by E. L. Zimmerman
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR”Captain,” B’Elanna Torres called from the Engineering station, her fingers dancing rapidly across the flickering console touchplates, “we’re entering weapon’s range, and I’m detecting weak energy signatures from those Borg Cubes.”
“Also weak,” B’Elanna stated, without emotion.
“The distress signal?” Kathryn Janeway asked, hopeful.
“Loud and clear,” B’Elanna affirmed.
Calmly, Janeway ordered, “Let’s see what’s out there. Main viewer.”
The image of six Borg Cubes loomed before her. They hung in the stillness of blackened space. In fact, they were completely still. For a moment, Janeway imagined that she was nothing more than a tourist, visiting a museum somewhere in Indiana, back on Earth. She imagined herself standing in the main exhibition hall, staring up at a huge portrait of Borg Cubes … but she trusted that the image in her mind was far from the frightening truth.
“Six,” she muttered under her breath, careful to ensure that no one on her command staff would see her flinch. “What are we doing here?”
“This is the Delta Flyer,” Harry Kim announced over the ship’s intercom, breaking her momentary fixation on the viewer. “You give the word, Captain. We’re ready when you are.”
“Standby, ensign,” she said.
Again, Captain Janeway granted herself the luxury of studying the Cubes. A geometric abnormality of complex piping, girders, and hull plates, the Cubes drifted ever so slightly, she now noticed, but they didn’t near one another. Automation systems linked to external sensors must’ve somehow prevented the danger of collision.
“Mr. Tuvok,” she stated, “open a hailing frequency.”
The bridge filled with an eerie stillness.
“Captain, that might be interpreted as provocative,” Tuvok cautioned.
“And unwise,” B’Elanna added.
“Do it,” Janeway ordered.
After a moment, the Vulcan replied, “Channel open.”
Swallowing, she stood, approaching the visage captivating her on the main viewer. Firmly, she announced, “This is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager. Borg Cube, please respond.”
She felt the eyes of her bridge crew drilling into her backside, but she refused to show them the slightest flinch. This was what they were here for. This was what she intended to finish.
Again, she tried, “I repeat: please respond.”
Kathryn Janeway only heard the utter stillness of the vacuum separating her ship from the Borg Armada.
Tapping her comm badge, Janeway ordered, “Delta Flyer, this is the Captain. Proceed with your launch, but, Harry, I want to be perfectly clear on this.” Gradually, she turned and strode back to her command chair. “Only you and Maxwell beam aboard the Cube transmitting the distress signal. Tom stays on the Flyer with his foot on the gas.”
“Ma’am?” Harry asked, confused by the metaphor.
Turning around to face the main viewer, she sat. “Don’t worry. With his predilection for twentieth century history, I’m sure Tom understands me perfectly. If even one of those Cube’s shows signs of life, I want the best pilot I have getting your team as far away from here as quickly as possible. Head for Besaria at best speed. Don’t look back. Don’t wait for us. We’ll position ourselves between the Flyer and the Cube, should it become necessary. And Harry? I want pinpoint precision beaming to the exact spot where that distress signal is originating. Get in. Get out. No sightseeing. Understood?”
“Aye, Captain,” she heard.
‘And for Heaven’s sake,’ she thought, ‘be careful.’
“Prefect,” Neelix2 tried, gesturing through the open window in the direction of the Generatrix. Even in the darkened skyline, Neelix2 could see that the power center was visibly smoldering now, a waft of dark smoke drifting toward the gray thunderclouds, despite the fact that if there were fires within the complex they would undoubtedly be at the subterranean level, where the critical power systems were housed. “Please. Be reasonable. Captain Janeway and her crew have done all that they can -”
“Captain Janeway assured us that even she did not know how this … what did she call it?” he asked, his voice bellowing. “This … Twelfth Power Energy?” In a huff, he adjusted his robes on his shoulders. “Before the assembly, she stood there and told us all that even she did not know how it worked.”
Smiling, Packell suddenly whirled on Neelix2. “Tell me, if you please, how you can know something is broken if you do not even know how it works?”
“That’s a very arguable point,” Neelix2 conceded in his negotiations, “but flawed, ever so slightly.” He did not want, at this juncture, to insult the Prefect in any way. “If I could just have you visit the Generatrix -”
“I have no desire to tour a facility designed and operated by the One,” Packell argued, the irritation in his voice rising. “I don’t consider it appropriate for the new Besarian Prefect.”
“Packell,” Aulea tried, “is it appropriate for the new Besarian Prefect to interrupt every sentence this kind man says?” Condemning, she pointed a trembling finger at her husband. “Mind your civility this instant or you will find yourself without a lifemate for the remainder of this evening.” Calming, she lowered her hand. “Are you forgetting that these people rescued each and every member of your Gathered Races of Besaria from its occupation? Have you lost all of your social graces to those who fought for your independence?” Sighing, she placed her hands in her lap and glanced away from the two of them. “I personally don’t find it appropriate for an elected Prefect or any Besarian for that matter to interrupt anyone who is speaking. It’s impolite.”
With that, she crossed her legs, still refusing to face her lifemate. “Let the ambassador finish.”
Shrugging, Packell glanced at the identical. “Please forgive my rudeness. I offer my apologies, Mr. Neelix.”
