The Best of Both Girls
A Captain Janeway Adventure
by Jim Wright
[As the last chapter ended, Voyager and the Enterprise-E have left DS9 for Earth, leaving the Borg cube--christened USS Duchess--under command of Commander Riker.]
Chapter 5: "The Voyage Home"
There are many killing words. But few are as deceptively benign as "sleep."
With a word, Locutus--nee Picard--accomplished what the combined might of Starfleet could not at Wolf 359, and sent a Borg cube to a fiery destruction. The Borg, too mighty to be breached in a frontal assault, were felled from within by an individual too willful to succumb in whole.
When a second Cube was dispatched, it fell again at Locutus' word: Fire. Still connected to the Collective in ways he could not explain, Picard had known precisely where to strike, and with the combined firepower of surviving Earth vessels, the Borg failed again, and Earth was spared a second time from global assimilation. And then a third, when the Enterprise-E had followed an escape sphere containing the Queen into the past, preserved First Contact with Vulcan and destroyed the Queen for all time.
The Borg kept these events in its Collective memory.
The recently assimilated Vorta and Jem'Hadar...learned.
The crew expected the journey from DS9 to be uneventful. Dr. Bashir had once called Bajor "the frontier" and so it was--at warp five, it would take several hours to reach the next system, and just over two days to connect with the well-traveled subspace "highway." But to their surprise, Voyager and Enterprise had company for much of their journey; private, corporate, chartered and planetary vessels matched paths with the vessels along the way to pay their respects to the long-lost vessel that arrived in time to save the Alpha Quadrant. Some flew in to offer thanks. Others matched course and speed if only to catch a glimpse of a legendary Starfleet vessel--and another straight out of myth.
Thanks to Picard, the Borg threat had been twice averted. Thanks to Janeway, the Borg had become a crucial ally. Each had made the galaxy a far safer place.
What had been a slow commute had become a victory lap.
On board Voyager, the attention was welcome, but the real buzz was the anticipation of finally, after more than three years of trial and tragedy, on the last days of their journey to Earth. DS9 was in the alpha quadrant, yes, and the place where Voyager's journey into the Badlands had begun, but Earth was the final destination in Captain Janeway's eyes. Until she set foot on the grounds of Starfleet Headquarters, hers was still an odyssey in progress. And her odyssey was her crew's. Even those who did not call Earth home understood, and wouldn't miss this trip for all the world.
The rest at DS9 had done them all good. Commander Chakotay noted with pleasure that the crew appeared for their duty shifts on time and impeccably dressed in the same style of duty uniforms they had worn in the Delta Quadrant. They had seen the new standard, and had the option to update the replicators on DS9, but the captain had stated that she would not adopt the new style until she had completed her current mission. Her crew readily agreed. Dr. Bashir had volunteered to change back to the old style in a show of camaraderie, but Captain Sisko's only comment was, "Nice try, Doctor."
What the crew of Voyager found truly surprising was that Neelix had been doing far more than updating his own wardrobe on the Promenade. Despite the thorough repairs and replenishment to the ship's energy stores--eliminating rations and making the Talaxian's home-cooked meals unnecessary--the mess hall dinner party the day of their departure was a galaxy-spanning culinary wonder. Even Tom Paris offered unhesitating praise for the meal. Chakotay had remarked to Janeway on the surprisingly spare usage of the replicators and the crowds in the mess hall. "Neelix shouldn't have any trouble getting work," he'd said, and Janeway had laughed merrily.
The mess hall was less crowded on the third evening of their journey as Janeway and Chakotay hosted Captain Picard and Doctor Crusher for a late, private dinner. Earth was still several days away, thanks to the still-active general ban on high-warp travel; both vessels were fitted with the necessary safety equipment for high-warp journeys, but they were the exception, and Starfleet had encouraged what was quickly becoming a public relations bonanza. Even those species that had been intractably isolationist were coming out to pay their respects. After years of bloody conflict with the Borg, Cardassians, the Dominion, and for a time the Klingons, the Federation was in desperate need of replenishing, and each curious species today could become tomorrow's newest member world.
Neelix had outdone himself. Picard had brought several bottles from his family vineyards. In honor of Dr. Crusher, Neelix had prepared a haggis that was palatable to all, but which even Grandmother Felisa would have praised; Beverly had discovered to her delight that pleekta rind was an ideal complement to the Howard family recipe. Fresh tossed salad comprised of vegetation everyone at the table could recognize. Eggplant lasagna made with a house cheese that had passed B'Elanna's personal safety inspection. Crusty French bread with garlic butter. A percolating pot of genuine Columbian coffee, acquired at DS9 by a young Ferengi cadet through means Picard thought best not to investigate, a pungent blend of beans that nevertheless blended with the delicate scent of Earl Grey to work an incense-like magic on the room.
