Command and Control:
Captain's Personal Log:
It was arranged very theatrically. The lights in my cabin were low, the even warmth of two dozen candles offset by the harsh starlight raking through the windows. The furniture had been carefully adjusted, its symmetry accented by the occasional vase, memento or book. The center of the room had been cleared, and was now occupied by the focus of my attention, Messrs. Paris and Kim. They were as expected, kneeling, naked, with their eyes averted downwards and their members erect. I paced around them slowly, my riding crop tapping my bare thigh absentmindedly.
"There's nothing to be nervous about, pets."
I had on the Outfit, of course, and a very precise deportment, partially because of pride in my craft, and partially because of the small metal disk hidden behind my ear. Mistress Barrows would not only witness the session she would experience it as I did. I felt like a grad student at an oral exam. I once again found myself pondering whether the interface allowed one to monitor ones thoughts as well as senses, wishing that my Mistress could not detect the anxiety that I was hiding so well.
"It is a question of evaluation," I continued. "Not that I have any doubts about either of your devotion to service or to me. It's just that occasionally one must plumb the depths of that devotion to ascertain how best to temper or reward that faith."
They had more difficulty hiding their concerns. They knew this could get rough. They also knew that it would probably end with the best orgasms they'd had in months. Decisions, decisions.
"Now, I have, of course, had the opportunity to 'examine' both of you recently. A marvelous experience. I have not, however, had the chance to examine you as a pair. And there is that lingering question of whether your devotion to each other might interfere with your devotion to me."
I stooped down to their lowered heads. "So this will be a test of willpower. Determination. Self control."
With me so close, they dare not steal glances at each other. They were now boring holes in the floor with their eyes even more resolutely. I stood.
"You will be given a series of tasks. You are to perform them without question or comment to the best of your abilities and with the utmost vigor. However, you may not come unless I tell you. The first one who does come loses."
I sat in my divan opposite the pair. "The winner gets me."
They were given a minute to let it sink in before they got to work. I so loved my bookends. Best to start them easy. "Kiss."
They looked up, both at once, in surprise. Their beautiful bodies turned as one, mirror images of a single glorious form, pausing, unbelieving, appreciating the moment to see deep into each others eyes. Their first kiss was tender, slow, as their bodies pressed together. Their passion grew more heated, their arms tensing in each others grasp. Tom went for Harry's neck, and Harry cried out. Harry went back to his lover's lips, and the pair were now locked.
They were allowed under my careful guidance, to explore each other in totality. At first, they continued to do so simultaneously, then inevitably, they had to switch off, Tom tasting Harry, Harry tasting Tom. Their smooth, toned skin glistened under their touch as they tasted their hands, backs, arms, legs, thighs, ankles, shoulders. I had them spend twelve minutes on their fingers, seven on their toes. As Harry tongued Tom's ass, I could see Tom's fists clenching. His back was arched to keep his cock off the floor. He was in the sweetest agony, which I made him repay to Harry in kind.
"And some called me cruel," Barrows kibitzed.
I could not answer her, but sympathized. They needed a break. I had them lie face up on the floor, arranged head to toe with their arms and legs spread wide. Thus removed from stimulus, I strode over to test their flesh under my gloved hand.
They were so smooth and firm. I found myself comparing the two. To the inexperienced, they were much alike, my bookends. Tom, however, was slightly leaner, stretched more thinly over his exquisite frame. Harry was more solidly built, his darker complexion a fine counterpoint to Tom's fair tones.
It goes without saying that they tasted different. Tom seemed saltier. I don't know why. As I ran my tongue over his abdomen I took in his scent, and felt his muscles contract under my sheathed fingers. I settled him with a gloved hand over his heaving chest. I avoided the large treat between his legs and moved onto his outer thighs.
"Delicious," my Mistress said. "Now I'd like some of Column B."
