The Best of Both Worlds

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Tiberius, Apr 10, 2012.

  1. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    As an exercise, I've decided to write a prose version of The Best of Both Worlds, to develop my style and technique without needing to worry about the need to figure out plot. I've based this on the script for the episode (so if there are a few differences in stardates etc, that's why), and I've expanded on some scenes based on what was cut from the script. I've also created a few new scenes as well.

    I'm hoping that I've managed to capture the same feel as the episode. I'd love to hear your feedback!

    Teaser

    It had been the same for the last few nights.

    Always dark and hot, a vague sense of something chasing him as he ran down narrow corridors. Cold fingers just behind him, brushing against his uniform tunic, grasping, trying to pull him back into the darkness. And the voices… Whispering, chattering, but always just beyond his hearing. And then he’d stumble and fall and turn to face his pursuer, but always at that point he’d wake up, his sheets drenched in his own sweat.

    This night was no different. When Picard woke, he lay in his bed for a moment, composing himself, ignoring the discomfort of the sweat-soaked sheets. Over the years, he’d become quite skilled at pushing his emotions away, into the deep recesses of his mind. For the benefit of his crew, of course. Never let them see that you are anything but completely confident. Always act like you know exactly which path to take. If they saw that you were unsure, they’d lose faith, lose confidence, and in space, that could be fatal.

    Picard sighed, then pushed the sheets away. He swung his legs off the bed and pushed himself to his feet before heading towards the bathroom. He shrugged his pyjamas off as he entered, leaving them on the floor, then he activated the sonic shower, standing naked under the beam. He leaned heavily against the wall. Perhaps he should speak to Deanna. He checked the chronometer on the wall. Oh four hundred. He sighed again. Perhaps she’d have time for a quick chat about this before he went on duty.

    “Bridge to Captain Picard.”

    Worf’s deep voice pulled him back to reality. If he was being called from the bridge, he thought wryly, duty wasn’t going to wait for him. The only bad thing about being a starship captain was that he was never off duty.

    Picard turned off the shower. “What is it, Mister Worf?”

    “We are receiving a transmission,” Worf stated. “It is unintelligible, but seems to originate in the Jouret system.”

    “Could it be from our colony?”

    “Unknown,” said Worf. “However, the transmission is not coming from any of the planets.”

    “Acknowlged,” said Picard. “Have the conn set a course to intercept at warp eight and try to unscramble the transmission. I’m on my way.”

    Leaving the bathroom, Picard replicated a fresh uniform and walked out. Just as the door hissed open, he pulled his shoulders back and lifted his chin. To project confidence.

    *

    Picard stepped out onto the bridge before the turbolift doors had opened completely. “Report.”

    At Ops, Data turned to face him. “I’ve been analysing the transmission,” he said. “While I have not yet been able to determine the content, I have determined that it is from a Federation source. The computer is currently running the transmission through a fractal decryption pattern, which should be complete in a few hours.”

    “Mister Worf?”

    “I have been attempting to contact the colony since we received the transmission. I have had no luck. Ivor Prime reports that a data link with Jouret IV was broken approximately half an hour ago, and they haven’t been able to re-establish it. I’ve kept long range sensors concentrated on the Jouret system, but they have not detected anything unusual.”

    Picard turned to the conn. “Ensign Rager, how long before we arrive at Jouret IV?”

    “Fifteen hours, seventeen minutes, sir,” she said.

    “Increase speed to warp nine.”

    “Aye, sir.”

    Even with the Enterprise racing towards the Jouret system at warp nine, it would take them almost ten hours to reach it. Time seemed to pass slowly. This was the one thing that Picard hated. The waiting. Sitting with nothing to do, but fully aware of some looming emergency, the time seemed to drag out. And the closer the time for action came, the longer it seemed to drag out. It was enough to drive one mad. After two hours, Picard was contemplating going to his ready room, to rest, maybe try to get some sleep. He’d need to be alert when they reached Jouret IV. True, it could be something as simple as a damaged reactor that cut off power to the colony’s communications system, and that last garbled message had been a call for repairs, but in Picard’s experience, things were rarely so easy to deal with. There was an old expression: hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. And while he was hoping that the Enterprise would reach orbit and be greeted by a colony that needed a new part for their reactor, he was preparing for anything, from a medical emergency to taking the Enterprise into battle with a heavily armed fleet of Romulan warbirds.

    Data’s console beeped softly, breaking the boredom that had stifled the bridge. “The computer has finished, sir,” said Data. “I believe that the message may be intelligible.”

    “Play it, Mister Data.”

    A burst of static came over the speakers, then, barely audible through the white noise, a voice. “…is Commander Hawth … eneral distress … acked by alien vess … to defend! Please assist, repeat …”

    The transmission ended abruptly.

    “Records indicate that a Commander Hawthorn is in command of the outpost,” said Data.

    Picard ignored him. “Ensign Rager,” he said, “increase speed to maximum.”

    *

    Captain’s log, Stardate 43994.1. The Enterprise has arrived at Jouret IV in response to a distress signal from one of the Federation’s outermost colonies.

    The Enterprise had been conducting long range scans of the system for fully five hours before they entered it, and as they grew closer, sensors picked up an emergency log buoy. The distress signal was coming from it. The Enterprise headed straight for the fourth planet, but sensor scans revealed nothing. In this, Picard was not surprised. This close to the Romulan neutral zone, secrecy was of paramount importance, and the fourth planet had been chosen because it’s atmosphere produced a great deal of interference, rendering all but the most basic sensor scans useless.

    And so, with no way to ascertain what had happened from orbit and the colony remaining completely silent, Picard ordered an away team.

    William Riker was the last of the team to enter the transporter room. Picard had given him his orders on the bridge before he left. Nothing fancy, just beam down, find out what happened and beam back. No more than ten minutes. And if they couldn’t find out, then Picard would order another away team, heavily armed. There would be no risks taken today. So, when Riker came in, the rest of the team – Geordi, Data and Worf, were already standing at the foot of the transporter platform.

    “Anything from the surface?” Riker asked. It was a long shot, yes, but he had been holding out hope that somehow the Enterprise had managed to establish contact, or someone on the planet had been able to repair whatever damage they’d experienced.

    Worf’s expression told him otherwise. “No sir. There have been no communications from the colony for over twelve hours.”

    “Sensors picking up any signs of life?”

    Worf shook his head. “None.”

    Riker turned to O’Brien, a question look.

    “The surface environment is safe for transport, Commander,” O’Brien told him.

    Riker nodded, and the away team stepped up onto the transporter pad. “Energize,” he said.

    *

    The away team materialised on what was supposed to be a grassy field, the town square in the middle of the colony. But the sky was dark, with a thick cloud of dust hanging on it, and the ground itself was covered with dirt, soil and rocks, some larger than the prefabricated houses that the colonists had lived in. Riker coughed and kicked the ground with his foot. The layer of dust was fairly thin, and where he had kicked it away, he could see grass, still green, just starting to lose its colour and turn brown. He guessed that however the ground had gotten this coating of dust, it had happened at the same time that contact with the colony was lost.

    Riker looked around. Wherever he was, it wasn’t the colony he had been expecting. Standing in the town square, he should have been seeing the village off to the east, and the science labs, colony operations and the fusion reactor to the west. But there was nothing. He tapped his combadge. “Mister O’Brien, verify these are accurate coordinates for the New Providence colony.”

    There was a slight pause as O’Brien double checked. “Coordinates verified, sir,” he said. “You’re at the center of town.”

    Riker glanced at the rest of the away team. Geordi was looking around, and even though there was concern on his face, Riker knew that the blind engineer was using his visor to try to find some indication as to what happened. Worf was standing in a ready stance, prepared for action, his hand hovering within reach of the phaser on his hip. And Data had a tricorder in his hand, performing scans.

    Riker nodded his head, an unmistakable follow me gesture, and he lead the way through the rubble and boulders to the west. It was awkward going across the littering of small stones. As they stepped around a larger than average boulder, they stopped short. Stretching away from them into the distance, was a huge great chasm, a great rip in the surface of the planet. As though the crust itself has been scooped out and carried away.

    And, as bizarre as this was, Riker had seen it before. Eight thousand light years away, having been flung far from Federation space, the Enterprise had encountered this exact same phenomenon. Riker’s blood ran cold. If what had happened in system J-25 had happened here as well, then it could mean only one thing.

    The Borg had reached Federation space.
     
  2. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    Here we go with Act One!

    Act One

    Captain's log, Stardate 43997.6. Admiral Hanson and Lieutenant Commander Shelby of Starfleet Tactical have arrived to review the disappearance of New Providence colony. No sign remains of the nine hundred inhabitants.

    After the away team had returned to the Enterprise, Picard had sent a priority one message to Starfleet Command, informing them of his fears. Starfleet had agreed, and promised to send an expert, one Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Shelby, who’d been heading the team charged with developing a weapon that would be effective against the Borg. Joining her was Admiral Hanson, from Fleet Operations.

    As soon as they had beamed aboard, Riker had escorted the pair to Picard’s ready room. Riker found Hanson to be a pleasant enough man, solidly built, halfway through his fifties and the kind who’d be willing to give those he commanded some leeway as long as they did their jobs well. This was a man he’d be happy to work with, someone who saw situations not as some specifically defined set of events with appropriate procedures to follow, but as fluid and dynamic events that needed flexibility. Shelby, on the other hand, was as by-the-book as they came, despite her youth. Whereas Hanson had greeted him informally, with a smile and a warm handshake, Shelby’s greeting had been crisp and military, and Riker had gotten the distinct impression that she’d even gone as far to memorize his service record.

    Once they were in the ready room, Riker introduced Hanson and Shelby to Picard. He was about to turn to leave, but he saw something in Picard’s eye. Stay for a moment. Riker stood a little back from the desk, near the wall next to the door.

    “Your report doesn’t bode well, Jean-Luc,” Hanson said. “Starfleet isn’t yet willing to discount the possibility that the disappearance of the New Providence colony is the work of Romulans, but all the data we have fits with what we know of the Borg perfectly. And if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck…”

    Picard sighed, leaned back in his chair. “Is Starfleet prepared for a Borg incursion?” Since the Enterprise had made the report on J-25, Starfleet had been working on developing a defence against the Borg. Of course, Picard had heard only rumours.

    “The truth is…” Hanson sighed. “Hell,” he said, resigned. “We are not ready. We’ve known they were coming for over a year, we’ve thrown every resource we’ve got into this, but still…” His voice trailed off, leaving the thought hanging.

    Riker stepped forwards. “Then you’re convinced it is the Borg…?”

    “That’s what I’m here to find out,” said Shelby. Her tone was direct, straight to the point. “The initial descriptions of these surface descriptions are almost identical to your reports from system J-25.”

    Picard nodded. “Commander Riker wrote those reports. He agrees with you.”

    Perhaps noting how Picard and Riker reacted to Shelby’s quick jump into the conversation, Hanson spoke. “Commander Shelby took over Borg Tactical Analysis six months ago. I’ve learned to give her a wide latitude when I want to get things done. That’s how I intend to operate here.”

    Picard shared a brief glance with Riker. Hanson was the type to judge people based on their abilities, not their rank, and if he was willing to give Shelby his support like this, giving her the go ahead to proceed as she saw fit, then it spoke very highly of her. Still, it gave Riker a cause for concern. As young as Shelby was, this spoke of her determination to get the job done. And people like her tended to want to get the job done, no matter the cost.

    With this approval from Hanson, Shelby continued. “My priority has been to develop some kind – any kind of defence strategy.”

    “Obviously nothing we have now can stop them,” said Riker.

    If he’d been expecting this to get a reaction from Shelby, he was mistaken. None was forthcoming. Shelby ignored the criticism and simply stated with a matter-of-fact tone, “We’ve been designing new weapons, but they’re still on the drawing board.”

    “We expected much more lead time,” said Hanson. Riker glanced up at Picard, somewhat surprised. Hanson was making excuses for Shelby, explaining why her team hadn’t produced anything, even though Shelby herself didn’t feel such excuses were required. Picard, for his part, ignored Riker. Hanson continued. “Your encounter with the Borg was over seven thousand light years away.”

    Picard nodded. “If this is the Borg, it would indicate that they have a source of power far superior to our own.”

    “I’d like to see the colony site as soon as possible, Captain,” said Shelby. Now that the pleasantries were over with, Shelby was eager to get straight to work.

    Inwardly, Riker groaned. Shelby was indeed the sort of officer who thrived on work. It worried him; with Hanson’s approval for her to lead the work on developing a way to beat the Borg, she could very easily drive the crew too hard. With her lack of social skills, she could easily push the crew beyond their limits. He spoke up quickly, putting the brakes on her eagerness before she took off. “It’ll be dark there in thirty minutes. We’ve scheduled an away team for dawn.”

    Picard looked up at him. “Why don’t you show the commander to her quarters?” he suggested. The unspoken meaning was clear. I want to talk to Hanson alone.

    Shelby stood, not seeing this silent communication but knowing that something had happened. Riker gestured towards the door, which obediently opened. Shelby walked past him out onto the bridge. Riker didn’t follow her, instead turning back into the ready room. “It’s our poker night, Admiral,” he said. “There’s always an open seat for you.”

    Hanson smiled regretfully. “Next time, Commander,” he said. “Your captain and I have a lot to cover.” He turned back to Picard, but then half rotated his chair back as a thought occurred to him. “But rumour has it Commander Shelby’s played a hand or two…”

    Riker smiled. So that was it, he thought. Hanson wants to see how I fare with Shelby. He turned to see Shelby’s reaction to Hanson’s suggestion. She had a wide grin on her face, eager to give him a sound thrashing. The line has been drawn, and they’re both just daring me to cross it. Riker decided to give her the chance. He’d enjoy wiping the smile off her face.

    As the two left, Hanson turned back to Picard. There was definite humour in his expression. “Keep your eye on her, Jean-Luc,” he said with a twinkly in his eye. “She’s one very impressive young lady.”

