Data put his free hand out to steady himself as the deck beneath him lurched. There was a deafening crash as the hull twisted. “I am unable to penetrate Borg defence systems command structure, Captain,” said Data, shouting to be heard.
“Try the power systems, Data,” came Shelby’s voice, almost lost amid the thunderous noise. “See if you can get them to power down!”
“Acknowledged! Attempting new power subcommand path!”
But as his mind delved through the Collective, he ran hard against more barriers.
“Shields have failed!” called La Forge. His voice was barely audible, the comline from Engineering crackling with static.
reeled, and the deck flew out from underneath them.
“Fire all weapons!” called Riker, holding tight to the command chair to keep from being thrown to the floor. “Fire everything! Evasive maneuvers!”
Wesley was shouting, but Riker couldn’t hear him.
The Cube’s tractor beam wrenched at the Enterprise
, and her hull was torn at its touch.
Data’s voice came over the com, barely audible over the noise as the Enterprise
began to break apart. “I cannot penetrate Borg power subcommand structure. All critical subcommands have been protected!”
“The hull is beginning to breach!” called La Forge through the com’s rush of white noise. “Structural integrity is down to forty eight percent!”
Riker turned towards Shelby, and saw in her eyes the same despair that he knew was in his own.
“It’s over,” she said.
Riker nodded, then pushed himself to his feet. Struggling to remain upright on the bucking deck, he made his way to the conn, stumbling and grasping the back of Wesley’s chair to prevent himself from falling.
“Mister Crusher,” he said, “ready a collision course with the Borg ship.”
Wesley turned to face him in disbelief.
Riker nodded hopelessly, confirming the order. “You heard me.”
Wesley nodded in shock and turned back to his console. He entered the course, his hands shaking.
Riker lifted his voice to the com. “Geordi, do we have warp power?”
“Only just, Captain,” came La Forge’s voice. “No more than a second or two.”
“That’s all I need,” said Riker. “Prepare to go to warp speed.”
“Aye, sir,” said La Forge, he voice resigned.
Data’s fruitless search continued. He had tried many other subcommands, but all were protected. He couldn’t get into the navigation subcommand to move the Cube away from Earth, he couldn’t access their sensors to give them another target, and he couldn’t force their power core to overload.
So this was how his existence would end, torn apart as the vessel around him was destroyed. He thought of how Earth would soon be assimilated, and he wished his efforts had been successful. He wondered if it was regret he was feeling.
He turned to the essence of Picard. I’m sorry, Captain. My efforts have not been effective.
For a moment, he was aware of nothing, and he wondered if Picard was still there. But then he heard Picard’s voice in his mind, so soft that he almost missed it.
Beverly saw the readouts of Picard’s brainwaves change, fluctuate. “Data, he’s regaining consciousness,” she said.
Data could feel Picard struggling, as though clawing his way out of a deep dark hole. His mind was fighting.
It was more forceful now, but Data could not fathom what he meant.
I do not understand.
Deanna sensed it as well, Picard rising from the darkness that had surrounded him. “It’s Captain Picard, not Locutus,” she said.
And now, when Data heard Picard’s voice in his mind, he could hear it in the real world as well.
The readouts fell and Picard lost consciousness.
Beverly turned to Data. “He’s exhausted,” she said.
And then Data understood.
She had the Enterprise
in her grasp, and it couldn’t escape. The starship was beginning to come apart, and she could sense its imminent destruction. She gloried in her triumph.
She struck out with her cutting beam, speeding the Enterprise
“Borg cutting beam activated!” called Worf.
Riker sighed heavily. His command was over, his ship beyond help. He’d done quite well, all things considered, he thought. He’d lasted as long as he could, given Data every second available. He hadn’t succeeded, but he felt no regrets about what he’d chosen.
The difficult choices were difficult because whichever way you chose, the cost was going to be high. And this time, the cost would be his own life.
He closed his eyes. “Mister Crusher,” he said, giving his last order, speaking for the last time, “engage.”
Wesley reached for the panel.
And then the com burst into life and Data’s voice came loud. “Bridge, stand by.”
Riker’s eyes flew open. “Stand by, Ensign!” he called, but Wesley had already pulled his hands back.
“I am attempting to penetrate the Borg regenerative subcommand path,” Data reported. “It is a low priority system and may be accessible.”
shook as the Borg cutting beam sliced into the hull. There was a deafening crack with the impact. Alarms screamed, the computer announcing warnings in the midst of the chaos. Debris flowed from the Enterprise
’s broken hull. The deck was thrust upwards, then heaved back down, and the crew fell. Stations erupted into sparks casting hard shadows, and there were cries of pain.
“Mister Data!” shouted Riker, stumbling back to the command chair. “Your final report!”
She closed her eyes in pleasure, feeling the hull of the Enterprise
buckle under her attack. She saw crew members tumbling out into space, their limbs flailing for short seconds before becoming still as their life left them, and she exulted. She’d sensed the build up in the warp core, and she smiled as she felt it grow dark and dead. The Enterprise
was hers, and she would destroy it.