Never one to turn down good advice, I went for Harry's neck, running over his beautiful throat, then down his lovely chest. I pause at a nipple, spinning delicate orbits about it. He too, was straining against the erotic spell in which he was caught.
It held me as well, sitting between these two magnificent specimens. Such a wide array of possibilities paraded before me, each guaranteed to push us all to the heights of ecstacy.
I stepped away from them both. The original plan was the best. Somewhere in the back of my skull it seemed as if Barrows was purring.
"Now for the more strenuous portion," I said, returning to the divan. "And you must remember, however comes first loses."
"Yes, Mistress," they both replied.
"I must admit, pet, an admiration for your hedonistic sense of creativity," Barrows said.
I nodded to myself. "Alright, boys. I know how much you enjoy each others cocks. So I'll know if you're holding back. Now get to it."
They each rolled onto their sides, already at a convenient placement for their mutual pleasure. There was nothing tentative about their actions now. They attacked each other with relish, becoming a single, well toned reciprocating machine.
Their styles varied even here. Tom pumped Harry vigorously, taking in Harry's entire shaft with each stroke. Harry was more exploratory, licking and sucking Tom's tip.
Natural competition kicked in when Harry began massaging Tom's balls. Tom retaliated, squeezing Harry's ass. They were panting under their labors, and their legs twitched, the only release they permitted themselves. They continued, on and on, ever more determined, ever more creative, yet neither would concede defeat. Barrows was impressed. I was astonished. Such dedication and training had to be properly rewarded.
I clapped my hands and they both fell apart onto the floor heaving. I waited until they had caught their breath.
"Excellent, my pets. You have each proven your skill. Therefore, it is only fair that you each share in the reward."
I unsnapped my panties and removed my bra. Kneeling before them, I offered each a breast. Their considerable talents were now focused on me. Their hands ran along my corset, over my shoulders, down my back, cupping my ass. My own passion built within, sweet and blinding. I played with their hair. Now I only had to choose...
I patted their shoulders and walked away to my dresser. I began to search through the drawers as my obedient subjects waited.
"What are you doing, dear?" Barrows asked.
I smiled to myself. I pulled from a drawer an ancient family heirloom, a 2002 Indiana state quarter, worn with age.
"Heads or tails?" I asked.
"Heads," said Harry.
"Tails," chimed Tom.
I tossed the coin in the air and caught it in my right hand, slamming it over onto the back of my left wrist. I peeked at the coin, smiled, and cast it aside.
"Tails it is."
I pushed Tom gently onto his back, and slowly lowered myself onto that marvelous erection. As it filled me, I held back a gasp, and let the warmth inside me spread to my entire body. I enjoyed the sight and the feel of Tom's body briefly before I slowly worked my hips up to a leisurely canter.
With a look of utter contentment, I turned my attention to Harry and bide him come to me. I positioned him over Tom's head, then leaned forward to receive him into my mouth. His taste was glorious. I lavished attention on him, running back and forth along his length, a composite of the techniques they had used on each other.
There was a fire burning in me, building in intensity as we moved together.
Harry dropped to his knees, and his companion took the opportunity to bury himself between Harry's cheeks. Harry moaned and took me by the hair.
I relished the thought of his reward splashing down my throat, hot salty gratitude for my efforts. I increased my tempo and energy, my own savage desires growing and consuming me.
"Remember," Barrows whispered. "However comes first loses."
I moaned. I could feel my own need, and those of my lovers, and wanted, craved release. I strained to hold myself in check. We continued in this mutual wondrous torture.
"If I may make a suggestion," Barrows added.
At my Mistress' request, I moved Harry away, and with absolute desire burning in my voice commanded him to assume a new station. I paused in my movements as Harry lubricated his member, then aligned himself behind me. I sucked in my breath as he breached me, slowly filling me until I thought I could take no more.
