Annika stepped out of the shower and toweled off, trying to quell her nervousness. She hadn't had to do anything like this in a long, long time, and was hoping she wasn't going to screw anything up. She sighed, then looked up at the mirror, and paused. It was amazing what happened when you took a quarter century of time away from the body. There was only the golden blond there, rather than the white. The lines had vanished, leaving just smooth and unblemished skin. She glanced down then opened up the towel; she let out a low whistle.
"Okay girls," she said after a few seconds. "Good to see you on top of your game. You'll be our primary assault force as always. I shouldn't have to remind you how to do your job; you two have never let me down before, and I'm sure once again you'll breach enemy defenses and ensure victory." She slipped her robe on and dropped into the chair in front of the mirror. "Feeling a little stressed, Annika?" she asked the reflection. "No, not really; why do you ask?" "Oh, well, it's just that it's not every day I see you talking to your boobs." "Oh sure, I do it all the time. 'How's it going, ladies? Feelin' kind of perky today? Little bounce in your step?'" She slowly shook her head. "The jokes aren't helping, Annika," she said. "You're still nervous as hell, and no amount of levity's going to change that. You're trying to seduce a man away from his wife... is that what you've been reduced to?" She made a fist while she grimaced at the reflection. "Luke Skywalker is my husband," she insisted. "He fathered my only child. I'm just taking back what's mine." Grief spread across her face. "But not this one. This one married Mara." She closed her eyes and swallowed, then slammed her fist onto the vanity. "She gets him in every reality!" she insisted. "She has more than her fair share! Can't one version of Annika Hansen be happy?!"
Annika turned away from the mirror and stared upwards. "What kind of sick game is this?! You take my husband away from me, then show him to me again and tell me I can't have him?! Kriff that! I'm not playing by your twisted rules!" She turned back to the mirror. "You will use those breasts and every other asset you have at your disposal and if he says no it will be the hardest no that ever passed a man's lips! You are not just going to roll over and let her have him, do you hear me?! You beat her before, and you'll beat her again here!" And she got up and stormed out of the fresher.
Seven looked at her hands. "Why like this?" she asked Janeway. "Why not just bring me into your realm physically?"
"Because I'm hoping that you can interface with the Borg Collective," Janeway said. "You see, Seven, your counterpart has contacted them on more than one occasion to help them thwart our efforts. That's how things have gotten this desperate."
"I still can't believe any version of me could resort to that," Seven said.
Janeway looked leery. "You remember the dream of the baby, Sebastian?"
Seven stared at her in shock. "How did you know about that?"
"Your minds were linked during the shift," Janeway said. "It's complicated, but I know you experienced it. Anyway, it wasn't a dream, it was a memory. For some unknown reason, you and Luke were able to have a child here... unfortunately, what seemed a miracle turned out to be a curse. Your child rebuilt the Collective after he killed Luke, rejecting the Jedi ways for his Borg heritage." Seven's eyes widened in shock. "That's why your counterpart helped them. You're not evil, Seven, but you're human, and that means you love your son. In her place, I might have done the same." She shook her head. "But we don't have the luxury of emotion in the face of this new Borg threat. We have to destroy them. That's why you're here, like this. If I brought you in physically the Borg would be able to detect the differences between you and your counterpart, and I can't risk that."
"You want me to link up with them?"
"I'm hoping you can slip something past their defenses, weakening or destroying them." She shook her head, showing images on the screens around the room. "They built a primitive Death Star," Janeway explained. "And used it to destroy Chandrilla. We managed to pierce their defenses and destroy it, but I lost a lot of good people, including Luke's old friend, Lando." Seven watched it play out. "Sebastian murdered the Emperor," Janeway continued. And she watched a young man very much like Luke do it. "He's harmed innocent people," she watched him in full Borg appearance grab a woman on a Cube and snap her neck, while the Borg Queen looked on in approval. "He even murdered his own wife when she tried standing in his way." Seven watched in horror as some helpless woman in a spacesuit said she loved him, and he responded by blowing her away with a starship. "He's evil, Seven," she said. "And together with the Borg he will assimilate every living thing unless he can be stopped."
