by E. L. Zimmerman
From the safety of his station at Ops, Harry confirmed, "We're in communications range with the Borg Fleet, captain."
Nervously, Janeway braced herself against her chair. The Voyager’s main viewer was overcome with the image of nine cubes, clustered in close proximity to one another, hovering before her ship. Slowly, the crafts edged closer and closer, and, her senses tingling, she knew that their inevitable assault could begin at any moment. Thinking back, she recalled quickly the times she had engaged Borg ships. In all of those encounters, she had been close to multiple cubes before, but never …
… this close.
"Go to Red Alert," she announced, "and raise shields."
His voice booming, the One interjected, "Belay that?"
His eyes were fixed on the main viewer. "It would be interpreted as either an indication of fear or weakness, and I’ll not have my Foundation signaling either of those alternatives to the Borg."
Biting her lip to curtail her scathing retort, Janeway merely nodded at the shapeshifter.
"Open a channel, ensign," she ordered.
"We are the Borg," immediately blared over the Voyager's comm system, the mechanical voice heavily modulated so that it only approximated a human’s. "We have come to recover that which is ours. We will assimilate your technological and biological distinctiveness -"
"Trust me," the captain said in the direction of the One. "No matter how far they travel, their tune never changes."
Shouting over the voice of his enemy, His Highness tried, "Borg vessel, I will be heard!"
"We will assimilate your technological and biological -"
"I am the One!" he continued. "My technological and biological distinctiveness shall remain my own! I surrender to no one!"
"Lower your shields and prepare for -"
"You will pledge your allegiance to me," the shapeshifter argued, his voice louder now than before, "or you and your brothers will be destroyed!"
"Surrender is irrelevant," the Cube/Voice replied.
"You’d better think about that."
"We will assimilate your technological and biological -"
Waving an angry hand, the One turned abruptly and gestured up at Harry. "Ensign, I’ve heard enough of this senseless drivel. These drones can’t even think for themselves. Contact the Pulse Cannon Command Center and put them on the main speaker. Let them hear what we are doing for the glorious honor of the Foundation."
Obediently, Harry went to work on his console. "Aye, sir."
"Borg Armada!" High Highness howled at the ceiling, interrupting the endless speech of the Collective. "I repeat: I am the One. As you know, I have previously assimilated a Sphere of your drones for my Foundation, and I now stand ready to assimilate you." He paused briefly, realizing that he had silenced the voice of the Collective. "Out of respect for your ... unique culture, I will grant you one final chance to surrender your fleet and your troops, or, understand me, I will be forced to destroyed every last one of you."
"Denied," came the reply.
"You might want to think about it a little longer."
"We are the Borg," the voice continued. "We will assimilate your biological and technological -"
"On the planet below," the One interrupted, a hint of frustration growing in his baritone voice, "I possess a weapon that utilizes Twelfth Power Energy."
Suddenly, the Borg/Cube silenced.
Smiling, the One added, "Tell me: does your feeble Collective brain comprehend what a single blast of Twelfth Power Energy will do to even one of your ships, let alone your entire fleet?"
There was only silence.
Janeway was shocked.
"Your Highness," she replied, much to her surprise, "it would appear that you have their undivided attention. If I might offer a suggestion, I would use the tactical advantage while you still have it."
Nodding, he pressed onward. "This is not a trick. What I’m saying is not an attempt to bait you into a trap. I’m quite certain that, at some level, your Collective consciousness understands what I have, and you might even have suspicions as to how I’ve obtained it." With disgust, he added, "Somewhere in your massive, interlinked hive-mind, there is a component ... a subroutine, a program, if you will ... that understands what I have … and you’re afraid of it. Somehow, you understand what Twelfth Power Energy means to the Borg."
Breaking its silence, the Cube/Voice finally said, "We have detected twenty-nine drones aboard your vessel. We cannot sense them within the Collective."
Glancing over at Captain Janeway, the One smiled.
"I have disconnected their link to the Collective," he announced.
"That is impossible."
"I will do the same to you," he threatened.
"It is impossible."
"Once I have, then will you accept what I say as truth?"
"We sense a ploy," the Cube/Voice said.
