“Package delivered. I repeat, package delivered.”
As Commander Turner’s words echoed around the bridge, the crew gave an audible cheer. Prin allowed herself a single, heartfelt sigh of relief. She had followed Ianto and the shuttle as it weaved its way through the Laurentii lines, had watched the torpedoes arrow towards their target, but she hadn’t allowed herself to believe until she received confirmation.
She allowed the celebration to continue a moment longer, and then spoke over the excited voices, bringing her people back to the task at hand.
“Status of the Laurentii forces, Lieutenant.”
She was pleased to see that Barani was still concentrated on the situation at hand despite the euphoria sweeping the bridge around her. Almost hidden behind the whirling holoscreens that surrounded her, she shook her head. “The Behemoths are still coming, sir.”
As if to confirm her words, the ship shook violently, followed moments later by alert sounds coming from one of the nearby engineering stations. The ensign manning the post called out.
“Major damage to our rear hull plating, Commander. Shields out over three sections.”
Prin glanced back to see a Behemoth bearing down on them, guns blazing. The image flickered as the creature’s weapons fire interfered with Redemption
’s rear sensors.
“Casualties?” she called out.
This is far from over
, she thought. Time to speed things up.
Looking forward at the station, she tapped her comm. badge. “Prin to Kane. Tell me you have good news.”
Down in engineering, chaos reigned. Officers with engineering gold running across their shoulders and down the fringes of their arms ran from station to station, fighting brush fires as they flared up, trying to help the ship’s systems handle the stresses of the battle.
Kane ignored the cacophony of voices, concentrating on the telemetry from the shuttle Picard as they flickered across the work station in front of him. He had seen the torpedoes launch moment before, but waited for confirmation before he attempted to commune with the nanites that should now be spreading through the Laurentii station.
Just as the sensor screens turned yellow to indicate that the nanites had been activated, the comm. channel chimed and he heard Prin’s voice.
“The nanites are active, Commander,” he responded, double checking the telemetry. “Active and transmitting on the expected frequency.”
A beat. “Are you ready to proceed?”
“Good luck, Kane.”
The comm. channel closed with a hiss of static. Kane turned to the three officers stood waiting. He had chosen each of them individually to assist him. All three were members of his homehive, the smaller collectives most of the Free Borg now preferred. He glanced from Suzanna, the blond-haired human woman, to Kreel, his Tellarite brother, before settling on Leyeta. The Bajoran and he had been part of the same hive since their birth. They had grown close to such a degree that their connection often seemed to extend beyond their shared consciousness.
“You know what to do?” he asked them, his eyes resting on Leyeta’s face last. He detected a flicker of nervousness behind her usual cold exterior.
They nodded as one and their voices echoed in his head. We will monitor your lifesigns and disconnect you from the collective if the alien mind begins to overwhelm you.
, he responded in kind. Hearing them like that was as comforting to him as a favourite chair might be to a human. It was the essence of what it meant to be one of the Free Borg. It has been an honour to share your minds, my family.
The honour was ours.
Sharing one last lingering glance with Leyeta, Kane turned back to the work station. He accessed one of the programs he had transferred over from their sentinel craft’s mainframe and loaded onto Redemption
’s main computers. Once it was nestled in the core systems, he activated his tubules with a thought, spearing the console in front of him with a splash of sparks. Immediately, pure information flooded his cybernetic synapses, washing him clean with virgin data.
He ignored the agreeable sensation of interfacing with a computer, concentrating instead on the program he had installed. Accessing its inner workings, he entered the command code and allowed it to upload itself into his cortical nodes. The program was of ancient design, a core system pathway that dated back to the very birth of the Borg nation. Though it didn’t have a true name, Kane had always called it the First Protocol.
Within the Free Borg, this computer program was almost as hallowed as the scriptures of Kahless were to the Klingons. It contained the very essence of the Borg. A program designed to allow for the interfacing of minds. The neural interlink that created the Borg hivemind.
With the program secured within his own cybernetic parts, Kane sought out the frequency that the nanites Ianto had deployed within Onyx Station were transmitting on. Finding it, he used the collective voice of his homehive to reach out towards the living station.
