Voyager's Child


A mysterious event causes Captain Janeway to leave Voyager for an alien planet accompanied by three trusted crew members.

Scifi / Adventure
Age Rating:

Voyager's Child

Kathryn Janeway rubbed her throbbing temples and asked herself 'why' for about the thousandth time.

Less than a year had passed since their triumphant homecoming and it seemed that they were almost back to Square one

Janeway had lost most of her faith in Starfleet over the past months. The celebrations for their return were hardly over, when the Starfleet Investigation Committee, after clearing her for her future self's temporal violations had then demanded they return to the Badlands and pinpoint the exact spot from whence the Caretaker had abducted them.

She'd felt doubtful about the plan and told them so forcefully, as the area had been declared off limits since Voyager disappeared.

She warned them about their encounter with the vengeful Sospira, but they wouldn't listen to her advice and were immediately captured by the Caretaker's former mate, whose appetite for revenge had not been blunted in the intervening years.

Luckily they, still had the weapon, Tuvok devised and had managed to escape, but were still stranded again, this time about a ten year journey away from home.

The crew took it surprisingly well, as for many, the reunion with their families hadn't gone as hoped, as they'd all moved on in seven years and many felt more on home aboard Voyager.

At least, using the technology Barclay had developed, they were able to send messages, saying they were alive and well.

Tom and B'Elanna had suffered the most as they'd left their infant daughter with Tom's parents, expecting only to be gone a few days.

They'd tried to cope with their grief by immediately trying for another child, whose birth was due within the month.

Janeway was only thankful that she'd insisted Tuvok consult a Vulcan specialist, the day after they returned home.

Prompt treatment, including a mind meld with his eldest son, had resulted in a complete cure.

Harry had a joyful reunion with his parents, and Naomi met her father, to whom she took an instant dislike.

She herself had spent a week with her mother and sister and met her two young nephews for the first time. They were so adorable and smart too for such young children. She'd so looked forward to spending more time with them and getting to know them properly.

She'd planned to stay on earth for a time and maybe start a family of her own, before heading back to space, hopefully with her original crew in a ship designed for families.

Seven and Chakotay had dated for a few more months, but when the Commander was late for several dates, Seven declared him inefficient and ended the romance. Kathryn felt somewhat relieved, as she felt the former Drone was still too emotionally immature for a relationship

Voyager herself was faring the worse, as there had been no time for a refit, before the Board of Enquiry had insisted on the return to the badlands, as the Engineers needed to learn how to deal with extensive modifications to the ship.

The modifications from the future had been removed and confiscated leaving Voyager a battered vessel, badly in need of a complete overhaul. Kathryn worried if her ship could survive another ten years, but kept hoping for the best.

She feared she'd become as embittered as her future self and sometimes wondered if the Admiral's valiant sacrifice had been in vain .

Her only consolation, was that this time, she wasn't responsible for them being stranded. As for the Board of Enquiry, she did her best to persuade them to stay in their quarters from whence they sent endless complaints, which she ignored as much as she could.

She made them the offer to work alongside the crew, once tempers had cooled a little, but they preferred to spend their time complaining about the necessary rationing of holodeck time and replicator rations, acting as if it were her fault rather than theirs that they were stranded again.

Tom Paris looked troubled. As his shift ended, when he vacated his seat at Voyager's helm. Instead of leaving the bridge, he hovered, waiting for Captain Janeway to finish her conversation with Chakotay.

"May I have a word, Captain? "

"Go ahead, Tom."

"In private, please. "

"You have the bridge, Chakotay. I'll be in my ready room. "Janeway left the bridge followed by Tom.

"Sit down, Tom. Would you like some coffee? "

"Yes, please, Ma'am. He sat down as she fetched two steaming mugs from the replicator, and down beside him, placing the mugs on the table.

"How's B'Elanna?" she enquired. "I've been meaning to visit her for a chat, but things have been busy as usual.

"She's not very happy, to say the least." Tom said ruefully. "As you know her pregnancy hasn't been easy, as it was too soon after the first one." He swallowed hard "Ever since you and the Doctor ordered her to rest, she's been like a bear with a sore head. She just doesn't trust her beloved engines with anyone else! Then of course, she's pining for Miral. Sometimes I think it was too soon to have another child"

Tom sipped his coffee and fidgeted uneasily.

Sensing his discomfort, Janeway prompted." You said you wanted to speak to me. Is there any way I can help you?

"I'm worried about B'Elanna's safety. She's become very clumsy and she's now so large she can't even undo her shoes. I have to help her prepare for bed and get dressed, and as you know I'm due to go away tomorrow to lead an away mission that should take at least twenty-four hours. "

"That's no problem. Tuvok can take your place: just mention it to Chakotay. "

"No, Captain, that wasn't what I meant." Tom reddened slightly. "I was looking forward to the mission, as I'm very interested in Class Four Nebulas, and I wouldn't want to neglect my duties."

He spoke almost too quickly. Janeway struggled to suppress a smile, as she knew what he meant was that he yearned for a break from B'Elanna's bad temper.

"I don't want to neglect my duties. " Tom repeated in an over pious tone, "But I was wondering if you'd mind keeping an eye on B'Elanna while I'm away. Just to see that she hasn't fallen and hurt herself. I 'd normally ask Ensign Wildman, but in her current state of mind, I dread to think how she'd react and I know she respects you as the Captain. "

"I'd be pleased to help, Tom. I'll look in on her at bedtime tomorrow. You can enjoy your away mission without worrying about her."She smiled at him. "Now, If you've finished your coffee, I think you'd better get back to B'Elanna. She'll be getting lonely.

Tom thanked her profusely and left leaving Janeway staring pensively into her coffee mug. She knew she'd somewhat neglected B'Elanna recently and it was time she faced up to the reasons why.

The next day Tom departed for the away mission, he was leading, wearing an expression like that of a prisoner released from jail .As she left the shuttle bay after seeing the group off, Kathryn wondered just what she was letting herself in for by promising to keep an eye on B'Elanna. Admittedly, she'd looked in on her most days, but never for more than two or three minutes and usually when Tom was present.

He'd suggested that she check on his wife at about 22.00 just after she came off duty and had eaten her evening meal.

B'Elanna wearing the caftan she'd taken to Ferreva, was lying sprawled on a chair, her swollen ankles propped on a footstool. A clutter of dirty glasses and plates cluttered the table beside her along with a variety of books.

"I suppose Tom asked you to keep an eye on me." She said acidly. "He's no right to. I can take care of myself .I'm not an invalid, whatever the Doctor says! I shouldn't have had another so soon, I want my Miral!" Kathryn ignored the outburst, though inwardly she could have wept at the blow fate had dealt B'Elanna and Tom

She cleared a heap of clothes off one of the other chairs and sat down. " I'm sue Miral will be in safe hands with Tom's parents but I thought you might be feeling lonely." She said quietly

"How would you feel? Your baby isn't at the other side of the galaxy! " Snapped B'Elanna. "I'm stuck here twenty-four hours a day! I've too much time to think. Hardly anyone comes near and if I try to read one more book, I'll scream! And don't tell me take up knitting, I hate it! I should be working in Engineering, not sitting here!"

"You know the radiation from the Warp Engines could harm your baby, but if you'd like to be less isolated, I could have you beamed to my ready room tomorrow, as you could put your feet up on the couch. "

"I'll think about it." B'Elanna awkwardly eased her feet to the floor and stood up, clutching her back and grimacing. She paced the floor like a caged tigress. "Thank Goodness, I've only another week or two before this baby's born. Why ever did I let Tom talk me into it? "

"You'll feel better once it's born. "Kathryn assured her "The Doctor should be able to make you more comfortable until then. I'll speak to him if you like. "

"I believe he thinks pregnant women should suffer. Trust me to be on a ship with a Hologram for a doctor! I need one who's had at least six children!"

Kathryn laughed. "I know what you mean, but a woman with six children might have even less sympathy!"

B'Elanna got a glass of water from the replicator and continued to pace for several minutes while she drank it, adding the empty glass to the clutter of dishes, before sinking back in the chair.

I'm glad you're here, I wanted to ask you a favour." She said after a long pause." I'll understand if you say no, but it would mean a great deal to me." She twisted her fingers nervously and cleared her throat. "You know that it's usual for a woman to have her mother present when she gives birth, As I've no idea where my mother is, even if she's alive, I was wondering, not that I like to ask." her voice trailed off.

"You'd like me to be with you for the birth? It would be an honour. Kathryn assured her. She tried to smile, but there was a rather sad look in her eyes.

B'Elanna relaxed for the first time that evening.

"Thank you. I know Tom hopes to be there this time, but he'll probably have to assist the Doctor and I'm afraid he'll faint or something! He's especially nervous as he felt he let me down last time, by being needed on the Bridge Also I'm afraid of how we'll feel. As for the Doctor, I've never felt quite comfortable with him, since we witnessed his fantasies! I like him; I just wish I'd never known what he thought of us. I hope you don't mind Klingon oaths, as you'll probably hear plenty!

I just hope you won't find it too difficult an experience, as I know the way you feel."

Kathryn started. She sometimes forgot that a telepathic link still existed between them at times. She hoped B'Elanna couldn't sense her present thoughts. "The way I feel? About what? "She queried in what she hoped was an innocent tone.

"I know you'd like a child of your own. Maybe seeing mine born will change your mind. "She said. "It won't be pleasant."

" I haven't thought about it recently "Kathryn lied, hoping B'Elanna wouldn't pursue the subject. To her relief, the younger woman changed the subject to the topic of what names she'd been discussing with Tom for their unborn child. The time soon passed and she started to yawn.

"I think I'll go to sleep now." She announced.

"I'll wait until you're in bed" Kathryn's tone was pleasant but didn't invite opposition.

"As Tom asked you to. I guessed." B'Elanna sounded too weary to argue as she waddled rather than walked towards the bed .She sat on the edge, nearly overbalancing as she struggled to undo her shoes. Without waiting to be asked, Kathryn hastened to help her.

Shoes discarded B'Elanna rummaged amongst the heap of clothes for her nightgown, which she laid on the bed before starting to undress.

"I can't turn round in the bathroom she explained. I got wedged between the basin and shower three days ago. It took Tom ages to pull me out."

Kathryn smiled understandingly as she began tidying the room. "So that's why he wouldn't offer any excuses about being ten minutes late for his shift!"

B'Elanna picked up her towel. "He made me promise not to risk getting stuck again. I'm going to have a shower. "She disappeared into the bathroom.

Kathryn suppressed the urge to cross her fingers, She cleared away the dishes, and her thoughts wandered back to the day when she was first given the captaincy of Voyager. She'd expected her duties to be conducted from the bridge or briefing room, never in a million light years would she have envisioned herself nursing ailing crew members and tidying up dirty dishes. These days she found it hard to envision ever returning to a traditional captain's role, regarding her senior staff as merely crew rather than dear friends.

B'Elanna emerged from the shower, grumbling. "I don't know whether I more closely resemble an elephant or a whale! And the stretch marks! I'll be so ugly, Tom will never look at me again!"

She slipped her voluminous nightgown over her head. "I'm sure Tom would find my hundred year grandmother more attractive than I am at the moment!"

"He loves you dearly." Kathryn assured her, trying to forget his expression when he'd left that morning. She rummaged amongst B'Elanna's discarded clothes for her comm. Badge and handed it to her, as soon as she was in bed.

"Pin that to your nightgown. And keep it on" she instructed "I'll do the same with mine, so you can contact me at once if you need anything during the night. "

B'Elanna agreed surprisingly meekly as she struggled to get comfortable lying on her back Kathryn placed a glass of water within her reach, patted her shoulder and bade her good night then made her way back to her own quarters

She read a favourite book for a while and then decided to go to bed. As she emerged from the shower, instead of quickly putting on her nightgown as was her custom, she stood in front of the mirror, staring in sudden revulsion at her slender and barren body How she envied B'Elanna her swollen stomach and heavy breasts. She envied her so much she could hardly bear to look at her. Tonight had been like a form of torture, when she, Kathryn would give anything for a child. For the umpteenth time she turned over the possibilities in her mind, a relationship with a crew member would be an emotional and disciplinary nightmare, even though there was once a chance she could have loved Chakotay Even choosing a donor father from amongst the crew would be difficult, to say the least, as how could she face the risk of depriving her child of it's father by sending him into the dangerous situations that being a member of Starfleet required? As for cloning, Starfleet regulations forbade the practise. If only the Investigations Committee had left well alone, she might have found someone on earth who'd make a suitable father. They'd taken her chance of motherhood, as well as stranding her crew again, and she hated them for it. Mark had spoken more than once of children during their relationship and she'd always said she'd think about it after the next mission. She'd actually meant it before setting off for the badlands .If only...It still hurt her to think of Mark choosing another woman after all the blissful times they'd shared together.

Pulling on her nightgown she shook herself and thought sternly 'Stop thinking like that, Kathryn and pull yourself together. It's unworthy of you to envy B'Elanna and try to avoid her when she needs you. You must be strong for during the birth and stop being so selfish and act like the mother figure she needs. Mother figure! 'Even the thought stung as her body ached to be a real mother, not a surrogate If wishes were horses beggars would ride. 'She thought ruefully as got into bed, eventually falling into an uneasy sleep dreaming of Mark, Chakotay and a crying baby which B'Elanna snatched from her arms.

A week later, and earlier than expected, B'Elanna gave birth to her daughter, after a gruelling twenty three hour labour, which at times proved almost as much an ordeal for Tom and the Captain. The Doctor seemed impervious to how much pain she was in, being a great advocate of natural childbirth, especially as Miral's birth had been so straightforward.

Requests for more pain relief were met with sarcastic comments about Klingons were meant to be tough and inter species births always being the most difficult. Sensitive points for B'Elanna at the best of times.

Tom hovered anxiously watching the monitors above B'Elanna's bed. In between contractions, she kept shouting at him and blaming him for her current condition. He could hardly bear to watch the agony she was going through, and kept shouting at the Doctor. Kathryn tried to be a calming presence, wiping B'Elanna's face and holding her hand. She had her own ordeal to endure, as B'Elanna's grip crushed two of her fingers, but she bit her lip and said nothing. Once or twice she seemed almost delirious and called out "Mother!" Eventually, just as Tom was begging and the Captain was about to order that the baby be beamed out, she made her appearance screaming lustily. The Doctor suggested that Tom cut the cord and wash his infant daughter. The proud father then handed her to his exhausted but happy wife. The doctor immediately produced his Holocamera and insisted on taking photographs of the new parents, then asked Janeway to take one with him on it. B'Elanna and Tom then insisted that the Captain be included on one of the pictures.

B'Elanna was not pleased when the Doctor suggested that she stay in sickbay for several more hours. As Tom has medical training, Janeway suggested that the new parents and their daughter be allowed to return to their quarters with the proviso that they return to sickbay, should either mother or child appear unwell. The Doctor reluctantly conceded to the Captain's authority.

An exhausted Kathryn was about to return to her own quarters, but B'Elanna and Tom asked her to stay a little longer. The reasons were obvious, as Tom was terrified of dropping the baby and B'Elanna wanted Kathryn to fulfil the final part of a mother's role at a grandchild's birth by helping her freshen up and change out of the standard issue sickbay gown into a crisp cotton nightdress.

B'Elanna was extremely grateful to have been 'rescued' from sickbay as she declared she'd strangle the Doctor if she had to spend one more moment in his company, a sentiment Kathryn tended to agree with. The baby was surprisingly attractive for a new born. Nature had been kind, this time as the child's ridges were hardly noticeable and she wasn't like Miral at all. she was already looking quite attractive for a new born with her father's fair skin and mother's dark eyes and curly hair.

"Will you be her godmother?" B'Elanna asked as Kathryn and Tom helped her get into bed. "Tom and I would be so pleased. We plan to ask Chakotay to be godfather."

"I'd be honoured." Kathryn smiled at them.

B'Elanna was settled back against the pillows gazing fondly at her daughter, when the baby began to scream.

" B'Elanna undid her nightgown and put the child to her breast. The crying ceased immediately.

Tom sat on the edge of the bed alongside his wife, looking affectionately at her and his daughter.

"She's a smart girl. She knows what she wants." He said fondly. though there was hint of sadness in his voice, which suggested he missed his first born.

Kathryn decided that now was the right time to leave the new parents alone .On her way back to her quarters she realised with relief that the terrible envy she'd felt had lessened The events she'd witnessed over the past day had somewhat dulled her overwhelming desire for a child, especially if the Holographic Doctor were to be in charge of delivering it.

The atmosphere of rejoicing on board Voyager following the birth of B'Elanna and Tom's child proved to be short lived as only a few days afterwards Vorik requested an interview with the Captain to tell her that during B'Elanna's absence four neural gel packs had failed and had to be replaced and they were now down to their last two.

Janeway was horrified at the news and immediately called a meeting of the senior staff. Vorik took B'Elanna's place as she was still recuperating from the birth of her daughter.

The Captain summed up the situation, concluding "We some suggestions and quickly. Without the gel packs, this ship is crippled. We'll be dead in space with all systems failing and that can't be allowed to happen. We can't replicate the packs, so we need to find some way to create them."

There was silence for a few moments. Then Seven spoke up.

"As the gel packs mimic the way an advanced brain works could we not use human brain tissue? Admittedly, it would be vastly inferior, but it could keep Voyager operational in the short term, while we search for a better solution."

Everyone stared at her in horror.

"The human brain is a very delicate organ. "The Doctor protested " Medical ethics would prohibit me from carrying out any operation, which could leave a permanent and devastating effect on the patient."

"There's no way, I'd ever risk my crew suffering brain damage!" Janeway exclaimed

Seven was nonplussed "Well, maybe we could combine some of my Borg nannoprobes with what can be salvaged from the damaged gel packs." She suggested

"The technology would be incompatible, "said Vorik, shaking his head

"There might be some merit in that idea, though." Janeway said slowly, thinking aloud. "If we could somehow repair the damaged neural gel with something compatible ..." She rose from her seat and paced, cat like round the table.

"Human DNA's the nearest match." The Doctor replied to her unasked question. "As I understand, the packs were modelled on human neural cells only with a million times greater processing capacity."

"But where would we obtain the DNA from?" Janeway asked "We can't use brain cells, stem cells would be a possibility, but as they're only found in embryos, bone marrow and umbilical cord blood, there's still a problem how to obtain them, the first option would be murder, as outlawed in the Interplanetary treaty of 2314,the second option would be too invasive and the third we don't have, for as far as I know no one on board is pregnant."

"If only we'd known this last week. Our child would have been saving the ship from birth!" Tom said ruefully

"Why not combine human reproductive cells with the neural gel? "Seven suggested, "Maybe we could stimulate the neural gel cells to divide and replicate themselves."

"Wouldn't that be creating a new life form?" Chakotay objected

"I should point out we may be breaking Starfleet regulations." Tuvok said with his usual Vulcan calm. "And it seems a highly illogical procedure, which is unlikely to work. "

"It would be an artificial rather than humanoid life form, unlikely to be self aware. "The Doctor commented.

"Has anyone else any suggestions? "Janeway enquired.

There was silence, broken only by Harry coughing nervously.

Janeway took a deep breath. "I've made my decision." She announced. "We'll try Seven's suggestion. I'll need some male crewmembers to volunteer to provide the necessary reproductive cells, as unlike the women they have unlimited quantities. I'll make an announcement, and the volunteers can report to you in sickbay, Doctor. Seven, I want you extract as much usable material as you can from the damaged gel packs, Vorik can help you. We'll need to try various mixtures and combinations. The cultures will have to be grown in same polymer used to contain the gel. At least that can be replicated, thank goodness.

We'll meet again in three days to discuss progress. You can return to your posts now, Dismissed."

As the crew filed out, Janeway restrained Tom with a hand on his shoulder. "How's B'Elanna and the baby this morning?" She enquired.

Tom grinned, "They're both fine thank you, though the baby's very demanding. She takes after her mother, determined to get her own way! "

Janeway smiled back "I'd say she's like her father! Tell B'Elanna, I'll look in and see them, as soon as I'm off duty. It's wonderful to see B'Elanna looking so contented.

"I don't think, I've ever seen her happier. At least not since Miral was born" Tom agreed rather wistfully.

"While the baby's so young, you can work shorter hours, Tom. We'll find someone else to cover for you."

"Um, thank you, Ma'am. "He didn't look as thrilled as she'd expected.

"Is there a problem?" she asked

"It's not that I don't love being with my family, it's just that the Bridge is quieter than our quarters!"

"You'll soon get used to it. I believe parenthood can be something of a shock at first!" She picked up a PADD. "You take your post, Tom. I've got to work on my announcement about the DNA samples.