Seven breathed deeply and shook her head. "I find this so hard to believe, Kathryn," she admitted.
"I understand," Janeway said. "And I wish I could bring you some old friends to tell you, but they're all dead. Han may be alive, we're not sure, and it's possible Harry managed to escape, but all the rest... Chakotay, B'Elanna, Miles, Naomi, Jacen, Leia-" She shook her head. "The death toll is unimaginable. I'm afraid that the only one left to talk to you is me, so I'm asking you, Seven-" She looked into her eyes. "As the woman who brought you out of the Collective and into individuality, please... trust me!"
Seven stared back. It was all hard to believe, but with the evidence she'd seen, and the memory of what Janeway had done for her over the years, she was close to accepting it... very close... so much so that a master of the Force could easily nudge her the rest of the way. "I trust you," she said. "And I'll make sure the Borg, and my son, are stopped for good, Kathryn."
Luke had been waiting in the captain's dining room when the door opened. It was obvious from his appearance that he was unprepared for what stepped through.
Word had gotten around the ship about the issues between the captain and Luke and Mara, and while it made for amusing discussion, at the end of the day they were Seven of Nine's crew. She'd brought them out of certain death more times than they could count, and she'd proven a fiercely loyal captain to her people. Maybe she was a Borg, but it didn't matter to them. So when word leaked out that she was making a move on Luke, they'd rallied behind her, with offerings and services coming from all levels and departments, so that the woman who strode through the door was the final result. In the battle of the sexes, the Visage crew had prepared a Base Delta Zero.
The ship's tailor had done a true masterpiece, providing her with a dress that complimented all of her feminine assets while still being tasteful. Some of the female officers took over the barber shop for a while and did magic on her. Her long blond hair curved seductively down and over her right shoulder. Her lips were painted, her eye shadow matched her gown, her face was radiant, they'd even polished her implants until they gleamed. As they admired their handiwork the senior gunnery officer commented that it wasn't even sporting sending her in looking that good. Annika had appreciated the sentiment, but she knew Luke; this wasn't going to be easy, she needed every edge. So when she entered the room she walked that walk, the one like a brass knuckle to the libido. "Seven?" he said.
"Luke," she said, with a small smile on her face. "Thank you so much for coming. Crewman?" A young man nodded to her and uncorked the wine. "A gift from my Logistics Officer," she said. "He was quite insistent, and well, the vintage is too fine to refuse."
"I see," Luke said, taking the proffered glass. Annika did the same.
"Thank you, crewman," she said, "that will be all." The young man nodded and slipped out, and she looked into Luke's face. "A toast," she said. "To... Ben Kenobi."
Luke looked puzzled; he'd been expecting her to toast "love lost and found," or something ridiculously obvious like that. "Why?"
"For taking a young farmhand and shaping him into a man that shook the galaxy," she said. Luke had confided over the years how much he'd admired Kenobi; it was a tactical strike. I know you, it said. Wouldn't you like to get to know me?
Luke raised the glass. "To Ben," he said, and drank. Annika did the same; fortunately her counterpart had invested in some tablets to help her body cope with alcohol for social functions. She'd taken a little extra just to be safe. "This is excellent," he commented.
"I agree," she said, refilling the glasses. When they were both emptied she took them and set them aside. "Dinner will be just a few minutes," she said. "How about some music?"
"You're the boss," he said, but the expected antagonism was gone. The defenses were crumbling. She switched on the music. Like everything else, it'd been meticulously calculated. Luke was expecting a frontal assault; her flanked attacks were getting through, as she'd known they would. After decades of marriage, she knew his strengths and vulnerabilities. Roxette's "Do You Get Excited?" began playing. It was just the right tone to avoid sounding like a love song while at the same time capturing all the right elements. It was also something you could dance to slowly, close together. When she took his hand, he didn't resist.
