Space boiled before them as each ship traded shots in slow dance of death. Captain Glover was surprised that the scout ship simply hadn’t used its superior speed to jump behind them and blow Cuffe to atoms.
Terrence wasn’t complaining though and he certainly wasn’t about to hail the Borg and provide that suggestion.
As he kept the ship steady, in the best position possible for Lt. Dryer to land the most striking blows she could against the enemy vessel, the captain replayed the whole battle back through his mind. There was nothing about the scout ship’s tactics that Starfleet had encountered before.
So far the Borg had not used a cutting beam to slice off sections of the ship or sent over drones to assimilate personnel. Granted the small number of drones aboard the ship might have prevented them from doing that.
It seemed like these Borg were toying with them. From what Terrence knew of Borg weaponry, the Cuffe should be slag now. Glover couldn’t fully accept that maybe the starship was still around because the scout ship’s armaments weren’t powerful enough to completely overwhelm them. Terrence just couldn’t wrap his head around that.
Just about every Borg incident had involved vessels that were drastically more powerful than their Starfleet counterparts. The scout ship surely was holding back, but for what purpose?
“Mr. Tunepp, what is the ETA for the Cardassian vessels?” Glover asked. He had only asked less than a minute ago. Tunepp took it in stride however.
“At maximum warp they will be at our location within twenty minutes,” the Rasiinian said.
“Thanks Lieutenant,” Glover replied. If Cuffe had picked up on the Cardassians’ transponders there were no doubt that the Borg had as well. Were they waiting for them? Did the Borg want to destroy both the Cuffe and the Cardassian ships before making its exit? Did it want to vaporize Cuffe in front of the Cardassians? Was the Borg intending to use Cuffe’s destruction to send a message to the Cardassians? A stark example of the futility of resistance?
Or could the Borg and Cardassians be allies? No, the captain shook his head at the preposterous thought. As far as he knew, the Borg didn’t have compatriots, only victims. It was far more likely that the Cardassians were seeking payback for Helophis.
Terrence’s ponderings were subsumed by an intense flash that almost shorted out the main viewer. Behind him, Lt. Dryer gave out a loud whoop.
Glover turned to her, afraid of what he was about to see. “What is it Lieutenant?”
“We got them sir,” Dryer said, with an unnaturally predacious grin. He swiveled back around to the main viewer. Glover stifled a gasp.
Nyota had finally punched through the cube’s shields, taking a piece of the ship containing one of its disruptor emitters with it. “Borg vessel’s shields are down,” Dryer added.
“Hit them again,” the captain ordered, “With everything we’ve got.”
“Captain,” Tunepp said, “With their shields down, I’m getting some unusual readings on the Borg ship.”
“Fire,” Glover barked, ignoring his operations officer. The deck vibrated with several large thooms as Cuffe lit into the vulnerable scout ship. Huge chunks were torn of the cubical vessel.
“All direct hits,” Dryer announced.
Glover held back the urge to do a fist pump. “Damage report,” he demanded instead.
“Sir, sensors are not picking up any warp or impulse readings,” Nyota replied.
“So they are almost as crippled as we are?” The captain asked, unable to hide the hopefulness in his voice.
“That would be affirmative sir,” Dryer answered.
“What about their weapons?” The captain next brought up.
“Not sure,” the Tactical Officer’s renewed confidence slipped, “We took out one disruptor emitter, but I can’t be sure what else the Borg might have.”
“Odd that they haven’t unloaded anything else on us,” Glover mused.
“And we can’t discount the regeneration capabilities of Borg technology,” Dryer added. Terrence nodded at that. He was surprised in fact that the Borg’s technology hadn’t regrown or adapted to the literal sticks Cuffe was throwing them.
“Perhaps we can,” Tunepp ventured.
Terrence regarded the Rasiinian. “You were saying something before Mr. Tunepp?”
“The scout ship’s shielding was distorting our sensors,” Tunepp said, “When their shields first became inoperative, I began picking up strange readings.”
“Elaborate,” Glover prodded.
“I postulate that the Borg vessel had been receiving constant subspace signals,” Tunepp said.
“The drones are part of a hive mind,” Terrence pointed out though he felt he shouldn’t have needed to. “Perhaps they are in communion with a larger vessel or even their homeworld. We don’t know how much distance Borg communications technology can cover.” The captain hoped it was the later rather than the former. Cuffe still might not survive this scrape and he would hate to take on a full-sized Borg cube.
“I don’t think that either are the case,” Tunepp paused, his eyes turning silvery, his lips pursing with consternation, more at himself than with the captain. “Perhaps I have not explained myself well enough sir.” Glover nodded in agreement. “But our fight with the Borg vessel did not start to have positive results until you used a resonance burst against them. It wasn’t so much the power of that attack, but the disruption in the subspace field surrounding the Borg cube.
“Your actions inadvertently created an interference signal that temporarily blocked their subspace transceiver. Without the instruction, the ship…for lack of a better term…didn’t know what to do.”
“Okay, I’m not following you,” Glover admitted.
“Sir, I think that ship itself is a drone, it’s being remote controlled,” Tunepp spelled it out. Terrence sat back in his seat, stunned by the revelation.
“But what about the five Borg drones our bio readings detected?” Dryer took the words out of his mouth.
The Rasiinian gingerly shifted in his chair, wincing audibly with the effort, as he addressed, “Bio readings can be falsified.”
