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|April 30 2012, 08:35 PM||#16|
Re: The Best of Both Worlds
First Officer’s Log, Stardate 44009.3. The Borg ship has resumed its course towards Earth. We are unable to pursue pending repairs to the Enterprise.
Deanna didn’t have to be an empath to feel the despair in the observation lounge. The mood was quiet, eyes were downcast, and voices were quiet and subdued. She’d need to make some appointments to see them over the next few days. Assuming they survived the next few days. She sighed and turned her attention back to the viewscreen. The senior staff was reporting to Admiral Hanson, who was already leading his fleet of starships to meet and attack the Borg Cube at Wolf 359. He was sitting in the Indefatigable’s ready room.
Riker finished his report on their failed attempt to destroy the Cube. “As we anticipated, the blast burned out the main navigational deflector. We also have damage to the shields and the reactor core.” Deanna’s empathic sense of Riker was of a subdued man, a man who was on the verge of giving up.
La Forge spoke. “We should be back up in eight to twelve hours, Admiral.”
Hanson frowned. “Well, we’ll miss you at the party,” he said.
“The Enterprise will be there, sir,” Riker said quickly. “Maybe a little late, but we’ll be there.”
Deanna frowned at him. She could sense Riker’s guilt, how he was blaming himself for their failure, and now his desperation to prove to Hanson that it wasn’t his fault. She’d have to talk to him.
It seemed that Hanson noticed the guilt Riker was heaping on himself because he said, “Your engagements have given us valuable time.” Show him that he had made a difference, even if they hadn’t accomplished their goals. “We’ve mobilised a fleet of forty starships at Wolf 359, and that’s just for starters. The Klingons are sending warships. Hell, we’ve even thought of opening communications with the Romulans.”
Shelby, oblivious to Hanson’s tact, spoke. “You realise, Admiral, that with the assistance of Picard, the Borg will be ready for your defences.”
Hanson glared at her, and Deanna sensed that Shelby realised that she’d made a mistake in speaking, but she wasn’t quite sure what it was. “Lieutenant Commander,” he said, “a few years ago I watched a freshman cadet pass four upperclassmen on the last hill of a forty kilometer run on Danula Two. Damndest thing I ever saw. The only freshman cadet to ever win the Academy marathon. I made it my business to get to know that young man, and I got to know him very very well. And I’ll tell you, I’ve never met anyone with more drive, determination or courage than Jean-Luc Picard. There is no way in hell that he would assist the Borg. I want that clear.”
There was a moment of silence, and Deanna could feel a rise in frustration from the staff. Of course Picard wouldn’t willingly help the Borg, but the Admiral was speaking like he thought Picard actually had a choice in the matter! Picard would certainly be doing everything he could to stop the Borg, but they would simply push him further until his defences broke, and Picard’s knowledge would lay bare, free for the taking.
But now was not the time to argue about such things. There were larger issues at stake.
“Of course, Admiral,” said Shelby.
Hanson spoke again, to further press his point. “He is a… casualty of war.”
Beverly looked around, then fixed Hanson with an incredulous look. “Then we’ve abandoned all hope of recovering him?”
Hanson returned her look, but his expression was softer. He pursed his lips, then nodded once, slowly. “In less than twenty four hours, this armada’s going to hit that Borg vessel with everything we can muster,” he said. “Either they survive or we do.” He lowered his eyes. “As for Picard…” His voice trailed off, and he lifted his eyes. But instead of grief, sadness, there was a fierce determination, a rock-solid conviction. “A great man has been lost. Your Captain. My friend.” He took a deep breath, then let it out slowly and wearily. “Commander Riker, I hereby promote you to the field commission of captain. The Enterprise is your ship now. Congratulations. I wish the circumstances were different.”
Riker acknowledged, but he felt no joy. “Good luck, Admiral.”
Hanson nodded. “To us all,” he said. “We’re going to need it.”
Picard had been trying to scream for the last five hours, but so far, he hadn’t succeeded. Or maybe he had; the constant non-stop chattering of a million voices filled his head like insects scuttling through his mind, and he couldn’t hear anything over it. Maybe he’d been screaming the whole time and he just couldn’t hear it. Still, he kept on trying. He needed to scream. He needed to let everything out, and make every fiber of his being, everything that he was, into one God-almighty scream, a scream that would burst him apart.
But he couldn’t. His body was broken, and he couldn’t control it. He couldn’t even make himself blink. Even his breathing was being controlled for him.
He’d felt them in his mind, felt them bringing up thoughts and memories, and then, an instant later (or an age later, he no longer had a concept of time) he’d hear voices rising above the cacophony to repeat thoughts, spread them throughout the Collective. He couldn’t control it. They’d brought up his memories (pushed by Robert into the mud when he’d been jealous of Picard’s marks at school), private recollections (the way Amanda had felt as she moved in his arms while they made love in her Academy dorm room), his innermost thoughts (the way his heart swelled with pride whenever he looked at Wesley), the most private places of his mind (the ache he felt whenever he looked at Beverly – in love with his best friend’s widow!), and there was nothing he could do. He’d tried to pull the thoughts back, but the Borg had taken them anyway. He’d tried thinking of something else, concentrating on something so hard that the thought the Borg were stealing would get lost, but he found he was unable even to do that. All there was left of Picard was the pathetic voice in his head that was crying, screaming, whimpering, shrieking, trying to do everything all at once and doing nothing, but seeing everything that the Borg were doing, hearing everything that they were saying, knowing everything that they were thinking.
And then he was moving, stepping out of the regeneration alcove that had been assigned to him, and he was walking down endless winding corridors. Into another chamber. In the middle there was a vertical slab of metal, and he stood against it. Picard resisted, oh dear God in Heaven, he resisted, but his body was bent to a will other than his own, and his own efforts were feeble and useless.
And as he stepped onto the slab and turned around so his back was against it, he saw that she was there. Standing on the other side of the chamber, and then walking over to him. Her hand stretched out to touch his face.
“Locutus,” she whispered and she smiled. “Of all of your people, you deserved this.”
Inside, Picard was screaming at her, begging, cursing, pleading. But his body was not his, and it would not obey him. He hated her, loathed her, despised her for treating him like this, taking away his control but still not letting him die, for forcing him to be aware of what she was doing, what she was forcing him to do.
But his body stayed there, standing still against the metal slab.
She gave him a look, as though aware of what Picard was thinking inside his own head, and a flicker of emotion passed over her face, almost as though the thought of him suffering was exciting her. “Locutus,” she murmured, her eyes closed and an almost sexual pleasure in her voice.
Picard saw his eyes focus on her. He tried to make them look away, but their gaze was unwavering, as solid as a rock. He heard his own voice say, “I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile.”
She smiled and lifted a hand to stroke the flesh of his cheek, tracing a delicate line around the biomechanical implant that was clamped to his skin. “I hope you understand that, Jean-Luc,” she said. “Resistance is futile. Although I’d be disappointed in you if you weren’t trying...”
She turned away and walked out of the chamber, vanishing into the mist and haze. Picard felt his eyes returning to their previous position, looking directly ahead, and he could see a piece of machinery lower into position in front of him and then swing towards him. A sharp point emerged, and he saw it moving directly towards his own eye. Picard panicked, trying to move, to thrash, to break free before he was speared by this cruel device, but his body still refused to obey. And then he saw his vision distort; the point was pressing against his pupil, and then he felt his head explode in pain from within as it pierced his eyeball. And then another explosion as the point lanced into his retina and his optic nerve. His vision shattered into brightness. And then an even greater pain, as though something was being clamped to his optic nerve, and then the device was withdrawn. As it moved away from him, he felt a warm liquid dripping down his face from his punctured eyeball.
If he’d had control of his body, he’d be writhing on the floor in agony, but he didn’t have control, and he remained standing. And then he was tilting backwards, and for a moment Picard thought he had fallen, and he hoped that somehow he was about to die, but then he realised that the slab was rotating, and he was laying on his back.
His arm was extending out straight, and a drone appeared. It stood next to his arm, but Picard couldn’t see properly because he was being forced to stare at the twisting conduits above him, but there was a bright flash and he felt a fire of agony in his arm, as though it had been plunged into molten metal. And as the drone moved, Picard could smell his own blood, and he realised what they had done to him. They had cut his entire arm off.
And the drone was moving back now, and the burning pain grew worse, and Picard heard the sound of a high speed drill. They were drilling into the exposed bone of his arm. And then more pain as something was inserted into the holes, and clamped tight onto the raw nerve endings.
Picard wanted to cry, he wanted to beg for death, but the Borg wouldn’t let him do anything, they wouldn’t let him move, or cry, and now they were even denying him unconsciousness so he would be forced to experience everything that they did, every particular horror they would inflict on his body and mind.
