Life and Liberty
Her eyes were closed and her face serene, suggesting the peace of meditative slumber but actually a result of the fact that her system had shut down in response to the attack. In her bloodstream ran thousands of small machines, busy laying down the foundations of change. Her incapacitation was something of a blessing, and even as he watched, suspended above her in the air, he gave some small thanks for the fact that she was immune to pain as something erupted from the skin near her clavicle. Even more when the spinning blade started to descend towards the whitening flesh above her right eye. He tried to look away but found he couldn’t, and so he steeled himself for what was about to follow.
His composure was lost as her eyes flicked open. She looked right at him. The expressionless face betrayed by the panic in her eyes. The same panic he’d seen as she’d been briefly revived when they’d found her.
As the spinning blade started cutting into her brow, she screamed.
Dan Hart splashed wave into his face and reached for a small towel near the sink, burying his face in it.
His experience as a counsellor meant that he knew the nightmare was born of a combination of stress, exposure to potentially traumatizing events, and the need for his own mind to start synthesizing what it must have been like for her. In that role, should he have been talking to someone who was experiencing a dream like that, he would have recommended that they embrace what they were feeling and explore what it meant for them – learn from it. Perhaps even take some time off if they needed too.
But as a ship’s Captain, he had no such luxury. There was a job to be done. Alot of people now depending on him. An entire ship to look after.
He looked himself in the mirror, squarely in the solid black of each Betazoid iris, and breathed slowly and deeply as beads of water still ran down the sides of his face.
That was all the time he would need. It was all the time he would get.
As if a confirmation of the fact, a small tone sounded.
“Captain?” It was the tentative voice of his Science Officer, Brenda.
“Hey Bren. Yes, I’m awake.”
“She’s conscious again.”
Hart dabbed the towel at the last of the moisture framing his face.
“I’ll be there in five minutes.”
He nodded at the security at the door and one of them gave him a quick perfunctory smile, then faced forward again. The other didn’t show any reaction at all. Hart had seen this one only a few times since their last berth near Earth Spacedock and he’d come aboard, and now seeing his stoic appearance Hart made note to try and introduce himself in the near future. Put the guy at ease.
His empathic skills alerted him to the crewman’s inner turmoil despite his composure. He’ need to find out what that was about.
But in a moment he was inside the brig and attending to matters at hand. Brenda’s short frame was in front of him in seconds. He gave the other operations officers inside a quick nod before he turned to her.
“Captain, it’s a been a full 24 hours and she’s shown no signs of hostility or aggression. Her body may soon start to reject some of the implants if we don’t move her to medical so that...”
“Not just yet.”
The Lieutenant Commander gave a quick sigh through her nose, barely enough to be registered. “We can’t really give her the attention she’s going to need in these quarters, Captain”
“I know, Bren, but we’ve got no idea what she’s capable of just yet.”
As if on cue they both turned to look at the figure leaning on her bunk behind the forcefield. They found her staring right back at them, her head cocking slightly as she noticed them examining her.
“She hasn’t said more than the usual, and she’s been unconscious for most of her time on board.” He turned back to his Science Officer to see her clear hazel eyes looking at him almost pleadingly as he continued. “I don’t think we’ve seen enough to assess how much of a risk she is.”
Brenda nodded slowly, biting her lip before she made the next suggestion. “Then perhaps we should start finding out?”
The Captain smiled at her with his eyes. “Yes. Perhaps we should.” She held his gaze for a moment then looked away, feeling guilty for the reproach.
Hart took a couple of steps up to the low hum of the force-field, looking in at the woman they’d liberated from the borg sphere. As he noticed the curves underneath the black augments and implants he briefly wondered how much she still identified herself as female. Or even humanoid.
Apart from standing away from the bunk she made no response. Her gaze passed over him in a slower and cooler version of the assessment he’d made only seconds beforehand.
“Do you know where you are?”
