Adele took a deep breath and straightened her uniform before entering the large conference room on deck eight of the Tesseract.
The mission advisory board was already seated around the massive table, and behind them was an enormous window looking out over the recreation area two decks below. She could see quite a few crewmen down there, running around the giant track, playing games, relaxing and getting to know one another.
She hoped she would have time for some of that herself someday soon, but for now, she had to report on the situation at Aris 4 to the group of five men and women who would either provide her with wise counsel or make her life a living hell for the next seven years. She had been handed this mission with the caveat that it was too important to leave to one captain, and so the mission advisory board had been created. A flag officer, two retired starship captains, a counselor and a Federation lawyer comprised the board. Walking in blind, it was the lawyer who scared her most.
For the most part, Starfleet had promised her, she would have autonomy to make decisions as she deemed appropriate. But with regard to situations that were likely to affect the entire Delta Quadrant, let alone the galaxy, she was to seek the opinions of the advisory board. Only the flag officer had the authority to directly overrule Adele’s decisions, and -- at least theoretically -- only during very specific situations. Of course, since he could easily be influenced by any of the other four, she would have to play nicely with all of them.
Adele had scheduled this meeting as soon as the subspace message had come in from the Sol
reporting their initial findings. At first, she hadn’t been sure whether to be relieved or disappointed that all five members of the board were already on board the Tesseract
. After the events of this morning, though, she was grateful for any help she could get. As she walked into the room, the entire group, save for one, rose to greet her.
Standing behind the conference table were two retired Captains, a Bolian named Drare, and a human named Mario Alvarez. Next to them stood Federation lawyer Eleanor Gentry, a human woman of about thirty-five with a wild shock of chin-length frizzy blond curls. Next to Eleanor was counselor Taran Madar, a younger Betazoid female with close-cropped dark brown hair and the black eyes characteristic of her species. Admiral Shane Beckley alone remained seated. Adele noted that he had not brought his aide to the meeting. The Admiral leaned back in his chair and assessed her with a coldly critical eye as she introduced herself to the group.
“Hello. Thank you for convening on such short notice. As you know, I’m Captain Adele Oyugo, commanding officer of the Tesseract
. I apologize for this meeting being so hastily called, but by now, I’m sure you’re aware of the situation our away team encountered at Aris 4 early this morning. The PADDs I distributed to your quarters this morning contain the data collected by the away team, as well as the preliminary analyses by both the away team and our senior staff here on the Tesseract
.” Adele smoothed her uniform out one more time as she sat down at the table.
“To summarize for any of you who may not have had time to review the data, we have evidence of several Borg cubes in the Aris system, all decimated by a subspace explosion so large its shockwave destroyed a small planet thousands of kilometers away and tore a hole in subspace. We have an energy signature of unknown origin, but no evidence of any ships in the vicinity other than the destroyed Borg vessels. The energy signature does not appear to be naturally occurring. It actually shares many characteristics with the Borg weapons signatures we have on file, but it is not an exact match to anything we’ve seen before.”
Adele stopped to catch her breath before continuing, “Given the situation, Starfleet has decided to send one of the new Altair
-class ships to further investigate the area around Aris 4, with reinforcements to follow as they are able. With the slipstream drive, an Altair
class can be there within a day as soon as they get a crew together, but it will obviously take longer for the older starships. There are three ships currently within three days’ journey from Aris 4, so they are being rerouted. We’ll be notified of their additional findings, if any. We are not being asked to return to Aris 4.”
“Moving on from facts to analysis,” Adele continued, “all the senior staff officers who weren’t assigned to the away mission met early this morning to analyze the data we received from the Sol.
The most logical suggestion was that this was some kind of Borg experiment gone awry,” she said. “The lack of evidence of any other ships in the vicinity and the similarities between the possible weapons signature and the Borg signatures we’ve seen suggest it to be a reasonable theory. But it doesn’t explain what the Borg are doing in this part of the galaxy, or how they even got here, since the USS Voyager
destroyed the transwarp hub that led to the Alpha Quadrant eight years ago, not to mention the Queen's Unicomplex. So we're still trying to generate additional theories.”
