He’d returned to his quarters to rest. It would be another five hours before the Enterprise
was ready to head after the Cube, and there was nothing he could do. Geordi’s crews were working hard to repair their damage. He could do nothing but get in the way. He showered and ate, then tried to get some sleep. It hadn’t been that long ago that he’d been telling Picard to get some rest before their confrontation with the Borg. So, he lay on his bed, still in uniform, trying to sleep. As a cadet, he’d been very good at snatching sleep here and there, between classes so he could study all night. Unfortunately, it was a skill he’d lost with lack of practice.
But sleep did not come, and his thoughts strayed to his earlier conversation with Deanna. He couldn’t lead the crew by himself. He needed a first officer. And as much as he knew that any one of the senior bridge staff could serve in that capacity, he couldn’t change them. It would be too great, such a change to the ship so soon after losing Picard. Which left only one person he could turn to. He was glad that she was also the best qualified to deal with the Borg.
He stood, smoothed out his uniform. Shelby would be down in Engineering. No sense in waiting to tell her. He walked out of his quarters and headed down the hall.
Riker turned to see Worf walking briskly towards him.
“Lieutenant,” said Riker, waiting for him.
Worf handed him a PADD. “Repair reports for the weapons systems,” said Worf. “Phasers and photon torpedos are now fully operational, and shields are at fifty three percent.”
Riker nodded. He didn’t look at the PADD; it would just tell him the same thing, and if there was anything further, Worf would tell him. “Is your shift over, Lieutenant?”
Worf nodded reluctantly. He’d been pushing himself, spending far longer at his station than Riker would have liked. “Yes sir.”
“I know how you feel, Lieutenant,” Riker said. “But we’re going to need you at your best in the coming battle, rested and alert.”
Worf nodded. “Understood. Kahless himself said that a clear mind is the greatest ally a warrior has.” He fell into step besides Riker. “Before I left the bridge, I communicated with Engineering. Repairs to the deflector are not yet complete, but they are proceeding well and Commander La Forge anticipates that they will be complete on schedule. I’ve also started developing a way to improve the efficiency of our shields against the Borg’s tractor beam. Ensign Burkland is continuing the work.”
“Very good,” said Riker. “I’ve spoken with Shelby’s team. They’re making some progress in developing our weapons strategies. She’s proposed an antimatter spread…”
Worf shook his head. “I do not believe that antimatter will make an effective weapon against the Borg, Commander. Their shields will be able to protect their hull.”
“True,” said Riker, “but it will interfere with their sensors. That could make it harder for them to adapt to other weapons, and at the very least it will help give us the element of surprise.”
Worf nodded, seeing the wisdom of this course of action. Not all weapons needed to inflict damage. Anything that gave them an advantage, no matter how slight, would be of use. He and Riker stepped into a turbolift.
“And Mister Crusher has suggested a chip might be designed that will automatically retune phasers to a random setting after each discharge,” finished Riker.
“That would be a great advantage,” said Worf.
“Engineering,” said Riker, and the lift moved. “We should also see if there’s some way we can neutralise their forcefields, Worf. We’ve got to show them that we can adapt too. We’re not just fighting the Borg, we’re fighting the life experience they’ve stolen from Captain Picard. How the hell do we defeat an enemy that knows us better than we know ourselves?”
“The Borg have neither honour nor courage,” said Worf. “That is our greatest advantage.”
Riker looked at him curiously for a moment, then realised what Worf meant. The Borg were little more than automatons, mindless robots, almost zombies, and because of that, they were predictable. He nodded. “I hope it’s enough,” he said.
The turbolift slowed and stopped, the doors opening into Main Engineering. La Forge and Shelby were supervising the repairs as the engineering crew worked, Shelby on the upper level overseeing the repairs to the warp core and La Forge in his office. There was a stack of panels against the bulkhead, next to several opened conduit junctions. The warp core was still offline, sitting dull and lifeless but still dominating the chamber. An ensign handed La Forge a PADD, and he turned to a readout.
“Engine controls processors are back up,” he called to Shelby.
On the upper level, Shelby nodded. “Accelerator coils are responding normally.”
La Forge called out the indications on his panel. “Forward shields at fifty eight percent.” Shelby nodded in agreement. “Aft shields…” La Forge looked the panel. The read out was fluctuating wildly, despite the fact that he’d helped repair it less than two hours ago. “Sensors must be down…”
“Checking,” called Shelby. She lifted her tool and scanned the isolinear control junction. “Sensors are fine.” There was a harsh buzz from the tool. “No, aft shields have completely failed. Dammit! Auxiliary generators are out again!”
La Forge looked up as Riker and Worf entered. “Just the man I need,” he said. “We’re having problems with the aft shields. The generators are going on and offline. I could really use your help, Worf.”
Riker sighed. He wanted Worf to get some rest, but he couldn’t deny that he also needed the shields to be functioning, and Worf’s skill with the defensive systems would be invaluable. He nodded and Worf headed off. Maybe it would just be a small probem.
“How soon do we get underway, Geordi?” Riker asked
“Still a couple of hours,” said La Forge. “Commander Shelby can fill you in.” He hurried off after Worf.
Shelby came down from the upper level and walked over to him. This was the first time they’d been alone since their argument in the turbolift, and Riker saw, to his satisfaction, that Shelby was unsure of herself, of what Riker was going to say.
