My God, he’s a bigger freak than I am,
thought Julian Bashir as he leaned back in his chair, sipping Tarkalean tea and reading the classified files that had arrived from Starfleet thirty minutes prior.
It seemed the ship’s first officer was genetically engineered, just like Julian himself. Only where Julian’s parents had simply wanted a smarter, faster, stronger, better son -- one they could be proud of -- Icheb’s parents had desired a weapon of mass destruction. His DNA had been altered before birth to produce a pathogen that attacked cybernetic life, and they had willingly put him in the path of the Borg to be assimilated, destroying nearly every drone on the unfortunate cube that had captured him. Only five immature drones, including Icheb, had survived in maturation chambers, and were rescued by the crew of the USS Voyager
, whose holographic doctor had synthesized a treatment that required weekly injections in order to suppress the pathogen. Julian understood why Starfleet had classified this part of Commander Icheb’s medical history -- there was no telling what the wrong sort of person could do with this information.
Julian’s tea cooled as he became engrossed in the fascinating file. He had already studied the files on the Borg parts of the commander’s physiology extensively, but the young man’s DNA was what had him glued to the screen now. It had been tampered with even more extensively than his own had ever been. Brunali genetic expertise was apparently far beyond anything the Federation was capable of. It wasn’t just the pathogen his parents had created -- Icheb himself, as just a boy on Voyager,
had developed a way of resequencing his own DNA to enable his Borg implants to continue functioning without the cortical node that was designed to regulate them. He had donated his own node to Annika Hansen, also known as Seven of Nine, to save her life when her node had failed. Julian wondered who had authorized the risky procedure.
Julian’s imagination began to wander as he thought about all the good he could do with this kind of genetic resequencing. He made a mental note to discuss it with the commander later. For now, however, he needed to see if the record could shed some light on the reason Icheb’s implants weren’t regulating his vital systems as well as they should.
The scans of the commander that Sheila Duggal had taken on the Sol
had indicated many imbalances in his body chemistry -- nothing serious yet, but something clearly wasn’t right. When Julian had looked to Icheb’s medical records for some direction, he had noticed two things. First, there was much that had been classified and not included with the initial medical records that had been uploaded to the Tesseract
’s database, so he had contacted Command, and ever-so-slightly (well, perhaps not so slightly) exaggerated the commander’s condition in order to obtain the complete file. The other thing Julian had noticed was that Commander Icheb had seen a different doctor for every physical the last four years, and all of them were mediocre no-name physicians who normally treated cadets and enlisted personnel. No doubt, they knew little about Borg physiology. Julian had a feeling he was missing something.
The computer sounded a soft alarm, jolting Julian out of his thoughts. He set his now-cold cup of tea down on the desk and silenced the alarm. He had set it to go off after Icheb was scheduled to end his regeneration cycle. Activating the comm. system, and picking up the cortical monitor Maren O’Connor had helped him modify earlier that day, he summoned both Icheb and the captain to sickbay.
Two decks above, Icheb opened his eyes as the computer announced the end of the six-hour regeneration cycle and his bed-turned-alcove powered down. He felt like he had been asleep for days. Quickly, he sat up and swung his feet onto the floor. He noted the time. It was 16:32, a little more than two hours before the launch ceremony. He recalled the events of the morning and wondered if there had been any news concerning the data they had collected at Aris 4, or their possible pursuers. His hand reached up and touched the back of his head almost involuntarily as he remembered the pain the neural probe had caused him. It was all gone now. He felt fine, or at least as well as he usually felt.
“Computer, locate Adele Oyugo,” he said aloud.
“Captain Oyugo is on the bridge,” the no-nonsense, female-sounding voice replied. Icheb resisted the irrational impulse to say ‘thank you.’ He stood up and walked to the lavatory. In the mirror, he could see that after six hours regenerating, he looked like his usual composed self again, but his hair was a mess. He quickly wet it and combed it into place, turning his head to both sides to ensure it was perfect before putting the comb away and heading for the bridge.
