Captain’s Log, Stardate 62197.09. I have dispatched Tactical and Rescue Team Alpha, headed by Commander Icheb, to investigate the explosion and distress call at Aris 4. They will be using one of the redesigned Saber-class starships with its new slipstream drive, and I look forward to learning how it performs. The team is missing several key members due to its premature deployment, but nonetheless, I believe they’re up to the challenge.
Captain Oyugo watched from the bridge as the Sol
eased out of the launch bay. Despite the optimism she had claimed in her log entry, she had her doubts about her second-in-command. It was true that Icheb possessed a brilliant scientific mind and a proven aptitude for making good command decisions, even under pressure. He had earned the respect and trust of every Captain he’d served under, and had received glowing reviews year after year. But he was extremely young, younger even than most of his peers from the Academy, whom he had nonetheless long since passed in rank. He looked passably close to thirty, but when she had reviewed his file in depth, she had realized he was probably more like twenty-two or twenty-three, having spent several months in a maturation chamber during his time with the Borg.
Despite the fact that the Borg maturation chamber had accelerated the boy’s physical and intellectual development, Adele was convinced that being part of the Collective must surely have stunted his emotional growth. However, by all accounts, he had made remarkable progress in that area, and seemed to have had a normal Academy life, except for the not-entirely-unexpected negative treatment from a vocal minority of students who felt having any Borg, even an ex-Borg, at the Academy was a dangerous risk. All the people who knew Icheb best, though, including Kathryn Janeway, spoke very highly of the young officer. Indeed, Captain Oyugo had no concrete reason to believe Commander Icheb was not one of the greatest assets the Tesseract
had as her crew ventured back into the Delta Quadrant eight years after Voyager
had destroyed the Borg Unicomplex and one of their six transwarp hubs.
Although the Captain could not quantify with facts what it was that bothered her about the young man, she was a quarter Betazoid and, despite the relative weakness of her telepathic abilities, she could definitely tell when someone was hiding something. Her senses told her that this was the case with Icheb. She had no strong sense that the secret was a dangerous one, but she could tell whatever it was weighed on him heavily. Interestingly, she had gotten the same feeling from Lieutenant O’Connor on the Bridge the previous evening -- something she had never sensed in her Chief Engineer until she had seen her with the First Officer. It was obvious there was a connection there, but she felt strongly that her standing as Captain didn’t give her the right to go prying into people’s personal lives based on a feeling.
The fact was, between his extreme youth, the several kilograms of hidden Borg hardware he was carrying around inside his body, and her certainty that he was hiding something
important, Icheb simply made her feel uneasy. Of course, Adele was self-reflective enough to realize that the circumstances of her husband’s death might also have something to do with her discomfort. She knew that was unfair. The kid probably hadn’t even been assimilated yet when the Battle of Wolf 359 was fought, and even if he had been, it wasn’t his fault. Still, Adele had to try hard to see Icheb as Brunali first, not Borg. She had almost requested a different First Officer, but quickly realized it was entirely possible that Starfleet would kick her off the mission before they would reassign Icheb. After all, she had never been to the Delta Quadrant and had only a single dismal battle’s worth of experience with the Borg (more than enough for one lifetime, Adele thought).
Instead of requesting Icheb’s reassignment, Adele had decided to try and befriend the young officer, despite her misgivings. Perhaps, in due time, he would reveal the secret he was hiding. Until then, she would keep a close eye on him. She did so now, as she watched the Sol
engage slipstream drive and seemingly vanish into space.
On board the Sol
, Adrian couldn’t resist a smile. He had flown test flights with the slipstream drive, but this was the first real mission of any kind he had been on that was actually using the technology, and he was at the helm.
“Icheb to engineering. Status?”
Adrian thought Icheb sounded a little nervous. Nervous Borg. This mission is full of surprises,
he thought with some amusement.
The reply from engineering sounded almost giddy. “We’re fine down here, sir. History in the making! The slipstream drive is running completely textbook. We should arrive in about six minutes.”
“Six minutes?” gasped John at tactical. He quickly regained his composure and broke into a wide grin. “I think I’m going to like this slipstream stuff,” he said.