The doors closed behind Tom, as Janeway started to compose her message

Three days had elapsed since the meeting in a flurry of activity and at the senior staff briefing that morning, it was decided to try to make some replacement gel packs, ready to run tests on later that day. Janeway was in a good mood, as she left sickbay after her annual check up as the Doctor had pronounced her in excellent health, and she hoped that meant she could avoid any more of his scans and waspish comments for another year. He was also hopeful that the injection of the human DNA might stimulate the neural gel to repair itself, thus evading the possible moral implications of creating a kind of new form.

After the first meeting, Janeway had discussed their plans with B'Elanna. The Chief Engineer had dismissed Seven's suggestion as "Crazy "and suggested they try to create identical neural gel by using the basic ingredients of nucleic acid and experimenting until the right formula was achieved. Unfortunately there were neither any suitable Class M planets for raw materials in the vicinity, nor did B'Elanna still exhausted from giving birth and preoccupied with her child, have either the time or the energy needed for hours of painstaking and demanding work, which she alone had the skill to accomplish successfully. However Janeway promised she'd keep her suggestions in mind, as she still harboured misgivings about the project and wondered if they were playing with fire in risking creating an unknown life form. She could see no other way out, though, as she'd promised her crew she'd somehow get them home. She briefly with a shudder thought of Captain Ransom and all the innocent life forms he'd killed in the pursuit of the same aim. She reassured herself that the entire human DNA was from volunteers and if the combined cells started to divide, they'd be frozen immediately.

Her comm. badge bleeped, rousing her from her thoughts .It was the Doctor informing her that he'd finished making the experimental gel packs and was ready to beam them to engineering, as they needed to be exposed to a stable warp field to stimulate them to fuse.

"Inform Vorik, beam the gel packs down to him in Engineering. I'll need you to remain

In sickbay, in case we need to place any of the material in stasis quickly."

Very well, Captain, if you're sure that's necessary." The Doctor sounded disappointed.

"It's vital you stay by the stasis chamber in sickbay. We'll keep you informed. Janeway out."

She informed the bridge, and requested that Tom Harry and Seven join her in Engineering. It was time to try the experiment.

Janeway entered Engineering preceded by Seven, who was anxious to see how her idea was progressing. Tom and Harry engaged in conversation lagged behind a few steps. They walked

Towards where the experimental gel packs were lying on a bench near the warp drive. Harry was labelling them and handing them to Vorik, who was carefully examining each one, prior to testing it in a non-essential part of the ship's systems.

Harry laughed out loud at something Tom said, startling Vorik and causing him to drop the pack he was holding. It flew out of his hands and landed at Seven's feet. It happened so quickly, that she'd no time to realise that pack was where she was about to put her foot, resulting in her high heel puncturing the gel pack, which exploded dividing it's contents between Janeway and the floor. She skidded on the slippery mixture and lost her footing, ending up spread-eagled on the floor.

Vorik looked abashed, while the junior staff stared open mouthed at the unexpected impromptu skating exhibition from their Captain .Tom broke the silence with a fit of giggle sand was soon joined by most of the others.

Janeway, badly shaken at the loss of her dignity, struggled to regain her composure .She glared at Tom. He stopped laughing immediately.

"What are you all staring at?" She snapped. "Get back to your work immediately!"

Vorik stepped forward and started to offer apologies. Janeway couldn't help but wonder if any of this would have happened were B'Elanna in charge.

Harry approached her, hand outstretched. "Are you alright, Captain? "He enquired anxiously. "Do you want me to call sickbay? "

Janeway shook her head. The last thing she wanted at this moment was to endure the Doctor's caustic remarks. She suspected she'd pulled a muscle but was determined to shower and change before anyone else saw her. She accepted Harry's outstretched hand and allowed him to help her to her feet. "I'll be fine when I've returned to my quarters and changed."

"I'm sorry, I laughed, Ma'am." Tom said sheepishly.

Apology accepted, but it would be better if in future, you and Harry concentrated on your work instead of telling each other smutty jokes on duty!"

"Such behaviour is inefficient." Seven commented

An anxious looking Vorik was checking his tricorder. "I'm afraid we can't beam you to your quarters, Ma'am. "He said frowning." The transporter would find it difficult to differentiate between your life signs and the ship's systems at present."

Janeway groaned inwardly but replied calmly." Then I'll have to take the turbo lift."

"Shall I escort you?" Harry offered.

With a start Janeway realised she was still holding his arm.

"Thank you, Harry." She said gratefully. "Carry on with the gel pack experiments and see that the floor's cleaned before I return. Now everyone get back to work. I don't want any more talk about this incident. That's an order!" she snapped at the crew, who were still stifling giggles at the undignified spectacle they'd been treated to

Janeway found herself limping slightly as she left engineering with Harry, but fortunately the more she walked, the easier the twinge in her leg felt .Far more unpleasant was her soaked uniform, which clung uncomfortably to her body. Not for the first time, she wished there were bathtubs aboard the ship. She was sure B'Elanna would have been glad of a bath after the birth of her child. She decided to order that a few baths be installed. They couldn't be used often because of the need to conserve energy, but could be available at either her or the Doctor's discretion.

Harry coughed nervously. "I'm so sorry, Ma'am that my laughing at Tom's joke caused the accident to happen."

She smiled at him." It wasn't just you, Harry, your laughter was just the first in a chain of events. If Seven would wear more sensible shoes for example, or Vorik was more confident without B'Elanna in charge. At least we know now, that we need a stronger covering for the gel packs, as they need to withstand severe stress."

"I'll work with Seven into developing something later today. "

Janeway nodded. "A good idea. I'll join you. Maybe if we increased the viscosity of the polymer to strengthen the molecular bond."

"I'll run some simulations on the holodeck."

They reached Janeway's quarters, and Harry helped her limp inside out of the reach of prying eyes, gawping at her appearance, Soon afterwards he left for Engineering. His eagerness to return to work made her suspect that he, and most probably, Tom as well had provided some the DNA needed for the experiment. The Doctor had mentioned there was no shortage of volunteers. Janeway felt in a much better mood, Harry tended to have a soothing effect, unlike some of her crew, and instinctively knew how to be supportive, without making her feel even more foolish. She tried not to have favourites amongst her crew, but had to admit privately that she had a soft spot for the young man.

Inside the privacy of her quarters, she locked the door and tearing off all her clothes, threw them in the waste disposal unit, as she headed for the shower. She was sorry to have lost some of her best silk underwear, but there was no way the sticky mess could ever be properly cleaned from delicate garments.

In the shower, no matter how hard she scrubbed; she still didn't feel clean, as the contents of the gel pack seemed to have oozed into every pore. What wouldn't she give for a bath right now? Since their return to the Delta Quadrant, resources were shorter than ever. She supposed she could for a swim on the Holodeck, but it wouldn't be the same. Eventually as the sonic power failed to make her feel fresh, she filled several jugs of warm water from the washbasin and poured them over her body. She supposed she should count herself lucky it wasn't anything corrosive, as her flesh was unblemished. The gel packs were certainly unsuitable for use as cushions though. Smiling at the thought, she finally decided she was as clean as it was possible to be without having a bath. She dried herself quickly and got dressed. Her scientific mind was already brimming with ideas on how to improve the makeshift gel packs.

Despite everyone's best efforts, the new gel packs were not a success. Although the cells had fused in some of the experimental packs and created a variant of the neural gel, it was much less efficient than the original and slowed down the ship's computers. As yet, the difference was hardly noticeable, but it was obvious that the only long-term solution was to search for the raw materials to create the correct nucleic acids. For the present, they continued on their course towards the alpha quadrant travelling through a region of space devoid of Class M planets. Janeway hoped that by the time they reached a more hospitable region, B'Elanna's child would be a little older. So the Chief Engineer could devote her more of her energies towards her ship's duties again. She wanted B'Elanna to enjoy the experience of motherhood and not spend the first precious months worrying about gel packs and Warp drives. Vorik would just have to manage a little longer.

After much deliberation, Tom and B'Elanna decided to call their daughter Miranda Kathryn

Eugenie, which became Mira for short. Miranda was chosen to be a similar name to that of the much missed Miral, Kathryn after her godmother and Eugenie from her father's second name. The young parents had also thought Miranda was appropriate for the first child born in the "Brave new world " of the Delta Quadrant, as Shakespeare would have put it.

B'Elanna was finding her second child even harder, yet more fulfilling than she'd expected and was torn between wanting to return to the work she loved and spending time with Mira. She'd never expected to feel such intense love for anyone, as she felt for this tiny demanding little person, who depended on her for everything. Tom, on the other hand, felt all the exhaustion of parenthood without any of the satisfaction. He was looking forward to when his daughter was old enough to appreciate all the Holodeck programmes he meant to design for her. At present, all she seemed to do was demand her mother's milk, need changing at regular intervals and keep him awake most of the night, usually when he was on the early shift. He knew the Captain would reduce his workload, but was too proud to ask, and in any case, it provided a respite from Mira's howling. He was unsure whether or not that was a Klingon thing, or whether all babies were that noisy. He wondered if he resented the fact she wasn't Miral, whom he'd been with for such a short time, that he didn't even know whether she cried much or not.

As B'Elanna wanted to be kept informed of day-to-day Engineering problems on board Voyager, Kathryn had taken to inviting her for coffee each morning. Both women enjoyed the meetings, B'Elanna appreciated a break from domestic routine and Kathryn enjoyed spending time with her new Goddaughter, though she found her maternal cravings coming back every time she held Mira, or saw the contented look on B'Elanna's face, as she held the child to her breast. A second child seemed to have eased much of the pain of being so far from Miral. Kathryn had never seen the younger woman appear so contented before, as she finally seemed to be at peace with herself.

"And has Vorik checked the Plasma Duct Relays this week?" B'Elanna asked, stretching out one hand for the Engineering report, while continuing to balance the baby with the other.

"Yes, he told me they were working at maximum efficiency." Kathryn took another sip of her coffee and was overwhelmed by a sudden wave of nausea. Slamming the cup down on the table, she dashed towards the bathroom, only just reaching it in time.

B'Elanna leapt to her feet in concern hearing the other woman retching. Mira started to cry at the sudden movement.

"Are you alright?" she yelled above the baby's cries.

"I'll be fine. Just give me a moment."

Kathryn emerged from the bathroom looking slightly shaken, but otherwise well. B'Elanna rushed over to her and tried to guide her to the couch.

"I'll get the Doctor." Her hand reached for her Comm. badge.

Kathryn shook her head. "No, I feel fine now. Unusually well, if anything. For once, I didn't wake with a headache. It must be something I ate."

"Are you sure?" B'Elanna hovered ready to summon sickbay.

"I told you, there's nothing wrong with me. I think it's this coffee it tastes odd." She emptied the almost full cup down the sink.

B'Elanna's eyebrows rose. Never in all the years that she'd known Kathryn Janeway, had she ever seen her throw coffee away before. She opened her mouth to remark that it tasted fine to her, but seeing Kathryn's 'don't mention it again expression, remained silent. She watched her friend as she tidied away the cups and put her jacket on. She did indeed look healthy, which made her sickness all the more strange.

Mira howled even louder.

"If your certain you feel alright, I'd better take Mira back to our quarters. It's time for her bath. Tom's promised to help today, and I intend to keep him to his word!"

"I'm perfectly alright now. I'm due on the Bridge in five minutes."

Kathryn walked B'Elanna to the door and held out her finger to Mira, who stopped crying and grasped it. This had become a daily ritual, which never failed to entertain Mira, while Kathryn marvelled at the strength of her grip for one so tiny.

"You work wonders with her." B'Elanna smiled "If you weren't the captain, I'd keep you busy babysitting!"

Kathryn laughed "And who said Captains can't baby-sit?" she queried with mock severity "I'd love to".

"I'll keep you to that as soon as she's a little older" B'Elanna replied as they went their separate ways.

Kathryn's confident assertion that her sickness was merely due to sampling one of the new cook, Chell's more dubious recipes proved to be over optimistic as every morning she felt equally nauseous, whether or not she ate breakfast. She tried skipping the meal, but with no better results. The strangest thing was, however, that later in the day she always felt ravenous and if anything ate more than usual. Even odder, she found she couldn't stand the taste of coffee, and had developed an odd craving for tea instead. She came to a devastating conclusion, her envy of B'Elanna and frustrated maternal longings were causing her to experience a phantom pregnancy. She looked up the condition in the medical database, which informed her that it was a severe psychological disorder with physiological symptoms, usually experienced by mentally unbalanced and highly disturbed women. The recommended treatment was complete rest, extensive counselling, hormone injections, and avoidance of contact with babies or young children.

Kathryn groaned, as she read it. She felt totally ashamed of her condition, which was bad enough, but to be treated as mentally unstable would be the last resort. She decided if she ignored her symptoms, they would soon go away, as she'd no intention of seeing the Doctor and having him declare her unfit for duty. Moreover, if the crew were to find out, well she'd be a laughing stock, so she devised ways to conceal her symptoms, by juggling her shifts and pretending she'd drunk her coffee in her quarters. Chell had looked surprised and slightly hurt, when she'd refused his latest substitutes, but it wasn't the first time, she'd preferred it from the replicator. The medical database had also mentioned bloating as a symptom, but Kathryn had taken good care not to look at her body since that night, when she'd looked in the mirror and experienced such revulsion at her slender frame.

B'Elanna was proving the biggest problem, as she felt certain the younger woman suspected something, or even read her thoughts, as they still were sometimes linked by the Mind Meld they once shared. She'd retimed their meetings for later in the day, which she felt certain, only made her Chief Engineer more suspicious, yet she felt she'd miss seeing her and Mira too much if she cancelled the meetings. Then there was the problem of the gel packs, which still needed solving. Seven had worked round the clock in Astrometrics, scanning for suitable planets and at last had some better news. A cluster of Class M planets existed in the Zenean Cluster, rich in the necessary raw materials. Unfortunately, it would take three or four months to get there and the inhabitants were highly suspicious of any show of military strength, having narrowly survived an encounter with an invader several generations before. This had led them to revert to simple technologies, and refuse to allow large vessels near their planet. It seemed the only way, Voyager could obtain the precious materials would be to send a small away team in a shuttle, posing as traders, who would have to spend weeks or even months collecting what they needed. Kathryn tried hard to concentrate on the ship's problems instead of her own. She wished they could do something now, instead of having to wait, as surely then she'd have no time to be plagued by these strange symptoms. Not that she felt unwell, far from it. Her headaches had miraculously disappeared and several of the senior staff had remarked on how well she was looking.

Ten days elapsed, during which Kathryn didn't appear on the bridge or receive any visitors until mid morning. She was starting to congratulate herself on successfully coping with her condition and was hopeful it would soon pass, leaving no one any the wiser about what had happened.

Then early one morning, just as she'd dressed and was wondering if she dare risk a glass of water, the door chimed. It was B'Elanna and Mira.

"I know I was meant to drop by this afternoon. "said B'Elanna, "But Tom's programmed a country stroll for us on the Holodeck. I checked you weren't on duty and thought I'd just drop by and tell you. You told me Carey was recalibrating the transporters and I wanted to check everything was in order."

Kathryn felt she'd no choice but to ask her in. She tried to force herself to concentrate on telling B'Elanna the technical details, but all to quickly, the now familiar nausea overwhelmed her. She thrust the report in the startled B'Elanna's hand and rushed to the bathroom.

When she emerged, she heard the Doctor's voice over the Comm. channel

"What's the problem, Lieutenant?"

Before B'Elanna could answer, she cut in "I'm sorry Doctor, there's been a mistake. Baby Mira, caught her mother's badge. Janeway out." She severed the link and glared at B'Elanna.

"Who told you to summon the Doctor?"

"It's obvious that you're ill. The after effects of something bad you've eaten don't last for ten days"

"And what right have you to speculate on my health? You're not my Doctor! Don't meddle in what doesn't concern you! I order you not to interfere!" Kathryn raged. Almost at once, she regretted her harshness and wished she could take the words back, but it was too late.

"You were grateful enough for my concern when those tiger creatures nearly killed you. You've no need to worry about me interfering again though, I'm going!" B'Elanna sounded both furious and hurt as she stormed out of the room.

Later that day, she went to Chakotay, as he drew up the duty shift and demanded to be returned to part time duty.

Several weeks passed during which Kathryn took good care that there was never any opportunity for private conversation with B'Elanna. They were pleasant enough to each other when they met in public and B'Elanna still brought Mira to see her Godmother, but the Captain always timed the visits either with Tom present, or when she knew Naomi would be having her lesson.

Kathryn found she missed the other woman's companionship. Chakotay often came in the evening for a meal and a chat and she enjoyed his company. Yet, his attraction towards her, which deep down she knew was mutual created an element of sexual tension between them, which made her unable to relax completely. It was only since she and B'Elanna had become friends that she'd ceased to miss her sister on earth, quite so keenly. A feeling that had intensified since Kes had departed. Not that Phoebe and B'Elanna were alike, far from it, yet she'd come to regard the fiery half Klingon almost as a surrogate younger sister, who compensated for the cosy evenings she so missed sharing with her sibling.

Once she calmed down, B'Elanna was convinced that something was seriously amiss with the Captain. She decided to keep a discreet eye on her without risking her wrath by saying anything else. She had her suspicions about what was wrong, but they seemed so absurd, she deciding against voicing them to anyone, as it seemed disloyal and almost slanderous to do so.

Tom had initially been jealous of his wife's bond with the Captain, but as time passed, he realised they needed each other's companionship, much as he needed to spend time relaxing with Harry. He'd tried asking B'Elanna if she and Janeway had fallen out, but all she would say was that the Captain could be difficult at times, which he put down to the incomprehensible mystery of women's moods. He had an ulterior motive as he was devoutly hoping that Janeway would take B'Elanna and the baby on another holiday, as the prospect of a few weeks or even days of uninterrupted sleep would be the greatest bliss he could contemplate.

He lay beside B'Elanna in the darkness, when she started to nibble his ear. Despite his exhaustion, he responded eagerly. He drew her close, but before he could even whisper endearments to her, Mira started to cry. After her mother fed her, and the baby fell asleep. B'Elanna was no longer in a passionate mood.

"I took Mira for her check up today." She said casually.

"She's alright isn't she?" Tom hoped the crying wasn't a sign of illness.

"The Doctor says she's fine and she'll start teething soon. Apparently, being part Klingon means she'll get her teeth early!" B'Elanna sounded almost proud.

Tom stifled his groans in the pillow. He knew enough about teething babies to know they cried a lot. He tried to sound casual.

"When are you planning your girl's holiday or whatever this year?" he asked.


"I thought you, Seven and the Captain planned to go away and relax occasionally. So you told me."

"Nothing's been mentioned. I doubt if we can until the gel packs are working properly. Why?"

"Oh, nothing. I just thought you might need a break."

"You need a break, you mean!"

Too tired to argue Tom pretended to be asleep .How he wished his daughter were old enough to play with on the Holodeck, or impress with his piloting skills, or even just old enough not to cry so much. Or remind him of Miral, which was even worse!

Kathryn's nausea had stopped much to her relief yet her strange craving for tea continued. She kept hoping that would pass too but to no avail. As well as wanting to drink it, she loved to sniff it as well, something that had never entered her head throughout all the years she'd been addicted to coffee. She also craved oranges and kept replicating them, two or three times a day And then there was the matter of her uniforms, either they were shrinking or she was putting on weight. She feared the latter, as the Doctor had pointedly asked her was she getting sufficient exercise and would she like him to devise a special work out programme? She'd hastily declined the offer, promising to spend more time playing Velocity on the Holodeck with Seven.

Then a few nights ago, she'd felt a strange fluttering sensation within her. This phantom pregnancy was getting worse and she's nowhere to turn without being exposed to the threat of loosing her command because of the mental instability the condition was caused by.

After several sleepless nights, she devised a plan to cure her symptoms once and for all. She'd wait until both Tom and the Doctor were on an away mission, go to Sickbay, while it was deserted and scan herself. Surely seeing the scientific proof that she wasn't carrying a child would cure her delusions. It would be easy enough to erase the computer records in the sickbay files .The next morning, she sauntered casualty into Astrometrics clutching her mug of tea, and asked Seven if she'd found anything interesting.

"The Class M planets that Lieutenant Torres is interested in will be within range in two to three weeks time." She reported. "We are currently in a stable region of space, devoid of planets, our course is plotted to pass near a binary star and a class 6 Nebula within the next twenty four hours."

Janeway's heart leapt. "A class 6 Nebula? Display it, please, Seven"

The former Drone looked puzzled but did as the Captain asked. A dizzying array of swirling greens and purples appeared on the screen.

"I think we should examine this more closely." Janeway said." These gaseous formations are of a rare and beautiful variety."

"The Borg encountered at least ninety thousand similar phenomenon. Beauty is irrelevant." Seven sounded unimpressed

"Well, I'd like you to take a closer look. Tom can pilot the Delta Flyer and I'd like the Doctor to go along to, as he's the best photographer, this crew has. I'd like something to show for our travels when we get back to earth."

