have increased even more and a change in pattern. It is possible that her abilities will no longer be latent, Dr. Hansen. We will not know until she comes out of Pon Farr.”

Erin started to cry and Shonok held her.

Jude asked, “How long before she comes out of Pon Farr?”

“At the rate the medications are working, my conclusions are in another two days.”

“May I see her?”

“You are close to her are you not?”

“Yes, we have been best friends for almost eight years.”

“I would advise against it. If she harbors a strong emotional attachment to you that may be beyond those of friendship, she may be compelled to try and bond with you.”

Jude was uncertain. She knew Annika loved her as a friend and had never indicated there was more than friendship, but she couldn‘t be sure. “I thought you said the sedatives were controlling that.”

“They have lessened the physical affect, but her drive to mate is still present.”

Erin came up to Jude then. “I’ll tell her when I see her that you are thinking about her.” Erin hugged her then. In a way, Erin did not want Judith to see Annika now. She knew it would disturb her to see her friend fighting against the restraints, restless and feverish, and in and out of lucidity.

Erin had been with her almost around the clock and the toll was showing. The not ‘knowing’ was a constant gnaw of worry and anxiety.

She held Jude by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. “In days to come she will need you Jude.”

“I’ll be there for her.”

xxx

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

xxx

Annika sat stiffly in the examining chair, feeling hollow, her mind bruised and sluggish, and her body weak. Her Pon Farr had burned out ten days ago, but something was wrong. She hoped this conference held some answers.

It had been two weeks since Silvik’s attack. However, the nightmares continued. Silvik’s nightmares. Not only that, but emotions bombarded her. Not her emotions but those of others. She could not stand to be touched, to feel the emotions of others. Her mother’s love and worry. Jude’s love and concern. It was all too much to bear, too much to…feel. The hurt in their faces when she shrank from their touch wounded her. She no longer wished to feel. To hurt.

Her mother was conversing with Dr. Gloria Stewart, from Starfleet Medical, her voice full of concern. “If you and Dr. Paran think this will help, and Annika consents…” she turned to her daughter, “Annika. Did you understand?”

She had to focus, to draw together the fragments of thought. After a moment she said, “Dr. Paran believes that a healer from the Vulcan Medical Institute can…help.”

“Yes. With a mind meld.”

“Will it take Silvik away? Will it remove his…nightmares?” Annika asked in a stilted voice.

Dr. Paran answered, “A trained healer can use a mind meld to erase memory and also diagnose cortical problems. Dr. Stewart and I believe this will be beneficial to you, Dr. Hansen.”

Annika looked at Dr. Stewart. Her dark brown face radiated warmth and concern. She had come to Vulcan to help her. Annika would trust her opinion. “Dr. Stewart?”

“It is a documented fact that an experienced healer can erase memories and also diagnose cortical problems. I do believe it will be beneficial.”

She took a deep breath and looked at Dr. Paran. “Very well. I consent.”

xxx

Healer T’Pai regarded the young Human woman with interest. In her almost one hundred and seventy nine years as a healer at the Vulcan Medical Institute, she had only mind melded with twenty-eight non-Vulcans. Twelve of those Human.

She had familiarized herself with this patient’s medical records. It was intriguing. All the medical testing and neural-cortical scans indicated this Human would be the first documented case of a non-Vulcan having their minds imprinted by a Vulcan ‘Imprinter’. Not only imprinting Vulcan neural patterns onto a Human brain and changing biochemical reactions, but also opening and stimulating the neural pathways that controlled latent psychic and telepathic abilities.

This was uncharted territory. She would be the first to meld with a mind so altered. In a way, it was an honor this young Human was granting her. She would learn much that could further advance knowledge of not only this phenomenon, but perhaps give better insight into the complexity of the Vulcan mind.

The young woman, Annika, knew that someone knowledgeable with the mind meld should be present to intervene if the meld went awry. She did not want Dr. Paran. Perhaps it was a matter of trust. She chose a family friend, Dr. Voncel, who had known her since childhood.

T’Pai addressed her patient, who was regarding her intently, “Trust is the paramount issue to a successful meld, Annika. Trust that I will not harm you, only help you. I am a healer and my profession is to heal. Are you prepared?”

Annika nodded her head. “Proceed.”

T’Pai placed a hand on each side of Annika’s head. Her fingers spread along the cheeks, onto the forehead, and into the hairline. Annika heard the words, “Your mind to mine. Your thoughts to mine.”

Annika felt a gentle caress to her thoughts, her mind. “Trust me, Annika.” She sensed the cool and calming presence of another. The touch caused her thoughts to flow in slow motion. Her sixth birthday and setting on her father’s knee while he read her a story. Her mother, laughing and swinging her around and around in a dizzying dance. Jude and eating ice cream. The Borg. Her father gone. The thoughts raced now, a strobe flashing at light speed in her memory. The pain and the joy colliding and merging. Fear, a le-matya’s snarl. Dark and insidious shapes in the desert, demons and devils, a child’s cry in the desert: Silvik crying in the desert. No. No. No. A blinding light…the blue sky and green grass of Earth and the ripe sweet taste of strawberries.

xxx

Annika’s hand was shaking as Voncel handed her a glass of water and lightly touched her shoulder for a quick moment. Annika could feel her concern. She took a sip and handed the glass back to Voncel.

T’Pai had looked long into her eyes after the meld. Both accessing her, and yes, comforting her.

T’Pai had turned then and went to the door. A few seconds later, Dr. Paran, Dr. Stewart, and her mother entered.

T’Pai announced, “The meld is complete.” She turned her attention to her patient and inquired, “Annika, Silvik is gone. I have erased that part of him that lodged in your mind. Is it not so?”

Annika thought. She remembered Silvik, her uncle by marriage. He was an artist. She remembered he had tried to form a mating bond with her and that he did something to alter her mind. But nothing more.

