USS Nautilus, Acting Captain’s Log: Stardate 86947.6
Following the death of Captain Sokar and most of the command crew, I, Lieutenant Carlin Drel, Chief Science Officer, have assumed command of the USS Nautilus. The ship is in bad shape, shields and weapons down and an unknown number of Borg drones still aboard. Ensign Shonos from the USS Khitomer has graciously agreed to serve as Chief Security Officer for the time being while Chief Mercy Thomas will serve as Chief of Operations. The loss that I feel most keenly, after the loss of my old friend Captain Sokar, is the loss of Doctor Howard. Not only does it rob me of another good friend, but it leaves the ship with no Chief Medical Officer, reliant on the services of the Emergency Medical Hologram–whom I personally find quite irritating. Nevertheless, we must all work together if we are to return the Nautilus to fighting shape before the Borg return.
Carlin Drel stood beside the Captain’s chair on the Bridge of the USS Nautilus. The chair was empty, the bodies having been taken to the morgue half an hour ago, but a dark green stain remained on the upholstery. The stain could eventually be removed, but the loss it represented was permanent.
Just then, the lift doors opened and Drel looked up. Ensign Shonos entered and set her phaser rifle down beside the tactical consol. “We’ve completed a search of the ship. Twenty drones were found in all and eliminated,” Shonos reported.
“Good work, Ensign,” said Drel. She turned to the communications station, where a channel was open to Engineering. “T’Paie what’s the status of repairs?”
“Engines are online, but weapons and shields are still disabled,” the Vulcan reported. “Our internal sensors should be operational in another hour, Lieutenant.”
“Looks like we’re not getting back into the fight anytime soon,” Mercy Thomas remarked from Ops.
Drel nodded absently. She’d been monitoring the comm channels during the interim and she wasn’t sure there was much of a fight. There was a lot of chatter about damaged ships and Borg boarding parties repelled with heavy casualties, but no one seemed to know where the Borg cube or the Borg sphere had gone, and there was still an incredible amount of sensor jamming going on all over the Vega System. About ten minutes ago, the USS Khitomer had completed repairs to her vital combat systems and headed out on the hunt for the Borg with three other ships. Commander Davis had contacted the Nautilus before he’d left and had graciously agreed to allow Ensign Shonos to stay aboard.
Suddenly, the science consol pinged an alert. Carlin moved over to investigate. “Another Federation ship just warped into the area, Olympic-class hospital ship, registry NCC-58550-B,” she announced. Another ping. “They’re hailing us.” She opened the channel and the face of an elderly Bajoran woman appeared on the viewscreen.
“This is Captain Alco of the USS Seacole. We’ve been tasked with taking charge of search and rescue operations in orbit of Vega IX, in the wake of an engagement there with the Borg cube,” said the woman.
“You’ve seen the cube?” Drel asked. “Was it destroyed?”
“I’m afraid not. It had partially regenerated and was driven off again, heavily damaged by the Renown and her escorts, all of which were also badly damaged. My ship arrived after the engagement, but unfortunately our transporters are down. Our shuttles are out there rescuing the crews of the damaged ships as fast as they can, but we need help. Your vessel seems to be in the best shape of any in this area. Is your ship’s transporter operational?”
“And your warp drive?”
“Then please ask your captain to join me in the rescue efforts. There’s no time to waste and your ships transporter capacity could save many lives,” Alco pleaded.
Carlin touched her hair. “I’m afraid my captain is dead. I’m in command here now.”
The Bajoran woman bowed her head. “My condolences and prayers for your loss, Lieutenant.”
Drel nodded absently. “We’ll help you,” she assured, and closed the channel. She turned to the Conn. “Crewman Jefferson, lay in a course for Vega IX. Warp factor 4.”
“Warp 4, ma’am?” Jefferson repeated.
“Yes, Crewman, we need to get there quickly.”
“Yes, ma’am, it’s just…well, I’ve never warped a starship in system like this before. Only shuttlecraft, and them never past Warp 2.”
Carlin ran a hand through her hair. The computer records had backed up her memory and the loss of Ensign Shuster and several other personnel left Jefferson as the most experienced pilot they had, until Ensign Datri recovered. Drel certainly didn’t qualify as a pilot: she’d never been able to fly her way out of a paper-bag–nor had either of her previous hosts. “Just do your best, Jefferson,” she said. “I’m sure it’s not much different from a shuttlecraft, just a little bigger and faster.”
Jefferson turned to his controls and Carlin took her usual spot behind the science consol. She tried to ignore the empty seat in the center of the room and also the queezy feeling of nervousness in her stomach. She could still see the stain on the floor from the last time she’d lost her lunch up here. She wasn’t about to do it again.
Suddenly, the ship jerked as the stars blurred in warp. Drel had to grab the edge of her consol to avoid being thrown against the com station. A moment later, the ship jerked again, pitching her forward this time. The consol hit her in the gut and knocked the wind out of her. Carlin gritted her teeth against the pain and managed to look up at the viewscreen. The blue-green orb of Vega IX hung in front of them, a little further away than Drel would have liked, but it was there. They’d arrived. She saw the form of the USS Seacole drop out of warp some distance ahead of them.