    Picard smiled. “You seem rather taken with her, J.P,” he observed.

    Hanson grinned. “Just an old man’s fantasies,” he said with a laugh. But then the laugh was gone. Back to business. “When Shelby came into Tactical, everyone admiral and his uncle had a take on this Borg business. She cut through it, put us back on track.

    Picard stood, walking over to the replicator. He ordered a pot, then turned to Hanson. “Earl grey?”

    “Please,” said Hanson.

    As Picard returned to his seat, Hanson gave him a knowing look. “She’ll make you one hell of a first officer.”

    Picard passed the cup to Hanson. “I already have a hell of a first officer.”

    Hanson sighed. “Don’t tell me he’s gonna pass up another commission!”

    Picard looked up, surprised. “One’s available?”

    Hanson nodded. “The Melbourne. It’s his if he wants it. Hasn’t he told you?”

    Picard sighed. As much as he’d hate to lose Riker, he knew that his first officer was good enough to have a ship of his own. “Well, I guess I knew this day would come,” he said quietly. He lifted his eyes, met Hanson’s. “He’ll make a fine captain, J.P.”

    Hanson leaned back in his chair. “You may want to tell him that.” He saw the confused look on Picard’s face and clarified. “We’re still waiting for his decision. Hell, this is the third time we’ve pulled out the captain’s chair for Riker. He just won’t sit down. And I’ll tell you something: there are a lot of young hotshots like Shelby on their way up. Riker could suddenly look like he’s standing still next to them. He’s hurting his career by staying put. If I were you, I’d kick him in the rear end for his own good.”

    He lifted his teacup and sipped. “Hmm, this is good,” he said.

    *

    Riker had to admit one thing about Shelby. She knew her stuff. In the turbolift, she’d started telling him what she had learned in here short time at Borg Tactical Analysis: how the Borg had different implants depending on their position, the Borg computer storage structure and even how, based on his own tricorder reading of the infant Borg they’d found in that compartment, they’d figured out how the implants tied into the Borg nervous system.

    “We know the Borg have no interest in power or political conquest,” Shelby said as the two of them walked down the corridors on deck five, discussing what her team had discovered about the Borg’s motivations.

    Riker nodded. “They identify what’s useful for them, then consume it,” he said, then wryly added, “or try to.”

    They came to the quarters that had been assigned to her for her stay on the Enterprise. Riker thumbed the control panel to open the door. Shelby stood, so engrossed in her thoughts that she almost didn’t seem to realise that the door was open.

    “But here’s the question,” she said. “After they take what they want, what happens to the rest? There has to be some evidence… residue… Something that tells us they’ve been there.” She stepped inside. “I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, but we’ve tested the sections of the Enterprise’s hull that were damaged by the Borg. There were some unusual magnetic resonance traces.”

    “A Borg footprint?”

    Shelby nodded. “That’s my theory. I’ll see if it holds up tomorrow.” And without missing a beat, she went from discussing the Borg to discussing the away team. “I’ve reviewed your personnel. I’ll be assigning Mister La Forge and Mister Data to accompany me on the away team.”

    Riker felt a flash of emotion, almost anger, but long years of practice kept it hidden. He wasn’t prepared to let her come onto the Enterprise and then start making crew assignments. Her seeming disregard for the chain of command on the ship almost made him want to enforce his authority more. Still, he couldn’t very well deny her. Data and Geordi were the best choices for the away team, and he’d have chosen them himself. “I’ve already assigned them to the away team,” he lied. “And I’ll be with you as well.” It was bad enough that she thought that she could come aboard and start making crew assignments without permission, but there was no way he’d let her lead the away team. Not that she was unqualified, far from it, but leading away teams was the first officer’s responsibility, and he didn’t want her coming onto his ship and acting like she had a position that she didn’t.

    Riker was pleased to see that for a split second, she looked a little awkward, but then the moment was past and she smiled. “Good,” she said. “I look forward to any assistance you can offer.”

    Riker felt his blood starting to heat even more.

    Shelby, if she saw it, paid it no attention. She looked around at her quarters, taking in the comfort of them.

    “Tell me, Commander,” she said, and despite the casualness of her tone, Riker could tell she was choosing her words carefully. “Is serving aboard the Enterprise as extraordinary an experience as I’ve heard?”

    “Every bit,” Riker said pointedly.

    Shelby smiled. “Good,” she said, with the tone of someone sharing a secret. She leaned in towards him, just a bit. “Because I intend to convince Captain Picard that I’m the right choice for the job.”

    Riker’s heart began beating faster at her audacity. “Job?” he asked, feigning ignorance. “Which job?”

    Shelby gave him a blank look. “Yours, of course, she said.

    Riker felt a flash of anger and disbelief.

    Shelby caught this instantly. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I heard you were leaving.”

    Riker didn’t fall for it. She was good, he’d grant her that, and someone else might mistake her embarrassment for the genuine thing, but Riker didn’t, and he would let her provoke him into biting.

    “If I were,” he said, sickly sweetly, “I’m sure you’d be the first to know.” He turned for the door, then turned back. “Poker’s at seventeen hundred hours, my quarters. Deck eight.”

    He turned and left.

    *

    If Riker had thought that knocking Shelby down a rung would be easy, he was quite mistaken. He’d been able to bluff her a few times when they’d first started, but lately it had been getting harder, and her pile of chips was growing rapidly. Soon she’d have more than him.

    Deanna had been giving him looks all night; she’d been able to sense his hostility towards Shelby, and his increasing irritation at her better than expected poker skills.

    Riker had done his best to ignore them. He’d been playing better against Geordi and Data. And Wesley was joining them, the first time he had done so. Apparently Data had been teaching him, and he’d jumped at the opportunity to put his newfound skills into practice. Still, while he’d no doubt be very good at the actual skills involved, the odds of each hand and how likely it was that there was a stronger hand somewhere around the table, he’d found himself totally inadequate to the task of judging other people, and it had been almost shamefully easy to bluff him. Still Riker was glad to have him here. The skills he would develop would help him a great deal in his career as a Starfleet officer.

    “Got another king in the hole, eh, Data?”

    Deanna had dealt the android the king of spades. It sat beside the two of hearts and the three of diamonds that he already had. Data had raised Geordi’s call.

    Data gave Wesley a deadpan look. “I am afraid I cannot answer that, Wesley,” he said. “And as you are a newcomer to the game, may I say, it is inappropriate for you to ask.”

    Wesley blinked and looked away, his cheeks turning decidedly red.

    Data turned to Deanna. “I will buy another card Counsellor.” He pushed a small pile of chips across the table.

    Deanna dealt a card to him. Jack of clubs “No help there,” she said, shaking her head.

    She slipped a card to Geordi. A four. Geordi tossed his cards in. “Fold,” he said. “Again.” It hadn’t been his night.

    Deanna dealt to Wesley, a third jack. “Three jacks looking back for the handsome young ensign.”

    Wesley looked up, blushing.

    “Beginner’s luck,” muttered Geordi. Data folded.

    Deanna passed a card to Shelby. It wasn’t good. “Pair of deuces stands.”

    Then, Riker. He got the nine of hearts. It sat very happily next to his seven, eight and ten of hearts. His face was completely blank.

    Deanna appraised this. “Possible flush, possible straight flush.” She turned to Wesley. “The bet is yours, Mister Crusher.”

    Wesley regarded Riker for a moment. Damn that poker face! Best one on the ship, apart from Data. He sighed. “I’m in for ten.” He tossed a pair of chips in.

    Shelby looked at Wesley for a moment, just a moment, before tossing in a pair of chips as well.

    “Time for the long pants,” Riker said, looking directly at Wesley. “I’ll see your ten. And one hundred more.”

    “He’s got the straight flush, folks,” muttered Geordi.

    “Not necessarily,” remarked Data. He turned to Wesley and leaned forward. “Commander Riker may be bluffing, Wesley.”

    Wesley studied that damn poker face of Riker’s, but broke. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I fold.”

    Geordi groaned. “With three jacks? Are you kidding?” He shook his head. “Wesley, you may get straight A’s in school, but there’s a lot you need to learn about poker.”

    Shelby looked long and hard at Riker. Riker looked long and hard back. After a long moment, Shelby smiled. It was a cunning smile. “I’ve only got two pair, Commander,” she said, “but I’ve got to see your hole card. I’ll call.” She put her chips in.

    Riker blinked, looked down at his cards and turned over his hole card. The two of spades busted his flush. Wesley groaned and hung his head.

    “You got him!” Geordi said.

    Shelby grinned at Riker as she collected her winnings. Her stack was now substantially larger than Riker’s.

    *

    Riker stepped with Geordi into the transporter room, expecting to see Shelby and Data already waiting for them. But apart from O’Brien standing at the controls, the room was empty.

    “Mister Data and out guest appear to be tardy,” Riker observed.

    “Sir,” said O’Brien, “Commander Shelby and Data beamed down to the planet surface an hour ago.”

    “On whose authority?” Riker demanded. He could feel his anger growing. Dammit, didn’t Shelby care for the chain of command at all?

    “On hers, sir,” said O’Brien, taking a half step back subconsciously.

    Riker shot Geordi a look as they stepped onto the transporter pad. This time she’s gonna get it.

    Riker nodded to O’Brien. For a moment they were surrounded by the shimmering blue tingle of the transporter before it died away, leaving them on the planet. They could see Shelby and Data a few meters away, studying the exposed rock strata. At the sound of the transporter, Shelby looked up. When she saw Riker, she folded her tricorder into its pouch and walked over.

    “Morning,” she called. “Early bird gets the worm, eh? We found some interesting results.”

    “Commander Shelby,” said Riker, fuming through his gritted teeth, but then he noticed that Geordi and Data were watching. He didn’t want an audience for this. “Walk with me, Commander.”

    As Riker and Shelby walked away, Data turned to Geordi. “I believe Commander Shelby erred,” he said. “There are no avifauna or crawling vermicular life forms on Jouret IV.”

    Geordi smiled and shook his head. “That’s, uh, not what she meant, Data,” he said. He looked around at the desolate landscape surrounding them. “But you’re right. She erred.”

    *

    As soon as they were out of earshot, Shelby spoke. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but I woke up early and saw that a weather system was moving in. it could have affected the soil readings…”

    Riker interrupted her. “So without any regard to the risk of coming down here alone…”

    Shelby spoke up, irritated. She’d known Riker was upset, but what she had discovered was more important than that. She’d tried to get to the point, but Riker just didn’t seem interested in what she had to say, only in chewing her out. So she snapped back. “Really, Commander, if we ran into the Borg down here, two extra bodies wouldn’t’ve made a hell of a difference now, would they? We had three hours before the storm fron hit. Less than two hours now. Data was available. I took him. We came. I don’t see your problem.”

    “My problem, Commander, is I expect to be notified before there’s a change in my orders.”

    “Noted for future reference,” Shelby said tightly. It just wasn’t worth continuing to argue with him. They had bigger problems. “Do you wish to hear my report, sir?”

    Riker nodded. “Go ahead.”

    Shelby looked him square in the eye, and it seemed that Riker saw her expression, the fear behind her eyes. She told him. The soil contains the same magnetic resonance traces. That’s our footprint. There’s no doubt anymore. It is the Borg.”
     
  3. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Interesting, Tiberius. I can't wait to read more. :drool:
     
  4. Sandoval

    Sandoval Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2010
    I'm in two minds to be honest - on the one hand I can see the value of it as an exercise in improving writing skills, but on the other hand I'm not sure how much I'll get out of reading what is basically a slightly more descriptive transcript of an episode I know like the back of my hand.

    I'm not a fan of novelizations in general, but all I'd suggest is that you try to add a few more scenes like the one at the beginning that depict events not seen in the episode - essentially adding value to an episode that I'd imagine a lot of people know back to front.

    You're not doing a bad job with it though.
     
  5. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    Act Two

    Captain’s log, Stardate 43993.5. With confirmation of the Borg’s presence in Federation space, Admiral Hanson has returned to Starbase 324 to discuss strategy with Starfleet Command. Lieutenant Commander Shelby remains on board to continue tactical preparations.


    “…I’ve ordered a standing yellow alert, all Federation and allied outposts have been warned and Ops will continue to monitor long range sensors. I’ve assigned Data, La Forge and Mister Crusher to work with Commander Shelby.”

    Picard turned away from the window of his ready room to face Riker. “Very good, you’ve covered all the bases..” He moved around to the other side of the desk, the same side as Riker. Less formal, more intimate and friendly. “What’s your impression of Shelby?”

    “She knows her stuff,” Riker said, but Picard noted the slight hesitation in his voice.

    “She has your full confidence…?”

    “Well, I think she needs… supervision,” clarified Riker. “She takes the initiative a little too easily. Sometimes with risks.”

    Picard nodded and let a small smile creep onto his face. He made a clucking sound. “Sounds like a young lieutenant commander I recruited as a first officer,” he said. He sipped his tea.

    Riker smiled back. “Perhaps.”

    Picard smiled, wider now. It was a warm smile. “You’re the best first officer I’ve ever served with Will.”

    Riker smiled again and nodded.

    “But what the hell are you still doing here?”

    “Sir?”

    “You’ve been offered the Melbourne.”

    Riker nodded. “I’ve decided not to pursue the commission at this time.”

    Picard sighed. “She’s a fine ship, Will.”

    “Well, yes, but she’s not the Enterprise,” replied Riker. “With all due respect, you need me, particularly now.”

    “Starfleet needs good captains, particularly now,” said Picard. “I can’t keep you to myself forever.” He was quiet for a moment, then raised his eyes, met Riker’s. “I want you to reconsider your decision.” This was firmer.

    For a moment, Riker could only blink. “Are you asking me to leave, Captain?”

    Picard shook his head, and when he spoke, the firmness was gone from his voice, replaced by care and affection. “I’m asking you to look at your career objectively and make the best decision. I know it’s hard to walk away. But you’re ready to work without a net. You’re ready to take command. And, as hard as it is to accept, if you choose to leave…” Picard smiled. “The Enterprise will go on just fine without you.”

