Chapter One: In Purgatory's Shadow
U.S.S. Trieste, Stardate 44608.4, inside Federation space
Jean-Luc Picard did not want to see the stars anymore.
In this cabin on board this small, cramped ship--which was a generous term, for it was in fact a cell--Jean-Luc Picard nonetheless had a beautiful view of the universe at warp speed, stars streaking by against the black canvas of space. And he wanted none of it. The sight of space, of stars, of the very concept of travel through the interstellar medium sickened him.
The cabin door chimed. “Go away,” Picard muttered.
The door opened with a quiet ‘whoosh.' The ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. Henry Armstrong, stepped in past the two burly Starfleet guards posted at the door for ‘safety.’
“Good morning, Jean-Luc,” Dr. Armstrong said softly. “How do you feel?”
Picard, sitting awkwardly on his cot, looked up at the tall, balding human male in front of him. “How do I feel?” He snorted derisively. “Almost human...with just a bit of a headache.”
In an instant Armstrong was hovering over him with a medical tricorder. The doctor moved the device over Picard’s head, where only two small metallic remnants of his time as a Borg remained grafted onto his skull. “Hmm,” the doctor murmured. “The implants have mostly healed. I’m not sure why you would be experiencing pain, but I can give you an analgesic if you like.”
“No,” Picard muttered. “Thank you doctor, but no.” He waved the doctor and his device away. Dr. Armstrong stepped back, pursed his lips, and attached the tricorder to his utility belt.
“I’d say your recovery is coming along nicely,” said Armstrong. “Would you feel up to speaking with a visitor today?”
“Do I have a choice?”
Armstrong shrugged. “I’m the CMO. If I say you’re not up to it, you’re not up to it. But I think you should make that decision.”
Picard nodded. As much as the thought of talking to other people filled him with revulsion, he was in no position to make demands. “Yes, doctor. Very well. I will receive the visitor.” Yes. He would receive the visitor, as if he was someone important, someone worth visiting.
“As you wish.” The doctor made as if to leave. “One thing though, Jean-Luc. If, during the course of your conversation with the...visitor, your vital signs fluctuate in any significant way, that’s it. The conversation ends.”
Picard stared blankly at the doctor. Why did he persist in being so damned sympathetic? “Thank you, doctor. I shall endeavor to remain calm,” he said in a quiet, measured voice. What was the use?
Armstrong smiled perfunctorily, turned, and left the room. Picard got up from his cot and looked out at the stars for a moment. Sickening.
Several hours later, Picard’s door chimed again. Picard sat at a table facing away from the window and said quietly, “enter.”
A man in a crisp Starfleet uniform entered. Picard noted the bar on the man’s collar; he was a fleet captain and so outranked Picard. I should stand, Picard thought. But then again, am I really a Starfleet officer anymore?
“Captain Picard,” the man said. “My name is Luther Sloan. I am the deputy director, Starfleet Internal Affairs.”
This is more like it, Picard thought. No more ‘debriefings’ or ‘informal talks’ or, worst of all, ‘counseling sessions’. Finally, what he deserved: an interrogation.
Picard finally stood. Even after all he had experienced, his sense of courtesy remained strong. “Deputy Director Sloan,” he acknowledged. “Would you like some tea, sir?”
“No thank you,” the man replied. “And for convenience’s sake, let’s drop the ranks, shall we? You may simply call me ‘Sloan.’
Picard motioned to the other chair at the table and sat back down. “Very well then, Sloan. Please, have a seat.”
“Thank you.” Picard noted that Sloan had no PADD, no way to take notes, no obvious recording device. Interesting.
“How are you finding your accommodations?” Sloan asked.
“Suitable.” Except for the damned window.
As if on cue, Sloan looked out the same window. “You have been in space continuously since leaving Earth. That’s nearly three months now.”
“Yes. The captain of this vessel informs me it is for my safety.”
“Do you agree?”
Picard frowned. “Do I agree that my safety is a concern?”
Picard sighed. “I don’t know. Considering the circumstances, one cannot help but assume that is the case. Based on the events of this past year, I cannot imagine I would be welcome on any Federation world.”
“Because of what you did as Locutus,” Sloan said.
Picard winced at the mention of the name. “Indeed.”
Sloan was quiet for a moment, and then suddenly launched into a question. “According to your testimony, your ship was boarded by the Borg shortly after leaving the, uh, Paulson Nebula. Tell me, how did such an egregious security breach take place aboard the flagship of the Federation?”
Picard was momentarily taken aback, despite long, long nights of asking himself this and other similar questions. Up to now, all of his ‘visitors’ had been so concerned with preserving his ‘feelings’ and ‘self-esteem’ that all of the hard questions had been left to Picard himself. And now--now, someone was finally asking them.
“The easy answer, I believe, is that we were not prepared for the Borg to present with ability to beam through our shields,” Picard replied. “But the real answer, I believe, is that I was overconfident.”
“Yes, sir. The Borg had demanded I personally beam to their ship during our first engagement with them, prior to the--” Picard had trouble saying the name--”Enterprise
entering the nebula. I did not think at any point that the Borg would be able to penetrate our defenses and force my compliance with their directive to personally surrender.”
“So not overconfidence in yourself,” Sloan said, “but overconfidence in your ship? In your crew?”
Picard shook his head vigorously. “No! No. My ship could not match the Borg’s technology. My crew only did as ordered. I should have--I should have ordered extra security to the bridge. I should have taken more precautions. I should have--”
Sloan held up his hand. “Picard. Enough.”
