Adrian watched with concern as Icheb exited the bridge. The Borg kid looked like hell. He was sweating and pale, and his previously meticulous brown hair was a mess. The petite, dark-haired Doctor Duggal followed closely behind him, scanning him with her medical tricorder as they walked slowly off the bridge. Strange, he seemed fine an hour ago
, thought Adrian. He turned back to the flight controls. He had already made the jump to Warp 6 a few hours before, per Commander Icheb’s instructions. So far, there was no sign of anyone or anything pursuing them, but Icheb had been insistent that they not jump to slipstream before they were all the way out of sensor range from Aris 4.
John waited until the door slid shut behind Icheb and Sheila before issuing his order: “Commander Keller,” John said, “Go to slipstream on my mark.”
“Lieutenant?” Adrian asked in surprise. Commander Icheb had been quite clear that they should wait until they were completely out of sensor range before engaging the slipstream drive. By his calculations, they had the better part of a day to go -- a bit less if they went to a higher warp factor.
John knew exactly what he was thinking. “Commander Icheb is not giving the orders right now, I am. Jump to slipstream and get us back to the Tesseract
as fast as possible. I want us docked in the hangar bay within ten minutes,” he said firmly. His previously relaxed, jovial demeanor had given way to one of tension and worry, and Adrian wondered just what had happened in the ready room.
“Lieutenant Quigley,” sighed Adrian. “As the default first officer, I feel obligated to point out that jumping to slipstream now would make us an extremely attractive target if we’re within range of Borg sensors.”
“I’m aware of the risk. Lieutenant T’Pring, increase long-range sensor resolution. Tell me if you see evidence of anything that could possibly be a ship,” John requested.
T’Pring’s fingers danced over the console for a moment. “Sir, I read nothing out of the ordinary. We appear to be the only ship within ten light-years of this position, other than the Tesseract
John nodded. “Thank you, Lieutenant." He turned to Adrian. "Commander Keller, engage slipstream drive, now.”
“Aye, sir,” sighed Adrian. He could have argued with him further, but what would be the use? He entered the sequence and engaged the slipstream drive.
Within minutes, the Sol
dropped out of slipstream in sight of the Tesseract.
, we’re on approach. Request permission to begin docking sequence,” John broadcast over the comm.
“Permission granted. I’ll notify the Captain,” replied Lieutenant Commander Borux, who had taken an extra shift so that Captain Oyugo could get some sleep.
“Thanks. Also, tell sickbay to expect Commander Icheb. He’s fallen ill.”
“Understood,” replied the Denobulan.
John instructed Adrian to complete the docking sequence and walked briskly down the short corridor to the Sol
’s small sickbay. Icheb was sitting on a biobed while Sheila continued her scans.
Sheila turned around at the sound of the sickbay door opening, and walked over to John. She said quietly, “I gave him something for the pain and treated him for mild neural shock, but I haven't found the cause of either. He keeps saying he needs to regenerate. To be honest, I’m not experienced with Borg systems, and the database on the Sol
isn’t as comprehensive as the one on the Tesseract
. But biologically, there’s nothing wrong with him ... at least, I don’t think there is. Maybe his body chemistry is a little off ... I have to admit I’m inexperienced with Brunali physiology, as well.” She flushed with embarrassment and realized she was babbling. “Anyway, I think he’s better off with an engineer than a doctor, as it seems to be the Borg components that are bothering him. Maybe he does
just need to regenerate.”
“Well, he can do whatever he needs to do in just a minute,” replied John, “we’re back.” Seeing Sheila’s flustered expression, he added reassuringly, “I wouldn’t feel too bad about your inexperience -- he’s pretty unique, at least in this Quadrant, anyway. Can you give me a second with him?” Sheila nodded and stepped out into the corridor. John walked over to the biobed, where Icheb sat looking slightly improved, but still pale and weak. John noticed that his previously messy brown hair had been smoothed back more or less into place, no doubt by Icheb himself. A man’s got to have his priorities,
John thought with a tiny smirk. I’ll bet the doctor has a treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder
“How are you feeling?” he asked Icheb.