And then something heavy pulled on his arm, and the arm was raised for a drone to make an adjustment, and Picard saw that they had put a biomechanical arm in place of his own. The stench of his own blood still hung in the air.
The drone finished whatever it was doing to the biomechanical arm, and it lowered again. But then there was a pressure in his neck, and he felt malicious things swarming into him, and the pain increased as they spread throughout his body.
Oh God, he wished he could scream.
No matter what, he’d never be able to see it as his chair.
The command chair, oh yes, that was his now, and it had been his before. Although, that wasn’t really Picard’s chair, was it? It was the seat of whoever was in command. And, since Riker had been in command of the Enterprise before, naturally it had been his chair at times.
But this chair, the one in the ready room, behind the desk, this was different. This was Picard’s retreat, his private sanctuary. Oh yes, others had been in here before, but that wasn’t the same as sitting in the command chair. If others had sat in the command chair, it was because of their entitlement, but the use of the ready room had always been by Picard’s leave. People earned the right to sit in the command chair, but they were granted permission to sit in here, behind Picard’s desk.
And Riker just couldn’t do it. Picard was still the captain, no matter what. It just seemed wrong for anyone else to hold that position. Captain William Riker of the Federation starship Enterprise. The words didn’t sit right in his mind. This was Picard’s ship, Picard’s ready room, Picard’s chair. The book on display was Picard’s Shakespeare. Livingston was Picard’s lionfish. And, try as he might, Riker just couldn’t see it any other way.
The door chimed, and Riker turned. “Come,” he said, but he knew who it would be. He smiled warmly as Deanna entered. No doubt, she’d felt his pain, and he was glad to see her.
“Hi,” he said. He smiled widely.
But Deanna stood with her hands behind her back, her expression sombre. “You wanted to see me?”
Riker took a step back. Deanna was right; their relationship was different now. As first officer, he’d worked closely with her, but now, as captain, he’d need to maintain a certain distance. One of the many prices of command.
Riker nodded briskly. “How’s the crew?”
“Throwing themselves into the work to be done,” Troi said. “The emotional impact hasn’t been fully realised yet.”
Riker nodded cheerlessly. “I guess training kicks in and takes over,” he said quietly.
“We know the risks,” said Deanna. There was a touch of warmth in her voice now. “We tell ourselves we’re prepared for the consequences, and yet, something like this cuts deeper than we can admit at first.” She took a step towards him, an unconscious act to be closer to him. “He was our captain. It’s like losing the leader of a nation, or the head of a family.”
Riker turned away. Her words brought his grief back, and he didn’t want her to see his eyes tearing up. Oh, she’d know, but he still didn’t want her to see. He looked out the window. “He was more of a father to me than my own. But when I saw him like that, mutilated…”
Deanna stepped up to him, putting her hands on his shoulders. “You did what you had to do,” she said quietly. “Nobody doubts your love for him.”
Riker turned to her. “But was there any part of him left, Deanna?” He looked at her, begging him to tell him that the man named Jean-Luc Picard had already died, but her expression told otherwise.
“Yes,” Deanna said after a long silence. “I could still sense his humanity.”
Riker’s eyes fell. “Then you must have sensed his pain.”
She was quiet. Riker looked back up at her, meeting her eyes. He saw the tears welling and falling down her face.
Riker put his arms around her and held her close. “I don’t envy your abilities,” he said.
He felt Deanna nod against his shoulder, and he stroked her hair. Yes, being captain would require a certain emotional distance from the crew, but that could do even more damage. Picard had always been the father figure. Riker had been more of an older brother, a friend, always there to speak to about anything. Could the crew cope with losing that as well?
He sighed, and held Deanna tight, and was glad that she was there to help him. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to subject the crew to more upheaval than they’d already faced. The crew would need him as they’d always needed him. Riker needed to be a captain, to lead the crew. But there was more than that. It still didn’t feel right for him to be the crew’s captain. He needed to be their friend, just as he’d always been. He lowered his arms, and Deanna took a step back.
“I’d better check on the progress of our repairs,” he said.
Deanna looked up at him, aware of the emotional conflict he’d been facing.
“There won’t be any changes,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s his ship, his crew. And everything we do, every battle we fight, it’s for him.”
Deanna nodded and wiped the tears from her eyes.
Riker smiled at her, a warm smile. There was an intimacy, but it wasn’t the same as it had been. Despite the comfort Riker found with Deanna, he needed her most as an advisor. “I’m glad you’re here to help me through this,” he said.
“Thank you, Captain,” she said. Deanna nodded and smiled, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes. She’d know what he’d meant, and even though it hurt her, she’d understand. She took a step back, took a deep breath, composing herself. But Riker knew that she needed time to herself. ”Dismissed, Counsellor,” he said. Deanna nodded, then turned and left.
Riker felt an overwhelming weariness invade his body. He hadn’t slept since before the Borg had taken Picard. But his weariness was more than that. It was an emotional weariness, one that had taken him when Deanna had called him Captain. The weight of responsibility, the difficult choices. His legs were aching, and he wanted to rest, but he didn’t sit down.
Because it wasn’t his chair.
|April 30 2012, 08:36 PM||#17|
Re: The Best of Both Worlds
But sleep did not come, and his thoughts strayed to his earlier conversation with Deanna. He couldn’t lead the crew by himself. He needed a first officer. And as much as he knew that any one of the senior bridge staff could serve in that capacity, he couldn’t change them. It would be too great, such a change to the ship so soon after losing Picard. Which left only one person he could turn to. He was glad that she was also the best qualified to deal with the Borg.
He stood, smoothed out his uniform. Shelby would be down in Engineering. No sense in waiting to tell her. He walked out of his quarters and headed down the hall.
Riker turned to see Worf walking briskly towards him.
“Lieutenant,” said Riker, waiting for him.
Worf handed him a PADD. “Repair reports for the weapons systems,” said Worf. “Phasers and photon torpedos are now fully operational, and shields are at fifty three percent.”
Riker nodded. He didn’t look at the PADD; it would just tell him the same thing, and if there was anything further, Worf would tell him. “Is your shift over, Lieutenant?”
Worf nodded reluctantly. He’d been pushing himself, spending far longer at his station than Riker would have liked. “Yes sir.”
“I know how you feel, Lieutenant,” Riker said. “But we’re going to need you at your best in the coming battle, rested and alert.”
Worf nodded. “Understood. Kahless himself said that a clear mind is the greatest ally a warrior has.” He fell into step besides Riker. “Before I left the bridge, I communicated with Engineering. Repairs to the deflector are not yet complete, but they are proceeding well and Commander La Forge anticipates that they will be complete on schedule. I’ve also started developing a way to improve the efficiency of our shields against the Borg’s tractor beam. Ensign Burkland is continuing the work.”
“Very good,” said Riker. “I’ve spoken with Shelby’s team. They’re making some progress in developing our weapons strategies. She’s proposed an antimatter spread…”
Worf shook his head. “I do not believe that antimatter will make an effective weapon against the Borg, Commander. Their shields will be able to protect their hull.”
“True,” said Riker, “but it will interfere with their sensors. That could make it harder for them to adapt to other weapons, and at the very least it will help give us the element of surprise.”
Worf nodded, seeing the wisdom of this course of action. Not all weapons needed to inflict damage. Anything that gave them an advantage, no matter how slight, would be of use. He and Riker stepped into a turbolift.
“And Mister Crusher has suggested a chip might be designed that will automatically retune phasers to a random setting after each discharge,” finished Riker.
“That would be a great advantage,” said Worf.
“Engineering,” said Riker, and the lift moved. “We should also see if there’s some way we can neutralise their forcefields, Worf. We’ve got to show them that we can adapt too. We’re not just fighting the Borg, we’re fighting the life experience they’ve stolen from Captain Picard. How the hell do we defeat an enemy that knows us better than we know ourselves?”
“The Borg have neither honour nor courage,” said Worf. “That is our greatest advantage.”
Riker looked at him curiously for a moment, then realised what Worf meant. The Borg were little more than automatons, mindless robots, almost zombies, and because of that, they were predictable. He nodded. “I hope it’s enough,” he said.
The turbolift slowed and stopped, the doors opening into Main Engineering. La Forge and Shelby were supervising the repairs as the engineering crew worked, Shelby on the upper level overseeing the repairs to the warp core and La Forge in his office. There was a stack of panels against the bulkhead, next to several opened conduit junctions. The warp core was still offline, sitting dull and lifeless but still dominating the chamber. An ensign handed La Forge a PADD, and he turned to a readout.
“Engine controls processors are back up,” he called to Shelby.
On the upper level, Shelby nodded. “Accelerator coils are responding normally.”
