Captain’s log, Stardate 44000.3. Repairs are complete and the Enterprise is warping to rendezvous with Starfleet at Wolf 359. Subspace communications from the site of battle have been cut off, possibly due to Borg interference.
Possibly, my ass, thought Riker. Starfleet regulations were clear that speculation had no part in official log entries but there was no doubt in his mind that the Borg had survived the attack. And just as little doubt that when the Enterprise
arrived at the battle site they would find only debris. Riker felt sick when he thought of the crews of the starships, fighting and dying.
He forced himself to push it out of his mind. It was done, for good or ill. What mattered now was what he was going to do. But first things first.
He looked around at the senior staff gathered with him in the observation lounge. He met Worf’s gaze. “Lieutenant Worf, everyone at this table shares my respect for your service to this ship. But right now, I need your experience at tactical.” He looked to Data. “Mister Data, I realise your very nature omits ambition. Nevertheless, I want you to know that I seriously considered you as first officer.”
Data nodded. “Thank you, sir,” he said quietly.
“But,” said Riker, taking a deep breath, “this is not the time for change. I need all of you where you are, where Captain Picard always relied on you.” He looked at Shelby. “I have been forced, reluctantly
,” this last was said with a smile, “to conclude that Commander Shelby, our expert on the Borg, is the ideal choice at this time for first officer.”
Shelby smiled as the staff around her nodded congratulations.
But then the tone turned more serious. “Based on our last communication, we have to assume that the Borg survived the fleet’s attack,” said Riker. “Your thoughts on our next encounter?”
Shelby leaned forwards. “What about the heavy graviton beam we were talking about?”
La Forge shook his head. “I’ve gone over it four times. The local field distortion just wouldn’t be strong enough to incapacitate them.”
Data spoke. “Doctor Crusher and I have been working on an interesting premise.”
All eyes turned to the doctor. “Well, with our recent experience in nanotechnology,” she said, “we might be able to introduce a destructive breed of nanite to the Borg…”
Shelby gave her a confused look. “Nanites?”
“Robots,” clarified Data. “Small enough to enter living cells.”
“How much time would it take to implement this?” asked Riker.
Beverly sighed. “That’s the problem,” she said. “Two, maybe three weeks.”
Deanna sighed and leaned back in her chair. “In two or three weeks, nanites may be all that’s left of the Federation…”
For a moment there was silence. Riker groaned inwardly. They were out of ideas already?
“We have the new phaser adapters,” said Worf, but that was small comfort. Their phasers had proved to be almost useless against the Cube. It was just an attempt to show that not all of their efforts had been in vain, but if that was their greatest success, then it seemed that their work had been in vain after all.
“Perhaps in concert with the photon torpedoes we can slow them down,” said Geordi.
But the mood in the observation lounge was dour. Despite their efforts, they hadn’t made any advances. Even La Forge’s voice held no hope. They would find the Cube, confront it, and they would be defenceless. What could Riker do? Looking around, Riker saw all their eyes turn to him. This was a crew with no hope, and they needed him. Picard had always managed to find a way out of any situation, no matter how bad it was, but now that Riker was faced with that same situation, he had no idea what to do. Riker met their eyes. “I’m sure Captain Picard would have something meaningful and inspirational to say right now,” Riker told them. “And to tell you the truth, I wish he was here, because I’d like to hear it too.” The laughter he was hoping for was not forthcoming. “I know how difficult this transition is for all of you. I can take over from him, but I could never replace Captain Picard, nor would I ever try.” As he looked at their faces, he saw in their eyes fear and doubt, and in that moment, Riker was sure that he wasn’t ready for command. He’d lead his crew into a hopeless situation. He sighed heavily. “Whatever the outcome, I know our efforts in the coming battle will justify the faith he had in all of us.” He took in a deep breath, let it out tiredly. “Dismissed.”
They had been almost a full day at high warp and the Enterprise
was finally approaching Wolf 359. He hated waiting. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he had nothing weighing on his mind, but now, no matter what he did, his mind threatened to overwhelm him. He couldn’t rest, he could barely think straight. His thoughts, which had been of Picard, tortured by the Borg, were now of the fleet. Had they been able to damage the Cube in any way? Had any ships even survived? He needed to rest, to think, to prepare. But he couldn’t. He didn’t have anyone on the crew that he could turn to. Picard, if he’d been in this situation, would have unburdened his mind with Riker himself, but that was a relationship based on a closeness, a bond that had been forged over many years. He didn’t have that kind of relationship with Shelby, and so couldn’t confide in her. And he couldn’t even confide in Deanna. His promotion to captain had been too great a change, and their relationship had been altered, perhaps irreversibly. In so many ways, Riker was alone, even as he was surrounded by his crew.
