Imprinted

The tiny occupant of the incubator in Voyager’s sickbay could barely be seen underneath all of the monitors and life-support devices attached to her frail body. Too weak to lift her head or even to open her eyes, the Borg infant seemed entirely unaware of her visitors.

“She was in a critical stage of development when her maturation chamber failed, Captain,” explained the Doctor. “Although I’ve done my best to stabilize her, I’m afraid her body’s organic systems simply aren’t viable without extensive artificial support. I’ve discussed her condition with Seven and concluded that the only chance she has for survival is to be returned, immediately, to a Borg maturation chamber. Seven believes that a suitable device can be constructed aboard Voyager.”

Janeway gazed down at the small body, pierced throughout with cybernetic implants that gave the appearance of ghastly torment, and found herself thinking, for just a moment, that it might almost be kinder to allow the poor thing a natural death. Of course, while a treatment that offered a reasonable chance of survival was available, that wasn’t a call she had a right to make. She glanced toward Seven, who was standing at the end of the incubator, awaiting her command.

“Begin construction of the device immediately.”

As she turned to leave, Janeway couldn’t quite repress a sigh. This was certainly not one of the better days she’d had ? not that she’d had many ? in the six years since Voyager had been stranded in the Delta Quadrant. Seven, walking beside her, gave her an inquiring glance.

Normally she would have ignored the unspoken question, intent on maintaining ship’s morale and the captain’s dignity, but a brief explanation didn’t seem likely to do any harm.

“I suppose you could say I’m starting to feel my age, Seven. I had expected to be married by now, with a child of my own, but it doesn’t look like that’s ever going to happen.”

The turbolift arrived, and Janeway, feeling more than a bit foolish, directed it to return her to the bridge. She noticed, but didn’t concern herself much about, the fact that Seven had seemed unusually quiet and thoughtful when they’d parted company.

*****

Seven built and programmed a maturation chamber that fit neatly into an unused cabinet in a corner of sickbay. When the unit’s door was closed, no one could even tell that the baby was in there. Several weeks passed, turning into months. The crew rarely mentioned the Borg baby in their conversations. It was as if she’d never existed.

At first, Naomi Wildman came into sickbay to take a peep at the baby from time to time, but even Naomi got bored after a while. Seven’s terse reports indicated only that the infant’s maturation process remained within acceptable parameters, and the Doctor never seemed to have much to say about Voyager’s smallest resident.

Consequently, when Seven unexpectedly stopped by Janeway’s quarters one day, the captain wasn’t expecting any new information on the subject. Telling Seven to come in, the captain set down her cup of coffee and began to rise from her chair.

Only to be knocked back down into the chair as a small child hurtled through the door and catapulted into her lap. “Mommy!”

A glossy pink ribbon bobbed above a tiny tuft of brown hair on an otherwise bare scalp that consisted mainly of metallic Borg implants. The child wore a tight-fitting bodysuit similar to Seven’s, in a shade of pink that matched the ribbon perfectly. One of the small hands that clasped Janeway with affection seemed to be almost entirely cybernetic.

The expression on Seven’s face, as she watched this scene, could only have been described as a self-satisfied smirk.

“Captain, I’d like you to meet Miss Amelia Janeway.”

“In my office, Seven. Now.” Indicating an adjacent study with an abrupt gesture, Janeway disentangled the child from her lap — with considerable difficulty — and stood up. Seven obediently followed the captain toward the office.

As, of course, did Amelia.

Janeway paused for a moment and addressed the little girl. “Seven and I are going to have a private conversation. Do you know what private means?”

“Accessing dictionary file, Federation Standard English,” the child replied, cheerfully skipping in place. “Private. Belonging to or concerning an individual. Personal, or set apart.”

“In this case, it means a conversation alone. I’m sure you can find something to do, in another room, while I’m talking to Seven.”

As Janeway proceeded through the doorway into her office, Seven, without a word, entered beside her. Amelia remained standing just outside the room as the door closed.

Briefly wishing she’d brought her coffee — after all, it definitely looked like this was going to be one of those days — Janeway confronted her Borg protégée.

“Are you out of your mind, Seven? Whatever possessed you, to tell that child I was her mother?”

“Immediately before I began to construct the maturation chamber,” Seven replied in an even tone, “you expressed a desire to have a child of your own. This appeared to be a highly efficient method of accomplishing that goal. And, Captain, I did not merely tell Amelia that you were her mother. I modified her genetic structure to include a significant percentage of your DNA, and I programmed her behavioral algorithms with certain mannerisms and personality traits unique to you. In every meaningful respect, Captain, you are in fact her mother.”