“There is just the memory of him, who he was, and that he tried to mate with me.” She felt rage then that he should try to do that, and closed her eyes, feeling blood infuse her face. ‘Why am I so angry? He is dead.’

“Thank, God,” her mother cried with relief, going to Annika to hug her.

But the touch was too much; Annika could not take the emotions of another. She drew back and hissed, “Do not touch me.”

“Annika?” Her mother drew away looking at her in both shock and hurt. She had hoped the meld would ease Annika’s recent aversion to touch from another.

Annika swallowed hard and hung her head in shame. “I am sorry, mother. When you touch me--I feel your emotions.” She looked at T’Pai. “It is permanent is it not? The changes? The imprinting?”

T’Pai said, “Yes. My meld revealed that your mind has been permanently imprinted.”

Erin cried, “Oh, no.” Her face a mask of shock.

Before anyone else could ask more questions, Annika asked, “Tell me, Healer, what does this mean, and what can I do to adjust?”

“You are aware already that like Vulcans, you have the ability to touch another and sense their emotions. You had strong latent psychic abilities and Silvik’s meld, and imprinting, has opened up this ability. It will not go away.

“You are also aware this is emotionally distressing to you. These changes have heightened your own emotions. Your rage was palatable to me, even without touch, when you spoke of Silvik. What other abilities you have, is unknown. It may be this ability alone. Or you may have the ability to mind meld with another.

“While you have had some training and meditation in controlling your emotions, I think it would be beneficial for you to go to one of the more advanced schools of meditation and mind discipline to learn to effectively control your emotions as well as your response to the emotions emanated by another through touch.

“If you do have the ability to mind meld, this too will be developed, and you will be taught to utilize it in a beneficial way. This, I believe, you must learn, as it relates to another…permanent change in your biochemistry and synaptic patterns from the imprinting. It is of a private nature and if you wish, I will speak only to you about this.”

There was only one thing that a Vulcan would feel was so private that one would not want to discuss in front of others.

“Pon Farr.”

“Yes.”

Erin exclaimed in anguish, “No.”

Annika looked pointedly at her mother, feeling her emotions without touch. “Mother. Please. If you cannot control your…outburst then I must ask you to leave.”

Her mother bit her lip and tried to remain calm.

Annika turned her attention back to T’Pai. “Proceed, Healer.”

“My meld indicates that the imprint also impacted those areas that control reproduction and hormones related to reproduction. It is very similar to the synaptic patterns found in Vulcans. I believe that there is a strong possibility that you will go into Pon Farr again. Since you are Human, I cannot predict when.”

Hearing this, Erin had to flee the room in obvious distress not wanting to add to her daughter’s distress. She would get Voncel to relay to her what information she would miss.

Dr. Stewart asked, “There is no way to reverse any of this?”

T’Pai answered, “I do not know. She is Human and not Vulcan. However, be aware, the imprint is not something that will disappear. The imprint is essentially Vulcan. That is why I believe she will experience Pon Farr again.”

She looked at Annika again. “Your biochemical traces in these areas indicate that you did experience a previous Pon Farr. I understand that this was treated effectively with Human psychotropic medications. It may be that if it does occur again, you can successfully control the symptoms.

“However, if your biochemical and synaptic response follows that of an unmated Vulcan’s second Pon Farr, then this treatment may not be effective, or any other treatment. You have but one recourse. Mate. In order to do this, you must learn to mind meld. If you are untrained and attempt a mating bond, you may damage yourself and the one you are melding with.”

Annika let out a forceful gush of breath through her nose. “Mate or die?”

T’Pai answered. “Yes. I would make arrangements to find a suitable mate should, and before, Pon Farr occurs again.”

xxx

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

xxx

Jude set on the edge of Nick’s bed facing her friend, who was sitting in the chair at her small computer desk some four feet away.

“I am not sure when I will return. No more than two years, perhaps less,” Annika said wearily, the dark smudges under her eyes and sadness of her features were a testament of the strain she was under.

“Will you contact me while you’re away?” Jude felt like crying. But knew this was the wrong thing to do, as it would be excruciating for Nick. Since Silvik’s forced mind meld some three weeks ago, Nick could not bear the touch of another or the display of strong emotions. Her emotions were volatile, and she seemed unable to control them.

Annika dropped her eyes from those of Jude. “No. The monastery I have chosen is cloistered. Outside…influences would interfere in the training.”

“I will miss you my dearest friend. My sister.” She had never been separated from her best friend for more than a few days. Now, Nick was going away, essentially to isolate herself from family and friends. It was necessary she said. She must learn to bring her heightened emotions under control and adjust to the changes in herself. Jude knew this is what the healer, T’Pai, recommended. Annika had told her all that T’Pai had said and all that her doctor’s knew. There was no ‘cure’. She would be forever changed.

Annika looked at her with sad eyes. “And, I you. You have been my anchor, Jude. I thank you for…everything. And…for your offer.”

Jude knew to what Nick meant in her last statement. When she had found out that she would more than likely go through Pon Farr again and possibly die if she did not mate: Jude had said she need not worry, she would be her mate. Even though she was not attracted to Nick in that way, she did love her fiercely and would not let her die. Nick had declined her offer, saying she had left it to her mother to find a suitable mate for when, and if, the need should arise.

Jude had plans on talking to Erin later and making sure Erin knew it couldn’t be just any woman. No, Nick deserved the best. They would have to meet with the Judith Kleinberg seal of approval.

The pain in Nick’s eyes made it hard for Jude to control her response. She swallowed hard to keep from crying, but her eyes watered.

Annika stood. “I must prepare now.”

“Do you need help packing?” Jude did not want to go. She feared Nick would somehow walk out of her life and come back no longer the Nick she loved.

“No. I will take very little.” Annika looked at her with eyes full of sorrow. “I want to hold you Jude--just for a moment.”

Jude cried then, she couldn’t help it. “For as long as you want.”

Annika stepped up and put her arms around her, squeezed and let go, stepping back. Tears now fell from her eyes, and her voice chocked as she said, “Good bye, my sister. Shalom.”