He walked into the ready room, and when the door closed behind him, he just stood there, looking at Picard’s chair. “What would you do?” He half expected to hear a memory of Picard’s voice in his head, telling him, “Okay, Number One, first of all you’ve got to…”
But there was nothing.
The door chimed.
Riker sighed. He didn’t want to have to deal with anyone now. There was too much on his mind that he needed to work through. Better to just get it over with so he could go back to his own thoughts. “Come.”
There was the swish of a long flowing robe, and Guinan walked in and stood before him. “May I speak to you, Captain?”
Riker sighed. “Well, actually, Guinan, right now, I…”
Guinan ignored him and spoke. “Picard and I used to talk every now and then when one of us needed to,” she said, and she flashed him a smile. “I guess I’m just used to having the captain’s ear.”
And with that, she brushed past him, walked around to the other side of the desk and sat in the Captain’s chair.
Riker started at her, wide-eyed.
Guinan gave him an innocent look. “I hope I’m not imposing,” she said.
Riker gave her a look of shock, disbelief, but Guinan ignored it completely and just looked up at him, innocent as you please. Fine, if that’s the way you want to play
, Riker thought. Let’s just get this over with
. “What’s on your mind?” he asked.
“I’ve heard a lot of people talking down in Ten Forward lately,” she said. “They expect to be dead in the next day or two.” She was stating it as a casual fact, and oh, did you know that the Blue Whale had a tongue the size of a shuttle craft? No? Interesting, isn’t it? “They like you, Riker,” Guinan continued, “but they don’t believe you can save them.”
Riker couldn’t say he was surprised. His command of the Enterprise
had been one failure after another. They had failed to rescue Picard, they’d failed in their efforts to make a weapon against the Borg, they’d failed to make it to Wolf 359 in time… “I’m not sure anyone can,” he said.
“The way I see it,” said Guinan, casually leaning back in Picard’s chair, “if a man is convinced that he’s going to die tomorrow, he’ll probably find a way to make it happen.” She leaned forward again, fixing Riker with eyes as hard as granite. “The only one who can turn this around is you.”
Riker was trying hard not to order her to leave. He couldn’t believe her presumption, just coming in here and giving him a tutoring session like this. Granted, she may have had a deep mysterious relationship with the Captain, but that didn’t give her leave to come and go as she wished! “I’ll do the best I can,” Riker said, an edge to his voice as hard as stone.
“You’ll have to do something you won’t want to do,” Guinan said simply. “You’ll have to let go of Picard.”
“Maybe you didn’t hear,” Riker said, “but I tried to kill
him yesterday!” He could feel his anger rising.
Guinan shook her head. “You tried to kill whatever that was on the Borg ship, not Picard,” she said, her voice becoming just as hard as Riker’s. “Picard is still here, still in this room, with us. Now, if he’d just died, it would be easier. But he didn’t. He’s been taken from us, a piece at a time.”
Underneath his anger, Riker felt the pain of Picard’s loss rising again. How the away team had found Picard’s communicator, but not Picard. And then they’d found him, but he wasn’t Picard anymore, and they couldn’t get him.
Guinan closed her eyes, and when she opened them, her expression was softer. “Did he ever tell you why we were so close?”
Riker shook his head.
“Ah,” said Guinan, leaning back into the chair. “Well, let me just say that it was beyond friendship, and beyond family. And I will
let him go.” She fixed him with that hard gaze again. “And you must do the same.”
Guinan stood and walked around the desk to stand in front of him. “There can only be one captain.”
Riker shook his head. “It’s not that simple,” he said. “This was his crew, he wrote the book on this ship!”
