Much to her delight, Janeway's request was granted.
Her chamber guard, Noland, had followed her orders precisely. He dispatched another sentry who had retrieved her personal PADDs from her ready room aboard Voyager. Within moments of their delivery, she lost herself hungrily in the reading of the minutiae. She reviewing sentence after sentence, file after file, log after log, in each of the recorders. Sitting behind the desk, munching on a fresh Gallush from the food dispenser, she spent the bulk of the morning reading. For hours, she reviewed Voyager status and duty reports dating back several weeks up until the point of their abduction ... when the ships had dropped out of a cloaked corridor off their bow ... and that's when she discovered -
"I'll be damned," she whispered.
Her door rang.
From the final PADD, she learned what covert task Ensign Harry Kim had been assigned.
"Well, I'll be damned."
The door rang again, and she shouted, "Enter!"
The panels parted, and Senator Packell stepped gracefully into her room.
"Ambassador," he said, savoring every syllable, "it’s good to see you awake and working." He strode nearer the desk, smiling at the sight of the PADDs before her. "I thought I would give you a few hours to bring yourself up to date … on what’s happened … wait a moment." Reaching the desk, I touched one of the units with his fingertips. "These aren’t LINKs."
"Links?" she asked.
"Yes," Packell replied. From his robes, he pulled out his own info-LINK, and he showed it to her. The devices were similar, touchplates with a visual interface, but Voyager’s appeared far more advanced technologically. "I’m here to begin your training to serve in the Quorum, and I thought you’d spend the morning reading the material available to you on your own info-LINK." His eyes met hers. "I guess I was wrong."
Stifling a growing sense of irritation with the races held in captivity here, she stretched and then ran her hands across her face. "Senator, with all due respect -"
"No," he interrupted.
"This isn’t about respect," Packell offered, reaching out and grasping the back of a nearby chair. He slid it noisily across the floor, bringing it closer to the desk, and sat. "This is about something far more insidious than your respect, ambassador. What are you planning?"
Rather than avoid the obvious, she confronted his accusation with honesty. "I’m planning on leaving your world."
"Us," he repeated. "The species imprisoned here. What would you have happen to them?"
Tiredly, she shook her head. "Senator, there isn’t room aboard my ship for the tens of thousands of beings that the One has imprisoned on this world."
"But we wouldn’t have to leave if circumstances were altered."
She raised an eyebrow.
"I gather by that statement," Janeway spoke softly, "that you’re proposing an alternative?"
Sitting back, he showed her his green palms. "I am proposing nothing, ambassador. It would be presumptuous of me to do so." Easily, he dropped his hands into his lap. "So much for the tutoring. How may I help you instead?"
Curious, she moved several PADDs around her desk, stacking one atop the other. "Packell, I saw the way His Highness and Senator Cytal treated you in Quorum yesterday. Last night, you told me the story of what happened to your father when he tried to oppose that maniac." Pressing her elbows to the desk top, she affirmed, "There is no possible way I could ask you to place yourself in harm’s way, knowing what I know."
"Then there must be another way," he argued.
Determinedly, she said, "There isn’t. Packell, I won’t have you endangering yourself for my safety … or the safety of my crew … or the safety of my ship."
"That’s right," she asserted, holding up the PADD with the information she found.
"Ambassador," Packell began, "that makes no sense. From what I’ve been told, your ship is a technological marvel compared to the others that the One has gathered for his Foundation’s fleet. While I cannot give you any guarantee, I can give you my word that His Highness would order every last agent of the Borg Army to protect the Voyager from being damaged in the slightest."
Smiling politely, Janeway rose from behind the desk. "Thank you, senator. I do want to believe you, but evidence would support the contrary. Excuse me, please."
Nearly dropping her PADD, she marched to the door.
The panels opened.
Responding to orders, Noland turned to her. She was about to demand to see Cole when she saw him arriving down the corridor.
"You must've read my mind."
Stopping at her doorway, Cole replied, "That is not within performance parameters."
"Then I'd like to know the meaning of this," she demanded, shoving the PADD into his human hand.
Effortlessly, Cole brought the record up to his human eye. He scanned it slowly. Then, he cautiously glanced beyond the PADD, noticed her scowl, and lowered the device.
"This data is self-explanatory."
"The hell it is!" she yelled.
"Lower your tone, ambassador."
"Why is Harry Kim training the Lemm to operate the Voyager?" she demanded.
"The ship is not your concern."
"It most certainly is!"
"The ship belongs to the One," he corrected.
"I’ll not bandy words with you, commander," she replied coldly. "That is my ship, and I want to know what His Highness is doing with it."
"You are mistaken."