On second thought, Janeway decided it was probably a good thing she wasn’t drinking her coffee, after all. There was a distinct possibility that she might have choked on it.

“Seven, I know I told you that humans often enjoy surprises and unexpected gifts, but this wasn’t at all what I had in mind.” Still in a state of near-total disbelief, Janeway shook her head slowly. “What gave you the idea that I was qualified to become, all of a sudden, the mother of a Borg child?”

“Captain, in many ways, you found yourself in a similar position when I came aboard Voyager. Although I was physically an adult, I experienced many of the social and emotional difficulties of an adolescent. You effectively assumed a maternal role in my guidance. I can think of no one who would be a better mother for a Borg child.”

Seven of Nine was unquestionably as sincere as she’d ever been. Janeway met the gaze of the younger woman’s innocent eyes, filled with admiration, and bit back the withering lecture she’d been poised to deliver.

A moment of silence passed before it occurred to Janeway that a cybernetic preschooler, programmed with her own mannerisms and personality traits, certainly shouldn’t be left unsupervised in her quarters.

Leaving her study in more of a hurry than her Starfleet dignity might have suggested, the captain didn’t see Amelia, although she noticed a tiny coffee cup on the table next to her own. The sound of voices from her bedroom indicated where the child had gone. Janeway entered the room and found an imperious Amelia, hands on hips, instructing two burly crewmen in the proper installation of a small regeneration alcove.

Right next to Janeway’s bed.

This had gone far enough. More than far enough. “Amelia, I expect to be asked before any modifications are made to my quarters.”

“It is customary for a young human child to occupy the same quarters as her mother,” Amelia promptly answered. Although she was evidently reading from a Borg cultural data file, her tone conveyed more than a hint of an all-too-familiar stubbornness. “So this modification is necessary.”

Janeway, after giving her situation some more thought, finally nodded to the crewmen to continue with the installation. After all, it would allow her to make sure that Amelia took a lengthy nap. Then she’d find an appropriate solution to this preposterous predicament.

*****

Not a soul was to be seen as Janeway strode into sickbay, with the exception of the Doctor, who was humming a familiar aria from a romantic opera. So much the better. Although she had no delusions of keeping Seven’s nefarious plot a secret — everyone on the ship must have enjoyed this gloriously juicy tidbit of gossip by now — the conversation she was about to have with the Doctor definitely wasn’t intended for public consumption.

“I suppose you’ve heard all about what Seven did with the Borg baby,” Janeway began. Might as well get straight to the point. “I want that child reprogrammed, as soon as possible, to delete every file that identifies me as her mother.”

“It’s not that easy, Captain,” the Doctor replied, in a tone that held a note of reproach. “Seven’s programming had the effect of imprinting you, quite thoroughly, in Amelia’s mind as a parental figure, in much the same way that a mother-image is imprinted on the consciousness of a baby bird at its hatching. Put simply, Captain, there’s no way to convince Amelia you are not her mother, short of erasing her memory. And that, of course, by the standards of any civilized society, would be a flagrant act of child abuse.”

An answer like that was bad enough. The Doctor’s detailed knowledge of Seven’s process, for which an innocent explanation seemed highly unlikely, was worse. “You knew, the whole time, what Seven was up to,” Janeway snapped.

“She had your best interests in mind, Captain. You have exhibited unmistakable symptoms of depression from time to time, but you have never been willing to treat the condition with medication. As your chief medical officer, it was, and still is, my duty to assist in the improvement of your mental health.”

The Doctor’s smirk was even worse than Seven’s.

This insubordinate conspiracy was beyond anything Janeway could have imagined. “By saddling me with a child that I don’t have time to care for properly, even if I knew how?”

“Seven of Nine can provide information specific to the maturation of Borg children, and Samantha Wildman has offered to help with general parenting advice. Of course, Naomi is eager to babysit while you’re on duty.”

“Sam and Naomi were in on this, too?” Conspiracy was definitely the right word, Janeway thought. She wasn’t sure she even wanted to know how many others had been involved.

“Naomi was very helpful in choosing a name. She reminded Seven of your high regard for Amelia Earhart.” The Doctor sighed theatrically, as his face began to take on a faraway expression. “Seven is such a kind soul. I’m not at all worthy of the sweet rapture of her love.”