He found it straight away, an immense presence unlike anything he had ever encountered before. There was consciousness there, though not as Kane had ever conceived of it before. As his senses extended to immerse themselves in those of the station, he felt and heard the steady throb of the station’s internal systems – the quickened beat of its vascular nodes, the constant give and take of its maintenance veins, the instantaneous flow through its cortical hubs. Thoughts flickered, broken and distraught.
Onyx Station was in pain.
Kane reached out to relieve it.
We are the Borg
, he told it. We wish to commune with you, to salve your biological and mental pain with our own distinctiveness. Our minds and consciousness will grow and adapt to service you, to make you one with us. Resistance is futile, only the one matters.
The words were caught up by his fellow Borg, echoed and refracted and increased and augmented, until they turned into a veritable chorus that echoed across the vast distances separating Redemption from the station. As the nanites spread further through Ispaoreai Hyps’rat’s systems, Kane felt their consciousness merge with that of the station, pulling it slowly but inexhorably into their homehive.
The transition took a brief moment and then all of them shared in Ispaoreai Hyps’rat’s magnificent mind. All of a sudden, their homehive seemed to have increased a hundred-fold. At the same time, the pain and confusion in Ispaoreai Hyps’rat’s thoughts faded, soothed by its newfound family.
Kane felt a distinct thrill at the sensation – this was what the Borg were made to do. For a single instant, Kane found himself fighting against the pull of his instincts, the instincts of the Borg, to continue this work. With the power afforded him by the Hegemony station, he and his homehive could ressurect the galactic collective. They would be unstoppable, able to share the peace that they had provided to this poor, damaged mind with all of creation.
Before he could entertain more than the glimmer of this dream, he heard Leyeta’s voice in his mind. She spoke to him on a single channel, cutting out the others.
We are the Free Borg. Our distinctiveness makes for our unity. Our strength. Resistance is futile. The many matter.
The words cut through Kane’s sudden thirst and he sobered. Mentally shaking his head, he sent a reassuring nudge back down the connection he shared with his friend.
Turning his attention back to Ispaoreai Hyps’rat, Kane once again embraced the station’s thoughts and spoke directly to its primitive mind.
You are one with us. We are the many. Now, please, help us.
Ispaoreai Hyps’rat (Onyx Station)
Qwert just had time to release the claw weapon before the closer of the Laurentii guards reached the wall behind which he was hiding. Two sets of hands forced their way through the hole he had made in the station wall, taking hold of his arms in viselike grips.
He tried to pull free, knowing it was useless. The guards, eye-strips rippling with red, orange and golden shades of anger, dragged him out and down to the spongy deck.
With one guard holding his left arm and the other stood behind him with a claw weapon pointed at his back, Qwert was led over to Lkinym and the priests. He had an unobstructed view of Lkim as he was also forced to join the renegade havac. Guards had spread out to every corner of the chamber, eyestrips blazing white as they accessed what Qwert assumed to be higher spectrums of vision in search of other assassins. Unfortunately, he knew very well that they wouldn’t find any.
We were it. And we failed.
Allowing himself a small smile, he winked at Lkim. “Looks like things didn’t go quite according to plan.”
The havac’s eyestrip blazed blue and he made a huffing sound. Good man. Keep your sense of humour. Never let them see you sweat.
“On your knees.”
Before he had a chance to tell Lkinym that he could kiss his lobes, the guard kicked out at Qwert’s leg, forcing him down on one knee with a gasp of pain. From the sound Lkim made next to him, he guessed that the same thing had happened. Looking up, he saw the pure red suffusing Lkinym’s eyestrip. Well at least I pissed you off.
“Fools and old men?” Lkinym sneered. “This is what my enemies send against me? You should have joined me, Lkim.”
“And be part of this travesty? I would rather die.”
“That can and will be arranged, old man. Your generation is done. We will no longer bow down before heretics and foreigners. It is time that we regained our birthright, what was promised to us by the Holy Seefu when they brought us across the Great Emptiness. This galaxy should be ours.”
“That’s exactly what the Dominion thought,” Qwert replied. “Look how that ended for them.”
“The Dominion were vain. The Dominion were heretics. Their false gods could not help them, but the Seefu shall carry us to victory on wings of fire.”
