The corridors of the U.S.S. Voyager (NCC-74656), for years bustling with the comings and goings of the officers and crew serving aboard the Intrepid class during their involuntary exile in the Delta Quadrant, were now completely empty. The ship was docked at the Utopia Planitia Shipyards, orbiting the red planet of Mars, from which Voyager had been launched what seemed like a lifetime ago.

Kathryn Janeway, for seven long years in command of the Starfleet vessel, walked slowly and solitarily through those now silent corridors, accompanied by her own thoughts, the weight of her own decisions, the repercussions that each turn of events had brought during the time she had spent wandering the Delta Quadrant, in a seemingly futile attempt to return home in one piece.
All the members of her crew, who had become her family, had left the ship one by one, all of them more than anxious to re-embrace their loved ones after seven years of a rather slim chance of success. Only she remained among those now silent corridors.

She really couldn't comprehend what was holding her back: her mother and sister had come on purpose, aboard one of the shuttles that had brought the other families to Utopia Planitia, hoping to finally re-embrace her, but for some reason Janeway still didn't really feel ready to leave Voyager, for what would most likely be the last time.
On several occasions Tuvok, the Vulcan in charge of security and her old friend, had questioned the creation of an emotional bond with any inanimate object - as, indeed, Voyager itself was - and Janeway, despite knowing how complex it was, had tried to make him understand the importance on an emotional level that even a simple 'inanimate object' like Voyager could have for her colleagues, who were less disciplined in controlling their own emotions.
By the end of the journey, however, even his stoic figure had faltered a little, looking around one last time before disembarking and finally being reunited with his family. Thanks, moreover, to the intervention of his eldest son, he had also been able to recover from an unspecified degenerative neural condition, diagnosed by the Emergency Medical  Hologram during his last months in the Delta Quadrant.

Lost in thought, she winced when she heard the rumble of footsteps reverberating in the tomb-like silence of the corridor she was standing in. Who could it be, if the last of her subordinates had left the ship no less than an hour earlier? Could it be that the S.C.E. engineers had already set foot on Voyager, ready to dismantle her ship piece by piece, with the intention of studying and analysing in depth the grafts and technological improvements made over the years, especially since their encounter with the Janeway of the future?

As she turned around, she finally recognised to whom that particular cadence, precise and rhythmic, belonged: Seven of Nine, Adjunct Tertiary of the Unimatrix Zero One, for the past four years a vital member of its crew. Without her presence and her fundamental contribution during those last years, Voyager would have faced even greater challenges in the Delta Quadrant, particularly the repeated confrontations with the Borg.
A moment later, there she was, in the uniform so tightly fitted as to show off her form, which the Doctor had been forced to make her wear in order to ensure the efficient functioning of her remaining Borg implants, some of which inevitably stood out slightly, further emphasising the young woman's lean and well-proportioned physique.

«Seven,» Janeway greeted her with a smile, «I didn't think anyone was still on board.» The young woman, flanking her own Captain, slowed the determined pace she had maintained until that moment, matching the other woman's speed.
«I didn't want to leave you alone, Captain,» she replied, with an undertone of politeness, betraying the seriousness and composure shown by the expression on her apparently neutral face. «Besides, Commander Chakotay was in a hurry to disembark to meet his family... I, on the other hand, did not feel the same need as him to immediately immerse myself within a totally new and alien context, for me.»
Walking side by side, Janeway tried to reassure her that she would be perfectly able to adapt to her new life on Earth or wherever Seven decided to go and whatever she decided to do. Giving her a shifty look, she added: «You might even consider joining Starfleet; you would make a fine officer.»

«I never thought of that possibility,» Seven admitted almost reluctantly, continuing to walk slowly alongside the older woman. «I find it very difficult to adjust to a life outside of Voyager...»
«Seven,» Janeway sighed, well aware of the difficulty and the courage the other woman had committed to putting forth in revealing her own doubts and problems to someone in that very natural way, «I would like to tell you that everything will be fine and that you will have the same obstacles that we all face. But I know very well that it won't be like that, for various reasons.» With a benevolent gesture, she passed a hand over one of the ship's bulkheads, before continuing: «The journey of growth and integration made aboard Voyager has not been easy, being able to accept diversity is always something you struggle to do, especially if this diversity is seen as a threat.»