Jude replied with an ache and catch in her voice, “Until we meet again, my sister. Shalom,” and turned to go.

xxx

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

xxx

Sakal removed his hands from Annika’s face. The meld was over. He watched as the Human woman opened her eyes and focused. She looked at him then, and he could see that she was aware.

“Annika. I have seen your mind. You have made much progress. Your thoughts are ordered and you have controlled your emotions. I say, controlled your emotions. They are not submerged to the extent that a Vulcans would be. It would perhaps reach that state had you many years to devout to the discipline. However, what you have gained is sufficient. Your willpower and discipline or strong. These are your shield. Let logic be your sword.”

Annika nodded in acknowledgement. She had been here eighteen months. Today, she would find out if she was ready to meld her mind to another’s. She smothered the small pricks of apprehension. It was illogical. Either she would be ready or she would not.

“My meld also saw that you are capable of performing a mind meld. I shall instruct you, but not today. It is time for supper. Eat. And tonight, meditate. This will prepare you. At the mid morning chime, I will begin the preparations.”

Annika nodded. “I understand, Master Sakal.” She turned and moved silently and serenely, her gray robes whisking across the ancient smooth stone floor and down the long hall echoing with the sound of a small gong, announcing the evening meal.

xxx

There is only the flame burning away all thought. No emotion, no turmoil. Only peace. Emotion is as a wild Sehlat’s footprint upon the desert sand. The east wind erases them, leaving behind only the smooth sand.

So shall logic erase emotion, leaving behind reason and order in the mind.

xxx

“Your thoughts to mine. Your mind to mine.” She felt the thoughts of another, ordered and logical. She slipped pass and saw through another’s eye events of the past, faces of friends and family, the birth of a first child. She touched these thoughts quickly letting them run through her fingers as grains of sand. She searched on for that which was hidden. Yes, there. This is the one. Really quite mundane. Not some great event that would affect your life or decide the future. It was the act of picking a blossom from the Ka’hala bush, putting the bloom to your face to smell the fragrance and having a bee, hidden within the blossom, sting your lip.

She withdrew then, gently, letting the meld slide away.

She looked at Sakal’s acolyte and said, “T’Kyea, beware the Ka’hala blossoms, they may hide a sting.”

T’Kyea placid features did not change. She looked at Master Sakal and nodded.

Sakal said, “You may go, T’Kyea.”

This had been Annika’s eleventh meld over the past five months.

Sakal turned his attention to her. “Annika, you are the first who is not Vulcan to have the ability to mind meld. Were I not Vulcan, I would perhaps feel pride at what has been accomplished.”

She sensed some amount of humor. Very dry Vulcan Humor.

He said, “I thank you for allowing me to instruct you.”

“Master, I thank you for teaching me. I owe you much.”

“You owe me nothing. It is my vocation. You will leave us soon. The path of Surak is not an easy one, even for Vulcans. Be diligent Annika. For you especially, because you have not been taught logic and emotional sublimation from birth, emotion is the snare hidden beneath the sand. The step you think is safe is that which trips the snare. Remember, your willpower and discipline are your shield. Logic is your sword.” He held his hand in the ancient salute. “Live long and prosper, Annika.”

She returned the salute, “Live long and prosper, Master.”

Tomorrow, after twenty three months and twelve days she would leave this sanctuary. Her hiding, and healing, was over. She would go home and hope to avoid the snares.

xxx

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

xxx

Jude felt her heart flutter, her breathing was fast and shallow. Nick was home. She got a comm call late last night, after retiring to bed, from Erin that Nick arrived, unannounced. Jude was still in bed and answered the call on audio only due to her disheveled appearance.

Jude felt relief. She had not heard from her friend in almost two years. Her absence was a hollow hole in her heart. Not even her friendship with Stron could fill it. Relief soon turned to concern when she inquired as to ‘how is she’. She again felt concern and anxiety at recalling the conversation.

There was silence for a moment and Jude had a panicked feeling of dread. She wanted to rush right over but Erin said Annika told her she was tired, and retired almost immediately, to her room.

Erin replied cautiously, “She has changed, Jude.”

In what way?” she had asked.

I guess it’s to be expected. She was, after all, in a Vulcan monastery for almost two years. I think some of her…mannerisms may pass after she has been back for a while.”

Mannerisms? You mean as in Vulcan mannerisms don’t you?” Nick had already had a certain ’Vulcan’ mannerism and control, that is, before that Silvik thing. Now, Jude dreaded the answer.

Yes. Very much Vulcan. Very much controlled emotionally. This of course, may be because she is tired and her return is just recent. I just don’t know.”

She could hear the concern and heartbreak in Erin’s voice. There was silence and Jude sighed. “I’ll be over tomorrow to see her. Say, ten hundred hours.”

She should be up by then. And, Jude, I did not have a chance to talk to her about…Voncel. I plan on doing that first thing in the morning.”

Soon after Annika left for the monastery, Dr. Voncel had approached Erin and said that she wished to be Annika’s betrothed. She had given Erin many reasons why she would be the logical choice. After hearing Voncel’s logical arguments, Erin agreed as long as Annika was agreeable.

Jude had learned about this a few days later when she broached the subject with Erin of finding Nick a mate. She had offered to assist in searching for a suitable mate for her friend. She had laughingly informed Erin that she had a long line of female relatives who were Matchmakers and she would be carrying on a family tradition.

She was floored when Erin said she had found a suitable mate. Voncel.

Jude knew that Erin and Voncel were friends and that Annika had known and liked Voncel since childhood. Jude had nothing against Voncel and liked her even though she and the woman were not friends. She just felt somehow that this was not an ideal match and had told Erin so.

Erin had replied, “She knows Annika’s…situation. She’s a psychologist and could assist Annika if she runs into any further complications. She’s single and has no betrothed. She would prefer a woman as a mate. She is intelligent and Annika likes her. Voncel is amiable toward Annika. Also, you have to take into consideration, if Annika goes into Pon Farr, as a Vulcan, Voncel would know how to react and be able to form a mating bond with her. Annika, being Human, may not be able to form a bond with a Human or any other species as a Vulcan could.”

