AUTHOR'S NOTE: "Star Trek: Picard", the characters, and situations depicted were created for CBS All Access by Akiva Goldsman, Michael Chabon, Kirsten Beyer, and Alex Kurtzman. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes. Previously unrecognized characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: All episodes until 1x10
The slow walk to a better life
The navigational console was alight with familiar information, images of a star system and various statistics forming a dashboard intended to assist her with decision-making. Raffi Musiker pierced the air with her fingers, the orange holograms changing shape with her input. Satisfied with her instructions to the onboard computer, she settled into her chair, watching the main display as the freighter La Sirena sailed through warp space.
They were on a routine supply run for Coppelius station, enlisted by its local Synth population to ferry important supplies and personnel to and from Federation space. Lifting her head to glance at the main display, elongated lines of light filled her vision and the monotony of it was like a lullaby.
Raffi sought peace and emptiness when she piloted La Sirena outside of the roster, blessedly occupied with unthinking tasks that cleared her mind in much the same way snakeleaf did.
She checked and rechecked the star charts, storing information about planets as they passed by and eavesdropped on encrypted subspace chatter while remaining critical of the official newsreels. After all, she was a pragmatic intelligence analyst. Her sources were varied, many, and often contradicting. Her art was in determining the real question, the problem at an issue's core, and then choosing the pieces that could influence the outcome she desired. It was her natural inclination.
She was a collector of information, however mundane. Through careful selection and shrewd but quiet use, this inclination elevated her to the rank of Lieutenant Commander in Starfleet. Eventually, under Picard's command, she became the foremost expert on the Romulan Empire.
It had become their doom years before it saved Coppelius and the Federation from a grievous mistake. She swatted that memory away, sighing. Raffi put up her legs, closed her eyes, and hoped for a few minutes of silence.
"Fancy meeting you here again so late at night."
Raffi jumped, slid her legs back to the floor, and turned. Seven raised an elegant brow as she made her way to the opposite console.
Raffi huffed, "Give a woman some warning. You nearly gave me a heart attack."
Not missing a beat, Seven brought up a communication window. It was an unspoken routine during the late shift. Raffi returned to her previous position, but, as always, she was suddenly curious.
A woman came into view, young and human-like, with dark, wavy brown hair that glowed an iridescent green from the ambient light. A dark starburst of Borg technology engulfed half of her face. Raffi glanced at the open subspace transmissions in her own instrument panel; this was a call to Coppelius.
"Tam," Seven greeted.
"Seven of Nine," the woman said just as formally.
Instead of a verbal brief, data flowed into Seven's screen, punctuated by Tam's concise commentary.
"You've seen remarkable progress in repairing some of the Cube's basic functions," Seven said, non-committal. To Raffi, it sounded like a compliment. Seven waved her hand and the display shifted back to her ops dashboard. "Is there anything of significance you wished for me to know?"
Tam's usual, serene demeanor fell. They watched her walk to a more private setting, the PADD viewer trembling as she lifted it closer to her face.
She sounded suddenly shrill. "We are..." Tam closed her eyes and changed the emphasis, unused to separating herself from a collective. "I am afraid that we will be denied the same supplies, resources, security, and ultimately, even Federation citizenship."
Seven's shoulders dropped for a moment. "Nonsense."
Tam's voice hardened. "The agreement was with the Synths. The exchange of personnel has not included us; we have sent no representatives to Federation outposts. We do not know what to offer, nowhere else to go. There are hundreds of us --some of us still connected to the Cube --and we fear the Artifact may fail well before any negotiations are made on our behalf."
Seven's unflinching composure came from true and proven proficiency. She did not deal with platitudes. Faced with Tam's uncertainty and suddenly her own, Seven took one, shuddering breath and said, "La Sirena is due to arrive at Coppelius in a few hours. We'll speak about this then."
The transmission ended.
Suddenly, the silence which hung between Seven and Raffi was loaded with tension.