"Very well Captain, though I fail to see what purpose such a mission will accomplish."

"I'm sure you'll find it informative and maybe you could try and develop your sense of aesthetics. It will help you fit in better."Janeway smiled, patted her on the shoulder and returned to her ready room.

Unlike Seven, Tom and the Doctor were both delighted when Janeway informed them she wanted a close study of the Nebula. The Doctor was planning to give an illustrated lecture on gaseous phenomena and had more than once during the past months asked for the opportunity to take photographs, which Janeway had denied to spare her crew the tedium of his lecture. She decided she could endure it in exchange for an hour or two alone in sickbay. Not that he'd ever know why she'd decided to grant his wish.

She made certain that the Flyer was scheduled to depart during Chakotay's shift, so no one would miss her from the bridge .She watched the small craft depart from the window in her quarters and made her way rather furtively to sickbay. To her horror, Ensign Talbot was there, sitting in front of a table, on which the Doctor had left a dermal regenerator and some hypos of mild painkillers. The Ensign looked up as she entered.

"Can I be of assistance, Ma'am?" she enquired, jumping to her feet.

Janeway smiled at her. "No thank you, Ensign. I've some crew reports to check here .You can take the rest of the day off."

"But, Ma'am, the Doctor left me in charge here in case any of the crew required medical assistance. I came first in the First Aid Diploma Class at the Academy."

"I'm glad to know we can count on you in an emergency. However, I know some basic First Aid too and can cope if anyone comes in. Now, off you go and enjoy yourself. That's an order!" Her voice was firm, but she smiled at the same time. Talbot scurried off.

Alone at last, Kathryn secured the doors. She'd no intention of being disturbed. Rather hesitantly she took the pre natal scanner from the cupboard and tried to scan herself. It was much harder than she'd expected, as unlike a tricorder, the readings were displayed on a screen behind the bio bed. Sighing she climbed up on it and then wondered if she'd better fetch a mirror to try to see behind her. Realising that wouldn't work, she next tried lying feet first, which made things a little easier but still painfully slow.

B'Elanna tossed uneasily on her bed. Mira lay sleeping peacefully in her cot alongside her. She was worn out after yet another night of Mira's crying and had planned to spend some time relaxing, now her child was asleep. Yet, she felt uneasy. She had an overwhelming urge to go to sickbay, though it made no sense, but then since Tuvok had linked her and the Captain, she'd often felt thoughts that weren't her own. She cursed inwardly; she'd welcomed the shared emotions that the earlier mind meld had given her, but this felt strange and worrying. She was sure something was very wrong. There was no sign of it. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep again but it was hopeless. She was certain something was amiss with Kathryn, as strong emotions seemed to activate a telepathic link She got up, changed into her uniform and asked Samantha Wildman to come and keep an eye on Mira. It was a while since she'd checked the equipment in sickbay for malfunctions and she always preferred to do it, when the Doctor wasn't there, as he tended to get in her way. Today would be as good a time as any.

B'Elanna found sickbay locked, which was strange as the Doctor usually found someone to leave in charge. She used her security override to gain admittance.

Kathryn Janeway was lying feet first on the diagnostic bed trying to scan herself. Hearing B'Elanna come in, she leapt to her feet.

"What are you doing here?" she demanded

"Running routine maintenance checks on the equipment". The half-truth was easier while Janeway was in this kind of mood.

"Doesn't Mira need you as Tom's away?"

"She's with Samantha and Naomi."

"Maybe you should check on her, Surely the maintenance can wait. I'm busy checking reports here Come back later." Kathryn advanced towards her as if she planned to push her out into the corridor if her suggestion wasn't followed. B'Elanna stood her ground. A direct approach was called for.

"You're pregnant, aren't you? That's why you were trying to scan yourself." B'Elanna said gently.

"That's ridiculous! It's impossible!"

"You've been suffering from morning sickness, craving tea instead of coffee. You're growing larger by the day and eating for two."

"I might have put on a little weight, but your suggestion is outrageous!"

B'Elanna decided to try a different line of questioning. "Why were so outraged when I wanted to call the Doctor, a few weeks ago, then? You've also been avoiding me. And if you're not pregnant, why are you trying to scan yourself with an instrument only used to examine mothers to be? I know you're troubled I can sense it. You're not here to read reports!"

Kathryn sighed heavily and looked pleadingly at B'Elanna.

"I didn't want to tell anyone as I'd look so foolish and maybe be deprived of command. This conversation must remain secret. That's an order. !" "I'm not expecting a baby, but I believe I'm suffering from a rare psychological condition called phantasmpseudopartum. It can't be anything else as any disease that mimicked the symptoms of pregnancy was eradicated over a hundred years ago. I thought if I scanned myself and saw there was no child, it would cure me of such delusions."

B'Elanna was unconvinced but knew there was only one way to find out.

"It's impossible to use those scanners on yourself. Believe me, I should know." She picked up the instrument "I've seen the Doctor use this often enough to know how it works. You'd better let me scan you or you'll be here all day."

Kathryn nodded reluctantly "Very well. Go ahead and put an end to this absurd delusion I'm suffering from!"

"Well lie down on the bed and keep still then."

Kathryn complied. B'Elanna could sense her anxiety. She ran the pre natal scanner slowly over her body. The screen behind the bed flicked into life showing the distinct image of an unborn child.

Seeing the look on her friend's face Kathryn sat, bolt upright, nearly knocking the scanning device out of B'Elanna's hand.

"What is it?" she demanded "Tell me! "

B'Elanna struggled to find the right words. "You're not suffering from any delusions. "There was no easy way to break the news. "You are pregnant, a healthy child of about five months gestation human DNA."

All the colour drained from Kathryn's face. She looked as if she might faint. "That's not possible! "she gasped. "The equipment must be faulty! There's no way I could be having a child!"

B'Elanna couldn't bring herself to look her in the eye. "It is true. There's no mistake." To prove the point she fetched a monitor, placed it at the foot of the bed and ran the scans again. This time Kathryn could see the child for herself. She lay staring at the image in silence for a few moments. Before sitting up slowly. She looked dazed.

"I must get away, no one must know, I'd be a laughing stock! Especially with the Investigation Committee on board! They'd use it an excuse to relieve me of duty! And the ship could be in danger from some alien entity! I read about an incident on the Enterprise. They nearly died because of it! I'll go away, then if it's human bring it back, it could be altered to look alien. Make its skin green or something! Only the Doctor would know the truth .I'd say I found it abandoned. What am I saying? I'd do that to my own child?" She slumped forward, covering her face with her hands.

B'Elanna placed a comforting arm round her." I understand, but you can't go off alone in the emptiness of space to give birth! I'm sure everyone would understand."

Kathryn laughed bitterly

"And how do you think the rest of my crew would react were I to say. Your Captain's having a baby and hasn't a clue who the father is, or how she came to be in that condition. It could be a dangerous alien planning to take over the ship! No, I can't stay here, I could be endangering everyone and how could I retain command of Voyager, as it seems I can't even command my own body!"

"You've no idea at all how it happened?" B'Elanna couldn't help but sound slightly incredulous."Maybe you were intoxicated or something and can't remember? Ghastly mistakes can happen."

Kathryn was starting to regain her composure. "I do not drink anything stronger than synthenhol. "She said tartly. All I know is, nothing bad happened to me, as I'd know if I'd been violated. I don't know how I came to be having this baby but I am. I want it, but it can't be born here on Voyager. I won't expose my crew to any risks or have them thinking their Captain acts like a prostitute! I'll have to go away. I can return after the baby's born, assuming it poses no threat Until we can find a way to manufacture new gel packs. Voyager won't be going anywhere in a hurry. You must tell no one what's happened" Seeing B'Elanna was silent she repeated". You're to tell no one. That's an order! Do you understand?"

"You can't order me to let you wander off to give birth alone. You could die without help. As your friend I couldn't live with myself if I let that happen."

"I've no other choice. You must see that. It's the only ethical way to deal with this situation."

B'Elanna knew once Kathryn made up her mind there was no going back. She thought quickly.

"I understand but I'm sure we can work something out. You've had a dreadful shock. You need time for it to sink in. It was hard enough for me to get used to the idea of motherhood and Tom and I were planning a baby. I'll bring Mira to your quarters this evening and we'll talk then. First, we must destroy the evidence. I'll erase this file from the computer, run a level three diagnostic. Maybe if you were to scan me, and we then erased that file too? I could tell the Doctor I was testing the equipment during routine maintenance."

Kathryn relaxed a little, as it seemed B'Elanna would keep her secret. The colour slowly returned to her face as she did what the younger woman suggested. They worked quickly; fearful someone would come to sickbay before they could erase the evidence. B'Elanna suggested Kathryn return to her quarters, while she finished the routine maintenance of all the sickbay computers, testing all the equipment on herself, so the Doctor wouldn't realise the pre natal scanner had been used .The captain seemed loath to be alone with her thoughts, but B'Elanna needed time to decide what course of action she should take

Kathryn paced round her quarters like a caged tigress. How could this have happened to her? The Doctor had assured her that her brief romance with Jaffen hadn't left her carrying his child, as their genetic structure was incompatible. The timing was wrong too, as it seemed this child had been conceived only about five months ago at most. B'Elanna was adamant that the baby had entirely human DNA yet the last time a man had shared her bed had been, when she and Mark were engaged and living together, nearly seven years ago. Then apart from Jaffen, she'd had no sexual relationship since Mark, for even with her holographic boyfriend, Michael, contrary to what most of her crew believed nothing more intimate than a few passionate kisses had occurred in keeping with the Edwardian setting.The only other humans she'd seen recently were her crew and she'd always considered sexual relationships with crew members to undesirable for a Captain to pursue and had taken great care to avoid her friendship with Chakotay turning into a romance.

She'd wanted a child so badly, yet now she was having one she was horrified. Maybe she'd known deep down all along, what was causing her symptoms but had been afraid to admit it, even to herself .Yet how could the impossible have happened? She wanted some answers, but even more pressing was the need to conceal what had happened. The child could be raised on Voyager, disguised as an alien and unaware of its parentage. Maybe Samantha Wildman would take it and raise it alongside Naomi. Someone else could take over her duties if she agreed. The biggest problem was leaving the ship for several months without arousing suspicion.

She felt she could weep or scream with shock, fear and frustration. She banged her fist down on the table to release some tension; half hoping the pain would distract her from the emotional turmoil. A Padd crashed to the floor. She picked it up and glanced at it. It was Seven's report about the organic compounds in the Zenean system. Her thoughts cleared as an idea came to her. Why it was perfect!

When B'Elanna returned, Kathryn looked calmer though she still paced the floor restlessly. Trying to come to terms with the seemingly impossible.

"There must be an explanation, there must be!" she said, more to herself than B'Elanna. "This can't be happening to me! Not only have I not slept with anyone during the last months, but I've been having fertility conservation injections, which also act as a contraceptive!"

B'Elanna placing Mira's crib, containing the sleeping child in the darkened bedroom, shook her head.

"I checked the records while was in sickbay. You were due for one five months ago, the day Mira was born, according to the Doctor's appointments scheduler. I assume you forgot in all the excitement, but wouldn't the Doctor have reminded you?"

"No, it's like using contraception, a decision for the individual, not Starfleet Medical. I've used the treatment for years, as it does away with inconvenient monthly cycles, as well as stopping the biological clock. The Doctor must have thought I'd either given up hope of a family or wanted a break from the treatment." She finally stopped pacing and sat on the couch, clutching a PADD, studying it, as if it contained some magical formula. "I've decided what to do,"she announced.

"I'll volunteer to collect the organic compounds to create new gel packs. When you think of it, I'm the logical choice, a scientist with diplomatic experience. The mission will take months. I can have the baby, change it's appearance superficially to make it appear alien, bring it back and tell the crew I found it abandoned, left to die because of the Zenean religion or something. The Doctor will realise it's mine, but he's sworn to medical confidentiality. It can be brought up on Voyager, without anyone knowing it's mine."

"It's also logical the Chief engineer go on the mission." B'Elanna sat beside Kathryn and took the PADD from her, studying the data. "There's three Class M planets in the Zenean cluster, one person couldn't accomplish the mission alone, and neither could a nursing mother and a mother to be. We need two more people who can be trusted."

"I can manage alone," Kathryn said stubbornly. "I'll beam the baby out when it's time. Tom would miss you and resent you going away for several months"

"He asks nearly every day if you're planning to take me and the baby on another holiday." B'Elanna said rather tartly .He complains he can't sleep for Mira crying and can't wait for her to grow past that stage. I'm coming with you, unless you prefer I inform the rest of the senior staff.

Now whom else shall we take? Whom do you trust implicitly?"

Kathryn glared but had to admit B'Elanna had the upper hand as well as having a more sensible plan.

"What about Tuvok?" B'Elanna suggested

"He's a stickler for rules, as well as being uncomfortable in such situations despite being a father himself. Chakotay has to stay here, you say Tom wants some time alone, and I don't think Seven's suitable. What about Harry?"

"He'd be ideal. He's totally loyal to you as well as having the right qualifications for the official mission we need one other person."

Kathryn sat thinking for a few moments. "I think Tal Celes would be ideal." She said at last. "Tal you must be joking! The girl's hopeless." B'Elanna looked taken aback "She's made progress since I Transferred Harren to Astrometrics and placed her in Ops She's no Einstein, but sensible enough. I've been keeping an eye on her. Don't be so hard on the girl.

"I know she's one of your precious lost sheep. B'Elanna grumbled. But why choose her for this?"

"I think she'd be ideal. She was brought up in a refugee camp, so she's used to roughing it, She's used to children too. Maybe she could bring it up, as she's not essential to running Voyager. Once she told me she'd like to be a waitress, a nanny's job would suit her well. Besides, she's loyal to me. She insisted on staying with me to risk what seemed certain death at the time."

Kathryn's Comm. badge chirped at that moment. It was Chakotay to tell her the away team were returning.

"I'll be on my way," she told him" Janeway out"

She stood up and walked towards the door. B'Elanna eyed her critically. And frowned.

"Why do you look so worried?"

"The Baby's starting to show. At least from this angle. Thought, I doubt anyone who wasn't looking would notice. It's all right, when you're sitting down. If you wore a larger size uniform and padded your bra, it hopefully disguise the pregnancy for another two or three weeks until we reach the Zenean system."

Kathryn grimaced. "To think I should be in this ridiculous situation!" She grumbled." The sooner it can be beamed out and handed over to someone else the better .I'd rather fight with the Borg any day! They're less terrifying."

More than anything, B'Elanna wished her friend would swallow her pride and tell the Doctor and the rest of the senior staff, but she respected her wishes and despite her misgivings, understood her motives.

"You're strong. You'll cope." She said reassuringly, as she picked up Mira. And made her way back to her quarters.

The next day, Kathryn outlined her plans to the rest of the senior staff, overruling their objections by saying that it was obvious B'Elanna's engineering expertise would be required, while her diplomatic skills would also be indispensable in a xenophobic society. She also announced that Harry had been chosen too, and Tal Celes to help look after Mira. B'Elanna did her best to appear surprised and a trifle indignant.

"But, you'll be gone months!" Chakotay protested.

"And I'll leave the ship in your capable hands. I know the Committee won't be happy, but they'll have to put up with my absence if they want this ship to get them home. You can survey the Recosean Cluster, while we'll gone and restock out dilithium supplies. We'll take the Flier and rendezvous with you the other side of Recosa three. As for you, Tom, I hope you can spare your wife and daughter, but B'Elanna's expertise is vital for this mission Mr Paris?"

Tom, who looked to be nodding off in his seat snapped back to attention. "Aye, Ma'am. I understand Ma'am." He stifled a yawn after another sleepless night.

"Maybe I should accompany you?" Tuvok suggested.

Janeway looked at him affectionately.

"I appreciate your concern, but the Zeneans have no history of violence. You'll be better employed on Voyager, than gathering organic samples."

The meeting broke up with the reluctant agreement of the senior staff. Kathryn remained seated until the others had left the room, taking B'Elanna's advice to heart.

Celes was delighted when the Captain informed her she'd been chosen for the away mission. Since she'd overcome her initial fear of Janeway, she'd idolised the Captain, after realising how willingly she would have sacrificed herself for three of her lowliest crewmembers. Her boy friend teased her mercilessly, when she objected to him referring to Janeway as "She who must be obeyed" or the" Dragon Lady", as the Bajoran was fiercly loyal and thrilled at the honour of being chosen to go on a long and important mission with the Captain. She had been so much happier since Janeway had moved her from Astrometrics to Ops, as Mr Kim was so much less demanding than Seven of Nine. Now she would have chance to prove her gratitude.

The next two and a half weeks felt like eternity to Kathryn as every day she feared her secret would be discovered. She came to the Bridge as little as possible, claiming with some veracity that she was engrossed in preparations for the away mission. When in the Briefing Room, she was first to arrive and last to leave, so she could remain with her pregnancy concealed behind the table. Every night she lay awake racking her brains, as to how she'd come to be in this condition, but found no explanation. Eating started to become as difficult as sleeping, she felt so agitated.

She avoided the Doctor as much as possible, but apart from making caustic remarks that the exercise on the away mission would help her loose a few pounds, he seemed unaware that anything was amiss. B'Elanna's suggestions were obviously helping. She woke up one morning in a state of near panic when she remembered; she'd need a routine inoculation before setting foot on an alien planet. B'Elanna again, came up with a solution; as she suggested Kathryn go to sickbay, while the Doctor was giving a lecture about the medical conditions implied in Verdi's operas, as Tom was on duty in Sickbay. After another sleepless night with Mira's teething, it was doubtful, if the young father would have noticed if she'd started to sprout Borg implants or grown two heads. He was supposed to give her a routine medical scan at the same time, but B'Elanna had pre programmed the medical tricorder to give a set of false readings from a previous check up.

The away team had studied Zenean culture and decided it would be prudent to dress like the natives, whose usual apparel, luckily for Kathryn comprised a loose fitting robe over a tunic and skirt for females and a more tailored upper garment and trousers for males. She ordered B'Elanna, Harry and Celes to report to the Delta Flyer dressed in the outfits on the day they were due to depart, claiming the longer they wore them, the better they'd blend in. Under the loose robe, Kathryn could have been carrying twins without anyone being the wiser. She gave Chakotay final instructions and promised to send regular transmissions telling of their progress, when Voyager was within range. Seven had calculated, with her usual Borg precision, that collecting the raw materials they needed would take approximately three months and two weeks if they worked at maximum efficiency, which seemed ideal for Kathryn to have her child without arousing suspicion. Voyager would be headed in the opposite direction and spend several weeks collecting the much needed dilithium for the Warp engines.

Kathryn was yawning as she made her way to Tom and B'Elanna's quarters, she'd offered to take Mira to her quarters for the night, so Tom and B'Elanna could have some time alone together. Mira was usually well behaved when the captain babysat, but last night had been an exception, as she'd howled constantly for her mother, and Kathryn had on more than one occasion been on the verge of summoning B'Elanna. She wondered however, she'd cope with a child of her own, if just one night was so exhausting. She felt more determined than ever to hand the baby over to Celes, so she could continue as if nothing untoward had happened, once they returned. B'Elanna was waiting outside her door, her bag packed for the journey and wearing a near identical outfit to Kathryn's. She took her child and hugged her close.

"Let's go. "She said, balancing Mira on one arm and the bags on the other. "I've said goodbye to Tom."

"I hope you had an enjoyable night." Kathryn said, a twinkle in her eye.

"Don't mention it! "B'Elanna snapped." Our last night together for months, and the first without Mira since she was born and was to he do, while changing into my sexiest nightgown? Fall asleep! He only woke up an hour ago, long enough for me to say goodbye and ask if he wanted me to fetch Mira, but he was snoring again before he made up his mind!"

The door suddenly opened, and a tousled looking Tom, still in his pyjamas emerged, B'Elanna bundled Mira back into Kathryn's arms, dropped the bags and flung herself in her husbands arms.

Kathryn withdrew to a discreet distance, but he beckoned her over after a moment or two.

"You'll look after them both, won't you Captain?" He looked in her eyes.

"Don't worry Tom, You'll have them back before you know it! "She felt slightly guilty, as more likely than not, B'Elanna would be taking care of her.

"When the teething's over will do nicely! He patted Mira's curly head fondly, gave B'Elanna a last embrace then mumbled something about getting dressed. B'Elanna watched him go with a mixture of affection and exasperation.

Celes and Harry were already waiting by the Delta Flyer. It was still early and only Chakotay and Tuvok had come to see them depart. . Kathryn kept the farewells brief, nervous that even wearing this voluminous outfit, her pregnancy might be discovered at the last moment. Mira started to cry again, which for once provided a welcome distraction. She raised her hand in the Vulcan salute to Tuvok, while B'Elanna soothed her child. Chakotay returned to the Bridge to clear them for departure. Harry took the conn and they were off.