“Better,” replied Icheb stiffly. He looked up accusingly at John. “Why did you jump to slipstream?”
“You told me to get us back to the Tesseract.
“I didn’t think I needed to clarify that the task be completed in a manner respectful of the crew’s safety. I should put you on report,” Icheb said angrily.
“I was concerned about your
safety," John replied calmly. "You obviously needed to get to a real sickbay with doctors who know things about Borg physiology. You also keep saying you need to regenerate, well, now you can. Besides, your original orders were excessively cautious. It was obvious that there was no one within sensor range.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” Icheb said apprehensively. “It’s true that I need to regenerate, but something accessed my neural transceiver back in the ready room. Whatever it was performed an invasive probe of my neural pathways. That's the reason I collapsed, I started to go into neural shock. I didn’t realize it until I got here and Doctor Duggal relieved some of the pain I was in."
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“By the time I realized what had happened, you had already ordered Commander Keller to jump to slipstream. It was too late to do anything about it. I didn't even get a chance to tell the doctor before you came in here.”
John looked alarmed. “So, what happened with the transceiver? Did you hear something?”
“No. After Doctor Duggal stabilized my condition, I started accessing the individual indices within my cortical array trying to figure out what was happening to me. I found my neural transceiver had been activated and something, or someone, had used it to scan my neural pathways.”
John tried to sound nonchalant. “It was probably something in the debris we beamed into the cargo bay. I’ll stay aboard the Sol
and have someone run a diagnostic on the dampening field generator.”
Icheb looked skeptical. “John, you saw the contents of that cargo bay. Nothing in that wreckage is intact enough to perform an operation as complicated as a neural probe.”
John was silent. He was sure Icheb was right, and felt the sinking realization that he had allowed his concern for his friend to affect his judgment, putting everyone on the Sol
and the Tesseract
“This debate is pointless. If something out there did scan us, it knows now what we’re capable of and we’ve led it right back to the Tesseract
. We have to tell the Captain, now
,” insisted Icheb.
“Are you up to walking to the transporter room?” asked John with an anxious glance.
“I think so,” said Icheb. He accepted the hand John offered him and steadied himself as he slid off the biobed. He really was feeling better; the painkillers Dr. Duggal had given him were obviously effective. He quickly calculated how long it had been since he had regenerated and tried to force down the panic beginning to rise within him. The likelihood that one or more of the implants that controlled his vital functions would start to malfunction was increasing significantly with every passing hour.
As John and Icheb walked out of sickbay, Sheila, who was still standing in the corridor, protested, “I haven’t released him yet!”
Both men kept walking briskly toward the transporter room. John called out, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure he checks in with Doctor Bashir.” Sheila stood looking after them with her hands on her hips, bewildered, as they walked away.
When they materialized on the Tesseract’s
hangar deck transporter pad a few moments later, Captain Oyugo and Doctor Bashir were both waiting for them. “Are you all right, Commander? What happened?” asked Adele. Julian begain scanning Icheb with the medical tricorder he held in his hand.
“I’ll be fine, Captain,” Icheb reassured Adele. “I just need to regenerate. But we’ve got more to worry about -- I suggest we get to the bridge immediately.”
Adele sensed fear in both men. “What’s going on? I received the data you sent from Aris 4. The bridge officers here seemed to think both the weapons signature and the debris were Borg.”
John and Icheb exchanged a glance. “The debris is Borg. We’re not so sure about the weapons signature -- but it’s possible. There’s more we need to tell you, though. Can we discuss it on the way to the bridge?” Icheb asked.
Adele raised her eyebrows and turned to begin walking. “I’m listening.”
As they walked out of the hangar bay, Icheb spoke first. “While John and I were analyzing the sensor data in my ready room, I experienced a sharp pain in my head and collapsed.” Adele’s eyes went wide with concern, but she stayed silent. Icheb continued, “I was in shock from the pain initially, but after Doctor Duggal gave me some medication to ease the pain, I began to check the memory logs within my cortical array for clues to what had happened. I realized my neural transceiver had been activated, and my neural pathways had been probed.”