“Sir,” Neelix2 tried, pressing onward, “if you had visited the Generatrix, you would have seen that the successive power systems are undergoing massive automated shutdowns.”
“How can that be?” Packell asked, countering. “The lights of the city … even the lights of my chamber are still lit!”
“For the time being, yes,” Neelix2 answered. “But we cannot guarantee that they will stay lit.” Uncertain as to how to convince the Trakill, the identical lay his hands on his own chest. “Prefect, I am no scientist. I haven’t the foggiest idea of how to begin to explain all of these … mechanics to you. However, as I understand, the One incorporated into his Generatrix these tiny machines that inhibit the distribution of energy. This was what we call a failsafe. If he were not be around to input the appropriate code into these distribution nodes, then these units would start to fail, one by one, until all of them cause a massive power build-up that will undoubtedly cause the Generatrix to surge and explode.” He paused, glancing at the Prefect, trying to discern whether or not the Trakill was following the argument. “Captain Janeway also told your Assembly of the dangers of a Twelfth Power Energy explosion, didn’t she?”
Stubbornly, Packell nodded, crossing his arms. “She couldn’t predict.”
“Ah,” Neelix2 replied, feeling deflated. “I see.”
Calmly, the cloned Tallaxian laced his fingers in front of him, across his belly.
“Prefect, you know as well as I do, that the Generatrix is one massive structure,” Neelix2 explained softly. “It stretches deep into the underground, with many, many levels, deep into the soil that Solahh has told you to hold sacred.” After a pause, he asked, “Do you honestly believe that an explosion of a structure that size will do you and your people and your planet no harm?”
“Despite your Federation technology,” Packell answered, “even you cannot answer that question.”
‘I see this is going to be much harder than I thought,’ Neelix2 mused, sighing.
“How close can you get us to that Cube?” Harry asked, pouching a tricorder in his waistline and shouldering a plasma rifle.
“How close do you want?” Tom replied, steering his ship nearer and nearer the expanse of Borg plating off his starboard side. “This is your command, remember? I’m the hotshot shuttle jockey along for the ride who’s going to yank your butt out of the fire … should it get lit.”
Glancing out the main viewport at the approaching Cube, Harry reasoned, “Take us within twenty-five meters.”
“Twenty-five meters?!” Tom asked, incredulous.
“Well,” the ensign replied, “you did leave it up to my discretion.”
Sighing, Tom manually swung the Delta Flyer into a vector path that would bring the shuttle parallel to the Cube and much closer to imminent danger than he had anticipated.
“Remind me next time to keep my big mouth shut.”
“Mr. Tuvok,” Janeway began, “what’s our distance from the closest Cube?”
She listened to the computer chirping going on at his Tactical station. “At present,” Tuvok replied, glancing down at a display, “we are five thousand kilometers away.”
Seated in her Captain’s chair, Janeway brought her hand to her chin and rubbed.
‘Well, well, well,’ she thought. ‘What’s a girl to do?’
“Let’s back it off a bit,” she said. “Ensign Ishanti?” she called out to the helm. “Take us out to one hundred thousand kilometers. I don’t want to risk waking the Borg. If we’re lucky, the Delta Flyer might slip in undetected.”
Performing another scan at Tactical, Tuvok announced, “The Borg Cubes remain dormant. The minimal power fluctuations I’m detecting are life support and the data stream that the Doctor informed us about. Otherwise, the Cubes are essentially lifeless.”
“Let’s hope it stays that way,” Janeway muttered.
Ensigns Harry Kim and Nathan Maxwell materialized within the Borg corridor, plasma rifles raised in the event of any defensive posturing on the part of their mortal enemy.
There wasn’t any.
Quickly, Harry pulled up his tricorder and flipped it open. The unit’s systems blinked to life, and he scanned the area for life signs.
“The distress call is coming from that console against the rear wall,” he explained. “I’m not detecting … wait a minute …”
His tricorder chimed.
“What do you have?” Nathan asked, glancing at Harry’s instrument.
“That way,” Harry announced, pointing in the direction of a nearby dark corridor.
“I don’t like it any more than you do,” Harry agreed. “It’s an extremely weak signature, but I am picking up a single life sign.”
Closing the tricorder, he pouched it again and hoisted his rifle.
“All right, Maxwell,” he said. “Keep your eyes open … and your fingers crossed.”
Surrendering, Chakotay realized he was fighting the losing battle. Tapping his communicator, he blurted over the noise, “Say again, Narek? Your last message broke up.”
“Sir,” came the voice through the static that had been steadily building as communications interference, “the repair … teams can no longer … the needed work because … the fires. We’ve lost containment of them on … forty-five through sixty. Some of the crew … with smoke inhalation. I think … we get out of here!”
“Narek,” Chakotay shouted back, hoping that the sheer volume of his voice might increase the ensign’s communication reception on his end. “Recall your crews from those decks! Get them up to Level Ten! I don’t want any Voyager crewmember lower than Level Ten!” He realized how hot it was starting to get again as he wiped a heavy swab of sweat from his forehead. “Let’s see what we can do about stabilizing the damage done by those power inhibitors!”
He received no response.
Then, he heard a whisper of static, but the words intermixed with the white noise were lost to his ears.
Chakotay could only hope that his orders were received.
And he could only hope that Voyager was on its way back.