She'd waited long enough. Time now to send Riker to his death.
She turned her attention to the bridge of the Enterprise
, to slice into it and watch him die as the void claimed him…
…and her control of the Cube evaporated.
For a long moment, she felt shock, incomprehension, and try as she might, the Cube refused to respond to her wishes.
For a long moment, there was silence. It was in such contrast to the deafening noise of the attack that it felt unreal. Riker wondered for a moment if he had died and this was the last effort of his brain to cling to life.
But around him, the other bridge crew were looking around, and Riker knew that it was real. The Borg’s assault on the Enterprise
had simply ceased. The sounds of destruction had gone, and all he could hear was the soft venting of the atmosphere being replenished.
He lifted his voice. “Data, what the hell happened?”
Data’s voice came over the com, slightly distorted, but coherent. “I successfully planted a command into the Borg collective consciousness, sir,” he said. “It misdirected them to believe it was time to regenerate. In effect, I put them all to sleep.”
Riker heard a burst of laughter from Shelby. “To sleep?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” said Data.
Riker turned to Worf. “Status of Borg power drive?”
Worf glanced over his panel, but all the readouts were at near zero. “Minimal power.”
Worf looked up. “Nonexistent,” he said.
Riker allowed himself to feel relief. “Commander Shelby,” he said, “take an away team and confirm that the Borg are…” He smiled widely. “Asleep
Shelby grinned back at him. “Delighted sir.” Shelby indicated to Worf, and the two of them moved off the bridge and into the turbolift.
So this was how it would end. She was only slightly surprised. After all, the message that had been sent by the drones in the past had indicated that, and despite all her precautions, she had always been aware that she could fail.
And fail she had. She could repair the damage that the android had done, but to overcome the blocks that he had put in place would take time, and she had only seconds before the Cube was lost.
Still, she wasn’t worried. The loss of a Cube meant very little. And while her body would be lost, her mind, spread throughout the entire Collective, would live on. And bodies could be replaced easily enough.
But Picard, she would remember him, and he would one day learn the price of his resistance.
And Data, too. She was intrigued by him. She sensed in him an intellect that could rival her own. He excited her, and she desired him.
But, it would have to wait…
A few minutes after leaving the bridge, Shelby called from the Cube. “Shelby to Enterprise
,” she said from the Cube. “It’s true. They’re all in their regeneration mode. They’re dormant, sir.”
“Any indication to how long we can keep them like this?” asked Riker.
“Checking,” Shelby said.
Riker could hear Worf’s voice over the line. “Tricorder readings are fluctuating rapidly.”
Shelby’s voice came again. “Enterprise
, there are indications here that their entire power network is about to feed back on itself. I’d say we’re looking at a self destruct sequence activated by the Borg’s malfunction. Do you want us to attempt to disarm it?”
There was soft tone, and Beverly spoke over the comline. The channel had been routed to the cybernetics lab as well, and she had heard the away team’s report. “There’s no way to know what the destruction of the Borg ship will do to him,” she said.
“We should also consider the advantages of further study of the Borg and their vessel, sir,” came Data’s voice.
Riker considered it for a moment, but he dismissed it. He was fully expecting the Cube to recover at any moment, and he wasn’t going to do anything that would prevent their destruction. “I don’t think so,” he said. “Mister Data, separate yourself from Captain Picard. Away team, get yourselves home.”
“Acknowledged,” said Shelby. “Chief Brossmer, energize.”
“Aye, Commander,” came the chief’s voice.
Riker turned back to look at the Cube on the viewscreen. Small detonations burst from its outer shell. “Mister Crusher, upon the away team’s return, move us to a safe location.”
“Aye,” said Wesley.
And then the Cube’s surface rippled, waves of motion washing across it, and then the hull cracked
, letting forth a blazing fiery light.
Riker’s eyes opened wide in horror. “Wesley, go
!” he cried out, but the Enterprise
was already turning and accelerating away.
And then the light burst free and the Cube was engulfed in a blinding radiance, the conflagration consuming it in a massive fireball. The inferno was quickly extinguished by the vacuum, leaving only wreckage and debris that slowly began to sink downwards to Earth, burning orange as they vaporised in the planet’s atmosphere.
Picard shuddered in the restraining field of the frame, his legs almost buckling. Data reached out, supporting him. For a moment, the tremors seemed to overwhelm him, but then they passed, and Picard slumped against the side of the frame.
“Life signs are stable,” said Beverly, the relief in her voice bringing her close to tears. “The DNA around the microcircuit fiber implants is returning to normal.”
Picard raised his head and opened his eyes.
“How do you feel?” asked Deanna.
Picard spoke, but his voice was soft, hoarse with fatigue. “Almost Human.” He looked down at the ragged and torn metal of the biomechanical arm. “With just a bit of a headache.”
