And here's the final act!
The fear emanated from Earth like an odour, and it excited her. She would prolong their torment, let them experience protracted fear, and even then she would not grant them death. She would take them; make them her own so their minds would live, anguished forever inside the Collective.
She had been aware of the messages spreading throughout the Federation after she had destroyed their fleet, and she rejoiced in them. They had given warning to their own kind as well, to run and escape, but that was irrelevant. Many had fled Earth in their fear, but she would find them. She would find all who tried to hide from her. She had no doubt that many of them would try to attack her, and she would give them quick deaths, swatting their ships or simply advancing over the top of them, crushing their flimsy hulls against her Cube. But, the messages and warnings they sent meant little. Despite all those who had fled, billions still remained on Earth, and she would have them.
She was also aware of their last ditch effort to attack her. They were rushing work on three starships at Mars. She laughed. Pitiful.
But still, she had expected them to try.
flew like a juggernaut at warp nine point eight five for Earth. Five times now, La Forge had called the bridge from his post in Engineering, warning of the danger of pushing the engines beyond their limits, but Riker ignored him. It didn’t matter that the warp core was already at a hundred and twenty percent, or that the temperature had climbed far beyond the red line, or that the stress was causing irreparable damage to the reaction chamber. Each time, Riker’s order was the same. Maintain speed and get us to Earth, no matter the cost.
“The Borg have dropped out of warp, sir,” said Shelby, looking up from the communication station. “Jupiter Outpost Nine Two reported visual contact at twelve hundred hours, thirteen minutes.”
Riker turned to her. “Planetary defences?”
“Responding,” said Shelby. “No reports on effectiveness yet, but I really can’t believe that against the Borg…” Her voice trailed off.
Riker turned to Wesley. “Mister Crusher, at their current speed, when will they reach Earth?”
Wesley checked his panel. “Twenty seven minutes,” he said.
“The soonest we can intercept?”
Wesley’s voice was grim. “Forty two minutes.”
“Riker to Data, what’s your status?” He hoped that Data would be able to provide some good news.
“The initial cybernetic connection into Captain Picard’s neural net pathways has been established,” Data said. “Mister O’Brien is ready to process the Borg signals through the transporter pattern buffer.”
“Make it so,” said Riker. “And with dispatch, Mister Data.”
“Proceeding immediately, sir,” came Data’s response. “Data out.”
The channel closed, and Data stepped up to the elevated platform in the center of the cybernetics lab. Above the platform, the frame carrying the unconscious form of Locutus had been raised, the Borg being probed by the scanner mounted overhead. Data’s preparations were complete and he had opened the access panel on the side of his skull, allowing him to connect the data transfer cable from the biobed’s processor directly into his positronic brain.
The scanner’s examination completed, and Data was aware of it instantly, without needing to look at the apparatus’ panel. It was communicating directly with his neural net. Everything was as he expected it to be. Soon, that connection would allow him to connect directly with the Borg through Locutus. He pressed the control to lower the support frame into place.
Beverly had been able to strip much of the Borg implants from Picard’s body, but the change in appearance was little more than a cosmetic one. Many of the implants within his body remained, as well as the implants that chained him to the Collective. The ones that would kill him if the connection was severed.
Data’s plan was simple in theory, yet difficult in practice. In three stages, he would connect himself to Picard and attempt to find a way to access the implants that connected him to the Collective. If he succeeded, he hoped to use the connection to find some weakness that could be exploited, and hopefully some way to reprogram them to allow them to be safely removed from the Captain’s body. Risky, yes, but even though success was but a slim chance, it would be a great success. Helping him were three others. Doctor Crusher, who would monitor Picard’s vital signs and be ready to provide any emergency medical treatment should things go wrong. Chief O’Brien, whose familiarity with the transporter systems would hopefully help him interpret and control the interconnections between Locutus and the rest of the Collective. And Deanna Troi, who hoped to be able to sense any last vestiges of Picard left inside the shell that the Borg had turned him into.