"I'm sorry you had to hear that." Seven leaned into the console, putting her head into her hands.
Raffi reached for her horgl, lighting it as tension began a slow creep into her shoulders. Emil was well-meaning but this synthetic snakeleaf meant to distance her from her addiction held none of the edge she needed to truly relax or even lie. "I'm sure you wanted me to hear everything."
Seven ignored the potential impasse. "Are her fears unfounded?"
Raffi let go of a long and weighty breath, smoke clouding her vision. They were both ex-Starfleet and were intimately familiar with the hoops and needle-eyes the Federation strung itself through for its own gain.
"It's the Federation Council we're talking about," Raffi said. "With them, the devil is always in the details." She noticed the exhaustion scrunching the skin around Seven's optical implant. "Sorry. I know it's one more thing to worry about."
"No, I'm glad you brought it up." Seven rubbed her forehead while standing up. "I need a drink. I can't believe I allowed this oversight."
"You should cut yourself some slack, Seven. You didn't allow anything; there was a lot going on."
"Yes, but Tam and the others are inexperienced and I should have--"
Raffi let Seven ramble as she set aside the horgl on the console, took the few steps towards her, and put a gentle hand on her forearm. "Hey," she soothed. "We may carry the weight of the galaxy on our shoulders," she jokingly pointed a thumb at Picard's quarters, which earned her a morose chuckle, "But you've got us. You can't think of everything Seven, you can't solve everything, we both know that. That's a deep and lonely hole we've had a hard time climbing out of."
Seven breathed deeply and nodded. "I'll...keep that in mind."
She excused herself and started down the rampart which led to the mess, but Raffi could still hear Seven's frustrated, "Fuck" as she slammed an open palm on an unsuspecting replicator.
Raffi tracked Seven with her eyes. She and J-L were in conversation at another table. Rios and Jurati were overtly flirting near the replicator, forgetting the plates of food they held. Soji was having an animated discussion with Emil, who seemed to blush at every second word.
Alone with Raffi at their table, Elnor was engrossed in his PADD.
"I may want a cat someday."
Raffi chuckled, idly turning her cup of coffee. "Pets are good for impulse control, self-esteem, social skills, and general well-being. You should consider one."
"I will." Elnor sat up straighter.
"You'd make a great cat dad. Anything in my care would have suffered neglect."
"You take too little credit." Elnor's disbelief warmed her and she couldn't help a small, grateful smile. Seeing that she was still a little distracted, he put the PADD down and followed Raffi's gaze.
Raffi could generally read Jean-luc Picard quite well but today, he had a curious look on his face as Seven spoke. The ex-Borg seemed unemotional but her eyes were strained and her hands were in fists.
"You've been good to your friends," Elnor said. He stooped over his PADD again. "I think that's more than enough. It is for me."
Raffi took the time to study the young Romulan more closely. The boy was artless; he stared with open enjoyment at a video of a cat playing with a piece of yarn. "Thanks Elnor. I needed that."
She indicated Picard and Seven as she brought the coffee to her lips. "What do you suppose they're talking about."
He didn't look up as he said, "Seven wants to stay in Coppelius for a few weeks and sit out on the next few missions. Something about the remaining xB's and the Borg Cube. Picard thinks it's a great opportunity to refuel and mentally recharge," Elnor's tone changed to emulate Picard's, "'We have run at least twenty missions to and from Federation space. The crew deserves a break.'"
Surprised, Raffi guffawed into her drink. "Thanks Elnor. Next time, try not to eavesdrop."
Elnor looked confused. "You asked."
"I did, didn't I." She patted the young man's back. "Somebody ought to give Rios a heads-up."
Rios stared at Picard's retreating back. He muttered loud enough for only the bridge crew to hear, "Sometimes I wonder if I'm still the captain of this ship."
"You like following him around," Raffi said.
Rios narrowed his eyes at her but didn't protest. "He's worth following."