Yes, but, I think Nick needs someone that shares her own interests. I mean, you know, in physics and developing new concepts in engineering and things like that.”

Erin had looked shrewdly at Jude then. “What’s the real reason Jude? Is it because Voncel’s a Vulcan?”

Of course not. I’m interested in a Vulcan myself. It’s just that I thought maybe to find her someone closer to her in age and maybe not as emotionally controlled as a Vulcan. I thought to find her someone outgoing. You know, opposites attract. Holy Moses, I don’t know what I’m saying. I just never figured Voncel.”

I believe Voncel would be a good choice. She is only in her early fifties. That’s young for a Vulcan. Annika’s mind has been altered. You saw how she reacted to emotions in another, especially to touch, and you saw her own emotions get away from her. She went away to learn to control these reactions through Vulcan techniques of emotional submersion. She needs someone emotionally controlled and stable. Voncel, being Vulcan, would bring this control and stability.”

I guess.”

Besides. It’s not like you could put an advertisement throughout the Federation looking for a bride.”

Sure you can. It’s done all the time. Nice single lesbian, who likes walks on the beach, seeks other single lesbian for friendship and possible marriage. I would do the screening myself. Make sure she was the right woman.”

Jude. Let Annika make the decision. She may decide to do her own search.”

Jude didn’t think Nick would actively search. She had never had a girlfriend and was reticent about approaching anyone. As beautiful as she was, her introvert and Vulky ways were off putting to any potential suitor. Jude had seen many a young woman, non-Vulcan of course; try to get her to notice them and to chat her up. She only wanted to talk physics, mathematical theory, or other scientific concepts. And closed down if they tended to ‘flirt’.

Jude had tried to fix her up several times. The last time was just before they went to Mars to buy Raven. Jude had met a fascinating young woman from Trill. They took AI courses together. She was intelligent, funny, and cute. She was a joined Trill and her symbiont had lived many lifetimes and had been around the galaxy a few times and knew a lot about just about everything.

Nick had gone out with her once. She said she had a good time and the woman was indeed all that Jude said she was. But that was it. Jude tried to get Nick to call her up for another date. But, she wouldn’t do it.

Later, Jude had found out the woman had called Nick twice and asked her out, but she had an excuse each time. The woman had even suggested that Nick pick a date to go out. But Nick had said something about she didn’t have any openings anytime soon and she didn‘t like to commit far in advance.

She was curious to what Nick’s reaction to Voncel’s offer would be.

xxx

Jude pressed the door chime. After a few moments, she heard the electronic door lock click and the door opened to the foyer. Nick stood at the end of the short foyer.

Jude laughed in joy and hugged her friend. However, Nick just gave her a weak and stiff hug, arms awkwardly around her and stepped back, putting her hands behind her back, her posture stiff and features neutral.

Jude was dismayed, but tried to hide it. She did manage to smile though and said, “I’ve missed you, Nick.”

Annika nodded and said, “And I you. Please, come in, would you like something to eat or drink?”

“No thanks. I ate a big breakfast. Where‘s your mom and Shonok?”

“They have business to attend to and will not be back until this afternoon.”

Jude went into the living room and took a seat at the end of the sofa. Annika sat in the easy chair cattycorner to Jude, her hands neatly folded and her posture erect. They looked at each other, saying nothing.

Annika said, “I hope you have been well. Tell me, what has happened in my absence?” Her features remained closed and unemotional.

“Well. My classes are going great. Aced all my grades. You know I graduate this semester.”

“You shall work for me of course. Next week I will return to my duties as a Professor. I also need to start the innovations and updates on Raven. There have been no problems concerning her since my absence?”

“None at all Nick. Shonok has taken care of the docking fees and has had Stron to periodically go over her systems and keep them in working order. You remember Stron. He was the engineer you hired that went with us to Mars when you bought her.

“Once every four months or so, Stron hired a skeleton crew and a certified Captain for a quick trip to the Sol system and back. I went along as the ship‘s data tech. She performed well for a ship of her age. She will need some upgrades, though. Stron has a report on what is needed.”

Jude thought she would have gotten some emotional response from this, but Annika maintained her stoicism. “I have not had time to discuss finances with Shonok. I will need capital for the upgrades. I will require Stron’s help in selecting the right people to do the upgrades.”

“I think he’ll be available.” She smiled and quirked her eyebrows once. “Stron and I are dating.”

“Is this serious?” Her friend said, with a slight lift of her left eyebrow, which indicated surprise.

Well that got a response…sort of.

“Well, you know Vulcans never rush headlong into commitments except if it’s Pon Farr.”Jude realized what she said and felt ghastly. “I’m sorry, Nick. Forgive me.”

Annika’s expression remained the same as well as the neutrality of her voice. “No apology is necessary. I assure you, Jude, you did not offend me.”

Jude wanted to say she did not mean to bring up anything ’painful’ but let it alone. “We just do things like visit the different sites on Vulcan. We went to Earth and Mars a few times. I got him to attend a few holo-adventures: A recreation of Disney Mars and a few showing the wonders of Mars and Earth. He wanted to keep riding the rollercoaster at It’s a Small Federation. We must have been back a dozen times. He said he was interested in the engineering aspect of it,” Jude said this with a roll of her eyes.

Annika nodded. “Interesting.”

Jude snickered. “Isn’t it though? He did take me to meet his family. They’re all very nice. It’s a large family, too. Aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents all living in a large family compound. They were interested in my studies and asked a lot of questions about the Borg Institute.”

Annika nodded. “If he introduced you to his family, then his intentions are serious.”

“Yeah, I know. But, we’re taking it slow. Uh…did your mom talk to you about Voncel?”