“Move us…into orbit…Mr. Jefferson,” Drel managed between gasped breaths.
“Yes, ma’am. Sorry, ma’am!” said Jefferson. The deck trembled a little as the impulse engines kicked in. The orb of Vega IX grew on the viewscreen.
Meanwhile, Drel concentrated on catching her breath and forcing her fingers to release their death grip on the edges of the consol. Jefferson is never allowed to go to warp ever again, she thought. I don’t care if he’s the best pilot left standing on the ship. I bet Datri can do better without using his hands. Even the computer could have done better than that. At least they were all still alive.
When Drel had fully recovered, she turned her attention to the sensors. There was still a lot of interference, but four ships were broadcasting distress signals on all channels, making them easily detectable. There were two Vesper-class cruisers along with an Akira-class and Zepher-class heavy escorts. All had taken a severe pounding and their warp cores were becoming unstable. Shuttlecraft were zipping back and forth from the damaged ships to the Seacole, but they were clearly not going to be enough, not for all the lifesigns she was detecting. Carlin called an image of the ships onto the main viewscreen and pointed at the nearest one, the smoldering hulk of the Akira-class USS Kevin. “Take us closer to that ship, Mr. Jefferson. We need to beam aboard the survivors immediately.”
The deck shuddered again as the Nautilus changed course. Drel tried to ignore it and not wonder whether or not the Crewman was trying to tear the impulse engines off. Instead, she focused on trying to boost transporter capacity and range. There were thirty-eight lifesigns still aboard the Kevin, and they would have to pass pretty close to get them all. And if the warp-core blew while they were in that close…Carlin tugged her pony-tail over her shoulder and tried not to think about that.
Drel’s consol beeped when the Nautilus was in range. Drel tapped her combadge. “Bridge to Sickbay!”
“Sickbay here,” said the voice of the EMH. “Bridge, what’s going on down here. I have some very badly injured patients down here and I can’t treat them with the ship shaking all over the place!” Jefferson hunched over his controls.
“We’re doing the best we can…Doctor,” Drel answered. “We need you to prepare to take on survivors. I’m beaming the injured directly to Sickbay.”
“Directly to Sickbay?! But I don’t have room! I can’t–”
“It’s only temporary,” Drel said, then closed the channel and turned to Mercy. “Chief, help me with this transport.”
“Will do,” said Mercy. “Energizing!”
The consol bleeped affirmatively. “We’ve got them! Let’s move on to the next ship before their warp core goes.” She pointed to a Vesper-class the viewscreen with half its saucer section missing. “That one, Mr. Jefferson, the USS Oakland.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The ship changed course again and the deck tilted crazily to the left, nearly throwing Drel off her feet. She tried to ignore it and concentrate on the fifteen lifesigns that needed rescuing on the ship ahead.
Soon, they had them aboard and moved on to the other Vesper-class, the USS Montreal whose nacelles had been sheared off, but the rest of her seemed deceptively undamaged. Her warp core seemed the most unstable of them all. They had just transported her survivors aboard and moved out of range when an explosion ripped through the Montreal, followed by another one on the Kevin. The twin shockwaves tore the abandoned Oakland apart and hit the Nautilus from the rear, pitching the ship forward end over end, then side over side. Drel fell to the deck but quickly recovered. She could feel the ship spinning beneath her and could see the curve of Vega IX growing larger and larger on the viewscreen, the horizon rolling around crazily in front of them.
“Mr. Jefferson! We’re falling out of orbit!”
“Yes, ma’am! I can’t stabilize her!” He worked frantically over the controls, but the spinning only seemed to get worse. He was clearly out of his depth, and Drel knew of nothing she could do to help.
In a few seconds, we’re going to hit the atmosphere and start burning up! We’ll go down with all hands, as well as all the survivors from the Kevin, Oakland, and Montreal.
Just then, the ship jerked to a stop and started pulling up. Drel looked on the viewscreen to see the blueish curtain of a Federation tractor beam holding the Nautilus. The communications station beeped with an incoming hail. Carlin put it onscreen.
A Vulcan appeared on the viewscreen. “This is Captain Vo’Lok of the USS Renown. Do you require assistance, Nautilus?”
Drel blushed. “Thank you, Captain, but your current assistance is all we need for the moment. We still need to rescue the crew of the USS Bohr.”
“That mission has already been accomplished,” Vo’Lok said. “While your vessel was rescuing survivors from the other three ships, my engineering teams were able to restore the Renown’s transporters, as well as the engines and tractor beams.”
“That’s very fortunate,” said Drel, smiling.
“Perhaps, but fortune is illogical.” He paused. “Where is Captain Sokar? It would be most fitting to speak to him.”
Drel looked down. She remembered that Sokar and Vo’Lok had been friends back in the Academy, even serving together back in the Dominion War so many years ago. She raised her eyes again and said, “Sir, I’m sorry to say, but Captain Sokar is dead. He was killed by a Borg boarding party about an hour ago.”