Beverly laughed. “We’ll get you to sickbay,” she said, grinning. “We won’t have any trouble getting these implants out now.”
The door opened, and Riker came in. Picard looked up at him and smiled, warmly and appreciatively, but tiredly. Riker stepped up to the raised platform where Picard stood.
“How much do you remember?”
Picard was silent for a moment, and his eyes drifted away. “Everything,” he said. He looked back up at Riker. “Including some brilliantly unorthodox strategy from a former first officer of mine.”
Riker opened the framework, and Picard stepped out of the apparatus. Riker reached out, supporting him. Picard looked up, meeting his eyes, and he let Riker lead him out towards sickbay.
For almost twelve hours, Beverly operated on Picard, removing as many of the Borg’s cybernetic implants as she could. Some of them had been integrated too deeply into his body’s systems, and she didn’t dare touch them, but they all appeared to be inactive. She’d been able to clone a new arm for him, and once she reattached it, its nerves, muscles, blood vessels and bones began to knit with his own.
After the surgery had been completed, Beverly kept him in sickbay for another day, as he recovered under her caring ministrations. She finally let him return to his own quarters to rest.
But sleep would not come to Picard, and he lay for restless hours in his bed, trying to stay awake. He did not want to dream, for he knew what the dreams would bring with them.
He dressed and took a turbolift to the bridge, and he went into his ready room. He wore a uniform, his wounds were dressed and healing. But the wounds under the surface, the wounds in his mind, were still open and raw. He hadn’t spoken of it to anyone, but his mind dwelt on what the Borg had done to him. The horrors they had forced him to live through. And her, constantly forced upon his thoughts.
Some length of time later, Riker entered. He spoke softly, and with care in his voice, but Picard, lost in his own thoughts, barely heard him.
“… and Earth Station McKinley has advised they’re ready to begin refitting the Enterprise
Picard looked up. He saw Riker holding out a padd. Picard took it, but didn’t look at it. “Have they estimated the time for repairs?”
Riker nodded. “Five or six weeks,” he said.
It was a relief to Picard. Let the crew rest and recover for those weeks. Let them grieve. There were few on board who had not suffered a loss, either among their crewmates, or at Wolf 359. He’d already noted that there were several requests for transfers. He understood, and he’d approve them. But not just now. It could wait.
The door chimed. Both Picard and Riker looked up. “Come,” they said together. Riker smiled, but for Picard, the memory of voices speaking as one was still too close, and he felt the pain of it. The smile quickly faded from Riker’s face.
Shelby entered. “Request permission to disembark,” she said, looking between the two of them.
Riker stepped back, deferring to Picard. The Enterprise
was his ship, as it should be.
“Permission granted,” said Picard, rising to reach across the table and shake her hand.
“Thank you sir,” Shelby said.
“Have you been given a new assignment already?” Riker asked her. There was a note of disappointment in his voice; despite their early confrontations, they’d learned to work well together, and despite only serving with her for a few short days, he’d developed a particular warmth for her.
“I have, sir,” she said. “Starfleet’s assembled a task force, to analyse everything new that we’ve learned about the Borg, and develop defences against them. They’ve asked me to lead it.”
“They picked a fine officer, Commander,” said Picard.
Shelby smiled warmly. “We’ll have the fleet back up in less than a year,” she said. “And probably with a few new ship designs as well.” She turned to Riker. “I imagine you’ll have your choice of any Starfleet command, sir.”
Riker grinned widely. “Everyone’s so concerned about my next job,” he said, feigning an affront. “But with all due respect, Commander,” he turned to Picard, “sir, my career plans are my own business, and no one else’s.” He turned back to Shelby and flashed her a confident smile. “But it’s nice to know I’ll have a few options.”
Shelby grinned, then reached out and grasped his arms, taking a step towards him. “I hope I have the fortune of serving with you again,” she said quietly, her voice full of admiration and a sincere smile on her features. She turned to Picard, standing straight. “Captain.” She nodded to him.
Picard nodded back at her, and she turned and left.
Picard sighed and leaned back in his chair.
“Course to Station McKinley is ready and laid in, sir,” said Riker.
“Make it so, Number One.”
Riker turned and left. The door hissed closed behind him, and Picard was left alone.
Picard reached for the tea growing cold on his desk. His thoughts strayed. Thoughts of crying, screaming in his mind as they bent his body to their will, her
will, as she forced him to destroy. She would haunt him, he knew this. His body ached for sleep, but he knew the memory of her would come to him, and so he resisted his fatigue.
He leaned back in his chair and raised the cup. Sleep would come, along with its host of nightmares, but for now, he would enjoy the freedom of his own life.
As the cup touched his lips, he heard a soft noise in his mind, chattering voices whispering in the shadows.
The cup slipped from Picard’s fingers and broke on the floor.
He could still hear them, and then her voice spoke in his thoughts. I’ll always be there with you, in your mind…
Picard felt a deathly chill seize him.