We three began to move as one, an elaborate syncopation, the heat building on heat within me. The erotic pressure built, until my pleasure began riding on the crest of a wave. There it held, with my yearning to fall over the edge, but my Mistress' words rang in my ears even as I demanded that I give myself release. Still I held back, suspended in elegant agony.
Harry and Tom pushed harder, taking me with a raw power, until, in unison, they seized and released, spewing into me a torrent, filling me to overflowing.
I peaked and descended, a long slide into pure pleasure. I screamed, long, loud, until my voice began to break. It continued in short pants as I flung myself unto Tom. I pounded the floor, working my hips until I had wrung from Harry and Tom everything they could give me. Still I continued, gasping, crying. I continued even after they pulled out of me, spent. I felt it even as they held me, kissed me, and cleaned me up.
It was still vibrating in me even as I congratulated them for a session well done and sent them on their way. It lingered long after I was alone in my cabin, with only my Mistress in my brain as company.
"Thank you, pet," she said. "That was exquisite as always. You have done very well."
"Thank you, Mistress," I said, my voice raw. I came again.
She bid me goodnight and terminated the link. I removed the interface from my ear and considered it in the palm of my hand.
The last few weeks had been a voyage of erotic exploration unlike anything I'd felt since I'd first entered the lifestyle. Call me old fashioned, but I have always disdained allowing technology to have too significant a role in what is the most ancient of all human pastimes. Strip away holo servants, sensor gloves, replicated lubricants, underneath it all was the same basic emotional interaction of individuals. Most of the attempts to put a truly 'advanced' spin on sex, and at the Club somebody was always trying, were at their best novelties and at their worst boorish. The interface was different. To experience directly the sensations of another, to hear them beside you, knowing they felt what you felt, to even guide the actions of another... it was beyond voyeurism, it was an intimate connection almost bordering on sex itself.
I momentarily regretted that ours was a progressive, cashless society. This gadget was the kind of thing that could make somebody very rich. Barrows and I had explored many options. I repaid my Mistress for B'Elanna by allowing her to watch me at work with the Ensign. I was able to see what lunch with Seven was really like. Barrows allowed me to take the lead in an encounter with Harry. The only variation I would not allow was to be with me with Chakotay. The pervert deserved to have the tables turned, but he was not in the purview of the Circle. She acquiesced graciously.
Powerful as this most recent session had been, it was nothing compared to the effect when Barrows employed it while working me over. I was Mistress and slave, giver and receiver of pleasure, observer and participant. The disorientation only heightened my pleasure, although at the time, I couldn't understand why.
Now, as I sat alone, the afterglow still fading, enjoying the solace of my own thoughts, I thought I knew why. Things had changed. Not in a bad way, or at least, I hoped not so. I had never been allowed to see Barrows in a subservient role. I had read the Manning report, I knew that until the end of her days she and Sabisat shared a relationship that encompassed play of infinite variety and station. But I had never personally witnessed her as anything but my Mistress. She would not allow it. Her control of over me was total. I realized that in the years that I knew her that I had yet to taste her.
I was unprepared to see her as a crewman. At the time I thought that her presence in Engineering had no effect on me, that I was playing my role as she played hers. It was not so. So subtly I had not noticed its influence, something had changed. I was hers. I would always be hers. But somewhere in the back of my brain, thoughts had been forming that were unlike anything I had known since our first meeting.
In the early days of our training, I had not yet fully understood the nature of our relationship, and as many subs have, I postulated the fantasy of taking the upper hand. They were simple, childish, improbable scenarios, and as our training progressed, the thoroughness of Barrows' methods banished even the notion from my mind.
But in the last few weeks they had been coming back, chasing at me like a forgotten chore. They had been growing in clarity, I believe, because Barrows' service on Voyager had opened a door in my mind that she had previously bolted shut.
It would be on my terms, my fantasy required, using my methods. It was here, in my cabin, arranged even more sensually then it was now. The soft glow of candles would illuminate a tableau of flowers and pillows, the subtle hint of incense drifting in the air. Barrows... Tonia, if I could dare to call her Tonia... Tonia was dressed in the simple ware of a Club slave. I had my Outfit, but few other trappings of my title.