Breathing heavily, Picard bowed his head. Sloan continued, “From what we have been able to gather, you were in a no-win situation. As far as we can tell, the Borg were determined to have a human, um, representative directing their assault on Earth. Considering you were the one who made first contact with the Borg, it made sense for them to want you. Captain of the flagship, etc. etc. No one would have expected you to surrender yourself willingly; that would have been a dereliction of duty, would it not?”
Picard looked up. “Yes. At least, I thought so.”
“Which leads to your supposed lack of preparation for a Borg incursion onto the Enterprise
once you knew of their personal interest in you,” Sloan said. “I believe you could have surrounded yourself with a hundred Klingon warriors and the Borg still would have made off with you. No. My question is not how you allowed such an egregious security breach, Picard. My question is how did they do it?”
Picard swallowed hard. “As I said, sir, we were not prepared for the Borg to possess the ability--”
“No!" Sloan slammed the table. “Once you were altered, once you were...assimilated, you could interface with them. You knew how to stop everything. Every defense we had, everything we threw at them, you knew how to stop. There isn’t a single race in the Alpha Quadrant than can penetrate our shields with transporter technology--believe me, they’ve tried. And yet the Borg did it with ease. We need to know how. And that’s not all. We need to know all of their capabilities.”
“And you expect me to just have that information available to you?” Picard cried. “If it were that easy, do you not think I would have simply volunteered it the moment I was myself again? The moment I realized I was no longer...one of them?”
“Until now, Picard,” Sloan said quietly, “you have been under the care of an organization that believes wholeheartedly that your actions as Locutus were not those of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. But...but you and I know better, don’t we? We know that you were in there the whole time...thinking...feeling...”
“FIGHTING!” Picard cried, his voice breaking. “Trying everything I could to FIGHT THEM! To STOP THEM! Don’t you see....” His voice broke off, and he began to sob.
After a long moment Sloan said, “I believe you, Picard. I believe you are a good man, loyal to the Federation. But I believe you remember more than you want to think you do. I think that despite Starfleet Medical’s efforts to rehabilitate you, part of you still is and will always be Borg.”
“No,” Picard said weakly, trying desperately to recover his composure. “The link was broken. I--”
“HOW DID THEY BREACH YOUR SHIELDS, PICARD?” Sloan slammed the table with both fists. “TELL ME!”
“I DON’T KNOW!”
Sloan reached inside his tunic and took out a device that looked like an old-fashioned isolinear computer chip. He pointed to Picard’s head. “Attach this to the node on your temple, Picard. Do it. Do it now.”
Picard reached over and picked up the device. He attached it to the small piece of metal affixed to his temple, as ordered.
Sloan took out another device from his tunic, what looked like a small tricorder, and pressed something on it. He said: “All right, Picard. How did the Borg breach the Enterprise
Picard stared at Sloan and said tonelessly, “We remotely adjust shield harmonics using technology acquired from Species 2891 and adjust our transporter functions accordingly.”
Sloan sat back and regarded Picard. “Well. That was easy.”
“Stop,” Picard whispered. “I hear them.”
Sloan pressed something on his device again and Picard slumped in his chair. “Thank you."
Sloan regarded Picard thoughtfully. "When I turned on the device, what did you hear?"
"I heard them. The Borg. I heard their...voices.”
“Yes,” Sloan said knowingly.
“No,” Picard whispered.
“You want to be punished, Picard,” Sloan said in a hushed voice. “You hate all these Starfleet doctors and counselors telling you how nothing is your fault, how everything will be all right, how--”
‘Not this,” Picard said. “Please don’t make me do this. I cannot...I cannot live with them inside my head anymore--”
“It’s not permanent, Picard,” Sloan said assuredly. “All we need to do is glean what information we can out of you to prevent the Borg from ever hurting us again. You have seen that we can turn the voices on and off. Now, it won’t be pleasant, but after everything that has happened to us, don’t you think it’s worth it?”
Picard sat still for a moment, and then nodded slowly. “I...I don't...Yes. Yes, I suppose it is.”
Satisfied, Sloan sat back in this chair. “Do you know why you’re really on this ship, Picard? I'll tell you. To protect you from me. From the organization I truly represent.” He laughed. “Even now, even while under the impression a senior Starfleet officer is conducting important business with you, they continue to monitor your vital signs for hints of stress. Stress! As if that is the most important concern right now--Making sure you’re comfortable!”
“Who...who are you?” Picard stuttered. “Who do you represent?”
“Well, it’s not Starfleet,” Sloan replied, “but we’re just as committed to preserving the Federation as they. Even more so, actually. And now that we finally have you, we are going to do what it takes to make sure the Borg pay for what they’ve done. And they must pay, Picard. Wouldn’t you agree?” Sloan leaned forward and looked straight into Picard’s eyes. “They must pay.”
And for the first time in what felt like an eternity, Picard felt something other than despair and self-loathing.
“Yes. Yes. They must pay.”
Sloan stood up. “My crew has taken control of this vessel and we are en route to a more...strategic location. I will be back to talk with you later.”
Picard knew he should be concerned, that this was not right, that Sloan was--but no. He couldn’t. He wasn’t a Starfleet officer. This wasn’t his ship, or his crew. They...they were gone.
“In the meantime,” Sloan said, “can I get you anything, Picard?”
“Yes,” Picard said quietly. “A room without a view.”