She looked to his face, the device over her right eye adjusting slightly, focusing itself on some detail. But she still said nothing.
Hart tried to pick up on some sort of emotion, and felt the customary anxiety he’d noticed borg often exhibit when they’re cut off from the collective. Apart from that, she was even more taut and expressionless than the security officer he’d passed at the door. The Gnostic’s Captain was aware that in both cases this was a mask.
“Tell me how I can help you.”
Some of her anxiety dissipated.
“Take this vessel to unimatrix 172 for rendezvous and assimilation.”
“I’m afraid that’s not something I can help you with...”
The Captain quickly made a dismissive wave of his hand, which he was surprised to find silenced her.
“Not futile, I think we’ve established.”
She took a step closer to him, straightening up defiantly. Hart heard operations moving for their phasers behind him.
“You’ve only delayed the inevitable. There have been several modifications to our technology over the years thanks to the additions of the distinctiveness of several procured species in the delta and alpha quadrants. The resistance you’re talking about is a temporary setback.”
Hart recognized the security that came with talking about something that had dominated her life for well over a decade. She looked like she was still young. Early to mid thirties maybe, in appearance. He knew her too be much, much older. He decided not to challenge her beliefs, especially since he wanted her to feel some measure of assurance.
But he wanted to make some progress towards freeing her from the binds that tied her. That ran through her flesh.
He linked his hands behind him and looked at the floor thoughtfully for a moment. “Procured species. I see. Such as the El-Aurians.” He glanced up to note her reaction, which was as slight as a widening of the eye.
“They must have been a valuable acquisition.”
She took a few moments to look at the other crew-members assembled in the room behind Dan Hart before she answered. “The species you’re referring to was assimilated long before we first encountered your Federation. They were valuable, but not relevant to the issue of our recent enhancement.”
The Captain scratched under his eye with a slight grunt, then pointed at her with the same hand.
“But they’re relevant to you right? I mean, that’s what you are. Or am I wrong?”
She pursed full lips, which were slightly blue, then answered in lower tones than before.
“You are wrong. I am borg.”
The Captain didn’t respond, but linked his hands behind him again, and affected a puzzled expression.
He felt her anxiety rise again as she tried once more to hear the many voices of those that she’d just identified with, and heard nothing.
“You must return me to the collective.” It was more a request now than a demand.
“We’re going to try to. Just not the one you’re talking about.”
The borg looked at him steadily.
“We’re also going to return you to something even more powerful.”
The thin eyebrow not covered by the augmentation obscuring her face arched sightly.
“We’re going to return you to yourself.”
He noticed her blink once slowly, then take a small step backwards. Brenda was suddenly beside the Gnostic’s Captain, whispering closely.
“She’s weakening. She needs sustenance.”
Dan Hart nodded, aware that a device had already been prepared by engineering. The Borg he’d been talking to had turned away from him slightly, and seemed to be looking to make her way back to the bunk.
Hart turned his head slightly to his Science Officer.
“See she gets what she needs. And take her to medical to see what we can do about removing some of those implants.”
“I don’t think we can do that much. There’s been changes since the days of Seven of Nine. The implants are more pervasive and less likely to be rejected by the host now, so..”
“Bren.” He cut her off with a slight smile. “Just...whatever can be done.”
The diminutive officer blushed slightly and then nodded. “Aye, Captain. Whatever can be done.”
“Good.” Noticing the Borg once more on the opposite side of her cell, leaning against the bunk again and looking at the floor he assumed he’d gotten all he was going to this time around. He took a step toward the door.
The Captain’s eyebrows raised and he turned to find the borg once again standing upright, looking right at him.
“What is your designation?” She asked, curtly.
He smiled, amused at her brashness.
“Well, I guess it’s Captain. Captain Danen Hart of the U.S.S. Gnostic. And you ?”
She seemed to make a strange face, as if pained, before she once again adopted a serious expression. “Two of Seven, Primary Adjunct of Unimatrix 729.”