There was a meal, abalone and crushed crabs in butter, Tonia's favorite. The wine was a claret, one from near Picard's vineyards. We ate and drank, and I asked her about her day, and she would tell me of all the trivial things that had occurred during her shift.
We continued our talk long afterwards, I don't know about what until she would look at me with a tentative longing in her eyes. I would have her put the dishes away and return to present herself to me.
As she would allow her clothing to slip from her shoulders, I would give myself a moment to appreciate her stunning beauty. She would stand before me naked, her eyes cast downwards, her arms at her side waiting for me to command her.
Never in my fantasies would I beat her. It was not in my nature, and I could conceive of no reason for her to give that would make me do otherwise.
I would lead her to my bed, which she would lie upon face down. I would explore her body then, as I had others but never hers, allowing myself to touch and taste her, to learn her and her little sighs and gasps. I would study her back, her ankles. I would learn her arms and elbows, the back of her neck, her thighs. I imagined that she was especially appreciative of the back of her knees. I would kiss them gently, sweetly. I would worship her ass and its taste and touch. I would feel her desire growing under me, her gentle musk rewarding me for my efforts.
I would have her turn over and secure her in place with the softest of restraints. She would not be able to flee as I would give her the pleasure I wanted her to have. I would sup on her breasts, and feast on her thighs. As she strained against the ties I would place my head between her legs and dine on her burning core until she shouted my name to the entire universe. I would lap at her both tenderly and raw. I would place my hands on her stomach and feel her quiver under the pleasure I induced in her. And when at last I had my fill I would hold her and we would sleep, arm in arm for the night.
It was an inconceivable fantasy. My Mistress would never allow it. But it was there and I allowed myself pleasure in the impossible.
With the Doctor's return her time on duty had shortened considerably. Now reduced to only one full shift and two half shifts a week, the crew was slowly becoming acclimated to her absence, as they had to her presence. Neelix missed her excursions to the Mess, stating that a decrease in her hours was a threat to overall crew morale. She was well liked by all those who knew her. Lt. Carey seemed particularly affected, becoming more dejected, despite his attempts to hide it. One day I even found Naomi Wildman asking where Barrows had gotten to. The Doctor had been keeping a low profile.
My Mistress did not seem to mind. When I told her about the scheduling changes she merely shrugged, thanked me, saluted and waited to be dismissed. All our years together and she was still an enigma to me. In the days and weeks afterward, Barrows continued to alternate between her lightened work load and our most recent round of erotic games. I enjoyed them, but found myself becoming more disoriented not less.
The next morning I broached the subject with Chakotay in my Ready Room.
"Of course she misses being on duty," he replied. "Barrows is an exhibitionist. She loves performing, in any capacity, before an audience."
"She took it calmly enough. It almost seemed like she didn't care."
"It's all part of the role. She's not suppose to care one way or another."
"So if she didn't want to switch to reduced hours she wouldn't say so?"
Chakotay took a moment to gather the right words. "Her fantasy is to fulfill her Captain's will. If her Captain's will is that she pull less shifts, then nothing can be more satisfying than to obey. Put yourself in her place."
"Easier said than done." He was right, as he had been right about her before. Barrows' actions were classic -- perfect -- submissive behavior. I just couldn't see her that way.
Well, at least I knew what the problem was.
"Commander..." I started. Then the room went dark and an all too
familiar spasm of vertigo swallowed by body. The floor steadied and the
lights came back. Chakotay and I stared at each other for a moment before
we both cursed and ran for the Bridge.
Lt. Torres confirmed it pretty quickly. Same nacelle, same system, same fluctuations. The Us, it seemed, were back. Barrows agreed to reconnoiter and soon had proof positive.
"About five of them," she explained. "Just milling about. They knew I was there, but did not react."