Locutus stood within the support frame’s arms. His eyes were closed, his body held in place by restraining fields. Data reached out and attached a cable between the frame’s processor and the implant on Picard’s body that connected him to the Borg. Data was at once aware of his presence through the frame’s sensors, but he was as yet aware of nothing more than what was being displayed on the bed’s readouts.
O’Brien looked over the readouts on the panel in front of him. “At what point should I shut it if there’s a problem?” he asked.
Data regarded him. “I do not know,” he answered simply. “I have never done this before.” He turned back to the frame’s panel. “Initiating first neural link...”
Beverly closely watched the medical readout. The Captain’s vital signs are stable,” she said.
“Positronic activity unchanged,” said O’Brien.
Data acknowledged them. He was aware of them, but his essence was in some other space, perceiving the Borg Collective as though from a great distance. But try as he might, he could not resolve it into anything more than a vague impression of a nebulous entity. “The first neural connection is complete. I cannot report any significant access to the Borg consciousness.”
The Borg Cube moved relentlessly past Mars.
The crews working on the starships at Utopia Planetia sent fear-filled messages to Earth, but the Cube ignored them. They posed no threat, and she would be back for them soon enough. But she felt their fear, heard their terror as they frantically warned Earth and sent final messages to their loved ones, and it excited her.
And then she was aware of a flock of small objects rushing towards her. Small objects, no life forms on them, but armed with phasers and photon torpedos, and protected by shields. She laughed at them and her Cube struck out leisurely.
They were destroyed, and the Cube did not slow.
She could see the small blue globe of Earth ahead of her.
The call came through to the Enterprise
quickly. “It is confirmed,” said Worf, his voice heavy. “The Borg have broken through the Mars defence perimeter.”
entering the Terran system, sir,” said Wesley.
“Maintain speed,” ordered Riker. “Time to intercept?”
Wesley checked his panel. “Twenty three minutes, fourteen seconds.”
entered the Terran system, rushing at warp speed past the orbit of Neptune.
Data delved further towards the Collective. It was difficult, as if trying to move through some thick viscous fluid. He struggled against it, but even as he established the second connection, his perception of the Collective remained blurry and indistinct, as though there was a veil held before him. He had a vague impression of hurriedness, of frantic activity and constant restlessness, but nothing more.
“Second neural connection is complete,” Data said to those he’d left in the real world. “I still cannot report any significant access. I am proceeding with the final link.”
She finally slowed the Cube, bringing it to a standstill a bare three hundred kilometers above the surface of Earth. She could almost taste the fear coming from the planet. It was nearly tangible. She savoured it. She struck out with her cutting beam and began to reduce the planet to rubble.
And then there was something else. Not from without, but from within. Another mind, wandering inside her own.
And she stopped her attack, ignoring the outside universe for a moment and she turned her thoughts inwards to her own consciousness.
rushed past Jupiter, and began to slow. Ahead, the sun loomed large and bright. Earth and the Cube lay beyond.
Data worked to establish the final link with Locutus and the Collective, struggling to rid himself of the veil that seemed to envelop him. It seemed to take an eternity. He was aware of some force that held the veil in place, almost as though it was trying to stop him, and each time he made even the smallest progress, it was countered. But he continued his efforts, and each time his work was countered, he found that it had not been countered completely, and he had made some small progress. He continued, and he finally broke through. The veil was lifted, the neural connections were complete, and the Collective was laid bare before him, a turbulent mass of riotous activity.
As if from a great distance, he heard Doctor Crusher reporting the increases in Picard’s brain activity, his increased heart rate, and he heard O’Brien calling out the changes in Data’s own brain, but he ignored them. He was already aware of everything that was happening in himself, and everything happening in Picard’s body. But of Picard’s mind itself, Data had only the subtlest sense, as though it was nearby yet greatly distant. Data was aware of everything, of all the Borg, a single great mind that stretched across the galaxy. He could hear every word that each one of them was shouting, he could sense every thought, he could see from the eyes of every drone, he was aware of every signal between every Borg. But through it all, he could not find Picard.