She smiled bitterly: «We pride ourselves so much on being enlightened and embracing infinite diversity, in infinite combinations, but it is always easier said than done.» Janeway looked at Seven, the trace of bitterness always present in his voice: «It will always be that way, whatever situation you find yourself in. It's absolutely normal to be afraid and find yourself displaced by the situation, just as it's normal to want to give up because you don't think you can make it.»
They were standing still now, near one of the portholes that showed the familiar constellations of the Alpha Quadrant, they were both looking out, Janeway with her arms crossed, her auburn helmet of hair surrounding her serious, focused face. Seven was at her side, hands behind her back, her usual neutral mask clearly, and perhaps serenely, betraying her curiosity and fascination at hearing the other woman speak. She showed that vulnerability with no one else, not even Chakotay, with whom she had recently ended her relationship after Voyager's arrival at the Utopia Planitia Shipyards.

After a few minutes, it was Seven who spoke: «When I came aboard Voyager four years ago, as a drone disconnected from the Collectivity, in a world totally new to me... I felt lost. Yes, I was afraid, I felt I was in a hostile environment that would never accept me. I felt and was profoundly alone, without all that multiplicity of voices in my head that I was so used to and thought I couldn't do without.» This time it was she who cast a shifty glance at Janeway, who listened to her intently as she always had, before looking out again: «I am just as afraid now as I was then, the multiplicities I will face alone, without someone to guide me, are exponentially greater. But Voyager, now, is my collective. My family. Captain,» she turned to look her in the eye, «you have given me a new life, despite the fact that at first I was quite reticent and had threatened you several times.»

Janeway gently squeezed her arm, barely shaking her head, in that classic way of hers to downplay her own merit in situations like that: «Seven, you have made remarkable progress, both as an individual and as a member of the crew of this ship, deciding to commit yourself to following a course you did not know, to jump in and trust, in spite of everything. For what it's worth, Voyager wouldn't be the same without you.»
She smiled at her, kindly: «Know that, for my money, you would make an excellent Starfleet Officer. Even a very good Captain, should you ever one day decide to pursue that career and aim to have a command of your own. And I can't help but be proud of that, for it will be yet more proof of what a capable and skilled individual you are.»
Seven looked at her, some doubt still present in her tone of voice and also in her gaze: «But if I were to disappoint you...» but Janeway interrupted her, with extreme gentleness, «No one is perfect, Seven. Aiming for perfection puts us in a position to constantly improve ourselves. And you... you are perfect just the way you are, you can never let your family down, you can never let me down. This ship will always be your home, even when it is decommissioned; this crew will always be your family, I will always be your family and you will always be mine. I will always be there for you.»


Sitting behind the desk of her new office aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise (NCC-1701-G), Captain Annika Hansen, better known as Seven of Nine (a name she still preferred, despite everything), was staring at a PADD with the schematics of the now decommissioned U.S.S. Voyager (NCC-74656) inside, stored at the Museum run by Commodore Geordi La Forge. Next to the terminal on the desk, a now empty cup.

Seeing the ship in front of her again, after all those years, and her subsequent promotion to the rank of Captain had taken her back in time, to that conversation she had had with then-Captain Kathryn Janeway, now one of the highest ranking Admirals in the ranks of Starfleet. Although they had not seen each other for years, Seven knew in her heart that Janeway had never broken her promise, although not in the way Seven herself would perhaps have liked.
Interrupting her thoughts, the doorbell at the entrance to the tactical room chimed: placing the PADD on the desk, she called aloud for whoever was on the other side of the double door to take a seat. She was not ashamed of the tears and smile that appeared on her face, seeing who was on the other side and hearing herself ask if she could have a cup of hot coffee.