After a short while she gazed up into his eyes, and she could see it all coming back to him. He smiled just a little as he looked into her face, and she could read that expression like bold print. When the music and the movement and the look all came together, she moved, ever so slowly, to kiss him. He kissed back. And they held each other like that, while the music played on. And it was a perfect moment.
"I love you," she whispered. And she realized that despite all her calculations, she hadn't anticipated her human element. It had been seven years, eight months, sixteen days, two hours, forty-three minutes and eleven seconds since she'd last kissed Luke, and in the wake of the blissful experience she'd floundered and deviated from the plan. It broke the spell, and she could see all the careful planning crumble before her as reality came flooding back. Luke looked down, clearly embarrassed and ashamed with himself for what he'd done. "Dinner should be here in a moment," she said. "Why don't we sit down." A temporary withdrawal to rally was called for. Fortunately there were fallback positions planned, though if she'd avoided screwing up she wouldn't have needed them. Damn! She'd been so close! She'd won, only to stumble at the finish line.
Several crewmen arrived with the main course, Romulan-style sea bass, Luke’s favorite. But he’d rebuilt the defenses and was on guard now; she’d have to play this just right. They ate in silence for a while, so that Annika wouldn’t be putting any pressure on him. Crewmen came and left with things, and Annika had the sinking feeling it wasn’t going to get any better.
Eventually, Luke cleared his throat. "Captain-"
"Annika," she said. "Or Seven; I answer to both."
Luke started over. "Seven, I assume that in any dimension, you'll check up on history to thoroughly understand the situation. You were always very analytical."
Annika nodded slightly. "Yes, I did. I know that, just like in my reality, you wiped out a Borg fleet to save my life."
Luke looked down. "I did... and I don't regret it. I loved you, more than life itself. But things change, Seven. Mara and I found each other..." He didn't seem to want to finish it.
"I know," Annika said, trying to put on her best face. "I was 'a stepping stone.' 'A convenient tool of fate - nothing more.'"
"Not nothing more," Luke said sharply. "We shared something very special-" He stopped. "No, strike that! We shared nothing! You're not my Seven!"
"I can be."
"No you can't!" Luke said. "Because my Seven was capable of accepting the fact that Mara was the one I loved... that together the two of us were able to overcome the Dark side and return to the Light, and so long as I was happy, so was she! My Seven was a friend to Mara through thick and thin! You may be older, but you don't even have half the maturity she did, because she knew that the world didn't begin and end with what she wanted!"
"Maybe she didn't realize what she was giving up!" Annika shot back. Her lip trembled. "Or maybe she was just afraid. You don't know how long I loved you, Luke; how long it took me to say the words out loud. I'm a Borg; burying my emotion is too easy a temptation."
"Look, Seven," Luke said, trying to keep himself under control, "I am very sorry for whatever you've been through, really, I am. I would love to do something to help you, but what do you think this-" he gestured at Annika's dress "-is going to do? You think I don't know how beautiful you are? That I don't remember how incredible of a lover you are? I remember and cherish every moment Seven and I shared and wouldn't trade them for anything. But my heart belongs to the woman you locked up in your brig, and you can't change that. Even if we crawled into bed right now, I'd only be thinking about her, you understand that?"
Annika nodded slightly, trying not to show any emotion as she slowly looked down. She cleared her throat. "By the terms of our agreement," she said, "you still owe me another hour and a half. However, I'll waive that on one condition." She looked up into his eyes. "A mindmeld."
Luke took a deep breath through his nose. "Out of the question."
"Fine," Annika said as she wiped her mouth with a napkin and tossed it on her plate. "Then we can try to make uncomfortable small talk. So, how're things?"
