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 … they are … cunning without expectation. They are … brave without regarding to their own safety!”
She smiled at the being. “Easy, senator,” she warned. “I believe the Doctor’s programming has no further room for ego.”
From where he crouched, tending to Cole’s wounds, the Doctor snapped, “Captain, I’ll 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, ma’am.”
“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 … I don’t know … 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 … with B’Elanna’s 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 isn’t in very good shape. This One character has several spacecraft under repair, but nothing that compares to Voyager. The best news is that it’s poorly guarded. Ten, maybe fifteen sentries, at best.”
“That’s true,” the Trakill joined the conversation. “The One keeps most of his fleet – though he hasn’t many ships – in orbit. They’re 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 … if we could count on assistance from the other races held here against their will … we could easily take back Voyager.”
“You’d have two problems,” Packell counseled, stroking the side of his face with his hand as he became lost in thought. “First, you wouldn’t get very far with that planetary shield up … and second? I don’t 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, they’d still be prisoners.” The Trakill continued stroking his face. “No. You won’t gain any support from these people, not unless you’re taking them with you.”
“Packell,” Janeway tried, turning to face the senator, “you and I both know that we’d be talking about tens of thousands of people. Unfortunately, the Voyager just isn’t 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 Voyager’s crew. That would be … terminable.”
‘Zero Option,’ 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 planet’s 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, he’s always kept the ships. Those that are destroyed are the ones that no longer serve a purpose … 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. There’s 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 couldn’t say what she knew.
“They couldn’t,” Packell suddenly spoke up.
But she couldn’t control another from sharing it.
“If I remember correctly,” the senator continued, his eyes growing fuzzy with memories, “they tried, but he didn’t respond to their efforts. Instead, he ended up assimilating them.”
“That’s 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 isn’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 Voyager’s 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 he’s captured, but I’m starting to doubt that hypothesis. We traveled quite a distance through the Delta Quadrant, and we’ve 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 Voyager’s Emergency Medical Hologram stood. The Doctor had risen, and they found him pointing down toward the fallen drone’s chest cavity. Apparently, he had opened Cole’s chestplate, to get a closer inspection of the immediate injuries inflicted by Paris’s phaser blast. The armor was pulled back, revealing the burgundy clothing once hidden underneath.
The uniform was tattered, torn, charred, and faded …
… 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 ambassador’s, “is most unexpected.”
“Our business is dealing with the unexpected, senator,” she replied. “Doctor, have you masked Cole’s short-term memories?”
“I have, but -”
“Then I’d 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, I’m 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.”
Bending over, Janeway dribbled a trickle of water across Cole’s forehead. He stirred, the liquid splattered on his skin, and woke. The Borg sat bolt upright, glaring at the ambassador.
“Explain,” he demanded.
Disoriented, he glanced around her quarters, finding nothing out of the ordinary or out of place.
“Explain my deactivation,” he pressed.
“I’m not sure that I can.”
“I am not due for a regeneration period for sixteen hours.”
Pointing to the charred area of his armor, she tried, “It appears as if one of the neural connections on your chestplate short-circuited. Don’t you remember, Cole?” She paused, seeing if the false memory left any impression on the drone. If it did, his face didn’t betraying his thoughts. “You and I were standing in the corridor outside my quarters. Something on your chest sparked, and you fell into Noland. He caught you, but your prosthetic accidentally tore away some of his exterior circuitry.” She studied him closely, but, still, his expression was fixed. “Noland collapsed as well. Luckily, there was a drone passing by. His name is … Hugh.” She smirked. “I called out to him. He had another Borg carry Noland to your medical facilities, and he carried you in here, at my request. Once he was finished, he assumed guard over my quarters.” She wanted to get the entire story out before he had a chance to interrupt her, and she had. Peering deep into his human eye, placing her human hand on his shoulder to feign concern, she asked, “Cole, don’t you remember any of this? Perhaps your injuries are far more serious than I had thought.”
Silent, the Borg studied her for a moment.
After enough silence had passed between the two of them, she shrugged, taking her hand away and rising.
