by E. L. Zimmerman
Exhausted, on her knees, Captain Janeway glared menacingly up at the Borg drone standing over her. He and everything else around him pulsed in the scarlet hue of Voyager's whining red alert.
The assault lasted far longer than she had thought possible. When standard-issue phasers had proven useless, she resorted - as the rest of the Bridge crew had - to down-and-dirty fisticuffs, but blistering knuckles and jacking knees weren’t any good against the Borg. Janeway had pummeled her attacker, strategically delivering blows that she thought, she hoped, she prayed would achieve the greatest harm, produce the desired result. Unfortunately, hand-to-hand combat had proven futile against the solid, black armor and cybernetically enhanced strength of the alien aggressors.
Aching, she raised a bruised and bleeding hand to wipe away the sweat stinging her heavy eyes. Steadying herself on the other arm, panting, she instinctively yelped, "Report!"
Icily, the Borg standing over her stepped directly in her field of vision. His prosthetic eyepiece twirled. "Your Starfleet protocols are irrelevant."
Gulping in mouthfuls of air tainted with the bitter aftertaste of burning insulation, she did the best she could to counter his stare. "Nothing’s irrelevant on my Bridge," she mustered the strength to spit her words at him. "And … until I say otherwise ... this is still my Bridge."
"You will surrender," Cole stated simply.
"Not … until I know the status … of my ship and crew," she replied tiredly. "You’ll not get another word out of me."
Tilting his head, the drone considered her.
She recognized Commander Chakotay's voice, but, after her challenge to the Borg who appeared in charge, she didn’t dare turn away.
"Chakotay?" she asked, softening her tone. "Are you all right?"
Letting slip a slight groan, he offered, "I’ve … felt better."
"What’s the status of the others?"
During the pause, she heard him coughing softly. Like her, he must’ve been injured enough for a visit to Sickbay, but she trusted that these Borg wouldn’t let the command crew go anywhere.
"Harry is unconscious," the first officer finally said, his voice cracking harshly. "So are B'Elanna and Ishanti." He coughed openly now, sucking air in heaving gasps for several long moments. "Much of the Bridge is destroyed," he finished his report.
"Harry, B’Elanna, and Ishanti," she clarified vehemently, "are they unconscious, or are they … dead?"
Again, Chakotay lapsed into another coughing spell. She listened, wishing she could move to comfort him, but she couldn’t risk showing any sign that might be interpreted as a weakness. When his hacking subsided, he muttered, "I don’t think ... I don’t think anyone’s dead, captain, but it looks as if Seven is badly injured."
"Seven?" Janeway asked, nearly taking her eyes off the drone to glance around at the damage. "When did she get here?"
"I came to the Bridge after the first ship attached itself to our hull, captain," she heard the former Borg crewmember reply. "As for my damage? It is inconsequential. These Borg were … inefficient in their detail."
If she were severely wounded, Seven's voice didn’t betray her condition, as Chakotay's did. As well, any good captain would recognize and appreciate the hint of defiance in Seven’s tone.
"Good, Seven," Janeway answered. "Keep that attitude, but keep it in check."
‘And thank our lucky stars that you're still on our side,’ she thought.
"Are you satisfied?" Cole inquired, curiously studying the fallen captain.
With a defiant stare, Janeway spat, "I won’t be satisfied until you and your drones are off my ship."
"Captain, we're dead in the water," Chakotay announced, and she heard his movements to right himself amongst the wreckage undoubtedly scattered around the conn. "Six ships ... all unidentified ... definitely not of any ... recognizable origin that we've seen before ... they used their cloak as a weapon to crack a hole in our shields."
"Perceptive," Cole admired.
"Yes," Seven interrupted, "but unoriginal. I believe it is called the Skarch Maneuver. It is named for the Iajohh pilot who first successfully used one form of energy shielding to effectively eliminate a competitor’s."
Turning slightly, the drone glanced past Janeway’s position toward another spot on the Bridge. Studying his face, barely discernible in his expression, did she notice …
"Their ships attached themselves to our hull and somehow managed to drain main power," Chakotay continued. "Shields are down. The warp drive is offline. We have impulse engines only. All primary systems, including life support, are functioning on auxiliary power." He paused briefly, and she guessed he was scanning what was left of his first officer’s console for any further details. "At this point ... I can’t speak for the lower decks. There are no reports coming in."
"This conversation is irrelevant," the Borg over Janeway warned, turning back to her. "You will cease and desist at once."
Protesting, the captain said, "I want to see my crew."
"They are no longer your crew," the drone explained. "Subsequent to our arrival on Besaria, they will be inducted into Lemm Society."
