Adele stood quietly beside Icheb in the middle of the Astrometrics lab, observing as the ex-drone used the holographic imaging system to render a complicated jigsaw puzzle of damaged Borg hull fragments into something resembling a cohesive whole. By the time the computer completed the reconstruction, there was no mistaking the finished product as anything other than an armored Borg tactical cube. Icheb reached out and pushed a corner of the hologram, causing it to spin slowly in the center of the imaging chamber. Adele could see that many parts were missing, apparently having drifted beyond the range of their sensors, and the bits they had been able to find and display appeared badly mangled.
“What happened to it?” Adele breathed in bewilderment, almost to herself. She remembered the destruction a lesser cube than this one had wrought at Wolf 359, and shuddered at the thought of a weapon powerful enough to utterly decimate such a seemingly unstoppable enemy. If only we’d had access to whatever did this ...
she quickly pushed the dark thought aside.
Icheb, tired and distracted, didn’t notice the question she had whispered was largely rhetorical. When Adele had come in, he had relieved the two sensor analysts so he could discuss his thoughts privately with the captain. “Computer,” he said, “lock doors and deactivate all internal sensors within this chamber. Authorization Icheb Alpha one.”
“Voiceprint confirmed. Room is sealed. Internal sensors are deactivated,” the computer responded. Adele looked at him in surprise.
“Okay, you’ve got my attention,” she said, “what is this about?”
“I’m trying to follow protocol,” Icheb explained. “I don’t know what happened to this cube, but I can think of only two strong possibilities, and one of them is that the Borg have been experimenting further with Particle 010.” Icheb said. Adele looked at her first officer sharply.
“Particle 010 ... are you referring to Omega?” she asked. Icheb nodded in the affirmative, and Adele couldn’t hide her surprise. That certainly explained why he had locked them in and shut down the sensors. The dangerous particle’s very existence was highly classified, certainly higher than Icheb’s security clearance as executive officer could possibly allow for. Suddenly, it dawned on her. Of course,
she thought, the Collective.
“The Borg assimilated Starfleet captains. I know some of what they knew,” he explained, confirming her suspicion. “Since I was never fully assimilated, my knowledge is incomplete,” he added quickly, almost as if apologizing.
Adele wondered what else Icheb knew that he probably shouldn’t. She shook her head dismissively. “If it was Omega, sensors would have detected it,” she said.
“Not if it was completely destroyed before we arrived here,” Icheb pointed out.
“But why would the Borg be experimenting with it in the Alpha Quadrant?” she asked. “And even if it’s too late for our sensors to pick it up here, surely we would have found some evidence at Aris 4?”
Icheb narrowed his eyes thoughtfully at the image of the obliterated cube. “I think it’s unlikely that any of this was caused by Omega,” he admitted, “but I had to at least raise the possibility. The Borg wouldn’t normally be experimenting with the particle on a tactical cube, so it’s much more likely that the cube was destroyed by other means. But it’s difficult to imagine anything else that could cause this level of damage to an armored Borg tactical vessel, unless it was a self-destruct order, and a self-destructing cube wouldn’t damage subspace."
“So, what’s your best guess, Commander?” Adele asked, fairly certain she knew what he was going to say.
“The subspace ruptures, plus the energy signature we found at Aris 4, lead me to believe the damage was caused by a weapon not previously encountered by the Federation or the Borg. However, I’m not aware of any known species in the Alpha Quadrant possessing destructive capabilities on this level.”
That was what Adele had thought he was going to say, but it didn’t make it any easier to hear it. She looked at the image of what was left of the cube and sighed. “Whatever happened here, we’d best be extra careful that we don’t let it happen to us. Have engineering alter our energy signatures by any means possible to make it quite clear that we aren’t the Borg. I have to say that this is one instance in which flying around in a reverse-engineered cube is not doing us any favors.”
Icheb nodded. “Yes, Captain.”
