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Old April 30 2012, 07:35 PM   #16
Tiberius
Commodore
 
Re: The Best of Both Worlds

Act One

First Officer’s Log, Stardate 44009.3. The Borg ship has resumed its course towards Earth. We are unable to pursue pending repairs to the Enterprise.

Deanna didn’t have to be an empath to feel the despair in the observation lounge. The mood was quiet, eyes were downcast, and voices were quiet and subdued. She’d need to make some appointments to see them over the next few days. Assuming they survived the next few days. She sighed and turned her attention back to the viewscreen. The senior staff was reporting to Admiral Hanson, who was already leading his fleet of starships to meet and attack the Borg Cube at Wolf 359. He was sitting in the Indefatigable’s ready room.

Riker finished his report on their failed attempt to destroy the Cube. “As we anticipated, the blast burned out the main navigational deflector. We also have damage to the shields and the reactor core.” Deanna’s empathic sense of Riker was of a subdued man, a man who was on the verge of giving up.

La Forge spoke. “We should be back up in eight to twelve hours, Admiral.”

Hanson frowned. “Well, we’ll miss you at the party,” he said.

“The Enterprise will be there, sir,” Riker said quickly. “Maybe a little late, but we’ll be there.”

Deanna frowned at him. She could sense Riker’s guilt, how he was blaming himself for their failure, and now his desperation to prove to Hanson that it wasn’t his fault. She’d have to talk to him.

It seemed that Hanson noticed the guilt Riker was heaping on himself because he said, “Your engagements have given us valuable time.” Show him that he had made a difference, even if they hadn’t accomplished their goals. “We’ve mobilised a fleet of forty starships at Wolf 359, and that’s just for starters. The Klingons are sending warships. Hell, we’ve even thought of opening communications with the Romulans.”

Shelby, oblivious to Hanson’s tact, spoke. “You realise, Admiral, that with the assistance of Picard, the Borg will be ready for your defences.”

Hanson glared at her, and Deanna sensed that Shelby realised that she’d made a mistake in speaking, but she wasn’t quite sure what it was. “Lieutenant Commander,” he said, “a few years ago I watched a freshman cadet pass four upperclassmen on the last hill of a forty kilometer run on Danula Two. Damndest thing I ever saw. The only freshman cadet to ever win the Academy marathon. I made it my business to get to know that young man, and I got to know him very very well. And I’ll tell you, I’ve never met anyone with more drive, determination or courage than Jean-Luc Picard. There is no way in hell that he would assist the Borg. I want that clear.”

There was a moment of silence, and Deanna could feel a rise in frustration from the staff. Of course Picard wouldn’t willingly help the Borg, but the Admiral was speaking like he thought Picard actually had a choice in the matter! Picard would certainly be doing everything he could to stop the Borg, but they would simply push him further until his defences broke, and Picard’s knowledge would lay bare, free for the taking.

But now was not the time to argue about such things. There were larger issues at stake.

“Of course, Admiral,” said Shelby.

Hanson spoke again, to further press his point. “He is a… casualty of war.”

Beverly looked around, then fixed Hanson with an incredulous look. “Then we’ve abandoned all hope of recovering him?”

Hanson returned her look, but his expression was softer. He pursed his lips, then nodded once, slowly. “In less than twenty four hours, this armada’s going to hit that Borg vessel with everything we can muster,” he said. “Either they survive or we do.” He lowered his eyes. “As for Picard…” His voice trailed off, and he lifted his eyes. But instead of grief, sadness, there was a fierce determination, a rock-solid conviction. “A great man has been lost. Your Captain. My friend.” He took a deep breath, then let it out slowly and wearily. “Commander Riker, I hereby promote you to the field commission of captain. The Enterprise is your ship now. Congratulations. I wish the circumstances were different.”

Riker acknowledged, but he felt no joy. “Good luck, Admiral.”

Hanson nodded. “To us all,” he said. “We’re going to need it.”

*

Picard had been trying to scream for the last five hours, but so far, he hadn’t succeeded. Or maybe he had; the constant non-stop chattering of a million voices filled his head like insects scuttling through his mind, and he couldn’t hear anything over it. Maybe he’d been screaming the whole time and he just couldn’t hear it. Still, he kept on trying. He needed to scream. He needed to let everything out, and make every fiber of his being, everything that he was, into one God-almighty scream, a scream that would burst him apart.

But he couldn’t. His body was broken, and he couldn’t control it. He couldn’t even make himself blink. Even his breathing was being controlled for him.