"Did you contact them?" I asked.
"No, Captain," she replied. "I thought you'd want to do that."
The equipment was prepared. As I sat in the chair, all thoughts of the relationship with my Mistress were pushed from my mind. The only training that mattered now was the one provided by the Academy. The interface was initiated and we went out in search of the interlopers.
The Us in the nacelle seemed apologetic, at least as far as our non verbal, non visual, non telepathic communication could convey. They agreed to go and left immediately. It was wrong.
"It was too easy," Barrows thought. "They grasped the concepts of outsiders too readily."
"I know. If they know of others, then they should also know about our deal."
We returned to the corporeal plane. Tom had barely gotten Voyager to warp before power failed again.
"This time, it's both nacelles," Torres explained. "They're getting around."
Tuvok had an observation. "Do we know for certain that the beings you communicated with had the authority to negotiate?"
It was a depressing prospect. With a careful eye and a simmering annoyance, Barrows and I again approached the Us. Contact was longer, more sophisticated, and in places, more forceful. I got the impression that many apologies were heaped upon me, along with many promises for a peaceful coexistence, mutual respect for each others way of life, appreciation for our difficulties, embarrassment over the inconvenience, concern for our needs, hope for our future and general best wishes and benevolence. I didn't trust a word of it, and indeed, this time the drive was disrupted while still initiating startup.
A general staff meeting was called to discuss the problem.
"So I take it that continued negotiations are pointless," Chakotay asked.
"Absolutely," I replied. "I don't know whether they won't help or can't help, but nothing seems to change their actions."
"I don't suppose we could rig the drive to repel the Us from the nacelles," Tom pondered.
"You mean something like an electrified fence?" Harry asked.
"Something like that. Keep out or else."
B'Elanna shook her head. "It's not that simple. The Us manifest themselves in our continuum as fluctuations in the fabric of space time. The affected system monitors and corrects for just such fluctuations. It would be like trying to protect your lungs from the harmful effects of oxygen."
"What I don't understand is why they're doing it," B'Elanna continued. "What's in it for them? They're not draining the power, they're not attacking the ship. What is the point?"
"Indeed," Tuvok added. "Their actions defy logic."
"All sentient beings have reasons for their actions," Seven countered. "Clearly there is an element to their behavior that we do not yet understand. It is merely a question of determining what that missing element is."
"Unless they're all nuts," Tom added.
"The entire species?" Chakotay asked.
"Well at least the ones here. Maybe we crashed down the walls to some extra dimensional insane asylum."
"That's a bit of a reach. One might as well say that they just want a distraction while they steal the ship's entire supply of napkin rings."
"Sure. Tuvok might have to double security in the Mess."
Seven interrupted. "Your wild speculation is pointless. Without further data, the specifics of motive will likely elude us."
"Maddening, isn't it?" I replied. "I've never seen anything like it before."
"Yes you have."
It was Barrows. Her intimate involvement with the recent crisis made her appearance at the meeting one of practical necessity. She had spent the time so far listening quietly from the far end of the table.
"Yes. Many times. Think it through carefully. They're extra dimensional beings composed almost of theoretical mathematics. Our engines produce harmonics that they clearly find compelling. Really compelling. Really really compelling. Now that they're here they don't want to leave. And they're willing to lie bald face to cover up their obsession. Now what humanoid behavior shares these characteristics?"
We all thought it over. Tuvok got it first.
"Do you mean sex?"
"And they say Vulcans have no appreciation for sensation."
Seven raised an eyebrow. "Is it your contention that the Us are copulating with Voyager?"
"Masturbation would probably be more accurate, but orgasms are definitely involved."
I involuntarily glanced about the room. Everyone here was either in the Circle or knew of it. I took a breath. "Crewman, are you certain that your own, experiences, might be... part of your assessment?"
"I wish it was," she replied. "I much prefer Lt. Paris' insane asylum theory. Then all we'd have to do is wait for the proper authorities to arrive."