Luke sat there in pained silence. "What is this supposed to prove?" he finally asked.
"That you mean it," Annika said firmly.
Luke took another deep breath. "Fine," he said, though clearly unhappy about it. He walked down to the other end of the table, and Annika got to her feet. He put his hands on the sides of her head, and said the words, and-
Force lightning ripped through Luke's body where he lay, and he screamed. Darth Whind watched in bitter agony, as if she was feeling the same thing. "Please, master," she begged.
"This is the penalty for failure," the Emperor said, blasting Luke again.
"Please stop," Whind pleaded, tears running down her face. She thought getting him out of that Federation prison Leia put him in would make everything right again, but obviously the Emperor had other ideas. "Don't hurt him any more," she said, weeping.
The Emperor glared at her. "You're growing weak," he said, then blasted Luke again. "He's already poisoned you. The Sith cannot abide such failings."
Whind looked into Luke's face one last time, and Mara turned on her lightsaber. She screamed and ran at the Emperor, but he struck her with a heavy blow from the Force, her lightsaber slipping from her hand and bouncing away. One of the Emperor's massive guards stomped over and scooped her up.
There was blaster fire, and the guard jerked and roared, but the shots never ceased until it collapsed. Mara looked up and there stood Seven with a blaster rifle. "I get the feeling I'm going to regret that, Ben," Seven said to Sisko, who stood next to her.
"You'd be surprised," Ben said, stepping towards the Emperor. "Let them go," he said.
"No," the Emperor rumbled.
"No more intermediaries," Sisko said. "Just you and me."
Mara ran over to Luke and looked him over while the two argued. "I'm so sorry, Luke," she said, crying quietly. "What a fool I've been!"
"You came back," Luke rasped. "You figured it out... in the end."
She cradled him in her arms. "I love you."
He shook his head. "I know you do," he said. "And I always knew how much." She put her hands on him, putting a little of her lifeforce into him to keep him alive. They looked up as Seven arrived.
"They're already at it," she warned. "We've got to get out of here, like right now."
Mara called her lightsaber to her. "I'll lead the way, you bring him."
Seven nodded, slung the rifle over her shoulder, and picked Luke up. "Isn't this familiar," she teased, running behind Mara while the former Sith led the way, cutting down anyone who tried to interfere. They found their way to Mara's private shuttle in minutes and were heading away from Bastion.
"What's going on?" Mara asked. "Why are you helping us?"
Seven stayed focused on the controls, although it probably was just so she wouldn't look at Mara. "Well, you know, you only took away the Enterprise, the Federation, and my fiancé, hey, why shouldn't I help you." She took a deep breath and looked at Mara. "Ben said if I didn't Luke would die. He may be yours now, but I'm not going to stand by and let that happen."
Mara didn't know what to say. "Seven-"
"Don't," she said. "Just... I know how you make him feel." She looked back at the panel. "You just swear to me, Whind, that you will always make him happy."
Mara took Seven's hand. "I'll make him the happiest man in the galaxy," she promised.
Seven looked into her eyes. "Yeah... yeah, I know you will." She cleared her throat. "So, Starfleet's gone. Know if the Imperial Navy is hiring? I'm sure there's a real high demand for science officers in your military."
"You never know, Seven," Mara said. "Things change sometimes... people most of all."
The tavern had fallen silent when Luke and Annika entered, and remained so as they took their seats at the bar. Then the whispering started, and the stares, and Luke glanced around at them. One word kept coming up; "Borg," and it wasn't in a positive context.
"It doesn't bother me," Annika lied to Luke, and he could sense it. You never get used to it, do you? No matter how much you give, you will always just be a monster, despite the fact that your Borg nature had been an instrument of salvation. And the most shameful thing about it was that there was a time when Luke could have been one of them. Had he not seen the good person underneath it all when he first laid eyes on her in the arena, would he have been staring right alongside them?