Still no surprise or change in her expression. “Yes. Mother informed me of Voncel’s offer. It is logical. I will talk to Voncel later today.”

Jude couldn’t help it, she blurted out, “Logic be damned, Nick! How do you feel about it? About her?

Annika replied evenly, “Feelings have no relevance as relates to this matter. It is logical and perhaps, necessary. I can find no logical reason to decline her offer.”

Jude was dismayed. ‘Oy, she could be discussing the weather.’ She thought to change the subject. “So. Tell me about the monastery. Did going accomplish what you hoped?” ‘From the sound of it, it did.’

“Yes. It did. Healer T’Pai was correct. The discipline was necessary and has enabled me to better control my emotions and my reactions to the strong emotions of those around me.”

Yeah. Too much damn control. Oh, Nick, what and who have you become? Will my friend ever come back?’

xxx

“I trust that your sabbatical and retreat proved beneficial?” Voncel regarded Annika with interest and a certain controlled warmth. It was evident to Annika that she cared for her well being. She had become very proficient at deciphering the subtle emotions in Vulcans.

“It accomplished what it was meant to accomplish.” Annika put down her teacup on the table by the chair she was sitting in. She had just arrived a few minutes earlier at Voncel’s home.

Both women looked at one another for a moment, before Voncel said, “You are here to discuss my offer to be your mate.”

“Yes. My mother informed me of your reasons. They are logical. However logical it would be for me to accept, there still remains the question, why would you offer?”

Voncel indicated some surprise at this question by the lifting of her brow. “You are asking me if my offer was the logical choice for myself.”

“Yes.”

“There are many logical reasons. I have known you for many years and approve of the person you have become. I count you as my friend and your mother as a close friend. As my friend, I wish for your well being. You are responsible. You strive toward excellence in whatever endeavor you pursue. When you make a commitment, be it to your work or to your friends, you do not neglect it. Also, with those who are close to you, you give as freely of your time and yourself as you are able. And with your friends you posses a caring nature. You are highly intelligent. You can converse on a number of subjects. You are mannerly and well spoken in public. You are fastidious in your personal care and acceptable in your appearance. You possess the qualities I seek in a mate.”

Annika looked away from Voncel and considered her words for a few long moments before once again focusing on her and replying, “I accept your offer. I believe that you will make a satisfactory mate for me.”

Annika noticed the minute lifting of Voncel’s mouth and crinkling in the corners of her eyes that indicated she was pleased by the reply, however, Voncel’s voice remained placid when she said, “Annika. Know too, I am not opposed to a marriage to you before the need arises. I know that you are considered a young adult in Human years and you may wish to wait until a later date. I leave the choice to you.”

“I shall give it much consideration.”

xxx

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

TWO YEARS LATER

xxx

“Tell me again, Nick. Why am I doing this?” Jude paced back and forth in the main office of the small conference room that she was using as a dressing room: Her white wedding dress brushing the ground with a dry husking sound.

“It is the logical thing to do. That was your reasoning to me,” Annika replied calmly as she quirked her left eyebrow and regarded her friend evenly.

“We should have eloped instead of letting my mom talk me into a damn traditional wedding,” Jude fumed.

“Be glad that Stron did not insist on a Vulcan wedding.”

Jude glanced at her friend, seeing a barely perceptible smirk. It was seldom that Nick teased her. She looked Nick over and thought she looked a vision in the blue, knee length, sleeveless dress. Her hair was down from its normal severe twist and brushed past her shoulders with the sides swept back and held with a silver clip in the back.

“Where’s Mom? She should be here with my bouquet. I can’t walk down the aisle without it.” She felt as if someone wired her to a warp core. She couldn’t stay still.

“The ceremony does not begin for another nine minutes. Your mother will be here in time.”

Jude looked at Nick with some annoyance, and envy that she was so cool and collected. This was Nick’s reaction to just about anything for the past two years since coming back from the monastery. She had always had some measure of control in her emotions but this was different. It was as if she were truly a Vulcan in her control of her emotions.

Jude could count the times on her fingers that she ever saw Nick smile. Not the barely perceptible quirk of her mouth when amused but a bright smile that made one catch their breath. They were now as rare as a rainbow appearing over Vulcan’s driest desert. The most recent times were those of a year ago when Jude announced that she had asked Stron to marry her and he accepted.

And, four months ago when she sat on the bridge of Raven for its shakedown cruise after all the upgrades were completed. She had taken the first mates seat by Captain Verias, who was hired, along with a crew, to take Raven to Alpha Centuri and back. Jude had been a guest and helped by monitoring the data systems. She had been looking at Nick when Captain Verias ordered the helmsman to take her to warp nine to test the upgraded propulsion drive and Warp Core. When the pilot announced that warp nine had been reached, Nick literally beamed.

Jude felt both joy and sadness. Joy in their friendship. But sadness because she missed the old Nick. The Nick that she could make laugh, and had a rapier dry wit.

Not that some of the dry wit disappeared all together; there were occasions when out of nowhere it would appear. But she never heard Nick laugh.

There was another thing too. Nick didn’t like to be touched or touch others. It wasn’t as bad as it was right after Silvik’s attack. She did touch her mom and she saw her put a hand on Voncel’s shoulder or arm a time or two. Nick also touched her occasionally and gave her hugs. Nick told her she could still sense the emotions of another in touch. While it was not altogether unpleasant to feel another’s love, care, and concern, it still made her uncomfortable. She particularly hated touching strangers or people who were not close to her. She avoided handshakes and other forms of greetings that involved physical contact.

Nick still loved her and told her so. They still went places and did things together. Not as much though. Nick was caught up in teaching and starting to build her research facility now that she had funding.

Jude was working full time for the Institute. She also spent time with Stron. On a few occasions she and Stron would invite Nick out, or to go with them somewhere. Sometimes, Voncel would accompany Nick.

Nick had told her about Voncel’s offer to marry her anytime she chose. Nick thought she would wait a few years though. Jude didn’t think she would get married unless the ‘unspeakable’ happened to either her or Voncel. Nick liked Voncel but Jude knew friendship was about as far as it went.