“Perhaps the Borg have adapted to the damage done by Voyager
,” said Drare quietly. The group paused for a moment as the implications of his statement sunk in.
Taran, the counselor, broke the silence. “Captain?” she asked. Adele looked over at her. “I’m wondering why Commander Icheb is not present at this meeting. Since he led the away team, and has much more experience with the Borg than any of us in this room, I would be interested in hearing his perspective.”
“I’m getting to that,” Adele replied with a sigh. “Commander Icheb is in his quarters regenerating. Something happened to him on the mission that also can’t be explained by a mere self-contained accident or test gone wrong. While the away team was well on their way back to the Tesseract, something, or someone activated his neural transceiver -- ”
“I’m sorry, his what?” said Eleanor Gentry, the lawyer, cutting Adele off.
“All Borg drones are fitted with a neural transceiver as part of their cortical array,” explained Adele. “In the case of a liberated drone like Commander Icheb, it is a component that cannot be removed without risk of serious injury or death. It works like a subspace communications system, allowing drones to communicate over vast distances.”
“Isn’t that a security risk?” asked Eleanor, with a surprised look. Admiral Beckley, still silent, smirked at this. Adele wondered if he agreed with the lawyer’s assessment.
“Yes,” admitted Adele. “It has caused problems in the past when liberated drones have served on Starfleet vessels. More to the point, it presented a problem today. As I was saying, Commander Icheb’s neural transceiver was activated and used as a portal to probe his neural pathways -- ”
Eleanor interrupted again. “I’m sorry, Captain, but I’m a lawyer, not a doctor, and I didn’t minor in Borg studies, either. Can you simplify this at all?” Her tone was impatient.
“I’ll try, Ms. Gentry, but please understand that the very nature of the Borg dictates that any discussion concerning them usually requires a fair amount of technological literacy,” Adele said, trying to keep an impatient edge from creeping into her own voice. “If you have questions about technical terms, perhaps you can ask them of Commander Icheb or the Chief Medical Officer at a later time.” Eleanor reluctantly nodded her assent.
“As I was saying, something performed an invasive scan of Commander Icheb’s neural pathways. He went into neural shock and collapsed in the ready room of the Sol
. He was treated for shock and some associated pain and released to his quarters to regenerate about three hours ago. My understanding is that the regeneration cycle takes six hours, so it will be some time before any of you can speak to him about this.”
“So, what would this scan of the neural pathways have shown someone?” asked Mario Alvarez, one of the retired captains.
“I don’t know,” replied Adele. “I don’t know how long the connection was active, and I honestly don’t know how much information Commander Icheb’s brain and cortical array has stored. Everything since he was liberated from the Collective, I suppose, plus whatever he retained from his time inside the Collective. I imagine in terms of pure data, the amount of information is huge. Much of it is classified by Starfleet, so obviously, this is a huge security problem. But there’s no way to tell how much information was received by whatever, or whoever initiated the probe. I haven’t been able to discuss the matter with him yet because of his condition.”
“Have you notified Starfleet?” asked Eleanor.
Adele nodded. “Yes, I contacted the fleet first. They’ve ordered us to proceed on schedule to the Delta Quadrant, but with significant alterations to our flight plan in case our original plans were intercepted. We’ve also issued new security codes, which Commander Icheb does not have, yet. So now, I just have to decide what to do about the situation with the commander.”
The surprisingly taciturn Admiral Beckley smiled at this. His grin sent chills down Adele’s spine, because there was absolutely no feeling behind it. Her enhanced Betazoid perception told her nothing about this man or his motivations. It was like sitting across from a hologram. His face displayed a single expression -- a sort of smug conceit -- but there was no feeling to it, at least not that she could sense. Her unease around Icheb was nothing compared to the downright creepy feeling she had sitting across the table from Admiral Beckley. Hell, she’d take the entire Borg Collective over this guy right about now. How had he ever made Admiral? And did she really have to spend the next seven years trying to keep him satisfied with her work? Adele suppressed a shudder.