"This is worse?"
"Oh my yes. These creatures have never experienced anything like it before. Think of an entire species of eighteen year old boys discovering a window to the local bordello. They have no reason to leave. Ever. This is very bad."
No one really had an answer to that. It was time to consider solutions. It was clear that their alien existence made them impervious to attack. Our only option was to leave Us space.
"Can we change the frequency of the drive?" Tom asked. "Something less sexy?"
"Not by much," B'Elanna explained. "The system is designed to operate within very narrow parameters. We'd need to replace the entire drive with something totally different. Even to modify the flow regulators would require months in space dock. We can't even be sure if that would even make a difference. For all we know it would just add variety to their appetites."
"Perhaps we've been looking at this problem the wrong way," I suggested. "We've been trying to keep them out of the drive. Now that we know they're there, is there any way for us to compensate?"
That gave B'Elanna pause. "Maybe. Their manifestations are random, but we might be able to override the safeties... Between that and manual corrections, maybe... It might work."
I stood. "Then let's get to it."
It took B'Elanna a few hours to make the adjustments. Barrows and Seven worked by her side, smoothly, quickly. I wasn't watching the Circle. I was watching my crew. I was proud, so very proud of all of them.
"I've come up with something a little different for a start up protocol. It should keep them confused enough to reach full power."
I had all propulsion control routed to Engineering and let B'Elanna bring the warp core online. It was unusual, with the core seeming to hiccup as B'Elanna deliberately spiked the power, then wrestled it back to safe levels. She had Voyager's speed ramped up slowly, achieving warp 1 after almost ten minutes of careful massaging.
It was a chore. I could see the tension as she shouted orders back and forth between the engineers, pushing the ship and herself harder and harder. The near misses became closer and more frequent, and after ninety minutes the drive failed once more.
She asked for a second chance and I gave it to her. It was a valiant effort, but it too ultimately failed, just beyond the seventy three minute mark. B'Elanna was exhausted.
We tried using the data from the first two attempts to program the ship's computer to adjust automatically. That worked for less than twenty minutes. We were all very tired.
"This is ridiculous," B'Elanna growled in frustration. "40,000 lightyears in six years and we're stopped by a gang of extra dimensional perverts."
I noticed that Barrows had become very still, deep in thought. I approached her slowly.
"Crewman?" I asked. "Mistress?" I asked even softer.
She blinked. "I'm sorry, Captain. Just an idea I had. I could adjust the drive from the inside."
"We've already tried computer controls," I replied. "They aren't fast enough."
"They are fast enough. They just lack intuition. They can only react, not anticipate. I can get right into the heart of the warp system, merge with it. I can spot them."
"Are you sure? Can you actually run something so complex?"
"Yes, I think I can. I know I can."
"Will you be alright?"
"It won't be a barrel of laughs. It will require an enormous amount of concentration. I'll have to deactivate all nonessential subroutines, including imaging and communications. You won't be able to hear from me until we're out of Us space."
"We don't know how far Us space extends."
"I know. I'll be honest, Captain, I can think of more entertaining career choices than being a warp core. But I don't see any other options."
I couldn't either. I saw concern on Barrows' face. No facade could hide it. My heart dropped. I wanted to hold her, to cry out, to grab a phaser and run into the core blazing. Anything to protect my Mistress from the danger she was asking to face.
Back in the Ready Room I was prepared to ask Chakotay to keep in check the balance my instincts as Captain and slave. But I understood, in my heart as well as my mind what Barrows had asked to take on, and my obligations, as a Captain for her crew and as a slave for her Mistress.