“Do you think the Collective was trying to contact you?” asked Adele.
“I don’t know,” admitted Icheb. “The Borg would be the logical theory, but we found no signs of them or anyone else on our sensors. It’s possible that it was due to a stray component in the debris we beamed aboard, but I believe that’s unlikely given the condition of the fragments, and the fact that there was a dampening field around the cargo bay.”
John cleared his throat. Adele looked at him. “Do you have something to add, Lieutenant?”
“Yes, Captain,” John said. He took a deep breath. “Commander Icheb put me in command of the mission while he was in sickbay and, out of concern for him, I ordered Commander Keller to jump to slipstream while we were still within sensor range of Aris 4. I didn’t know Icheb had been, uh ... probed. We had increased resolution on the long range sensors and didn’t see anything at all, but --”
“Understood, Lieutenant,” Adele said, cutting him off. She understood all too well what John was trying to say. “Thank you for your candor.” She tapped her comm. badge. "Oyugo to Borux. Are there any signs of a vessel within sensor range?"
"Negative, Captain," Borux responded. "The last crew transport back to Deep Space 5
left sensor range an hour ago. There's been nothing but the Sol
on sensors since."
"Go to yellow alert," ordered Adele. "Move us away from our current coordinates and begin continuous scans for any vessel that may be attempting to follow the Sol
back to our present location."
"Understood, Captain," acknowledged Borux.
Doctor Bashir, who had followed them to the turbolift, suddenly interrupted. “Excuse me, Captain, but I’m really going to have to insist that Commander Icheb return to his quarters and regenerate, now. I’m reading elevated levels of -- ” he paused, staring at the readings on the tricorder -- “well, everything, really,” he said, with visible concern. “If he doesn’t recharge his implants immediately, he could do permanent damage to his vital organs.”
Icheb hesitated. Adele spoke up. “Commander, you heard the doctor. Go. That’s an order. I can manage the situation without you for now. I’ll let you know if that changes. Contact me if anything else out of the ordinary happens to you.” She turned to John. “Mr. Quigley, I suggest you get some rest as well.”
John nodded and turned to Icheb. “I’ll walk you to your quarters.” He should have been tired after his sleepless night, but he was pumped up on adrenaline and in no mood to sleep.
Despite the pain medication, Icheb walked more slowly than normal. His overtaxed implants were starting to cause him to feel unsteady on his feet. “We should have just beamed you into your alcove,” said John, only half-joking.
“You’re overreacting. I’m fine,” insisted Icheb sullenly. They entered a turbolift and Icheb leaned against the wall, gripping the handrail.
“Yes, you’re the very picture of health,” replied John sarcastically.
Icheb grew somber. “John?” he asked. “Don’t tell Maren about any of this.”
“What the hell, Icheb?” John asked, frustrated by the request. He was not a secretive person and hated being asked to keep them, particularly from people he cared about. "She’s going to hear about what happened back there anyway,” he said with an exasperated sigh. “Shouldn’t it be from someone who was actually there, instead of hearing some twisted rumor-mill version where you turned into a drone and tried to assimilate half the away team or something?”
“I’d prefer to talk to her myself. Please, John. Just tell her I’m fine.” The turbolift doors opened and the two men stepped out into the corridor not far from Icheb’s quarters.
As they reached Icheb’s door, John said “Icheb, I won't tell Maren anything. But I seriously doubt it will make a difference. You know as well as I do that there’s about as much secrecy on a Starfleet deep space mission as there is on a Borg cube. She probably heard about what happened to you before we even got back.”
Icheb frowned at this, but gave no reply. He leaned in front of the eyescanner and the door opened.
“Get some rest,” said John. “Tonight’s the big send-off, if the Borg haven’t gotten to us before then, that is,” he added wryly.
Icheb nodded. "You try to rest, too. I'll see you then."
As John turned to walk away, Icheb stepped into his quarters. He slowly crossed the room and laid down on the modified bed that served as his regeneration alcove. With a few quick taps on the small console beside him, he manually activated the regeneration cycle and instantly fell into a dreamless sleep.