"They are property of the One."
"The who?" she asked.
"The One," Cole replied. "His Highness of Besaria."
Caught up in the conversation, she hadn’t noticed her first officer walking toward her, his equilibrium wavering. He reached out and took hold of the Bridge railing for support.
"Captain, there’s nowhere to run," he declared.
Finally, Janeway turned her head in the direction of her first officer. Across his chest and arms, Chakotay showed jagged rips in his uniform. Those tears were silhouetted with human blood. Through a haze of vision starting to return to normal, she made out the gash on his left temple, ripped across his native tattoo.
It had been a beautiful, graceful representation of the undying faith he had for his Native Indian heritage. Now, she found herself wondering if the Doctor could restore the markings on his temple with their original lines. Instead, blood trickled down Chakotay's tired face and soaked crimson into his uniform. He intently looked back at her.
Swallowing, he cautioned, "Let's live to fight another day."
Calmly, Janeway released a sigh. She felt pain burn through her chest, the muscles there knotted and strained from the beating she had taken. The dead weight of combat exhaustion was settling upon her. If her subconscious didn't convince her nervous system otherwise, she had only a few minutes more to remain awake. She felt consciousness slipping away, life a leaf gradually blowing away in a light breeze.
Sensing a tickle on her left check, she reached up and touched the wetness on her face.
Her vision poor, unable to clearly distinguish her crew from the surrounding Borg, she slowly righted herself with great effort.
Life or death.
Summoning the words she had feared all of her Starfleet life, Captain Kathryn Janeway said, "All right. You win. We surrender."
Discourteously, her Borg captor replied, "Surrender is irrelevant."
'What?' she thought.
Weakly, she tried, "What ..."
"Surrender is -"
"I heard you," she snapped at him, her anger the result of fatigue as much as it was confusion. "What about the Collective?"
Mechanically, the Borg commander turned away from her, nodding to the other drones on the ship’s bridge. She heard and felt the heavy footsteps of the sentries moving about, obviously retiring Voyager’s crew from their posts.
But in the clamor, she heard other footsteps ... softer ... gentler.
"The Collective is irrelevant," she heard.
A hybrid of flesh and machine, the Borg were ‘whole’ with their Collective. The two elements functioned by interlinked programming commands which suppressed any form of independent thought. The only individual allowed peaceful co-existence within their domain was the Borg Queen, the cybernetic ruler over an army of unthinking, soulless automatons. Pragmatically, a drone’s behavior and the Collective's demands were indistinguishable from one another.
Pulling herself together mentally, Janeway asked, "Who are you?"
"I am Cole," he explained.
From nearby, Seven demanded, "What is your Borg designation?"
"I do not serve the Collective," he announced. "I serve the Foundation of the planet Besaria, under command of the One." He considered the captain. "If you swear your allegiance to the One, your life, the lives of your crew, and your ship will be spared. If you do not, you will be extinguished." The drone then glanced around at the Voyager crew still conscious, adding nonchalantly, "The all shall serve the One."
Drifting again, Janeway closed her eyes.
A deep sleep was inevitable, the sensation to blackout was overpowering, but she fought it, forced it back, suppressed it as best as she could. For the moment, she concentrated on breathing. She inhaled and exhaled voluntarily for several moments until a sense of calm returned. With every breath, she tried ridding the mental and physical fatigue from her weakened body.
"Cole," she tried, "who is the One?"
"The One is whom you swear allegiance to," he replied. "You will do so now."
"But who is he?"
"Irrelevant," he concluded, abruptly turning back toward her, stomping his feet as he approached her position on the floor. "You will swear your allegiance to the One. You will do so now, or you will die."
Suddenly, she felt his hand close on her uniform collar. Cole lifted Captain Janeway from the deck, and, the movement sending shock waves through her body, she yelped in pain.
Looking down at her attacker, she studied his face, finding his one true biological eye. Fixed on her, she found it nondescript. Passionless. Void. Like the eye of any Borg she had ever encountered.
Gripping her with his one hand, Cole raised his mechanical limb to her already bleeding face. On the Borg prosthetic, a series of silver blades piercingly whirred to life.
"Swear your allegiance to the One," he warned, "or you will be the first of your crew to die."
In her peripheral vision, Janeway saw movement. Commander Chakotay, she guessed, lunged toward the science station where she hung in the air.
Instinctively, she thrust up her hand, physically ordering her first officer to stand down. Chakotay stopped in mid-stride, and a second Borg sentry inserted himself into the path between Voyager's commander and its captain.
'A safety precaution?' Janeway mused. 'Since when did the Borg consider us a threat?'