Qwert could not tell whether Lkinym actually believed what he was saying or whether he was simply saying exactly what the priests wanted to hear. Either way, he had heard enough.
“If you’re going to kill us, then kill us. I have no more time to waste of idiots like you.”
Lkinym snarled, his eyestrip turning a murky grey colour, and he took a step towards Qwert with an upraised arm. Before he could strike him, though, one of the priests called his name. Lkinym hesitated, then turned to see what the priest wanted.
A wave of grey was spreading through the network of veins that covered the kruin’s chamber. Green, purple and blue liquid lost their colour so quickly that Qwert barely had time to realise what was happening before it happened. The light faded, leaving the chamber draped in twilight shadows.
The grey spread into the brainchamber and up into kruin Asuph’s body. When Qwert saw a dark protruberance erupt from the dead kruin’s cheek, he suddenly realised what had happened. A chill ran down his spine.
Ly’et, what the hell have you done?
“What have you done?” The words, echoing his own thoughts, snapped him out of his reverie. He turned to see Lkinym bearing down upon him, his eyestrip flickering between angry red to terrified white. “What have you done?”
Before Qwert could reply, Lkinym’s fist came crashing down against the top of his head, sending him sprawling to the deck. He felt it give beneath him, but it still didn’t protect him from the strength of impact. His ears rang and he suppressed a shrill cry of pain.
Lkim gave a shout, struggling against his own guards, as Lkinym kicked Qwert in the stomach and chest. Qwert felt something give in his chest and pain flared. This time, he couldn’t hold back a scream.
Hands reached down, gripping his shirt and hauling him to his knees. He looked into Lkinym’s black eyestrip and saw his own face, bloodied and dirt-ridden, reflected back at him.
“What did your people do?”
Qwert forced a smile, seeing his sharp tiny teeth in the mirror-like eyestrip. “Checkmate.”
Lkinym screamed in wordless fury, throwing Qwert on to his back. Reaching out, he grabbed one of the claw weapons from the nearest guard and pointed it at Qwert. “You will tell me how to stop this or I will-“
“Kruin Lkinym. The shield is gone.”
Lkinym turned away, his arm dropping. The priest who had spoken had moved over to the protective shield that the brainchamber had erected to keep them out. His hand was moving in and out of the space where the shield had been. Nothing.
The Borg nanites may have taken over the station, but they had also dropped the station’s shields. Qwert thought he finally understood what Prin Ly’et was doing, but the price they might pay for it was too expensive by far. She’s saved us, but she’s doomed the Hegemony.
Lkinym turned back to him, an exulted smile spreading across his lips. “You have given me control of the station, Federation.”
For once, Qwert had nothing to say.
Bringing the claw weapon to bear, Lkinym sighted down it. “For that, I will grant you a fast death.”
Even as Lkinym tightened his finger on the weapon, Qwert felt a tingling in his belly, spreading quickly through his arms and legs. The transporter effect obscured his vision, but he still had time to hear Lkinym shriek his fury along with the whine of a Laurentii weapon before the kruin chamber vanished around him.
Transporter Room 5
Qwert materialized from the transporter beam and felt the reassuring warmth of a Federation transporter pad beneath his back. Reaching up, he placed a hand on his chest, terrified he was going to feel an open wound from Lkinym’s weapon’s blast.
Nothing. Nothing but his uniform, still viscous from his journey through the station’s maintenance veins.
“Transporter Room 5 to sick bay. We have a medical emergency down here!”
Qwert was about to reassure the technician that he was fine when he heard the groan from beside him. He turned his head, terrified of what he was going to see.
Colin Groves sat on transporter pad a few metres away. His clothes were covered in gore and he had a number of scars and bruises on his cheeks. A claw weapon still hung from his left hand. The expression on his face was stunned and horrified.
Ambassador Benjamani’s head was cradled in his lap. Her uniform jacket glistened with the wet sheen of her blood, which oozed from the open chest wound. From the charring on her uniform and visible skin, it had been inflicted by a Laurentii claw weapon.
One look at her wide, staring eyes told Qwert all that he needed to know. Sick bay would not get there fast enough.
Benjamani was already dead.