"Entering Besarian orbit," Mandakorr announced from the helm, and Janeway sensed, by his lilting tone of voice, that the alien was personally pleased with his performance. However, she wondered if he was happy to be home.
"On viewer," Cole ordered.
The planet Besaria loomed in darkness on the viewscreen. Its swirling, gray atmosphere resembled one of Neelixís muddier soup concoctions. The sphere seemed to pulse, glistened occasionally, its atmosphere punctuated with the white staccato of violent electrical disturbances. From where she stood, Janeway found Besaria, as a whole, inundated with thunder, lightning, and storm clouds. A sleek blue energy shimmer Ė possibly some form of planetary defensive shield Ė shrouded the world's gray surface.
"Looks like Ferenginar," she muttered to herself, recalling images of the Ferengi homeworld in the Alpha Quadrant.
"Satisfactory," Cole agreed, nodding toward the helm. "Contact the Generatrix Command Center. Request deactivation of the planetary shield so that the ship may enter the atmosphere. Once under the shield, commence landing procedures at the Spaceportís primary docking bay."
"Planetary shielding?" Chakotay marveled aloud. During the remainder of the flight, he had gradually wandered around the bridge, cautiously widening his circle, testing his boundaries, until he finally stood behind the helm, studying every movement that the Gallenian-Lemm made. "Thatís quite an achievement. It must take extraordinary power to maintain cohesion around the entire planet. Whatís your source?"
'Always the first officer,' Janeway thought. 'Ensuring the shipís safety, even while it's in the hands of the enemy.'
Cole didnít reply.
"I said that's quite the strategic advantage," Chakotay continued, still testing his boundaries. Gradually, he faced the drone. "That weíre aware, the Borg don't possess that kind of technology."
Glancing momentarily at Voyager's first officer before returning his attention to the main viewscreen, Cole stated, "What you know is irrelevant."
"I was only curious."
"Your curiosity is unwelcome."
His head drooped, Chakotay slowly shuffled back over to the science station and took his place beside his senior officer.
"So much for the small talk," he said.
"At ease, commander," Janeway whispered. "Theyíre not giving up any information now, but keep your guard up. Something, eventually, will slip out, and then maybe we can gain a tactical advantage."
"Agreed," Chakotay replied. Leaning closer, he added, "But then again, we are the prisoners. If the roles were reversed, I don't know how much I'd share with this bunch of drones."
The helm console chimed, pulling their attention to the front of the Bridge.
"Planetary shield deactivated," the Gallenian-Lemm confirmed.
"Enter Besarian atmosphere," Cole ordered, "and commence landing procedures."
The ride through Besaria's atmosphere would be turbulent, Janeway trusted. With all of those storms, Voyager would be bucking like an untamed steed.
"No word from Sickbay yet?" she asked, trying to sound hopeful.
Grimly, Chakotay shook his head. "I tried retrieving a visual on my chair monitor, but the unitís in need of repair. Shipís communication systems have been repaired, but there are no reports from Tom or the Doctor."
"Perhaps we had better -"
Suddenly, Cole turned. He raised his arm, pointing at the captain.
"You will accompany me to the Grand Hall."
Janeway tensed. She never much cared for being ordered around by other species. Not by the Kazon. Not by the Borg. Still, this was a set of circumstances she had never imagined being thrust into the middle.
Trying to appear casual, she declined with the wave of her hand. "I may be your prisoner, but I'm not going anywhere until I know that all of my people are is safe."
"You have pledged your allegiance to the One," Cole said. "You are to become their ambassador. They will share in your allegiance to the Besarian Foundation. They will be absorbed into Lemm Society, and they will be given positions of servitude collateral with their skills. They shall serve the One."
"How many classes make up the Foundation?" Janeway pried, hoping to draw Cole into a protracted conversation, hoping to learn some nugget of information she could use to save herself, her crew, and her ship.
"This conversation is irrelevant," Cole declared. "Docking procedures will begin shortly. You will accompany me now."