She pushed her thoughts about Admiral Beckley aside and forced herself to address the topic at hand. “I’d considered confining Commander Icheb, at least temporarily, to an area of the ship with a strong dampening field to prevent any further incursions into his mind while we try to figure out what happened. He could continue to perform his duties as First Officer, preparing schedules, reviewing department reports, serving an advisory role ... but his movement around the ship would be restricted. However, I’m extremely hesitant to take this course of action. For one thing, it seems like punishment, and he hasn’t done anything wrong; in fact, his service over the past few days on board has been exemplary. For another, I’m not sure we can create a strong enough dampening field that won’t have a deleterious effect on his implants.”
“So what are you going to do?” asked Taran, who sounded truly curious. It was clear she had forgotten her role as counselor for the moment, as she stared across the table at Adele, her black eyes wide with interest.
Adele paused for a moment and glanced around the table before answering, “I honestly think that maybe we should just let this play out -- have him wear a modified cortical monitor at all times and see if it happens again. If we can create a contingency plan, a temporary kill switch of sorts for the neural transceiver, we can minimize the risk of both security breach and injury to Commander Icheb while learning much more about whatever it is that’s trying to get inside his head.”
Drare, Mario and Taran all nodded thoughtfully. Eleanor looked noticeably skeptical, but said nothing. Admiral Beckley sat staring at Adele, still an empty emotional slate. The shiver went down her spine again. “Admiral Beckley,” she said, “You’ve been very quiet. May I have your thoughts on all of this?”
Again, he smiled his creepy blank smile. “Well, regarding the situation at Aris 4, we have our orders, and as for the situation with your executive officer, it sounds like you know exactly what you want to do, Captain. You’re in command here. What do you need my opinion for?”
Taran, sensing Adele’s unease, jumped in, suddenly all counselor again. “Sir, I believe the Captain is asking for a second opinion because she feels there may be something she has missed. The events of the last twelve hours are a lot for one Captain to process, especially during a time as chaotic as the launch of a mission.”
“Indeed,” said Admiral Beckley, shifting his soulless gaze from Adele to Taran. Taran looked almost as uncomfortable under his stare as Adele had felt a moment earlier, however, no one beyond the two telepaths seemed to be bothered by the Admiral. Adele made a mental note to seek Taran out later and discuss the matter.
“Well,” Beckley finally said, turning back to Adele, “I’ve nothing to add. I’m not here to run your ship, Captain. My job concerns the bigger picture. I believe you can handle your staff problems.” The content of his words should have reassured Adele, but his cold, almost flippant tone only served to unnerve her more.
Mario Alvarez spoke up from across the table. “I think your idea is a good one, if Commander Icheb is agreeable to it, that is. We still haven’t heard what he thinks.”
“Let’s reconvene tonight after the launch ceremony,” said Adele. “I’ll brief Commander Icheb. I'm hoping he'll be able to speculate more productively as to what we might have discovered today. Say, 21:00 hours?” Four advisers nodded their heads. Admiral Beckley didn’t disagree. “21:00 it is, then. We’ll meet back here.”
As the meeting adjourned, Adele rushed out of the room. She headed for the bridge, fighting a wave of nausea. Sitting face to face with the human void that was Admiral Beckley had shaken her badly. She usually tried not to put too much stock in the feelings her part-Betazoid genetics allowed her to read from others, but at the same time, she had never before met a human who didn’t give off any emotional data at all. She found it unsettling, to say the least.
She walked through the doors to the bridge and proceeded directly to her ready room, barely acknowledging the bridge officers as she passed by. Sitting down at her desk, she quickly brought up Admiral Beckley’s file, looking for some clue as to his strange lack of personality. She was rather disappointed to see that the file was entirely ordinary. Beckley had made a truly unremarkable progression from cadet to admiral over a period of three decades. His previous assignment had been on Earth, working in Starfleet Intelligence. At 54, he was on the young side for Admiralty, though not abnormally so, and was unmarried, which made him a perfect candidate for a seven-year mission to the Delta Quadrant.
She wondered if she would get any more information by contacting a few friends and asking questions, but she didn’t have time for that at the moment. She had a disciplinary issue to address. She rose and got a glass of water from the replicator, then sat back down at her desk, tapping her combadge. “Captain Oyugo to Lieutenant Quigley, report to my ready room immediately.”