Kathryn could have wept with relief as they left Voyager behind, but as always controlled her emotions, as she didn't want Harry and Celes to know the truth until they were out of hailing range of the ship. She went over the mission details with them again, emphasising it was vital the Zeneans believed them to be a small party of explorers, interested in the geology, flora and fauna of the planets in the cluster. She concluded her talk by saying.

"The Zeneans are hostile to anything suggestive of large ships or military power. So we must call each other by our given names for the duration of this mission, I don't want to hear, Ma'am, Captain, Lieutenant, Ensign or Sir pass anyone's lips! That's an order! I dislike having to deceive these people, but it's our only chance to renew Voyager's gel packs and get home. Do you understand?"

"Aye, Ma'am "Celes replied. Kathryn sighed "You mean, yes, Kathryn, Celes. Try to remember. " "Um, yes Capt.. Um Kathryn, I mean." She looked flustered. Kathryn smiled at her encouragingly. "You'll get used to it. Undercover work is always difficult at first. At least we've two days to practise."

The two days passed uneventfully. B'Elanna had designed a special cradle for Mira, which the baby seemed to like, as she cried very little, and seemed to be enjoying her first time away from Voyager. Kathryn was trying to encourage Celes to stay with her, while B'Elanna studied data on the nucleic compounds in the gel packs and the most likely matches, which appeared to be either in a fungus on the nearest planet or a micocellular organism found in the thermal springs on the inner planet. The young Bajoran seemed to be good with babies, much to Kathryn's relief.

"I've three younger brothers and sisters." She explained, noticing Kathryn's scrutiny. "I brought them up, as our mother was killed, when they were tiny. "

Kathryn looked away, suddenly consumed with guilt at the way she was planning to use the young woman's tragic background to her own advantage, not to mention, how little she still knew about her after seven years. Celes was too preoccupied with Mira to notice.

"Little Mira reminds me of my youngest sister., "she said, rather wistfully. She was only eight, when I left the Refugee camp to join Starfleet. I miss her sometimes."

"Entering the Zenean Cluster in two hours ten minutes approximately. "The computer voice announced.

Kathryn took a deep breath. It was time now to tell Harry and Celes the truth. There was no easy way to do it. She rose to her feet, taking her cloak off, as she did. Her eyes met B'Elanna's, who gave her an encouraging nod.

"I've something to tell you. "She announced" I'm afraid I haven't been frank with you about this mission. We are going to find raw materials for Voyager's gel packs, but I'm here for another reason. I needed to get away from the ship with people, I could trust, because I'm going to have a child in about three months."

Celes gaped at her open mouthed, while Harry gave a strangled exclamation and looked as if he were about to faint. Ignoring their reactions, Kathryn continued.

"I 'm aware you'll find the news surprising as I did myself, as I can tell you, I have no idea, how this came to happen, or who the father is. The nearest precedent, I can find is an incident on the Enterprise D when the Ship's Counsellor was impregnated by an unknown entity, which unwittingly endangered the ship. I have no intention of risking Voyager and her crew, or being the object of speculation, therefore this mission offered the ideal solution. If the child proves to pose no threat to us, we shall return with it to Voyager, where I shall ask the Doctor to alter it to appear alien. The crew will be told we found it abandoned, and it will be raised as part of our family on Voyager. You are never to tell anyone that I'm the mother. I assure you my condition will not affect my work or my ability to command. I've told you as much as I know myself and I don't want to hear the matter mentioned again until it is time for the child to be born. Nor do I wish to be treated as an invalid. I assure you, I'm in excellent health. B'Elanna has known about this matter for a few weeks, but otherwise no one else is aware of it and I want things to stay that way. Understood? "

Harry and Celes nodded too dumbfounded to speak. B'Elanna hastily started explaining what was planned when the y reached the Zenean system. They were to land the Delta Flyer in a secluded area on the first planet and use it as a base from where to gather fungi. The inhabitants wee aware of space travel, but their xenophobic attitude meant contact was best kept to a minimum.

The next ten days passed slowly and monotonously as the away team, started collecting fungi at first light, beamed back to the Delta Flyer for a midday meal and then gathered more specimens until nightfall, It was hard work, which resulted in aching backs and stiff fingers. Only Mira seemed happy in the fresh air, as B'Elanna has designed a kind of sling to carry her in and she gurgled contentedly while the adults worked.

Kathryn worked harder than anyone, but said not another word about her unborn child, not even to B'Elanna .It was as if she hoped that by working all the time, she could forget about what was happening to her. Harry kept trying to help, offering to carry the heavy baskets and equipment, but her only reaction, was to snap, "I don't need help". Which left him with a perpetually worried and slightly worried air. Celes appeared rather aloof and almost sulky, now she'd discovered her idol was as human as anyone else.

They were starting to look distinctly weather-beaten, like genuine peasants and had to keep treating themselves for calluses and blisters. The results were disappointing as the Fungi were only yielding a minute proportion of the compounds required. Kathryn had decided to try for a few more days and then move on to the next planet. B'Elanna was worried about her, as she drove herself relentlessly and looked grey with exhaustion.

They saw little of the local population. An elderly Zenean male had passed them one day, and shaken his head

"Crazy off worlders!" he'd muttered." those fungi aren't even good to eat. Look out or the wild ones will catch you!"

They nodded politely to him, wondering if the Zeneans had their own version of the Yeti, then returned to the endless backbreaking labour.

The work seemed harder than ever on the eleventh day as the ground was wet with overnight rain and everyone's shoes were sticking in the mud, which adhered to the hems of the women's long skirts. Celes wearily catalogued the twenty -eighth varieties of fungal spores, while Harry and Kathryn filled baskets with the most promising variety they'd discovered, one that yielded a microgram of the required compound per basketful. B'Elanna further weighed down with carrying Mira was trying to move to a position to ease her aching back.

Kathryn had been vaguely aware of a bird singing in the trees behind them. It stopped and flew away abruptly. She looked round, suddenly sensing danger. A small group of aliens emerged from the shelter of the forest. They had very pale, creamy coloured skin, orange hair and were clad in rough skins. The males were armed with bows and an arrow, one of which was aimed directly at Mira, who strapped to her mother's back, was waving happily towards the strangers as the movement caught her eye.

The group's apparent leader, a fierce looking male, drew his bow and aimed at Mira. Kathryn flung herself in front of the baby and her mother. The arrow headed towards her. She heard Harry cry out then felt a sharp pain in her shoulder. The rest of the group were advancing and throwing stones at the Voyager crew. Harry, thinking quickly noticed a ditch behind them and pushed the women into it, though it only provided limited cover. Stones seemed to be flying at them from all directions. An arrow grazed Harry's leg as he activated his Comm. Badge and beamed them aboard the Delta Flyer.

A dazed group materialised on the transporter pad. It had all happened so quickly. Kathryn had fallen on top of B'Elanna and Celes and the three women were covered in mud. Harry's leg was bleeding profusely and Kathryn had an arrow protruding from her left shoulder and appeared to be only semi conscious.

B'Elanna was the first to collect her, despite having been hit several times by the stones.

"Celes Get the med kit and stop Harry bleeding! "she ordered. "I'll see to Kathryn."

Kathryn was starting regain her senses and was moaning and clutching her stomach. "My baby!" she whispered.

B'Elanna helped her to her feet. They were both so covered in mud as to be almost unrecognisable. She headed straight for the sonic shower and held Kathryn under it, fully clothed. She then got her to a chair and did the same for herself and the whimpering Mira. Usually she wished the showers had water, but today she was grateful they used sound waves. As quickly as she could, she placed Mira in her crib reassured herself with a quick tricorder scan than her daughter was unhurt, and hastened back to Kathryn, whom she helped over to the bio bed. She set the transporter controls to remove the arrow, but nothing happened, it seemed the weapon was too primitive for the Equipment to recognise.

"That was very brave and very foolish, what you just did. You could have been killed. You saved Mira's life. How can I thank you?" she patted Kathryn's hand. She was still clutching her stomach.

"My baby one of the stones hit me. I can't feel it moving!" She was trying to pull at her clothing with her uninjured arm.

As far as B'Elanna could ascertain, the stone had slightly grazed her skin and would leave a substantial bruise within a few hours, though there appeared to be no serious damage. She scanned for a heartbeat with the medical tricorder but could find none. Kathryn noticed her grim expression.

"It's dead isn't it?" She cried. My baby, they've killed my baby!"

B'Elanna nodded sadly "The amniotic sac is undamaged, but I can't detect a heartbeat. The stone must have caused a fatal injury."

Celes had managed to staunch Harry's wound and was working on it with the dermal regenerator. She thrust it in his hand to continue and hurried over to B'Elanna and Kathryn.

"Let me try." she said.

B'Elanna looked at her rather scornfully. "Why? Have you had specialised medical training?"

"No, but I think I might be able to help."

"You're dripping mud everywhere. Go and wash the mud off yourself if Harry's stopped bleeding "B'Elanna hardly looked at her as she resumed the tricorder scan.

Chastened, Celes headed for the bathroom.

Harry struggled to his feet and limped towards them. He looked anxiously at Kathryn. She was very pale and her eyes glistened with tears. She managed a wan smile for Harry.

"Well done, your quick thinking saved us." She whispered." If only it hadn't been too late for the baby!"

Harry looked troubled." I'm so sorry."

"I didn't think I wanted it with not knowing it happened, but now, it was probably my last chance to be a mother. And I've lost it. It's dead. My baby's dead! It can't be .No!" The tears started to roll down hr cheeks

Celes emerged from the shower looking more like herself.

"Please let me try scanning, "she begged, "I've had some experience".

"What use it? You'll only upset her more!" B'Elanna snapped. "All we can do is beam it out before she develops an infection. We should concentrate on removing the arrow."

She clapped her hand over her mouth at Kathryn's anguished expression.

"Let her try. It can't hurt me," Kathryn said wearily. She lay with her eyes shut, looking completely drained of energy and life.

B'Elanna shrugged and handed Celes the tricorder. The Bajoran was notorious as Voyager's least competent crewmember.

Celes held the instrument at an angle and started singing a Bajoran chant.

"We should never have allowed this. The woman's mad! She can't even hold a tricorder and were wasting valuable time! She doesn't even know where to look for a foetal heartbeat!" B'Elanna grumbled to Harry, trying to block out Kathryn's anguish, which as a mother was unbearable to her.

Celes ignored her and continued chanting, while constantly moving the tricorder Harry. , Who's leg was still hurting sat down, while B'Elanna tapped her foot impatiently .She looked as if she might snatch the instrument from Celes any moment.

The Bajoran was now holding the tricorder in one place and smiling. She whispered something to Kathryn who cried out "You're certain? It's alive "

Celes continued her chant. Harry took the tricorder from her and pointed it at the same spot. The baby's heartbeat registered unmistakably. B'Elanna looking over his shoulder stared open mouthed.

"But how? "she asked." I checked in the right place."

Celes finally finished her chant. "It had curled in a tight ball .It makes the heartbeat difficult to detect. Unborn infants do that when they're afraid. Its unharmed, just frightened. The Prophets be praised! "

"How did you know that? "Harry asked puzzled "Who wants to terrify unborn children?"

Celes laughed bitterly. "The Cardassians considered it a great sport to beat up expectant mothers in the labour camps. They kicked my mother so hard that she miscarried my little sister. However, many were luckier, and we learned to detect which infants had survived. This child has suffered a similar trauma. The chant should soothe it."

Kathryn smiled at her "I'm glad I brought you on this mission. It must have been hard for you after what happened to your sister."

Celes shrugged. "She was one of thousands. But we survived. We had to." Her tone was bitter.

B'Elanna had been searching through the medical supplies looking for the drugs they needed to treat their injuries. She administered two hypos to Harry, one for the pain in his leg and the other to combat infection. She was about to do the same for Kathryn when the Captain protested.

"No I don't want any drugs. They could harm my baby!"

"An infection would do worse damage, and you need a pain killer and a sedative while we deal with that arrow wound."

Kathryn thought for a moment. "Very well, give me something for the infection. I 'm not having painkillers or sedatives though. I've heard they can damage unborn children."

"It's only a one in million chance with modern medicine." B'Elanna protested

"That's still too big a risk. Not now I've a second chance."

Well aware of her stubbornness, B'Elanna knew it was useless to argue. Leaving Kathryn with Celes, she discussed the situation with Harry under the pretext of changing Mira.

They're first thought, was that maybe, they could beam the arrow out. B'Elanna, programmed the transporter, and told Harry to be ready with the dermal regenerator to stop the bleeding, but it proved impossible to get a lock. After several attempts, one of which, nearly beamed Kathryn back to the planet's surface. She had to concede defeat

After further debate, they reluctantly decided that B'Elanna should hold Kathryn down while Harry removed the arrow and Celes applied the dermal regenerator. Neither welcomed the prospect and Harry looked decidedly queasy. B'Elanna felt no better. The only other alternative was to strap her down, which seemed an even worse prospect, which also carried the risk of harming the unborn child.

Gritting their teeth, they told Kathryn what they'd decided.

"Well get on with then." she said". Do it now and quickly. That's an order!" Despite her brave words, the fear was evident in her eyes. B'Elanna cut away the cloth surrounding the arrow, and sat down on the bed, with her feet on the floor, She propped Kathryn against her shoulder, holding her firmly, and wishing she couldn't sense her feelings so acutely.

Harry took a deep breath, grasped the arrow and pulled. Kathryn writhed violently nearly knocking B'Elanna over, screamed and then went limp.

Mercifully the arrow had come away intact in Harry's hand. He looked as if her were about to faint as well, as his shaking fingers dropped it on the floor. Celes, who seemed the least squeamish, no doubt because of her upbringing, immediately applied the dermal regenerator.

Despite their endeavours, the wound refused to close properly. The Dermal Regenerator stopped the bleeding quickly, but the instrument was only designed for more superficial injuries The Delta Flyer's sickbay was only equipped to handle phaser burns and broken bones. B'Elanna had smuggled what equipment would be needed for the birth, but had never thought they'd have to face such primitive weapons.

"We ought to return to Voyager." Harry said worriedly "No, I'm not going back until after the baby's born." Kathryn, who'd now regained consciousness, had lost none of her stubbornness, despite the pain she was in.

"It would take us a fortnight to reach the ship, so it makes little difference what we want to do." B'Elanna said, "We're out of communications range as they'll be on the far side of the Recosean Cluster".

"Wounds healed by themselves before Dermal Regenerators were invented. " Kathryn said. Rising herself to a sitting position "We need to move on to the next planet and continue our mission in finding suitable replacements for the neural gel packs. We haven't made much progress so far and it's vital we succeed. Harry, you're still limping, get your leg properly treated and then set a course! B'Elanna, perhaps you'd bandage this wound. It should soon heal"

Within the hour, the Delta Flyer reached Zenea Prime, a much larger planet, with high levels of volcanic activity. Sensors indicated the geysers contained large quantities of what was popularly referred to as primordial ooze, matter rich in primitive nucleic acids, which could hopefully be engineered to manufacture gel packs.

After contacting the planet's authorities, Harry was instructed to land the Flyer near the capital city.

As she stood up, Kathryn felt a sudden sharp pain in her stomach. She said nothing, but B'Elanna, sitting in the rear of the Flyer with her noticed her flinch and hastily scanned her

She looked grim as she read the results.

"Am I loosing the baby?" Kathryn could hardly bear to say the words.

"It's hard to tell from these readings. I'd say you'd a fifty fifty chance of saving it .If only we weren't so far from Voyager. I don't know what to do other than suggest you rest. The shock of the attack is causing labour pains. According to the database, rest can sometimes stabilise the pregnancy"

Kathryn looked as if she could weep, but instead said wearily. "We can only hope these people are friendly. Maybe if we had somewhere comfortable to stay it would help."

B'Elanna patted her hand and helped her towards the entrance, where Celes was waiting.

They disembarked rather warily after their experiences on Zenea Two .A small group of Zeneans were waiting to welcome the bedraggled looking group. Harry led the way, still limping followed by an ashen-faced Kathryn, leaning on Celes for support. B'Elanna came last, clutching Mira protectively close to her body.

The Zeneans all wore brightly coloured loose robes. They extended their arms and bowed deeply, so their faces almost touched the ground. Only Celes had much success in returning the gesture.

A woman of indeterminate age approached them. She was tall, with copper coloured skin and hair, which was partially concealed under a veil. She wore a blue robe, a pendant set with a large crystal hung round her neck. She had an unspoken air of great authority about her.

"Greetings Visitors from the Sky." Her tone was warm yet dignified. "I am Rhesana, Chief Priestess and healer of our world"

"We come in peace" Kathryn, still leaning on Celes struggled to fulfil her diplomatic duties. "We ask your gracious permission to collect minerals to study to make fuel for our ship "

"And you shall have them. But in good time. First you need to undergo our healing ritual. You are weary and have struggled long."

"I thank, you, Chief Priestess, but my people and I have medicines with us." Rhesana towered over Kathryn, gazing at her with piercing amber eyes. "Your burden is too heavy, Kathryn, only the Great Goddess can help you and your child now. A child wanted yet dreaded. That is why you have come here. "

"How do you know my name?" Kathryn took a step backwards, somewhat alarmed, and nearly fell. B'Elanna thrust Mira into Harry's arms and rushed to her side.

"I know many things, but most importantly that you need my help. We've come to take you to the temple of healing. I can save your child. Your friend may accompany you if you wish."

Unaccustomed and somewhat annoyed being ordered what to do, Kathryn opened her mouth to protest, but something in Rhesana's eyes stopped her. There was such compassion in her gaze combined with unquestionable authority.

"I must consult with my friends first." Kathryn gestured to the others to switch off their Comm. badges, so the Zeneans couldn't follow their conversation.

"Be careful! "Harry cautioned "After what happened to us on the last planet. It could be a trap. They may be planning to steal the Flyer."

"And how could some mumbo jumbo help?" B'Elanna said doubtfully". How can we trust this woman? Yet if she does know something, a folk remedy maybe."

"It would be unwise to offend these people. We need their raw materials." Kathryn said eventually. "I sense Rhesana is well meaning. The ritual is probably some sort of prayer meeting, boring but harmless. I'll go with her."

"I'm coming with you." B'Elanna said immediately. "Celes, could you look after Mira? "

The young Bajoran nodded. "Of course. I'll take good care of her." They returned to the Zeneans and were surprised to find a carriage had appeared, drawn by an animal, which on earth would have appeared unlikely cross between a horse and a camel.

"You've decided we won't steal your spaceship then? Rhesana asked with a twinkle in her eye. Seeing their astonished expressions, she explained. " I'm a telepath, all the priestesses, called to serve the Goddess have to be able to read thoughts. Now, Kathryn, if you and B'Elanna will board my carriage, My companions will show your friends to the Houses of Hospitality. I'm sure you'll be comfortable during your stay here. We understand your technology but we prefer simpler ways of living, "

It took all of B'Elanna's Klingon strength to get Kathryn into the carriage. The seats were covered with blankets and soft cushions, which made the somewhat bumpy ride bearable. They passed well tended fields, groups of what appeared to be dwellings, arranged in three separate clusters. There were also larger buildings which could have been schools or libraries, but there was no sign of any type of hospital

The temple was a simple but elegant building with a high roof. Rhesana had explained on the journey that only women were allowed to attend the healing ritual, as the Zenean males followed a different deity .It was considered sacrilege for a member of the opposite sex to cross the threshold.

B'Elanna and Kathryn wondered why an intelligent people should be so superstitious.

"You'll soon find out we have good reasons Rhesana assured them. "The Goddess is a powerful force, whether or not you perceive her as deity."

The temple's interior was dimly lit, as the thick coloured glass only allowed a limited amount of sunlight to penetrate. A group of small girls were sitting on the floor at the back, playing happily with dolls, as they sat o piles of clothing, which were neatly arranged, as if to be given out as charitable offerings. A group of older girls and women sat on comfortable couches nearer the front, which was concealed by a wooden partition. A priestess swung it open and a woman emerged from behind it, supported by a young priestess holding her arm .She was barefoot and dressed in a simple white robe. A statue of a naked female, heavily pregnant with a child at her breast, was briefly visible, before one of the women sitting on a couch, stood up, walked to the front and bowed to the statue. The priestess then closed of the partition again, shielding the woman and most of the statue from view. Rhesana told Kathryn and B'Elanna to take their shoes off and led them to a couch near the front. "We honour mothers and children, as our Goddess is their protector," she explained. "Our women carry the wisdom of our people. We value our children, as we are born capable of bearing three only" The partition opened again and another white clad woman emerged. B'Elanna felt sure, she was the woman they'd seen enter a few moments ago, only she was clad in pink, though in the dim light, it was possible to be mistaken. "Her problem was easily solved. Rhesana explained." Others take much longer to be healed." A stately woman, who appeared younger than Rhesana emerged from behind the partition. Rhesana stretched out her arms towards the statue. As the other woman approached her, they pressed their uplifted palms together, in what appeared to be a ritual greeting. Rhesana disappeared behind the partition with her. Kathryn and B'Elanna waited uneasily feeling very out of place Rhesana returned, after what must have been only a few moments, but felt far longer. She approached Kathryn and took her arm. "It is time." She said." The Goddess awaits you with her healing power She wills your child to live. " She led Kathryn behind the partition and she disappeared from B'Elanna's sight.