La Forge called out the indications on his panel. “Forward shields at fifty eight percent.” Shelby nodded in agreement. “Aft shields…” La Forge looked the panel. The read out was fluctuating wildly, despite the fact that he’d helped repair it less than two hours ago. “Sensors must be down…”
“Checking,” called Shelby. She lifted her tool and scanned the isolinear control junction. “Sensors are fine.” There was a harsh buzz from the tool. “No, aft shields have completely failed. Dammit! Auxiliary generators are out again!”
La Forge looked up as Riker and Worf entered. “Just the man I need,” he said. “We’re having problems with the aft shields. The generators are going on and offline. I could really use your help, Worf.”
Riker sighed. He wanted Worf to get some rest, but he couldn’t deny that he also needed the shields to be functioning, and Worf’s skill with the defensive systems would be invaluable. He nodded and Worf headed off. Maybe it would just be a small probem.
“How soon do we get underway, Geordi?” Riker asked
“Still a couple of hours,” said La Forge. “Commander Shelby can fill you in.” He hurried off after Worf.
Shelby came down from the upper level and walked over to him. This was the first time they’d been alone since their argument in the turbolift, and Riker saw, to his satisfaction, that Shelby was unsure of herself, of what Riker was going to say.
“The main navigational deflector is functional again,” she said. Riker had to suppress a smile. She was playing it safe, leaving it for Riker to bring up any other topics. Shelby continued her report. “Schobel and Barclay are running through the final testing sequence now.”
“The warp reactor core?”
“Reconstruction is proceeding normally,” Shelby said. “But it’s slow work. If we can nail down this shield generator problem, I agree with La Forge. We should be at operating capacity in two or three hours.”
“Good,” said Riker.
For a long moment, there was silence, and Shelby began to look uncomfortable. “Anything else sir?”
“Yes,” said Riker. He thought for a moment for the right words. He and Shelby had been at odds so much that it felt strange to talk to her like this, to praise her and give her good news. “You did a good job on the Borg ship.
Shelby shook her head. “I didn’t get Picard,” she said quickly.
Riker cut her off. The last thing he wanted was for her to start thinking of herself as a failure. “You stopped them,” he said firmly. “You gave us our shot.”
Shelby looked up at him, realising that Riker was, for the first time, being generous to her. Riker could see appreciation in her eyes, and noted with humour that she was blushing. “Sir…”
“Commander, we don’t have to like each other to work well together,” Riker told her. “In fact, I expect you to continue to keep me on my toes.”
Shelby flashed him a quick smile. “Some might define that as the role of a first officer,” she said.
Riker flashed the smile back. “Damn, you are ambitious, aren’t you, Shelby?”
“Yes,” Shelby said. Then the smile faded from her face, and her voice became more serious. “Captain Riker, based on our past relationship, there’s no reason I should expect to become your first officer. But you need me. I know how to get things done. And I have the expertise in the Borg.”
Riker fixed her with his best poker face. “You also have a lot to learn, Commander,” he said.
Shelby was silent for a moment, her eyes downcast. “Yes, sir,” she said quietly.
Riker’s poker face broke, and he grinned. “Almost as much as I had to learn when I came on board as Captain Picard’s first officer,” he said, taking pleasure in the way Shelby’s eyes lit up. Damn, it was good to know he could bluff her after all. “A fact the captain reminded me of when I commented on what a pain in the neck you are.”
Shelby grinned widely. “Yes, sir.”
“In fact,” began Riker, but the comline from the bridge interrupted him.
“Data to Riker. Message from Starfleet, Captain.”
“Go ahead, Data,” said Riker.
“Starfleet reports it has engaged the Borg at Wolf 359, sir.”
Riker’s heart leapt into his throat, the playful banter between him and Shelby suddenly forgotten. His eyes locked with Shelby. Her eyes were wide. And then he turned and hurried for the turbolift.
“Report,” said Riker, stepping out of the turbolift.
Data turned to him. “Starfleet has engaged the Borg,” he said. “Communications are open, but signal quality is fluctuating due to the energy discharges. We have audio only.”
“Put it on speaker,” ordered Riker.
There was a hiss, several loud booms and a loud burst of static. Vague voices could be heard underneath it, but what they were saying remained unintelligible.
“I’ll try to clean it up,” said Burkland. “But there’s a great deal of distortion.”
For a moment he worked, and then the voices came through. Still distorted, static threatening to swamp them, but clear. The terror and fear in the voices was clear.
“… has already been destroyed! No sign of lifeboats!”
“The Saratoga has received… warp core bre… inent! Wait! There are life… ing now!”
A loud boom. Several screams.
“Emergency! Achilles has sust… ect hit! Hull breach!”
“Sarato… oded, warp cor… aken damage in the…”
“This is Ensign Beyl… board the Liber…bridge has been destr… pons are dead. I’m going to try…” The signal broke up amidst a shout and a loud bang.
“Liberator, this is Tols[/i]… coming to aid. Try to withdraw…”
Screams. “Get down, get out of the… clear shot!” A hand phaser, a sound like the deep ring of a bell, more screams.
“Endeavour has picked… cape pods from the Sara[/i]… Only three esc… Forty one survivors…”
“Contact lost with… aguchi.”
…ingon cruis… moving to weapons range…”
“Endeavour, this is Hans… make it to secondary attack…”
“Negative. Shields collapsed. Phase… pedoes are out… enceless.”
“Acknowleged. Once you have the surv… draw to safe dist… All oth… assemble at second… point and resume…”
“This is the Kyushu. Third wing, move into attack form…”
“Yama… eaking forma… ving away…”
“No resp… ator, we’re going to try to… eam out any survi…”
Another bang, then the roar of rushing air.
Riker felt like he was falling. The battle was only minutes old, and yet how many ships had been lost? The Saratoga. The Yamaguchi. The Achilles severely damaged. And the Liberator. He wondered if the bridge crew had been able to get to the escape pods.
“Captain, we’re receiving a message from Admiral Hanson aboard the Indefatigable,” said Burkland.
“On screen,” said Riker.
Hanson’s image appeared onscreen. He was sitting in the captain’s chair of the Indefatigable. The ship’s captain must have been injured, or killed in the initial attack. The image jumped, lurched, a flicker of static washing over it and threatening to overwhelm it, but then the image stabilised for a moment.
The Indefatigable lurched again, Hanson holding on tight to the command chair. “The fight does not go well, Enterprise,” he called, shouting to be heard over the screaming of stressed metal, the wailing of alarms, the distant booms of explosions. “We’re attempting to withdraw and regroup. Rendezvous with fleet…”
The image lurched, there was another burst of static, then a deafening bang and a burst of bright orange light from the corner of the screen before the signal dropped out completely.
|May 3 2012, 08:29 PM||#18|
Re: The Best of Both Worlds
Captain’s log, Stardate 44000.3. Repairs are complete and the Enterprise is warping to rendezvous with Starfleet at Wolf 359. Subspace communications from the site of battle have been cut off, possibly due to Borg interference.
Possibly, my ass, thought Riker. Starfleet regulations were clear that speculation had no part in official log entries but there was no doubt in his mind that the Borg had survived the attack. And just as little doubt that when the Enterprise arrived at the battle site they would find only debris. Riker felt sick when he thought of the crews of the starships, fighting and dying.
He forced himself to push it out of his mind. It was done, for good or ill. What mattered now was what he was going to do. But first things first.
He looked around at the senior staff gathered with him in the observation lounge. He met Worf’s gaze. “Lieutenant Worf, everyone at this table shares my respect for your service to this ship. But right now, I need your experience at tactical.” He looked to Data. “Mister Data, I realise your very nature omits ambition. Nevertheless, I want you to know that I seriously considered you as first officer.”
Data nodded. “Thank you, sir,” he said quietly.
“But,” said Riker, taking a deep breath, “this is not the time for change. I need all of you where you are, where Captain Picard always relied on you.” He looked at Shelby. “I have been forced, reluctantly,” this last was said with a smile, “to conclude that Commander Shelby, our expert on the Borg, is the ideal choice at this time for first officer.”
Shelby smiled as the staff around her nodded congratulations.
But then the tone turned more serious. “Based on our last communication, we have to assume that the Borg survived the fleet’s attack,” said Riker. “Your thoughts on our next encounter?”
Shelby leaned forwards. “What about the heavy graviton beam we were talking about?”
La Forge shook his head. “I’ve gone over it four times. The local field distortion just wouldn’t be strong enough to incapacitate them.”
Data spoke. “Doctor Crusher and I have been working on an interesting premise.”
All eyes turned to the doctor. “Well, with our recent experience in nanotechnology,” she said, “we might be able to introduce a destructive breed of nanite to the Borg…”
Shelby gave her a confused look. “Nanites?”