Cole repeated, "Swear your allegiance to the One."
"The Borg Queen?" she asked.
"I have already stated that I do not serve the Collective," he said. "You are to swear your allegiance to the One. This will be your final warning."
"Who is ..." she started.
"You have three seconds."
"... the one?" she finished.
"You have two seconds."
Cole pressed his grinding blades near her human eyes.
"Kathryn!" Chakotay shouted.
She swallowed hard, adding quickly, "You have my allegiance!"
The whirring blades stopped.
Satisfied, Cole dropped her to the deck of the Voyager’s Bridge.
She winced in pain, doubled-up, and cried out from the sensations ripping through her body.
"The all shall serve the One," Cole said, and she heard the phrase repeated by the other mechanical sentries.
'But the Borg aren't the only voices I hear,' she thought, always vigilant, always attentive, despite her condition. The years of service with Tuvok had taught her to seek out the illogical. Often times, the Vulcan had instructed her, the illogical defined alternatives where none otherwise appeared. She had learned that the illogical, in deductive reasoning, is a small door that opened into large rooms.
'There are others here, on the Bridge, and they're not Borg. The Borg? Working with others not assimilated? That's extremely illogical!'
Struggling to her feet, she glanced around. After several moments of alternating dark and light vision, she finally discerned the main viewer. On it, she counted six cylindrical craft attached to the ship’s starboard hull. From them, corrugated black cords hung loose, also attached to Voyager’s exterior plating. Chakotay was right in his assessment. The lines of the attack vessels were unfamiliar, and their hulls showed no cultural markings for Janeway to recognize.
"Order the Clawships to disengage," Cole barked at a companion sentry.
"Order the Clawships to return to the Besarian Spaceport."
"Signal Spaceport Control. Alert them of our acquisition."
On the viewscreen, the six craft suddenly detached from Voyager, retracting their umbilical cords as they separated. Turning on visible thruster power, they slowly headed away. Then, strikingly, their engines glistened, sparkling as though igniting, and the ships disappeared from space.
‘Cloaked,’ Janeway finally decided, ‘but they’ve finished their mission … why are they maintaining cloak?’
Then she remembered the Borg Sphere they had encountered.
"Gallenian-Lemm" Cole ordered, pointing at one of the other lifeforms who occupied the bridge.
"Yes, commander?" replied the lanky, red-skinned being. He stepped forward, clearly eager to do the drone’s bidding.
"You are to take the helm position," the Borg continued.
"Thank you, commander!" Mandakorr almost sang his excited response. "It would be a pleasure!"
"Power will be restored to the console shortly," Cole explained. "You are to plot a course for Besaria. Maintain impulse power only." Completed with the orders, he added, "At once, Lemm."
Janeway watched as the Gallenian-Lemm, a species with slightly tentacled eyes, trotted quickly to the helm. "The all shall serve the One," he (she? it?) said as it hurried toward the console. Quickly, excitedly, he sat down behind the helm position, his hands moving quickly, fingers dancing almost rhythmically over the command keys. His funnel-shaped skull bobbed in unison with the movement of his thin fingers. "Simple programming systems!" the Gallenian-Lemm pleasantly announced, turning to Cole. "Very simple!"
To her surprise, Janeway actually saw the creature smiling!
Cole gave only an expressionless response, encouraging the Gallenian-Lemm to return his attention to piloting the ship.
"Course plotted for Besaria and laid in," Mandakorr said.
"Commence," Cole ordered.
"We shall please the One with this capture."
Slowly, Janeway steadied herself, her back pressed against the science console. Looking down, she studied the motionless form of Ensign Harry Kim. He lay on the floor near her. He, too, was wounded, bleeding from a cut along his left cheekbone.
"Cole?" she asked, mentally shaking the cobwebs from her brain. "I'd like to call my ship's medical officer for assistance."
"Assistance is irrelevant."
"My people are injured," she explained.
"Your crew should not have interfered."
"They were doing their jobs," Janeway reasoned, "defending their ship. You and your crewmates would have done the same. There is no reason to punish those who aren’t a threat to your power."
Cole didn’t answer.
"If their injuries go untreated, they could die."
Still, the Borg leader maintained his silence.
Cynically, she shot, "How pleased would the One be if you delivered your bounty with a near-dead crew?"
Unmoving, Cole fixed his gaze on the stars now soaring past on the main viewer. "This ship shall serve the One," he finally affirmed. "The crew that remains alive shall serve the One. On Besaria, all serve him."
Casting her a sideways glance, he added, "As for the dead, they will owe us their gratitude."