Vo’Lok was silent for a moment, but his face betrayed no sign of emotion. “His loss is…regrettable,” said the Vulcan at last. I assume you are the new commanding officer, Lieutenant…?”
“Drel, sir, Carlin Drel.”
“I have heard about you, in your previous host from Captain Sokar,” Vo’Lok said. “He spoke very highly of Antori Drel. I expect Carlin to live up to the Drel name.”
She nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“You may beam your wounded and any survivors you’ve taken aboard to the Renown, Lieutenant,” Vo’Lok instructed. “This vessel has superior medical facilities and more extensive space. We will see them safely to the USS Seacole. We’ll also be beaming over engineering teams to the Nautilus to assist in repairs.”
Drel nodded, then frowned. “Sir, correct me if I’m wrong, but the Renown is one of the new Typhoon-class battleships, one of the most formidable vessels in Starfleet. The Nautilus is an old Miranda-class, nearly forty years old, a veteran from the Dominion War and not much more than a frigate in combat standing. Wouldn’t it be more…logical to repair the tactically superior vessel?”
“Your logic is valid, Lieutenant,” said Vo’Lok, raising an eyebrow in what seemed to be appreciation. “However, your information is incomplete. The Renown is vastly superior to your vessel in all respects except one: the Renown has suffered heavy damage to its war core’s superstructure. The core has been stabilized, but will have to remain offline for several days while repairs are made. Thus, this vessel is unable to pursue and engage the Borg, should we gain any insight into where they have fled. Your vessel, however, has a functional warp drive. If my engineering teams can help speed repairs to the Nautilus’ tactical systems, then the Federation will gain one of its starships back to full combat status, with the necessary mobility of warp drive.”
Drel nodded. “Logical,” she said.
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” said Vo’Lok. “Stand by to receive our personnel momentarily. Renown out.” The viewscreen returned to an image of the curve of Vega IX–only this time viewed from their position in a stable, standard orbit.
“That was close,” Shonos remarked.
“I’m sorry, ma’am!” said Jefferson.
“No need to apologize, Crewman, you did your best,” Drel said. Mentally, she started organizing a message to ask Vo’Lok if he could spare a pilot.
Just then, the com station beeped again. There was an incoming hail, this time from the surface of Vega IX. Carlin put it onscreen. A dark-skinned human appeared on the screen. “This is Commander Kelly to any Starfleet vessel! We have Borg down here! They’re rounding up the colonists, but so far they aren’t assimilating them. We need reinforcements to get the colonists back and we’ve got to act quickly, before the Borg start going back to their old ways.”
Drel opened her mouth to speak, but just then the image on the screen was replaced by the face of Captain Vo’Lok. “I will handle this, Lieutenant Drel. My security teams are beaming down as we speak. In the meantime, you should investigate the Borg presence aboard your own ship.”
“We swept the ship before we came, sir,” Shonos said. “We haven’t seen any Borg since.”
Vo’Lok raised an eyebrow. “Nevertheless, someone is transmitting a Borg distress message from the flight pod of your vessel.”
Drel checked her science consol and swore. “Sir, our internal sensors are down. I’m going to have to ask you to transmit those coordinates to me so we can trace the signal’s origin.”
Vo’Lok nodded. “Transmitting now, Lieutenant. If your require further assistance, do not hesitate to contact me. Renown out.”
Drel checked the coordinates from the Renown. They were indeed for a section of the ship’s flight pod–the one-deck-thick bulge in the Nautilus’s “rollbar,” as the structure extending above her saucer section from her nacelle pylons was casually called. With the internal sensors down, the only way to triangulate the transmission’s source further would be with a tricorder. Drel pulled out her tricorder and motioned to Shonos. “Follow me. Have a security team meet us in the flight pod.”
“Yes, sir!” said Shonos. She picked up her phaser rifle and joined Drel in the turbolift. Once inside, she handed Drel a hand phaser. “You’ll need a weapon, sir,” she said.
“Thank you, Shonos,” said Drel. She checked the charge and holstered it.
“I’m not sure how the Borg managed to evade our patrols,” Shonos went on, not making eye contact. “I was very through. The only thing I can think is they must have hidden in the Jeffreys tubes, moving around so as not to be spotted.” She paused. “I’m sorry, sir.”
Carlin caught herself tugging at her pony-tail. She tucked it back over her shoulder with effort. “It’s not your fault, Ensign. You did the best anyone could do, the Borg are just…especially tricky today. I only wish I knew what that Borg signal was saying and who it was trying to raise,” she said. “The last thing we need is the Borg cube or sphere showing up again.”
“Agreed,” said Shonos, hefting her rifle.
A few minutes later, Drel and Shonos met a team of five security officers in one of the corridors of the flight pod. Drel unholstered her phaser and opened her tricorder, scanning. “I’m picking up the transmission,” she said. “It seems to be coming from one of the science labs in the forward section of the pod.
