Party of Four

Part Two

"Seven, did you notice something peculiar about our supplies?"

It was the next morning and breakfast was over. The two young officers were huddled close together in front of the fire, each holding a hot cup of steaming tea and studying tricorder readings. Seven looked up at Harry.

"Yes. I was going to attempt to access the files on board the shuttle for confirmation but there is no point. Only one person on Voyager would pack supplies for an away mission in this manner."

"Neelix."

"Yes. I came to that conclusion as well."

Harry took a sip of his tea. "Well, it has to make us think. If weíve got the real food and medical supplies, it stands to reason that Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay have the thermal gear and weapons. And probably your nutritional supplements as well because we sure donít have them. How are you doing without those so far?"

"My calculations suggest that I will be fine for at least four days before becoming a burden to you, longer if and when we find more water. The doctor started me on a gradual introduction of real food two months ago and, according to him, I am at the stage of a eight-month old human baby with few teeth."

"Seven, Iím an only child, what does that mean exactly?"

"I can tolerate most vegetables and fruits if theyíre mashed. We have not introduced meat into my system since I have not yet decided if I will ever eat flesh, and milk has also been deferred. I still do not like the texture of breads and whole grains are too hard on my digestive system. The majority of my protein requirements are being supplied by my supplements."

"Well, weíll mash the fruit and veg and youíll keep going on their carbohydrates for a while. But I think weíd better try to mix up some powdered milk for your protein intake, too. Just go easy on it, humans were never designed to drink the milk of other mammals; itís just a habit weíve gotten into."

"Yes, although," she reflected, "I notice that many humans relish it."

"Nothing like a ham sandwich and a glass of milk, Seven! But we still have to be very careful with you Ė no nutritional supplements together with no regeneration is going to start to take its toll on you. Too bad all the shuttle systems are down, I would have liked to replicate those supplements for you. Oh well, that canít be helped, I guess."

She answered him quietly. "Thank you, Harry. But I am sure that Iíll contribute to our survival for quite some time. I am Borg."

He reached out and patted her implanted hand. "Gotta love that in a woman," he smiled.

"Here, Captain, drink this."

Chakotay was kneeling beside the captain, holding a cup of bitter liquid to her lips as his other arm supported her sitting up. She gained control of her bearings and shook him off. Then she glared at him.

"Commander, for crying out loud Ė Iím not on my death bed, I simply sprained my ankle. And that stuff smells like the Bolian track team and I have NO intention of putting it down my throat. Go away."

"No. I went to a lot of trouble trying to analyze all that bark out there, Kathryn, and I think I found one with the same analgesic properties of willow bark. Itíll help the pain, so drink it. Thatís an order."

She merely rolled her eyes. "Good try, Three-Pips. Now bug off."

"Kathryn," he said in a low, dangerous tone. "You havenít been looking at me enough, lately. Your 'three-pip' XO is six years dead and the one in front of you wearing the Maquis rank bar has no intention of bugging off. If you insist, Iíll sit on you and pour this crap down that lovely white throat of yours without blinking an eye. Now, make your choice and make it fast. My temper is wearing thin."

"Take a hike, Chakotay. How do you know that wonít kill me Ė the tricorder isnít exactly reading things at 100%, you know. It thought I was a goat for a couple of minutes this morning."

"Wrong choice, Kathryn." Chakotay carefully placed the steaming cup away from them and then pushed her flat on her back. Then, to her complete shock he straddled her and brought his face down until they were nose to nose.

"You know what, Kathryn, I donít know if itíll kill you Ė but if it doesnít I might just do the job myself. I told you to stay away from that ledge andÖ" he pointed a finger in her face to stop her protestÖ "I have no intention of making a habit of saving your ass every ten minutes. Spirits! We have no food and no medical supplies and youíre jumping around a rocky mountain slope expending precious energy and then falling off! Who says the tricorder read you wrong?!"

"Commander. Youíre sitting on me. Get off and thatís an order."

"Good try, Four-Pips. Now, do I pour this down your throat or are you going to act like a Starfleet officer and drink it without whining?"

"Iíll have you on report for this, Chakotay. The only thing youíll ever lead again is that Bolian track team, and I assure you I wonít be putting up with that odour in the chair next to mine."

