USS Tesseract -- Diplomatic Quarters
“We will not
comply!” The shiny white top of the flimsy Starfleet-issue console table unexpectedly gave way under Malik B’akhti’s cybernetic hand as he slammed it angrily down on the unfortunate piece of furniture. Adele looked at the spidery cracks that had formed in the plastic with a weary expression, and just managed to suppress a sigh. She had had it with the Borg resistance leader’s attitude problem. Even so, as security stepped forward to intervene, she waved them off.
“I don’t see how you have a choice,” she replied calmly. “Your entire crew is in my brig, your ship is in a tractor beam, and you’re here behind a level ten force field. If you want our help, you’re going to have to compromise. You had your chance to coerce us when you held my exec hostage. Now it’s my turn.”
“I will not permit your engineer to board my ship,” Malik insisted hotly. “Send the drone if you wish, but no Starfleet.”
“The ‘drone’ is
Starfleet,” Adele reminded him. “And he’s no more a drone than you are, and hasn’t been in some time.” She fixed Malik with a level gaze and said firmly, “I am sending Commander Icheb and Lieutenant O’Connor to secure your ship and bring it into our docking bay. The only
choice you have is whether or not you will assist them. I recommend you cooperate. Let’s try to build a little trust on both sides, here.”
Malik looked at her for a long moment, and Adele could sense him weighing his options. Finally, he nodded. “I wish to bring one of my own engineers as well,” he said.
Adele nodded in reply. “I think that can be arranged.” She gave him a pointed look. “Just keep in mind we’re building
trust, here. There isn’t any yet. My officers will
be accompanied by heavy security. As will you.” So don’t even think about taking advantage,
she thought silently.
Malik nodded, a bit dismissively for Adele’s liking. She knew he wasn’t impressed by Starfleet security. She had to admit she wouldn’t be, either, with the tactical advantages he had. She hoped the combination of Icheb’s and Maren’s quick minds and security’s firepower would be enough to maintain control of the situation.
“Very well, shall we proceed?” Adele asked Malik.
Silently, the cyborg nodded his assent. As security moved to flank him, he stepped forward to follow Adele.
USS Tesseract – Office of the Chief Engineer
“Are you certain you feel well enough to do this?” Icheb asked Maren O’Connor with concern. He watched as she tried unsuccessfully to secure the closure on her engineering bag for the third time. Her hands were visibly shaking – he was sure he would have been able to see it even without the aid of his ocular implant.
Maren nodded silently, once again fumbling with the closure. Icheb stepped forward and caught her hands in his, then gently removed them from the bag. “Please allow me,” he said, efficiently fastening the overstuffed bag shut. Maren stepped back, looking slightly embarrassed.
“You’re officially on medical leave,” Icheb reminded her. “If you don’t make allowances for your injuries, you’ll end up back in sickbay.” He chose not to remind her that as executive officer, he had the authority to send her there himself.
From what he had been told, she had sustained serious injuries when the Borg had attacked – much more serious than she appeared to be making any allowance for. He could tell she was feeling weak but trying to push herself, and made a mental note to closely monitor her observable biosigns. There was no doubt in his mind that she would work herself right back into sickbay if he wasn’t careful to enforce some reasonable limits.
“Yes, sir,” Maren assented quietly, but as Icheb hefted the heavy engineering bag onto his shoulder, she reached for the strap and blurted out, “You don’t need to carry that; I’ll take it.”
Icheb gave her an impatient look. “We’re alone in this office. Don’t call me ‘sir.’ I’m carrying the bag. You’re injured. Stop pushing yourself.” When Maren looked like she was about to protest, he added, “That’s an order.” He gave her a small smile to try and soften the impact of his words, but he knew he sounded more exasperated than he had intended.
She looked up at him for a moment, then sighed and nodded. “Fine … thank you,” she said quietly, letting go of the bag as she accepted his assistance. She closed her eyes for a moment, as she often did when trying to collect her thoughts. Feeling guilty for snapping at her, Icheb reached out and touched her arm. Startled, Maren quickly opened her eyes, and Icheb realized she had actually been fighting back tears.
“Are you really all right?” he asked, cautiously stepping closer to her and encircling her slender arm with his fingers. In a flash, the vulnerability was gone, replaced by the iciness he had begun to get used to since their assignment to the Tesseract
. He could feel her stiffen in his grasp. Regardless of how familiar her rejection of him was becoming, it still stung. “Maren --” he started.