Shonos nodded and directed her team to advance with a motion of her hand. They stole down the corridor, with the only sound being the gentle chiming of Drel’s tricorder. As they came closer, she shut the tricorder and even that was silent. Ahead, she could hear the whine of servos and the clomp of heavy metal feet. There was another sound, like a forcefield discharging over and over again. The Borg were just up ahead, around the corner. Her tricorder had registered at least five lifesigns. She indicated that silently to Shonos, by flashing her fingers. The Andorian nodded and directed her men to take up positions on either side of the corridor. They closed in.
Once around the corner, Drel saw four drones standing outside the science lab. The door had been ripped from its sockets and lay on the floor, but it had been replaced by a forcefield that glowed a pulsing green. One drone was walking into the forcefield over and over again, apparently unable to adapt while another had interfaced with the control panel by the door using his assimilation tubules. The other two were pulling panels off the bulkheads, trying to access the EPS conduits. Drel had no idea what they were up to, but she knew she couldn’t allow them to succeed at it, whatever it was. She took aim and fired the first shot, hitting the drone at the door panel in the back of the head. He twitched and his tubules withdrew, then he fell. The other drones turned their attention to the Starfleet officers immediately, but there was little they could do. They were outnumbered two to one and had no time to adapt. Shonos and her team made short work of them.
As the last drone fell smoldering to the deck, Drel pulled out her tricorder again. “I’m still detecting the signal,” she said. “And it’s definitely coming from that lab. We’ve got to get in there. There’s still one drone inside.”
“But why would one drone lock out all the others?” Shonos asked.
Drel shrugged and approached the doorway cautiously. Inside, she could see that her tricorder had been right. There was a single Borg drone–a human female, by all appearances–interfacing with one of the science stations using her assimilation tubules. Her back was to the door. Drel reached gingerly toward the forcefield with the tip of her phaser. The moment it touched the barrier, the discharge from the forcefield knocked the phaser from her hand and tossed it across the corridor, bouncing it off the bulkhead twice. Drel’s eyes went wide. “Alright, nobody touches that,” she said.
The drone looked up and turned around at her words. Drel noted now that her exoplating was of a lighter shade than that of the other drones, and the lights on her eyepiece glowed blue. Just like the talking drone on the Khitomer, she thought.
“State your designation,” the drone said. Her voice was not as harsh as Drel had expected. She had a slight Earth accent–Russian, Drel guessed.
“My name is Carlin Drel,” she answered. “What’s yours?”
“Four of Five, Auxiliary Processing Unit of Unimatrix Zree-Seven,” the drone replied automatically.
Drel exchanged glances with Shonos. She tapped her combadge. “Drel to T’Paie. There’s a forcefield blocking our entry to the science lab on the upper deck of the flight pod. See if you can find a way to deactivate it.”
“Acknowledged, Lieutenant,” said T’Paie.
“We cannot allow you to do zat,” the drone warned.
“We? Are there any more drones up here?” Shonos demanded.
The drone cocked her head. “We are…we…we are alone.” Fear and sadness showed in her human eye.
“You’ve been disconnected from the Hive Mind,” Drel said.
She could see instantly from the expression on the drone’s face, so lost and helpless, that she was right. “We must rejoin zee Hive Mind. We must re-establish contact.” She turned back to the consol and began punching in sequences to boost her transmission.
“I don’t understand,” Shonos said. “The other drones here, the ones you locked out, they could easily have rejoined you with the Collective.”
The drone shook her head. “Zey would have disassembled zis drone.”
Carlin nodded, recalling what she’d learned of the Borg culture–if it could be called that–back at the Academy. “The Borg sometimes disassemble damaged drones, but only if they’re deemed irreparable.”
The drone glared at her. “We are not damaged,” she insisted. “We have run a complete diagnostic of zis drone. It is functioning normally.” Her lips pouted. “We should not have lost contact with zee Hive Mind at all, and we will regain it soon.”
“If you weren’t damaged, why would they have disassembled you?” Drel asked.
“And if you aren’t damaged, why aren’t you still in contact with the Collective, like they were?” Shonos added.
“Zeir Collective is flawed. We are superior,” the drone replied.
“What are you?” asked Drel.
“We are Borg.”
“But you’re not like the others,” she said. “They are Borg.”
The drone looked at her, glanced down at the dead drone lying at Drel’s feet, then turned back to her work. “We are superior.”
“Our technology is more advanced, as is our Collective,” the drone answered.
“Your Collective?” Shonos repeated. “Sounds like we’re dealing with a civil war within the Borg.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Carlin. “The Borg are all one mind: there is no conflict within their Collective. It’s not even possible unless the Hive Mind starts to lose its grip on individual drones.”
“They’ve clearly lost their grip on this one,” said Shonos. “Gave her some shiny new implants and now she’s gone and developed an individuality and a superiority complex to go with it.”
“I’m pretty sure the Collective already has a superiority complex. She probably just borrowed it,” Drel put in. She turned to the drone. “Your individuality is re-asserting itself,” she told the drone.