Many showed up to wish her luck before she went. Neelix was there, and the boys, Tuvok, Chakotay, even Naomi Wildman. All the engineers were there of course, and everyone was doing their best to lend support. Ensign Vorik said something, I don't know what, that made her smile. The earnestness of their compassion for my Mistress was deep and inspiring, but drained me of what energy I had left. The whole affair had all the emotional qualities of a wake. The only break was Gilmore, one of the Equinox crew, who steadfastly refused to say anything, explaining that she expected Barrows to return, and promptly. Chakotay could sense my growing tension and shooed away the hangers on to make the rest of us concentrate on the task at hand.
There wasn't much to do. My Mistress took a deep breath, waved goodbye and vanished. B'Elanna monitored the core as Seven watched Barrows compile into the warp drive subsystems. Fluctuations appeared nominal and B'Elanna began to ramp up the power once again. Nothing unusual happened. After about an hour we had reached top speed, which we decided would be warp 4. There was some supposition that the drive would be harder to control the hotter it got. A balance would be needed between the strain Barrows would be exposed to against the length of her isolation. We didn't really have real numbers to work with, our decision was a guess.
Days past and nothing unusual continued to happen. Voyager and her crew functioned efficiently and quietly, determined that we make it through the unknown expanse of Us space as quickly as possible. A masquerade of normality emerged, led by Neelix, the master of denial while under stress.
The Circle didn't talk about her much. They eventually stopped talking all together, releasing their tensions in long nights when they just held each other.
I held no sessions during this time. I didn't even sleep with Chakotay, who offered the comfort of his bed, and respected my distance when it was declined. I spent much of my free time in Engineering, sometimes hours, just staring at the warp core. Chakotay made comment about it, warning of the potential dangers it held for maintaining the illusion of our conventional lives. I was angry, and told him so in hushed tones, trying my best to not to shout to the entire crew over the intercom, she's my Mistress and I'm worried for her.
"It is an accepted part of the relationship that you forged with your Mistress that those not directly involved with you not be made aware of it," he said patiently. "So as not to color their actions in your everyday life."
He left me there. I stayed for a while longer before going to bed. Afterwards I stayed away, returning only when I felt my most vulnerable.
It was on one of these occasions when I was approached by Mr. Neelix, bearing coffee and companionship.
"She'll be fine, Captain," he finally said.
I nodded and drank the coffee.
"She means a lot to you, I can tell."
I groaned to myself. It was going to take a lot of work to lie.
"Before you say anything, Captain, I feel I must point out that I do know about you and your 'pastime.' I've known for quite some time. You don't have to say anything, I don't have any problems with it. It clearly works for you and has been a boon for those involved, so as far as I can tell, they should probably teach it at Starfleet Academy. It certainly would make final exams more interesting..."
I stared at him.
"I'm babbling. Sorry. I do that sometimes. Anyway, I don't pretend to be an expert in the subject, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Barrows wasn't just some hologram that Tom and B'Elanna just whipped up. Although if I understand it properly, the correct term I should be using is Mistress Barrows."
"Mr. Neelix, it's late and I'm tired. If you have a point, please get to it."
"Yes, Captain. I just wanted to say... There are people who are in your little group who understand what you're going through. But even they are too close to really empathize with your position. And the rest of us just don't know. Anyway, I just thought you should hear it from someone who knows but has a little perspective. It'll be alright."
I patted his shoulder. "Thank you, Mr. Neelix."
We passed five stellar phenomena worthy of closer examination. None of them received more than a cursory glance. Nothing was allowed to abate our progress. Not gas clusters, not string fragments, not passing ships, not new life forms or new civilizations. Mr. Paris had us at warp 4 and held it there for more than six weeks.
Then one day she was back, appearing in the center of Main Engineering, exhausted, clutching the railing with one hand. B'Elanna helped her to a chair and began running a diagnostic. Even so, Barrows insisted on reporting to me.
I had never seen her so tired. She staggered to her feet, and I waved her to sit again.
"I believe we are clear, Captain," she said. "I gave it an extra few days to be certain."
"Good work, Crewman."