“Stop,” she whispered, cutting him off. She looked up at him, and a moment later the dam broke and a torrent of words came pouring out of her. “I’m not all right, Icheb,” she admitted quietly. “Of course
I’m not all right. We’re in the middle of a Borg war zone. Four hundred people are missing, and one of them is our best friend. Malik B’akhti wants to use your DNA to annihilate trillions of people. I just saw a woman tearing herself to pieces right in front of me and then I saw you put your life at risk to stop her after I just
got you back.” She paused for an instant, realizing how she had phrased that, but recovered quickly and continued, “I might not have a job anymore. I have a thousand things I need to say to you and time for not even one
. And one of those things, I have to tell you anyway, even though we don’t have time, because if I don’t, someone else will, and I have
to be the one who tells you this.”
As Maren’s statements became increasingly confusing, Icheb narrowed his eyes questioningly. Before he could ask for clarification, she was already talking again. “I know the timing is horrible,” she said, her voice starting to waver, “but you really need to know this. I told them about your implants. Risa, the lying, The Doctor … all of it.” She looked like she might cry, but managed to hold his gaze. “I’m so sorry for betraying your trust,” she whispered, eyes locked on his, “but I’m not sorry I told. I should have done it a long time ago.”
Icheb stared at her for a long moment, stunned. He was unsure of how to react to her confession. Her green eyes were moist with tears, and he was torn between embracing her and saying something he would probably regret. “Whom did you tell?” he asked, sounding steadier than he felt.
Maren took a deep breath. “The captain, the doctors. They’re the only ones I told,” she said. “And John,” she added, closing her eyes. “John was there with me in sickbay the whole time. He overheard everything.”
Icheb looked confused for a second as he wondered how John had gotten clearance to be in sickbay the entire time, but he quickly decided it was irrelevant. “Did he take it very badly?” he asked, genuinely concerned. One of the reasons they had never told John about his condition was the tactical officer’s tendency to react rashly when he was seriously upset. Their major concern at the time had been that he would go straight to Admiral Janeway, but here on the Tesseract
, 40,000 light years from Command, Icheb was more worried about what his friend might have said to Maren.
Maren closed her eyes and nodded. “He was pretty upset,” she recalled. Her voice broke a little, and Icheb suspected that had been an understatement. He resisted the urge to reach out and comfort her.
“What did the captain say?” he asked.
Maren sighed and looked up at him again. “Not much, yet,” she said miserably. “I’m on medical leave indefinitely because she doesn’t know what to do with me. Between this and that thing I did with the Borg, I may lose my commission before this is over. I don’t know what she’s going to do to you.” She closed her eyes again. “I really am sorry.”
Icheb moved closer to Maren and took her by both arms, turning her to face him. “You won’t lose your commission,” he assured her. “This wasn’t your idea. I’ll do whatever I can to make sure they know that.”
Maren looked away, suddenly unable to look him in the eye. “I never should have lied for you. I should have told Starfleet a long time ago -- given them a chance to fight for you.”
Icheb kept his voice carefully level. “You and I both know Nechayev and the others would have used it as an excuse to experiment on me.” This was an argument they’d had many times. He really didn’t want to have it again right now.
“Maybe not,” Maren snapped back, once again meeting his gaze. In a softer voice, she added, “And anyway, we’re thousands of light years from Command right now. Doctor Bashir and the captain want to help you. I
want to help you. Let us, please.”
Icheb stared at her for a long moment, remembering with perfect detail the day he had made a nearly identical argument to Seven of Nine. The bitter irony of the entire situation was not lost on him, but he didn’t feel like smiling. He wondered if he should tell her about the offer Malik had made.
Frustration seized him as he recalled that discussion. He didn’t appreciate being manipulated on any day, but having his most deeply felt emotions toyed with like that by a stranger – his own future being dangled like a bribe – was particularly difficult to handle. More than anything, Malik reminded him of First. As a young drone, newly severed from the hive mind and desperate to survive, Icheb had turned his back on what he had sensed to be right in the face of First’s clumsy manipulation. He was determined not to succumb to the same temptation this time.
As he looked at Maren, he longed to tell her about everything that had happened, but there simply wasn’t time for the discussion he knew would ensue. She would lose her composure, yell at him, probably cry. He was beginning to realize the emotional toll that lying for him had taken on her over the past four years.
Unable to think of a response that would not begin a protracted discussion or a fight, he instead reached out and caressed her cheek, letting his fingers linger on her soft skin for a moment before pulling his hand away. “We’re due in transporter room one in three minutes,” he reminded her. It was a shameless attempt to change the subject, but he hoped she would understand it was necessary.