“Individuality is small and weak.” The drone’s voice trembled and her hand shook visibly. “Individuality is irrelevant.”
“Far from it,” said Shonos. “Individuals took down your friends here.” She glanced at Carlin, casting her eyes from the Trill’s face to her abdomen, where the Drel symbiont lived. “More or less,” she added in a whisper. Carlin rolled her eyes.
“We are Borg, we do not have friends,” said the drone. “Zose were temporary allies, nothing more.”
“These were a part of your Collective, four drones within your Hive Mind,” Drel countered. “You were once a part of them, but your individuality has taken over. You’ve been an individual ever since you started thinking in terms of us verses them. Your Collective verses theirs. There’s really only one Collective, and you walked away from it without even realizing it: your individuality is that strong.”
The drone trembled and started to double over. It took Drel a moment to realize the poor girl was crying. “Individuals are small and alone!” She sobbed. “I don’t vant to be alone!”
Drel gave her a compassionate look. “You don’t have to be alone,” she said. “End the transmission and lower the forcefield and you’ll be with us. We are not Borg. We are individuals, but we are not alone and we are strong when we stand together.”
The drone disconnected her tubules from the science station and her shoulders slumped. “Zee Collective is not responding, and further transmission risks only drawing zee attention of zee other Borg.” She began to sob into her hands, looking for all the world like a dejected teenager–and making about as much sense as one, too. “Ve are alone! Ve are one! I…I am disconnected.”
“Lower the forcefield, and you’ll be with us,” Drel said again.
The drone, Four, looked up for a moment, then shook her head. “You vill disassemble us. Our technology is superior to your own.”
“You have my word we’ll do nothing of the kind,” said Drel. “We won’t even touch your implants unless we deem it necessary to preserve your life.”
“You will be in danger for zis,” Four said, her eyes met Drel’s.
“It’s an acceptable risk,” Drel said. “An individual is of incalculable worth: each one is irreplaceable. You are irreplaceable, and I promise we will treat you as such.”
Four nodded and stood straight. “Lieutenant Carlin Drel of the USS Nautilus, NCC-31910. You are zee commanding officer aboard zis vessel.” It was a statement, not a question.
“I am,” said Drel. “How did you know?”
“We…I interfaced with your computer and obtained all pertinent files,” said Four. “I…I am requesting asylum aboard zis vessel, as outlined under Starfleet regulations, Article 4, Section 14, Paragraph 1.”
Drel blinked. She hadn’t quite expected this turn of events. “You, uh, realize that I can’t grant you asylum if you’re deemed a threat to the safety and well-being of this ship or its crew.”
“Paragraph 2, Subsection 1,” Four referenced. “Yes, I am familiar with it.”
“The risk of assimilation or being shot or pounded into hamburger by mechanical arms are all deemed threats around here,” Shonos said. “As is attempting to contact the Collective, which would like nothing better than to do all those things to us in no particular order.”
Four’s face looked sad. “You are denying my request?”
“I didn’t say that,” said Drel. “And neither did Shonos. We’ll wipe your record and give you a clean slate,” she told Four. “What you did in the past does not concern us. It is what you do in the present and in the future which will earn or destroy our trust.”
“And if you violate our trust, asylum is over,” Shonos warned.
Four nodded and cocked her head. “I will not take any action to threaten zee safety or well-being of zis vessel or its crew,” she said.
“Including no contacting the Collective,” Shonos warned.
“I am unable to re-establish my link with the Hive Mind, and the Collective here is inferior,” she said. “I have no desire to contact them.”
“Still a little screwy,” Shonos whispered.
Drel ignored her. “Then consider asylum granted, Four of Five.”
She was not prepared for what happened next. No one was. Four’s face lit up with a big smile and she ran at them, full tilt. With all those implants, she could move surprisingly fast. She passed through the forcefield as if it wasn’t there and slammed into Drel, grabbing her. She was 5 centimeters taller than the Trill, a kilogram or two heavier, and several times stronger. Her momentum carried both of them into the bulkhead and knocked the wind out of Carlin. She struggled to think, to breathe, and to move. Her arms were restrained, held at her sides by the drone’s arms. This is it, she thought. She’s going to assimilate me now. I’ve just let a maniac drone loose on the ship!
But after a moment, she realized that Four wasn’t assimilating her, just holding her and squeezing while rocking back and forth excitedly and–squeeling? Yes, she was squeeling, a loud girlish squeal. I don’t believe it, Drel thought. I’ve just been hug-tackled by a Borg drone.
Shonos and the other security officers had their weapons trained on Four, uncertain what to do. Drel managed to raised her hands partially and said, “Don’t shoot. That’s an order! Four is only…expressing her individuality.” At least, that’s what I think this is.
After a moment, Four let Drel go. “I can never express my full gratitude to you, Lieutenant.”
Carlin popped her back and brushed off her uniform. “I think you’ve expressed quite enough of it, thank you.”