"Enough of this endless chatter!" the One exploded, facing the viewscreen and studying the lumbering Cubes. Infuriated, he clenched and unclenched his one, human hand. The blades on his Borg prosthetic whirred momentarily.
"Easy, Your Highness," Janeway offered. "Don’t overdo it."
"Surrender your fleet," he spat at the screen, "or I will destroy your ships one by one."
The captain anticipated that the Borg would refuse to negotiate, but she expected at least a minor delay before she heard again:
"We sense a ploy."
Sighing, the One stated, "Ensign Kim, please put the Pulse Cannon Command Center on the main viewer."
Suddenly, the Borg cubes vanished.
In their place, A Bushara-Lemm, brown-skinned and red-eyed, appeared on the screen, bowing, greeting, "The all shall serve the One."
"Lemm, provide this Borg Armada with a demonstration of our defensive capabilities," the One ordered. "Do not ... and I repeat ... do not miss the Cube that has been sending these insulting transmissions."
Calmly, the Bushara-Lemm nodded.
"We will fire at once, Your Highness."
"On screen," he ordered.
The Lemm vanished from the viewscreen, and, just as abruptly, a beam of pure white energy appeared, ripping across the metallic gray backdrop that was the Borg fleet. The dazzling blast ripped, like a hunting blade, through half of the leading Cube, and Janeway watched in utter amazement as gaping chunks of the Cube’s hull crumbled as easily as autumn leaves crushed in her hand. Under structural duress from the fiery assault, the Borg ship split into two awkward pieces slowly as the electric blue flame arched up its walls, and the craft spilled fiery debris that spiraled into open space. Finally, the Cube buckled, the external hull collapsing inward, and the ship exploded into rippling bursts of neon orange energy on the screen, requiring the Voyager bridge crew to shield their eyes. Gradually, the remaining cubes altered course to avoid the resulting debris storm.
‘One down,’ Janeway thought.
‘Eight to go.’
Pausing for effect, the One finally asked, "Borg Armada, is there someone else available for me to speak with next?"
The communication link crackled of static. Eventually, the familiar voice returned: "We are the Borg."
"Oh," His Highness groaned, reclining in the captain’s chair, resting his chin on his open palm, "you again."
"We outnumber your ship eight to one," the Cube/Voice explained. "We maintain the tactical advantage. You will surrender to us, or we will seize your ship and incapacitate your ability to defend yourself."
Furious, the One shot up from the captain’s chair. He stormed at the viewscreen, glaring viciously at the fleet of Cubes now regrouping before him. Angrily, he raised his hand and pointed at the image. "Pulse Command Center!" he shouted at the top of his shapeshifted lungs. "I want you to take aim and fire at the source of this new communication … now!"
The entire bridge crew watched the viewscreen …
... where nothing happened.
The Borg Cubes had assumed a V-formation and headed on a direct collision course with the Voyager.
"Pulse Command?" the One asked. "Reply at once!"
At Ops, Harry Kim bent over his console, punching away at the command sequence that had previously established a communications link between the Voyager and the Pulse Cannon Center. In response, the computer ‘chirped’ at him.
"Sir, we have lost communication with the Pulse Command Center," Harry announced.
Whirling toward the Ops Station, the One stood, his Trakillian Visi draping about his massive body. "What?" he screamed.
"Sir, we have -"
"What do you mean … we have lost communication?" the changeling demanded, taking a single step in the ensign’s direction.
Quickly, Harry's hands played out across his operations console, but his efforts were rewarded with one negative ping sounding after another. He tapped in an emergency retrieval comm code, but, again, the computer only barked at him. Regardless of how he tried, he couldn’t reestablish contact with the planet Besaria.
"Try the Sciences Complex," the One demanded. "Raise them. Have Krynn relay our message to Pulse Command."
Instinctively, he tried the Sciences Complex.
Then, he tried the communications center at the Grand Hall.
Still, Harry received no response to his hails.
Next, he tried to raise the Besarian Spaceport.
The comm channels remained inactive.
Last, he even tried the One’s private command frequency.
With all attempts, the console keys kept replying in the negative blurp at him.
"Your Grace?" Cytal asked, moving in the direction of the conn. "What’s happening?"