“Robots,” clarified Data. “Small enough to enter living cells.”
“How much time would it take to implement this?” asked Riker.
Beverly sighed. “That’s the problem,” she said. “Two, maybe three weeks.”
Deanna sighed and leaned back in her chair. “In two or three weeks, nanites may be all that’s left of the Federation…”
For a moment there was silence. Riker groaned inwardly. They were out of ideas already?
“We have the new phaser adapters,” said Worf, but that was small comfort. Their phasers had proved to be almost useless against the Cube. It was just an attempt to show that not all of their efforts had been in vain, but if that was their greatest success, then it seemed that their work had been in vain after all.
“Perhaps in concert with the photon torpedoes we can slow them down,” said Geordi.
But the mood in the observation lounge was dour. Despite their efforts, they hadn’t made any advances. Even La Forge’s voice held no hope. They would find the Cube, confront it, and they would be defenceless. What could Riker do? Looking around, Riker saw all their eyes turn to him. This was a crew with no hope, and they needed him. Picard had always managed to find a way out of any situation, no matter how bad it was, but now that Riker was faced with that same situation, he had no idea what to do. Riker met their eyes. “I’m sure Captain Picard would have something meaningful and inspirational to say right now,” Riker told them. “And to tell you the truth, I wish he was here, because I’d like to hear it too.” The laughter he was hoping for was not forthcoming. “I know how difficult this transition is for all of you. I can take over from him, but I could never replace Captain Picard, nor would I ever try.” As he looked at their faces, he saw in their eyes fear and doubt, and in that moment, Riker was sure that he wasn’t ready for command. He’d lead his crew into a hopeless situation. He sighed heavily. “Whatever the outcome, I know our efforts in the coming battle will justify the faith he had in all of us.” He took in a deep breath, let it out tiredly. “Dismissed.”
They had been almost a full day at high warp and the Enterprise was finally approaching Wolf 359. He hated waiting. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he had nothing weighing on his mind, but now, no matter what he did, his mind threatened to overwhelm him. He couldn’t rest, he could barely think straight. His thoughts, which had been of Picard, tortured by the Borg, were now of the fleet. Had they been able to damage the Cube in any way? Had any ships even survived? He needed to rest, to think, to prepare. But he couldn’t. He didn’t have anyone on the crew that he could turn to. Picard, if he’d been in this situation, would have unburdened his mind with Riker himself, but that was a relationship based on a closeness, a bond that had been forged over many years. He didn’t have that kind of relationship with Shelby, and so couldn’t confide in her. And he couldn’t even confide in Deanna. His promotion to captain had been too great a change, and their relationship had been altered, perhaps irreversibly. In so many ways, Riker was alone, even as he was surrounded by his crew.
He walked into the ready room, and when the door closed behind him, he just stood there, looking at Picard’s chair. “What would you do?” He half expected to hear a memory of Picard’s voice in his head, telling him, “Okay, Number One, first of all you’ve got to…”
But there was nothing.
The door chimed.
Riker sighed. He didn’t want to have to deal with anyone now. There was too much on his mind that he needed to work through. Better to just get it over with so he could go back to his own thoughts. “Come.”
There was the swish of a long flowing robe, and Guinan walked in and stood before him. “May I speak to you, Captain?”
Riker sighed. “Well, actually, Guinan, right now, I…”
Guinan ignored him and spoke. “Picard and I used to talk every now and then when one of us needed to,” she said, and she flashed him a smile. “I guess I’m just used to having the captain’s ear.”
And with that, she brushed past him, walked around to the other side of the desk and sat in the Captain’s chair.
Riker started at her, wide-eyed.
Guinan gave him an innocent look. “I hope I’m not imposing,” she said.
Riker gave her a look of shock, disbelief, but Guinan ignored it completely and just looked up at him, innocent as you please. Fine, if that’s the way you want to play, Riker thought. Let’s just get this over with. “What’s on your mind?” he asked.
“I’ve heard a lot of people talking down in Ten Forward lately,” she said. “They expect to be dead in the next day or two.” She was stating it as a casual fact, and oh, did you know that the Blue Whale had a tongue the size of a shuttle craft? No? Interesting, isn’t it? “They like you, Riker,” Guinan continued, “but they don’t believe you can save them.”
Riker couldn’t say he was surprised. His command of the Enterprise had been one failure after another. They had failed to rescue Picard, they’d failed in their efforts to make a weapon against the Borg, they’d failed to make it to Wolf 359 in time… “I’m not sure anyone can,” he said.
“The way I see it,” said Guinan, casually leaning back in Picard’s chair, “if a man is convinced that he’s going to die tomorrow, he’ll probably find a way to make it happen.” She leaned forward again, fixing Riker with eyes as hard as granite. “The only one who can turn this around is you.”
Riker was trying hard not to order her to leave. He couldn’t believe her presumption, just coming in here and giving him a tutoring session like this. Granted, she may have had a deep mysterious relationship with the Captain, but that didn’t give her leave to come and go as she wished! “I’ll do the best I can,” Riker said, an edge to his voice as hard as stone.
“You’ll have to do something you won’t want to do,” Guinan said simply. “You’ll have to let go of Picard.”
“Maybe you didn’t hear,” Riker said, “but I tried to kill him yesterday!” He could feel his anger rising.
Guinan shook her head. “You tried to kill whatever that was on the Borg ship, not Picard,” she said, her voice becoming just as hard as Riker’s. “Picard is still here, still in this room, with us. Now, if he’d just died, it would be easier. But he didn’t. He’s been taken from us, a piece at a time.”
Underneath his anger, Riker felt the pain of Picard’s loss rising again. How the away team had found Picard’s communicator, but not Picard. And then they’d found him, but he wasn’t Picard anymore, and they couldn’t get him.
Guinan closed her eyes, and when she opened them, her expression was softer. “Did he ever tell you why we were so close?”
Riker shook his head.
“Ah,” said Guinan, leaning back into the chair. “Well, let me just say that it was beyond friendship, and beyond family. And I will let him go.” She fixed him with that hard gaze again. “And you must do the same.”
Guinan stood and walked around the desk to stand in front of him. “There can only be one captain.”
Riker shook his head. “It’s not that simple,” he said. “This was his crew, he wrote the book on this ship!”
Guinan spoke immediately. “If the Borg know everything he knew, then it’s time to throw that book away. You must let him go, Riker. It’s the only way to beat him. The only way to save him. And that,” she indicated the seat on the other side of the desk, “is now your chair, Captain.”
She turned, and with a swish of her robes, she was gone, and Riker was alone again. As unwelcome as her visit had been, Riker realised that Guinan was right. He’d been simply filling in, keeping the seat warm for Picard as it were. Not doing what he thought was best, but trying to do what he thought Picard would do. As long as he was simply filling in, he never would be the Captain of the Enterprise. This was his ship now, not Picard’s, and it was his chair. He walked around to the other side of the desk, pulled the chair out, then sat in it.
It was his chair.
His ship, his crew. They would follow him where he lead, but Riker still had no idea where to lead them. They couldn’t attack the Borg, they had no weapons, and they had no weapons because they had no knowledge. They needed knowledge.
And the crew was still in mourning because they’d lost the Captain. Riker chided himself. No, Picard wasn’t the captain anymore. Riker was the Captain. Still, he held out hope that Picard could be saved. It would be a much-needed victory for the crew if they could get him back. But how, when he was being held in the impregnable fortress of the Cube?
And then, both thoughts came together in Riker’s mind. Bring Picard back, and he might provide the knowledge they needed. Their lack of weapons against the Borg wouldn’t matter, because they wouldn’t be attacking them, they’d be stealing from them. Inflicting damage wouldn’t be the priority…
But then, before he could think further on it, the com opened, and he heard Welsey’s voice. “We’re approaching the Wolf system, Captain.”
Riker stood. “On my way,” he said.
The crew looked to him when he stepped onto the bridge. “Slow to impulse,” he said. “Take us to the battle coordinates, Ensign. Yellow alert.”
Action. Riker felt the cheerlessness leave the bridge, replaced by the eagerness for action. With tasks to occupy their minds, the crew had less chance to dwell on the bleakness of their situation. Finally they were doing something other than repairing the damage or failing to find new ways to defeat the Borg. He sat in the command chair, leaning forward.
“Sensors are picking up several vessels,” said Worf.
Riker turned to him. “The fleet?”
Data checked his console. “There are no active subspace fields,” he said. “Negligible power readings.”
Riker felt a sense of dread growing inside him. He hadn’t expected anything different, but now, to be faced with the harsh reality of the fleet’s defeat, he felt more than ever that the crew’s confidence in him was going to fail. “Are there any lifesigns?”