Icheb clenched his jaw to keep from snapping at John. This was the kind of thing they’d argued about in their Academy days. John, with his propensity to see the fun, adventure and opportunity in any situation, had clashed often with Icheb, who took a slightly darker, and (Icheb thought) more realistic view of the universe. It wasn’t that he was a pessimist, exactly, but his extraordinarily disturbed childhood had given him a perspective not shared by many who had grown up sheltered and happy in the Federation. While John was marveling at the wonders of the slipstream drive, Icheb was preoccupied with the colonists on Aris 4 and wondering if everyone on board the Sol
was about to meet the same fate, whatever it was, that had befallen them. He involuntarily thought of his parents back on Brunali and wondered if they had yet been assimilated by the Borg, then quickly pushed the thought aside.
dropped out of slipstream seventeen seconds ahead of schedule.
“Icheb to Engineering, report,” said Icheb.
“Nothing’s wrong with the drive, sir, we’re just not moving.”
“Find out why. Are we in visual range of the planet?”
“Yes, sir,” replied T’Pring at the science station.
The bridge instantly fell silent as the crew realized the colony was gone. The small planet looked strange -- ragged and broken. The surface was largely obscured by a voluminous dust cloud. But stranger still was the massive and rapidly expanding debris field emanating not from the planet itself, but a point several thousand kilometers away. Just behind the cloud of debris was a glowing anomaly that Adrian, Icheb and John all recognized at once.
“Shit,” cried John. “Icheb!”
“Back us off, Commander Keller, full impulse. Get as far away as you can while remaining in visual range,” ordered Icheb urgently.
“Aye, sir, I’m a step ahead of you,” replied Adrian, who had already begun to bring the Sol
around to put some distance between the ship and the angry glow.
“What is it?” asked Ensign Par nervously.
“It’s a subspace tear; it’s the reason we dropped out of slipstream,” explained Icheb. “If we get too close to it, we’ll have to eject the warp core or risk being pulled inside. There are likely to be other smaller rifts nearby, as well. We need to be careful. Watch your scans.”
Icheb stood up. “Are there any life signs on the planet or in the debris?” he queried.
“None detected,” came the emotionless reply from T’Pring.
“I’m picking up a residual energy signature of some sort -- it doesn’t look natural,” John said warily. He tapped his console a few times. “It could be a weapons signature, but I’m not picking up any ships in the vicinity.”
Icheb walked around John’s console to take a look at the data. “That energy signature might be Borg. But it looks off somehow.” He narrowed his eyes as he analyzed the data. “T’Pring, analyze the debris field,” he directed the science officer.
T’Pring’s fingers flew over her console. In her serene, dispassionate voice, she said “Sir, the debris field appears to be hull fragments -- millions of them, the largest less than one-half meter across. I believe the fragments may also be Borg. However, there is enough material here to compose several Borg cubes.”
John let out a low whistle. “Someone made a really big boom,” he said.
“It looks like the planet got caught in the concussion,” said Icheb. “Are the conditions safe enough for us to go to the surface?”
“Negative, sir,” answered T’Pring. “The seismic reactions to the explosion are severe, not to mention taking the ship any closer to that subspace tear would be unwise.”
Ensign Par cut in. “Sir, I thought the Borg were incapable of traveling to this part of the galaxy since Voyager
destroyed the transwarp hub that led here.”
Icheb turned to the young man standing at Ops. “The Borg adapt,” he said. “Don’t underestimate them, Ensign.” The Bajoran turned slightly pale at this, and quickly found a spot on his console to stare at instead of his ex-Borg commander, who was suddenly, irrationally creeping him out.
“Well, if those hull fragments are Borg, it looks like they didn’t adapt too well to whatever -- or whomever -- they encountered here,” John said.
“Ensign Par, beam some of the hull fragments into the cargo bay and erect a level 10 force field,” ordered Icheb. He turned to Adrian. “Commander Keller, plot a course back to the Tesseract.
Stay at impulse until we clear the subspace damage, then increase speed to warp 6 until we’re out of sensor range from here.”
“Warp 6, sir?” Adrian asked in surprise. At that speed it would take nearly ten days to return to the Tesseract
“If there are Borg nearby, I don’t want to be more attractive to them than we have to be,” Icheb explained. “Notify me when we’ve gotten out of sensor range and we can reassess the situation. I’ll send a subspace message to the Tesseract
, apprise them of our findings, and let them know we’ll be delayed. I’ll be in my ready room. Lieutenant Quigley, you have the bridge.”
“Yes, sir,” came the reply from both Adrian and John.