“Fine,” she hissed at the drone. “Don’t take my word for it. Hugh is at the door. Why don’t you ask him what happened? He saw it all. He arranged for Noland to receive the proper care. He carried you in here.” Innocently, she pointed toward the entrance. “Would you like me to call him?”
His eye searching the room, the Borg remained silent.
“Cole, would you like me to call him?”
Slowly, he ran his human hand across his faceplate.
Finally, he announced, “Your explanation is … satisfactory.”
“What?” she asked. “No ‘thank you’ for helping to save your life?”
“You don’t even remember it happening,” she taunted. “How would you know?”
Considering her for several moments, he asked, “Did you assist in moving me into your quarters?”
Nodding, she put on her best poker face and bluffed. “Hugh and I carried you in here, yes. Once more, I’m quite certain he’ll confirm the details of the event should you require proof on my generosity.”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Oh, trust me. I’m strong for my size.”
“You loathe your current predicament,” the Borg replied. “You desire escape from Besaria. You do not wish to serve the Foundation. You would provide assistance in any regard to my welfare.”
Standing, she walked away from him. It was important to reinforce the ruse. Taking a nearby chair, she told him, “Cole, you might be surprised by the scope of my compassion for all living things. It comes with being human, so you must forgive me. However, next time, I’ll let you suffer the consequences.” She clapped her hand against her prosthetic, a nonverbal to underscore her dominance of the conversation. “What with His Highness’s current opinion of you, I trust he would find the news of this episode to be of great personal interest. Who knows? He might order you offline indefinitely or have you replaced by one of your subordinates.” She waved at him. “The One speaks harshly to enough of us. I thought I was doing you a favor. In the future, I’ll think twice. Please accept my apology.”
Cole’s visible human eye moved to the left and then to the right.
“What’s the matter now?” she asked.
“It is against my essential programming to express gratitude.”
“I wasn’t asking for any.”
“CCF Omega 351,” Cole remembered.
“Yes,” she replied, reclining as comfortably as she could in the hard wooden chair. “You asked me about that before you collapsed.”
“I would like to discuss your interpretation of its contents.”
“Later,” she spat. “However, there is a topic I’d like to discuss first. Namely, I would like an explanation as to what one of your Borg officers was doing when he used my ship’s deflector dish to transit a subspace message to the Collective.”
Suddenly, Cole climbed to his feet and stood facing her.
“I am not required to respond to orders from the ambassadorial class.”
“Fine!” she challenged, rising and closing the distance between them. “Then why don’t we take it up with the One?”
Repeating himself, he almost stammered, “I do not respond to orders from the ambassadorial class!”
“Cole, you are a Starfleet officer!” she yelled at him. “At least, you were at one time. If that means anything to you at all, you’ll answer me, or you can take your chances with His Highness!”
She couldn’t remember ever seeing a Borg speechless. The drone gazed at her, remaining silent, his feet shifting ever so slightly, the silver blades on his prosthetic revolving forward and backward intermittently.
“What do you know about CCF Omega 351?” she demanded.
The blades stopped moving.
“I have decrypted the contents of CCF Omega 351.”
“On whose authority?”
“Explain,” he stated.
“Did the One ask you to decrypt the file?”
“The One is unaware of CCF Omega 351.”
“You’ve kept it from him?” she asked.
Cole didn’t answer.
“You kept the information regarding a missing member of my crew from him,” she challenged. “Tom Paris? Remember that? What else are you keeping from him?”
The Borg started to raise his prosthetic, and then he stopped. She understood that he was clearly torn between taking action and remaining docile.
“Captain Cole, what value -”
“I am Borg,” he interrupted.
“CAPTAIN COLE!” she shouted.
“I no longer answer to that designation.”
“What value would the contents of CCF Omega 351 be to you?” she pried.
His prosthetic’s blade whirred again, and then they stopped as abruptly. His eyepiece revolved halfway, stopped, and then turned back the direction it had come. For the first time in a long while, the man beneath the machine was struggling with his emotions, and his Borg programming was failing.