Data shook his head. “Negative, sir.”
“Visual contact!” said Worf.
Riker took a deep breath, preparing himself. “On screen.”
And then the screen changed from the innocent image of the stars, showing instead the shattered remains of starships; broken hulls and bent frames, rended metal and buckled keels. There was a ghostly flickering among the wrecks as electrical conduits arced, flashing coldly in the void. Brief flashes of fire flickered as broken plasma conduit met with venting oxygen. Surrounding the lifeless ships was a cloud of smaller objects: computer panels, tools, clothes, personal effects and corpses, all drifting lazily in space. The dim blood red glow from the star cast a grisly light. Here and there, amongst the wreckage, Riker could pick out objects. This used to be a painting, hanging in someone’s quarters. Here was somebody’s off duty fatigues. And just over there was part of somebody’s arm.
And amongst the large pieces of wreckage were parts of hulls, names partially obscured behind carbon scoring, registry numbers ripped in half by the explosions that tore apart hull plating. Riker strained to read them as the Enterprise moved slowly passed.
On the twisted hull of an Ambassador-class saucer, he saw IANT NCC-446. That would have been the Reliant.
Another piece of the debris bore the letters VELT above the numbers 73. The Roosevelt.
On what had been a Rigel-class warp nacelle, the numbers 62 were visible. The Tolstoy?
A New Orleans-class vessel, still with fires flickering inside the windows. As the Enterprise moved closer, Riker saw the name Kyushu on the side.
And then Riker’s breath caught in his throat as he saw an Excelsior-class ship, the saucer eaten away, the secondary hull battered and twisted, and the registry on the nacelle reading NCC-62043. The Melbourne. He felt his throat tighten. If he’d accepted Starfleet’s offer of command, he would have been on that ship. Would he have been able to make a difference? Would he have led the crew to their deaths? Would he have been vaporised? Or would his dead body be floating in the cold of space? He felt his stomach twisting at the thought of how close his death had been.
“You have the bridge,” he said hoarsely, and he rushed for the privacy of the ready room before he was sick.
|May 6 2012, 12:03 PM||#19|
Re: The Best of Both Worlds
The Enterprise moved slowly through the cemetery of the dead ships for more than ten minutes, scanning for survivors, but they found none. They detected the tell-tale signatures of Federation engines leading away from the battle, and Riker hoped that this meant that some of the ships had managed to escape, but he noted with dismay that only one of the trails led towards the fall-back position. The other two moved in the other direction. He wondered what this could mean. Other than that, they had not detected any signs of engine emissions. The Cube had presumably started to head back towards Earth, but they hadn’t found any traces of its engine signature and so couldn’t determine its exact course. Riker decided to give five more minutes to find the Cube’s trail before he ordered the Enterprise to set a course for Earth.
“Sir,” Worf called from tactical, “sensors are picking up unusually strong eddy currents, bearing two zero zero, mark two one one.”
Riker turned to Data. “Your analysis?”
“It could indicate the course of the Borg ship,” he said. All moving objects created distortions in the fabric of subspace, much like the wake of a boat as it moves across the water. A starship was too small to create eddy currents that were noticeable, but larger objects created a measurable flux in subspace. It seemed that the Borg Cube was large enough to create such currents. Certainly nothing else in the system could have produced them. And they were heading in the expected course of the Cube.
Riker turned to the helm. “Ensign Crusher, set in a course that follows those currents.” He turned to Shelby. “Commander,” he said, “prepare to initiate your plan to separate the saucer section when we find the Borg.”
Shelby stood and walked to him, her expression concerned. “Sir, I must remind you that Captain Picard was briefed on that plan. The Borg will be prepared for it.”
Riker nodded. “I’m aware of that, Commander, he said, and the corner of his mouth twisted into a wry smile. “In fact, I’m counting on it.”
Shelby regarded him for a moment, as though trying to see into his mind. “Crusher, Cartaino, Gleason, report to the battle bridge,” she ordered. Her voice was clipped, authoritative. She didn’t know what Riker was planning, but there was something in his voice, some confidence that gave her hope for the first time in three days.
As the crew moved off and additional crew came in to take their stations, Riker gestured, calling Worf down from the tactical rail. “Mister Data, Mister Worf,” he said. “I’ve got a special mission for you.” And as Riker explained his strategy to them, Shelby listened, and smiled. It was a damned good plan.
In the depths of the Cube, Picard despaired.
He wished he could weep. Weep for those that had been lost, weep for himself. To have been violated, not just physically but mentally and emotionally, that was bad enough, but to be used to lead an attack on your comrades, to be forced to kill, to destroy, to ruin lives and cause so much pain and suffering… How could he live with what he’d been forced to do? Picard had struggled, fought to break free of the Borg’s control – her control – but his efforts had been in vain.
And then he heard her voice in his mind: Resistance is futile. A soft whisper, as though she found his efforts to break free amusing. And then his eyes turned and Picard saw that she was there. “Yes, my love,” she said. “I’ll always be here, even if you don’t see me.” She ran her hand over his scalp. “I’ll always be there with you, in your mind…” She grinned wickedly and pressed her lips to his. In the heat of the Cube, Picard felt the chill of her touch. “I know it wasn’t pleasant for you,” she said, “hurting your friends like that. But I didn’t just do it for me. It was for you too.”
In his mind, Picard screamed in fury at her.
“Oh, come now, Jean-Luc,” she said. “You’re holding onto your past life. You’re really being very stubborn. You need to realise that I am now in control.” Her hand fell from his head and she stepped back and sighed. “Just let it happen. It must be obvious that you can never win. Give yourself over to us.” She smiled. “I promise all the pain will go away if you do.”
Go to hell, Picard thought at her.
She shrugged. “Oh well,” she said. “No matter. You can’t hold out forever. To be honest, I’m quite pleased.” She grinned her wicked grin again. “I enjoy a challenge,” she said. “But, right now, there is something I want to show you.”
Before Picard, an image appeared. A starfield. The stars were rushing past and vanishing in the distance, and Picard realised that he was seeing what was behind the Cube. And the stars weren’t moving that fast. A rather leisurely warp five, or so he guessed.
“Yes, warp five, very good,” she said. “Look closer.”
And as Picard looked, the image seemed to obey his thoughts and it magnified. In the distance, he could see a bright speck of light, moving with the Cube, following. The Enterprise!
And then he felt something, something he couldn’t quite put into words, but it was a sudden knowledge that the Enterprise was hailing the Cube. And as soon as he thought about it, the image changed, displaying the inside of the bridge.
No, wait, that was the battle bridge.
Riker’s up to something.
Oh, I have no doubt of that, he heard her say in his mind. But he will fail.
Riker was speaking. “Locutus of Borg, this is Captain William T Riker of the USS Enterprise.”
For a moment, Picard felt a flash of amusement. Riker had worried for so long about whether he was experienced enough to become captain, and now here he was with four pips! Greatness thrust upon him.
“You may speak.” It was beginning to feel more distant now, as though the voice that he heard wasn’t his anymore. Picard felt a great sadness weigh upon him. He was losing himself.
“We wish to end the hostilities,” said Riker.
The response was direct. “Then you must unconditionally surrender.”
“We are prepared to meet to discuss your terms,” Riker said.
Picard heard the words come out of his mouth. “It is unlikely that you are prepared to discuss terms. It is more likely that this is an attempt at deception.”
Riker stood from the command chair and stepped forwards, holding his hands out open in front of him as though in a gesture of friendship. “Come now, Locutus,” he said amiably. “If Picard’s knowledge and experience is part of you, then you know I have never lied to him. In fact, you should also implicitly trust me, is that not so?”
Picard wondered what Riker was doing. No attack, just an attempt to talk? What he was planning? But then he felt the Borg preparing themselves, and he cursed himself. Had he just alerted the Borg to a subtle strategy of Riker’s? Oh God, he hoped not.
“Picard implicitly trusted you.” It really didn’t feel like his voice anymore…
“Then trust me now,” said Riker. “Meet with me to discuss terms.”
“Discussion is irrelevant. There are no terms. You will disarm all your weapons and escort us to sector zero-zero-one where we will begin the assimilation of your culture and technology.”
The image abruptly cut off, and he saw just the inside of the corridor again.
As soon as the communication from the Cube had been cut off, Riker turned to Lieutenant Gleason, sitting at the battle bridge Ops station. “Mister Gleason, can you pinpoint the source of the Borg’s transmission?”
Gleason smiled. “I can put you within thirty meters of it, sir.”
“Good,” said Riker. He lifted his head and spoke to the com. “Mister O’Brien, report.”
“The Borg have adapted their electromagnetic field to prevent main transporter function,” O’Brien said from the transporter room on the saucer. He’d been working for the last ten minutes to find a way to beam Worf and Data onto the Cube, but his efforts had met with no success, even with Data’s help. They’d have to take another method to get onto the Cube.