A Wookiee left his table and walked up to the bar, deliberately standing right up against her. Annika tried to ignore it, but after a little while he got more and more overt until he backhanded her right off the stool. She hit the floor hard, her face bleeding. Luke immediately stood face to face with the Wookiee. "What's your problem?!" he demanded.
"[Keep her kind out of here,]" the Wookiee barked.
"She's pregnant, you kriffing furball!"
"[Maybe I should hit her again then,]" the Wookiee said. "[One less Borg in the galaxy.]" The Wookiee shrank back a little as the lightsaber ignited right in his face.
"What?" Luke demanded. "What did you say?" There was the sound of blasters being pulled, but he ignored them. "I freed your people," he snarled, "and you threaten my unborn child?!"
"Luke, Luke!" Annika said. "I'm fine, let's go." She grabbed his arm, but he stayed for the moment, staring at the Wookiee. "Let's go," she said firmly.
Luke shut down the lightsaber and stared at the bar patrons. "Any of you people hurt my wife again and I'll kill you, you got that? Spread the word, 'cause this is your only warning." He walked with Annika out into the street. "Are you okay?" he asked.
She nodded. "And the baby. Just superficial; if I wasn't pregnant I probably could have moved quick enough-"
"You shouldn't have to," Luke said with fury.
Annika wet her lips. "It's never going to stop, Luke. You realize that, right? They hate what I am..." She glanced up into his face. "Any regrets?"
"Only in not beating the hell out of that furry oaf," Luke said. "But being with you, no, I regret nothing, except that the galaxy can't see what I see when I look at you."
"And what do you see?"
"My wife," he said. "Who’s human and Borg, both sides that I cherish." He kissed her cheek. "I love you, Annika. And I swear I'll protect you, no matter what. I'll always be there."
Annika backed away, panting; Luke was doing the same. They both looked up at one another, and in the wake of years of memories they'd exchanged their previous animosity was replaced by compassion. "I'm sorry," Luke said. "Oh, Seven, I had no idea..."
"No, Luke," Annika said, tears forming. "I should have known." She covered her eyes. "God, I'm so selfish!"
Luke grabbed her and pulled her close. "I wish I could give you what you need," he said softly. "You deserve to be happy, Seven."
"I was lucky enough to have you once," she said. "I should have remembered that." He held her tightly, like a very dear friend. Strangely, that was enough. She released him. "Stay here," she said, and walked out, not even bothering to change. She ignored it when a platoon leader accidentally led his squad into a closed turbolift door and made her way to the brig. Mara stood up when she arrived. Annika wiped her eyes again, then forced a smile to her face. "Mara," she said. "There's something that you need to know."
Mara glared at her. "What?" she rumbled.
"You," Annika said with a small shake of her head, "have no idea how lucky you are... how lucky you are in every universe. And you have no idea how much I envy you." She opened the cell door. "Never - ever - stop appreciating how blessed you are to have him in your life."
Mara's expression changed. "I won't," she said. "Maybe... maybe we should take some time off. Maybe spend a little time together."
Annika nodded. "Start now," she said. "The captain's private dining room is at your disposal, as is the VIP suite." She wrapped her arms around Mara, who after a moment's shock did the same. "Don't take him for granted," Annika whispered. "Or one day you might find out he's gone."
Mara got a little misty-eyed. "Don't worry." She pulled back. "Are you going to be all right?" Annika shrugged and tried to put on a good face. "Well..." She whispered something in her ear.
"Really?" Mara nodded. "That works?" Mara nodded again. "Thanks." She watched Mara take the steps two at a time out of the brig, then took a deep breath and walked through the ship.
"Captain's on the bridge," the officer announced, accompanied by the sound of people arising and, oddly enough, the sound of things being dropped.
"As you were," Annika said. "Commander, I want us to fully examine the area in detail, top priority. Maximum possible speed until I say otherwise." And she turned, strolled into her office, and locked the door.