“This is the last time I’m going to ask this question, captain,” she threatened him, “before I take the issue directly to the full Quorum. What do you intend to do with the classified information contained with the file CCF Omega 351?”
Slowly, painfully, Cole reasoned, “If the One were to know that there were others like him … out there … in your universe … in the Alpha Quadrant … he might abandon Besaria.”
“To locate his people,” he explained.
“Why would he do that?”
“I sense it within him,” the drone offered. “Ambassador, when the Borg tried to assimilate the One, he used his morphogenic ability to assimilate us. While he altered our programming, we touched a part of his psyche as well. I sense that, were he to know of others like him, he would seek them out.” His face wrinkled of exhaustion, Cole added, “If he were to abandon Besaria, the Borg Army would again be free from this captivity.”
Was that it?
Could it be that simple?
“Cole, if you’re truly Borg,” she reasoned, “what would you know about captivity?”
“The Borg assimilate other species,” he argued. “We do not hold them against their will.”
“No, you just assimilate them against their will,” she countered, pounding a fist onto the desk to her left. “Damn you, Cole! If you were to give the One the information in that file, what’s to say that he wouldn’t take Voyager and destroy this mighty empire he’s built before he left?”
“My actions were selfish.”
“Your actions were an unwarranted gamble!”
“You would have done the same,” he tried.
“Not at the risk of every life on this planet,” she vowed. “The Borg are very good at those games, but Species 5618 is a touch more humane!”
“I have exhausted all available means to achieve the desired objective,” the drone calculated.
“I have exhausted all available means -”
She stopped him in mid-sentence.
“You gave those Renegade Trakill that Sphere, didn’t you?”
He took a step forward, approaching her, but stopped. His eyepiece twirled once more, this time continuing through a full revolution. His human eye remained fixed on her.
“An alliance for the information I seek would be acceptable,” Cole tried, changing the subject.
Captain Janeway shook her head. “I’ve tried alliances with the Borg. Let’s just say that they ended less than amicably.”
Suddenly, Cole sighed at her.
“That’s it,” she taunted, curling a finger at him. “Come out from hiding under that Borg rock. You’re human, Cole, and don’t you forget it.”
“Captain Janeway,” he began, “to what lengths would you go to rejoin your people?”
Rising, she reached out and tapped his outdated Starfleet insignia.
“Cole,” she said, “I am your people.”
Cole studied her for several long moments before responding.
“USS Tesla,” he stated matter-of-factly. “Registry Number 1744.” Thunder rumbled outside, and he glanced toward the balcony’s archway. “Captain Santiago Cole.” Painfully, he faced her again, and she knew that he was now fighting his emotions and the cybernetic programming. “We explored an area of space dangerously close to an unstable wormhole. The Tesla lost primary propulsion, and the ship was sucked in. We ended up in this quadrant of space, and we lost contact lost with Starfleet Command over 70 years ago.” He swallowed hard. “Captain, I am Borg.” With his human hand, he reached up and tapped the Delta Shield. “The insignia is irrelevant.”
Pointing to his tarnished badge, she argued, “That insignia stands for something more precious than who you are today, Cole. It stands for duty. It stands for unity of purpose. It stands for exploration. It stands for peace.”
Flatly, he repeated, “That insignia is irrelevant.”
“Then CCF Omega 351 is irrelevant,” she countered.
His expression was clear. He was going to persist in arguing with her until the end of time itself.
She held up her hand to silence him.
“If you go to the One with the contents of that file,” she warned, “I will inform His Highness that you admitted turning over that Borg Sphere to the Renegade Trakill.”
“He will not believe you.”
“I’ll also go to him with a PADD recording of the Voyager’s deflector logs from the moment you boarded my ship.”
Cole stood silent.
“Do you understand me?”
He didn’t answer.
“Do you understand me, captain?” she asked.
“Understood,” Cole said.
He turned to exit, concluding his argument as he walked toward the door. “Ambassador, all of those who occupy Besaria City will be assimilated.”
“I won’t let that happen,” she vowed.
He paused. “Your resistance is irrelevant.”
Smiling as she watched him go, she replied, “We’ll just have to see about that … captain.”