"Thatís tomorrow Ė this is today. Right now I have you on the floor and, you know what? It feels good." He grinned. "I file reports, too, Captain, and Iím sure the doctor will be on my side. Now, open wide and say ahhhhhh." He reached over and grabbed the mug.

She started to squirm under him and he had to keep shifting against her hips to keep the hot tea in the mug. Suddenly their eyes met and they froze.

Chakotay slowly set the mug down for the second time and leaned down to whisper against her ear. "What do you want, Kathryn Ė tell me what you want."

Kathryn bit her lip against the feeling of his breath against her. "Give it to me. Iíll do it myself."

He slid off her and once again retrieved the mug and handed it to her. "Well, it was a choice. But KathrynÖ."

Her blue eyes jumped to his brown ones at the tone of his voice. "What?"

"It isnít always necessary to do it yourself." He grinned suddenly and rose to his feet. As he walked to the caveís opening he called back over his shoulder. "Call me if you want me for anything."

"Seven, would you mind if I asked you something extremely personal? Youíre certainly are under no obligation to answer, I might not myself in the same situation."

Seven had just arrived back at their makeshift camp after an absence that experience told Harry was too long for its purpose. It was night again and they were getting ready to go to bed in their new and improved shelter. It had been a moderately successful day with the discovery of potable water and the complete, but disappointing, inspection of the shuttle. They were unsuccessful at bringing any systems back online but at least they were now able to use the cleaned out shuttle for shelter. As damaged as it was it would at least break some of the freezing wind if they slept down in the aft corner. Tonight they were going to give it a try and compare the results to sleeping in front of the fire.

"Iíll determine whether to answer you after youíve asked the question, Harry. Is that acceptable?"

"Of course." He hesitated and then forged ahead. "Do you still have to wear that bodysuit all the time? I know the doc designed it for your recovery after your de-assimilation, but is it still medically necessary?"

Seven tilted her head and looked puzzled. "That is not what I would consider an extremely personal question, Harry, but I believe the answer to it is no. I am convinced that the medical benefits of this attire have now been served, but the doctor insists that I continue wearing the suits. I have no idea why Ė I have never bothered to ask him."

"I think I know why," muttered Harry. But he raised his voice as well as his head and continued. "Well, that was just the build up to my real question, Seven. Would you feel comfortable taking it off here?"

She stood silently for a few minutes. "Still not extremely personal but I am compelled to ask why you want to know."

Harry began to blush. "Well, maybe my words werenít the best but hereís the point I wanted to make. You take an awful long time with your latrine visits and I couldnít help but start thinking when I finally realised that. A one-piece catsuit in very low temperatures in the wilds must be a Ė a terribly annoying inconvenience at best. I mean, taking off all the extra clothes and thenÖ. oh, forget it. I just thought that, if you wanted, we could cut your catsuit in half through the middle and devise a way to, uh, keep the bottoms up."

Seven looked over Harryís shoulder and he wondered if that was actually a ghost of a smile on her face. No, he decided, he was just overwrought sitting there with both feet lodged firmly in his mouth. She finally looked down at him.

"You do not change your ways in thinking of me even on tenuous away missions, Harry. For a long time now I have noticed your tendency to always consider what is best for me." Then she definitely quirked a little smile. "Your suggestion to cut this suit in half is acceptable, and I do not think that the bottom half will slide down. It is extremely tight."

"Yeah, I noticed that once," replied Harry as he pulled a knife out. She stepped closer to him and held her extra clothing up to expose her torso. He began to saw the glittering catsuit in half.

"Okay Seven, itís done and you were right as always Ė this bottom half isnít going anywhere on its own. You are now a liberated woman, foot loose and fancy free."

She looked down and inspected the results. "Thank you. And how quaint."

He laughed. "Just another step forward, Seven. Now, are we finished with this day yet?"

"We are, indeed. Letís go to bed, Harry."

"A goat. It called you a goat yesterday." Commander Chakotay was leaning against the cave wall staring thoughtfully at his tricorder.

"Well, trust you to remember that. It also told you that miserable bark worked as a pain reliever Ė want to discuss that again, Commander?"

"I do not. Iím sorry for what happened but everyone gets Montezumaís Revenge on a trip at least once in their lifetime. This was just your turn is all and you should think on the bright side."

"Uh-huh. Bright side?"