Four cocked her head and examined Drel with her mechanical eye. “My apologies if my expression vas incorrect. I do not know vhat came over me I have not experienced a sensation like zis since…since before I vas assimilated. So much pleasure, such excitement and…lightness. Endorphin levels are elevated. I did not vish to damage you, Lieutenant, but it is wery good not to be alone.”
“Don’t worry, you didn’t damage me, but try to go a little easier on the hugs in the future,” Drel said.
“Acknowledged,” said Four. She turned to the security officers and started giving each of them in turn an awkward hug as well. One or two refused, though when Drel eyed them they reluctantly submitted to a brief pat on the back from the former drone. Even Shonos got a hug.
When it was all through and Four was sufficiently welcomed to her new collective, Drel motioned toward the forcefield. “Would you mind?” she prompted.
Four cocked her head, then seemed to understand. She strode over and injected the control panel with her tubules. In a moment, the forcefield deactivated.
“Thank you,” said Drel. “Now, we’re going to have to take you to sickbay, for a routine medical exam.”
“That is unnecessary,” Four insisted. “Zis drone is functioning within normal parameters.”
“Except for the hugging part, I take it,” said Shonos, popping her back.
Four cocked her head. “Perhaps you are right. An external diagnostic may be of assistance. First, however, I must show you the modifications we made to your photon torpedo launchers.”
“You did what?” Drel asked.
Four didn’t answer. She strode down the hall toward an open Jeffery’s tube and pointed down its length. Drel and Shonos followed her and looked where she pointed. There, down the tube, were a series of cylindrical Borg devices, all black metal and green lights. Drel pulled out her tricorder and scanned them.
“Zey will need to be removed before your torpedo launcher is fired,” Four said matter-of-factly.
Drel let out a slow whistle. “No kidding.” She met Shonos’ eyes. “If these readings are right, those are energy conduits designed to reroute plasma flow during launch from the venting shafts directly to the main torpedo bay. Once that plasma hit the torpedoes stored there, it’d blow the ship to confetti.”
“It is impossible to transform this vessel into a collection of colorful paper streamers using an explosive force,” Four said. “But otherwise, your analysis is correct.”
“Why are you showing us this?” asked Shonos.
“I have no desire to be destroyed, and allowing harm to fall on you or your vessel would violate the terms of my asylum,” said Four.
Drel nodded. She tapped her combadge. “Drel to Engineering.”
“Engineering, T’Paie here. Drel, the forcefield has deactivated on its own.”
“I’m aware, Lieutenant. The situation is under control,” said Drel. “I want you to send a team down here to Jeffrey’s tube 41-C. There’s some Borg booby-traps we need to uninstall before we get the torpedo launchers back online.”
“Understood,” said the Vulcan.
Drel turned to Four. “Is there anything else we should know about?”
“There are no other pieces of Borg technology installed aboard this ship. Zee Collective deemed zis device subtle and sufficient to accomplish zee task.” Four paused. “You require a more experienced pilot however. You should be aware zat I have zee capacity to fly over four million different types of vessels, including zee Miranda-class Federation starship.”
“One thing at a time,” Drel said, still not sure how far to trust the newly-liberated drone. “We’ll take you down to sickbay first for that medical exam.”
“I will comply,” said Four.
Together, they headed back for the turbolift, rejoining the security team as they walked. “Deck Six, Sickbay,” Drel ordered the computer as soon as they were all inside the lift. They rode in awkward silence, Four slightly apart from the others and all eyes on her. Carlin didn’t doubt that, if space had allowed some of the security personnel would have their weapons trained on the former drone as well. A part of Drel felt the same fear, but at the same time, she was beginning to trust Four–or whatever her real name was. She had been Borg, true, and all precautions must be taken lest she revert, but she was Borg no longer. She was an individual who deserved a chance.
Just then, Drel’s thoughts were interrupted by the chirp of her combadge. She tapped it. “Drel here.”
“Incoming message from the Renown for you, sir,” said Mercy’s voice. “Shall I patch it through?”
“Yes, go ahead, Chief,” Drel answered.
After a moment, the voice from the combadge changed to that of Captain Vo’Lok. “Lieutenant Drel, the situation on the planet has grown more urgent. Commander Kelly has just informed me that the Borg are constructing subspace transmitters at five sites surrounding the colony. Is the situation aboard your vessel contained?”
Drel glanced at Four, who stood patently at the door of the turbolift, hardly moving at all. “It’s contained, sir,” she said.
“Good,” said Vo’Lok. “My teams on the ground will require the assistance of your security personnel. Please assemble a team and beam them down to Vega IX. They will be assigned one of the transmitters to disable and my four teams will disable the remaining transmitters.”
“Yes, sir,” said Drel. “I’ll have a team down momentarily. Drel out.”
“Zee Borg must not be allowed to complete zee subspace transmitters,” Four said, breaking her silence. “Zey would use zem to contact zeir Collective, and zey must not be allowed to do zat.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” said Shonos. “Lieutenant, with your permission, I and my team will take some spatial charges from the armory and beam down immediately.”