Fine company. Fine conversation. In all, a meal fit for a queen.
"You've outdone yourself, Mr. Neelix," Janeway said as the Talaxian, dressed in a stylish Garak paisley, cleared the table of the last of the rhubarb pie.
"Indeed," Picard echoed. "In fact, Mr. Neelix, I have someone I must introduce you to. She could prove invaluable in your transition to life in the Alpha quadrant. Her name is Guinan, and I have known her for--"
Picard's voice halted as his eyes went wide. He stared intently at Captain Janeway, who had gone rigid and what color remained in her face drained away. All eyes turned to the captain.
"Are you all right, Kathryn?" Chakotay asked, lips tight with worry.
Janeway pressed at her temples with both hands. "It's nothing," she said shakily. But then she inhaled sharply, clutching herself as though suddenly kicked in the stomach. Her mouth opened in a silent scream.
"Kathryn!" Chakotay slapped his combadge. "Chakotay to Ops; beam the captain directly to Sickbay, now!" Ensign Kim responded, and the captain's body began to fade while the "Yes Sir!" was still echoing in the near-empty room.
Chakotay rushed for the door as soon as the transport began. Beverly Crusher beat him to the corridor, her doctor's instincts at full alert.
Captain Picard remained in his seat. His fist was clenched tightly; the white knuckles were counterpointed by the quartet of red droplets forming in his palm where fingernails met flesh. He worried about the captain, but he already knew the cause. He had felt it too.
It was several moments before Picard's anxiety subsided. He tapped his combadge. "Picard to Enterprise. Status report, Mr. Data...."
Althea III was a Class-L world in the Tillamuk sector. An ore processing planet, Althea III had made use of the planet's magma as a natural energy source and refining material. Forty million drones performed the work of reducing the ore-rich asteroids in the sector into the raw material for the innumerable Collective construction projects.
Unexpectedly, three thousand drones scattered throughout the planet had simultaneously engaged the magma-tapping pulse drills, and widened the field by a factor of a hundred. The result: a perforated parallelogram in the planet roughly the size of Madagascar. The pulses had also been tuned--also unexpectedly--to a resonant frequency which caused the land between the chasms to crumble and disintegrate, resulting in a large plug of land held in place only by tradition.
Tradition was insufficient.
Magma, finding new directions to flow, followed the path of least resistance and diverted with a vengeance. The plug came out, propelling the land mass outward with apocalyptic force.
By the time the ash had settled, Althea III had a new, tiny, roiling orange moon in a low and decaying orbit.
And no survivors. The Collective reeled from the instant loss of forty million drones.
The new Queen felt the full force of the tragedy.
Seven of Nine, tertiary adjunct to unimatrix 01, had been tasked to provided assistance to Commander Riker during his temporary command of the U.S.S. Duchess. At the moment, Seven of Nine was explaining the function of assimilation nanoprobes to the commander and a female lieutenant designated Gabrielle Lincoln, third of five on the medical "team" of Dr. Crusher of Enterprise. Janeway had determined that there were possible medical applications beyond assimilation, and had ordered Seven of Nine to assist the Commander in her absence. She would comply. Seven of Nine's presentation was efficient.
But Seven held reservations about the course the new Queen had set. The Collective's quest for perfection had been proceeding for millennia, its methods proven, its manner efficient, its success evident. Resistance was futile. There were exceptions in the short term, but the Borg were patient. Humanity had much to offer the Collective. But a human now ruled the hive, and the impact on the Borg was at best uncertain. Directives were changing. Assimilations had, for the moment, ceased.
And now Commander Riker treated the Borg vessel and its drones with less awe than she felt warranted.
She granted that Riker was a formidable presence. When Locutus had been taken from the Enterprise-D, Riker had taken command. The Borg had not succeeded; Riker had taken Locutus back and severed him from the Collective, and led the destruction of the Cube that had welcomed Locutus to the Hive. Riker's resistance quotient was high. Seven respected that. His mind had also shown an impressive ability to assimilate and analyze data.
But Riker's sense of humor was unfathomable. Even that part of Seven that was still Annika Hansen, assimilated at the age of six, considered "Phallus of Borg" juvenile. Riker also had a weakness for females, Seven noted with curiosity--which had soon led to irritation. She could not help but detect and measure the biological changes in Riker's body when he looked at hers. Heightened heart rate. Dilated pupils. Hyperstimulated sweat glands. Spikes in testosterone and adrenaline levels.