"Am I, Cole?" she asked, leaning toward him. "Maybe that’s all fair and good for you. You’re nothing but a drone. Part flesh, but far more machine. To you, the Voyager is just another machine, one that can be co-opted for whatever purpose your ruling egomaniac sees fit … but I can't accept that answer. I won’t accept that answer!" Stubbornly, she glared at Cole and Noland. "You and your Borg counterparts may have given up all hope, but I haven’t. You may resign yourself to this pitiful existence you call a life, but I'll be damned if you and your kind will sentence me and my crew to live out our stay in the Delta Quadrant in captivity!"
"You have pledged your allegiance to the One," Cole tried, his voice breaking. "You shall serve the One. Your crew shall serve the One."
"If His Highness think he's going to use the Voyager to imprison others the way he's imprisoned us -"
"Your estimate of the One's tactical defense is irrelevant."
Infuriated, Janeway wanted to shout at Cole. She wanted to scream! Realizing such a display would do her no good whatsoever she unclenched her fists. With her newfound resolve, she slapped her attaché hard across his revealed human cheek.
Aghast, Cole stood completely still.
Slowly, he reached up and touched the cool metal of the PADD to his reddened cheek.
"The next time I strike you," she threatened, stress the cadence of her sentence, "I give you my word as a Starfleet captain that I’ll use my fist."
Flustered, Cole tried, "This resistance is unnecessary."
"No!" she concluded, waving him off. "I'm through dealing with the pawns! I demand to see the One!"
Shuffling, Cole glanced over at Noland. The drone merely looked away.
"The One is in council with the self," he answered.
"What does that mean?"
"The One is in council with the self," he repeated.
"WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!"
Silently contemplating, Cole finally admitted, "I do not know."
Exasperated, she snatched her PADD back from Cole. Whirling, she headed back into her quarters.
Cole followed, and the doors hissed close.
"Get out of here, Cole."
"Ambassador Janeway," he tried.
"Hello, Cole," Packell offered.
"You heard me, Borg," she spat, pointing back at the door. "I told you to get out of here!"
"I must confer with you," the drone replied.
"Packell?" she asked, turning to the Trakill. "Am I mistaken? I thought that the members of the Quorum had a kind of authority over these sentries. Am I wrong?"
Sighing, the Trakill rose and stepped nearer the two. He considered the drone before he said, "As an ambassador, I’m afraid that you do not have jurisdiction over your attaché."
Crossing her arms, she fumed.
"But I do," the senator explained. "Cole, I believe you’ve been asked to leave."
"I must speak with the ambassador."
"The ambassador doesn’t wish to speak with you."
"Ambassador," the drone continued, ignoring the senator, "I have concluded my decryption of CCF Omega 351."
Thunder rumbled in the distance.
Janeway’s day had started with a triumph. After scouring the ship’s PADDs for every scrap of information, she sensed a beacon of hope had been lit in the distance. It told her that she and her crew had transcended their imprisonment, and they would once again find freedom. Now, once more by the efforts of the Borg, her jubilation was shattered.
‘How much more?’ she wondered. ‘How much more can I … can the crew … can the Federation and the other countless species they’ve assimilated against their will suffer? How much more suffering would the mindless drones inflict upon an unsuspecting galaxy?’
"I have completed decryption of CCF -"
"I can't tell you how delighted I am," she bitterly interrupted him.
"I would like to discuss the contents of CCF Omega 351."
"I'll bet you would."
"I require a discussion on the contents of CCF Omega 351."
"You won't get any more from me, Cole."
Stepping forward, he repeated, firmly, "You will discuss the contents of CCF Omega 351 in greater detail."
Rebelling, Packell inserted himself in between the two of them. He scowled at the drone.
"Cole," the senator began, "am I to understand that you are threatening a member of the Quorum?"
"I must have the ambassador’s explanation."
Pressing his chest to the drone’s plating, Packell narrowed his eyes at the Borg. "I’ll remind you that you are now speaking with a senator, commander!"
The two men glared at one another, and Janeway sensed a powder keg was about to be ignited.
"Cole, don’t you understand?" she interceded. "There is no greater detail! If you’ve decrypted the file, you’ve no doubt read its contents. If you’ve read the text, then you know everything that I know! What more can you possibly want from me?"
Not taking his eyes of the challenging senator, the drone stated, "I require your interpretation of the data."
'What?' she thought.
Her world came to a complete halt.
Besaria stopped revolving around its red giant star.
The universe ceased expanding.
"I'm sorry," she started, stepping closer to him, "but did you just ask for my help?"
"I require your interpretation of the data contained in the file CCF Omega 351."
She couldn’t help but stand there studying his expressionless face.
"Ambassador," Packell tried. "Shall I have the commander carried away under armed escort? He has already fallen out of good graces with His Highness. This flagrant violation of protocol will certainly result in his elimination."
"A moment, Packell," she whispered, keeping her glare locked firmly on the drone. "Cole, I thought the opinions of Species 5618 were irrelevant."
The Borg paused.