Drel nodded. “Be careful, and bring everyone home,” she advised.
“We’ll do our job, sir,” said Shonos.
Before Drel could say anything else, the door opened and deposited Drel and Four on Deck Six, just down the corridor from Sickbay. Shonos watched them step out. “Are you sure you don’t want a couple of my men to stay behind?” she asked, jerking her head toward the ex-drone.
“You’ll need every man you’ve got down on Vega IX,” Drel said. “And I’m sure I’ll be fine.” At least, she hoped she would be. She seriously doubted that the Borg were capable of pretending to be liberated from the collective, as Four seemed to be–and if she was genuinely free, the risk should be minimal. Carlin resisted the urge to tug at her hair and instead told her acting chief of security. “Go on, Vo’Lok needs you.”
“Yes, sir!” said Shonos. “Deck Two, Armory,” she told the computer, and the doors closed.
“Will zey require assistance?” Four asked as soon as the turbolift had departed.
“I don’t think so,” said Drel. She could only hope she was right. She walked Four down the brief hall to the Sickbay she had left just that morning.
When she entered, it was a whole different world. Battle damage had left a couple of dark smudges on the ceiling and many of the bio-beds were occupied by the wounded and the dead. Doctor Howard’s familiar face was, of course, nowhere to be seen. Instead the boyish EMH was running the show, demanding hyposprays and surgical instruments in a frustrated baritone from two orderlies. He didn’t even notice Drel and Four enter, but one of the orderlies did. He tapped the EMH on the shoulder and the hologram whipped around. “What now?!” he demanded, then spotted Four. A look of sheer panic crossed his face and he reached for his combadge. “S-sickbay to Bridge! Intruder alert!”
“Belay that,” Drel said sternly.
“But, Lieutenant, she’s…”
“She is evidently no longer connected to the Collective and, as a simple medical examination should be able to confirm, no longer a threat,” said Drel.
“I don’t know how you expect me to operate in these conditions,” said the EMH.
“I can delete your program if you prefer,” Drel said, glaring at the annoying subroutine-personified.
Faced with the prospect of computerized oblivion, the EMH came about instantly. He grabbed a medical tricorder and came over to scan the former drone. Four stood perfectly still, though her human eye followed the doctor’s movements with rapt attention. As he finished his first pass, she said suddenly, “You are not real.”
The Doctor looked annoyed. “I’m a hologram, if that’s what you mean, but that doesn’t mean I’m not as real as anyone else.”
Four cocked her head. “Curious, its program contains emulators for self-awareness.”
If the Doctor was annoyed before, he looked dangerously peeved now. Drel decided to steer the conversation elsewhere before the EMH became distracted by an argument for his existential nature. “What’s your name?” she asked the former drone.
“My designation is Four of Five, Auxiliary Processing Unit of Unimatrix Zree-Seven,” she said automatically.
“No, I mean your real name, the name you had before you were assimilated?”
Four blinked. “I fail to see zee relevance of zee question. Is it required for zee medical examination?”
“No, but surely you remember. How long ago were you assimilated?”
Another blink. Her human eye wandered the room while her metal-plated feet shifted on the carpet. “Zis drone has been a member of zee Collective for five years.”
“Five years, and how old does that make you when you were assimilated?”
“Sixteen,” the EMH interrupted. “My scan indicates about a twenty-one-year-old body under all those implants, which would have made her–”
“Your assistance in zee calculations is unnecessary,” snapped Four. Drel could see tears running down her cheek and knew she had pressed the issue too far. Four noticed it as well and touched the tear-streak with one of her fingers. “My ocular glands are malfunctioning, you vill repair zem, program,” she ordered the EMH.
“Your eyes are just fine,” said Drel. “You’re crying, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. It’s like hugging, it comes naturally.”
Four sniffed and wiped her cheek. “It is not as pleasant.”
Carlin shook her head and traced the line of the bat’leth scar on her own cheek. “No, it’s not pleasant, but sometimes it’s necessary.”
The EMH was untouched by the scene, still peeved by the personal insults he’d endured. “Well, if you two are quite done…” He touched a wall display and downloaded the results of the tricoreder scan to the display. “As you can see, her neural transceiver is apparently malfunctioning. It’s not receiving signals because of a temporal phase variation in its receiver array. I doubt the malfunction can correct itself, so it’s as good as deactivated.”
“Zee transceiver is functioning properly,” Four insisted. “Zee signal has been terminated.”
“Even so, I don’t want to risk the transceiver becoming reactivated or repaired,” said Drel. “That would be a grave threat to this ship and its crew. With your permission, Four, I’d like to have it removed.”
“Zat will not be necessary, I can deactivate it,” said Four. She tilted her head, closed her eye, then re-opened it. “Zee transceiver has been deactivated,” she reported.
“And how do I know you won’t cock your head like that again and turn it back on?” asked Drel.
Before she could get any answer, her combadge chimed. She tapped it. “Drel here.”