Nevertheless, Four of Seven's observation that Riker was "yummy" was relevant. His biological distinctiveness was not unappealing. Even so, Seven of Nine preferred the more measured android Data for social interaction.
But when it came to official matters, Seven complied with her instructions without hesitation. This was the core of the Collective she craved. The too-lenient, motherly Captain Janeway was too frivolous at times; but the commanding, order-forging presence that had first galvanized the Collective she would follow to the ends of the galaxy.
There was room for dissent within the Collective even under the original Queen, but it was rarely expressed. Not so now. Seven of Nine considered it an error to encourage individuality, which she saw as a weakness compared to the unified Hive. It was all she had ever known.
Well, Seven admitted, that wasn't entirely true. That tiny bit of personal memory space cherished a few fragments from her life before her assimilation. Mother and father. A birthday cake with six candles. The color red. A large black bird that disturbed her when she thought of it, but which she kept secured.
And her name. Annika. It no longer held meaning for her, but it did have relevance to those bits of memory, so she had not abandoned it to the regularly purged shared memory space. She kept it to herself, and chided herself for this compromise of Borg perfection. She would purge those memories one day.
But not today.
"How successful have the nanoprobes been in adapting to alien biology?" Lieutenant Lincoln asked.
"The Borg have encountered eight thousand six hundred seventy two species," Seven of Nine said. "and have assimilated six thousand nine hundred and forty-two. The rest were unworthy of assimilation."
"I had no idea the Borg were so . . . discriminating," Riker said, smirking.
"The Borg strive for perfection. Species are selected based upon their biological and technological distinctiveness."
"Have the nanoprobes ever failed to assimilate a species the Borg wanted to add to the Collective?" Lt. Lincoln asked.
"No," Seven of Nine said, too quickly. Then, after a brief hesitation, added, "Some species did prove more resistant than others. Species 8472 was particularly aggressive. But Janeway provided the necessary adaptations. Her addition to the Collective was most . . . beneficial."
A cloud passed across Riker's face. Seven noted the constricting of blood vessels associated with human anxiety. Seven of Nine queried why this would be. The answer came from the Queen herself.
"You . . . regret that Janeway is now Borg."
A flash in Riker's eyes, quickly suppressed. "No," he said.
Seven's readings indicated this was a false response. She didn't press--
"Commander!" Lt. Lincoln shouted.
Seven of Nine had gone rigid, as had every other drone in the room. Drones had halted in mid-step, bent over consoles, lifting impossibly heavy burdens. Lincoln's tricorder was instantly in her hand; she swept the room. "Commander, as best as I can tell, these drones are in a state of shock."
Riker began entering a rapid series of commands into the computer column; he wasn't yet fluent in Borg alphanumerics, but he had learned enough in the past few weeks to call up most of what he needed. "The bioelectric field shipwide dropped fifteen percent. But why?"
Riker ran several more scans before catching something relevant. "The subspace link to the Collective is fluctuating."
"Fluctuating, Commander? Why?"
Riker frowned. "If I'm reading this correctly, there was an accident on a Borg world in the Delta Quadrant, deep in Borg space. Millions of drones." He looked up, stared at the stone-like Seven, then at the young medical officer. "It must have disrupted the entire Collective."
The planet had no name. The mature, healthy yellow star it orbited was similarly unnamed. But it was known to the Dominion, who had established it as an arms depot, years before it had heard of the wormhole, or of the untamed quadrant on the other side.
The bulk of the Jem'Hadar and Vorta who had been assimilated in the failed invasion of the Alpha Quadrant now resided here, ninety-four thousand strong. The drones busily constructed dwelling places for their new home.
They completed their physical tasks ably. But the minds of those followers of the Founders had not abandoned their allegiances.
That same assimilation-resistant Changeling DNA had been engineered into the genes of those created to serve the Founders. Each drone had a tiny zone of privacy that was beyond the reach of even the most powerful vinculum, acknowledged but ignored.
Until now, those individual privacy zones remained separate. But the Vorta had first discovered the secret: those scraps of individuality could be networked, a virtual private intranet within but undetectable by the Collective itself.
The assimilated Vorta then welcomed the Jem'Hadar to their little slice of Dominion cyberspace. They had been experimenting within the group mind, and sharing what they knew. Reaching out with their will to test the pliancy of individual drones on the other side of the Vorta firewall. They started small. But soon they were seeing far-reaching success.
Althea III had been particularly gratifying. A successful test indeed.
It would not be the last.