The door opened and Mrs. Kleinberg hurried in with the bouquet. She stopped and looked at her daughter and started crying. She handed the bouquet to Nick and took her daughter in her arms. Jude hugged her back.

Mrs. Kleinberg held her daughter at arm’s length, looking her up and down. “You’re beautiful. My baby girl. I can’t believe it. Getting married.” Tears were still in her eyes.

Jude said in mock dismay, “Mom. What? You can’t believe anyone would marry me? “

“Of course not. Stron’s a lucky man. But it seems like only yesterday you were still in kindergarten. Now, you’re all grown up.”

Jude hugged her mother and said, “That’s what children do, Mom. Grow up. Now you had better go. I think it’s almost time.”

Mrs. Kleinberg hugged Jude one more time then turned to Annika. “Look at you, Annika. You’re beautiful. Voncel should hurry up and get you to the altar or someone else will steal you away.”

“Mom. Go.” Jude rolled her eyes as her mother left. She smoothed down her dress and Nick handed her the bouquet. “How much time?”

“It is time.”

They heard the music start and Jude looked at Nick and caught her breath. Nick’s smile was more beautiful than a desert rainbow.

xxx

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

xxx

First Mate Hansen looked over the PADD and made a notation. She handed it back to the Yeoman and settled back in her chair, next to Captain Verias. The bridge was running smoothly, per usual, and she went back to working mentally on the schematics for a transwarp coil.

She had picked the name Valhalla for the transwarp project in part to honor her father. When aboard Raven, her father would tell her stories of the Norse gods and brave Viking warriors who would go to Valhalla when killed in battle. If she believed in such things, she would like to think her father was there. Though she did not think he would be inclined to fight all day and feast all night. However, he had been a very brave man, an adventurer, and explorer much like the Vikings.

This was her 22nd mission in the past two years serving on Raven.

The first year she spent as a ‘grunt’ or new crewman. She had started at the bottom, cleaning plasma conduits, crawling in cramped Jefferies tubes to run diagnostics, and even repairing plumbing in one of the crew bathrooms.

Her mother, and various other Institute members, were utilizing the ship as transportation to different seminars and meetings with governments of many Federation members interested in learning more about the Borg.

It was her mother’s suggestion that Annika take a sabbatical and gain experience serving on a starship, and Annika had agreed as there were delays in implementing her transwarp coil research and development.

The laboratory buildings were completed a few months before her mother’s planned tour. Unfortunately, there had been cost overruns and Annika would have to wait almost nine months before the annual budget allocations to get the funds to hire staff.

The tour had ended and Annika now had the budget needed to finish with the equipment installation and hire research staff. She had no sooner finished going over applications for the various positions and making her selection of scientists and laboratory personnel, when the Dominion had attacked and occupied Betazed.

Soon after, the Dominion with their Cardassian allies launched an all out attack on the Federation.

Refugees from the conflict were flooding into sections of the Federation not yet involved in the turmoil, putting a strain on many planets to provide the needed food, housing, and medical treatment needed for the refugees. Starfleet ships were not available to take needed medical supplies and food to the many camps set up for the fleeing victims. The Federation asked for volunteers with ships capable of delivering much needed supplies.

The Hansen-Shonok Institute had volunteered Raven for this service. This gave Annika a chance to gain more experience toward her goal of one day captaining the ship herself. She took the position of first mate.

The Vulcan government had subsidized the use of the ship by providing funds for a crew. Stron had suggested various crew and officers. He unfortunately was unable to take the role as Chief Engineer as he was heading an engineering team in Vulcan’s main shipyard in an effort to upgrade and build ships for Vulcan’s defense, should they have a need for them.

Since this was a time of war, Raven was allowed to have military strength phaser banks and carry torpedoes. The Vulcan government also subsidized these and provided the necessary training in their use.

Raven’s captain was a seasoned veteran. Captain Verias did a lot of contract work for various companies, including the one Stron’s family owned. She had spent over a century serving on various civilian vessels. She had come out of semi-retirement to serve full time for the duration of the conflict.

Their missions had gone smoothly with no incidents.

They had left Vulcan hours before and were on their way to Earth to pick up a shipment of medical supplies to deliver to another Federation member planet that needed it. They would be arriving in two hours.

“Captain, I’m picking up a distress signal six hundred kilometers ahead in an asteroid field,” Jenkins the communications officer announced from his station.

“Hail them.”,

The screen cleared to show the relieved face of a young sandy haired Human male seated in a small cockpit. “Boy am I glad to see you. I sure could use some help here.”

“Captain, his life support is failing,” announced the second mate from the science station.

“I am Captain Verias of the S.S. Raven. Prepare to beam aboard.”

“I have a lock on him and transporting now,” the second mate stated.

“Have security escort him to the Bridge when he is aboard.”

xxx

Tom Paris stepped onto the Bridge of Raven. He quickly scanned the area noting that the personnel were dressed in a variety of civilian attire. He was escorted to the Captain’s chair, were an older Vulcan woman was seated and beside her in the First Officer’s chair, a striking Human woman.

“I’m Tom Paris. Thanks, you arrived just in the nick of time,” he said with a smile.

“Mr. Paris, This is my first mate, Annika Hansen. Tell us how you happened to be on a asteroid thousands of kilometers away from any star base or facility.”

“First, did your scan detect an armada of ships heading for the Sol system about an hour ago?”

“Armada? No.”

First Mate Hansen immediately got up and went to a science station.

“Well, I picked up energy signals on my sensors--”

“Captain Verias, scans show a large concentration of Ion trails. The trails appear to be heading toward the Sol system,” Annika said. She then returned to her seat and looked intently at Paris.

“As you were saying Mr. Paris,” Captain Verias prompted.