Janeway quickly escaped from sickbay before the conversation could turn any more maudlin. Even the company of a small Borg child was preferable to that of the Doctor when he was in a mood like this.

*****

The star charts in Astrometrics appeared to be staring at Janeway with only slightly less sympathy than was Seven of Nine.

“No, Captain, I will not be available to provide child care during beta shift.”

“Just for an hour? I can’t leave Amelia alone until it’s time for her to regenerate, which won’t be until 2100 hours, but I really need to go down to the gym after I get off duty. I haven’t had any exercise in weeks, other than chasing her around.” So much for motherhood improving my health, Janeway thought. Some holographic board of inquiry ought to revoke Doc’s medical license.

“Your workout will be equally effective after 2100 hours.” Seven was unmoved.

If I didn’t know better, Janeway thought, I’d swear she’s enjoying this.

“One more miserable evening of playing endless games of kadis-kot, and I’m going to start tearing my hair out.”

“Most unlikely. Empirical data regarding human family life indicates that it is far more probable that you will adapt successfully. Perhaps you can program a suitable holographic activity, with several small playmates for Amelia, that can provide both exercise and a pleasant opportunity for mother-daughter bonding.” Seven paused for a moment, apparently to access more files in her human cultural database. “Maybe a nice game of tag? Or Duck, Duck, Goose?”

Oh, joy, Janeway thought. Still, it wasn’t a bad idea. “Sam Wildman actually made a similar suggestion. I thought about going for a ride on an Indiana bike path, with Amelia in a child seat, but there won’t be any available holodeck time during beta shift until tomorrow.”

“It is often difficult to reserve time on the holodecks,” Seven agreed. Her face changed, taking on a sly expression. “I have been waiting five point eight days for my date with Commander Chakotay this evening. I chose a simulation of a secluded beach on a Polynesian island, and for cultural authenticity, I plan to wear the traditional female costume of a short skirt with no other clothing. I have noticed that Chakotay often enjoys looking at my breasts.”

I really don’t need to hear any of this, Janeway thought. Bad enough that Seven had been shamelessly throwing herself at Chakotay over the past few weeks, with no sense of decorum whatsoever. Worse still that the former drone seemed to feel a need to flaunt her conquest in the captain’s face. Janeway was beginning to suspect that Seven’s supposed act of generosity in reprogramming Amelia had actually been a scheme to get the captain, as the most likely rival for Chakotay’s affections, out of the way.

Not that such a rivalry had ever existed in fact, of course. Janeway would never have allowed herself to develop an improper familiarity with her first officer, and there was no chance she would give Seven the satisfaction of provoking a jealous response. Seven was a civilian, free to date whomever she pleased, and Chakotay, like all the other bachelors aboard Voyager, was fair game. Even to notice Seven’s absurd antics was beneath the captain’s dignity.

Although Janeway had to admit to herself, as she left Astrometrics without any comment whatsoever on Seven’s tawdry ideas about dating, that the possibility of having to watch Seven and Chakotay carrying on like this for the next two decades was nothing short of godawful.

But as it turned out, of course, she didn’t have to.

*****

The former captain of the U.S.S. Voyager sat on the weathered stone terrace of a caf� overlooking the bay. The cool wind felt strange against her skin after so many years aboard ship. Gulls wheeled and dived, their raucous cries both familiar and profoundly alien. The tumbled landscape of San Francisco lay strewn at her back as if tossed there by an indifferent god playing a game of dice.

Chakotay, his dark eyes unreadable, sat across the table from her. Voyager’s crew had begun to scatter after their return to Earth, and Janeway fully expected this to be the last time she would ever see him.

“Yes. It’s true. I’ve resigned from Starfleet.” Her voice rasped against her ears in gritty counterpoint to the gulls’ screeching. “After all the welcome-home parades were over, it wasn’t long before certain admirals made it plain they wouldn’t trust a mother of a Borg child in a command position. No ships carrying dependents were in need of a captain, or so they said. Then they hinted quite strongly that I could have my pick of the fleet’s warships, if only I’d find a suitable off-Earth boarding school in which to dispose of my embarrassing offspring. So I told them just where they could — well, you get the idea.”

Of course, there was no need to explain further. Chakotay and the other Maquis from Voyager had all found themselves similarly displaced. They’d been granted full amnesty and honorably discharged, but their Starfleet careers were over. Not a surprising development, all things considered, but Janeway hadn’t expected to end up in a similar situation.