“Damn,” muttered Riker. “Mister Data, Mister Worf, you will proceed as we discussed.”
“Aye Captain,” said Data, and then the comline closed.
Riker turned to Burkland at the tactical station and nodded.
“Channel open, sir.”
Riker turned back to the screen. “We would like time to prepare our people for assimilation,” said Riker. Nothing fancy now, just stalling for time.
“Preparation is irrelevant. Your people will be assimilated as easily as Picard has been.”
Riker made a show of wincing. “Does it involve needles? Because I really don’t like needles…”
The bait was not taken. “Your attempt at a delay will not be successful, Number One. We will proceed to Earth, and if you attempt to intervene, we will destroy you.”
Riker gave the Borg his best poker face. “Then take your best shot, Locutus,” he said dangerously, “because we are about to intervene.”
Burkland cut off the channel, and Riker turned to him. “Reset communications to scrambler code Riker One.” Riker went back to the command chair.
“Aye sir, Riker one,” Burkland acknowledged.
“Riker to Shelby. Report.”
“Ready for separation,” Shelby said, her voice coming down over the com from the main bridge.
“Make it so,” said Riker.
He could sense distant thuds echo through the hull, soft booms that he could feel more than hear as the massive docking clamps pulled together and then withdrew into the upper surface of the Enterprise’s dorsal. Conduits and mechanisms retracted into the hull, and the Enterprise’s primary hull moved away, the massive saucer picking up speed and sweeping around in a great arc to put distance between it and the stardrive.
La Forge reported, “Docking latches clear. Separation complete.”
“Saucer velocity one hundred meters per second and increasing,” Ensign Crusher said from the battle bridge’s helm. “They’re in position.”
“Open fire,” Riker ordered. “All weapons.”
“Acknowledged,” said Shelby, her voice coming over the comline. “Fire.”
She wasn’t surprised. In fact, it was rather foolish. Picard had been aware of the plan to separate the saucer section, so what did they think it could accomplish? Did they think that the saucer would distract her from the heavily armed stardrive?
Which to attack first? The thought came to her that it was far better to punish Riker before killing him. Let him see the saucer destroyed. Let him see the majority of the crew die. And the civilians. Let Riker suffer that pain before he was robbed of his life. Let him see the folly of interfering with her. But then she decided not to. Leave the crew on the saucer to witness the destruction of the more heavily armed of the pair. Let them wallow in their fear for a few minutes before she finally killed them. As satisfying as it would be to give Riker a slow death, the greater fear from the crew on the saucer would excite her more.
She directed her attention to the stardrive and smiled. This was almost too easy.
Both halves of the separated Enterprise let fly with their weapons. The more heavily armed stardrive moved around the Cube as it attacked, firing bursts from all of its phaser banks and launching full spreads of torpedos. The weaker saucer had only two phaser banks, presenting less of a threat.
The Borg lashed out at the stardrive.
“Borg tractor beam is attempting to lock on, Captain,” said Wesley.
“Evasive maneuvers, pattern Riker Alpha.”
Wesley tapped the console, and the stardrive slewed off to the side, neatly dodging the Borg tractor beam. “Riker Alpha confirmed.”
Burkland spoke from tactical. “They’re ignoring the saucer completely.”
Riker let himself smile. “Just as you should, Captain,” he muttered. “Ensign Crusher, Riker Beta.”
Wesley entered the commands. “Riker Beta, confirmed.”
The stardrive spiralled away, then turned and attacked, moving in a chaotic zig zag pattern. The Borg couldn’t predict the stardrive’s course and were unable to seize the heavily armed vessel. The stardrive let loose with a barrage of phasers and torpedos.
Riker lifted his voice and spoke to the com. “Commander Shelby, proceed with the second phase.”
“Acknowledged,” came Shelby’s voice. “Launching antimatter spread.”
Space flared white, and for a moment, she couldn’t see. She turned her attention to the source of the blinding light, and saw the saucer section releasing thousands of exploding pellets of antimatter towards her Cube. Beyond it, she could sense nothing. The antimatter was screening her sensors.
What were they doing? They must have known that this would be an ineffective weapon. She reached into Picard’s mind, but he knew nothing, and she experienced a moment of doubt. They were doing something, and she didn’t know what. No sense in giving them an advantage, no matter what it might be, though. She turned her attention fully to the saucer.
Data and Worf sat in the shuttle Descartes. Data had positioned the shuttle just inside the saucer’s massive shuttlebay, ready to move at a moment’s notice.
Riker’s order came over the shuttle’s com system. “Data, launch the shuttle.”
“Shuttle launch sequence initialised,” Data acknowledged. He activated the shuttle’s engines, and the Descartes moved forwards. “Departing Enterprise in three seconds.” Ahead, the antimatter spread was creating a forest of pyrotechnics. The Descartes rushed into it, losing itself among the explosions, hiding from the Cube’s sensors. The tiny vessel was tossed and thrown in the flak.
“What are they doing?” she wondered. “Tell me, Picard.”
Picard watched, unable to see part the blanket of fire. Despite his intentions, his mind considered what was happening. The saucer of the Enterprise was almost completely hidden, but he could just make out something moving…
She smiled. “Yes, they’re hiding something...”
She reached towards the saucer to see what she could find.
Wesley looked up from his panel. “The Borg tractor beam has moved towards the antimatter spread,” he said.
“They could be picking up the engine ionization from the shuttle,” suggest Gleason.
“Data, cut your engines,” Riker said. “Take her in unpowered.”
Data shut down the Descartes’ impulse drive, letting the shuttle’s inertia carry it towards the Cube. He vented some of the craft’s oxygen supply, pushing the shuttle sideways, just avoiding the groping tractor beam.
A light flashed on the helm panel, and Data checked it. “Shuttle has penetrated the Borg electromagnetic field,” he said as he and Worf stood. They quickly moved into the aft compartment, and Data checked the escape transporter’s control. All the indications were green. “The shuttle escape transporter should provide enough power to beam us onto the Borg ship from here, sir,” he reported.
“And back?” Riker asked over the com.
“Yes sir. There should be enough energy for two transport cycles.”
Data tapped a control, and he and Worf disappeared.
Picard was aware as soon as Data and Worf materialised inside the Cube, less than twenty meters from where he stood. But what are they doing?
She was looking at him, looking into Picard’s mind. But she learnt nothing. Picard had no knowledge of Data and Worf’s intentions for her to steal.
No matter, she said. I’ll send them an escort.
Picard was aware of a dozen drones in the nearby corridor, moving out of their alcoves and converging on the away team.
And then she smiled, as though seized by a sudden idea. You too, Jean-Luc, she said. I think I’ll let you be the instrument of their deaths.
And, against his will, Picard’s body began to move.
Data and Worf moved quickly, firing only when necessary. The chips designed by Wesley were working well; the Borg had yet to adapt, but Worf didn’t assume that he had any more than another four shots before the Borg adapted.
He used two of them before he spotted Locutus, then used the final two to fell the drones advancing on either side of their target. He ran at Locutus, and the massive biomechanical arm rose to attack, but Worf ducked underneath it, tackling the Borg with his full weight.
Locutus remained standing, braced with a foot against the metal grates in the floor.
From the corner of his eye, Worf saw the arm rise up to attack, and so he reached up and held it away from him. But now, with only one hand available to fight Locutus with, he found himself being pushed backwards.
“Data!” he called through clenched teeth.
And then Data appeared next to him, having run forwards from where he had been covering Worf. There was a soft hiss as Data pressed a hypospray against one of the few bare patches of Locutus’ skin, and the Borg went limp, his muscles paralysed.
Data reached for the emergency transporter armband on his upper arm, checked that pattern enhancer field was surrounding all three of them, then tapped the control and they vanished.
They materialised back in the shuttle. Data was already reaching for the helm controls, and Worf let Locutus slump to the floor. He reached for the companel. “Mission accomplished,” he said. “We have him!”
“Firing shuttle thrusters,” said Data, and the Descartes rushed forwards, away from the Cube.
The shuttle burst through the Borg Cube’s electromagnetic field.
“They’re clear of the Borg field, sir!” called Burkland.
“Beam them out of there, O’Brien!”
She felt the anger rising inside her. They’d come onto her Cube, stolen her property, and she hadn’t even realised what they were doing!
But in their haste to escape, they’d given themselves away. The flare of the shuttle’s thrusters blazed brightly, and she attacked.
“Locked on,” said O’Brien. He activated the transporter…
Data, Worf and Locutus were caught up in the shimmering glow of the beam…
The cutting beam lanced out from the Cube, cutting through the shuttle and rupturing the fusion reactor.