“I’m a test pilot for the Stardyne Corporation. They have a small launch and testing station two hours from here. I was testing one of their new single pilot racers when my sensors picked up a large concentration of energy signatures heading on a course to the Sol system. They didn’t have Federation or Starfleet signatures. I was curious and went to investigate. My sensors indicated there were some thirty ships. I got close enough to eyeball them. I have never seen one before, except in holopictures, they looked to be Breen.”

“Are you certain?” asked Captain Verias, with a raise of her eyebrows indicating her surprise.

“That they’re Breen? No. That I think they’re Breen? Yes. They must have detected me, as one broke off formation and headed my way. I tried hailing them, but there was no reply. They were powering up weapons so I didn’t stick around, and got out as fast as I could.

“I headed for an asteroid field where I often do maneuvers. Just as I reached it, some sort of weapon hit my ship, draining it of power. I managed to guide it to a crash landing. They didn’t pursue.”

“Captain. We are picking up a general distress signal on all frequencies. Earth has been attacked,” said Jenkins.

“Captain, if I were you I wouldn’t stick around,” Paris said.

“Sound yellow alert. Change course to Mark 5.41.”

“Captain. Sensors are showing three unidentified vessels heading in our direction at warp 9.8, E.T.A ninety five seconds,” the second mate announce from her station.

“Red alert. Battle stations. Evasive maneuvers.”

First Mate Hansen exited her chair and went to the tactical station.

Tom hurriedly said, “Captain. If they hit you with their weapons, you‘ll be sitting dead in the water. Let me take the helm. I can get us into the asteroid field.”

“Denied.”

“I know my way around in there and I’m a test pilot because I’m the best. You‘re Vulcan. Do the logic.”

“Granted.”

Tom ran to the helm and took the seat from Raven’s pilot. “Hold on to your seats because the fun has just begun.”

He expertly put Raven into a deep bank and headed to the asteroid field.

“They’re firing weapons.”

“Launch two aft torpedoes and lay in phaser fire.”

First Mate Hansen fired the torpedoes from the aft section then immediately fired phasers. After a couple of seconds she announced, “First torpedo has struck target. No damage. Phaser fire is ineffective.”

Tom had entered the asteroid field, adroitly maneuvering around the large rocky objects.

“They have broken off pursuit, Captain.”

“Move us in deeper, Mr. Paris. Find us a secure place.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Two hours later Raven exited the asteroid field.

First Mate Annika Hansen approached the helm and took the seat next to Paris.

“Mr. Paris, you are an impressive pilot. I would like to obtain your services as first pilot for Raven.

Paris smiled. ‘A real ship, bud. Not these toys you’ve been flying.’ “I believe we can work out a deal.”

xxx

CHAPTER NINETEEN

xxx

One year after the Dominion War ended, Dr. Annika Hansen had built her first transwarp coil. It was ready for testing. She would install it in a small shuttle capable of obtaining warp four.

She had selected a spot in the Ceyliss system, which was located in a sector that was relatively out of any commercial or strategic lanes, and the chances of Starfleet and any other interested party being in the vicinity were minimal.

She had come too far to lose her research to Starfleet. Since the Dominion War, The Federation gave Starfleet the authority to appropriate any research into any scientific discovery or development that could be considered as vital to its National Security. She had no doubts that they would consider a viable transwarp coil in this category.

One way to avoid Starfleet from confiscating her ship and research was to register Raven with a non-Federation government or empire. She had researched the different requirements for both registering the ship and obtaining certification as its commanding officer.

The requirements of all the revenues she researched were very time consuming and stringent. She would have to put in years of service as an officer to gain the status of a Captain.

There was one exception: The Ferengi Consortium. Anyone with the right amount of credits could register a vessel under their flag and buy a captaincy. The fees were exorbitant, but she had been able to cover them.

She had Shonok handle the details due to the sexist attitude of the Ferengi. Shonok was shrewd in business affairs and had negotiated the required ‘bribes’ to a reasonable amount.

Raven was now registered as a Ferengi civilian vessel and she was legally a captain under Ferengi law.

Starfleet would have a hard time justifying any inspection or confiscation of her ship, or its cargo, unless she infract a Federation law while in Federation space.

She had also purchased a used Vulcan delivery ship. It was over seventy years old, small, could only reach warp five, and required a two man crew. Its main function had been for short trips to deliver equipment to mining colonies on Vulcan‘s sister planet, T‘Kuht. However, it was in good condition and capable of fitting in Raven’s shuttle hanger bay. Its cargo hold was large enough for the small shuttle. It would be stationed at the emergence point of the transwarp corridor and used to retrieve the shuttle, then rendezvous with Raven. She named it the Valkyrie for the Battle Maidens that transported heroes who died in battle to Valhalla.

xxx

The Test had failed. The transwarp corridor had opened, however when the unmanned test shuttle, Mjolnir, named after Thor’s hammer, exited the corridor its warp core was in the process of breeching. Stron, aboard the Valkyrie, had read the data streaming in from the shuttle and sent the command for the shuttle to eject its small warp core.

Annika spent the next two weeks studying the information and pouring over the test results from the failed attempt. She examined the data gathered by the sensors, examined the shuttle, and the damaged transwarp coil.

Her analyzes led her to believe that the failure had to do with a massive energy feedback into the warp core from the transwarp core itself. The spike in the readings from the warp core showed that is what occurred right before antimatter containment was lost. However, how to affectively prevent it from occurring again was the problem?

There was some element or component missing.

She had gone over all data the Institute had on Borg technology and construction of their cube. If she could get analyses of a cube as it went through the corridor, she felt she would have the solution.

Unfortunately, when the original Raven went through the corridor with the cube, there was a disruption in the scanning systems. Whether this was due to the intense bombardment of neutrinos or an emission from the Borg cube was not known. It could well be the emanations from some sort of energy field surrounding the cube when it opens and entered the corridor.

There was one incidence that might have the answer. Wolf 359. Yes. Forty ships engaged the Borg cube after it had exited the corridor. One survived. Starfleet would have analyzed all surviving logs of scans of the cube.