"Well, we're all here, aren't we." Raffi gestured widely to all of them before turning back to her console. They were an hour away from Coppelius and already, her sensors were picking up familiar signals. "Huh, they're very early. Like, almost a week early."
"The USS Thomas Paine."
"A power move or extremely good manners?" Rios wondered aloud, mimicking the voice of a newsreel reporter. "We shall see."
They both stole a glance at Seven, who seemed busy with her own read-outs. "We're being hailed." Seven's hands a blur, she added, "They're asking for transponder codes."
Rios sat back. "On-screen, if you please, Seven."
A Bolian in Starfleet red stared at them with orange-yellow eyes, four gold pips gleaming against her collar. Hairless with thin, almost gel-like skin, she had a small, linear ridge running down the middle of her face and she looked at Rios with an inquisitive but unconcerned expression.
She acknowledged, "Cristóbal Rios of La Sirena."
"Not Captain Rixx of the Paine," Rios returned. "Unsurprising as the legendary captain has retired."
Something like a smile quirked her lips, brightening the speckles of blue on the thin skin of her face. "I'm Captain Axi Ridor. I'm told we've started a long, ingrained tradition of instating Bolian captains on the Paine since Captain Rixx retired."
"I can see that. What brings us this very, very early pleasure?"
In the background, Seven said, "Codes have been sent, Captain."
Axi looked to her left as though a crewmember had informed her of the same. "This is a unique, Coppelius transponder code, Captain. Quite curious."
Rios' tone became coldly formal. "We represent Coppelius as they await formal membership in the Federation."
"I suppose Picard and Dr Soong will be present for the trade negotiations?"
"And the Borg? Who will be representing them?"
Something like skepticism spasmed on Rios' face. Seven's body tensed over her console, her hands hovering. She seemed coiled and ready to strike with a verbal barb.
This isn't going to end well, Raffi thought.
She took one, fortifying breath, and against her better judgment, blurted, "I and a few others will be representing the xB's and the Artifact."
Shocked silence blazed through the bridge.
"I'm sorry, what," Rios hissed.
Axi didn't seem perturbed. Her main screen must have shifted to Raffi because she addressed her directly, "Lieutenant Commander Musiker. You are an excellent choice and one with unparalleled foresight."
"Not a lieutenant commander anymore, Captain Ridor."
"No less of an intelligence analyst and a talented tactician," Axi replied. "Hopefully the Federation gets out of this unscathed." She grinned and addressed the bridge, "Good luck, Captain Rios, Musiker. I look forward to hosting you on my ship. Axi out."
The screen shifted back to the front sensors and the starfield.
Raffi stood from her seat, trembling, and began to walk to the back of the ship. She risked a glance at Seven, who didn't lift her head to look at her and instead, frowned at the starfield as though it held a few, mind-numbing secrets. Raffi hurried past the Captain's chair to a corridor where she could panic in relative peace.
"Seven, you have the con," Rios called out before chasing after Raffi. When he caught up to her, he stood in front of her, his arms akimbo. "Are you crazy?"
"I thought Emil had you off that snakeleaf?"
Raffi clasped her hands together tightly, bringing her chin up with confidence she did not feel. "I needed to help."
Rios slapped a hand against his thigh in frustration, spinning in place as he tried to expend his nervous energy. "Of course you did! We all do!"
"And Seven can't deal with this on her own, on top of the repairs and the rebuild. She's also a Fenris Ranger. If that doesn't shout, 'conflict of interest', I don't know what does."
"Oh, we're well past the whole 'conflict of interest' conversation. Our job this whole month has been one massive conflict of interest. And now this." Rios took her shoulders, squeezed, and levelled his gaze to hers, searching. He seemed to find something there as his mouth widened into a revelatory, "Oh. Oh no. I know that look."
He chuckled derisively. "Your feelings are going to get us all into so much trouble."