“Also, Icheb?” Adele looked critically at her first officer, who looked paler than he had at dinner, and very tired. “Get some rest tonight. That’s an order. Do you ever stop working when you’re off duty? Even at dinner you were reviewing department reports. You worked Alpha shift, you worked through dinner, and here you are at 2230 hours, still working with no end in sight.”
“I enjoy my work, and strive to be efficient,” Icheb explained, a little defensively.
“We all enjoy our work, or we wouldn’t be here,” Adele countered, “and your efficiency is not in question. But you can’t work eighteen hour days all the time. As soon as you’ve notified engineering of their orders, I want you to quit for the day. Not another second behind a console, in a lab, talking about work or thinking about work. Tired officers make mistakes. Let Gamma shift handle any further analysis of this data. Understood?”
Icheb nodded. “Yes, Captain.”
Adele addressed the computer. “Computer, unlock doors and reactivate internal sensors, authorization Oyugo Alpha two.”
“Voiceprint confirmed ...” Adele walked out of Astrometrics before the computer finished its automatic response, finding herself haunted by the image of the shattered Borg cube, and along with it, the eighteen-year-old memory of her Imzadi, bloodied and broken, so suddenly void of life or emotion.
Icheb notified the sensor analysts that they could resume their shift, and asked them to begin comparing all the data they had collected during their scan with the data they had found at Aris 4. He really wanted to stay and supervise, but he knew Adele was right -- tired officers make mistakes. For Icheb, it was even truer -- he felt worse with every passing minute as he got further away from his last regeneration cycle. As soon as he notified engineering of their duties, he promised himself, he would go straight to his alcove.
He tapped his combadge. “Icheb to engineering.”
Maren’s voice came over the comm. “O’Connor here.”
He wasn’t surprised to hear her voice. She could be almost as bad as he was when it came to working while off-duty. He replied, “I need you to alter our energy signature to make it really obvious that we aren’t the Borg.”
“Excuse me?” she replied, sounding confused.
Icheb sighed. “It’s a long story. I’ll come down there and assist you. I’m on my way.” Regeneration would have to wait just a little while longer.
“Acknowledged,” replied Maren, sounding a more than a little bit wary, but nothing like she had earlier. At least she was willing to work with him, Icheb thought.
When he entered engineering several minutes later, Maren was already bouncing from console to console making adjustments while Loren Daniels directed the rest of the staff. It took her a moment to notice that he had walked in.
When she finally saw him, she gave him a slightly alarmed look. “What’s going on?” she asked. “Did you find something on sensors?”
“A tactical cube,” Icheb replied. Maren’s eyes grew wide, and he quickly added, “Destroyed, obviously some time ago.” Maren exhaled sharply in relief and gave him an annoyed look.
“Don’t do that to me!” she exclaimed.
“Sorry,” he replied apologetically. “But you should have known better than to be frightened. If there was an active tactical cube anywhere near our position, we’d be at red alert, you know that.”
Maren nodded, embarrassed. “I know. I’ve just been on edge ever since I heard what happened to you on the away mission.”
Icheb glanced at her, surprised by the admission. It was a sudden small crack in her icy fašade, but there was no time to follow up. He pressed on, all business. “We need to ensure that if someone has the motive and capability to destroy the Borg, that they don’t read our technology as being similar.”
similar,” replied Maren. “Half this ship is reverse engineered from Borg technology. That was part of the plan, right? Not only does their stuff work, it looks intimidating on long-range sensors. Bad guy deterrent.”
Icheb nodded and pinched his nose ridge, feeling another headache coming on. “Yes, but I’m not sure anyone was expecting to run into someone who isn’t
afraid of the Borg.”
Maren noticed his pained expression before she processed his words. “Are you okay?” she asked with palpable concern. “You don’t look so good.”
Icheb sighed and gave her a significant look. “Like I said before, we need to talk. It will have to wait, though. We need to get this done and I need to regenerate.” Maren looked at him with concern, but didn’t press the issue.