The Descartes exploded…
… and Data, Worf and Locutus reformed on the transporter pad. They stepped off the pad, supporting the limp form of Locutus between them.
O’Brien tapped the companel. “Transport successful, sir,” he said. “We’ve got them.”
And on the battle bridge, Riker smiled.
Last edited by Tiberius; May 6 2012 at 12:14 PM.
|May 8 2012, 10:40 PM||#20|
Re: The Best of Both Worlds
The ready room door chime sounded, and Jonathan Archer looked up from the padd in his hand. “Come in?”
The door slid open and T’Pol stepped in. Archer looked at her, his expression grave and concerned. He lifted up the padd. “The computer analysed Phlox’s numbers,” he said. “They’re pulsar frequencies. With geometric light year measurements.”
T’Pol looked at the display. “Spatial coordinates,” she said. Her voice was quiet, but when she turned back to him, he could see the concern on her face, the cold realisation she was now making the same as the one he’d made twenty minutes before.
Archer stood and leaned heavily on the support that ran along the ceiling. His eyes met hers. “They told their homeworld how to find Earth.”
T’Pol looked away. “Did you learn where the message was sent?”
Archer tapped the controls, bring up the computer’s analysis. “Somewhere deep in the Delta Quadrant.”
The worry on T’Pol’s face, as subtle as it was, vanished. “Then I doubt there’s any immediate danger,” she remarked. “It would take at least two hundred years for a subspace message to reach the Delta Quadrant, assuming it’s received at all.”
Archer looked out the window as the stars rushed by. “Sounds to me we’ve only postponed the invasion until… what?” He turned back to her. “The twenty fourth century?”
Archer felt a shudder of fear, knowing that these aliens would be coming. He had faced only a few of them, with nothing more than what they could make of an old transport vessel and they had been able to adapt to every defence he and his crew could develop, failing only at the last. If there had been more of them, or if their ship had been more powerful, he was sure that they would have destroyed Enterprise. And when they came in two centuries, he was sure they were going to come in more heavily armed vessels, and in greater numbers.
He was glad it would be long after his time.
It took one hundred and ninety seven years for the subspace signal to cross the width of the galaxy. Carried within it were the means to determine the location of the planet called Earth, but deeper, encoded into the fabric of the message itself, was a greater knowledge.
The Borg received the transmission in the middle of the twenty fourth century. The message had been slowed by its long journey and degraded by distance. Much of what was in it was lost. But when she found it, she knew it had come from her own kind, and she worked tirelessly to learn its secrets.
She found the location of Earth. She found snippets of data, scattered within the message, surrounded by blocks of information degraded and useless. The data seemed to indicate that the message had been transmitted by drones who had come from more than two decades into her future, data regarding a primitive and backwards species that had somehow been able to defeat her Cubes. She almost didn’t accept it, but her analysis left no doubt.
She considered her options and decided that she must act on what she had learned. Why else would her drones from the future have sent the message from the past? It was obviously important, and her future self must have intended for her past self to act upon it.
She sent two Cubes. The first would take a direct route; the second a more circuitous route, waiting to see what the first encountered.
The first had attacked a small mining outpost in an isolated system of the Federation. It had sifted through the minds of the people that it had assimilated and examined every scrap of data in their computers. But there was nothing remarkable about them, no great knowledge or technology, and the Cube began its journey home. Senseless to travel across the galaxy to assimilate a species no different to any one of thousands found closer to home. But as it travelled, it became aware of a small vessel, designated NAR-32450, which was following it, with three life forms aboard. The Cube attacked the vessel, killing one of them when she attacked a drone, but assimilating the other two. She found nothing special about them either and instructed the Cube to continue on its way back home.
The second Cube, she let it stay on its course. True, she didn’t expect to find anything, not after what her first Cube had shown her, but she didn’t dare discount the message so readily. It would arrive at the borders of the Federation just over a decade after the first. It attacked and assimilated a number of Human outposts along the border they shared with a species that called themselves Romulan, but again found nothing remarkable. And, simply for curiosity’s sake, she took some of the Romulan outposts as well. They had an interesting method of providing warp drive, with miniature black holes, but quite unremarkable otherwise. She concluded that despite the message, there was nothing special about this Human species after all, and she sent the signal to bring the second Cube home.
But then, almost a year later, thousands of light years from the Federation, the second Cube encountered a Human vessel, this ship named Enterprise, and it surprised her. How had they gotten out this far? Curious, she instructed the Cube to assimilate the Enterprise, but at the very last moment, with the vessel caught in her tractor beams and its consumption seemingly assured, the Enterprise had somehow broken free and escaped, travelling at an extreme velocity, using a method of propulsion that she had never before encountered.
This intrigued her, and she wanted it. She wanted to know how the Enterprise had come to be so far from the Federation. She wanted to know how the Enterprise had escaped, how it had broken free. She made her Cube turn and head back towards Earth.
Now, with Picard assimilated and his thoughts laid open to her, she understood. She had Picard’s knowledge of the Q entity, a troublesome creature by all accounts, though at least wise enough to leave her be. But now, with her invasion started, she wasn’t going to stop. Granted, assimilating the Humans wouldn’t give her anything greatly different to what she could get from species closer to the Unicomplex, but she felt that the Humans had deceived her, and it angered her. Oh, she knew it was Q’s fault to begin with, but she wouldn’t go after him. All she could do was assimilate Q’s accomplices. And it would give her a foothold here. She could begin expanding into the Alpha Quadrant. It was, after all, going to happen eventually. Why not now?
But, the message disturbed her, at least a little. It spoke of two attempts to attack the Human’s Federation, and how they had both failed. She couldn’t conceive of what mistake she could make that would lead to her failure, and the message was silent in this regard, the information having been lost forever during the two centuries it had spent traversing the galaxy.
The idea of failure was alien to her. Hadn’t she faced the Starfleet armada and defeated them? And it wasn’t even a great struggle. They had given her a pitiful fight. How then could she be defeated? It was inconceivable. Their resistance was futile.
But now they had taken Picard back. And once again, this angered her, and she was about to strike out, and destroy this Enterprise just as she had destroyed the others. But then, her cunning mind thought cunning thoughts, and she stopped. Why destroy the Enterprise? She could do it easily, yes, but she would destroy her Locutus, and that would rob her of the pleasure of seeing how the Humans panicked at the site of one of their most powerful bent to her will. She’d hate to miss that. And anyway, wasn’t a quick death too easy for Riker? Let him think that he was making progress, then Locutus could turn on him and cause his death. It would make Riker suffer for his arrogance, and it would make Picard suffer for his resistance.
She smiled. Yes. For the moment, she would leave them be.
Shelby’s voice came over the battle bridge’s com. “Captain, we’ve sustained damage to the impulse drive. The saucer section is disabled.”
Before Riker could answer her, an alarm sounded from the Ops console. “I’m reading subspace field fluctuations from the Borg ship,” Gleason said. “It looks like they’re getting ready to increase power.”
“Stand by, Commander,” Riker said to Shelby. If the Cube was about to attack, then there was nothing the saucer could do. There was no way to get it mobile in the few seconds they had before the Borg attacked. All Riker could do was hope that the stardrive would be enough to keep the Borg’s attention away from the saucer, at least until they had been able to repair their impulse engines. But still, without warp drive, the saucer wouldn’t have much of a chance anyway. Still, better than no chance at all. Riker turned to Burkland at tactical. “Stand by to draw their fire…”
“Captain, the Borg ship!” called Welsey. Riker turned back towards him, a jolt of fear moving through him as he heard the alarm in the ensign’s voice. “It’s moving away!”
On the screen, the image of the Cube rotated, then shot away at a tremendous speed. Riker let himself relax a little.
“It’s resuming its course towards Earth, sir.”
Riker sighed. Why hadn’t the Cube attacked? The Enterprise was defenceless, and the Cube was more than a match for her. Still, Riker was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. He didn’t know why the Borg hadn’t attacked, but they hadn’t, and that gave him hope.
He turned and walked to the command chair. “Rendezvous with the saucer section,” he ordered. “Then lay in a course of pursuit.”
Once the two sections of the Enterprise were rejoined, Riker went to the main sickbay in the saucer, where Data and Worf had brought Locutus. He was still limp on the biobed; the muscle paralyser wouldn’t cease its effects until he was injected with the counter agent. Beverly’s readouts indicated that many of Picard’s organs had been replaced with mechanical implants. His kidneys, his spleen. And there were a swarm of implants around his intestines. She was worried about what the Borg had done to his artificial heart and voiced her intentions to replace it as soon as she could. She’d been shocked to see that his arm had been severed, but she would be able to clone a new one for him, provided she could safely remove the biomechanical one that had been put in its place.