But then, the multitudinous voices changed, no longer whispering and chatting amongst themselves, but speaking as one, each voice coming into a discordant harmony with the others.
We see you.
Data replied, I also see you.
What do you think you can do against us?
I do not know
, said Data. But I will use everything I can find to stop you.
If you do not leave now, we will destroy him.
I cannot leave.
You will be lost as well. Leave now. Protect yourself.
I will not.
Then you will die.
And then Data was aware, amongst the deafening chorus of voices, of a single voice, a woman’s, a bare whisper, calling Picard’s name. And, from somewhere distant, Data heard Picard’s reply. Data pushed through the endless writhing swarm, moving as fast as he could, the voices falling away at his presence, and then Picard was there, and even as the voice whispered for Picard to die, Data found Picard and took him up, shielding him from the voice, and the Borg’s call for death went unheeded.
In the real world, O’Brien cried out in shock as a power surge flashed through the implant that would reduce Picard to ash, but then it was over and the implant was completely inert.
The voice seemed to scream in fury, but Data ignored it. He wanted to bring Picard back to the real world, out of this shell he had withdrawn into, but the presence of Picard that he had found was silent and did not answer Data’s calls. He wished he could continue his efforts, but he had still to develop a way to use his link with the Collective to stop the Cube, and he reluctantly turned his attention away from Picard.
slowed to warp two as it entered the inner solar system. Earth and the Borg Cube lay only five minutes away. Ahead, the sun blazed, and the Enterprise
rushed past it.
He turned his attention to the frantic activity of the Borg, surrounding himself in it, trying to find a weakness. And amidst the unending chaos, he found that there was order, and he enveloped himself in it and understood.
Every aspect of the Collective was divided into subcommands, necessary to carry out all functions; defence, navigation and communication, each one controlled by a root command implanted into every drone’s synaptic implant. Data turned his attention to the defence subcommand.
And then the voice stopped calling for Picard’s destruction and called instead for violence. Data was aware of Locutus suddenly moving in the real world, attacking. The Borg, unable to break Data’s link with the Collective by destroying Picard, were now trying to separate Locutus and Data by breaking the physical link between them.
Data returned to the real world, seeing the prosthetic arm raise and swing towards the biobed’s processor. It emitted a massive electrical discharge and the processor started to lose power.
The security guard rushed forwards, but the arm raised and came down on him, shattering his shoulder and sending him flying. He hit the ground hard and fell into unconsciousness.
Locutus’ arm moved back towards the processor, but Data’s hand flew out in an instant and grabbed it, holding it in a vice-like grip. He could sense the biobed’s processor failing, his connection weakening, and Data struggled to pull the prosthesis away. Data reached into his connection to Picard. You must stop your attack
, he urged, but Picard’s mind made no response. Slowly, with great effort, Data was able to move the arm away from the processor, but the electrical discharge arcing around the grasping claws continued to deteriorate the data connection. With a sudden wrench of his wrist, there was a flash of light and a loud crack of an electrical arc, and Data tore the metal, ripping the end of the arm away, leaving the Borg arm a ragged stump.
Beverly called out. “Data, I’m picking up increased neural activity in Captain Picard, localised in the prefrontal and parietal lobes!”
‘The Borg might be trying to terminate their link with him,” said O’Brien.
“Negative,” said Data. “Subspace signal configuration is unchanged.” The Borg had given up that idea when Data had disabled the destruct implant in Picard’s body. “The cause of the increased neural activity is unclear.”
“No it’s not,” said Deanna, and there was wonder in her voice. “It’s him! It’s Picard!”
And as Data watched, Picard’s other arm reached out, grasping Data’s hand in warm flash and blood fingers, and lifted it, his eyes locked with Data’s and never wavering.
Data went into his connection with Picard.
He heard a voice, soft , Human, weak. I see you.