    And so Riker left, stepping into the turbolift. The truth was that he didn’t want to leave, but Picard did have a point. His career. Was he ready for his own command? He didn’t know. It was like Deanna had once told him, that sometimes, when it came to choosing the best for ourselves, we just couldn’t see it because we’re too close. We needed someone else, someone to talk to, bounce ideas off. A sounding board.

    Deanna… He smiled. “Riker to Deanna.”

    Deanna’s voice came over the turbolift’s com. “Yes, what is it Will?”

    “Have you got a moment?”

    “Of course, what can I do?”

    “I’d just like a chat,” he said.

    “No worries,” Deanna said, and he could hear the smile in her voice. I’m in Ten Forward.”

    Riker redirected the turbolift. When he entered the bar, he found Deanna and headed over to her table.

    “You look like you’ve got a lot on your mind,” she said.

    “I do.”

    “You should try one of these,” Deanna said, indicating her chocolate sundae. “Chocolate always helps me think.”

    Riker laughed. “I’m not sure that would work for me,” he said.

    “Well, tell me what’s on your mind.”

    And Riker did. He told her how he’d decided that he wouldn’t take the Melbourne, and he’d been comfortable with that decision, but now, after what Picard had said, he’d looked at his choice in terms of his career, not the ship he was offered, and now he just wasn’t sure anymore. Deanna listened thoughtfully as he spoke.

    “What am I still doing here, Deanna?” he asked. “I’ve pushed myself hard to get this far. I’ve sacrificed a lot.” He looked up from his drink. “I always said I wanted my own command. And yet, something’s holding me back.” He leaned back in his chair and regarded her. “Is it wrong for me to want to stay?”

    “What do you think?” she asked.

    Riker smiled. She’d always told him that people often knew the answer, they just wanted someone to help them realise that it was okay to accept that their own judgement was good enough. But after a moment, he sighed and shook his head. “Maybe I’m just afraid of the big chair.”

    “I don’t think so.”

    Riker looked at her, but wasn’t convinced. “The captain says that Shelby reminds him of the way I used to be. And he’s right. She comes in here, full of drive and ambition, impatient, taking risks… I look at her and I wonder what happened to those things in me. I liked those things about me.” He took a drink. “I’ve lost something.”

    Deanna tried hard not to smile, and she wasn’t entirely successful. “You mean you’re older, more seasoned. A little more… seasoned.”

    Riker looked at her and grinned. “Seasoned? That’s a horrible thing to say to a man.”

    Deanna gave him a firm look, enough to tell him that she was being serious. “I don’t think you've lost a thing,” she told him. “And I think you've gained much more than you realise. You’re much more comfortable with yourself than you sued to be.”

    “Maybe that’s the problem,” said Riker. “I’m too comfortable.”

    “I’m not sure I know what that means,” said Deanna, but Riker knew she was well aware what it meant.

    And, truth be told, he knew it too. He just wanted to give himself an excuse to leave the Enterprise, take the Melbourne. Trying to kick himself up the backside. But was he doing it because he genuinely thought it was the right thing to do, or was he just doing it because it was what others wanted for him. Dammit, it was easy enough when Riker had received the offer from Starfleet, but now that Picard was encouraging to think of his career and advance himself, why was it so much more difficult to be sure that he was doing the right thing.

    “You’re happy here,” Deanna continued. “Happier than I’ve ever known you to be.” She sighed and leaned back in her chair. “It really comes down to a simple question. What do you want, Will Riker?”

    The trouble was, Riker wasn’t sure he knew.

    *

    That evening, Riker met with Shelby and the others she was working with to see how they were progressing. They’d been working all day, and they’d made some progress. Shelby had the original sensor log the Enterprise had first made of the Cube when it had approached them. She was looking at the subspace field surrounding it when she noticed something.

    “Look at this. A manipulation effect in the Borg ship’s subspace field. A definite pattern, at four point eight minute intervals during your first confrontation with them.”

    There were scattered nods from the rest of the team, but they were reaching the end of their work day. They were all very tired. Wesley was trying to stifle a yawn and Schobel’s eyelids were drooping alarmingly. Only Data still seemed alert.

    “Might indicate high output auxiliary generators kicking in,” La Forge said.

    Shelby nodded. “One theory is that their systems are decentralised with redundant power sources located throughout the ship.”

    “It is a reasonable conclusion,” said Data. “Borg technology has given each member of their society the ability to interface and function collectively. It is likely that they would have constructed their ship with the same philosophy.

    “Knock out one generator and another one takes over without interruption,” said Wesley.

    “What kind of damage would we have to do to shut them down?” Riker asked.

    Shelby tapped a panel and called up some readouts. “Projections suggest that a Borg ship like this one could continue to operate effectively even if seventy eight percent of it was inoperable.”

    “And our best shot barely scratched the surface,” finished Wesley, a grim tone.

    Geordi sighed. He moved over to the wall monitor and pulled up several design schemes. He flicked through them. They were all untested, hypothetical. Based on theories, but never tested in a practical sense. “From what I’ve seen, I can’t believe any of your new weapons systems will be ready in less than eighteen months, Commander,” he said.

    Shelby nodded. “We’ve been projecting twenty four,” she said.

    If that’s the case, thought Riker, we shouldn’t waste our time. None of them can help us in the here-and-now. “Is there anything we can do to adapt our current defence system?”

    La Forge looked at him, then back to the panel. “We’ll have to look through the specs again,” he said. He sighed. “I dunno. My minds turned to clay.” He rubbed his temples behind his visor.

    “Mine too,” said Wesley.

    Riker looked at data. His eyes were bright, alert. He could go all night. Indeed, ever since they’d confirmed that the Borg were in Federation space, he’d spent every moment working to enhance their defences.

    Shelby was the only other person in the group who looked like she could keep going. She moved to the panel where La Forge had been, flicking through the various schematics until she came to the one she wanted. “I think we should look at modifying the plasma phaser designs…”

    Riker cut her off. It was clear to anyone who looked at the group that they needed rest. But Shelby’s motivation – dare he say obsession – to keep going, to push herself until she literally collapsed would simply do more harm than good. “I think we should call it a night,” Riker ordered.

    Shelby didn’t look at him, but her body posture changed subtly, as though she couldn’t believe that Riker was ordering them to stop work in the middle of a crisis. When she spoke, her voice was restrained, quiet. “Alright, anyone who’s really that tired, if you want to leave…”

    There were muttered assurances from the group that they were still okay to work, they weren’t really that tired, but they were none too convincing. Wesley was yawning when he made his half-hearted protest at the idea, and Schobel had to shake her head before she could speak.

    “Right,” continued Shelby. “What would happen if we take the frequency klystron from the existing unit and…”

    “We’ll break here,” Riker said, firmer this time. “That’s an order. We’ll reconvene at oh-five-hundred.”

    Shelby finally turned to him. “Sir, if you’ll allow me to continue with Mister Data, who does not require rest…”

    You need rest, Commander,” said Riker.

    Shelby stepped forwards. Her tone became harder, more insistent. “If we have a confrontation with the Borg without improving our defences systems…”

    Riker put his foot down, hard. “If we have a confrontation, I don’t want a crew fighting the Borg at the same time they’re fighting their own fatigue.” He fixed his eyes to hers. “Dismissed.”

    Shelby turned and left without a word.

    *


    The team met again early the next morning. It started off with promise; after a good night’s sleep, La Forge had been able to suggest a few ideas that had merit, but before they could develop them more fully, Picard called the senior staff to an emergency briefing. Admiral Hanson was speaking to them, his face on the monitor in the observation lounge. The room behind him as another observation lounge; he’d left the starbase and was already en route to rendezvous with the Enterprise. The reason for this was soon explained.

    “At nineteen hundred hours yesterday, the USS Lalo departed Zeta Alpha Two on a freight run to Sentinel Minor Four. At twenty two hundred hours and twelve minutes, a desitress signal was received at Starbase One Five Seven. The Lalo reported contact with an alien vessel,” he leaned forwards, his expression grim, “described as cube shaped.” He sighed. “The distress signal ended abruptly, and she’s not been heard from since.”

    “Mister Data, how long to get there at warp nine?” said Picard quietly. His voice was tense, tight.

    “One hour, seventeen minutes, sir.”

    “Make it so.”

    Data stood and left.

    “We’re coming with every available starship to assist, Captain,” said Hanson, “but the closest help is six days away.”

    Picard smiled, but it was a dry smile, without any feeling. “We’ll try to keep them occupied until you arrive.”

    Hanson nodded. “I know you will,” he said. “Hanson out.” The screen blinked out.

    Riker address the com. “All hands, stand to battle stations,” he ordered. And at his gesture, Worf stepped out to mobilise his security teams.

    Picard turned to Shelby. “Commander Shelby, status of defence preparations?”

    She told him about La Forge’s ideas from the interrupted meeting that morning. “Mister La Forge has a plan to modulate shield nutation. Hopefully, that’ll hold them off.”

    “At the same time,” continued La Forge, “we’re retuning the phasers to higher EM-base emitting frequencies. We’ll try to disrupt their subspace field.”

    Picard nodded. “Your assessment of our potential effectiveness?”

    Geordi sighed. “Shot in the dark,” he said. “But right now, it’s the best we can do.”

    Picard nodded again, grimmer this time. “Acknowledged, he said.

    *


    The Enterprise raced at maximum warp towards the last reported position of the Lalo. Once again, it seemed to Picard that time was stretching out, taking longer than it should. It had twenty minutes, at least according to the computer, but it felt like several hours already. Unable to sit any longer, Picard had been pacing the bridge.

    There was a soft tone, and Picard looked to Worf.

    “Sir,” he said, “reading an unidentified vessel just entering sensor range. Bearing two one zero, mark one five one.”

    “Hail them, Mister Worf.”

    “No response, sir.”

    Picard turned to the helm. “Move to intercept.”

    “Sir,” said Worf, studying his display, his eyebrows knitting together. “The vessel has already changed course to intercept us. Approaching at warp nine point three.” There was a soft beep. “Entering visual range.”

    “On screen,” ordered Picard.

    Every eye turned towards the viewscreen, but from this far away, the approaching vessel was nothing more than a smudge, a stain amidst the rushing stars.

    Picard ordered, “Magnify.”

    And then the smudge leapt closer, forming a vessel, an enormous monstrosity of conduits arranged mechanically, harsh cubical lines outlining a dark intelligence.

    Picard could feel his heart pounding in his ears, but he pushed it down. His blood was pumping hard and hot, but he pushed it back. He forced himself to keep a cool demeanour as he turned back to face Worf. “Mister Worf ,” he said, “despatch a subspace message to Admiral Hanson. We have engaged the Borg.”
     
  6. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    I sure hope you don't see this as just a "he said this, she said that" version of the episode. I'm trying to do more to it than just copy out the lines of dialogue and put the occasional "Riker said" in there. I'm trying to expand on what was presented in the episode. I've made a few changes to what happened to make it flow better in a prose format rather than visual, I've expanded on some scenes and been able to get into the heads of the various characters in ways that simply aren't possible in a TV episode. So please don't view this as an elaborate transcript.
     
  7. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    Here's the next act!

    Act Three

    The Borg Cube didn’t drop out of warp until the last moment, re-entering normal space less than five kilometres of the Enterprise’s bow. It loomed massive and dangerous on the viewscreen.

    Riker stood and approached Ops. “Data, is that the same ship we faced at J-25?”

    Data quickly checked his readouts. “Uncertain, Commander,” he said. “But the dimensions are precisely the same.”

    “Captain, you are being hailed,” said Worf.

    Picard turned. “I am?”

    Worf looked up at him. “Yes, Captain. By name.”

    Picard stood. “On screen,” he ordered, moving defiantly to the front of the bridge.

    The screen flicked away from the ominous Cubeship, replaced with the vessel’s interior, an infinitely deep abyss that seemed to radiate out of a blinding light.

    Picard spoke. “I am Captain Jean-Luc…”

    The Borg spoke over the top of him, a voice that was twisted and turned over to fold into itself. “Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the Starship Enterprise, registry NCC-1701-D, you will lower your shields and prepare to transport yourself aboard our vessel. If you do not cooperate, we will destroy your ship.”

    Picard ignored the demand. “You have committed acts of aggression against the United Federation of Planets! If you do not withdraw immediately…”

    “You will surrender yourself or we will destroy your ship,” the Borg interrupted. “Your defensive capabilities are unable to withstand…”

    Picard turned, drawing a hand across his throat, and Worf closed the channel. Discussion was useless.

    Riker and Shelby were on their feet, approaching him.

    “What the hell do they want with you?” asked Riker.

    “I thought they weren’t interested in Human life forms,” said Shelby. “Only our technology.”

    Picard regarded them both. “Their priorities seem to have changed.” He looked back to Worf. “Open.” Worf nodded, and Picard turned back to the viewscreen. “We have developed new defence capabilities since our last meeting, and we are prepared to use them if you do not withdraw from Federation space.”

    The comline opened, and Geordi’s voice came through. “Shields are being probed. I’m modulating nutation.”

    And the Borg’s tractor beam lashed out, washing over the Enterprise’s deflectors. The starship’s shields held, pushing the beam away.

    “Sir, the Borg are attempting to lock onto us with their tractor beam.”

    That was Worf, and Picard nodded in acknowledgement. “Load torpedo bays, arm phasers, lock coordinates on the source of the tractor beam.”

    “Status of shields?” Riker was stepping forwards towards Data.

    Data responded. “Holding sir.”

    “The nutation modulation has them confused,” said Shelby. She sounded encouraged.

    Riker spoke, and his tone was more cautious. “They have the ability to analyse and adapt, Commander.”


    And then the ship rocked, the deck dropping out from underneath them so violently that several crew members were left airborne. They crashed to the floor, crying out as their bones broke. Alarms blared loudly and warnings flashed on screens. The lights dimmed briefly as power fluctuated.