Chakotay stepped forward, placing himself between his captain and the drone, raising his arms for his own protection. "Now, just a minute -"
Quickly, Janeway grasped his shoulder. "Chakotay, donít. I canít have you risking yourself against a Borg at a time like this."
"But, Captain -"
"Stand down, commander," she ordered, her tone defiant. Leaning close to him, she whispered, "A rebellion can do us no good for the time being. Itíll do far more good later, once we know what we're up against. In the meantime, I need you to keep this crew together. Consider it your Prime Directive."
The turbolift doors opened. Seven and a Borg drone stepped onto the Bridge.
"Captain," Seven began, turning and quickly closing the distance between them, "the Doctor is apparently off-line." The former Borg briefly glanced at Cole. Janeway couldn't be sure, but she thought she noticed a hint of vindictiveness in Seven's glare. "No doubt the damage from our recent engagement with these drones." Slowly, she fixed her eyes on the captain. "Sickbay was deserted, except for several of the crew privately treating their injuries Ö under Borg guard, of course."
"What?" Janeway asked. "But where's Tom?"
Swallowing, Seven answered, "Unknown."
"Computer," the captain barked, lifting her head, "locate Lieutenant Tom Paris."
Its circuits still untended, the computerís comm chirped an angry retort.
"This conversation is irrelevant," Cole stated firmly, and he immediately marched past her crew, seizing the captain by her uniform collar. Viciously, he flung her toward the turbolift doors. Caught off guard by his assault, she slammed into them so quickly that the safety mechanism wasn't allowed enough time to open properly.
"That's enough!" Chakotay screamed, leaping forward. Lunging, he took hold of his captain before she slumped to the floor and held her up in his arms.
Responding, Cole extended his Borg prosthetic toward the first officer's face. Activating the whirling blades once more, the Borg stepped within centimeters of Chakotay's mouth.
"Remove yourself from your current position, or you will die."
Chakotay glared at the blades, wondering how fast the drone could move.
Looking up, Janeway noticed the intensity in his eyes. She sensed that he was calculating maneuvers to counter Coleís demand, sizing up his cybernetic opponent to determine whether or not he was fast enough to overpower the captor.
"Commander," she began, slowly righting herself with a hand on his chest, "I thought I already told you to stand down."
Chakotayís eyes remained locked on Coleís.
"I wonít repeat my order," she said.
Sighing heavily, Chakotay released her. He slowly backed away from the turbolift and stood at Sevenís side.
Emotionlessly, Cole marched forward, grabbed the captain, and entered the turbolift with her.
The doors hissed close.
In a second, Cole was on her, his human hand wrapped across the back of her head. Fighting for safety, she lashed out with both of her bruised hands, slapping the base of his flesh-exposed neck, trying to find muscles to pinch that might inflict some pain and make the Borg think twice. Instead, she felt the fibers of his neck muscles tighten under her fingertips as she gripped tighter. Changing her tactic, she tried pushing him away, her hands planted on his chest plating, but she couldnít. She was still too weak to fight him off.
Efficiently, Cole raised his mechanical arm, Borg tubules lancing out.
"No!" she screamed.
The tips of the fibrous tentacles stung the captain in her neck ... and, then, they dug deeper.
"No," she whispered, exhaustion washing over her in a wave of intense heat.
Fearing assimilation, she did all she had the strength to do. She went limp, trying to slump to the floor, but Cole had her. He held her up, keeping her firmly within his grasp.
Suddenly, her skin flushed, tingling. She imagined the Borg nanites flooding her bloodstream, going to work, converting her flesh and blood into something horrible Ö something wicked Ö
She closed her eyes as a sharp, burning dagger of pain lanced across her skull. She feared that her very brain had been pierced. Opening her eyes, she found that her vision was slowly blurring. The lines and colors and shapes that comprised the Borg Cole and the turbolift walls wriggled and danced and wound across and within one another as she succumbed to the Borg nanites, and she collapsed into the deepest of slumbers.