“What happened to the cube?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Icheb said truthfully. “But we need to take every precaution to make sure it doesn’t happen to us. If someone has developed a subspace weapon capable of decimating a Borg tactical cube, then such a weapon could easily destroy our ship, as well.”
Maren nodded as she took this information in. “Okay,” she agreed. “You take that console, I’ll take this one. Let’s figure out a way to make ourselves less scary.”
Icheb smiled. It felt like a small victory, their working together like this. It wasn’t anything like old times, but it was a start. For the moment, he almost forgot about his need to regenerate, as he turned his attention to the console Maren had directed him toward. As the duo concentrated on their respective efforts, they were interrupted by the activation of the yellow alert klaxon.
On the bridge of the Tesseract
, the three alien starships on the main viewscreen arranged themselves in a tactical formation as they approached the leading edge of the cube-shaped Federation ship.
“Their weapons are charged, Commander,” said Ensign Marcus Lindley from behind the tactical console. “Shall I charge the phaser banks?”
“Negative. Hail them, Lieutenant Nix,” Borux instructed the Bolian communications officer. She touched her console a few times.
“They’re responding,” she replied.
”Identify yourselves,” demanded the violet-skinned alien who suddenly appeared on the main viewscreen. His nostrils, two slits in the center of his face, flared and the vaguely W-shaped arrangement of ridges on his bald head pulsed with tension as he stared down the Beta shift bridge crew of the Tesseract
with something resembling fear evident in his pale blue eyes.
Borux answered him as he had been trained to do. “I am Lieutenant Commander Borux of the Federation starship Tesseract
. We are on a mission of peace and exploration -- ”
He was cut off by the sharp, scornful voice of the alien. “In that
vessel? You look about as peaceful as the Borg.”
“Scan us, if you’re able,” replied Borux levelly. “You’ll see nearly half the ship is a docking bay for smaller craft, and most of the rest is engineering, science labs and crew quarters. As for our armaments, we’re very far from home and heading further away into unknown territory. It’s necessary to be well prepared. I assure you, we mean you no harm.”
The alien, obviously the leader among the pilots of the ships now floating in a defensive formation, apparently lacked the scanning capability to confirm the story. He looked at Borux as if trying to decide whether to believe him.
“Are you the captain of this vessel?” he finally asked.
“No,” Adele spoke up as she walked quickly through the bridge doors, coming to a stop in front of the viewscreen. She had headed for the bridge as soon as the yellow alert had been activated. “I am. My name is Adele Oyugo, Captain of the Federation starship Tesseract.
Please identify yourself.”
“I am Ordi’te of Tyndora, the fifth planet in this star system,” the alien answered. His opalescent inner eyelid blinked occasionally, and he intermittently licked his lips with his dark blue tongue, giving him an overall nervous appearance.
“May I ask you some questions about what happened to this region of space?” Adele asked cautiously.
“You may ask, but I’m not sure I can provide the answers,” replied Ordi’te. “Our protocol also dictates that all discussions with alien cultures take place planet side, with our ruling government. Your officer indicated you have smaller ships aboard that large one. Will you agree to send a small delegation? I doubt my government would approve a ship as large as yours coming into orbit.”
Adele smiled warmly and tried her best to project a feeling of calm and trust, though her skills were as weak as her Betazoid genetics in this area. “Certainly. I’ll gather a group at once. And if you’d like, we can bring you or another of your officers aboard the Tesseract
to show you up close that we are a peaceful people.”
“Perhaps another time, Captain,” Ordi’te replied tersely. “For now, we prefer to stay aboard our own ships.”
“Understood,” replied Adele. “I’ll let you know when we’re ready to depart.”
Ordi’te nodded, and Iden deactivated the comm. link.
Adele activated the internal comm. system. “Oyugo to Icheb, report to the bridge immediately.”