“Lieutenant, this is Shonos,” came the reply. “We’ve reached the Borg transmitter, but it’s protected by a forcefield that we can’t penetrate. You’ll have to destroy it from orbit.”
Carlin went to a nearby consol and called up the sensor readouts. “Weapons are still offline and that’s too risky. The facility is right on the edge of the colony and that forcefield looks pretty strong. If we have the Renown fire on it with enough power to overwhelm the forcefield it’ll blow half the colony off the map.”
“It’s what they’ve done with the other transmitters,” said Shonos.
“The other transmitters are kilometers away,” Drel pointed out. “I can’t authorize orbital bombardment here unless you, your team, and the colonists get out of there first.”
“That’s gonna take some time. The Borg are still running amuck down here, trying to round up colonists. We don’t have the time to deal with them. This transmitter’s almost done.”
“My assistance is required,” said Four.
Drel shook her head.
“Lieutenant, I am zee foremost expert on Borg technology at your disposal, and my personal forcefield remains functional. It should allow me to pass zrough zee forcefield surrounding zee transmitter unhindered.”
“And what about the Borg down there? What if they try to stop you, or force you to rejoin the Collective?”
Four paused for a second, then her human eye narrowed in determination. “Zeir resistance vould be futile.”
“I’m not so sure,” said Drel.
“Zere is insufficient time to deal with your uncertainties,” said Four. She pushed past Drel and the EMH and headed out the door.
Drel had to catch herself against a consol to avoid falling from the push. Four remained prodigiously strong–which only served to remind Drel of what a threat she would be if the other Borg on the planet convinced her to rejoin them. She regained her balance and dashed out the door after Four. Outside Sickbay, there was no trace of the former drone, and Drel remembered just how fast Four had been able to move earlier, when Drel had granted her asylum. She was probably already headed for the transporter room. Drel raced down the corridor after her. She rounded the corner just in time to see the door to the transporter room closing behind a metallic foot. She sprinted for the door, but as soon as it opened she knew she was too late. Four was already standing on the pad. The technician swore helplessly at the controls as they initiated a transport sequence. Drel had a second to catch a regretful look from the former drone before she was beamed down to the surface.
“The drone’s gone, sir,” the technician explained unnecessarily. “I don’t know how it did it or why, but when it injected its tubules into the consol it just started the sequence on its own. I couldn’t override.”
“Is it working now?” Drel demanded.
The technician tapped a few buttons. “Seems to be. Why would a drone do that? And didn’t security clean them all out?”
“I’ll explain later,” said Drel, stepping onto the pad. “Right now, I want you to beam me to the same coordinates she used.”
“That’s an order.”
“Aye, sir! Energizing!”
The room around Drel dissolved in blue sparks and she found herself standing on uneven rocky ground. It was night, and the lights of the colony were visible just over the hill to her right, but that was not what grabbed her attention, the tower of black and glowing green that rose at the top of the hill did. She could make out the figures of Shonos and her team, circling the tower, looking for a way past the forcefield.
“It was unwise of you to come,” said Four, from behind her. She spun to face the former drone. Four stood about of foot from her, unperturbed. “You are at risk here, Lieutenant. You will be assimilated.”
Drel drew her phaser. “I will resist, and my crew will help me.”
“Resistance is futile, but perhaps my assistance will alter zat,” said Four. “Individuals are weak, but zey need not be alone.”
Carlin let herself smile. “You’re starting to understand.”
“Zere is no time for that,” Four countered, starting up the hill. “Zey will complete the subspace transmitter soon. Zey must be stopped.”
Drel followed Four up the hill till they met up with Shonos and her team. On seeing the drone marching toward them, several of the men leveled their phaser rifles. Before they could fire, Drel interposed herself and raised her hands. “Don’t shoot! We’re here to help.”
“We?” asked Shonos.
“Yes, we,” Drel confirmed. “Four figures she’s the only one who can get through that forcefield in time.”
“I will require your spatial charges,” she said, holding out her hands.
Shonos looked from Four to Drel and back again. “Give them to her,” she ordered her team.
The team handed over the disc-shaped charges, then Four marched straight toward the tower. The forcefield flared briefly as she passed through it. There were three drones inside who all turned to her the moment she passed through. “State your designation,” they said as one.
“My designation is irrelevant. Your Collective is inferior. Your existence vill be terminated. Resistance is futile.” With that, she held up her left arm and fired three precise bursts from a forced plasma beam in her wrist. Each blast hit a drone in the chest, sending it to the ground in a sparking heap. Four then stepped over them, placed one of the charges on the base of the tower, set it and returned to the away team. “Zat charge should be sufficient. However, it is set to detonate in 20 seconds. I recommend immediate evacuation of zis hilltop.”
Carlin tapped her combadge. “Drel to Nautilus! Eight to beam up!”
“Acknowledged, Energizing!” came Mercy’s reply.
“Coincidentally, Lieutenant,” said the former drone, standing beside her. “My name is Tanya.”
Then, transporter caught them away just before the charge blew, taking the tower with it.