He’d felt them in his mind, felt them bringing up thoughts and memories, and then, an instant later (or an age later, he no longer had a concept of time) he’d hear voices rising above the cacophony to repeat thoughts, spread them throughout the Collective. He couldn’t control it. They’d brought up his memories (pushed by Robert into the mud when he’d been jealous of Picard’s marks at school), private recollections (the way Amanda had felt as she moved in his arms while they made love in her Academy dorm room), his innermost thoughts (the way his heart swelled with pride whenever he looked at Wesley), the most private places of his mind (the ache he felt whenever he looked at Beverly – in love with his best friend’s widow!), and there was nothing he could do. He’d tried to pull the thoughts back, but the Borg had taken them anyway. He’d tried thinking of something else, concentrating on something so hard that the thought the Borg were stealing would get lost, but he found he was unable even to do that. All there was left of Picard was the pathetic voice in his head that was crying, screaming, whimpering, shrieking, trying to do everything all at once and doing nothing, but seeing everything that the Borg were doing, hearing everything that they were saying, knowing everything that they were thinking.

And then he was moving, stepping out of the regeneration alcove that had been assigned to him, and he was walking down endless winding corridors. Into another chamber. In the middle there was a vertical slab of metal, and he stood against it. Picard resisted, oh dear God in Heaven, he resisted, but his body was bent to a will other than his own, and his own efforts were feeble and useless.

Futile.

And as he stepped onto the slab and turned around so his back was against it, he saw that she was there. Standing on the other side of the chamber, and then walking over to him. Her hand stretched out to touch his face.

“Locutus,” she whispered and she smiled. “Of all of your people, you deserved this.”

Inside, Picard was screaming at her, begging, cursing, pleading. But his body was not his, and it would not obey him. He hated her, loathed her, despised her for treating him like this, taking away his control but still not letting him die, for forcing him to be aware of what she was doing, what she was forcing him to do.

But his body stayed there, standing still against the metal slab.

She gave him a look, as though aware of what Picard was thinking inside his own head, and a flicker of emotion passed over her face, almost as though the thought of him suffering was exciting her. “Locutus,” she murmured, her eyes closed and an almost sexual pleasure in her voice.

Picard saw his eyes focus on her. He tried to make them look away, but their gaze was unwavering, as solid as a rock. He heard his own voice say, “I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile.”

She smiled and lifted a hand to stroke the flesh of his cheek, tracing a delicate line around the biomechanical implant that was clamped to his skin. “I hope you understand that, Jean-Luc,” she said. “Resistance is futile. Although I’d be disappointed in you if you weren’t trying...”

She turned away and walked out of the chamber, vanishing into the mist and haze. Picard felt his eyes returning to their previous position, looking directly ahead, and he could see a piece of machinery lower into position in front of him and then swing towards him. A sharp point emerged, and he saw it moving directly towards his own eye. Picard panicked, trying to move, to thrash, to break free before he was speared by this cruel device, but his body still refused to obey. And then he saw his vision distort; the point was pressing against his pupil, and then he felt his head explode in pain from within as it pierced his eyeball. And then another explosion as the point lanced into his retina and his optic nerve. His vision shattered into brightness. And then an even greater pain, as though something was being clamped to his optic nerve, and then the device was withdrawn. As it moved away from him, he felt a warm liquid dripping down his face from his punctured eyeball.

If he’d had control of his body, he’d be writhing on the floor in agony, but he didn’t have control, and he remained standing. And then he was tilting backwards, and for a moment Picard thought he had fallen, and he hoped that somehow he was about to die, but then he realised that the slab was rotating, and he was laying on his back.

His arm was extending out straight, and a drone appeared. It stood next to his arm, but Picard couldn’t see properly because he was being forced to stare at the twisting conduits above him, but there was a bright flash and he felt a fire of agony in his arm, as though it had been plunged into molten metal. And as the drone moved, Picard could smell his own blood, and he realised what they had done to him. They had cut his entire arm off.

And the drone was moving back now, and the burning pain grew worse, and Picard heard the sound of a high speed drill. They were drilling into the exposed bone of his arm. And then more pain as something was inserted into the holes, and clamped tight onto the raw nerve endings.

Picard wanted to cry, he wanted to beg for death, but the Borg wouldn’t let him do anything, they wouldn’t let him move, or cry, and now they were even denying him unconsciousness so he would be forced to experience everything that they did, every particular horror they would inflict on his body and mind.

And then something heavy pulled on his arm, and the arm was raised for a drone to make an adjustment, and Picard saw that they had put a biomechanical arm in place of his own. The stench of his own blood still hung in the air.

The drone finished whatever it was doing to the biomechanical arm, and it lowered again. But then there was a pressure in his neck, and he felt malicious things swarming into him, and the pain increased as they spread throughout his body.

Oh God, he wished he could scream.

*

No matter what, he’d never be able to see it as his chair.