The partition door led to a much larger room than Kathryn had expected. Groups of what she assumed to be priestesses, a handful like Rhesana clad in blue, while the others wore lilac robes, who either bustled around or knelt before images of the great goddess. At the far end of the room, there appeared to be a something resembling a swimming pool, as water gushed into the structure, cascading against what appeared to be a substance like marble. The women who weren't praying were chopping and mixing a variety of plants, thought it looked as if they were for medicinal rather than culinary purposes. The room was more brightly lit than the outer precinct. Rhesana led Kathryn to the large statue and bowed solemnly to it. She then beckoned and four of the lilac clad women approached. Two carried what resembled a large bed sheet, which they unfolded and held up behind Kathryn and Rhesana, facing outwards and shielding them from the rest of the group. Rhesana stretched out her arms towards the statue and said something beyond the capabilities of the universal translator. She then pronounced solemnly. "The Goddess is ready to offer her healing. Proceed." She removed the pendant from her neck and started swinging it in front of Kathryn's face. She gradually moved downwards until she reached her feet. The stone glowed a muddy purplish green shade and the Priestess looked grim. She nodded to the other two women .who approached Kathryn, one took her arm, as she was finding it difficult to stand The other unfastened her cape, which she'd expected, but then she started undoing the fasteners on her tattered blouse. She backed away uneasily, remembering the Nechini ritual. She'd always hated undressing in front of strangers. The fact, they were all female was scant comfort with aliens who might be very different anatomically and regard her like some strange specimen in an ancient zoo. She was temped to flee but felt too weak, beside the fact it might be very unwise to offend these people. She could only hope the ritual didn't involve standing for hours being painted with mystical symbols before donning an uncomfortable sackcloth outfit. Rhesana was kneeling again in front of the statue. Kathryn tried to take her mind off what was happening by studying it. Apart from having three breasts and ridges from started on its cheekbones and ran the length of its body, it looked reasonably humanoid. The Priestesses wrapped a large towel round her, as they removed the last of her clothes. Rhesana turned to face her again. "The ritual bath awaits you. Shed the dust of your travels!" She intoned solemnly. The lilac clad women led her towards the pool she'd noticed earlier. Steps were led down to the water, and one of the priestesses helped her navigate them. The others stood round the pool, facing away from her holding up the sheet, to screen her from public view. The water was pleasantly warm, without being hot. The constant flow, made Kathryn suspect that it was fed from the Thermal springs, which were a major feature of the planet's geology. She began to relax as she lay back in the bath. It seemed this ritual involved nothing worse than a bath, probably followed by a few incantations to the goddess. She was just getting comfortable, as there were few things she enjoyed more than a leisurely bath, when the priestess, gestured it was time to get out again. They wrapped her in a voluminous clean towel and led her back to the stature, where, Rhesana was waiting. The priestesses took up the same positions as before, one either side of her, and three behind, screening her from view. Rhesana was kneeling before the statue, apparently praying. She slowly rose from her knees and nodded to the attendants, who to Kathryn's horror removed the towel. She tried to cover herself with her arms, only to find the women were raising her arms in the air above her head, as well as gesturing, she was to stand like them, feet slightly apart. She started to panic as she felt another sharp pain in her stomach. Was she going to loose her baby and under such humiliating circumstances too? Rhesana intoned what appeared to be a ritual prayer and moved towards an alcove and picked something up. She then advanced towards Kathryn, who forced herself to look at her. To her horror, she held a sharp knife in one hand and a candle and a bowl in the other. A jumble of thoughts raced through her mind about how gullible she'd been concerning Rhesana, who was now about to torture her in the most horrific fashion. Since her capture by the Cardassians in her youth, she'd feared torture above all else and after hearing about what happened to Admiral Paris and Jean Luc Picard had always thought she'd had a lucky escape. It appeared these seemingly friendly people were about to inflict the same kind of indignities on her that she so narrowly escaped when Justin had rescued her from a Cardassian dungeon. She still had nightmares about what could have happened. It seemed they were about to come true. Rhesana was only inches away, with the knife poised to strike. Kathryn cried out and struggled frantically to escape from the grip of the two women holding her arms. Breaking free from their grip, she fell to the ground, and grabbed the discarded towel, and frantically covered herself with it. She felt the women grab her arms again and screamed louder. If only she weren't so weak, she could have fought them off easily. She didn't want to die, not with new life within her and before she'd got her crew home safely.

B'Elanna was getting restless and starting to worry about Mira. What if she were hungry, and could Celes be trusted as she was so incompetent. ? She also felt anxious about Kathryn and wondered why she'd trusted these aliens so readily. B'Elanna feared she must be feeling far more ill than she'd admitted. Then she heard the screams. She knew at once that Kathryn was in danger and jumped to her feet immediately. She ran towards the door and pushed it open, ignoring the objections of the startled onlookers who shouted "No one goes in there without permission from the priestess! The Goddess will be angry!" Once inside, she was met by the site of Kathryn, apparently wearing only a towel, sitting on the floor, her arms held firmly by two lilac clad women. She rushed towards her and placed a protective arm round her friend. Kathryn was trembling. "Help, me they're trying to kill me!" her eyes were wide with dread. B'Elanna started to unfasten her cloak to wrap round Kathryn, raging as she did so. "How dare you do this? How can to want to torture and kill someone you claimed you wanted to help?" Rhesana advanced towards her, smiling placidly and carrying Kathryn's Conn Badge. "I'm glad you're here. "She said calmly "I'd forgotten your friend isn't a telepath like us. If you hold the communication device, we can finish the ceremony."

"We're leaving. Now. Before you can do her any more harm "B'Elanna snapped.

"We haven't harmed her. The Goddess forbids we harm anyone. Ask her. Just don't touch her with that cloak or she'll need a another bath before approaching the goddess." The attendants led Kathryn to a couch at the far side of the room. B'Elanna followed highly suspicious of their intentions. Rhesana signalled them to withdraw Kathryn looked rather dazed and feverish. It was impossible to tell if she'd been injured, as the towel covered her from head to toe. "What happened? Have they hurt you?" B'Elanna asked anxiously.

Kathryn shook her head weakly. "I don't understand what's going on. They took my Comm. badge, undressed me, and put me in that bath over there they then wrapped this towel round me. Up till then, they treated me respectfully I expected some sort of prayer afterwards to make up the ritual, but then they took the towel away, held my arms in the air and Rhesana attacked me with a knife and a lighted candle! I tried to escape but they kept hold of me. What I can't understand is, as soon as I screamed, they gave me the towel back and didn't harm me, but they wouldn't release me. "

"You don't understand, Kathryn. I should have remembered you don't know our ways. We didn't mean to frighten you." Rhesana had approached, so quietly, they hadn't noticed.

"Why did you threaten her with a knife and a flame if you don't want to hurt her?" B'Elanna demanded.

Rhesana smiled. "Our Goddess demands a lock of your hair, before she grants healing with the sacred salves. We burn the hair in the flame, so the healing energy is released. You came to the wrong conclusion, as we couldn't communicate with you. We can continue now you understand."

"I don't think so." B'Elanna snapped. "We don't humiliate people in our culture because some deity demands it."

"I'm not sure if I want to." Kathryn protested. "My friends can treat me on our ship. We can..." she broke off as another pain seared her body.

Rhesana took her arm "I know you're troubled about this child, but I can save it. Your friends can't. Can you B'Elanna?"

B'Elanna was forced to agree. "We could on Voyager, but we've nether the equipment nor expertise here." She conceded, "I can't see what you can do either, though!"

Rhesana smiled again. "The power of the Goddess will surprise you. Now, what do you, choose, Kathryn? Do you wish to continue? Your friend can stay with you. "

Kathryn nodded reluctantly. "Very well. I want to save my baby." "Are you sure?"

B'Elanna asked anxiously glancing from one woman to the other. Kathryn struggled to her feet, cursing her own weakness under her breath. B'Elanna and Rhesana hastened to assist her. "Let's get it over with." She said grimly. "I'm ready."

Rhesana led her back to the statue. B'Elanna hovered close by, The Captain's Comm. badge now pinned to her cloak alongside her own. The lilac clad attendants appeared and took up their former positions, three facing outwards, holding the cloth screen, two others stood either side of Kathryn, holding her upright. Rhesana bowed deeply to the goddess. Another priestess appeared with the knife and the lighted candle, which had looked so terrifying before. The two attendants either side of Kathryn removed the towel and lifted her arms in the air, palms facing outwards towards the statue.

B'Elanna gasped in horror at how thin Kathryn had become. It was obvious she'd been starving herself either with worry or to hide her pregnancy. It was little wonder she was so uncharacteristically frail. Rhesana advanced towards Kathryn with the knife. She found it hard not to flinch as the blade flashed downwards, removing a lock of her hair, which had grown long over the past year. Rhesana placed the hair in a metal basin and set it alight with the candle. She placed the blazing bowl in front of the statue, raised her arms in the air, holding her open palms towards the statue and intoned solemnly. "Great mother goddess, this woman stands before you, revealed in body and soul to your wisdom and asks you grant her healing and save her child." The priestesses began chanting, and a wordless pleading melodic song filled the temple She bowed low again and turned back to face Kathryn, who was struggling to remain impassive as, she felt embarrassed, uncomfortable and in pain. Rhesana met her gaze steadily. She saw only compassion and nothing to suggest she was being regarded like some exotic exhibit in a zoo, as she'd feared.

Another attendant approached bearing a tray laded with open jars of what looked like brightly coloured pastes. Rhesana selected one, which seemed to be every colour of the rainbow at once, dipped the side of her hand in the jar and drew two entwined circles across Kathryn's back and ribs. "With this mark, I dedicate you to the Great Mother of All." She intoned. She then selected, a cream coloured substance from another jar and applied it down one side of Kathryn's face and neck. She then took the crystal she wore round her neck and swung it over the jars till it hovered over one containing a brownish substance, which she applied in a thick layer using her palms to the shoulder wound and to the various bruises scattered over her body Her swift movements paused as her hand hovered over where the baby's head most likely was, then she suddenly pressed hard with two fingers, sending such a jolt of pain through Kathryn, she would have fallen had not the attendants been holding her. She thought she felt the baby give a feeble kick then nothing. She wondered if she'd just felt it's death throes at the hands of this crazy alien priestess.

Kathryn closed her eyes trying to fight the desire to faint and fervently wished she were elsewhere Her shoulder throbbed painfully, made worse by having her arms raised above her head. She could feel Rhesana's swift movements as she applied various ointments to her arms, her breasts, across her stomach and down one leg. Some of the potions stung and she had to bite her lip as not to try out.

She suddenly realised, there was nothing random in what the Priestess was doing, as she was applying the salves to the sites of past and present injuries. But how did she know the exact spot where the Hirogen had stabbed her in the leg, or the spot on her neck where the Borg had assimilated her? She also realised the logic of standing in this uncomfortable position as being by far the quickest way to apply the ointments. Her faintness increased and she would have fallen had not the attendants been holding her upright as everything started to spin.

After what felt like hours, but couldn't have taken longer than a few minutes at the most, Rhesana ceased applying the ointments. Kathryn forced herself to open her eyes and look at what had been done to her. Her entire body was covered in a variety of brightly covered pastes like some kind of tribal war paint, The pastes were applied far more thickly at the sites of her injuries both past and present. Her arms ached dreadfully, despite being supported by the attendants and she felt she would lose consciousness any moment if not forced to stand upright by the young priestesses, who held her too firmly to move. Another priestess approached, carrying something white, which Kathryn assumed was another towel. Rhesana used her the tips of her fingers for the first time, joining them momentarily across the bridge of Kathryn's nose. An uncomfortable sensation like a brief electric shock coursed through Kathryn's body ,which increased as the priestess pressed her fingertips down her neck and spine.. Rhesana then gestured for her to bend forward and she felt a robe slipped over her head. It was white, full length and with long sleeves. The material felt so fine, she was sure, it must be transparent, yet even the most garish hues of the ointments didn't show through. Maybe it was relief at finally being dressed again, but it felt like the most comfortable garment, she'd ever known. The attendants, finally allowed her to lower her arms, but still held her firmly. Rhesana stood in front of her, swing the pendant across her body, as she's done before. This time, the colour was less muddy, the still clouded but more bluish in colour. The Priestess looked satisfied. "Thanks be to the Goddess for granting her healing blessings!" She exclaimed "The Goddess will restore you to health!" She offered Kathryn a goblet filled with a honey coloured liquid. "Drink at the Goddess's invitation!" she commanded Kathryn looked doubtfully at the drink. "It's quite safe it won't hurt you or your baby", Rhesana assured her, reading her thoughts. "It has restorative powers which work together with the ointments." Kathryn was tired and thirsty. Too weary to argue ay longer, she drained the goblet. It was unlike anything she's ever tasted before, a kind of sweet, sharp, and yet comforting tastes combined.

Rhesana seemed troubled. "Did we hurt you Kathryn? I sensed how uncomfortable you were. We meant to treat you with respect and our men folk are banned from this place."

Kathryn managed a wan smile. "Not really. It's just our people do things differently She was starting to feel strangely drowsy. Rhesana, content at her explanation led her to a couch. Before turning her attention to B'Elanna. "You'll look after your friend?" she asked.

"Of course. But you said she'd be cured.!" The part Klingon still sounded suspicious.

"It will take several days. First, she needs to rest. Now on no account must she remove that robe she's wearing even for a moment. Neither must you use any of your technological devices or the Goddess will withdraw her powers. Do you understand? To save her and the child you have to trust me." "Very well." B'Elanna promised reluctantly.

"You doubt the power of the Goddess. I could prove it to you. You have your own wounds that the Goddess could heal." She gestured towards the bruises that were showing on B'Elanna's face and neck from their encounter with the stone-throwing aliens.

"No, thank you." B'Elanna said hastily, having no intention of subjecting herself to a similar ordeal to that she'd just witnessed. "I'll be too busy looking after my friend and my child."

Rhesana merely smiled her enigmatic smile. Her attendants had appeared with a covered litter on wheels.

By now, Kathryn seemed hardly conscious. The attendants moved her from the couch to the litter.

"Take her to the house of hospitality." Rhesana ordered.

"What have you done to her now?" B'Elanna demanded

"She needs rest. Just put her to bed. I'll send a supply of the elixir for her to drink. Leave everything to the Goddess and have no fear. Go now with your friend. She needs your help."

Kathryn wasn't certain whether she was asleep or awake. She was dimly aware of being laid on a soft bed, of being given drinks of being escorted to the bathroom, or was she sleepwalking? Her shoulder hurt and felt damp and sticky. She thought she saw Harry looking worried, and then Rhesana was waving the pendant once more. Then she slept again.

"We should use the dermal regenerator. Celes protested." We can't leave her like that. I think she's feverish too!"

"It didn't work last time. "B'Elanna placed a clean towel under Kathryn's shoulder. The wound had reopened and kept sluggishly bleeding. She suddenly sat up, but didn't seem to recognise them as if she were in some sort of trance. B'Elanna held a cup to her lips, which she drained before apparently falling asleep again.

Celes felt her forehead." She is feverish as I suspected. That priestess or whoever she is has poisoned her!"

"She still has the baby though. B'Elanna pointed out

"You don't know for how long. My mother took four days to miscarry after being attacked. We should take her back to the Flyer. What can some mystical Priestess do that we can't? "

"I thought your Prophets had great powers?"

"Yes, but they're real, this woman...." A knock on the door interrupted the argument .It was Rhesana. She carried a jar in her hand.

"You're still worried about your friend. So I thought I'd drop by." She said calmly

She went over to the bed and swung her pendant along the length of Kathryn's body. The glow looked a much clearer blue than before, though it was still cloudy when it hovered over the open wound, Without saying a word, Rhesana opened the jar, stretched out her arms in prayer and then applied a thick layer of the salve to the wounds.

The Priestess smiled." She's stronger than I thought as she was weakened by the strain she put on herself in both mind and body. She hadn't even any milk for her child. Her recovery should be swift now She just needed a little more of this healing salve"

B'Elanna and Celes glared.

"Why the wound and the fever as you said you'd cured her?" Hasn't she suffered enough?" B'Elanna demanded.

"This is the cure, which your technology can't provide." Rhesana explained. "The arrow was a Zeantionian weapon. They're a persecuted and paranoid people and their weapons use a slow acting poison to sap the victim's strength. The only cure is to drain the wound.. Your friend will sleep until her healing is completed. She feels very little pain."

She turned her attention back to Kathryn who seemed to be sleeping peacefully, her long hair spread across the pillow.

When she wakes, you'll find her health fully restored. But she must rest and gather her strength until after the child is born. She is driven and hard on herself, your friend, she has to relax for her own good and that of her child."

As for the young man with you, tell him to visit the healing god's temple." She pronounced and with that, she was gone.

"But when will she wake up? "Celes asked knowing full well that B'Elanna didn't know the answer.

The late afternoon sun streamed through the window as Kathryn slowly opened her eyes and became aware of her surroundings. She was in an airy low ceilinged room with. Whitewashed walls and plain furnishings. Apart from the comfortable bed on which she was lying, the room was furnished with a couch, chest of drawers, chair, and table. A shelf by the bed contained a jug and a glass filled with a golden coloured liquid. On top of the chest of drawers were some familiar photographs of her mother and sister and her Voyager family. A heap of colourful clothes was piled high on the chair, giving the room a homely look. As she became more aware of her surroundings, she noticed two doorways on either side the room and a third, which appeared to lead to a bathroom.

She felt disorientated for a moment. Then she remembered, the temple, Rhesana, the ritual, her baby. She felt a vigorous kicking within and a surge of relief overwhelmed her. Only then she realised her throat was dry and struggled to sit up.

B'Elanna carrying Mira rushed into the room.

"You're awake!" she cried joyfully. "How are you feeling?"

"Much better the baby moving Feel it! Isn't that wonderful?" She placed one hand on her stomach and with the other guided B'Elanna's hand to feel the lively kicking too. ". How long have I been asleep?"

"Almost a week."

"How could you let me sleep that long? We've a lot of work to do!" Again, she tried to sit up but fell back on the soft pillows "Oh, I'm so thirsty".

"Not so fast. "B'Elanna cautioned holding a cup to lips with her free hand." Rhesana said only complete rest would cure you and save the baby. She placed you in a kind of trance. You could swallow and walk a few steps without waking, but most of the time you've lain here regaining your strength."

Kathryn noticed B'Elanna's appearance properly for the first time and realised she was dressed Zenean fashion in a loose orange coloured robe which suited her well. She had her baby at her breast.

Kathryn eyed her quizzically.

"The only way to have a quiet life here is to go native. I know I was weaning Mira, but when in Rome as the old saying goes. I also was repeatedly told my clothes were too tight for the good of my child! This culture revolves around venerating motherhood."

"Well the colour suits you." Kathryn said approvingly. I'm sure Tom would find it fetching. Where are Harry and Celes? Are they alright"?

"They've been out since dawn gathering material from the thermal springs. The planet is a goldmine for the materials we need." B'Elanna explained. "Celes and I took it in turns to stay with you. Harry was made to stay in the men's house, though he managed to creep in a few times to see you. He was concerned. Poor Harry, he's still limping. I think maybe the Zeneans could cure him"

Kathryn undid the neck of her robe. There was no trace of the arrow wound.

"It seems they know something we don't. "She grimaced." I just wish they had less uncomfortable method of applying their cure. Being virtually spread-eagled in front of that statue was not a pleasant experience."

B'Elanna nodded sympathetically.

"It was hard for me to watch. I just wanted to take you away and yet it seemed the only way. Now it's time for the final part of your cure."

Kathryn groaned." And, what might that be? I'm not going through that ritual again!"

B'Elanna smiled. "Nothing like that. You've just got to have a bath, while still wearing that robe."

The older woman sighed with relief though she looked puzzled.

"It's a bathing robe that you're wearing." B'Elanna explained. "These people never take their clothes off except at a temple healing ritual and when they change into dry robes."

Kathryn finally succeeded in sitting up. Cautiously, she eased her legs out of bed and lowered her feet on the floor.