Worf had assigned a full dozen of his security to sickbay, but Crusher had balked at this, insisting that they would only get in the way. Worf had argued – he was not going to underestimate the Borg again and would take no chances – but Riker had sided with the doctor. The most important thing was repairing the damage done to Picard, and Beverly was their best hope for that. And if having a dozen security guards in sickbay meant that she wouldn’t be able to do her job as well, then the guards went. Worf growled, but he couldn’t argue with the point. He instructed the guards to wait outside; out of Crusher’s way, but close enough to be ready should they be needed. But Worf refused to leave, and he stayed at the doctor’s side.
The scans had taken almost twenty minutes to complete, and now the results were up on the large wall monitor. Beverly was examining them, but her expression grew more and more concerned.
Riker stood, watching her, but growing increasingly anxious as Beverly remained quiet. After some time, he spoke. “What’s his condition?”
Beverly turned. “There’s extensive infiltration of the microcircuit fibers into the surrounding tissue. His DNA is be rewritten…”
“Can you revive him?”
Crusher looked up from the limp body and shook her head. “I’d like more time to study the structural changes in the motor pathways.” The degree of complexity she’d seen in the Borg implants was far greater than she’d expected, but she was confident that she could remove them. As long as she had the time she needed. To rush in now, to operate on Picard before she had the knowledge she needed, that could be far more dangerous to Picard than leaving him as he was.
“Doctor, we don’t have more time,” Riker said. “Once he was wired into the Borg, they knew everything he knew. I’m hoping it goes both ways. If we’re lucky, he had access to everything we need to know about them. Especially their vulnerabilities.”
Beverly looked at him. For a moment, there was anger in her eyes, anger that he was willing to put Picard at risk, but then she understood his position. There was a lot more at stake than just Picard, and she couldn’t let her feelings for him stand in the way. She picked up a hypo from the bench, loaded it with the counter agent and pressed it against Picard’s neck. She leaned over him. “Jean-Luc? It’s Beverly. Can you hear me?”
For a moment, he was silent. Then his eyelids flickered and opened. The eyes looked around, scanning the room before fixing on Beverly.
“Beverly…” The sound of his voice was pained. “Crusher…”
“Yes,” said Beverly. “Don’t try to move.”
“I am on board the Enterprise.”
“That’s right,” said Riker, stepping forwards.
Worf’s hand moved closer to his phaser and quietly called another two of his men in.
Locutus turned to Riker sat up on the biobed. “A futile maneuver. Incorrect strategy, Number One, to risk your crew and ship to retrieve only one man. Picard would never have approved. You underestimate us if you believe this abduction is any concern.”
The door hissed open and two of Worf’s security personnel entered. Locutus turned to them. “There is no need for apprehension. I intend no harm.” Locutus turned to Riker. “No harm,” he repeated. “I will continue aboard this ship to speak for the Borg as they continue without further diversion to sector zero zero one where they will force your unconditional surrender.”
Riker sighed. For a moment, it had seemed that Picard had been trying to break through the Borg’s control of him, that he had been promising not to harm them. But his hopes were in vain. The only reason that Locutus wouldn’t harm them was because he needed them. Once the Enterprise and her crew had fulfilled their usefulness, the Borg would no doubt destroy them.
Data’s voice came over the comline. “Captain Riker, could you please come to the bridge? I believe I may have found a link between Locutus and the Borg.”
“On my way, Data,” Riker said. He turned and left.
Beverly hurried after him.
Data was sitting at the aft science station. On the screen before him were the results of a sensor scan he had been running. He looked up as Riker and Crusher approached, moving his chair back so they could see his display. “Using multi-modal reflection sorting, I have been able to detect a complex series of subspace signals between Locutus and the Borg ship,” he said.
“That’s how they’re controlling him?” Beverly asked.
Data shook his head. “It is not just a matter of control, Doctor. The signals are interactive across a subspace domain similar to that of a transporter beam. I would hypothesize that these frequencies form the basis of the Borg’s collective consciousness.”
“Can’t we block them?” asked Riker.
“Possibly,” said Data, “but as you will recall, on several occasions we have observed the Borg removing key circuits from injured comrades, no doubt separating them from the group consciousness.”
Riker sighed and stood up straight. “The injured Borg then immediately self-destruct,” he said.
“That is correct, sir,” said Data.
Beverly shook her head, deep in thought. “Cutting the link to Locutus might be fatal to the captain,” she said.
Riker frowned. “We have to find a way to reach him. We must know what he knows.”
“Without those interactive signals, it would only be a matter of microsurgery,” said Beverly. “I could do it.” She could have screamed at the injustice of it all. It would be so easy to remove these implants, but if she did, she would likely kill the man she was trying to save. She groaned. “But as long as those Borg implants are functioning, there’s no way I can separate man from machine.”
Data looked up, an idea forming. “Then perhaps there is a way I can access the machine.”
Data had gone back down to sickbay to examine the medical scans Crusher had made of Locutus. It seemed promising, and he had no doubts that he could connect himself to Locutus, but there were also grave concerns. Would he be able to find what he needed, or would the Borg be able to block him out? Or worse, would the Borg overwhelm his mind? Could he succumb to the same fate that had taken Picard, to become one of them? He didn’t know, but he hoped not. He couldn’t feel fear, but the idea left him with something he supposed Humans might term “anxiety.”
But, it didn’t affect him, and he explained to Riker and Crusher what he would need to do in order to link himself with Locutus. Riker had quickly agreed, despite the risk.
Locutus had risen from the biobed and was walking slowly around sickbay when Data entered with Riker and Crusher. The guards stood at the doors, ready to stop him if he made any attempt to leave, but so far he hadn’t. He was simply making an examination of sickbay.
All heads turned as Locutus said the Klingon’s name. Worf readied himself, expecting the Borg to attack, but dreading the thought of having to fight the being that had once been his captain.
But Locutus made no move against Worf, simply spoke. “Klingon species. A warrior race. You too will be assimilated.”
Locutus turned to walk away, but Worf spoke back. “The Klingon Empire will never yield,” he growled.
Locutus turned back. “Why do you resist? We only wish to raise quality of life for all species.”
“I like my species the way it is,” Worf snarled.
Locutus regarded him for a moment. “A narrow vision. You will become one with the Borg.” He turned, taking in all of them; Worf, Riker, Data, Crusher, the guards… “You will all become one with the Borg.” He turned to Data. “The android, Data. Primitive artificial organism. You will be obsolete in the new order…”
Beverly quickly stepped forwards, pressing a hypo against his neck, and Locutus slumped once again. Worf and Data stepped forwards to catch him as he collapsed.
“Take him to your lab, Data,” Riker said. Data and Worf carried the limp form of Locutus away.
The comline opened. “Shelby to Riker.”
“Captain,” she said, and Riker could hear the fear tightening her voice, “the Borg have entered sector zero zero one.”
And at that moment, the massive Borg Cube, unhindered and unstoppable, was passing Saturn.
|May 10 2012, 11:48 PM||#21|
Re: The Best of Both Worlds
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.
The Enterprise 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.”
“Enterprise entering the Terran system, sir,” said Wesley.
“Maintain speed,” ordered Riker. “Time to intercept?”
Wesley checked his panel. “Twenty three minutes, fourteen seconds.”
The Enterprise 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.
The Enterprise 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.
The Enterprise 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.
The Enterprise 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.”
The Enterprise 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.”
The Enterprise 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.
The Enterprise 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!”
|May 10 2012, 11:49 PM||#22|
Re: The Best of Both Worlds
“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.
The Enterprise 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’s death.
“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.”
The Enterprise 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.
|May 12 2012, 04:45 AM||#23|
Re: The Best of Both Worlds
|May 12 2012, 08:27 PM||#24|
Re: The Best of Both Worlds
Thank you to FltCpt. Bossco at STPMA for my avatar. He is one of the best. This is Tolen, a Horrusi captain in Starfleet, who commands the Sovereign class starship U.S.S. Sangamon.
|May 12 2012, 10:03 PM||#25|
Re: The Best of Both Worlds
|May 14 2012, 07:40 AM||#27|
Re: The Best of Both Worlds
CLICK HERE to download "The Best of Both Worlds" as a PDF file. It's got a nifty cover page and a table of contents.
|May 25 2012, 04:13 PM||#29|
Re: The Best of Both Worlds
|June 30 2012, 07:45 AM||#30|
Re: The Best of Both Worlds
And, it's been a while, but I've finally got the improved PDF version of The Best of Both Worlds ready to go! It's got the whole book, a nifty cover image, nice formatting and even a table of contents! So download it, spread it around and share it!
You can download it from my Deviant Art page: The Best of Both Worlds eBook
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