She surprised him by catching his hand in hers and squeezing it briefly. “I know there isn’t time for this,” she said softly. “I meant what I said before, though,” she added. “I’m ready to talk. There are a lot of things I need to say to you.” She sighed, and let the faintest trace of a smile play at her lips before adding with false bravado, “So let’s make sure this little excursion of ours is a success, okay? No getting kidnapped or wounded or killed or any of that,” she said firmly.
Icheb smiled in return. There was still a wall of ice between them, but even this small crack was an improvement. With his eyes locked on hers, he nodded his agreement with her sentiment, then turned to lead the way out of engineering.
USS Tesseract – Transporter Room One
Maren eyed Malik B’akhti and his companion with curiosity. She stayed close to Icheb as they approached the transporter dais, partly out of a desire to be near him and partly out of fear. The last time she had been this close to a Borg drone, it had thrown her headfirst into a tritanium beam, and she had considered herself lucky -- a fractured skull was nothing compared to the horror of assimilation. But then again
, she told herself, these aren’t drones
. They were Borg … but independent. Free of the Collective. Like Icheb had been, before she met him. As a result, she found them fascinating.
Her knowledge of that part of Icheb’s life was limited to what he had chosen to share with her during their five years together, and the little she had managed to glean from hacking into classified files. She had known at the time that hacking into those files could cost her her commission, but it had seemed worth it. Her curiosity, as usual, had been overwhelming. She had to see for herself -- had to know what Admiral Nechayev and the others saw in him that she didn’t, had to understand why anyone would ever consider Icheb a threat or a liability … because all she had ever really seen in him was the other half of her.
She was pulled out of her thoughts by the captain’s voice. “O’Connor.” From the look on both Adele’s face and Icheb’s, it was clear this wasn’t the first time her name had been called, and Maren blushed.
“Yes, sir?” she answered, embarrassed.
“Are you ready?” Adele asked pointedly. Her tone was unusually harsh, and Maren blushed harder. She nodded.
“Yes, captain. I’m ready,” she said.
“Good,” Adele replied, maintaining her critical gaze for another moment. “You’ve met Mr. B’akhti, and this is one of his engineers, Jeytl,” she said, gesturing toward the second Resistance Borg. In marked contrast to the quick-witted, acid-tongued Malik, Jeytl appeared stiff and reticent. Unsure of what to do, Maren nodded politely toward him, a gesture which he returned. She then offered a smile, which was not returned.
Adele turned to her exec. “Icheb, you and O’Connor will be working with Mr. B’akhti and Mr. Jeytl to secure their vessel and bring it into our docking bay. I want weapons, propulsion, everything offline. I want you to ensure it’s completely safe before we bring it in. Work quickly. We’ll tractor you in when you’re ready.”
“Understood,” Icheb replied.
Adele glanced at Malik. “Just so we understand each other,” she said, “I have no intention of losing my advantage here until I’m sure you can be trusted. If that means I have to destroy your ship with nine of my officers on board, I will do it. Let’s be sure it doesn’t come to that.”
Maren remembered her training and forced herself not to react in any way to the captain’s statement. She quickly glanced around at Icheb and the seven security officers assigned to go with them to the resistance ship. Icheb, Lieutenant Commander Ryzal, and the others all stayed equally stonefaced. This was the bad part about Starfleet, thought Maren. Sometimes you were assigned to the away team that got killed. She was sure the captain was deadly serious, although she suspected she wasn’t nearly as calm and indifferent about the prospect as she sounded.
“We understand each other perfectly,” Malik replied coolly. “Try not to kill your officers, and I’ll do the same.”
The two stared each other down for a long moment as Maren watched with interest. She knew the captain was an empath, and wondered how well she could read Malik. Finally, Adele nodded.
“Very well,” she replied. “Commander,” she said, nodding toward Icheb. It was his cue to take the lead.
As the Brunali started giving orders and directing people onto the transporter pads in preparation for their transfer to the Resistance ship, Maren was once again lost in thoughts of the past. This was the kind of thing the two of them had dreamed about back at the Academy – exploring the galaxy together, discovering new technologies and new ways to bend the physical laws of the universe. Of course, while lying there looking up at the stars and planning their future together, a galactic war hadn’t been part of their shared vision. Then again, neither had a lot of other things that had happened since then. Life, they had both learned, did not often adhere to expectations. As Maren stepped onto the dais and waited to be transformed into pure energy along with ten other people, she offered up a heartfelt prayer that this mission would be an exception. The last thing anyone needed was another unpleasant surprise.