B'Elanna laid Mira down and helped Kathryn to her feet. "I can manage now, she said and tottered unsteadily towards the bathroom. "Are you certain you don't need help?" "I'm quite capable of looking after myself B'Elanna." B'Elanna sighed and took Mira back to her crib before returning to hover apprehensively.

Kathryn emerged looking puzzled.

"Where's the bath? You could only just fit Mira in that sink."

"You're going to love it." B'Elanna said with an amused expression. "It's over here. I did ask if you needed help"

"You never said it wasn't through there in the bathroom."

"It's no ordinary bath."

This time Kathryn accepted B'Elanna's proffered arm and led herself be let across the room, through B'Elanna and Mira's room, towards a door at the far end. She could hear running water, as they got closer.

B'Elanna opened the door to reveal what looked more like a swimming pool than a bath. It resembled the one in the temple, though it was less elaborate, but still an impressive sight, as the water cascaded through the lined pool, draining away at the bottom.

Kathryn placed her hand under the running water; it was pleasantly warm, obviously fed from one of the planets geysers.

"Isn't it lovely?" B'Elanna said enthusiastically "Mira, Celes and myself have spent a lot of time here. It's so relaxing. We have it all to ourselves too. The people on this planet are very hospitable.

Several shallow steps, led down to the pool; B'Elanna carefully helped Kathryn into the water. There was even a ledge to enable the bather to lean back and relax. Kathryn, who'd always loved a relaxing bath, found it sheer heaven. She'd expected to find it strange to have a bath wearing a robe, but on the contrary, the material was so light, it felt as if she wore nothing. It was a remarkable material as it neither clung to her skin nor became transparent when wet. The fineness of the fabric made movement in the water both easy and comfortable. A bathing suit seemed tight and cumbersome by compassion.

Kathryn leaned back contentedly feeling her child stir within her, as if it too were enjoying itself. For the first time, she fully accepted her pregnancy and felt an overwhelming wave of love for her unborn child. It still troubled her, not to know how and by whom the child was conceived, yet she already longed to hold it in her arms. Maybe then she'd have an explanation for the weirdness of it all, but as she's once told Harry, weird was part of the everyday for Starfleet officers, though she was unprepared for anything quite this weird. Sometimes she even wondered if Q might be the father. It would be like him to grant a wish, however impractical and as the Q mated by brushing fingertips, he could easily have done that while she slept. She shuddered briefly, raising any child was hard work, but if her experiences with a Q child were typical, she'd have a very wearing task ahead.

B'Elanna left her, while she went to check on Mira and fetch towels and fresh clothes.

She closed her eyes, listening to the rippling water and if she hadn't started to feel hungry, she would have lost all track of time.

Opening her eyes, she saw B'Elanna standing there, smiling. The part Klingon helped her out of the water.

She unfastened the robe at the neck and let it fall to the ground, as she wrapped herself in one of the large towels, B'Elanna had brought. It was amazingly soft, far better than anything on Voyager, despite these people's seemingly primitive lifestyle.

B'Elanna hovered discreetly in the background, afraid she might trip and injure herself in her still weakened condition. She'd placed a heap of garments on a nearby chair, in a carpeted area, a few feet from the pool, which Kathryn assumed were her clothes, but closer inspection revealed a variety of loose fitting, rather exotic garments, including voluminous bloomers, loose chemises, robes like the one she'd just discarded and slightly thicker robes in a variety of bright colours.

"Where's my clothes?" she demanded, "Don't tell me I'm expected to spend another week wearing a towel?"

B'Elanna grinned

"I told you, When in Rome.. Rhesana was horrified how tight your clothes were and said they were bad for both you and the baby. One of her attendants brought you those. It would be bad manners not to wear them. Celes and I find them very comfortable."

Kathryn grimaced, as she inspected the baggy undergarments. "I suppose, I don't mind the robes, but these! Go and fetch me my own underwear, B'Elanna .I assume, our belongings are here somewhere."

"Rhesana is every bit as determined as you are, we had to leave most of our luggage aboard the flyer."

"Well don't just stand, there, go and get it!"

B'Elanna didn't move. "These people are telepaths, they read every thought, so I'm afraid you'll either have to wear their clothes or that towel for the next two or three months. Actually, I think, Rhesana has a point, you were wearing very restrictive clothes to try and hide your condition. If you weren't so thin, you'd have probably fainted before now. If you can manage, I'll leave you to dress while I get us something to eat .Why not wear the turquoise robe? It suits your colouring It goes over one of the white bathing robes"

Mira chose that moment to start crying and B'Elanna made good her escape.

Sighing, Kathryn realised she wasn't in command here. She finished drying herself, noticing that all her injuries had vanished, as had the coloured pastes, she'd been daubed with. She dressed in the loose Zenean garments. Despite her annoyance, she had to admit they were very comfortable.

B'Elanna was standing in the doorway, which led to the street, accepting a tray of food from a lilac clad priestess.

Kathryn had taken stock of her surroundings and discovered, the House of Hospitality was a spacious bungalow type building. The bedrooms were actually one large room, partitioned into three, each with a separate bathroom at the rear of the building. The room with the pool had two doorways, one leading to the bedrooms and another to a living and dining area. There was drinking water and an old fashioned kettle, but no sign of a kitchen.

"You just stand on the doorstep and think about being hungry and they bring you food" B'Elanna explained, as she set the plates on the table.

The meal consisted of a vegetable stew, rather bland but not unpleasant, served with chunks of coarse but tasty bread followed by what Kathryn assumed was fruit salad, though the fruit was unlike any she'd ever tasted before. It seemed the Zeneans were Vegetarians, dedicated to eating natural and wholesome food, all of which they grew themselves.

Kathryn started to eat ravenously.

"Be careful," B'Elanna cautioned." You haven't eaten for days Just take a little at a time."

Kathryn, hated being told what to do, but realised the sense of the advice. She knew the survival manual backwards, and yet these last months had kept forgetting the most obvious things, which were one of the reasons she'd had to get away from the Investigative Committee, who would jump at any excuse to relieve her of command. She knew they considered her something of a maverick after studying her records of the past seven years.

B'Elanna ate slowly too, as she filled her in on what had happened while she were unconscious and how her wound had been caused by a poisoned arrow."

Kathryn was eager to find a scientific explanation for her cure, but could only surmise; the ointments contained some potent drugs, which were absorbed through the skin, their effect possibly strengthened by the mineral rich water from the geysers.

Harry and Celes came in while they were eating, laden with samples; they'd spent the day collecting. They were both delighted to see her awake and restored to health. Harry though was limping badly and looked pale and drawn.

"I shouldn't really be here," he explained. The Zeneans segregate the sexes strictly, but I wanted to see how you were."

"I'm feeling fine, "Kathryn assured him. "It's you I'm worried about.Let me see your leg !"

Knowing her tone demanded obedience, Harry reluctantly uncovered the wound. It was closed, but a red angry welt disfigured his flesh, when Kathryn gently touched it, he suppressed a cry. It felt burning hot to her touch.

She looked deeply concerned as she pondered what to do.

"These native cures, seem to work, Harry." She said at last "I want you to go to their men's healing temple They should be able to heal your leg."

He looked taken aback.

"I'm fine." He insisted." It just needs a few more sessions with the dermal regenerator."

"The wound's poisoned. We don't have the cure. They do."

"How did they cure, you, then? B'Elanna wouldn't tell me."

"I'm not quite sure, but they know what to do. Go now. Their temple closes at sundown Just be sure to keep your Comm. badge at hand"

Harry knew from her tone it was impossible to argue. Torn between relief at seeing the Captain more like herself and apprehension, he left obediently.

Her troubled gaze followed him.

"Perhaps I should have told him, but he would have refused to go. I hate being so helpless! If I'd been more vigilant, he wouldn't have got hurt!"

"You can't control everything, and he's survived far worse" B'Elanna reassured her. I just wonder who'll look after him, if they put him in a trance.

Celes changed the subject, as she enthusiastically described how well the mission was progressing.

Kathryn smiled at her approvingly. "I hope I can join you tomorrow," she said B'Elanna raised her eyebrows. "I don't think so. Rhesana told me you needed to rest until after the baby was born. She'll put you back in trance, no doubt if you don't do as she says. I find her as stubborn as you are, if that's possible!"

"I can't. There's too much work to do. The gel packs have to be replaced if Voyager is to get home."

"I had to rest and I've the advantage of tough Klingon DNA. Remember you're only human. You can sit on the veranda and knit baby clothes to pass the time!"

"Knit baby clothes! I'm a scientist and Captain of a star ship!"

"Well I'm a chief Engineer, but that's what the Doctor told me! After all, you made a blanket for Naomi, which is more than I could have done! I'm afraid for all our technology, nature still has the upper hand when it comes to childbearing. I should know, after having two within a year! You can hardly clamber over rocks all day in your condition. It just isn't safe. Rhesana's right."

Kathryn glared at her then brightened.

"The samples need to be analysed. I could do that here without endangering the baby. I refuse to sit here all day and do nothing!"

"We'd be glad of your expertise." Celes said." We'd get the job done far quicker."

"That's settled then." Kathryn seemed happy with the compromise. "Two of you can collect the material, while the other two myself included, will work on it here.

I wonder what's happening to Harry now? He won't be enjoying the experience, but what else could I do but send him to the Zenean healers ? We have no antidote to the arrow poison. "

B'Elanna was about to say, she hoped he wouldn't be in a trance for a week and then thought better of it in case she hurt the Captain's feelings She merely said

"Poor Harry, I'm glad I'm not in his shoes, or I suppose I should say, bare feet right now !"

"He won't be very happy with me for sending him there." Kathryn brooded.

"Why's that?" Harry walked in through the open door. He was no longer limping and smiling broadly. He wore white shorts, which revealed his leg was heavily bandaged.

"You look much better, Harry." Kathryn smiled at him. "We were just wondering how you were getting on."

"Just fine. I have to leave the bandage on a few days and then bathe in the spring water, but I can walk better already."

"What did they do to you?" Celes asked." I haven't been inside one of their healing temples."

Kathryn and B'Elanna exchanged apprehensive glances.

"Well, I thought, I'd better put these shorts on before I went." Harry explained

"Their high priest or whoever he was said some sort of prayer, then his attendant washed my leg with water from one of the geysers .The priest then put some sort of ointment on, which stung rather, then bandaged it. It only took a few moments. There was nothing to it. I wish I'd asked for the Zeneans help when we first arrived, like you did Capt., um Kathryn

Well, I'd better be off before Rhesana catches me here as I'm breaking the segregation rules."

He bade them goodnight and hurried away.

Kathryn shook her head "Whoever said that we'd finally achieved equality, got it all wrong," She said. "But then I suppose, as Harry isn't having a baby, his treatment was bound to be different! Or maybe their goddess's rituals don't apply to men" She laughed ruefully.

Rhesana visited them again the next day; this time when, she checked Kathryn with pendant the light was a clear bluish white. The priestess looked satisfied.

"Rest and eat well and you and your child will both be healthy." She pronounced.

"You should give birth easily enough as you've good child bearing hips. We'll send you some special robes for the event. It will be a joyous occasion."

Kathryn was trying not to think of her intention to have the child beamed out and was surprised Rhesana hadn't sensed her thoughts as she tried to conceal them as she knew just how powerful the woman's telepathic powers were.

The priestess just smiled knowingly and left.

The days passed pleasantly and the Voyager crewmembers felt more increasingly at home on the planet. B'Elanna missed Tom, but once Voyager was within range, she was able to have long conversations with him, almost every day.

Kathryn found the Zenean robes came in handy when she exchanged Status reports with Chakotay and Tuvok .She didn't need to do anything to conceal her condition, as the robes were so voluminous. Judging from the reports, the Board of Investigation members were becoming an ever-greater source of annoyance to Chakotay, questioning his every decision and insisting on the most rigid adherence to protocol, which after seven years on their own, the crew were unaccustomed to. It reinforced her decision that having the child away from the ship was her only choice.

Kathryn found she was enjoying herself more than she'd done in years. Analysing the samples appealed to her scientific mind yet left her plenty of time to enjoy the temperate climate, the company of her companions and most of all the bath, where she'd spent hours, splashing around with Celes, B'Elanna and baby Mira. She'd long since decided to take some of the bathing robes back to the ship, as they were the most comfortable garments she'd ever worn Her appetite had returned and she enjoyed the plentiful supply of good food their Zenean host provided. She could feel the child growing within her and sometimes even see it moving beneath the thin robe.

She remembered reading somewhere, than unborn babies enjoyed sunlight and fashioned a makeshift sunbathing outfit with one of the camisoles and a sarong fastened round her hips, and would recline on a makeshift couch, Harry had put together in the secluded garden, enjoying the feel of the sun's gentle rays on her bare skin. The Zenean climate was never too hot and far more pleasant than her native Indiana.

There were times she wished she could stay here forever and not have to go back to her duties aboard Voyager, though she missed her crew and the feeling of being in charge, though since the Committee had come on board she'd sometimes felt her ship wasn't hers to command anymore. They'd been better off before their brief homecoming, yet she had the satisfaction of having fulfilled her promise to get them home and maybe everything happened for a purpose as she was about to realise her long repressed desire to become a mother. She wondered endlessly who the father was, but without the agitation, she'd felt before coming to this planet. The most important thing now was it was her child and she intended to give it all the love she'd denied herself any outlet for over the years.

She grew larger by the day and had started to waddle as she walked, giving rise to some good natured teasing from B'Elanna, who asked if she felt like a beached whale yet. Despite the discomfort of her size, she found she liked her body like this, especially on this planet, which revered motherhood so highly.

Celes was proving a real blessing, massaging her swollen ankles each evening with an ancient Bajoran technique. Even the work on creating new bio neural gel was progressing smoothly.

To everyone's surprise, not least B'Elanna's, Miral was much more settled and only cried if she were hungry or needed changing. She was growing fast plus recognised her father over the view screen, when they reported back to Voyager, gurgling happily when he spoke. Though Tom claimed he missed them, B'Elanna felt he was enjoying a break from the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood, especially after the trauma of leaving Miral behind.

It was a fine afternoon and after analysing some samples, Kathryn was sunbathing in the garden while knitting baby clothes. The unborn child was kicking vigorously and she was sure she could occasionally make out the impression of a tiny foot. She wondered what it would look like this child of unknown origins. Would it resemble her or its unknown father? She'd resisted the temptation to find out if it were a boy or girl. She'd always wanted a girl, but rather fancied it was a boy from the way it was kicking. The love she felt for this unknown being was quite unlike anything she'd ever known before.

She heard a footstep behind her and turned expecting to see B'Elanna or Celes. Instead, she was surprised to see Rhesana carrying a large basket. She sat up hastily, draping her robe over her exposed skin, feeling the priestess would not approve of any activity, which didn't involve the wearing of the habitual robes.

The priestess gave her usual enigmatic smile and settled herself on one of the garden benches.

"Your people have some strange customs." she remarked placidly, as she started to unpack the basket. "I've brought you a few things you'll need now you're getting near your time. This is one of the robes our women wear to give birth. It slips off more easily than a bathing robe. Then this ointment is to strengthen the muscles used during labour, this one is to stimulate milk production, this one is for your skin to keep it supple, this one will ease the backache you'll suffer from as your time approaches and these oils will help during the early stages of labour. Either one of your friends or a priestess could massage them into your skin, whichever you prefer. Our people forbid men to be present during labour, so the mother's female friends and relatives attend her. The healing women such as myself assist if any rare problems arise"

Kathryn had pulled on her robe. She was now so large; it was considerably shorter at the front than the back. She eyed the variety of jars doubtfully, again wondering why Rhesana seemed unaware; she'd no plans to give birth in Zenean fashion.

"How do you know these remedies work for my species?" She asked.

"We know many things about you." Rhesana said mysteriously. "I will tell you all before you leave here but now is not the time. I can tell you the birth will be straightforward, now you're properly nourished and rested. Our thermal baths ease the pain. You will make a good mother, Kathryn." With that and another enigmatic smile, she was gone.

Kathryn examined the robe out of curiosity. It was of the same fine material as a bathing robe but had fastens at the side and shoulders, which when undone made it fall apart as two pieces of material. She had never seen anything quite like it before. The ointments smelt pleasant, so she decided there was no harm in using them after her morning bath, if only as not to hurt Rhesana's feelings.

Maybe she would even try feeding the baby even if it were just while they were here, but always she had to be first and foremost a Star ship captain much as she wanted to be a good mother. Apart from those closest to her in the Senior Staff, no one must ever know the child was hers. She'd been discussing with B'Elanna the possibility of a miniature holographic generator to project alien features on the child. Her chief Engineer thought it was possible, using a very simplified version of the Doctor's portable emitter, but couldn't start working on it until they knew exactly what the baby looked like.

She knew her time must be getting near, though having no idea of the date of conception, meant even that was hard to judge. She went inside and selected a PADD, she'd been putting off reading for as long as possible, a medical study discussing the pros and cons of various methods of delivery and the risks to mother and child that each entailed. It made uncomfortable reading as the only almost totally safe scenario for both was at a proper Federation maternity clinic. The safest method for the mother was having the baby delivered via the transporter, but that was the most dangerous for the baby with a ten per cent mortality risk, even greater than natural childbirth which posed a five per cent risk for both mother and baby, which varied if intervention was available if needed. Kathryn hardly needed to exercise her mathematical skills to start feeling guilty. Still, she reasoned, she had to put her Captain's responsibilities first, yet she so wanted to be a mother too.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of B'Elanna, Celes, and Harry.

Despite the Zenean segregation policy, Harry had come to see her almost every day, instead of them beaming up to the Delta Flyer as they'd originally planned as a meeting place. The Zeneans seemed to be turning a blind eye as their telepathic abilities doubtless meant they knew.

Kathryn enjoyed the young man's visits and appreciated his concern for her welfare. She invited him to stay for the evening meal and after they'd eaten, they sat outside in the garden.

B'Elanna brought Mira outside and Harry asked if he could hold her. B'Elanna agreed and watched mildly amused at the young man's amazement that she quickly settled and fell asleep.

"You're good with children." She observed.

"I always wanted a younger brother or sister to play with." He replied, "I had to be content with my cousins' visits. Libby and I were planning to marry and have a large family but with being marooned." He stopped, not wanting to upset Kathryn and shot her a contrite glance.

She smiled ruefully at him. "It's alright Harry. What happened to Libby? Did you see her while we were on earth."

"No, but my parents told me, she'd got fed up with waiting and married Danny, my friend from the Academy. They became close when I was believed dead They've two children and a third on the way."

"I'm sorry." Kathryn sighed. Of all her crew, Harry had suffered from homesickness the most. "I I'll get you home again, I promise. There must be plenty of women around who'd make you a good wife or girlfriend.

"I just don't think I'm very lucky in love." Harry replied. "I'll have to content myself with being an honorary uncle, seeing as it's unlikely I'll ever be a father."

Kathryn could think of no answer other than to inwardly blame herself for maybe the millionth time for the plight of her crew.

Harry tried to lift her mood. "Well it seems I can soon be an honorary uncle again, if you'll let me! Have you thought of any names yet?"

She shook her head. "I want to see what it looks like first and choose a name that suits it. Though I'm open to suggestions."

They passed the rest of the evening in an amiable though occasionally heated discussion of names from every corner of the galaxy. Celes favoured Bajoran names, B'Elanna and Kathryn human, while Harry thought they should honour their Zenean hosts by choosing a name from the planet.

During the next week, Rhesana brought a variety of candles, scented herbs and soothing chimes, which she said were to ease the birth. Kathryn was baffled but Celes seemed at home with the paraphernalia saying they resembled what the Bajoran women used. Kathryn continued to be puzzled the telepath seemed unaware of her intentions to have the baby beamed out rather than enduring labour. She noticed the priestess regarding her with an enigmatic smile as if she knew more than she did herself.

Kathryn decided to have an early night as her back had ached all day. She'd asked B'Elanna to apply some of the ointment Rhesana had given her, but it only eased the pain slightly, which was strange ,as it had worked well before now. She wished she knew when her child would be born, as either Celes or B'Elanna were insisting on staying with her during the day now, which slowed the work on the gel packs. Not only that but she was getting so large, she could hardly manage to waddle around, she understood now, what B'Elanna had been complaining about when her babies were on the way.

She sighed, as no sooner had she achieved a fairly comfortable position in bed, than she realised she urgently needed the bathroom. As she waddled across the floor, she could see B'Elanna and Celes through the open door, as they played a card game.

"Are you alright? You've been in there for ages."

Kathryn struggled to the door in response to B'Elanna's anxious call.

"Why did you lock the door .It isn't wise so near." B'Elanna's voice trailed off as Kathryn doubled over with pain. She straightened up as it eased off, wiping the sweat from her face with her sleeve.

"I think the baby's coming." B'Elanna grabbed a medical tricorder and scanned her quickly. "You're right! Let's get you to the Flyer. Why didn't you say earlier?"