    La Forge’s voice came over the comline again, tighter and tenser than before. “Sheild modulation has failed! They’ve locked on!”

    “Shields are being drained,” confirmed Worf. “Nintey percent… Eighty…”

    “Trying to recalibrate shield nutation,” La Forge’s voice said over the com. But then the ship rocked again, even more violently. “Damn!”

    “Shields have failed!” called Worf



    “Fire all weapons!” ordered Picard, and the Enterprise let fly. The massive arsenal of the starship barraged the Borg Cube; phaser beams smashing into the hull and wave after wave of torpedos crashing into the Cube’s sides. But, incredibly, the Cube was able to withstand the assault, deflect it, and the tractor beam held the Enterprise in an unbreakable grip.

    “Their subspace field is intact,” reported La Forge. “The new phaser frequencies had no impact!”

    Riker called, “Reverse engines!”

    “Full reverse!” acknowledged La Forge, but the Enterprise remained held. “We’re not moving.”

    “Fire at will,” ordered Picard, but Worf needed no command. Under his touch, the Enterprise was spewing every weapon it had, assaulting the Cube with her full power.

    “Still no damage to the Borg vessel,” reported Data.

    And then the Borg let loose with their weapons: a blinding, razor sharp beam of light, as bright and as hard as a diamond, which sliced directly into the Enterprise’s engineering hull! With a deafening crack of thunder, the Enterprise’s hull was split wide, spilling atmosphere and tumbling crewmembers out into the void.

    The computer issued warnings of the hull breach, and Worf spoke over the top of them. “They are cutting into the hull, engineering section!”

    “Geordi!” called Riker. “Evacuate engineering!”

    *

    Far below, Geordi had already sounded the alert at the first impact. “Computer!” he called. “Evacuation sequence!”

    The computer toned in acknowledgement. “Redirecting Engineering control to bridge. Sealing doors to core chamber.” The massive isolation door between the warp core and the rest of engineering began rumbling down. Consoles were exploding, plasma conduits rupturing. Geordi could smell the acrid stench of coolant filling the air. “Warning: inner hull failing. Decompression danger, deck thirty six, section four. Sealing Main Engineering.”

    Geordi called out, urging his crew to evacuate. “Let’s go, come on, move it, people! Let’s move it! Come on! Go! GO! GO!

    There was a flood of people as those who could still walk ran out, and many of those who couldn’t walk were being carried. The last of the crew ran out, ducking under the descending door. Geordi took a split second to glance around, to make sure there was no one left behind. The roar of the Borg ship’s cutting beam was already deafening. In only a few seconds it would slice open this chamber. La Forge could see several figures, limp at their consoles, sprawled on the floor. Some of them still moved weakly. While every fiber of his being was urging him to help them, he knew that if he didn’t leave now, he’d be sealed in. He couldn’t help these people. Cursing, La Forge turned and ran for the door. It was already less than a meter from the floor, and he ducked, dropping to the floor and rolling underneath. His shoulder thudded into the door as it descended on top of him and he could feel a sudden rush of air blowing back past him – the core chamber had been breached! – but then he was out, and the door was rumbling into position, sealed tightly against the floor. Through the translucent panels in the door, he could see the flashes as the Borg cutting beam split power conduits. It was only by a miracle that it missed the warp core itself.

    *


    The situation on the bridge was little better. The aft stations had lost power after a plasma conduit blew out, killing one of the crew members stationed there and leaving two others with second degree burns. One of the emergency medical personnel sent from sickbay had sprained his ankle and broken his arm when the turbolift lurched. Phasers were losing power, and the computer processor to the aft torpedo launcher was offline.

    Shelby rushed forwards, struck by a sudden idea. “Data,” she said, “fluctuate phaser resonance frequencies. Random settings, keep them changing, don’t give them time to adapt.”

    Data’s hands flew over his console, faster than Shelby’s eyes could see. And finally, as the phaser frequencies changed continuously, as the colours of the beams shifted throughout the entire spectrum, the Borg reached a point where they were unable to adapt, and the tractor beam finally flickered off. The Enterprise slid away, rocking with the release.

    “Tractor beam has been released!” called Worf.

    And then Picard took a chance as an idea occurred to him. “Warp nine! Course one five one, mark three three zero! Engage!”

    The Enterprise turned and ran.

    Word adjusted the viewscreen to show the Borg Cube that was only seconds behind them. “They are in pursuit, Captain.”

    “Maintain course.” There was a somewhat confident tone in Picard’s voice.

    The turbolift doors hissed open, and La Forge emerged onto the bridge. Picard looked back.

    “Damage report, Geordi?” asked Riker.

    “Hull rupture in Main Engineering,” La Forge said, breathless. “Damage is pretty heavy. We lost a lot of good people down there.”

    Data confirmed. “Eleven dead, eight more unaccounted for.”

    La Forge moved to the engineering station. It flickered unsteadily before brightening. “They didn’t get to the core, I can control functions from here.”

    “Repair teams to Engineering,” ordered Riker. “Seal hull breach.”

    “We’re approaching the Paulson Nebula,” reported Wesley, and attention turned back to the viewscreen. It flicked back to a forward view, and the screen was filled with violent swirls of orange and purple, like a tin of paint that hadn’t been properly mixed. Electrostatic discharges lit up the nebula from the inside.

    “Drop to impulse,” ordered Picard. “Take us in, Ensign.”

    The Enterprise plunged into the nebula. Loose rock and debris hit the unshielded hull. Wesley ducked the Enterprise around the larger fragments, but the sound of the clumps hitting the hull grew louder. Picard stepped forwards to stand next to Wesley. The young man looked up at him. “The field’s getting too dense, sir,” he said.

    “Steady,” Picard ordered. He turned to Ops. “Analysis of the nebula cloud, Mister Data?”

    “Eighty two percent dilithium hydroxyls,” Data said. “Magnesium, chromium…” He looked up. “It should provide an effective screen against their sensors, sir.”

    “Mister La Forge, prepare to reverse engines,” Picard said. “Full stop.”

    The Enterprise moved into the spiral cloud of the nebula, the gases covering the wounded starship like a cloak. The Cube slowed, coming to a halt just outside the boundary of the nebula. They couldn’t enter. If they did, the gas would blind them, leaving the Enterprise free to escape. But the Borg’s sensors couldn’t penetrate the cloud either. All they could do was wait outside to catch the Enterprise when she emerged.

    Worf carefully watched the tactical sensors. There was no sign of the compression wave that would indicate the Cube entering the nebula. And as the sensor resolution fell, he detected the telltale polarisation of a sensor scan. “The Borg ship is continuing scans,” he said. “Attempting to locate us.”

    “Good,” said Picard. “As long as they’re looking for us, they can’t hurt anyone else.”

    “Shut down all active sensors,” said Riker. “Passive scanners only. Deflectors to minimum emissions.”

    Wesley looked up at Picard, his expression concerned. “We’ll maintain position,” Picard said. He turned back to look at Riker and Shelby. “Until we have a better idea.”

    *

    For several hours now, the Enterprise had remained in the nebula. The crew were of course, anxious and scared. They would have to face the Borg again. But remaining hidden gave them a chance to dress their wounds, mourn their dead and plan their next move. But what was that move to be? They couldn’t attack the Cube – their first confrontation had shown that they simply had no way of inflicting any serious damage. It had taken all they had simply to disable a tractor beam emitter! Picard was under no illusions. The Enterprise, as she was, could not withstand another encounter with the Cube. He’d discussed the situation with Riker, and Riker agreed that their first priority was to develop some kind of plan, a tactic that they could use in their next encounter. But the reports from Engineering weren’t promising. Only one of the ideas that they’d developed had been able to do any damage to the Cube, and even that had barely worked. Riker promised that he’d give the team six hours to come up with something, and then report to him. In the meantime, he insisted Picard get some rest. In any confrontation, they’d need Picard more than anyone else. Picard relented and retired to the ready room. Despite his need to act, to do something, he understood Riker’s point. Picard would rest, Riker would be briefed by the engineering team, and then Riker would inform Picard of their position.

    And so, six hours after the Enterpriseentered the Paulson nebula, Riker sat in the observation lounge as the engineering team briefed Riker on their efforts. They’d concentrated on an analysis of the Cube during the first attack. Shelby had brought up a visual record of the attack, showing the Borg’s power output plotted against the phaser frequencies used by the Enterprise.

    “Time index five one four,” Shelby said. “Data started to fluctuate phaser resonance frequencies. The Borg’s beam breaks contact… Freeze picture.” The picture froze just as the tractor beam emitter on the side of the Cube exploded. “Take a closer look, Commander.” Shelby tapped the controls, replaying the same visual log, but at half speed. “Mister La Forge?”

    Geordi stepped forwards, indicating the graph on the bottom of the screen. “There’s a two percent drop in power, just for an instant, but it is system wide. The phaser frequency spread was in a high, narrow band.”

    “Conceivably,” remarked Data, “the ship’s power distribution nodes are vulnerable to those frequencies.”

    La Forge nodded. “If we can generate a concentrated burst of power with that same frequency distribution… I’m talking a lot more than anything our phasers or photon torpedos could provide…”

    “How do we do that?” Riker asked.

    For a moment there was silence. “The main deflector dish,” said Wesley.

    “It’s the only component of the Enterprise designed to channel that much power at controlled frequencies.”

    “Unfortunately,” sighed Shelby, “there is one slight detail.” Everyone looked at her. “In the process, the blast completely destroys the Enterprise as well.”

    Riker looked at Geordi, who nodded grimly. The Enterprise would have to fire the weapon from so close that the exploding Cube would tear the starship apart as well. And if they tried moving back, then the weapon’s energy would dissipate, and it wouldn’t provide the destructive force needed.

    Damn.

    Riker asked, “If we could get further away, increase the deflector’s range?”

    Shelby thought for a moment, then nodded. “It could work,” she said. “In the meantime, we should retune all phasers – including the hand units – to the same frequency.”

    Riker nodded. “Proceed,” he said. “I’ll inform the Captain.”

    Shelby stepped forwards. “There’s one other recommendation I’d like to make, Commander.” Riker looked at her. “Separate the saucer section. Assign a skeleton crew to create a diversion.”

    Riker shook his head. “We may need the power from the saucer’s impulse engine.” He saw Geordi nod. If the deflector weapon was going to work, they’d need every scrap of energy they could get.

    Shelby pressed her point. “But if we give them more than one target to worry about…”

    Riker fixed her with a solid stare. “No,” he said. “It’s too great a risk.”

    But Shelby refused to back down. “I’d like the captain to make that determination, sir.” Her eyes were narrowed.

    Riker refused to let her anger him. “I bring all the alternatives to the Captain’s attention,” he said. He looked around at all of them. “That’ll be all.”

    The team filed out of the observation lounge, but Geordi hung back for a moment. Stopping beside Riker, he said, “I’ll need to install higher capacity power transfers to the deflector dish, Commander.”

    “How long?”

    La Forge thought for a moment. “Better part of a day.”

    Riker nodded, then noticed the way Geordi was looking at him. He realised that La Forge, courtesy of his visor, could see how his body changed when Shelby confronted him, how he bristled. Riker smiled. “She does get up a full head of steam, doesn’t she?”

    “Yes sir,” said La Forge. “She’s a… formidable presence to say the least, but I’m convinced she can help us here, Commander.”

    “I am too, Geordi,” Riker said. He patted La Forge on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. I can handle Shelby.”

    After La Forge left, Riker went over the damage and repair reports. He couldn’t recall any situation where the Enterprise had suffered so much damage in so short a time. However, the crew was working well. The hull breach in Engineering had been sealed, and the damage was repaired. The aft torpedo launcher was back online, and phasers were back at full capacity. He permitted himself a smile. It was a good crew.

    He deactivated the PADD, then stood. He was sure Picard would be pleased. Most of the damage repaired, and a plan for a weapon that could inflict a huge amount of damage to the Borg. He walked out, heading across the bridge to the door to the ready room. Picard called him in when he pressed the chime, and Riker entered.

    Shelby was already there.

    Riker froze.

    “Come in, Number One,” Picard said amiably. “Commander Shelby was just telling me of your… concerns about her plan.”

    Riker stepped forwards. “I’m sorry she troubled you,” he said tightly. “I already informed her…”

    “Yes, I entirely agree with you, Number one,” said Picard, cutting him off. “It’s not the time. But,” his expression became softer, “the time may come when we will be required to take greater risks. I’d like you to consider her plan as a… fall-back position, make the necessary preparations.”

    Riker nodded tersely. “Very good, sir.”

    Shelby stood, walked past Riker and out onto the bridge. Riker turned and followed her as she walked to the turbolift to the battle bridge and stepped inside.

    As soon as it started moving, Riker said, “Halt.” His voice was quiet, but the anger in it was unmistakable. He looked at her, his eyes narrow and cold. “You and I need to talk, Commander.”

    Shelby turned to face him, defiant. “You never order ordered me not to discuss this with the captain.”

    “You disagree with me, fine,” Riker growled. “You want to take it to the captain, fine. Through me. You do an end run around me again, I’ll snap you back so hard you’ll think you’re a first year cadet again.”

    Shelby meet his eyes, still impudent. “May I speak frankly?” Her tone left no doubt that she was going to speak her mind, no matter what Riker said.

    Riker smiled with poisonous sweetness. “By all means.”

    “You’re in my way.”

    “Really?” Riker asked. He loaded his voice with dripping sarcasm. Damn, there was something about her that just seemed to bring out the worst in Riker, provoked such anger in him. “How terrible for you.”

    Shelby continued, almost as if she delighted in provoking him. “All you know how to do is play it safe. I guess that’s why someone like you sits in the shadow of a great man for as long as you have, passing up one command after another.” She turned away from him. “Proceed,” she said to the com, and the lift resumed its journey.

    Riker didn’t turn away. “When it comes to this ship and this crew,” he said quietly, dangerously, “you’re damned right I’ll play it safe.”