“Yes,” Glover rubbed his chin, entertaining the possibility, “If someone can build a drone ship they can mimic Borg bio-signs.”
“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” Nyota grinned, also lifting thoughts right from the captain’s gray matter.
“Tunepp reconfigure the deflector to produce a subspace damping field,” Glover ordered. “If your theory is correct this should keep them on the mat.”
“Aye sir,” Tunepp said, beginning to transform Glover’s words into actions. Terrence glanced out the frizzing viewer at the motionless Borg vessel.
“Up for a boarding party Nyota?” He asked.
“I’m game sir,” Glover could hear the smile in her voice.
“Don’t do it Terrence,” a frayed baritone issued through a fissure in the turbolift doors. It drew everyone’s attention to the carriage. Strong brown fingers reached out, grasping the edges of the doors and pushed them outward.
Commander Sisko almost stumbled onto the bridge. His uniform was blackened by smudges and burn marks and torn in several places. One side of the man’s face was severely blistered. Dryer rushed from her post to help him, but Sisko waved her away. She glanced at Terrence, awaiting instructions and the captain nodded for her to return to her post.
Terrence’s shock had given away to anger that Sisko had disobeyed his orders, and that quickly fell to his concern about his friend’s wellbeing. The captain thought about attempting to help his old friend as well but knew that the DS9 commander would have none of it.
Sisko looked nearly dead on his feet, but he lumbered along, willing himself to stay upright.
He staggered down into the command well, his hard eyes glaring at the quiescent cube. Glover could feel the hate roiling from the man’s gaze and knew that was what was animating his friend, keeping him conscious and quite possibility, at the moment, even alive.
Stopping between Terrence and Tunepp, fighting against his injuries, gravity, and black sleep, Sisko stabbed a finger at the cube. “Destroy it now,” spite spewed out of him like lava. “Do it while we still have the chance.”
“Ben,” Glover began, not quite sure how he was going to make his friend see reason. He could only imagine that Jennifer’s face was superimposed over that cube in Sisko’s mind. “There’s something else going on here and we’ve got to find out what it is.”
“It’s a trap,” Sisko declared, “Just like before. Don’t let them lure you in. Don’t let them destroy this ship!”
Terrence eased out of his chair. He stood up and faced Sisko, looking at him in the eye. His words were careful, measured, but strongly given. “Ben, this is my ship. I give the orders here. Something has been shady about this whole affair from jump and we’re going to get to the bottom of it. We owe all who died on Helophis, Zubrin, and Ensign Gallagher nothing less.”
“Katie,” Benjamin whispered, taking a step back. His vision became less clouded as he remembered her. Moisture formed in the corners of his eyes. He wiped at them, shaking his head. “She was so young, so much to look forward to…and now she’s gone, winked out like a candle, just like Jennifer.” He lowered his head.
Terrence placed a hand on his shoulder. “Ben, we can’t give into our hatreds. I can’t relate to what you are really feeling right now, but I know this isn’t the person I know.”
Sisko’s head snapped up, the fire reignited in his eyes, “You’re right Terrence, I am not the person you once knew. What I am now, the Borg made me, and they have to pay for that.”
Glover shook his head sadly. “Ben, oh God, what have they do to you?” Tears began to form in his own eyes at the hunched, embittered figure his friend had become, quaking and malformed by his wrath.
“Captain, there is a feedback loop forming in the deflector dish,” Tunepp warned. He pushed away from his console seconds before it a blue-white crackle and the companel exploded. The force of the blast threw Sisko into Glover. Terrence latched onto the commander and kept him upright. He ignored his own pain as bits of melted plastics and tiny shards of metal pelted his face, arms, and hand.
Looking beyond Ben, the captain saw that Tunepp was on the deck, and it didn’t appear that the man would be getting back up anytime soon. “Can you stand?” He softly asked Sisko. The DS9 commander nodded. Terrence let him go.
The captain stepped around him. He bent down where Tunepp laid and checked the man’s vitals. “How is he sir?” An anxious Nyota asked.
“He’ll live,” Glover looked up, relieved. “But for the moment, it’s just us.”
“And me,” Sisko added. The commander was already ambling back to the upper deck where there were a row of unfortunately unattended terminals.
“And them,” Nyota proclaimed. Instinctively, Terrence faced the viewer. Two Cardassian warships now flanked the Borg scout ship. Both of their frames reminded him of Earth manta rays, though the Galor class cruiser dwarfed the Hideki class patrol ship.
“Cardassian vessel Prakesh is hailing sir,” Dryer informed them.
“Prakesh,” Sisko muttered, his voice coated with suspicion.
“What’s up with the Prakesh?” Glover asked, sliding behind the helm console again. He checked the status of the ship’s impulse drive. He wanted to be able to try to run if the Cardassians considered them a bigger enemy than the Borg. “You know these guys?”
Sisko paused. He swayed unsteadily beside Lt. Dryer. “Yes,” he intoned sourly.
“Put them on screen,” Glover ordered. A gray-skinned, long necked Cardassian greeted them with a smirk. His dark, hooded eyes roved over the trashed bridge, alighting with interest on Sisko.
“Benjamin, though the circumstances are less than ideal, it is a pleasure seeing you again nonetheless.”
Terrence shifted his gaze to his old friend. His look was cold enough to freeze a stellar nursery. “Gul Dukat,” he replied, his words clipped, his teeth clenched. “Why am I not surprised to see you here?”