He wasn’t halfway to the turbolift before his communicator went off. “Bashir to Icheb, please report to sickbay.” Icheb fought to keep himself from rolling his eyes, a bad habit he had picked up from pretty much every human he had encountered since leaving the Borg. The doctor must have set an alarm to remind himself to check on Icheb when he had finished regenerating. The last thing Icheb felt like doing was seeing a doctor right now, but he really had no choice. He entered the turbolift and ordered, “Deck nine.”
When he arrived in sickbay, Julian Bashir was waiting for him holding a PADD that Icheb assumed must contain his heavily redacted medical records, and a small, nearly flat rectangular gray device about four by five centimeters in size. To Icheb’s surprise, the captain was standing next to him. Icheb briefly wondered why he hadn’t run into her in the corridor, considering she had been on the bridge a few moments earlier. He supposed his short detour to the lavatory to indulge his vanity had made the difference.
“How are you feeling, Commander?” Adele asked, as Julian picked up a medical tricorder and scanned him. Icheb managed to conceal his irritation at being scanned for the ninth time that day.
“I’m feeling much better, Captain, thank you,” he replied. “Dr. Bashir asked me to report to sickbay, I assumed he wanted to check up on me. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”
Adele glanced at Julian, then back at Icheb. “I’ve come to make a request.”
“Captain?” asked Icheb, surprised to hear the term ‘request,’ since the captain had the right to order him to do pretty much anything.
Julian jumped in before Adele could explain. He held up the small gray device. “This is a cortical monitor I’ve modified to maintain a passive interface with your neural transceiver. It’s programmed to give off a targeted Kedion pulse if the transceiver is externally activated. It should temporarily disable the transceiver while collecting as much information as possible about whatever initiated the link. It shouldn’t hurt too much, but it may render you temporarily unconscious.” The doctor eyed Icheb carefully as he gauged his reaction.
“And you want me to wear it,” Icheb said, glancing at Adele. It was a statement, not a question. He stared at the small device with an indiscernible expression on his face.
Adele gently grasped his arm at the elbow and made eye contact. “Commander, I want to do everything possible to allow you to continue performing your duties on this mission. But we can’t afford to have another incident like you had on the Sol.
Your safety and the safety of the entire crew is at risk if we do nothing and whatever it was that probed you does it again. We’ve already had to alter our flight plan, change our security codes, and brief Starfleet on the situation, and we haven’t even left the quadrant yet. I’m open to alternatives, but the only one I can think of is to confine you to quarters with a dampening field, and I’m not sure that’s safe for your other implants, let alone fair to you. At least if you agree to this, you can still perform all your normal duties.”
Icheb couldn’t think of another alternative. Since he had given his cortical node to Seven, he was unable to control access to his neural transceiver without external tools, and he certainly couldn’t do it at a moment’s notice. If something wanted to interface with his transceiver, he couldn’t think of a better way to stop it than what the captain and the doctor were proposing. If it happened again, at least maybe they would get some information this way. He once again recalled the pain the neural probe had caused him, and his decision was made. He silently took the cortical monitor out of Julian’s hand and affixed it to the back of his own neck over the location of the neural transceiver. Once connected, the smooth rectangular device emitted a soft blue glow around the edges. Adele looked visibly relieved.
“Thank you,” she said with an apologetic, yet grateful look. Icheb nodded. Suddenly, he wanted to be anywhere but sickbay.
“Captain, is there any news from Aris 4?” he asked. “Have we received any new data?”
Adele shook her head. “No, not yet. And we appear to have gotten away with Lieutenant Quigley’s early slipstream jump. There’s been nothing on sensors since this morning. Even if something were to show up on sensors now, we’d be gone long before it gets here.” Icheb was relieved to hear this, for the sake of the entire crew, but especially for John, who had undoubtedly spent the entire day beating himself up over his own carelessness. He would have to find him later and see how he was doing.
“If it’s all right with you,” Icheb said, “I’d like to go get ready for the launch ceremony now.”
Adele nodded. “Go ahead, Commander. Just -- ”
“Keep the cortical monitor on at all times,” Icheb finished. “I know.” Adele gave him a sympathetic look in return.
Julian held up the PADD and started to say something, but one look at Icheb’s face seemed to make him think better of it. Whatever it was could wait. He lowered the PADD and said, “See you tonight, Commander.”