Guinan spoke immediately. “If the Borg know everything he knew, then it’s time to throw that book away. You must let him go, Riker. It’s the only way to beat him. The only way to save him. And that,” she indicated the seat on the other side of the desk, “is now your chair, Captain
She turned, and with a swish of her robes, she was gone, and Riker was alone again. As unwelcome as her visit had been, Riker realised that Guinan was right. He’d been simply filling in, keeping the seat warm for Picard as it were. Not doing what he thought was best, but trying to do what he thought Picard would do. As long as he was simply filling in, he never would be the Captain of the Enterprise
. This was his ship now, not Picard’s, and it was his chair. He walked around to the other side of the desk, pulled the chair out, then sat in it.
It was his chair.
His ship, his crew. They would follow him where he lead, but Riker still had no idea where to lead them. They couldn’t attack the Borg, they had no weapons, and they had no weapons because they had no knowledge. They needed knowledge.
And the crew was still in mourning because they’d lost the Captain. Riker chided himself. No, Picard wasn’t the captain anymore. Riker was the Captain. Still, he held out hope that Picard could be saved. It would be a much-needed victory for the crew if they could get him back. But how, when he was being held in the impregnable fortress of the Cube?
And then, both thoughts came together in Riker’s mind. Bring Picard back, and he might provide the knowledge they needed. Their lack of weapons against the Borg wouldn’t matter, because they wouldn’t be attacking them, they’d be stealing
from them. Inflicting damage wouldn’t be the priority…
But then, before he could think further on it, the com opened, and he heard Welsey’s voice. “We’re approaching the Wolf system, Captain.”
Riker stood. “On my way,” he said.
The crew looked to him when he stepped onto the bridge. “Slow to impulse,” he said. “Take us to the battle coordinates, Ensign. Yellow alert.”
Action. Riker felt the cheerlessness leave the bridge, replaced by the eagerness for action. With tasks to occupy their minds, the crew had less chance to dwell on the bleakness of their situation. Finally they were doing something other than repairing the damage or failing to find new ways to defeat the Borg. He sat in the command chair, leaning forward.
“Sensors are picking up several vessels,” said Worf.
Riker turned to him. “The fleet?”
Data checked his console. “There are no active subspace fields,” he said. “Negligible power readings.”
Riker felt a sense of dread growing inside him. He hadn’t expected anything different, but now, to be faced with the harsh reality of the fleet’s defeat, he felt more than ever that the crew’s confidence in him was going to fail. “Are there any lifesigns?”
Data shook his head. “Negative, sir.”
“Visual contact!” said Worf.
Riker took a deep breath, preparing himself. “On screen.”
And then the screen changed from the innocent image of the stars, showing instead the shattered remains of starships; broken hulls and bent frames, rended metal and buckled keels. There was a ghostly flickering among the wrecks as electrical conduits arced, flashing coldly in the void. Brief flashes of fire flickered as broken plasma conduit met with venting oxygen. Surrounding the lifeless ships was a cloud of smaller objects: computer panels, tools, clothes, personal effects and corpses, all drifting lazily in space. The dim blood red glow from the star cast a grisly light. Here and there, amongst the wreckage, Riker could pick out objects. This used to be a painting, hanging in someone’s quarters. Here was somebody’s off duty fatigues. And just over there was part of somebody’s arm.
And amongst the large pieces of wreckage were parts of hulls, names partially obscured behind carbon scoring, registry numbers ripped in half by the explosions that tore apart hull plating. Riker strained to read them as the Enterprise
moved slowly passed.
On the twisted hull of an Ambassador-class saucer, he saw IANT NCC-446
. That would have been the Reliant
Another piece of the debris bore the letters VELT
above the numbers 73
. The Roosevelt
On what had been a Rigel-class warp nacelle, the numbers 62
were visible. The Tolstoy
A New Orleans-class vessel, still with fires flickering inside the windows. As the Enterprise
moved closer, Riker saw the name Kyushu
on the side.
And then Riker’s breath caught in his throat as he saw an Excelsior-class ship, the saucer eaten away, the secondary hull battered and twisted, and the registry on the nacelle reading NCC-62043
. The Melbourne
. He felt his throat tighten. If he’d accepted Starfleet’s offer of command, he would have been on that ship. Would he have been able to make a difference? Would he have led the crew to their deaths? Would he have been vaporised? Or would his dead body be floating in the cold of space? He felt his stomach twisting at the thought of how close his death had been.
“You have the bridge,” he said hoarsely, and he rushed for the privacy of the ready room before he was sick.