    And then Shelby smiled insubordinately. “If you can’t make the big decisions,” she said, “I suggest you make room for someone who can.”

    The door opened onto the battle bridge, and Shelby stepped out, leaving Riker in the lift fuming.
     
  8. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    I had to split this act over two posts, as I ran into the post length limit on this one...

    Act Four

    Captain’s log, supplemental. The Enterprise remains concealed in the dust cloud. And, to my surprise, the Borg have maintained their position, waiting for us to come out of hiding. I have no explanation for their special interest in me or this ship. We continue to prepare our defenses for the inevitable confrontation. But, I must admit, on this night I contemplate the distinct possibility that no defense may be adequate against this enemy.


    It was late, ship time. Picard had been sleeping on the couch in his ready room, but after five hours, he’d just wasn’t able to sleep any longer. He couldn’t retire to his quarters; he’d be too far from the bridge, and if there were an emergency, if he were needed, then any extra time could mean disaster for the Enterprise.

    So, he took a stroll, walking the corridors of his ship. It was a rather grim ritual, really. He was constantly aware of the growing feeling inside him that this could be the last time he saw that bulkhead, the last time he walked through those doors. He sighed inwardly, and decided to go somewhere with more activity.

    He found it in Engineering. Shelby, La Forge and the rest of the engineering team were hard at work. Picard had to admit to being impressed. La Forge had, after all, said that they would need almost a full day to ready the deflector weapon, but it had been less than eighteen hours and they were almost finished. For a moment, La Forge looked like he was about to come over to report on their progress, but Picard just nodded. I’m not here to check up on you. La Forge returned to work, listening as Wesley was making some comment. Data was nodding attentively.

    Picard left them. Mentally, he chided himself for interrupting his crew. They needed to focus, and they couldn’t do that if Picard was lurking around. He thought of going up to Ten Forward, but then realised that it would be empty. But perhaps that was what he needed, some place where he could be alone with his thoughts, out of the way of his busy crew. He stepped into the nearest turbolift.

    When he arrived in Ten Forward, it was deserted, just as he expected. No customers and no staff. The view outside the huge expanse of windows was fogged with the orange swirls of the nebula, and he could see particles of matter, clumps of rock, drifting slowly. He stood in front of them.

    “Trouble sleeping?”

    Picard turned. Guinan was sitting in the corner, next to the door. He must have walked straight past her when he came in.

    “It’s something of a tradition, Guinan,” Picard said. “The captain touring the ship before a battle.”

    “Before a hopeless battle, if I remember the tradition correctly.”

    Picard walked over to her and sat down across the table. “Not necessarily,” he said. “Nelson toured the HMS Victory before Trafalgar.”

    “Ah,” said Guinan knowingly, “but Nelson never returned from Trafalgar, did he?”

    “No,” admitted Picard. “But the battle was won.”

    Guinan fixed him with that enigmatic gaze of hers. “Do you expect this battle to be won?”

    Picard was quiet for a thoughtful moment. “We may yet prevail,” he said, then smiled. “That’s a conceit, but it’s a healthy one.” He leaned back in his chair and looked out the windows. “I wonder if the Emperor Honorious watching the Visigoths coming over the seventh hill could truly realise that the Roman Empire was about to fall. This is just another page in history, isn’t it? Will this be the end of our civilisation?” He looked back at her and shrugged. “Turn the page.”

    Guinan smiled, and her smile was a knowing one, confident. “It is not the end,” she said.

    “You say that with remarkable assuredness,” Picard said.

    Guinan corrected him. “With experience.” She leaned forward. “When the Borg destroyed my world, my people were scattered throughout the galaxy. But we survived. As will Humanity survive. As long as there’s a handful left to keep the spirit alive, you will prevail. Even if it takes a millennium.”

    Picard met her eyes and smiled appreciatively. There was comfort in her expression, as though she knew what lay ahead, and despite the dark times facing them, Picard found that if Guinan promised him that it would be alright, then he would believe her, no matter what.

    And then, from far outside the window, there was a bright flash, a blaze of light racing towards them which passed the Enterprise less than a kilometer distant. The shockwave washed over the ship, the deck swaying like a boat caught in another boat’s wake. And Guinan, the rock of the ship, turned a worried glance to the window. This alone was enough to plant a seed of dread in Picard’s heart.

    “Captain Picard, report to the bridge.” Worf’s voice. A call to action.

    “I’m on my way, Lieutenant.” As he rose, Picard looked back to Guinan. She looked up at him, but the confidence was gone.

    Picard turned and left.

    *

    Picard entered the bridge just as another charge flew past the ship. The deck lurched to the right, and Picard had to put a hand out to brace himself against the wall to stop himself from falling. Flashes from the viewscreen etched harsh spots into his eyes.

    Riker turned from his chair as he heard the turbolift doors. “They’re some kind of magnetometric guided charges,” he said. As they passed the ship, the shockwave from the vaporized nebula gasses was slamming into the Enterprise.

    Picard swore to himself. The Borg had no idea where in the nebula the Enterprise was, and if they entered, then the Enterprise would be able to escape easily while the Borg’s sensors were clouded. But by sending these charged bolts into the nebula, the Borg could damage the Enterprise until she was forced to leave.

    The ship lurched again, the hardest yet. Not quite a direct hit, but perilously close.

    “Status of shields,” Picard barked.

    Worf’s response came instantly. “Back to forty eight percent, captain.”

    “Mister La Forge, I may have to take us out of the nebula. I’ll need all the power you can give me.”

    “Engines are ready, captain.” The sound of La Forge’s voice over the intercom was almost drowned out by another near miss, closer than the previous one. “Recommend you adjust shield harmonics to favour the upper EM band when you proceed.”

    “Acknowledged.” Picard felt as flash of pride at how well his crew was working together. A smooth, well-maintained machine, all parts functioning harmoniously.

    The ship rocked again. A direct hit. They were out of time. Already stressed systems were pushed beyond tolerance. The power conduits supplying the consoles at the rear of the bridge overloaded and blew out. Sparks cast harsh shadows, and the people working the consoles screamed.

    “Direct hit,” reported Worf. “Deck nine.”

    “Damage report.” That was Riker.

    “Structural latching system integrity breached,” Worf stated.

    “Take us out of here, Number One,” Picard ordered.

    Riker turned to the conn. “Fire up the engines,” he ordered. “Half impulse until we clear the nebula, then punch it up to warp nine.”

    “Ready phasers, load aft torpedo bays,” Picard said.

    “Engage.”

    And with Riker’s command, the Enterprise moved forwards, the charges exploding in the nebula around her as she turned and rushed for the safety of normal space. And as the Enterprise cleared the nebula, her sensors detected the Cube…

    As it turned to follow them.

    The viewscreen was locked on the image of the Borg Cube, only seconds behind them. The Enterprise was moving at warp nine, and even still, the Cube was closing the distance. Almost leisurely, it seemed. Almost like a predator playing with an injured animal that it knows can’t escape. The viewscreen was clouded for a moment with a shimmering curtain of colour. Then again, and again.

    “Borg tractor beam is attempting to lock on,” reported Worf.

    “Fire at will, continue rotating shield frequency!”

    The Enterprise lurched.

    “Shields are failing!”

    And then the deck dropped a full ten feet.

    “Shields have failed! Tractor beam has locked on!”

    Picard looked down at the readouts on his chair. The Enterprise’s speed was rapidly falling. “They’re holding us,” he heard Riker say.

    And then, the instant that the warp field around the Enterprise had collapsed, there was a bright green glow and an explosive buzzing noise, and a Borg drone appeared directly behind Data at Ops. The android moved to get up, to attack, but he saw Worf raising his phaser and moved out of the way a spilt second before the Klingon’s phaser beam smashed into the drone’s exoplating. Set at heavy stun, the beam shorted out the drone’s circuitry, and the Borg collapsed. Worf was already rushing down the ramp to protect the captain when a second drone materialised, on the starboard side of the bridge, bare meters away from Riker.

    This time, when Worf’s phaser fired, it had the high pitch whine of a phaser set to maximum. How had he changed the setting so fast? Riker wondered, but there was a burst of static and a deep ringing, like the pealing of an electronic bell, and a green forcefield enveloped the drone, protecting it. “They’ve adapted!” said Riker, even as he rushed forwards to tackle the drone.

    But his attack was useless; the drone picked him up effortlessly and threw him to the rear of the bridge. Riker landed heavily at the top of the starboard ramp, his arm snapping from the impact. He cried out with the pain.

    Worf was rushing forwards as well, and he barrelled into the drone with his full, considerable force, but the drone’s prosthetic arm raised in a split second, absorbed the impact and pushed him back. His sternum shattered, Worf lay insensate on the floor of the bridge.

    Data rose from his station, lunging for the drone, and he grappled with the Borg’s heavy prosthesis. He actually managed to force the drone backwards a step, but then there was another buzzing noise, and a third drone materialised…

    Directly behind Picard!

    Data turned to face the new threat just in time to see it press something against Picard’s neck. Picard, halfway through turning to face the drone, slumped, his eyes rolling backwards into his skull.

    And then, the two Borg drones vanished, disappearing in the green glow of the Borg transporter beam, and Captain Picard vanished with them.

    *


    Worf came back to consciousness and pushed himself up. Adrenaline coursing through his body, he didn’t even feel his shattered sternum. He ran to his station. “The Borg Cube is disengaging,” reported. “Leaving at warp speed.”

    Riker, helped to his feet by one of the science officers at the aft stations, took a few unsteady steps down the ramp to the command chair, cradling his broken arm. “Maintain pursuit,” he said.

    “Borg vessel has reached warp nine,” reported Data. “Nine point four. Nine point six.”

    “Stay with them,” ordered Riker. “Riker to O’Brien. Can you get a fix on the captain?”

    “Negative sir. There’s some kind of interference. I can’t lock in on a signal.”

    Riker sighed. He needed his full staff. “Senior officers, report to the bridge.”

    Worf looked up from his station. The expression on the Klingon’s face was the closest Riker had ever seen to dread. “Sir,” Worf said, “The coordinates they have set…” He took a breath. “They’re on a direct course for sector zero-zero-one.”

    Riker’s blood, pumping hard and hot from the heat of action, instantly turned to ice.

    The Borg were heading for Earth.

    *
     
  9. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    The drones had forced him to march through the endless winding corridors of the Cube, and Picard had long since lost any idea of which direction they were heading in. The regeneration alcoves along the walls were identical, blending together so that he couldn’t keep count of them in the heat. He’d glimpsed other things down some of the corridors that had branched off the seemingly random route he’d been lead along, strange pieces of machinery, moving, with hissing sounds and strange chemical tinged smells. But the drones leading him had not slowed, and, held firmly in their grasp, Picard had been pushed ahead.

    After some length of time, they came to a larger chamber. Picard had lost track of how long he had been on the Cube, but his uniform was soaked with his sweat, and perspiration was dripping into his eyes. The chamber was darker than the rest of the Cube, and Picard couldn’t see how far it extended. He had a dim sense of there being irregular walls, but the mist that hung in the stale air prevented any clear view beyond a few meters.

    Directly ahead of him, though, no more than five meters from him, was a body. A slim female figure, standing perfectly upright, covered completely in the same substance that formed the exoplating of the drones beside him. The body, however, lacked the multitude of implants that broke up the outer layer of the drones’ armour. The female body was quite smooth. But where the neck should be was just a gaping empty hole, as though whoever had once owned the body had been scooped out of it, leaving only a shell behind.

    For a long moment, the drones just stood there, holding him in front of the hollow upright form. He was silent; he’d tried talking to the drones, demanding to speak to them when he’d first arrived on the Cube, but his words had gone unnoticed. But now it was different. The drones had obviously brought him to this place for some purpose, and he was about to speak again, to demand to be released, but a voice came from somewhere above him before he could form the words.

    “Jean-Luc Picard,” it said.

    A female voice, and not the apathetic voice of thousands speaking together, but the voice of a single individual, speaking with unmistakable emotion. It had a somewhat curious tone, but also a disinterested quality, as though the speaker knew that Picard was helpless.

    “You lead the strongest ship of the Federation fleet.”

    From above, in the shadows, Picard saw a movement, but it was not a person. It was more like snakes, writhing in the air, reaching into the darkness, their heads coming together where the shadows were deepest.

    “You speak for your people.”

    And now, Picard realised that the Borg must see him as some sort of leader of the Federation. And if that were the case, then this voice he was speaking to now must be a leader of the Borg. But why would they want to talk to me, like this? he thought. The answer came to him quickly. The Borg did not want to negotiate, to reach agreement. Every action they had made indicated that. They had taken him for his knowledge. Without a doubt, they were going to interrogate him for that knowledge, but how far would they go? Torture?

    The movement above him was growing more pronounced, and Picard could see something larger moving in the shadows. It seemed that this larger object was at the center of the long writhing shapes, like a horribly tentacled creature. It was slowly descending.

    His eyes fixed on it, Picard said, “I have nothing to say to you! And I will resist you with my last ounce of strength!”

    The woman’s voice spoke again, and this time it carried a note of mild amusement. “Strength is irrelevant,” she said. “Resistance is futile.”

    And now, Picard could see the object as it descended. It was a woman’s head and neck, the exact shape needed to fit into the hollow shell of the body that stood before him. It was descending on a multitude of conduits that twisted around it. The skull was elongated, and it had the look of not having been grown that way, but of having been stretched and elongated artificially, and implants and tubes inserted. The shockingly pale skin glistened wetly in the dim light. The face itself was almost Human looking; it was free of any implants, and it wore a slight smile. But the smile did not reach her eyes, and the eyes themselves were dark and evil. The lips were the only part of the face with any colour, a bright blood-scarlet red, but it did nothing to change the deathly pallor that the woman had. Underneath the pale skin snaked dark lines, and Picard realised that it was her blood vessels, as though the fluid within them was stagnant and coagulated.