"I've been thinking over the last few days and I've made my mind up. I'm not risking the baby by beaming it out. I'll stay here and have it naturally."

For once B'Elanna was momentarily lost for words. Eventually she sputtered." But the risks to you are too great!" she protested, "Who'll deliver it? We've no specialised medical training! The transporter's the best option."

"I'm having it here." Kathryn repeated in her most captain like tone that brokered no disobedience. "The human race has managed to survive before the advent of Starfleet medical!"

"I've delivered several babies." Celes interrupted with the matter of fact statement.

"We all have in Academy simulations!" B'Elanna retorted.

"I meant in the refugee camp, I was brought up in, I assure you that was nothing like a simulation." Celes said calmly

B'Elanna scanned Kathryn again looking anxious. "Well?" Kathryn demanded.

"You are in labour." B'Elanna answered "I didn't need a tricorder to tell me that!" Kathryn snapped.

"And?" "The baby's head is in the correct position and its heartbeat is steady."

Kathryn smiled her relief. "You see, I can have a baby without the transporter!" "But you could develop complications!" B'Elanna objected." What if it's a large baby ?You're so tiny !"

The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Rhesana, carrying a large jug of what appeared to be the drink used during the healing ritual, her telepathic abilities obviously having informed her that the birth was imminent.

"The sacred hour approaches." She intoned solemnly as she approached Kathryn, scanning her with the pendant, which glowed with a clear blue light.

"Can you persuade her to return to our ship for medical care?" B'Elanna asked

"She is healthy. So is the child. There is no need. The goddess will protect them both. The sacred draught will sustain her,"Rhesana replied, placing the jug on the table and busying herself arranging candles and chimes around the room. She placed a new robe on Kathryn's bed .It was of a similar design to the bathing and sleeping robes, but the bodice was lavishly embroidered and had fastenings to the waist.

"The robe of honour for a new mother." she explained

Kathryn was thanking her when another contraction hit her and she doubled over in pain.

"It's time to prepare. Cover her in the ointments and clothe her in the birthing robe I've given you!" she commanded as B'Elanna rushed to her friend's side. "I can take you to the temple if you wish."

My friends can assist me." Kathryn said, recovering as the wave of pain passed.

Celes emerged from the other room carrying the basket containing the birthing robe and the ointments.

"I shall return if you need my help." Rhesana said with her usual placid smile before leaving as quickly and silently as she'd come.

Kathryn took the basket into her bedroom, spread a towel over the bed and studied the contents of the jars

In the living room, B'Elanna was talking to Harry over her comm. Badge. "The Captain's in labour and she refuses to return to the Flyer. What can we do? "

"I doubt you can do anything. You know how stubborn she is."

Mira chose that moment to start crying, adding to B'Elanna's agitation. "How am I going to cope? I wish Tom were here! I know how to fix engines but nothing about midwifery! "

"I'll tell you what, I'll come and pick up Mira and take her to the Flyer. If I stay there I can transport the Captain if anything goes wrong. What do you think?

"That's a good idea. I'll tell her." "I'll see you in a minute then. B'Elanna started gathering up Mira's bottles, toys, and clean clothes, while trying to soothe her daughter.

Hearing the crying, Kathryn emerged from the bedroom.

"Harry's beamed Mira to the Flyer to look after her. B'Elanna announced. If anything goes wrong. He's beaming you up!"

Kathryn looked relieved that she'd finally convinced B'Elanna she wanted to have her baby naturally.

Harry lingered awkwardly as B'Elanna gather up Mira's belongings, shifting from one foot to the other as if uncertain what to say.

B'Elanna took Celes to one side."I'll be back in about five minutes, as soon as I've settled Mira. You'd better help Kathryn change into the birthing robe and she'll also need help rubbing the pain killing ointment on that Rhesana gave her. It needs applying thickly to be effective, not that I'm very confident it will work!"

The reality of the situation suddenly seemed to hit the Bajoran. She looked taken aback.

"I thought you'd do that." She said nervously." Well she is the Captain!"

"I thought you said you'd deliver the baby!" B'Elanna snapped, "You told me you'd had experience!"

"Not with the Captain though!"

B'Elanna softened slightly.

"You'll just have to think of her as just another woman giving birth. I know it's hard when you respect someone to see them at their most vulnerable, but it's up to us now to see this baby's born safely. "

Celes nodded." I'll try.." she promised ,as B'Elanna picked up Mira.

Harry was still regarding Kathryn with a typically masculine mixture of awe and embarrassment. "Um, well, good luck, I hope everything goes well, I'll be right by the transporter if you need me." He said, holding out his hand rather stiffly to her, before throwing long years of ingrained protocol to the winds and embracing her, as closely as her vast bulk would allow.

She returned his embrace, touched by the young man's sudden show of affection.

"We'd better get Mira settled or the baby will be here. "B'Elanna reminded them, and activating her comm. Badge, she, Mira and Harry, shimmered from view.

Kathryn winched as another labour pain struck. Celes took her arm.

"It's time you prepared for the birth." She said firmly, steering her towards the bedroom.

When B'Elanna returned a few minutes later, she found Kathryn clad in the birthing robe, pacing the floor and refusing to lie down. She seemed more comfortable, as if Rhesana's ointments were working. The candlelight was soothing and Celes sang the old Bajoran birth chants, which were a centuries old method of easing a child into the world. Kathryn kept sipping the drink, Rhesana had brought, which seemed to have calming properties. Several hours passed until Kathryn entered the final stage of labour and the pain grew much worse.

B'Elanna suggested using the transporter, R at least asking Harry to beam down some painkillers but Kathryn was adamant.

"I've come this far and I'm having this baby my way!" she insisted, biting her lip to stop herself from screaming.

"It's alright to scream. You're not on the Bridge of Voyager now. "B'Elanna told her, as she accepted her stubborn friend's decision. She scanned her with the tricorder. "It won't be long now."

"I want a bath. The water should ease the pain. Rhesana suggested that I do so."

B'Elanna and Celes, helped Kathryn into the pool. B'Elanna got in beside her and massaged her back, going with the rhythm of the contractions.

Kathryn started to relax and managed a faint smile. "How can you do that so well? "she asked.

"Because I've had two children." B'Elanna told her. "Now take deep breaths and push !"

Another hour or so elapsed and Kathryn was growing tired.

"Push !" Celes urged. "I'm so tired! "Kathryn moaned "You can do it, just keep pushing !"

B'Elanna scanned Kathryn carefully with the tricorder. "It's time" she told her

Kathryn screamed as the worse contraction yet tore through her body .

"Better take this off then." She gasped fumbling with the robe, which slipped off easily .The pain was now unbearable as she felt her entire body was being torn apart.

In an instant, Celes was on her knees beside her. "The head's coming! One more push and you've done it!"

Kathryn summoned her last ounce of strength, struggled to raise herself as B'Elanna supported her.She pushed hard and assisted by gravity, felt the baby slide from her body. into Celes' waiting hands. She sank back in the water, as Celes laid the child on her chest. The child screamed lustily protesting at leaving the safety of her mother's womb.

"It's a girl." Celes pronounced "and from the amount of noise she's making. I think she's pretty healthy."

Kathryn raised her head to look at her daughter. She had her mother's bone structure but her jet black hair and olive skin, suggested she was of mixed race parentage.

"She's so beautiful!" she whispered, tears welling in her eyes as she contemplated the daughter, she wanted so much and never believed was possible.

"I'd better cut the cord." Celes said, producing a laser scalpel from the med kit. She was obviously a born midwife for her usual timid air was replaced by supreme self assurance.

"We should keep it and the placenta." Kathryn announced, rousing herself from contemplating her child. "They're a rich source of stem cells and might be just what we need to repair Voyager's gel packs."

B'Elanna suppressed a giggle that Kathryn, just moments after giving birth was concerning herself about the welfare of her ship.

She tapped her COM badge and contacted Harry. The young man's tone was anxious. "I thought you'd forgotten. I was worried How is she?"

"She's fine, Harry."

"And the baby?"

"A healthy girl"

Harry's sigh of relief was clearly audible." That's great!" he exclaimed, the joy in his voice obvious

"How's Mira?" B'Elanna asked. "Fast asleep. I gave her her bottle and she was out like a light. She's been as good as gold. I think she likes me!" B'Elanna then explained that Kathryn wanted to preserve the cord and placenta and Harry agreed to prepare a stasis chamber to beam them to when they were ready.

Celes cut the chord and Kathryn took the baby in her arms and lay back in the warm running water letting it gently cleanse both her and her new born child.

B'Elanna and Celes hovered nearby to ensure their safety, while at the same time letting Kathryn enjoy the first precious moments with her daughter as she counted the tiny fingers and toes.

She lost count of time as she lay back in the water enjoying the miracle of new life, while the warm water gently lapped over mother and child.

B'Elanna hastily changed out of her dripping garments before contacting Harry again

At B'Elanna's command the young man beamed up the chord and placenta to a sealed stasis chamber. She had high hopes that combined with amino acids they'd found on the planet, she could successfully use them to create new neural gel packs for Voyager.

At last ,Kathryn was ready to leave the water and reluctantly let Celes take the baby, while B'Elanna helped her from the water and swathed her in the luxurious Zenean towels prior to slipping the robe, Rhesana had brought earlier, over her head.

The baby started to cry at the unfamiliar sensations around it, as Celes started to dress her .

B'Elanna helped Kathryn over to her bed and took out the medical tricorder.

"What do you want with that ?" Kathryn complained as B'Elanna started to scan her. "I'm fine, check that my baby is healthy !"

"All in good time!" B'Elanna retorted .She studied the readings and smiled with satisfaction. "No internal or external bleeding or damage. Just slight bruising. You're lucky you don't even need the dermal regenerator !"

"It didn't feel like that !" Kathryn complained. "I felt I was being torn apart !

B'Elanna pulled the covers over her, and Celes handed her the baby. "it was worth it though." she said smiling down at her child as B'Elanna scanned it and pronounced her as healthy as her mother.

The baby continued to cry as Kathryn rocked her gently.

"She's probably hungry.." B'Elanna suggested

Kathryn looked rather worried. "She's so tiny, how will she know how to eat ?It took Seven weeks to master the art of swallowing properly !"she fretted thinking of the nearest to a child she'd nurtured before.

"This little one hasn't been brainwashed by the Borg !Try her, she's smarter than you think, if my two were anything to go by." B'Elanna advised.

Kathryn opened her robe and offered the infant her breast. To her surprise, it ceased crying and began stimulating the milk flow with its tiny fingers before beginning to suckle greedily.

Kathryn gazed adoringly at the baby she'd yearned for ,for so long. She felt such overwhelming love it was almost painful .The tears started running down her cheeks again. She brushed them away with her sleeve, hiding her face as she bent to kiss the baby's downy head.

B'Elanna and Celes were tactfully preoccupied at the other side of the room, examining a beautiful wooden cradle and a selection of baby clothes, which had appeared as if by magic. They could only assume the Zeneans had brought them in unnoticed during the birth.

Kathryn had by now composed herself and was thrilled with the gifts.

"I'm taking those back to Voyager !" she exclaimed. "They're beautiful !"

B'Elanna was beginning to miss Mira and as soon as Kathryn's baby was fed, suggested they should invite Harry to see her and return Mira.

"I'd like her to look her best" Kathryn protested, as Celes had just hastily dressed the infant in a nappy and shawl. "I think she needs changing in any case."

She made to get out of bed.

"You rest for the next few hours! "B'Elanna sounded as stern as the ship's doctor. "I'll change her this time. Don't worry, you'll have plenty more chances in future !"

She bathed the child and dressed her in the beautiful flowing pink and white baby clothes the Zeneans had given them .

She then tapped her comm. Badge and summoned Harry.

"There's someone here who wants to meet you and I'm missing my daughter!" she told him." Can you beam down now ? I assume we're breaking some Zenean taboo, we'll just have to hope they don't find out !"

"I'll be right with you. I'm longing to see the baby !"

A few minutes later, the room shimmered as Harry beamed in with Mira. B'Elanna rushed to embrace her sleeping child, before placing her in her rib.

"She's fine," Harry reassured her, "I think she likes me, she's been good as gold !".

He turned his attention to the new arrival, approaching Kathryn and the child in an awe struck and hesitant manner. Kathryn beckoned him closer and he proffered a finger, which the baby grasped tightly He smiled ,enchanted by the infant.

"She's so beautiful," he whispered "and so tiny!"

B'Elanna stared intently at Harry and the baby, she nudged Celes and whispered something in her ear. The Bajoran stared too.

Oblivious to their interest Harry gazed awestruck at the tiny baby as Kathryn held her .He gently caressed the infant's mop of black hair and stroked her tiny fingers .Kathryn smiled at his obvious delight in her baby.

"Congratulations !" he murmured, bending towards her rather hesitantly and kissing her on the cheek as she raised no objection.

He then realised the other two women were scrutinising him intently. "What's the matter ?" he asked "Have I turned into a frog or something?"

B'Elanna cleared her throat awkwardly. "It's just that, well.." she hesitated unsure how to word her suspicions.

"Just what, B'Elanna ? "Kathryn prompted

"Celes and I thought, seeing them together, the baby looks a lot like Harry !"

"What ?" Harry gasped. "I've never .."

"It can't be !" Kathryn protested, "I've no idea who the father is, but I know Harry never laid a finger on me !"

"As anything is possible, a DNA scan might be a good idea, "B'Elanna suggested." I only wish I could access everyone's DNA structure from the Flyer's computer as you must be curious who the father is, especially as the baby is so beautiful, "she added to mollify Kathryn who was eying her sternly. Long experience on Voyager had taught B'Elanna that just about anything was preferable to getting what the crew referred to as "The look" from Kathryn Janeway.

"That's sensible" I suppose, "Kathryn conceded, gently putting her finger in her child's mouth to obtain a DNA sample.

When all three samples were collected, B'Elanna analysed them with the medical tricorder. They were a perfect match, which left no doubts that the Harry was the child's father.

A stunned silence fell over the room broken only by murmurs of "It's impossible "from Kathryn and Harry.

We'd better think exactly what was happening nine months ago." Kathryn said at last

"I was giving birth to Mira" B'Elanna said, so I was pretty much confined to my quarters or sickbay, which infuriated me as the ship's gel packs were starting to fail I remember Tom telling me that you slipped on a gel experimental gel pack." B'Elanna said "He told me you'd forbade everyone to mention it, but he found it too funny at the time not to want to share it. Apparently everyone was trying not to laugh. It would never have happened if I'd been in charge of engineering !"."

"That must be it, the gel packs !" Kathryn and Harry spoke almost simultaneously

"Remember, when I slipped and one exploded all over me when Seven's heel caught it ."

"And I was one of the volunteers to provide material for the experimental gel packs, "Harry added

"But how could it happen ? It seems impossible" Kathryn protested. "I'm thrilled the father is Harry as he'll make a wonderful parent, but it doesn't make sense !"

"I remember now," Harry said after a moment's thought. "Remember when I took you back to your quarters and you told me to help the doctor in sickbay ?"

Kathryn nodded

"Well when I got to sickbay he was very excited ,he said he thought he might have discovered a new fertility treatment. Apparently when you mix human sperm with the neural gel, it sort of enhances it, makes the cells move faster and more aggressively as well as strengthening them . I had to curb his enthusiasm before he asked for volunteers to try it out ! He thought given our unique situation it could be an ideal way to solve the problem for any women on board who wanted children but couldn't find a suitable mate. I told him it was a good idea if it worked but not to make it known for a while in case you felt even more guilty about us getting stranded "

Kathryn beamed at Harry and their child. "Well that solves the mystery. Why ever didn't I think of it before ?" She said. "I was absolutely covered in the contents of the gel pack and as I twisted my ankle slightly, I was sitting in it for several minutes. The timing is right too, as Mira's birth made me forget all about my monthly fertility preservation injection."

"You'll be able to acknowledge your baby openly now you know how it happened? "B'Elanna asked.

Kathryn shook her head. "No, I can't, I broke too many protocols .It would be fine if the Investigation Committee weren't nosing around on my ship but what makes it worse is that everyone saw Harry take me back to my quarters that day. We both know he left me and went back to his duties, but the Committee would believe I took advantage of one of my youngest crew members ! We'll still have to claim the baby is an alien child we found abandoned and only tell the senior staff who know Harry and myself the truth"

"I've an idea" Celes said, surprising them all. "I've been thinking about it for some time actually. I know you didn't bring me on this mission because of my scientific expertise but because you thought I might make a better nanny than a Starfleet officer. You've no need to look uncomfortable I know it's the truth. Well as we'll have been away for almost the duration of a Bajoran pregnancy, why not say the child is mine and Harry's ? I've read Starfleet history about Captain's having a Yeoman to wait on them. If you were to pretend to be very angry when we get back to Voyager, say I concealed the pregnancy, jeopardised the mission and my own health and the baby's and acted in such an irresponsible manner that you're punishing me by reviving the position of Yeoman, so I'll do nothing but fetch and carry. That way, You could give me quarters close to your own to keep an eye on me as part of my "punishment". Then I could help you look after the baby and you'd have her close by. Eventually you could say you wanted to adopt her as I was such a bad mother."

"That would work." Kathryn said, But it's too much to ask of you, Celes, I couldn't let you take the blame and ruin your prospects on Voyager! It's too great a sacrifice though I appreciate your offer very much "

"What career do I have to ruin ?"Celes persisted "You and the other senior officers will know the truth and keep up the pretence and I'll be useful to the ship at long last. Voyager needs her Captain's authority unchallenged and her reputation untarnished by gossip. I'll be much happier as your nanny and you'll be able to bring up your child without anyone questioning your fitness as captain. I beg you let me do this for everyone's good !"

"I'm sure I could make a tiny holo emitter to make the baby look part Bajoran" B'Elanna added "Then after a few months the Doctor could supposedly perform surgery to remove the ridges. It's a common complication of human and Bajoran mixed race children, an irritating rash on the nasal ridges. I looked it up in the medical database"

Kathryn smiled at them ."I see you've got it all worked out ! You've been plotting all this behind my back !"Her voice sounded slightly unsteady as she was overcome by her friend's loyalty.

"I've another idea to make the story convincing," B'Elanna continued "I thought a few days before we were due to leave , we could send a message to Voyager and ask Tom to come and offer medical assistance to Celes, when we discover she's about to give birth !.We could say the Doctor would be more usually employed on Voyager as Bajoran births are usually very straightforward. It help ward off suspicion and Tom and I should spend a few days here together. I hope now Mira has stopped crying so much he might bond with her better and to be honest I miss him !"

Kathryn nodded her agreement. "I know you do and I feel guilty keeping you apart., "

B'Elanna shook her head. "I think it's been good to spend some time apart, I felt Tom was rejecting Mira as she isn't Miral. Now he tells me how much he misses her during our daily conversations."

"I'll send for him within the next few days." Kathryn promised. "We need some extra help to get the gel packs finished."

"What about my "punishment" ?" asked Harry." It is the twenty fourth century, and if Celes story is to be believed, I endangered the success of the mission as much as she supposedly did !"

Kathryn grinned." I've already thought of that ! Instead of commanding the Night Shift and spending so much time on the Holodeck , I sentence you to baby sit !"

Harry beamed. "Great! I want to spend some time with my daughter and help to bring her up."

"We must all keep in touch and remember we're the Voyager family, "Kathryn said. "Even when we get home. After so many years many of us are closer to each other than our families on earth."

Tom and I thought of getting a house in San Francesco near Tom's family to bring up our children." B'Elanna confided. "As Miral will have spent so much time with her grandparents, we must stay near them."

"And I want to be near my parents and my friends too." Harry added "I'm going to request an assignment at Headquarters when we get home."

"My dream is spend at least a few years settled on earth ."Kathryn added "Especially now I've a child. I thought of buying a big house ,where Seven could have her own flat, as she wasn't happy with her Aunt and is still too emotionally immature to cope on her own. I'd like enough rooms to hold regular get togethers. They'd be a place for you to stay, Celes," she added "Now all we need to do is get home, It matters now more than ever. My baby and Mira need a safe environment to grow up in and you need to get back to Miral, B'Elanna."

"It's not your fault we got lost again, "B'Elanna consoled her. "But I admit I badly want to be with both my daughters . I know you'll get us home though. "Tom's father told him a secret before we got lost again." She added. " Starfleet was planning to make Kathryn an admiral, based at Starfleet Headquarters as soon as the investigation was concluded. I wasn't supposed to tell anyone, but this seems the right time. Just keep it a secret !"

At that moment there was a tap on the door and Rhesana entered carrying a large basket.

"Praise be to the Goddess. She has blessed you abundantly !"she exclaimed on catching sight of the baby sleeping in Kathryn's arms.

She then looked sternly at Harry "You know you are forbidden in the women's quarters, especially at such a sacred time !"