The command chair, oh yes, that was his now, and it had been his before. Although, that wasn’t really Picard’s chair, was it? It was the seat of whoever was in command. And, since Riker had been in command of the Enterprise before, naturally it had been his chair at times.

But this chair, the one in the ready room, behind the desk, this was different. This was Picard’s retreat, his private sanctuary. Oh yes, others had been in here before, but that wasn’t the same as sitting in the command chair. If others had sat in the command chair, it was because of their entitlement, but the use of the ready room had always been by Picard’s leave. People earned the right to sit in the command chair, but they were granted permission to sit in here, behind Picard’s desk.

And Riker just couldn’t do it. Picard was still the captain, no matter what. It just seemed wrong for anyone else to hold that position. Captain William Riker of the Federation starship Enterprise. The words didn’t sit right in his mind. This was Picard’s ship, Picard’s ready room, Picard’s chair. The book on display was Picard’s Shakespeare. Livingston was Picard’s lionfish. And, try as he might, Riker just couldn’t see it any other way.

The door chimed, and Riker turned. “Come,” he said, but he knew who it would be. He smiled warmly as Deanna entered. No doubt, she’d felt his pain, and he was glad to see her.

“Hi,” he said. He smiled widely.

But Deanna stood with her hands behind her back, her expression sombre. “You wanted to see me?”

Riker took a step back. Deanna was right; their relationship was different now. As first officer, he’d worked closely with her, but now, as captain, he’d need to maintain a certain distance. One of the many prices of command.

Riker nodded briskly. “How’s the crew?”

“Throwing themselves into the work to be done,” Troi said. “The emotional impact hasn’t been fully realised yet.”

Riker nodded cheerlessly. “I guess training kicks in and takes over,” he said quietly.

“We know the risks,” said Deanna. There was a touch of warmth in her voice now. “We tell ourselves we’re prepared for the consequences, and yet, something like this cuts deeper than we can admit at first.” She took a step towards him, an unconscious act to be closer to him. “He was our captain. It’s like losing the leader of a nation, or the head of a family.”

Riker turned away. Her words brought his grief back, and he didn’t want her to see his eyes tearing up. Oh, she’d know, but he still didn’t want her to see. He looked out the window. “He was more of a father to me than my own. But when I saw him like that, mutilated…”

Deanna stepped up to him, putting her hands on his shoulders. “You did what you had to do,” she said quietly. “Nobody doubts your love for him.”

Riker turned to her. “But was there any part of him left, Deanna?” He looked at her, begging him to tell him that the man named Jean-Luc Picard had already died, but her expression told otherwise.

“Yes,” Deanna said after a long silence. “I could still sense his humanity.”

Riker’s eyes fell. “Then you must have sensed his pain.”

She was quiet. Riker looked back up at her, meeting her eyes. He saw the tears welling and falling down her face.

Riker put his arms around her and held her close. “I don’t envy your abilities,” he said.

He felt Deanna nod against his shoulder, and he stroked her hair. Yes, being captain would require a certain emotional distance from the crew, but that could do even more damage. Picard had always been the father figure. Riker had been more of an older brother, a friend, always there to speak to about anything. Could the crew cope with losing that as well?

He sighed, and held Deanna tight, and was glad that she was there to help him. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to subject the crew to more upheaval than they’d already faced. The crew would need him as they’d always needed him. Riker needed to be a captain, to lead the crew. But there was more than that. It still didn’t feel right for him to be the crew’s captain. He needed to be their friend, just as he’d always been. He lowered his arms, and Deanna took a step back.

“I’d better check on the progress of our repairs,” he said.

Deanna looked up at him, aware of the emotional conflict he’d been facing.

“There won’t be any changes,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s his ship, his crew. And everything we do, every battle we fight, it’s for him.”

Deanna nodded and wiped the tears from her eyes.

Riker smiled at her, a warm smile. There was an intimacy, but it wasn’t the same as it had been. Despite the comfort Riker found with Deanna, he needed her most as an advisor. “I’m glad you’re here to help me through this,” he said.

“Thank you, Captain,” she said. Deanna nodded and smiled, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes. She’d know what he’d meant, and even though it hurt her, she’d understand. She took a step back, took a deep breath, composing herself. But Riker knew that she needed time to herself. ”Dismissed, Counsellor,” he said. Deanna nodded, then turned and left.

Riker felt an overwhelming weariness invade his body. He hadn’t slept since before the Borg had taken Picard. But his weariness was more than that. It was an emotional weariness, one that had taken him when Deanna had called him Captain. The weight of responsibility, the difficult choices. His legs were aching, and he wanted to rest, but he didn’t sit down.

Because it wasn’t his chair.

*
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