"Feelings?" Raffi exclaimed. "What feelings?" Just as Rios put his hands up in surrender and returned to the bridge.
Everyone was present when they dropped out of warp space. The USS Thomas Paine loomed bigger than the planet Coppelius on the main screen as La Sirena approached it at cruising speed and maintained high orbit. A New Orleans class frigate, the Paine's design echoed that of its bigger, Galaxy-class cousins but with very different proportions. It had a saucer section that seemed comically large compared to its aft nacelles. Obvious torpedo bays pinched the saucer section top and bottom; something to give an enemy ship pause.
Raffi whistled. "Those ships have always been impressive. Small but absolutely terrible."
It was only a little less capable than a Federation flagship. Typically used on diplomatic missions or to protect other vessels, the USS Thomas Paine was capable of sustained speeds well into warp nine and had enough firepower to level a planet.
In a deeply affected tone, Picard breathed out, "Our Federation friends are early."
"I wonder why." Rios' earlier annoyance echoed across the bulkhead. "Why couldn't they have sent Riker instead. A friendly face would have been nice."
Jurati put a hand on Rios' shoulder. "Give the man a break. He came out of retirement for us. I'm sure he's just about ready to retire again anyway with the red tape they're likely making him jump through."
Rios patted her hand. "Eh, true."
Picard was pensive in his seat, looking more like a doting grandfather now that he sat on the bridge in a consulting role rather than as captain. "Coppelius station holds a lot of political significance for the Federation at this time. There's intelligence exchange, old threats and new. There's a lot to be gained through trade: access to the advanced science Dr Soong has developed on synthetics, admittance to the Artifact which was once limited by the Romulans, immense technological knowledge and expertise." He crossed his legs and leaned back against his chair as his face softened into a hopeful expression, a hint of a smile shining in his eyes. "And in the future, perhaps even an exchange of traditions and culture."
Seven's brow quirked. "Traditions and culture." Her gaze flickered to Soji who shrugged, before it settled on Picard with skepticism.
The smile reached Picard's lips, lining his words with a reluctant, self-effacing joy. "We all create our own traditions and culture to pass on to later generations. They tether us to a place, a feeling, a common narrative, like-minded individuals, or more importantly, to home.
"I'm sure the xB's and the Synths will have something approximating ideas, behaviours, and duties to distinguish the groups' identities; something that helps them pass on their stories and societal norms."
This development by any form of civilisation seemed utterly inevitable to Picard. Although Raffi was sure Seven would not accept it as truth right now, it was something they could all hang on to for the future of Coppelius station and the brethren she and Soji had left on the planet.
"Well, one could hope," Seven said, sounding doubtful.
"Yes we can." Picard clapped his hands together. "Now, I'd very much like a cup of earl grey on solid ground. Who's with me?"
Seven turned into Raffi's quarters after their shift, hours after Picard, Soji, and Elnor had beamed down to the Synth colony. Enoch took over her duties with barely suppressed glee, waving her away while Rios looked on with rising apprehension. She could hear them bantering and then shouting even as she turned towards the living quarters.
Feeling unsure of how to approach Raffi after today's events, Seven crossed her arms over her chest, standing by the door to Raffi's quarters, which had been left open and unlocked as though expecting a visitor. Acknowledging her presence with a strained smile, Raffi continued to fill a duffel bag with clothes.
Seven cleared her throat. "That was foolhardy."
Raffi's laugh sounded manic. "Oh but you're more invested than I am."
"Negotiations won't be for another week," Seven said, trying to keep her voice even. "Why are you packing?"
"I thought I'd get to know the people of the Artifact a bit more before the actual negotiations."
"I'll coordinate your living arrangements." Seven shifted to her other foot. "I'll also take the liberty of telling Tam and the others that you have their best interest in mind and will be negotiating on their behalf."
Raffi paused. "'Their?' I'm doing this for you too, Seven."