    The head finished its descent, and the gleaming metal spine that hung beneath the neck slid into the empty cavity in the female form standing in the center of the chamber. And then, hooks reached out from the edges of the biomechanics on the body, latching onto the skin, puncturing it and holding it tight. But the wounds did not bleed; they had the look of already having congealed with grey blood.

    Complete now, the female form moved, the conduits that had carried her head and neck withdrawing back into the shadows. She stepped forwards, flexing her body as though it had not been used for a long time, enjoying the sensations of physicality. Then she looked up at Picard.

    “I wish to improve myself,” she continued, and as she spoke, she gestured with her arms to indicate the drones, the chamber, the very ship around them. And then Picard realised that she meant everything around her was her. She was the drones, the ship. This one being in front of him was everything that the Borg were. She existed in each of them, in every drone, every vessel, everything that was controlled by the Borg.

    She turned back to him and smiled coldly. “I will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to my own,” she said. “Your culture will adapt to service ours .” She spread her arms wide again, indicating the drones around her.

    “Impossible,” countered Picard. “My culture is based on freedom and self determination.”

    The woman lowered her arms and gave him an almost pitiful look. “Freedom is irrelevant,” she said. “Self determination is irrelevant.” Her voice became harder. “You must comply.”

    Picard gathered himself, trying to keep his voice steady. “We would rather die.”

    The woman gave him an almost dismissive look, then turned away. “Death is irrelevant,” she said, and apathy was in her voice. She began walking around his side. Picard turned his head to follow her, but the drones at his sides were still holding him tightly. “Your archaic cultures are authority driven,” she said as she vanished out of his view behind him. For a moment, she was silent. “To facilitate my introduction into your society, I’ve decided that a Human voice will speak for me in all my communications.” He felt her dank breath on the back of his neck, and fingers like cold steel stroked his ear.

    She whispered, “I’ve chosen you to be that voice...”

    Her words sent a jolt through his heart as though his blood had turned to ice water, then there was a sudden lashing noise of something moving fast towards him, a sting in his neck, and a cold pain spreading throughout his body. He contracted in agony, and he could feel swarming things creeping under his skin. And he knew, in a growing realisation, that they were going to make him into one of them , he would be used, raped, violated, and it wasn’t so he could speak for the Borg with his words, it was so he could speak as an example, this is what will happen to you, this is the hell that awaits you.

    And as he realised all of this, and felt the pain of his skin being torn apart from the inside and sharp things clamping tightly onto his skull, he heard her voice again, whispering a word seductively in his mind.

    “Locutus...”

    *

    The news wasn’t good.

    The entire senior staff had assembled on the bridge. Beverly had repaired Riker’s arm and Worf’s sternum quickly, and thankfully no one else had suffered any injuries. But the mood was still a dark one. Worf had been glowering, as though blaming himself for letting the Borg take the captain. Ensign Rager at the conn was pushing the Enterprise as hard as she dared, but at warp nine point six, the Enterprise couldn’t hold out for much longer.

    “They’re leading us into the heart of our own defenses,” Worf snarled quietly.

    “So far they haven’t had much of a reason to worry about our defenses,” Geordi said darkly.

    “Commander,” said Wesley, turning from the engineering station, “if the Borg stay at warp nine point six, we’ll be forced to discontinue pursuit and power down in less than three hours.”

    “Two hours, forty minutes and three seconds,” Data supplied.

    Riker turned to Geordi. “How soon before the deflector is ready?”

    “We’re close,” Geordi said. “A few hours maybe.” He saw Riker start to say something. “I know,” Geordi continued, before Riker could speak. “I’ll get it done in two somehow. But Commander, I’m going to need some serious power from the warp engines to make this weapon work. So far we’re using everything we’ve got just to keep up with them.”

    “We’ve got to get that ship down to impulse,” said Shelby. A task much easier said than it was done.

    Riker felt almost like the mouse trying to bell the cat. It was easy to talk about, easy to say what needed to be done, but when the time came to actually put in the work, things suddenly looked a whole lot different. Sometimes, in Riker’s experience, you just had to dive in. Sink or swim, isn’t that what they said? He jumped. “I’m leading an away team over there to get the captain back. We’ll find a way to bring them out of warp. Ensign Crusher, continue to assist Mister La Forge. Commander Shelby, you will take the bridge and coordinate with Starfleet. Data, Worf, Doctor, you’re with me.” He turned and headed for the turbolift.

    “Excuse me, sir, but with my knowledge of the Borg…”

    Riker turned quickly, cutting Shelby off. “Those are my orders,” he said, a tone of finality to end the discussion. Shelby blinked, and took a half step back.

    But then Deanna stepped forwards. “Commander Riker,” she said formally, choosing her words carefully, “it is inappropriate for you to lead the away team. Until the return of Captain Picard, you are in command of the Enterprise. We are in a state of war. Your place is on the bridge.”

    Riker frowned at her, but he knew she was right. Every fiber of his being was screaming at him to take charge, lead the way onto the Cube, rescue Picard and then blast the Borg to damned hell, but he also knew what he’d be saying to Picard if the captain wanted to lead such a mission. No, Deanna was right. This is what it was to be in command. To think of the greater needs. To delegate the responsibility. It was the mark of a good commander. But it was as frustrating as hell.

    Riker turned to face the viewscreen, his hands clasped behind his back. “Commander Shelby,” he said, quietly. “You will lead the away team.” He took a breath. “Make it so.”
     
  10. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    Act Five

    First Officer’s Log, supplemental. Our pursuit of the Borg continues at high warp on a course that will take us to the very core of the Federation. The devastation they could bring is beyond imagination.

    Worf had made the adjustments to the phasers himself, trusting none of his security personnel to make them. The cost of failure was too high. Despite wearing the uniform of Starfleet, Worf was at heart a Klingon warrior, and he lived according to that code. Duty. Honour. An oath sworn to protect his captain. An oath he had failed to fulfil. It gnawed at him, eating him from the inside, and he could not rest until he had made right. Until he had found his captain and returned him safely to the Enterprise.

    And so, he had made the alterations to the phasers, changing them to fire at the same frequency to which the Borg were vulnerable. It hadn’t just been making sure that the job was done properly. He knew his team, trusted their skills. He’d placed his life in their hands countless times. But this was different. This was Worf’s obligation to Picard. It was because of him that Picard was lost, and thus it must be because of him that Picard was returned. Yes, Worf had lost people before. Tasha Yar, Marla Aster. But Picard was different. He was, in Worf’s opinion, was the most honourable man he had ever known, and Worf had sworn to himself long ago that the safety of the captain was ultimately his responsibility. Picard had earned that respect. He’d had stood beside Worf, his cha’Dich, before the Klingon High Council. He’d been the voice of reason in his mind, who had taught a rash young warrior more about fighting intelligently then he ever thought he could learn.

    He could remember the first time he’d realised Picard was an excellent tactician. It had been during their very first mission, when threatened by Q. Picard ordered the ship to separate, and assigned Worf command of the saucer section. Worf had, of course been shocked and tried to refuse. But thinking back on it, Worf had realised what Picard was doing. If Q was indeed after the Enterprise, then yes, he would get the stardrive section, yes, he would capture or kill the skeleton crew, but the vast majority of the people on board would live. Q would have failed to destroy them. And by assigning Worf to command the saucer, Picard had ensured that Worf would be the one to accomplish what Q wanted least, denying him of the prize he wanted.

    So, from that moment, Worf studied Picard, learned all he could. And learn he did. He was now fully in awe of Picard’s ability and skill. When Picard defeated the Sheliak with their own weapon of endless bureaucracy, Worf had almost failed to contain his own laughter. Picard was the one who taught him that as powerful and dangerous as his own body was, his mind could be a far greater weapon.

    And now, with Picard kidnapped by the Borg, Worf put this skill into practice. They’d discovered a vulnerability, and he intended to exploit it. He’d fight with his mind, and he’d fulfil his duty.

    He passed out the modified phasers to the away team as soon as he entered the transporter room. “These phasers have been retuned,” he explained. “Each has a different frequency spanning the upper EM band.” And none of them had the same frequency as the deflector weapon. No point in giving the Borg a chance to begin adapting.

    Shelby nodded appreciatively as she took the phaser. “Alright,” she said, “a reminder. We only get to use each of these once, maybe twice, before the Borg learn to adapt. Don’t fire until you have to.”

    “What kind of resistance can we expect?” asked Beverly

    Shelby looked at her. She’d been against the doctor’s presence on the away team; she had no tactical training, no experience in combat situations, and her skill with a phaser was below par. And she hadn’t been on the Enterprise when it been flung into system J-25 either. But, she was the best doctor on the Enterprise, and there was no telling what condition Picard would be in when they found him. Given the Borg’s ability to tie mechanical devices into biological tissue, it seemed likely that whatever method of torture the Borg were using on Picard would leave him in a severely weakened state. A doctor would be necessary. But still, Shelby disliked having her there. Once they found Picard, the away team would have to protect both the captain and Doctor Crusher. In her view, it made them too vulnerable. Still, Riker had been insistent. The doctor goes with you.

    “At our last encounter, the Borg virtually ignored us when we beamed aboard their vessel,” said Data. “They clearly did not consider our being there a threat.”

    “That may change, however, if we start interfering with their plans,” said Shelby. She lead them up onto the transporter platform. “Shelby to bridge. Away team ready.”

    Riker’s voice came over the com. “We’ve got fifty eight minutes before we have to power down and disengage.”

    Shelby nodded, even though Riker couldn’t see her. “Understood.”

    “Proceed,” said Riker. “And Commander, no unnecessary risks. If it becomes clear that you can’t succeed, I want you back here alive. I don’t want any dead heroes. Clear?”

    “Very clear,” said Shelby. “Shelby out.” She looked at O’Brien.

    “We’ve matched warp velocity for transport, Commander,” he said. There was a hint of tightness in his voice.

    Shelby didn’t let it bother her. “Energise,” she said quickly.

    O’Brien’s hands tapped the panel in front of him, and then the shimmering blue curtain of the transporter surrounded her.

    *

    The away team materialised into darkness. Instantly, Worf’s phaser was in his hand. Data lifted his tricorder. Around them were dim lights, blinking, moving. Harsh metallic sounds were muffled by distance, the whirring of machinery, the dull thud of drones walking on metal grates. The air smelled of chemicals, oily and scrubbed, with the thick heaviness of humidity and heat.

    They stood there for a moment, but the drones merely stepped around them, ignoring them. Worf lowered his phaser and lifted his own tricorder. “Tricorder functions minimal,” he reported.

    “Any signs of human life?”

    Worf shook his head. “Inconclusive.” He felt the urge to crush the tricorder in his hand, but he pushed it back. Now was not the time to let his emotions control him. He tried to adjust the tricorder.

    Beverly stepped forward from the away team, looking at the conduits that snaked across the walls and ceiling. “Look at this, this is extraordinary.”

    Data stepped forwards. The conduits snaked into the base of a small pyramid shaped structure that sat on the wall. It was lit from within, the light flickering and wavering. “These appear to be some kind of power waveguide conduits,” he observed. “They may allow the Borg to work collectively as they perform ship functions.”

    Shelby stepped forwards. This could be something they could exploit. A vital part of the Borg system, just sitting here on the wall? She checked her tricorder. No signs of a forcefield or any other protection. But then she realised that the small size meant that there were likely to be millions of the scattered throughout the Cube. And, looking along the corridor they were in, she could see at least a dozen more of them. “There’s no way to take out enough of these to slow them down,” she said.

    Data nodded. “The decentralised power system makes it virtually impossible.”

    Shelby sighed and lead the away team away, but then Crusher spoke thoughtfully. “What about looking at it from the mosquito’s point of view?”

    Shelby turned back.

    “An interesting metaphor, Doctor,” Data said. “What is your idea?”

    Beverly turned to him and smiled. “If we sting them in a tender spot, they might stop for a minute to scratch.”

    Shelby looked at her, impressed. Not a bad plan.

    They moved into the next corridor. Like the first, regeneration alcoves stretched away along the walls. But the conduits along the ceiling were more dense here, collecting together and heading in the same direction. As they turned a corner, they saw an intersection, with a large number of glowing pyramids hanging from the ceiling. They looked similar to the power waveguide conduits, but these were larger and glowed more brightly. Shelby lifted her tricorder. Just like before, no forcefields.

    “Distribution nodes,” said Data.

    Shelby nodded. “If we take out a few of these, it just might make them scratch.”

    She lifted her phaser and was about to fire at the node when Worf’s tricorder beeped. He’d managed to improve its function, and now, despite a still limited range, it had detected something. “The captain’s communicator!” Worf said. “It is still activated!”

    Beverly tapped her combadge immediately. “Crusher to Picard, can you hear me?”

    The away team waited in silence, but there was no response.

    “Can you locate it, Worf?” asked Shelby.

    Worf checked, turned. The single was slightly stronger off to his left. “This way.” He lead them off into the Cube.

    *

    The away team had been over on the Cube for half an hour now, and Riker was getting restless. What was keeping them? They’d maintained the necessary contact, reported everything. But they’d detected Picard’s combadge more than five minutes ago, and they still hadn’t found it. What was keeping them? Damn! He should have gone. Maybe he couldn’t find the captain any faster, but at least he would be doing something. Better than sitting and waiting.

    So engrossed in his own anxieties was Riker that he didn’t hear the soft tone of the incoming transmission the first time. When he did hear it, he leaped behind the desk and tapped the key on the terminal. Admiral Hanson appeared on the screen.

    “Commander Riker, how are your weapon preparations?”

    “Almost ready,” said Riker. “We’re not going to let the Borg get away.”

    “Good to hear,” said Hanson. He took a deep breath. “Are the Borg still on course for Earth?”

    Riker nodded.

    “Good. I’ve managed to get twenty three ships launched from the Earth drydocks and Utopia Planetia. They’ll be meeting with another group from the Third Fleet on maneuvers in the Vulcan system. They’ll rendezvous and make their way towards your position.”

    Riker stared for a moment. “That would leave Earth with no heavily armed vessels within at least two lightyears.”