"Yes, bright side. Youíre now as clean as a whistle and imminent but unavoidable encounters with leola root should now just zip along without you hardly noticing. But back to you being a goat Ė doesnít that make you think of something?"

"Yes, but apparently murder is as much frowned upon in the Delta Quadrant as it is in the Alpha Quadrant. And moreís the pity, I say."

"Captain, get serious. Think. It registered you as a goat for a few minutes and then as yourself. What does that tell you."

Captain Janeway considered for a few moments. "Well, besides the fact that you should have scanned that damned tree for much longer than you actually did, it tells me that the readings arenít necessarily wrong, theyíre just fluctuating. Are you suggesting there is a pattern in these readings?"

"Well, I think itís possible. Iíve been scanning you for over an hour now and youíve been a goat three times, yourself five times, and several other living creatures, whose data is stored in our computer, multiple times. There does seem to be a random pattern in the selections."

"What else have I been?"

"You donít want to know, but letís just say that Ďgoatí isnít necessarily the worst possibility for your next incarnation. So I respectfully suggest that itís time for you to start being a good girl, especially where it concerns your first officer. Come on, Captain, youíre not thinking!"

Her forehead creased as she tried to pull all the pieces of his puzzle together. She knew it was there but sheíd had a stressful day hopping in and out of the cave to attend to the results of Commander Chakotayís medicine, and the lack of real food had certainly contributed to her misery. Random patternsÖ.

"Need a hint?"

She sighed, but didnít answer.

"Think Mahler and look into my eyes."

His eyes were dark and dangerous and she suddenly thought of another tall, dark man that had spent a lot of time in her company, much to her first officerís disapproval. No, that hadnít been disapproval; it had been anger. His glittering eyes were still on hers and, without warning, a thrill coursed through her body. Even her toes curled.

"Counterpoint," she whispered.

"Very good, Captain Kashyk. Trouble is, we have no resources to compute the counterpoint equation down here, and Voyager probably hasnít been receiving the same disparate readings. We have to devise a way to tell them."

"Why is it, Commander Riley, that every time this situation comes up I always think that we can use Sevenís cortical node to relay these kind of communications?"

"Because we can. Seven and Her Amazing Cortical Node Ė donít leave home without them. However, I havenít noticed her hanging around lately, solving all of our problems. Have you?"

"No, but this time I think I can save the day all by myself. All I need is my communicator and Ö. Throw that tricorder over here! Iím not that bad with tricorder/communicator, ah, enhancing. Came in very handy when I was at the Academy."

The commander brought it over to her in person and sat down beside her. "Enhance away, Cadet. And when we get back on board Voyager weíre going to have to reserve the holodeck and go to a party. Are you up for it?"

She didnít look up at him but he caught her smile reflected in the tricorderís screen. "I think I can handle your panting and drooling, Plebe."

"Oh thank goodness for that, because thereís going to be plenty of both. Now, bag us a Borg, Captain."

"You wanted to show me something, Lieutenant Torres?"

"Yes, Tuvok, come and take a look at this. I think weíve discovered something thatís going to help with bringing our people home." She pointed to the monitor as Tuvok came up behind her. They stood quietly as the data scrolled slowly, absorbing the facts and extrapolating them to fit the solution to their problem.

"Miss Torres, I commend you, I believe you have indeed recognised something very important. But may I ask how you actually thought of it?"

"I donít really know, Tuvok. Tom and I were eating lunch in the messhall and I started to think of that Dorvan incident and it just came to me. I said something, he added to it, and suddenly we were both excited and ran back to our stations to work it out."

Tuvok raised his eyebrow. "Well, we wonít complain about success. Well done, Miss Torres. Iíll return to the bridge; please let me know when you have worked out the required formulas."

"Will do, Tuvok. Oh, and CommanderÖ."

"Yes, Lieutenant?"

"Do you like popcorn?"

"Are you referring to that indigestible substance that is always thrust into my hands when I am ordered to go to the movies on the holodeck?"

"Yup, thatís the stuff. Tom and I are going to have a small party after our lost lambs are returned to the fold and popcorn is involved. He has a new programme for his television set and we were hoping you would join us."

He hesitated for a second and then replied, "I would not miss it, Lieutenant. And, if Mr Neelix does not object, I will use his galley to make a dessert that can be enjoyed by those of us who do not succumb to the allure of corn. Now, letís get them home, shall we?"

On to Part Three

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