by E. L. Zimmerman
Tom Paris - or a Borgified Tom Paris - sat across from his commanding officer. He and the Doctor had been taking turns, detailing every recollected moment of their adventure since disappearing from the rank and file of the Voyager crew.
"So," Tom cut in, taking his turn to tell the tale, "once my disguise was complete, I had the Doctor upload his program into the mobile emitter, and I simply waltzed off the ship."
"Amazing," Packell marveled.
"Senator?" Janeway asked, noticing that the Trakill was still captivated by the story being spun for them.
"Simply amazing," he repeated. "Your people defy description!" He gestured at Tom and the Doctor. "These two Ö they are Ö cunning without expectation. They are Ö brave without regarding to their own safety!"
She smiled at the being. "Easy, senator," she warned. "I believe the Doctorís programming has no further room for ego."
From where he crouched, tending to Coleís wounds, the Doctor snapped, "Captain, Iíll have you know -"
"Tom," Janeway interrupted the EMH before he was given too much breathing room, "you said that it is your belief that the command crew knows that you're alive."
He nodded, the Borg armor cracking. "Yes, maíam."
"How did you accomplish getting a message to them without alerting the security detachments guarding the Lemm living quarters?" Packell asked.
"When the drones evacuated the ship," Tom continued, "the crew was herded underneath the ship. They were Ö I donít know Ö mulling around. As I understood, they were waiting for a Borg commander named Grayson to divvy up work assignments." The corners of his mouth turned up into a wry smile. He was clearly pleased with himself. "Well, I mixed in with the other drones and approached B'Elanna."
"Simply amazing," Packell muttered.
"Captain, it took her a moment, but she recognized me. You should've seen the look in her eyes! I was only trying to let her know that I was safe, given that I assumed that the bridge would have been notified that Sickbay was found deserted."
"Go on," she said.
"While the Borg were dealing with the rest of the crew," he explained, "I staged a diversion Ö with B'Elannaís help. I had her attack me, tearing free several of the cord prosthetics the Doctor had wired to my chest, ones that I trusted would provide quite the fireworks display."
"Did it work?"
Enthusiastic, Tom nodded. "Better than I expected. My jaw is still stinging from the burns. The fight drew the attention of Commander Chakotay." He eased back into the heavy wooden chair. "I can't be certain, but I believe he and Seven recognized me.
"Captain, the ship is docked on the north side of Besaria City. It's a single port with several maintenance bays. It isnít in very good shape. This One character has several spacecraft under repair, but nothing that compares to Voyager. The best news is that itís poorly guarded. Ten, maybe fifteen sentries, at best."
"Thatís true," the Trakill joined the conversation. "The One keeps most of his fleet Ė though he hasnít many ships Ė in orbit. Theyíre on constant scouting patrols, watching for flies to capture in the same spider web that trapped you and your people here."
"Captain, if we could contact enough of the crew Ö if we could count on assistance from the other races held here against their will Ö we could easily take back Voyager."
"Youíd have two problems," Packell counseled, stroking the side of his face with his hand as he became lost in thought. "First, you wouldnít get very far with that planetary shield up Ö and second? I donít think you could count on much support from the other trapped here."
"Why not?" Tom asked.
"Because, Mr. Paris, you have nothing to offer them in exchange," the senator explained. "Once you and your ship had left Besaria space, theyíd still be prisoners." The Trakill continued stroking his face. "No. You wonít gain any support from these people, not unless youíre taking them with you."
"Packell," Janeway tried, turning to face the senator, "you and I both know that weíd be talking about tens of thousands of people. Unfortunately, the Voyager just isnít big enough."
The Trakill nodded. "Agreed, captain, but I give you my word that no Lemm will risk his or her life in exchange the personal freedom of Voyagerís crew. That would be Ö terminable."
ĎZero Option,í she thought.
"Tom," she began evenly, "you've already taken an incredible risk. The One enforces his will ruthlessly. If you had been discovered, it quite possibly would have meant not only your own death but also the end to all of our lives." Then, she smiled at her officer. "Some days, risk is the name of the game. Tell me what else you know."
"Not very much," he continued. "As I said, the Spaceport houses only a handful of ships, none of which we've encountered before. My guess is that the this planetís dictator has extinguished all traces of the species he's co-opted for his own personal empire, not to mention his own personal gain."
"No, no," Packell interjected. "To my knowledge, heís always kept the ships. Those that are destroyed are the ones that no longer serve a purpose Ö virtual derelicts unable to enforce his will."
"Easy, Tom," she cautioned. "His Highness may be a madman, but he may've learned it from the Borg. Thereís only so much of his personal history that the people here are familiar with. If his sentient first contact were with the Borg, it would make perfect sense that the assimilation of other cultures is a lesson he would've learned quickly. Adopting a species' cultural and biological distinctiveness for exploitation is part and parcel of the One's true motives."
"But how?" Tom asked. "I mean ... why didn't the Borg assimilate him?"
'CCF Omega 351,' Janeway told herself. 'Captain's eyes only.'
She couldnít say what she knew.
"They couldnít," Packell suddenly spoke up.
But she couldnít control another from sharing it.
"If I remember correctly," the senator continued, his eyes growing fuzzy with memories, "they tried, but he didnít respond to their efforts. Instead, he ended up assimilating them."
"Thatís enough for now," Janeway interrupted, realizing that she could risk only so much classified information being released. "Tom, Doctor, this world is just as confusing to me as it must be for any of us."
Reaching up to scratch his head, Tom clanked his Borgified hand against his Borgified skullplate.
"These things sure itch, captain."