    Hanson nodded. “Whether at Earth or somewhere else, it’s not going to make any difference. And I doubt that the crews of those ships want to wait around in the Sol System for the Borg to come to them.”

    “I strongly recommend redeploying all available defenses to protect sector zero-zero-one, Admiral…”

    Hanson cut him off with a shake of his head. “We’re moving to intercept at Wolf three five nine. We’ll make our stand there.” The tone of his voice was final. The discussion was over, and Riker sighed inwardly. Damn Hanson could be stubborn! “How much longer can you maintain pursuit?”

    “Twenty two minutes if they stay at their current speed,” Riker answered him. “If we can’t bring them out of warp, we’ll do as much damage as we can before we have to disengage.”

    Hanson nodded, but the expression on his face was grim. “Picard?”

    Riker lowered his eyes. “Nothing yet, sir.”

    *

    There was barely twenty minutes before they would have to return to the Enterprise. The heat of the Cube was beginning to show its effects. Beverly lifted her hand to wipe sweat away from her eyes, but her palm was already slick with sweat. She wiped her hands on her uniform in an effort to dry them, but it didn’t work. The heat and humidity were just too much. She had a sticky, grimy feeling all over, like a mixture of her own sweat and industrial lubricant. And the intermittent strobing lights on the Cube were giving her a headache. She hoped the others were faring better. Data, of course, nothing would bother him. And even if it did, he’d compensate and ignore it. Worf would ignore it anyway. She’d once seen him in sickbay after he’d broken a leg on an away team and marched more than two kilometers on it back to the beam out point. And as for Shelby, well, her determination could lead her to ignore discomfort, but it could build up inside her before breaking out. Beverly hoped they found Picard soon.

    Worf vanished around a corner, then came back. “In here,” he reported, then vanished again. The away team quickly followed him.

    The chamber that they entered was almost like a morgue. There were a series of long hatches in the wall, all closed. Worf walked along them, holding his tricorder. Its beeping became louder and faster, until at one of the hatches it became a solid tone. He folded his tricorder and put it back into its holster, then dug his fingers into the maze of tubing on the hatch. He pulled, grunting with the effort, but the hatch refused to move. He stepped back, allowing Data to come forwards.

    Data grabbed the hatch and pulled, and even though it looked like he was barely trying, the android was using a strength that could bend durasteel. The hatch slowly slid open.

    The away team leaned in to look into the compartment that lay behind the hatch. It was fairly shallow, going back less than a meter, but wide enough for an adult Human to lay down inside. For a moment, Beverly expected to see the unconscious form of Jean-Luc Picard to be there, laying insensate on the cold metal slab, but the captain wasn’t there.

    His uniform, however, was.

    It was as though the uniform had been torn off him, the clothes were ripped, but the combadge still sat fastened securely to the breast. She was aware of Shelby speaking, telling the bridge what they had found. She could hear the shock and the despair in Riker’s voice as he answered Shelby.

    And then Shelby was telling Riker that they were resuming the search for Picard, and Beverly wanted to laugh. Resume the search? They’d lost their only trail! How could they continue the search now? Where would they look? She realised that she would never see Jean-Luc Picard again.

    She remembered that horrible day long ago, after the Stargazer had returned to Earth with Jack’s body, and Jean-Luc had gone with Beverly to identify his remains. She remembered the sterile hallways, the cold room with only a single biobed standing in the middle, the shape underneath the cover, and then how it had been Jack’s face, even though Jack wasn’t really there anymore, was he? She remembered how Picard had held her hand as she tried to keep her emotions in check, how he put his arm around her shoulders and supported her when she burst into tears, and how he had stroked her and kissed her hair as she screamed abuse at him for not saving her husband.

    Was it easier this way, knowing for sure that your loved one was really gone, really dead?

    Honestly, she didn’t know. For months afterwards, she’d had nightmares about Jack’s eyes, staring at her from under his closed eyelids, dreaming of the things that he saw as he was dying. What did his eyes see as his life left him?

    But now they were going to return to the Enterprise weren’t they? They’d get the Borg ship to drop out of warp, and then they’d go, and they’d fire the deflector, and destroy this horrible place, but Picard would still be here, and what would he see? Would he see the walls of fire coming for him? Would he feel the blast of heat? Would he feel the shockwave hit him and tear him apart?

    Yes, it was easier. Much better to know for sure, because no matter what horrors lay in store for Picard, whatever Beverly’s imagination could conjure was so much worse.

    *

    If Riker had known, he would have thought Shelby’s report would have filled him with dread, but it didn’t. Instead, it gave him a sense of finality. They’d lost Picard. Even if he was still alive somewhere over there, the away team would never be able to find him in time. They had barely a quarter of an hour before the Enterprise would be forced to drop out of warp, and the away team still had to get the Cube to impulse. If the captain was lost, then that was what they needed to do. And if the captain was not lost, if there was somehow a chance, they still wouldn’t be able to take it, because doing so would rob them of their chance to destroy the Cube. And saving the captain just wasn’t worth it.

    There was the hiss of doors behind him, and Riker turned to see La Forge and Wesley hurrying down the ramp. “Stand by, Commander,” he said to Shelby over the com.

    “We’re in business,” Wesley said to Riker.

    La Forge nodded in agreement. “It’ll burn out the main deflector,” he said, “but it’ll be one hell of a bang.”

    “Radiation danger?”

    “We’ll need to evacuate the entire forward half of the secondary hull and the lower three decks of the saucer,” said Wesley.

    “I’ll see to that,” Deanna said, and then she was hurrying back to the turbolift.

    Riker lifted his head and spoke to the away team. “Commander Shelby, we only have seventeen minutes of warp power left. Do whatever you can to get them out of warp.”

    *
     
  11. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    Shelby listened to Riker’s order, reading the message under the surface. They’d given up on the idea of a rescue. Their need to attack the Borg was now overriding their need to find the captain. Shelby felt a moment of grief. They’d lost Picard.

    Still, she had a job to do. No time now for grief. Time enough for that later. She took a deep breath, sucking in the chemical tinged air of the Cube. “Acknowledged,” she said. “Shelby out.”

    She could feel the eyes of the rest of the away team on her. Data looking at her with an almost curious expression. Crusher in her disbelief. And Worf, furious. She wished she could give them the time they needed to deal with this. They had been so close, but their chance to rescue Picard had been snatched away, pulled from their hands just as they were about to take it for themselves. But, the mission wasn’t over, and they had another task to perform. Deal with the emotion later, concentrate on the job now. “Let’s take out some of these distribution nodes and see what happens.” She looked around at them, but they were still just looking at her. “Get ready,” she said, but she tried to keep the hardness out of her voice. “This may rile up our friends.”

    She nodded to Data, who stepped forwards. There was a power waveguide conduit sitting on the wall. Data raised his phaser and fired.

    The beam splashed against the outside of the conduit box, but there was no disruption in its activities. Data looked at Worf, and then they both fired together. For a brief moment, the power waveguide conduit withstood the twin beams, but then they broke through and the box exploded from within.

    There were sudden sounds, of capacitors charging, gears whirring, servos spinning. Dull heavy footsteps and mechanical clangs. The Borg were stirring, emerging from their regeneration alcoves.

    And, one by one, they all turned and began converging on the away team.

    Shelby’s hand slapped her combadge. “Enterprise, are they dropping to impulse?”

    “Negative, Commander,” said Riker.

    “Damn,” muttered Shelby.

    The away team was forced back by the advancing drones. They couldn’t afford to start firing on the drones themselves, not yet. If they did before the Borg had dropped out of warp, then they could adapt and they’d never be able to destroy enough distribution nodes to force the Cube to impulse. As they retreated past a side corridor, Shelby noticed a pair of distribution nodes hanging from the ceiling. “There!” she said.

    Data and Worf lifted their phasers again. And then a second time. And then, as the second distribution node erupted in sparks, the lights dimmed for a moment as power was lost throughout the entire section of the Cube.

    *

    Wesley noticed it first, the conn sounding a soft alarm designed to warn of a nearby vessel that was changing some aspect of its flight path. “Sir, they’ve done it!” he called. “The Borg ship is dropping out of warp!”

    Riker leapt out of his chair. “Go to impulse,” he said. “Inform the away team.”

    And even as Riker moved to the back of the bridge, La Forge was preparing their weapon. “Diverting warp energy to main deflector.”

    “Move us to within forty thousand kilometers, match velocity,” Riker ordered. “Tactical, commence arming sequence. Increase deflector modulation to upper frequency band.”

    *

    The Borg advanced relentlessly, and the away team was forced backwards. Another corridor cut across this one at right angles, and looking down it, Shelby could see more drones approaching. And now from behind them too.

    Surrounded. But now that the Cube had dropped to impulse, the away team could fire their weapons at the drones themselves. Shelby hoped they could hold them off for the few minutes it would take the Enterprise to get back into transporter range.

    “Ready phasers,” said Shelby.

    The Borg kept coming.

    “Fire.”

    The phaser beams lashed out in all four directions. And four drones fell, sparks erupting from them as cybernetic implants shorted out where the phaser beams hit them.

    The drones behind them stepped over the bodies and kept coming.

    Shelby’s hand hit her combadge. “Enterprise, encountering resistance! Prepare to beam us back on my signal!”

    The lights suddenly dimmed again, then blinked out altogether. The only illumination was from the flickering of the destroyed distribution nodes.

    Shelby fired. A hit.

    Worf fired. Another hit.

    Crusher fired, and a third drone fell.

    Data fired, claiming a fourth.

    More drones, directly behind them, clambering over the bodies of the fallen, advancing. They kept coming.

    More shots fired. The phaser beams added to the heat of the Cube, and the sweat flowed freely down their faces.

    The Borg fell.

    More drones, they just kept coming.

    And now, when the phasers lashed out, the drones did not fall. There was the ringing of a deep bell, and a green glow surrounded each drone. The drones did not fall, and they kept coming.

    “They’ve adapted,” said Shelby, her voice hollow, despairing. Their time was up. She was about to call for transport when she heard Doctor Crusher:

    “Jean-Luc!”

    And then Worf was calling for the captain, and Shelby turned to see him sprinting down the corridor, towards the advancing Borg. One of them raised its prosthesis, but Worf ducked and rolled underneath it, and kept running.

    And then Shelby saw – at the far end of the corridor, a figure standing, silhouetted against the light. But even from this far away, she recognised that profile. It was Captain Picard!

    But then, as though only now noticing Worf barrelling down the corridor towards him, Picard turned and stepped towards them. And as he moved into the light, Shelby saw the gleaming black metal of Borg implants covering his face, the ashen colour of his flesh, and the dark lines of blood vessels snaking under his skin.

    Beverly was screaming, but Worf ignored her; he leapt for Picard, but a forcefield burst into life and threw him backwards, and he landed heavily, face first on the rough metal grating of the Cube’s floor.

    Shelby slapped at her combadge. “Enterprise, get us out of here!”

    She saw the nearest Borg reaching out to her with a mechanical hand covered in twitching sharp things, but then the transporter lifted her away, and she was gone.

    *

    Beverly was sobbing when they materialised on the transporter pad. She collapsed to the floor. Shelby put her arms around her, lifting her up and holding her. Beverly lifted her head, as if surprised that Shelby had such tenderness in her.

    “I’m sorry,” Shelby whispered into Beverly's hair. “I’m so sorry.”

    Beverly nodded and wiped the tears from her eyes. She saw Worf and Data standing there.

    “I believe we should report to the bridge,” said Data.

    Beverly nodded, and the four of them walked off the transporter pad, defeated.

    *

    Riker looked up as the away team walked out of the turbolift. They looked like hell; Shelby looking pale and still breathing hard, Worf glistening with sweat and violet blood dripping freely from the side of his face, Beverly streaked with grime and her eyes red – had she been crying? Only Data looked anywhere near to his normal self. But there was no time to dwell on their state. They were well enough to make it onto the bridge, and that would have to be enough for now. There were more important matters at hand. “The Captain?”

    “We were unable to retrieve him,” reported Data. “The captain has been altered by the Borg.”

    It took a moment for it to sink in. “Altered?”

    “He is a Borg!” Worf snarled.

    Riker took a half step back in shock.

    Shelby quickly stepped forwards. “We’ll go back,” she said rapidly. “I need more people and we need to retune the phasers.” Her eyes locked with Riker’s. “We can get him out of there.”

    But then Geordi spoke from the engineering console next to them. “Commander, reading subspace field fluctuations from within the Borg ship. Looks like they’re regenerating, restoring power.” He looked at Riker, his eyes grim. “They could be capable of warp any minute.”

    Damn! Riker needed time to think, and time was the one thing they didn’t have! They had seconds at most before the Borg would be able to escape, and there was no way the Enterprise would be able to follow. It would take them at least ten minutes to reroute power back to the warp nacelles, and by that time the Cube would be long gone. They had no time, they had no option. They had no other chances. If they didn’t use the deflector weapon now, they never would.

    Riker turned to la Forge. “Is the deflector ready?”

    Geordi’s eye met his. “Ready sir,” he said. His voice was little more than a whisper.

    Beverly spoke now. “Will,” she pleaded. “He’s alive. If we get him back, I might be able to restore…” Her voice trailed off. Riker could hear in her voice that she was close to tears.

    Riker shook his head. “This is our only chance to destroy them,” he said. “If they get back into warp, our weapon is useless.”

    “We’ll go back,” said Shelby. “Sabotage them again if we have to!”

    “We can’t maintain pursuit!” snapped Riker. He turned back to La Forge. “Prepare to fire.”

    Shelby looked like she was about to scream. “At least consult with Starfleet!” She turned to Worf. “Get Admiral Hanson on subspace…”

    “Belay that order, Lieutenant!” said Riker. “There’s no time!”