Again, his human eye flitted back and forth.
He struggled to make sense of the conversation. He fought against his central programming, trying desperately to reason beyond what was allowed, but his Borg neural net suppressed independent thought. Despite his obvious disconnection from the Collective, he suffered from the ability to connect the dots he drew in his own mind.
"Ambassador," he began slowly, calculatingly. Glancing up at the Trakill, he added, "Senator." His eye stopped jittering about, and he focused on the two Quorum members. "I will barter for Janeway’s interpretation of the data contained within file CCF Omega 351."
Suddenly, there came a deafening crash from the hallway outside, and the doors to her chamber slid open.
"Hello," she heard in a familiar voice.
Voyager's EMH and a Borg drone stood in the entryway, poised over the fallen body of the unconscious Noland.
Smiling, the new drone revealed a Starfleet Type II phaser.
"Captain," he shouted, "duck!"
Impulsively, she lunged, wrapping her arms around Packell, and dropped to the hard floor as a brilliant beam of orange phaser energy tore from the lips of the Starfleet weapon and slammed Cole in his chestplate. Like fireworks, sparks exploded from the armor, and Janeway detected the hint of burning rubber in the air. Flailing, teetering, Cole stumbled backward, his feet stomping solid on the floor as he tried to maintain his balance, as he searched for new footing. Finally, he lost consciousness, toppling backwards. Slowly, he dropped to the floor, where he lay completely except for the twitching of his Borg prosthetic.
Quickly, Janeway lifted her head and glanced up.
To her surprise, she found that the familiar Starfleet phaser was aimed at her.
"Distasteful place, if you ask me," the Doctor surmised, stepping into the chambers. "There’s not a shred of décor. This entire palace lacks of any measurable ambiance, even by Borg standards." He glanced down at the fallen officer and her Trakill companion. "I do hope you weren't planning on staying long, captain."
"Not at all, Doctor," she replied, surrendering to a much-needed smile.
"Are you alone?"
She nodded. "Except for the man under me."
Completing his visual scan of the hallway, the armed drone stealthily crept into her chambers.
"Doctor," the drone said, "drag that guard in here before someone sees him."
Harrumphing, the EMH returned to the corridor, taking hold of Noland’s arms and began dragging him into the room. "Please! I'm a doctor, not a laborer."
The armed Borg approached Cole's motionless body.
Quietly, the doors whisked shut.
"Lock those," he ordered, holstering the phaser.
From the floor, the captain glanced up at the EMH.
"Explanation," she said. "If you don’t mind?"
"Not at all."
Smiling, the Doctor approached, reached down, and helped Kathryn Janeway and Senator Packell to their feet. "It's good to see you, captain," he offered. "I can't tell you how long it's been since I've seen ... a friendly face."
"Likewise," she replied. Gesturing over her shoulder, she asked, "Who's with you?"
"Why, captain, that's no way to speak of a fellow officer," she heard.
She recognized the voice of Tom Paris.
Whirling, she traversed the room and took his Borg face in her hands. "Tom!" she nearly shouted, elated, holding back laughter. "You've ... been assimilated!"
"Ah, ah, ah! Give credit where credit is due, captain," the Doctor counseled, stepping over to join the duo. "As you had agreed, Mr. Paris was assisting in sickbay when the Borg attacked Voyager. Fortunately, no one was requiring medical care at the time, so we escaped into the nearest Jefferies tube before detection. With some crafty thinking on Mr. Paris’s part, we made it safely to Cargo Bay Two. Once there, we succeeded in replicating his current Borg armor, based on materials Seven has kept handily locked away." The doctor clapped his hands together. "Lastly, with some surprisingly adept and impromptu experimentation in human facial pigmentation, I was able to complete his disguise, altering his skin coloring to a lifeless pale hue to perfection."
"Captain, save me!" Tom complained. "I've been listening to this same story for the last two days! Would you please order him to shut up for five minutes?"
Amused, the Doctor placed his hands on his hips. "Frankly, captain, those pigmentation adjustments were the proverbial icing on the cake. If Mr. Paris fails to appreciate fine art, I’m certain my talents won’t be lost on you. There is no accounting for his taste, and, frankly, I’ve always been somewhat mystified as to what Lieutenant Torres sees in him." He faced the captain. "If I may be so bold, I believe my work should be nominated for Starfleet's highest medical honor upon our return to Earth."
"Two days, captain!" Tom sighed heavily. "Two whole days!" He turned to the doctor. "Enough with the pigmentation talk already, Doc!
"All if good time, Doctor," she agreed, smiling. "If you like, I'll sign the commendation myself."
The trio turned. Packell stood near the desk, an expression on his face mixed of equal parts exasperation, fear, and confusion.
"Ambassador," he interrupted meekly, "I hope you don’t find it an intrusion for me to ask … what is going on?"