After Wolf 359, the Federation contracted her mother as a consultant on the Borg. She had spent three weeks at Federation Headquarters presenting seminars to Federation officials and the scientific representatives from many of the Planets that were Federation members. Perhaps she knew of someone who could obtain this information. She would contact her right away.

xxx

Annika searched through the records her mother had obtained, just yesterday, on Wolf 359. Apparently, she had a friend in the Federation, who had a friend, and managed to get the information within twenty hours of Annika asking for her assistance.

She concentrated her efforts on the readings from the USS Endeavor, which was the only ship to survive the attack at Wolf 359. She concentrated on the parts pertaining to the readings of the cube when forming and interring the transwarp corridor. She went through the various analyses of neutrino and anti-neutrino admissions, tachyons, veridium Isotopes, omicron particles, and…Chroniton particles?

Chroniton particles: A particle which is an expression to time and was usually generated by a Romulan cloaking device. Were these readings from a cloaking device? No. The Borg have no need to cloak and my parents study does not show they ever utilized a cloak.’

She accessed her desk computer for all information on cloaking devices: Both technical and non-technical. For the next two hours, she read and entered in calculations. She felt some excitement at her results.

She got up from her chair and went to the window. Her focus was not the distant mountains, but on the PADD in her mind. She was building the schematics, formulas, and equations of the device she needed to construct. She allowed the excitement of her discovery to run freely past her defenses, and smiled.

xxx

CHAPTER TWENTY

xxx

“There would be no problem in constructing a Molecular Phase Inverter, as the components are readily available and the technology is widely known. It would take approximately two to three weeks, depending on how fast we can obtain the parts,” Stron explained.

“How long before it can be installed in a test shuttle after the inverter is built?” Annika asked.

“Four days. “

Annika felt excitement. They were only a few weeks away from success. “Stron. I would like to contract with you for the next year as Raven’s Chief Engineer and to implement the installment of the components and testing.”

“I regret to inform you I cannot. I have a contract with the Federation and the provisional Cardassian government to work in helping to restore the infrastructure destroyed in the Dominion War. I am to report in nine weeks to Cardassia. However, I do have time to construct an Inverter and to install it in the shuttle, and perhaps participate in the test.”

She tried not to show her disappointment. “Can you recommend another Engineer from your firm?”

“Unfortunately, those with the qualifications as a Chief Engineer are going with me. I shall inquire of other firms. You will, however, need crew with engineering experience. Many of those who served with me on past missions are still available. I will provide you with a list of names.”

“Thank you, Stron. I too will search for an engineer.”

xxx

Six weeks later Raven had arrived at the testing area in the Ceyliss system. It had dropped the Valkyrie at the destination point near Bazas 624 three days ago and continued on to the launch point. Along the way were placed several small subspace communications relays that would focus communications on a tighter beam and prevent eavesdroppers. The test shuttle was 1000 kilometers away awaiting remote launch.

Bazas 624 was the one lone gas giant circling a red star. The Ceyliss system consisted of a yellow star with four gas giants. The area where these were located was in a sector with no inhabited planets and nothing much of interest. It took approximately seven days to reach Bazas 624 from Vulcan and another three days to reach the Ceyliss system.

Paris had started his shift three hours ago. He heard the ready room door open and Captain Hansen exited, followed by Verias, who was in the first mate position. Dr. Hansen insisted on being called Captain Hansen when she was acting in that capacity aboard Raven.

Both were reading over reports and Paris decided to check and double check his controls. He had heard from one of the engineering staff that Stron was leaving for Cardassia to do some contract work and would not be able to work on preparing Raven should this test be a success. Dr. Hansen was looking for an innovative and experienced engineer.

He had immediately thought of B’Elanna Torres, who had been the chief engineer aboard the Maquis ship, Zola. She was sure innovative. Give her a spanner and a piece of string and she could fix anything. She kept the Zola up and running above its capabilities. He had checked the Federation Penal Colony release date records and was glad to see that she was released close to a year ago.

He hadn’t had a chance to talk to Captain Hansen. However, as soon as he had an opportunity he would tell her to find Torres and hire her.

Captain Hansen, we are ready to launch." Assistant chief engineer Denal announced from engineering.

“Acknowledged. Jenkins, contact the Valkyrie.”

Stron’s face appeared on the screen. “Captain Hansen. We are prepared.”

“Acknowledged. We will commence countdown.” Tom noticed that Hansen was as calm as a Vulcan, as was usual.

“Engineering. Commence Mjolnir II launch,” Annika ordered calmly.

“Launch sequence initiated. 30 seconds and counting.”

“20 seconds.”

“10 seconds.”

“5 seconds.”

“Shuttle has engaged transwarp coil.”

Tom glanced back and noticed that Dr. Hansen had moved to Ops. “Transwarp corridor has opened. It is now closing.”

She returned to her seat and Tom noticed that she gripped the armrests. He had never seen her display any sign of nervousness before. He returned his attention to Raven’s instrument panel.

Some four minutes later they received and incoming signal.

“Captain, we are receiving a transmission form Valkyrie.” Jenkins did not wait for the order from the captain to put the message through.

Stron’s face appeared and Tom knew it was good news by the subtle lifting of his features. “Captain Hansen. The Mjolnir II has successfully exited the corridor. No warp core breech is detected.”

Tom turned and started clapping, noticing a pleased expression on Captain Hansen’s face.

She looked at Tom and said, “Tom Paris. Your celebration may be premature. This is only the first stage of the test. If the Shuttle can open another corridor and return then we will have succeeded.”

“Oh, it will be successful.”

“And you know this, how?”

“I placed a bet that it would. I only bet on a sure thing.”

“I see. I am sure your method is scientifically sound and based in logic.”

Tom saw a definite sparkle in Captain Hansen’s eyes.

Four hours later the Mjolnir II returned.

SUCCESS.

xxx

End of part One.

 

CHAPTER TWO