I see you too, Captain.
passed Venus, now in the final approach to Earth, and Wesley reduced the ship’s speed further.
The comline opened, and Deanna’s voice came through. “Troi to bridge. Data has made first contact with Captain Picard.”
Riker felt a surge of hope. “Can you communicate with him, Data?”
“I have been unable to create a neural path around the Borg implants, sir,” Data said. “It is Captain Picard himself who has somehow managed to initiate contact.”
“The Borg have halted their attack on Earth,” said Worf.
Shelby laughed. “I think we got their attention.”
Riker turned to Wesley. “Time to intercept?”
The response came immediately. “Two minutes, four seconds.”
Riker smiled. “They’re worried. They’re worried that we’ve got access to Picard.” He lifted his voice to the com. “Data, we’ve got two minutes to figure out what we can do with it.”
Data delved back into his connection with Picard. He was still aware of the Collective. They seemed to be making no attempt to restore the veil that had clouded his perception of them. Perhaps they had abandoned the idea, or perhaps they were unable to. “Sir,” said Data, placing the torn end of Picard’s prosthetic arm on the top of the display, “it is clear that the Borg are either unable or unwilling to terminate their link with him.”
“That may be their Achilles’ heel, Captain!” Beverly was stepping forwards, her voice excited.
“What do you mean, Doctor?” asked Riker.
“He’s part of their collective consciousness now,” she said. “Cutting him off would be like asking us to disconnect an arm or a foot. We can’t do it.”
Shelby’s voice confirmed. “They operate as a single mind.”
“If one jumps off a cliff, they all jump off.” Riker was silent for a moment. “Data, is it possible to plant a command in the Borg collective consciousness?”
Data thought for a fraction of a second. “It is conceivable, sir,” he said. “It would require altering the pathways from the root command to affect all iterative branchpoints in…”
Riker cut him off. “Make every effort, Mister Data.”
Data thought for a moment, then asked, “What command should I attempt to plant?”
He heard Riker sigh. “Something straightforward,” said Riker. “Like disarm your weapons systems
slowed to impulse just beyond the Moon’s orbit. “Visual contact with the Borg,” said Worf.
“On screen,” said Shelby.
The viewscreen flicked to show the image of Earth, the Borg Cube a dark blot over it.
“Magnify,” ordered Riker. The Cube filled the screen.
“Sensors reading increased power generation from the Borg.” Worf’s report was ominous. The Enterprise
’s weapons would have little effect against the Cube, and with the warp core damaged by the rush to Earth, there was little hope that they would last for more than a few minutes in battle. All they could do was hope to buy Earth enough time for Data to force the Borg to stop their attack.
“Red alert,” said Riker. “Load all torpedo bays, ready phasers.”
readied herself for a battle she had no hope of winning.
“Status of the Borg weapons systems?”
“Borg weapons systems are fully charged,” Worf said. “We are entering weapons range.”
Riker turned back to the com system. “Data,” he said, “give me something
“Attempting to reroute subcommand paths, Captain,” Data said, even as he was aware of the Cube’s preparations for battle. He ignored it; he concentrated on finding some aspect of the Collective’s mind he could alter, turn to his own designs. But it seemed that the mind he had sensed before had been working, placing barriers before him, preventing him from reaching what he needed. He could breach them, yes, but there was not enough time to do so. There was nothing he could find that he could use in the few minutes that remained to him. He reported to Riker. “Defence systems are protected by access barriers.”
It was time to destroy them. Riker had proved to be more of an inconvenience than she had expected, managing to mislead her and she would not allow it to happen again. She could sense the android in her mind, trying to wrest control of her Cube away from her, and she would not suffer it. She’d placed barricades to block his mind, and then she turned her attention to the Enterprise
She would crush it.
rocked, the ship quaking as the Cube let fly with its tractor beam. The hull was groaning under the pressure.
“Rotate shield frequencies!” Riker shouted, struggling to be heard above the din. Around him, the lights were diminishing, alarms were sounding. “Data!”