Halfheartedly, she held up her own Borgified prosthetic. "Don't I know it."
"The Doctor and I have explored the city," Tom clarified. "It took us a day to find out where they had taken you, and we have a reasonable idea where most, if not all, of the others are." He stared at his captain in silence for a few moments. "I know that coming here was a calculated risk, but, as these Borg are not linked one to another, well ... you said it best, captain. Some days, risk is the name of the game."
"What else have you learned?"
"Well," Tom said, leaning forward, "you're not going to like this, but I do know that the Trakill aren't the only species dissatisfied with their subjugation at the hands of the One."
"Of course not," the senator chided. "There isnít a single species here content with this incarceration."
"You're made some friends?" she asked, sounding hopeful.
He shook his head. "Not quite."
"What do you mean?"
"It's the Borg."
Confused, she ordered, "Explain."
"Early this morning," he began, "I boarded Voyager. I had heard that it was leaving Spaceport for primary orbit, and I wanted to make sure that all of our primary systems had been repaired." Grimacing, he asked, "Did you know that Harry Kim has been training the Lemm in how to pilot the ship?"
She held up her hands, defensively. "I'm sure it's against his will, Tom."
The lieutenant shrugged. "While on board, I reviewed the bridge logs, looking for any information that I could regarding the planetary shield. I managed to perform a cursory scan, but I found nothing of consequence." He dropped his eyes to the floor before meeting her gaze, adding, "I did find something I didnít quite expect."
She inhaled quickly, bracing herself for the unexpected news.
"Captain, not long after we were initially boarded, one of the drones took command of the Sciences Station and used Voyager's deflector dish to transmit a millisecond pulse message."
"Where?" she asked.
He frowned. "Into deep space. I'm guessing that ours was the first ship these Borg had seized with the capability of subspace communication. According to the Science logs, the message received a reply within several minutes." He paused, staring at his commanding officer. "As the Doctor might say, the prognosis isn't good."
She covered her mouth with her human hand.
"The Borg are on their way here, captain," Tom answered the question that didnít need to be asked. "They intend to reclaim the lost members of their Collective. Also, they intend to lay claim to every species that the One has captured here."
Shocked, she turned to make eye contact with the senator, but Packell kept his attention locked on Voyagerís helmsman.
"Mr. Paris," the senator replied, "a massive energy field protects Besaria City."
"Yes," he agreed, "and it puts out more power than I've ever seen. I'm guessing that it's a technology he's stolen from one of the races heís captured, but Iím starting to doubt that hypothesis. We traveled quite a distance through the Delta Quadrant, and weíve yet to encounter any race with the ability to generate Twelfth Power Energy."
"Did you say ... Twelfth Power Energy?"
Weakly, she smiled at him. "You're a student of history, Tom. Trust me. You don't want to go looking for this one."
"I'm sorry, Tom, but there are some records that a Captain must keep sacred," she insisted. "It's Starfleet regulation."
He returned her smile. "I won't say that I agree, given the circumstances, but I understand."
Suddenly, he tried to scratch another itch, all to no avail.
"Your orders, captain?"
"I believe that you have your orders, Mr. Paris," she told him. "Noland is dead. The balcony is as good a resting place as we can provide for the moment. So, in order to maintain our ruse, it looks like you're now assigned guard duty to my royal chambers. Until further notice."
Tom Paris gestured over to where the EMH was busily probing Cole.
"What about your personal body guard?"
"With what the Doctor has learned of Borg technology from his studies on Seven, let's hope he can mask Cole's short term memory with an event more benign than a phaser blast," Janeway said. "A power fluctuation. Blown circuitry. Something that might achieve the same -"
Kathryn, Packell, and Tom all reacted at the same time, bolting up from their chairs and rushing over to where Voyagerís Emergency Medical Hologram stood. The Doctor had risen, and they found him pointing down toward the fallen droneís chest cavity. Apparently, he had opened Cole's chestplate, to get a closer inspection of the immediate injuries inflicted by Parisís phaser blast. The armor was pulled back, revealing the burgundy clothing once hidden underneath.
The uniform was tattered, torn, charred, and faded Ö
Ö but the 23rd century Starfleet insignia was immediately recognizable.
"He's ... human!" the Doctor exclaimed. "This man is a Starfleet captain!"
Aghast, Janeway stared at the Delta Shield. She considered the situation. By appearances only, she had guessed Cole was, in fact, human, but Starfleet? Of the past? That variable she hadn't anticipated.
"This," Packell began, studying the insignia, realizing how closely it matched the ambassadorís, "is most unexpected."
"Our business is dealing with the unexpected, senator," she replied. "Doctor, have you masked Coleís short-term memories?"
"I have, but -"
"Then Iíd you, Senator Packell, and Tom get out of here," she ordered.
"Captain, we can't leave you -"
"Doctor," she said firmly, "leave this to me."
"But, captain!" the Doctor protested. "I cannot in good conscience allow for you to jeopardize your own -"
Instinctively, Tom Paris reached over and deactivated the Doctor's mobile emitter.
The EMH dematerialized before their eyes.
Tom snatched the emitter in the air long before it would have dropped to the floor.
"Uh," Packell began, "what happened to your crewman?"
"A necessary evil for the time being," she answered. "Senator, Iím going to need some time alone with the commander."
His expression stern, the Trakill heaved a sigh. Resigned, he slapped his thighs hard. "I understand, captain. I will return to my quarters. You can call out to me from the balcony, should you require assistance."
"I'll be outside, captain," Tom said, moving away. Waving the emitter at her, he concluded, "Should you need either of us, just knock."