B'Elanna finished her tests. "Well, she's been running too long. Even the Doctor has never been in continuous operation this intensely this long. It's manifesting itself as exhaustion. How do you feel?"
"My arms are sore. I don't know why. And I've got a slight headache."
"That may be how your subroutines are interpreting the strain you've been under. Otherwise you seem to be alright. It would probably be best if you deactivated yourself for a while."
"I just spent the last forty three days completely disconnected from all sensation. I existed only as active data. If it's all the same with you, I miss feeling things."
B'Elanna mulled it over. "Fair Haven residents compensated with sleep. At the very least you should get some rest."
Word of her return had gotten out. A crowd had started to gather. They all wanted to congratulate her, but B'Elanna and I begged them off, promising a proper party in a few days. Harry came by with the mobile emitter, and I helped Barrows out the door and to a turbolift.
She leaned against the wall as the doors closed behind us.
"Sickbay," I called out.
"Kathryn, if you don't mind, I'd like someplace a little more comfortable."
She smiled sweetly. I could see my Mistress behind the fatigue. "Actually, I was wondering if I could stay in your cabin tonight."
I was stunned. "Of course you can."
"I wouldn't want to be an imposition," she replied.
"Crewman, I'm ordering you off duty until further notice."
"Well, when you put it like that."
We reached my quarters and she laid down in the bed. I wondered about removing her uniform and then realized the absurdity of stripping the clothes from a hologram. I ordered the lights down low then leaned by her ear.
"Mistress, I'm still on duty for another three hours."
She waved a limp hand at me. "I'll be fine Kathryn. Just let me have a little rest."
As I turned to leave, she called out behind me. "Come back to me when you're done, dear. I would very much like your company."
Those three hours were spent nervously on the Bridge. I pleaded to myself that nothing happen this night. Chakotay relieved me ten minutes early and I hurried back to my quarters. I entered my bedroom quietly and saw my Mistress asleep under the covers, her clothes now gone, the emitter now attached to her bare arm. I showered, put on a nightgown and approached her cautiously. I didn't know what to do. I stood by the bed uncertain. Barrows stirred in her sleep.
"Is that you, pet?"
"Come here, my dear. Spend the night with me."
I swallowed hard. In all our time together I had never actually slept with her. It took a few minutes to comprehend what she was asking. When I did I paused again, trying to decide whether I should remove my nightgown. I finally slid it to the floor, and gingerly climbed under the covers. Barrows slid her arms around my waist and curled up around me. She sighed contentedly and drifted back off to sleep.
I didn't sleep at all that night. I could barely believe that my arms were around her, that I could feel her gentle breathing against my own chest. I was overjoyed. I was paralyzed with fear. I found one arm stroking her soft hair. I ran over recent events in my head over and over and all that came into my brain was, thank you, thank you, thank you.
It was late the next morning when she finally awoke. It was a slow and glorious process, as she shifted in my grasp. Even after she had awaken fully she remained in my arms. We exchanged pleasantries with each other before my Mistress got to the subject of her recent duties.
"I enjoyed it immensely, my dear. I cannot thank you enough for the opportunity." There was more.
"You're welcome, Mistress."
"But if I may, this last job has been rather taxing for me. I want you to know that I'll always be available for any emergency that should arise. But frankly, the thrill of day to day duties are gone."
"That's quite alright, Mistress. I think you've demonstrated that you've received all the training that you need. From now on, the Emergency Engineering Hologram is to be used only in emergencies."
"Thank you, pet."
She held herself tighter to my side. "I really must thank you again for these last few months, Kathryn. It's been a dream of mine for longer than you'll ever know."
"You're welcome, Mistress."
She looked into my eyes. "If there is anything I can do for you, dear, anything at all..."
I looked back. "Anything?"
My Mistress tasted like the sweetest honey I'd ever known. As I pushed her to climax, my own passions peaked with hers. As the waves of pleasure continued to wash over her I again slid into her arms and we slept once more.
48: Human Touch