Janeway wept softly in Sickbay. Doc had determined that she'd suffered an emotional trauma, but was physically undamaged. Even so, some of the indefinable luster had left her, slightly but perceptibly dimmed. Counselor Troi and Kes stood by, as Chakotay and Doc watched her from a distance with Crusher and Picard, whose own pallor was gradually subsiding.
"Forty million drones," Dr. Crusher whispered, disbelieving.
"An industrial accident?" Chakotay asked. Picard shook his head.
"I don't believe so, Commander," Picard said, coughing slightly to clear his throat. "I believe this may have been a deliberate act."
"Is that possible?" Chakotay asked.
"I sensed the tragedy as well; the Collective may always be a part of me, and I feel it keenly when the Borg is near. Captain Janeway told me that drones and vessels are damaged and lost constantly, but she knows well in advance, and can often compensate and avert even more losses with simple directives. Those drones' actions were hidden from her until the damage was done. Otherwise, she could have ordered the drones to stop, or disabled them, or as a last measure, destroyed them."
Chakotay squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. Kathryn . . . "What could this mean for the Collective? For the Captain?"
Picard frowned. "If the Borg can somehow be controlled by someone other than the Queen, we could have a serious problem."
"What can we do, Captain?"
"We may not be able to do anything, Commander. This battle may be for your captain alone to address."
Kathryn Janeway grieved the loss of every crewman under her command. At worst, those losses had come two or three at a time, and those had been devastating to her. She had never before suffered the deaths of so many, and was determined it would never happen again.
The Betazoid counselor had been empathetic. Kes had been compassionate, as always. Chakotay was never away. The Doctor had her monitored twelve ways from Sunday.
Janeway appreciated their concern, but it was irrelevant. This was a Collective matter.
I want answers, the Queen told the Hive, and the ferocity of her will resonated through subspace into the drones of three quadrants. You must comply.
Little was held back. The data flooded her mind, which she distributed throughout the neural net as appropriate for processing. She relied on her Vulcans and Romulans for their analytical skills, as well as the drones from Species 109, 640, 2048, 8192 and others whose minds were equal or greater than even her formidable own. The Collective was truly vast, a diverse and wondrous host of subjects, and she had taken the time to learn the unique strengths and weakness of each.
It might take time, but she would find the answer. She was already working on her response.
* * *
Lt. Lincoln was there when Seven of Nine had recovered. Seven explained that she was undamaged but would require regeneration. She was now in Sleep mode along with all but a few drones.
The shock of all those lost drones had been . . . unpleasant. The body is nothing, she told herself; the consciousness of those drones will live on within the Collective. But even within the Hive is some fondness for the original flesh. For forty million drones, the last vestige of Home was now gone in a flash of molten planetary core.
The Hive mind was abuzz. Such an accident should have been preventable. The loss of the facility would diminish the efficiency of the Collective.
The Queen should have prevented this. Destroyed the drones responsible before the damage could be done.
It was the voice of the Collective, but not entirely. Seven brushed it off. The message was meaningless.
the queen is weak
Yes. The Queen is weak.
Who are you?
we are borg
Yes. We are Borg.
no. we are borg. true borg. Janeway is weak.
Seven of Nine listened, until the Queen's command came to determine the reason behind the malfunctioning drones. The Queen spoke with surprising strength.
Seven of Nine, tertiary adjunct to unimatrix 01, complied with the Queen's directive without hesitation.
The Dominion drones dutifully made their reports to the Queen, confident that their clandestine efforts would not be detected. They served the Founders. And though the Founders could not have imagined the present adversary, they had prepared their subjects to adapt well. The Founders were, after all, gods.
As the traffic increased throughout the Collective, the Vorta and Jem'Hadar monitored the exchanges with keen interest, and plotted their next move.
They understood the Borg's great weakness: they brought all into their camp. Once inside the Collective, it was assumed that all would, from that time forth, further the cause of the Collective. That all ties to the past had been severed. This Collective wisdom was generally true; few individuals could survive the sheer weight of billions of conscious minds acting in concert.
But much of that control still came down to genetic engineering. Despite the Borg talents in that regard, the Founders' skills were also formidable. The Jem'Hadar were bred to fight. The Vorta were engineered for diplomacy.
Inside a Collective mind, the Vorta were the true weapon. In addition to monitoring the search for information, they listened, extending their passive mental sensors out through subspace, seeking out those with half a mind to rebel against their coerced cooperation...and providing the means to do just that.
To be continued...sooner rather than later, more rather than less...
Copyright © 1997-1999 Jim Wright
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