“The main navigational deflector is functional again,” she said. Riker had to suppress a smile. She was playing it safe, leaving it for Riker to bring up any other topics. Shelby continued her report. “Schobel and Barclay are running through the final testing sequence now.”
“The warp reactor core?”
“Reconstruction is proceeding normally,” Shelby said. “But it’s slow work. If we can nail down this shield generator problem, I agree with La Forge. We should be at operating capacity in two or three hours.”
“Good,” said Riker.
For a long moment, there was silence, and Shelby began to look uncomfortable. “Anything else sir?”
“Yes,” said Riker. He thought for a moment for the right words. He and Shelby had been at odds so much that it felt strange to talk to her like this, to praise her and give her good news. “You did a good job on the Borg ship.
Shelby shook her head. “I didn’t get Picard,” she said quickly.
Riker cut her off. The last thing he wanted was for her to start thinking of herself as a failure. “You stopped them,” he said firmly. “You gave us our shot.”
Shelby looked up at him, realising that Riker was, for the first time, being generous to her. Riker could see appreciation in her eyes, and noted with humour that she was blushing. “Sir…”
“Commander, we don’t have to like each other to work well together,” Riker told her. “In fact, I expect you to continue to keep me on my toes.”
Shelby flashed him a quick smile. “Some might define that as the role of a first officer,” she said.
Riker flashed the smile back. “Damn, you are
ambitious, aren’t you, Shelby?”
“Yes,” Shelby said. Then the smile faded from her face, and her voice became more serious. “Captain Riker, based on our past relationship, there’s no reason I should expect to become your first officer. But you need me. I know how to get things done. And I have the expertise in the Borg.”
Riker fixed her with his best poker face. “You also have a lot to learn, Commander,” he said.
Shelby was silent for a moment, her eyes downcast. “Yes, sir,” she said quietly.
Riker’s poker face broke, and he grinned. “Almost as much as I had to learn when I came on board as Captain Picard’s first officer,” he said, taking pleasure in the way Shelby’s eyes lit up. Damn, it was good to know he could bluff her after all. “A fact the captain reminded me of when I commented on what a pain in the neck you are.”
Shelby grinned widely. “Yes, sir.”
“In fact,” began Riker, but the comline from the bridge interrupted him.
“Data to Riker. Message from Starfleet, Captain.”
“Go ahead, Data,” said Riker.
“Starfleet reports it has engaged the Borg at Wolf 359, sir.”
Riker’s heart leapt into his throat, the playful banter between him and Shelby suddenly forgotten. His eyes locked with Shelby. Her eyes were wide. And then he turned and hurried for the turbolift.
“Report,” said Riker, stepping out of the turbolift.
Data turned to him. “Starfleet has engaged the Borg,” he said. “Communications are open, but signal quality is fluctuating due to the energy discharges. We have audio only.”
“Put it on speaker,” ordered Riker.
There was a hiss, several loud booms and a loud burst of static. Vague voices could be heard underneath it, but what they were saying remained unintelligible.
“I’ll try to clean it up,” said Burkland. “But there’s a great deal of distortion.”
For a moment he worked, and then the voices came through. Still distorted, static threatening to swamp them, but clear. The terror and fear in the voices was clear.
“… has already been destroyed! No sign of lifeboats!”
has received… warp core bre… inent! Wait! There are life… ing now!”
A loud boom. Several screams.
has sust… ect hit! Hull breach!”
… oded, warp cor… aken damage in the…”
“This is Ensign Beyl… board the Liber
…bridge has been destr… pons are dead. I’m going to try…” The signal broke up amidst a shout and a loud bang.
, this is Tols[/i]… coming to aid. Try to withdraw…”
Screams. “Get down, get out of the… clear shot!” A hand phaser, a sound like the deep ring of a bell, more screams.
has picked… cape pods from the Sara[/i]… Only three esc… Forty one survivors…”
“Contact lost with… aguchi
…ingon cruis… moving to weapons range…”
, this is Hans… make it to secondary attack…”
“Negative. Shields collapsed. Phase… pedoes are out… enceless.”
“Acknowleged. Once you have the surv… draw to safe dist… All oth… assemble at second… point and resume…”
“This is the Kyushu
. Third wing, move into attack form…”
… eaking forma… ving away…”
“No resp… ator
, we’re going to try to… eam out any survi…”
Another bang, then the roar of rushing air.
Riker felt like he was falling. The battle was only minutes old, and yet how many ships had been lost? The Saratoga
. The Yamaguchi
. The Achilles
severely damaged. And the Liberator
. He wondered if the bridge crew had been able to get to the escape pods.
“Captain, we’re receiving a message from Admiral Hanson aboard the Indefatigable
,” said Burkland.
“On screen,” said Riker.
Hanson’s image appeared onscreen. He was sitting in the captain’s chair of the Indefatigable
. The ship’s captain must have been injured, or killed in the initial attack. The image jumped, lurched, a flicker of static washing over it and threatening to overwhelm it, but then the image stabilised for a moment.
lurched again, Hanson holding on tight to the command chair. “The fight does not go well, Enterprise
,” he called, shouting to be heard over the screaming of stressed metal, the wailing of alarms, the distant booms of explosions. “We’re attempting to withdraw and regroup. Rendezvous with fleet…”
The image lurched, there was another burst of static, then a deafening bang and a burst of bright orange light from the corner of the screen before the signal dropped out completely.