"The coward Cytal speaks," the shapeshifter, raising his arms toward the orator, muttered with open disdain. "Be silent, Iajohhn, or I will have my sentries exterminate you."
"But, Your Majesty -"
"I’m sorry, sir," Harry interrupted, still trying to regain any feasible communications link with the planet below. "I’ve tried every available frequency, but we’re getting no response. The signal is being reflected back from the planet, and Pulse Command terminated our exchange at the source." Surrender his efforts to the endless computer denials, Harry slapped his hands on the metal console. "As a matter of fact, I’m experiencing nothing but continuous recognition failures in trying to contact anyone on Besaria."
"We are the Borg," they all heard.
"Ensign," the One shouted, pointing at him while turning back to face the viewscreen, "I’ve given you an order! I want you to raise the Pulse Command Center at once!"
"Sir, I’m trying," Harry pleased, "but they're not responding."
"... we will assimilate your technological and biological -"
Janeway rose from her chair.
‘Zero option,’ she thought.
Stepping over to where the One stood, she explained, "Your Highness, it would seem that your plan has failed."
He didn’t face her when he spat, "I do not fail."
She ignored it. Now wasn’t the time to be pulled into debate. Now was the time for action. "It would also appear," she continued, "that the people have turned against you." For the moment, she studied his disbelieving look, and she realized that – if she didn’t do something – they were all about to be destroyed …
… or, in the very least, assimilated.
Ignoring the shapeshifter, she approached the helm.
"Harry," she announced, "raise shields!"
"BELAY THAT!" the One bellowed, pure anger overcoming any common sense left in his changeling’s brain.
"WITHOUT THE SHIELDS," Janeway argued, "WE’RE SITTING DUCKS TO AN INVASION FORCE!"
"I WILL NOT SHOW THEM ANY SIGN OF WEAKNESS!" he insisted, his words fired at her like phaser blasts set to kill. "I WILL NOT SURRENDER THIS SHIP!"
Reaching the helm, she placed a hand on the Gallenian-Lemm’s shoulder. "Mandakorr, I need you to plot an escape course and get us out of here."
Distraught, frightened, the Lemm glanced up at the ambassador. "Where?"
"We are surrounded," he explained.
"Then take us back under that planetary shield," she ordered. "Now, Mandakorr, or we’re all dead."
"Aye … captain," the pilot replied, adopting her title. Quickly, he began inputting the necessary course adjustments at his console. "This will take a few moments."
"We don’t have a few moments," she warned him.
"To what end would they disobey?" the One asked, his eyes focused on nothing, his mind refusing to face the irrefutable facts. He struggled with the reality that his Foundation was, for some reason, ignoring his demands.
"I think the Borg would agree when I say that your assessment of our current situation is irrelevant, Your Highness," Janeway replied. "We need to get to safety as quickly as possible!"
"The Borg Army … the Lemm Society … they know I will destroy each and every one of them!" he bellowed.
"Then let me offer you one of those inferior Earth expressions," she counseled. "Your people have hung you out to dry."
"The Lemm have demonstrated their defensive capability to the Borg," she guessed, softening her tone, "but this ship hasn't. Now, they’ve cut us off. They will allow us to be assimilated for the sole benefit of seeing you ... their illustrious leader ... exterminated. Afterwards, they'll turn the Pulse Cannon on that Borg Fleet themselves, without your command. They'll destroy it, and they’ll finally … at long last … be free."
He stared at her in disbelief.
"Your Highness," she said flatly, "the Besarian Foundation is over. What you built is about to be left in ruins."
Denying the facts, the One shouted at her, "Impossible!"
"Open your eyes!" she screamed back at him. "It’s happening right before them! And, unless we do something to defend ourselves, we’re all about to become drones!"
Ignoring her, he whirled toward the nearest sentry.
The sentry glanced emotionlessly at the gargantuan shapeshifter.
"Talk!" he demanded. "Talk, damn you! Talk to your people!"
Complacent, the drone replied, "Negotiation is irrelevant."
"I COMMAND YOU AT ONCE!"
Suddenly, the bridge shimmered with light as transporter signatures materialized around the various stations.
"Intruder alert!" Harry Kim called out. "The Borg are on deck!"