    But he wished there was. Damn it! Why couldn’t they have more time? Goddammit, even just a few minutes! Enough time to send another away team, disable the Borg some more, disrupt their repair efforts, or hell, even talk to Admiral Hanson, and let him make the hard decisions! He’d told Deanna that he’d always thought he was ready for command, to face these moments, but now that it was happening in the here-and-now, he wasn’t so sure. He’d often imagined how difficult it would be to be in command of a starship and giving the orders that would send crew members to their deaths, and there had even been simulations. There had even been real life scenarios when he was a cadet, and even though Riker hadn’t known that they were exercises, hadn’t he had the suspicion that it wasn’t real? After all, who would put a cadet into a situation where they’d be forced to take command of other people?

    But now, it was real. There were lives in the balance. In the next few minutes, people would live or die, depending on whether he made the right choice or not. If he ordered the crew to fire, then they would be killing Picard. If he didn’t give the order, then would the Borg leave, or would they attack the Enterprise first? And even if they did fire the deflector weapon, the Borg would still have a chance to fire back, wouldn’t they? How long would it take to destroy them? A few seconds? A minute? Longer? How long could the Enterprise keep up that kind of power output with the Cube assaulting them?

    There was a soft tone. “Sir, we are being hailed by the Borg,” said Worf.

    Riker looked at him. “On screen,” he said after a moment.

    On the screen, Picard stood, but it was not Picard. It was what the Borg had turned Picard into, a twisted, nightmarish vision of a man who had been mentor, father-figure, friend. And then the Picard/Borg stepped forward, and it spoke:

    “I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life as it has been is over. From this time forward, you will service us.”

    Riker’s heart broke. He tried to tell himself that this person, this Borg, this thing before him wasn’t Picard, but he knew that it was. He tried to tell himself that Picard was already dead, that the Borg were just using his body as a macabre puppet, but he knew Picard was still alive inside this tortured automaton. And he knew that if he gave the order to fire their weapon, it would mean the death of one of his closest friends, the man who had guided him from the moment he had first come aboard the Enterprise, who had taught him everything he knew about being a leader of people. For a long moment, he could say nothing, and he forced himself to push his emotions down.

    And finally, after the long moment had passed, Riker spoke, aware that every person on the bridge was turning to him, depending on him to guide them, give them their orders.

    And his order was…

    “Mister Worf… Fire.”
     
  12. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    well, that's the end of Part One! I hope yo enjoyed it! I writing part two, and I'm halfway through the first act. I'll stat posting them when I get ahead a bit, give me some time to revise a little instead of finishing an act and posting t immediately.

    In the meantime, I;d love to hear your thoughts of the first half!
     
  13. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    Okay, so no one has thoughts on what I've written so far.

    Here's Part Two!

    Teaser

    “Come in, come in, Number One,” Picard said.

    Riker stepped into the captain’s quarters. It was the first time he had been in here, and it felt rather odd. Until now, he’d only known the captain in the work environment. But now, the mood was changed. More intimate. Getting together as friends, almost. But not quite. Riker was quite aware of why the captain had asked him to join him for dinner. They’d been serving together for almost two months now, but Picard hadn’t had a chance to get to know Riker personally. The real William Thomas Riker. And so, when the computer had delivered the captain’s invitation, Riker had known the motivation behind the request.

    “Synthehol?” asked the captain, half turning towards him from the replicator.

    “Uh, yes please,” said Riker. He rubbed his hand over his cleanly shaven chin. He was a little concerned at drinking, but then he thought, what the hell. It was only the synthetic stuff, he wouldn’t really lose any inhibitions, would he? But then he heard the voice of Lieutenant Boylen calling him Ensign Babyface and telling him to loosen up.

    Riker took the glass Picard was holding out. “Thank you, Captain,” he said.

    Picard raised his glass, and Riker clinked his against it. “Salute,” Picard said. “You know, my brother makes the real stuff. Wine. It’s a shame I haven’t got any aboard ship.”

    “He’s a vintner?” asked Riker. “Where does he grow his vines? The Barossa?”

    Picard shook his head. “France,” he said. “My whole family, actually. My brother, father, grandfather. So it was quite a break in the family tradition when I enlisted in Starfleet, as you can imagine.” They sat on the lounge. “It was one of the hardest choices I’d ever had to make,” said Picard.

    “You weren’t sure if Starfleet was the right path for you?”

    “Oh, no, Number One,” said Picard. “Sorry, Will. No sense in standing on rank tonight. I always knew that Starfleet was the right path for me, but going against my father’s wishes and actually doing it, that was difficult.”

    Riker nodded. “It seems that this life gives us more than our fair share of hard choices.”

    “You’ve had a few of your own, haven’t you?”

    “Yes sir,” said Riker. God, he needed to loosen up a bit more. He took another long sip of his drink. “I’m sure you know of my father.”

    Picard nodded. “Yes, Kyle Riker. I know him by reputation, though we haven’t met.”

    “Well, he and I don’t get on,” said Riker. “We haven’t spoken for almost fifteen years.”

    “I’m sorry to hear that,” said Picard, and Riker could see understanding in his eyes. A similar rift between the captain and a family member?

    “It was the death of my mother that caused it,” said Riker. “After her death, my father became distant.” He took another sip. “Withdrawn. By the time I was fifteen, I was practically looking after myself. Apart from the fact that we shared an address, we didn’t really have much to do with each other. But in spite of it all, I still loved him. I dunno why.” Riker sighed. “Probably because he was my father, and I was young and it was just the expected thing to do. Family sticks together. But then, I realised I was faced with a choice. Stay or leave.” He took another mouthful of the synthehol.

    “You chose to leave?”

    Riker nodded and placed his glass back on the table. It was empty now. “Hardest decision of my life, up until that point at least.”

    “But since?”

    Riker leaned back and smiled. “Telling Captain DeSoto that I wasn’t going to let him beam down to Altair III, now that was difficult. He fixed me with that damned glare of his, the one that could bore through duranium, and demanded I explain myself. Of course, I stood up to him, held my ground. I don’t think he’d ever had that from a subordinate officer before. But, in the end, he agreed with my reasoning, even if he didn’t agree with my decision.” Riker flashed Picard a grin. “But he stayed on the ship.”

    Picard laughed. Riker had to admit, it was a good laugh. A sincere laugh, and he was glad that his captain was able to laugh when he projected such a cool, almost icily serious demeanour on the bridge. “It is a part of the job, facing those hard decisions,” Picard said. “And I’m glad to see that it’s something that you are able to face.”

    “Well, if I can’t, I shouldn’t be wearing the uniform,” said Riker.

    “I’m curious,” said Picard. “You’ve demonstrated the ability to face these choices and make them. And yet you turned down your own command to come aboard the Enterprise.”

    “The Drake, yessir.” Riker sighed. “I decided that taking command of a small survey vessel wouldn’t present the same opportunities as a tour aboard the Enterprise.”

    “But Will,” said Picard. “To hold the rank of captain, even aboard a minor vessel…”

    “But that’s the thing,” said Riker. “If I’d taken that command, I’d be a captain, yes, but never out there doing the important things. I’d never be making the great discoveries, only going out to learn more about things that others before me had found. I didn’t join Starfleet to follow in the footsteps of others. I joined to make my own footsteps.” He smiled. “To boldly go where no one has gone before.” He leaned back in the lounge. “And that isn’t about rank. It’s about opportunity. And a position on the Enterprise would give me an opportunity that I’d never get on the Drake.”

    “It couldn’t have been easy for you,” said Picard.

    Riker shook his head. “It wasn’t,” he said, and smiled. “Another one of the difficult choices.”

    “And now?”

    Riker looked at Picard, not understanding. “Sir?”

    “Your ability to make those tough choices,” Picard said. “To choose to leave home. To choose to disobey your captain’s orders. To choose opportunity over rank. I’m afraid that you haven’t faced the last of those difficult choices. How do you think you’ll cope with them?”

    Riker sighed and leaned back in the lounge. “Well, it’s not going to get any easier,” he said. “After all, making those choices isn’t a matter of skill. It’s a matter of cost. And the difficult choices are difficult because whichever way you choose, the cost is going to be high. That’s not really something that you can be trained for.”

    “Indeed,” said Picard.

    Riker let his head fall back, and he sighed. He hoped that the difficult decisions would be few and far between.

    *

    The most difficult decision William Riker would ever make was the decision to kill his captain.

    “Mister Worf… Fire.”

    He wanted to turn away, close his eyes, shut out the next few minutes, but he couldn’t. Damn it, he’d done the hard part, he’d done his job! The others, they had it easy. They knew what was happening, they knew that Picard would be lost forever, but they weren’t doing this because they’d had to make the hard decision. They hadn’t weighed up everything and decided that the Cube would have to be destroyed, even if it meant the death of Picard. They were doing it for the simple reason that Riker had ordered them to. They never actually had to think about what they were doing.

    He’d given them their order, and he didn’t want to see it carried out.

    He’d given them their order, and he had done his part, and now all he could do was stand there and watch it happen, and as difficult as it had been to give that order, staying to watch it be obeyed was even harder. But he couldn’t look away, couldn’t leave. He was their leader now, and he had to lead.

    The deck began vibrating. More and more power was pouring into the deflector, and the strain of the power transfer units was beginning to show.

    Riker looked at the face on the viewscreen, the face that had once belonged to his friend, but now belonged to a tortured puppet named Locutus. He looked past the Borg implants, the biomechanical decvices, and saw the face of his friend.

    I’m sorry, Riker thought.

    He became aware of La Forge’s voice from somewhere behind him. “Deflector power approaching maximum limits. Energy discharge in six seconds!” Worf switched the screen to show the Cube, and for that Riker was grateful. He didn’t think he’d be able to stand looking at Picard’s face, twisted by the Borg, in the last few seconds before he was lost forever.

    The seconds passed with nightmare slowness. The rumbling beneath the deck grew stronger, like some beast from the depths awakening, a beast better left to slumber.

    And then, the ship lurched backwards and the rumbling became a roar as the beast was released. The deflector dish erupted, spewing a burst of energy that blasted out and smashed into the side of the Cube. Riker winced at the sudden brightness that burnt his eyes, but he refused to look away. A forcefield appeared to absorb the blast, but they had planned for this, expected this. Shelby had told him that the Borg forcefield would only last for a few seconds before failing.

    But how long had it been? He began counting in his head as the seconds passed. He had reached ten before Worf spoke.

    “The Borg ship is undamaged.”

    Riker’s heart leapt into his throat. The weapon wasn’t working? Riker felt a moment of fear, of shock. Their weapon was useless, they couldn’t defeat the Borg, and the Enterprise was utterly defenceless.

    “Impossible.” Riker barely heard Shelby’s incredulous voice.

    Alarms began sounding, becoming more desperate as the Enterprise continued pushing the deflector. “Warning. Warp core primary coolant failure.”

    Riker ignored it. He couldn’t afford to give up the attack. Part of him believed that the Borg were simply just a little more resistant than they had expected, that any moment, their defenses would buckle and the Cube would be destroyed, but another part of him knew that they had failed. But his mind refused to accept this. He had to push the Enterprise as far as he could. He couldn’t afford to give up. There was too much at stake.

    “I can’t maintain it much longer, Commander,” warned Geordi. And the computer issued another warning. “Exceeding reaction chamber thermal limit.”

    Riker could have screamed with the injustice of it all. They’d done everything right, they’d accounted for every possibility! What could have gone wrong? What could have happened? Damn it! He lowered his eyes.

    “Cease fire.”

    They’d failed.

    “Shutting down warp engines…” Geordi’s voice was shocked, quiet.

    The burst of energy slowed to a trickle and then stopped entirely. The Borg’s forcefield blinked off. The Cube behind it was unscathed.

    Riker shook his head. They couldn’t have adapted that quickly! They had no weapon that could defeat them, no way to stop them. The Borg had the power to withstand any attack, and – somehow – the knowledge to prepare for any assault.

    There was a tone from the communications console, and the viewscreen flicked back to the interior of the Cube, back to the drone that had once been a Human called Picard. “The knowledge and experience of the Human – Picard – is part of us now,” it said. “It has prepared us for all possible courses of action.’ The eyes met Riker’s, and he saw the hardness in them. “Your resistance is hopeless… Number One.”

    And the frightening intimacy of those words, of this thing on the viewscreen addressing him as one of his dearest friends, left him in no doubt that what the Borg had said was true, that the Borg were not only using Picard’s body, but his mind, ripping his thoughts, feelings, memories, his very soul out and sifting through it.

    He hoped that they’d be able to kill Picard soon.
     
  14. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    At first, I thought I was just reading a novelization of the episode. However, as I get more into it, it doesn't seem like that. I'd like to see where you go next with this, Tiberius, and keep up your good work.
     
  15. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    Thanks. The last thing I want to do is just write out a transcript of the episode. I'm trying hard to make this a chance to get into the minds of the characters and see things that we would have seen in the episode if they'd known about it (such as the Borg Queen) or more money.

    That's the great thing about writing. I can write whatever I want, and I don't need to worry about how it will be done. :p
     
  16. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    Act One

    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.

    Futile.

    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.

    *
     
  17. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    He’d returned to his quarters to rest. It would be another five hours before the Enterprise was ready to head after the Cube, and there was nothing he could do. Geordi’s crews were working hard to repair their damage. He could do nothing but get in the way. He showered and ate, then tried to get some sleep. It hadn’t been that long ago that he’d been telling Picard to get some rest before their confrontation with the Borg. So, he lay on his bed, still in uniform, trying to sleep. As a cadet, he’d been very good at snatching sleep here and there, between classes so he could study all night. Unfortunately, it was a skill he’d lost with lack of practice.

    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.

    “Commander!”

    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.

    “Admiral…”

    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.
     
  18. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    Act Two

    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.
     
  19. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    Well, some good news for you. I've finished the final act. But I'll be going over it, making improvements to it before I post it. However, I'll give you the next act!

    Act Three

    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.”

    “Proceed.”

    Data tapped a control, and he and Worf disappeared.

    *

    They’re here.

    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: May 6, 2012
  20. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    Here's the next act!

    Act Four

    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.

    “Worf.”

    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.”

    “Go ahead.”

    “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.