“Even though I didn’t want Amelia at first,” Janeway went on, “by now, I can’t imagine what I’d do without her. Seven and Doc were right — she really has brought happiness into my life. But I worry about her, Chakotay. I’ve enrolled her in kindergarten at the most cosmopolitan school I could find in San Francisco, in a class that includes children of several other species. And even so, there have been — incidents. It seems that the Federation’s commitment to ethnic diversity and tolerance doesn’t necessarily extend to the Borg.”

“So I’ve noticed.” Chakotay set down his fork with a bit of a clatter. A large wasp, disturbed by the noise, buzzed around the table. Tiny white sails bobbed innocently on the bay, framed by a line of darkening clouds along the horizon beyond them.

Everything was supposed to be all right, Janeway thought, when we finally got home. So much for life being fair. She swallowed the last lukewarm dregs of her coffee and forced herself to say, “I hope it will all work out for you and Seven.”

Chakotay shook his head in apparent chagrin. “There’s nothing to work out. Seven never had any serious interest in me. In fact, she dropped me like the proverbial hot potato almost as soon as Voyager landed. The last I heard, she and Doc were making plans for a seaside wedding and a honeymoon in Aruba. She told me that he understands her like no one else can.”

“Seven’s not easy to understand, that’s for sure.” Janeway kept her tone neutral and, not meeting Chakotay’s gaze, glanced down at the wasp, which had started circling her empty cup.

“And she also said,” Chakotay went on, “in a rather pointed way, that she thought there was someone better suited to me, someone who truly understands me. I got the distinct impression that Seven only dated me with the intent of playing matchmaker, to make this — other person — jealous.”

“A fascinating theory.” Janeway shooed away the wasp. “Although I’m not sure it accounts for all observed phenomena, such as that romantic holodeck date on a Polynesian beach, with Seven topless.”

“She told you that?” Several other patrons turned to stare as Chakotay howled with laughter. “Kathryn, that so-called holodeck date turned out to be a simulated expedition to the Galapagos to study the life cycle of the giant tortoise. Seven, who I assure you was fully dressed the entire time, informed me that it would be a highly educational experience.”

Janeway looked him over suspiciously. If Chakotay were lying to her, he’d certainly managed to do it in a convincing way.

“I’m sure the — other person you mentioned — must have been mature enough so as not to be susceptible to such a crude attempt to make her jealous,” Janeway proclaimed.

“Undoubtedly.” A broad smile appeared on Chakotay’s face.

“And what’s more . . .”

Chakotay finally shut his former captain up, quite efficiently indeed, by leaning across the table to kiss her.

*****

An isolated planet along the Federation-Cardassian border, originally settled by a Native American tribe seeking to preserve its ancient traditions, had once again ended up on the Federation side of the map in the aftermath of the Dominion War. Although the Cardassians had destroyed the colony in a brutally efficient massacre, some of the tribe’s members had been off-world at the time and had survived. Not many, but enough to rebuild the villages and to prepare for the arrival of the new colonists who would be needed to continue the tribe’s way of life.

Evening shadows began to fall across the maize fields and the neat rows of beans beside them. The rich, loamy smell was strongly reminiscent of fertile farmland on Earth. One of the tribal elders, a woman wearing sandals and a traditional brightly colored cotton dress, lifted her graying hair away from her face and began to twist it into a long braid.

Her husband regarded her with affection as he raised a hand to her face, lightly tracing the lines of her tattoo with his fingertip. “It’s about time we started walking over to the ceremonial grounds, Kathryn. The midsummer festival will be starting in a few minutes, and the children are already on their way.”

She followed Chakotay’s gaze toward the three teenagers who had started walking along the narrow country lane. Amelia, Mintaka, and their youngest, Kolopak, had all come from different Delta Quadrant species and displayed few outward similarities, other than their Borg implants and the traditional ceremonial clothing they were wearing.

Finishing her braid, Janeway reached up and covered Chakotay’s hand with her own in a familiar caress. “There’s another transport due to arrive next week, carrying eleven Borg children. That’ll make three hundred and eighteen adopted into the tribe so far.”

The first stars were just beginning to appear as the daylight faded from the sky. Janeway’s glance lingered on them for just a moment, until, with a soft sigh of contentment, she turned away.

“Thinking of Voyager?” Chakotay fell into step beside her.

“Of unexpected gifts.”