Harry blushed slightly. "I've only just got here," he explained. "I came to return Mara to her mother and I've learned I'm the father of this baby. Isn't she beautiful ? "he beamed proudly.

"She is indeed." The priestess said slightly less sternly." But go now honour our customs and return to your dwelling!"

Harry looked at Kathryn for guidance torn between two strong women. She shrugged an eyebrow and smiled. "I think we should respect our hostess, Harry. You'll see your daughter again soon."

Harry couldn't resist another wondering glance at his new born daughter before bidding his friends a hasty farewell. Celes, who could hardy keep awake, retired to her room.

Rhesana put down her basket and swung her pendant over Kathryn and the baby. It glowed a clear blue over the child, but the gem clouded slightly over the new mother. However Rhesana seemed satisfied.

"A fine healthy daughter of the Goddess !" she pronounced "And you Kathryn will be restored after rest. I've brought you a restorative drink and ointments to ease any soreness.You will need daily massage to restore your body. . When the child is three days old, I request that you honour our goddess and thank her for her blessings in the temple. All our women partake in a purification and blessing ritual. You are the first from another world in many generations to have been so blessed on this world and our Goddess has favoured you highly. Custom dictates our women are accompanied by their mother or sister, so bring you friend who is as a sister with you."

Kathryn looked doubtful.

"I swear no harm will come to you or your precious child." Rhesana assured her." And have I not cared for you well when your own medicines failed ?"

"You have indeed. I am honoured to accept your invitation." Kathryn felt she had little choice but to agree.

The priestess touched Kathryn lightly on the bridge of the nose with her fingertip. "Sleep now!" she commanded. "You are safe in this place."

She gave them her usual enigmatic smile and left.

"That woman reminds me an old earth painting called "The Mona Lisa" B'Elanna commented. "Tom told me he saw it when he was in France and showed me an image in the database. The woman looks as if she knows everything but has no intention of sharing her knowledge. Rhesana is like that, an enigma."

Kathryn yawned, since Rhesana's departure she felt unable to keep her eyes open..

"I think we all need some rest now." B'Elanna suggested as she poured out a glass of Rhesana's brew for Kathryn. "Let's put the baby in her cradle now, she's fast asleep"

Despite her weariness, Kathryn seemed reluctant to relinquish her child.

"I keep wearing I'll wake up and find I've dreamed all this. "she said.

"You might wish you had when she keeps you awake all night when she starts teething or needs changing when you've an important meeting to attend ! Not that I'd be without mine for the galaxy. I only wish Miral were with me too."

Kathryn reluctantly allowed B'Elanna to put her baby in the cradle next to the bed as she sipped her drink.

"You'll be back on your feet in a few hours, B'Elanna assured her. I'll leave the door open for if you need anything. "She patted her friend's shoulder. "I am so thrilled for you, you're going to make a wonderful mother !"

Kathryn was asleep almost before B'Elanna left the room but it took the half Klingon much longer to fall asleep. She'd worried for so long that something would go wrong during the birth that the sense of relief was overwhelming. And not only was Voyager's captain safe and well, but Mira would have a playmate of her own age. It seemed almost too good to be true. Eventually she slept and woke only when she heard the new born baby crying and Mira decided to join in.

She settled Mira and then looked through the door of Kathryn's room ,which had been left ajar .She was sitting propped up against the pillows sucking her child, with an expression of love and contentment across her features that B'Elanna had never seen before from her usually tough commanding officer. At long last, she appeared as a woman at peace with herself Smiling, she returned to bed for another hour or two.

It was mid afternoon before they were all rested and ready for their daily bath, which proved a novel experience with two babies.

Mira was fascinated by the new arrival and B'Elanna had to keep her from splashing around too enthusiastically.

Kathryn rather reluctantly allowed Celes to dry and dress her baby, while she applied the various ointments Rhesana had given her .

She had to ask B'Elanna's help with the one to ease the aching muscles in her back

"I wish I'd had some of this stuff ."The younger woman said enviously "You've hardly a stretch mark ! No one would think you only gave birth yesterday !"

"We'll have to replicate the recipes when we get back." Kathryn said as she slipped her new robe over her head. "and I think I'll be wearing this off duty too. It is so comfortable ! We couldn't have picked a better planet to come to !"

Harry arrived a few minutes later .As he proudly cuddled his daughter, the conversation turned to the subject of names. Kathryn wanted to honour her companions as well as find names to suit the baby.

"I'd like Margaret as one of her names." she said "It's the anglicised version of my Mother's name, Gretchen. She could be Meg for short. How about Margaret Harriet Bella Celeste ?

Harry, B'Elanna and Celes all shook their heads. "Well what would you like ?" Kathryn asked. "I could never have given birth to her without you.

"I'd like her called Mary after my Mother." Harry said." Margaret Mary sounds nice too."

Kathryn nodded her agreement, while bestowing kisses on the baby's head." What's your choice ,B'Elanna ?" she enquired "B'Elanna ,Bella, Lana ?Miral after your Mother ?"

"I hated having a Klingon name when I was a child." B'Elanna said ."My father sometimes called me "Bella" but I used to dream of a nice human name like "Isobel" "I like that." Kathryn agreed. "Now what's your choice Celes ? A tradition Bajoran name ?"

"Since I've lived amongst humans, I've grown to like their names, especially traditional ones" Celes replied. "I think as she's human, I'll stick with your people's names and if anyone who thinks she's mine wonders why, I'll say Harry wanted it that way !"

Harry glared at her but she ignored him. "I read your Shakespeare's plays while I was at the Academy." she said thoughtfully and there was a character called "Celia" in one of them. I liked it that he chose a name so like mine as humans knew nothing of our existence then. so I choose "Celia. "

Kathryn stared at her baby and repeated the four names in different combinations. "Margaret Isobel Celia Mary" sounds best. She said at last." I know it's a mouthful, but I intend to call her "Meg". At least she'll have plenty of names to choose from when she gets older. In the old days princesses used to have four names, so she's in good company !"

The next two days passed in a blur of feeding and changing. Kathryn was proving as proficient at motherhood as she was at most other tasks .

They decided that after the purification ceremony, she would send for Tom using the false story of Celes being pregnant that they'd concocted. After he arrived, he could help B'Elanna with the gel packs and then after another two weeks or so they would be ready to return to Voyager. Kathryn knew she must soon return to her duties though she knew she'd feel torn between being a captain and being a mother.

"You soon get used to it" B'Elanna assured her" I can be both Chief Engineer and a Mother. You just learn to juggle things and you're lucky as Celes will be a full time nanny !"

On the third day about mid afternoon, two of the young lilac clad priestesses appeared to escort the three women and two babies the temple. Kathryn was apprehensive but not unduly so, as she felt she had a good idea what to expect.

Much to her surprise, Harry was waiting outside the temple when they arrived .Before she could ask him why Rhesana had appeared.

"The father must partake in the first ceremony." she announced, as she led Kathryn and Harry to a bench in the temple courtyard and instructed them to sit down, with Meg between them ,lying spread across both their laps. She instructed them each to place a hand on the baby's forehead as she placed a fingertip on the bridge of their noses and then did the same with Meg.

Kathryn had the most curious sensation of being inside Harry's thoughts for a brief instant, which was replaced by a shared sense of love and responsibly towards Meg, which felt uncertain whether it originated from herself, Harry or from them both..

Rhesana smiled. "You will make good parents, now return to the men's quarters, Harry !"

The interior of the temple looked much as when she'd last seen it, though at that time, she'd felt too ill to pay much attention. She noticed one of the young priestesses seemed to be the centre of some ritual, while groups of women and young children were scattered Around ,some praying, some apparently waiting and others or seemed to be there purely to enjoy themselves.

Many of the women left what they were doing and clustered round Kathryn and Meg, exclaiming "Blessings to the Goddess for giving you a daughter !"

An attendant offered to take Mira, and B'Elanna reluctantly accepted the offer concluding that her baby would surely be safe amongst people who obviously revered children so much.

The ritual began, much as it had done before, Rhesana waved her pendant over Kathryn and smiled that it glowed a clear blue. She was then escorted to the ritual bath ,but instead of bathing with Meg, she had to watch apprehensively as the baby was taken by a young priestess ,who started bathing her in a large bowl.

Kathryn handed her con badge to B'Elanna, determined this time to be aware of what was being said and to try to comprehend whatever ritual ordeal lay ahead.

Like the time before, the bath was brief. Guessing what would happen, Kathryn was wearing the birthing robe, which she was able to slip off with some degree of dignity, as the attendants wrapped her in a large towel.

A towel clad Meg, was being held by one priestess, while another dipped a bowl in the baby's bath water and ceremoniously carried the contents to the area in front of the statue. As before, Rhesana was waiting and the attendants held up a screen to shield the proceedings from the other worshippers.

Rhesana solemnly cut off a lock of Kathryn's hair with her ceremonial knife and then, with more difficulty did the same with Meg, as her anxious mother watched with her heart in her mouth.

The priestesses removed the towels from both mother and child as Rhesana set the combined locks alight intoning to the statue. "Great Mother Goddess, this woman and her child come before you, revealed in mind and a body to invoke your blessing !"

She gestured for Kathryn to lift Meg up as if offering her to the statue, before approaching ,followed by one of the priestesses, who carried a jar ,which seemed to contain the same curious ointment she'd used before, which seemed to glow in all the colours of the rainbow.

She began by drawing the two entwined circles across Kathryn's back with the side of her hand , adding a mystic symbol where the two overlapped. She then did the same with Meg before gesturing an attendant to take her from Kathryn's aching arms.

Then using her palms, she daubed the paste over various parts of her body, intoning over each part "Blessed be the womb that sustains, Blessed be the arms that carry, Blessed be the breasts that nurture, Blessed be the brain that teaches, Blessed be the heart that loves ,Blessed be !"

During the proceedings, which could not have lasted longer than about two minutes, B'Elanna looked on with a mixture of sympathy for Kathryn and contempt for Rhesana for making her endure such an ordeal, which seemed most unfitting for a starship captain to be subjected to, or any woman for that matter. while Celes stood in open mouthed horror at the ritual. Kathryn herself felt oddly calm at the proceedings, even strangely moved.

The proceedings reminded her vaguely of something she once read about the ritual anointing for a monarch or aspiring knight on earth in ancient times. A shaft of sunlight suddenly came through, a small window high above the altar, as the golden warmth bathed Kathryn she felt a surge of something akin to exhilaration. Ecstatic, she flung her arms out towards the statue, which by some trick of the light seemed to be smiling at her. She cried out, an ecstatic cry in some language beyond even the powers of the Universal Translator.

B'Elanna gasped, as Kathryn looked as if she were made of flame, for she and the statue both glowed in an almost unearthly light. A phase for some old earth religious text sprung into her mind something about "A woman clothed in sun."

Rhesana cried out, breaking the spell, "The Goddess has granted you great favour, you are blessed indeed !" She fell to her knees in front of the statue. and kissed its marble feet, before returning her attention back to Kathryn ,applying further mystic symbols to her back and ribs before beckoning one of the lilac clad attendants to come forward. A great chant of ecstatic music filled the temple as the priestesses acclaimed the Goddess's blessing.

A priestess came forward and slipped a soft white robe over Kathryn's head. She assumed the ritual was over and they could now leave, but she found herself surrounded by lilac clad priestesses, now the three behind her had dropped the screen they'd been holding.

They placed an elaborate embroidered robe over the white one and started arranging her hair elaborately, plaiting flowers in the thick tresses . Another priestess had clothed Meg in an equally elaborate outfit. She handed her back to her relieved mother.

Rhesana took the bowl containing the bathwater and added the ashes from the burned locks of hair. She then placed the bowl in front of the statue and gazed in it, appearing to fall into some sort of trance.

She spoke at last in a strange high pitched voice "A blessed day has dawned. The Goddess grants her favour. This child is one unique. She will learn much, teach much and bring joy with her many descendants. Blessed be ! Blessed be !"

As Rhesana came out of the trance, obviously unaware of what she'd said, she asked Kathryn ."I hope the Goddess gave a happy future to your child ?She never lies."

Kathryn smiled and nodded. "We have one final ceremony." The priestess announced .

Zhehana took hold of B'Elanna and Celes and brought them in front of the statue.

B'Elanna looked furious and Celes terrified. Rhesana instructed then to each take hold of one of Kathryn's hands and one of Meg's .She ten touched them lightly on the bridge of the nose, first linking Kathryn and Meg with B'Elanna and then with Celes. For a moment, a dizzying mixture of each other thoughts swept through their minds and they would have fallen, had each not been held by two priestesses.

"You will care always for each other and unite to protect the child. she said before dismissing them. "Go with the Goddess's blessings !"

There was no sign of Harry when the women left the temple and they said little during their short journey back to the house which had become home over the last months.

Kathryn seemed reflective in an almost trance like condition, while B'Elanna was thoughtful and Celes still looked troubled at what she'd just witnessed. The two babies slept, somewhat surprisingly.

As soon as they were inside ,Kathryn went to her room to change into some plainer robes and don the baggy underwear, she'd now grown accustomed to wearing. She carefully hung up the embroidered robe, thinking she would cherish such a beautiful garment and what a lovely wedding dress it would make, were she ever to marry.

She knew her mind was wandering but her scientific nature recoiled at accepting what she'd just experienced, yet emotionally she was deeply affected by it. Her back ached from standing and she was rubbing it absently when B'Elanna and Celes came in.

"You didn't use Rhesana's ointment this morning !" B'Elanna said accusingly" You never take care of yourself !"

"Meg needs bathing and changing .We can bother with that later" Kathryn replied.

"If I'm to be your nanny, I'd best start getting used to doing that." Celes said." Don't worry I've bathed dozens of babies when I was in the refugee camp. You rest and let B'Elanna apply some of that strange priestess's ointments."

Kathryn hesitated then reluctantly concluded that in her present condition, Meg was probably safer with Celes, especially as her head was starting to swim a little.

She contented herself by issuing detailed instructions about the temperature of the water and watching Meg for every second.

When B'Elanna came back, she was carrying a medical tricorder as well as the jars of ointments. "I want to know what's in those ointments." she announced, "That will surely provide an explanation for what happened earlier. It must be some drug." She ran the scanner over Kathryn and frowned. "According to this, there isn't anything there." She announced.

"Let me see!" Kathryn, who'd been lying on her side on the bed sat up and scanned where the elaborate patterns drawn across her ribs were, but according to the tricorder they weren't there. Yet what had initially appeared to be crude circles were now a riot of swilling beautiful colour which slowed softly. "Sometimes there is no explanation and we have to accept it." She said rather to B'Elanna's surprise ."This isn't the first time I've had a similar experience."

"We're scientists living in the twenty fourth century, there must be an explanation .""B'Elanna persisted as she started massaging Kathryn's back with the ointment. "I'd like to know what happened today."

"I only know that one moment I was undergoing what seemed an absurd and embarrassing ritual and the next moment I felt as if I were on a higher plane of existence. It was like being one with universe and the Goddess became real and not just a statue."

She sat up and pulled her robe up over her shoulders while B'Elanna massaged the back of her neck with another of the potions.. "There's a lot of mysteries about these people, such as why they rarely use their fingers in their rituals but apply the ointments with their palms ,it's quite painful. Then they seem able to give some sort of electric shock with their touch as well. I wonder if they're touch telepaths like the Vulcans ?"

"Who knows? It's a very curious culture." said B'Elanna.

"But a highly civilised one, they saved Meg for me. That's a debt I can never repay."

At that moment, Celes rushed in through the open door, clutching a dripping Meg wrapped in a towel. The baby was screaming loudly. "Just look at her!" Celes demanded, I've rubbed as hard as I can and these marks won't come off !" She pointed to the ritual markings that adorned the infant's tiny body. "What about you ,have yours gone yet ?"

"They'll fade in a few days, I think it's part of the ritual that they linger. "Kathryn said calmly. She got up, her backache now vanished and took her child from Celes, hugging her close as she dried her with the towel. "If you scan them, they aren't there in any case ! Will you bring me Meg's clothes ?"

Celes shook her head disbelievingly at the other's trust in Rhesana but didn't argue knowing the Captain's stubborn nature.

Meg continued to scream despite her mother's efforts to soothe her. When Celes brought the clothes, Kathryn just put a nappy on the distressed baby and opening her robe, slipped the child under it, next to her skin, where after a few minutes, she quietened and started to suckle contentedly oblivious to the shimmering patterns which adorned hers and her mother's bodies alike.

"I think we'd better do some work on the gel packs." B'Elanna suggested to Celes .They went leaving a still thoughtful Kathryn pondering over the events in the temple.

Kathryn was in her mother's house in Indiana, a young girl,obviously Meg aged about twelve,was playing with her two cousins while her proud Mother, Aunt and Grandmother looked on .Before Kathryn could figure out how Meg had grown so fast and why her family were there, the scene changed to a university graduation ceremony where a lovely young woman whom Kathryn somehow knew was her daughter was being praised as a brilliant student as she received her diploma .Kathryn was sitting on the front row with her now aged mother and Harry, B'Elanna and Tom .Just as Mira came on to dais, as she was obviously graduating at the same time, the scene changed again to Kathryn's old family home, where Meg's wedding was taking place.

Kathryn only had time to take in that Meg looked radiant wearing the elaborate robe Rhesana had given her mother many years before and all her old friends from Voyager were there as well as B'Elanna and Tom's daughters who were two of the bridesmaids when the scene changed again.

This time she was lying in bed feeling very weak. She hardly recognised the weeping middle aged woman at her bedside as her daughter and who were all the others, four young people in the prime of life and a group of young children? There were others there too, B'Elanna, Harry, Tom Seven and Celes but how had they become so old and why were they all crying ?

Then she saw the EMH who hadn't changed at all. He was shaking his head and saying to Meg. "There's nothing I can do, I'm sorry .She's lived to an amazing age. It's been my privilege to know two of the most amazing women of this century. I only wish her sister's family could have got here in time." Meg cried out "Mother, No !"and Kathryn felt herself being pushed through a tunnel of light.

She woke with a horrified start .What if she'd accidentally smothered her baby, falling asleep like that ? To her great relief Meg was still suckling contently but when she looked more closely, she noticed much to her amazement that the shimming patterns had disappeared from both of them. Sitting upright against the pillows she noticed the clock on wall showed only ten minutes had elapsed since B'Elanna and Celes left and she knew that to have vivid dreams you had to have been asleep for far longer than that to enter REM sleep. It didn't make sense.

If it were some sort of vision it showed a rosy future. She could only conclude that the dye on her skin had some sort of mind altering properties. Just then she heard Harry calling outside, so she hastily slipped on her outer robe and wrapped Meg in a shawl before calling him to come in.

The young man seemed rather ill at ease. "I came to see how you were." He said rather hesitantly, B'Elanna said you were resting after the ceremony but she wouldn't go into any details about. That mind linking thing was such a strange experience, kind of weird. Well I was thinking all this weird, I mean that I'm the father of your child ! I never dreamed in a thousand light years that anything like that would happen. It takes some getting used to, not that I'm not proud of Meg. "He added hastily.

Kathryn gave him a rather mischievous look. "Don't you remember all those years ago, when Voyager was duplicated, I told you weird was part of the everyday in Starfleet?"

He nodded "Yes I remember but this seems the weirdest thing yet !" Just then Meg started to cry and Kathryn went to pick her up.

She knew she couldn't be hungry and didn't appear to need her nappy changing, so instead of cuddling her she went over to where Harry was standing .

Unlike the women, he'd not become accustomed to the Zenean mode of dress and only wore a robe in the street, which he discarded indoors to reveal a casual shirt and trousers.

"Undo your shirt!" Kathryn instructed him. "What? "he looked flustered but was so used to obeying his captain, he was already fumbling with the buttons. "It's time you started to bond with your daughter." she said "Hold her against your skin.!" She handed him the child ,her hand brushing against his bare flesh as she settled her.

For the first time, Harry perceived her not as his captain, or even a mother substitute but as an attractive woman. Kathryn smiled contentedly, as she felt Rhesana had given her a vision of the future, soon it would be time to leave this planet and its people but she knew she would never forget them, especially the enigmatic priestess.

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wacukans: A very good story. I would love to read more of your work. Good job

Ivy: Just updated already please 😭😭😭suspense is killing me

TheRiSi: I loved this. Even if the plot wasn’t super complicated or convoluted, the way it was executed was amazing.The overall style was so unique and it felt so real. There was good balance between technical knowledge and plot. The characters aren’t perfect and are arguably slightly flawed in the best w...

Shakshi: I liked everything about the book so far like how the events turn out. But I didn't like how she didn't even bother about Richard and thought he is dead and just moved on with Steven.

Elaine June Creech: I loved it & can't wait to read about Victoria

Mohini: I love the book. Exactly what i needed right now. Thank you for sharing <3

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