Seven felt her admiration for the woman deepen even more. "Fine, ours then."
Satisfied, Raffi continued until she zipped up her things, dumped the bag on the floor, and sat on the bed near the side table. She gestured for Seven to join her. Reluctantly, Seven made a stop at the replicator first and ordered two glasses of bourbon. She handed Raffi the drink as she sat down beside her.
"No, I should be thanking you," Seven said, swallowing the entire shot to calm her nerves.
Raffi took a smaller sip and stared at the top of the glass for a while before saying, "I failed the Romulans once. I won't leave another group of people who have been orphaned out of a home to languish and die." She gently tipped the glass in one direction then another, and watched the amber liquid oscillate from either end. "Trade negotiations shouldn't be too hard. The Federation has a lot to gain, the xB's have quite a bit to offer, and one planet is big enough for Synths and xB's alike. Those two groups are also mostly untainted by the political going-ons across the galaxy."
"I'd like to keep it that way."
Raffi raised her glass. "So do I." She knocked back the rest of the drink and set it down on the side-table.
As Raffi licked her lips, Seven felt her heart rate rise.
Seven's past hounded her constantly, baying at her nightmares, shaking her awake. Her time at La Sirena and a renewed purpose eased some of the noise but the twisting pain remained, pushing her out of her quarters into blind interest at what the xB's were up to in Coppelius. There was guilt to that action too, and anger that simmered just below the surface. She had been their Queen, she had felt their minds, and so many had been torn from her because of the Tal Shiar's treachery.
The decision seemed obvious at the time: take their individuality away for the sake of the many. The price she continued to pay seemed bottomless. She thought that pushing Narissa to her death was warranted. She realised quickly that all it did was widen the gap between the persistent Borg apathy she'd been hammered with all her life and her cursory but tempting humanity.
She had felt jubilation then. Surely that was unforgivable.
Now, she guessed and second-guessed if assimilation and the succeeding murder were ever the moral choices, justifying a means to an end. That voice picked at her skull everyday, pounded at her subconscious at night, unearthing regret at every strike.
She added it to her ledger in large, bold letters, the enormity of it taking up most of the space.
Raffi had said, even in veiled terms, that all of it --the desire to preserve and protect at whatever cost --was all too human. Her voice rang with the surety of experience and in the way that a tired beholder would.
In this, Raffi's presence made it just a bit more tolerable. She was a salve that staved off more toxic emotions. Her easy, accepting manner calmed Seven during their late-night conversations.
Raffi listened in on her conversations with Tam in a tranquil, contemplative way, offering advice only when asked. Even if forgiveness wasn't something Raffi could afford for herself, she certainly encouraged it for others. It left Seven lighter, more contemplative, more comfortably human in ways not even Voyager's crew had.
It also poked at the embers of a growing attraction she couldn't put out.
There were many things Seven admired about Raffi Musiker and more under the surface that she wanted to discover but they had little time to explore.
They did have moments like this. Comfortable silence well after their shifts, the pleasure of each other's company, and none of society's judgment. Reminiscent of the tension during their first game of kal-toh, Seven opened her palm over her own thigh, tentative and expectant.
This time, Raffi's laugh was rich, husky, and low. Seven felt the flutter in her stomach as Raffi put her hand over Seven's. "You aren't one for words, are you?"
Seven laced their hands together and squeezed. "No. But I wanted to thank you. For this. For your company. And now, even more extensively, for your expertise in helping Tam and the others." She paused as she reconsidered, "In helping us."
Seven enjoyed Raffi's touch --her palm warm and pliant as Raffi interlaced their fingers --before Raffi shifted to face her more fully. "I'm doing this for me too," Raffi admitted, more quietly.
"Good." Without thinking, Seven brought the back of the other woman's hand to her lips for a kiss.
Raffi stared at her with wide, brown eyes. They were soft and measured like the best beginning and the colour of her cheeks deepened, a blush that Seven would remember for days.
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