The Captain nodded once, slowly. “Yes. So I’ve heard. But that’s a little weighty. Do you go by anything else?”
One of the operations crew gave a small snort of amusement. Brenda tsked.
The borg’s head cocked slightly. “It is my designation," she responded abruptly.
“Very prim and proper,” Hart said, almost to himself. Then, he stepped back towards her. “In fact that might be just the ticket, Ms. Primary Adjunct. Prim. How’s that sound?”
They all looked to the borg, watching her seem to rock back and forward on the balls of her feet for a moment.
She said it once to herself, as if testing the sound of it.
There was a silence as she seemed to consider it carefully, her head falling forward to examine her feet.
Everyone had been looking at her anticipating a verdict on the new name, so they were moving towards the borg even before her falling body hit the floor, unconscious.
13 Months Later
Danen listened to the deeper thrum of the station around him as he gazed out into the space surrounding Earth at the various ship’s in drydock. He knew each crewman usually became accustomed the sound of their own vessel through the years to the point where they no longer heard it. Habituation was the term he’d learnt in psychology for it. You might occasionally hear the distant thrumming of the engines every once in a while, especially when you had nothing else but silence to listen to, but usually it was something on the extreme periphery of your awareness that after repeated exposure your brain learned to ignore.
If only it were that easy with everything that seemed to constantly encroach on your awareness. Sure, some things that your turning over and over in your mind eventually disappear to a distant level of consciousness. Become a constant that you longer find yourself focusing on. But then there are times when you find that stimulus has returned, and is just as hard to ignore as it ever was in those first days.
As Dan Hart listened to the reverberant white noise of Earth Spacedocks heart, he also found himself hearing the difference in something echoing from his own.
He took another sip of the dry-tasting synthehol, and tried to instead focus on the sound of his own lips on the glasses rim. The sound of his own wet swallow.
But all he could really think of was the number.
He’d now lost 72.
He glanced up to the right hand corner of the window and watched something small shuttling away from the claw-like frame around the Gnostic. She was in for a repair after an encounter with the Gorn in the Xarantine Sector. There’d been incursions as far as the Argelius Sector, where there were still efforts to push back an advance, and Hart had been asked to help an attempt to flank reinforcements emerging from Klingon territories around his old stomping grounds near Hromi. The efforts had gone well.
Too well, perhaps. Returning home he’d been complacent. Sloppy. He’d been so focused on chasing down the cruiser he’d not even expected he was being strung into an ambush.
Two escorts had gone straight for engineering. It was amazing he’d even made it home.
Home minus 12 more.
He’d listened to Meg crying for two hours before they could cut her free. The rest of the crew crying for hours after they realised they were too late. The Gnostic’s youngest officer was now her most recent casualty of war. As everyone had departed for shore leave it had been a sombre affair instead of a happy one. The ensign that had been everyone’s adopted daughter had died.
Captain Hart looked to the distant black scar running along the hull, then back to the last remnants in his glass.
He jumped as his comm badge sounded, especially loud in the relative quiet of this hour. Only Spacedock’s hum and the distant echoes of the dead to be heard until now.
He quickly put the glass down and used the hand to tap his badge.
Briefly, in his mind’s eye, he saw a smiling Meg placing a hand over her chest and mocking the gesture her Captain often made as he communicated, announcing ‘Heart’ instead of his name, her palm flattened over the namesake organ.
Back when it was beating.
“Captain Hart, Admiral Quinn will see you now.”
“I’ll make my way to his office...”
“He’s retired for the night, Captain, and has requested you meet him in his quarters. It’s actually closer to your own accommodations.”
Danen sighed. The change of venue meant that the admiral was probably going to make this informal. Considering the circumstances, that didn’t sit well with him.
“I know where it is. Thanks.”
There was no response.
He looked up at the Gnostic once more and raised his glass to it in a toast before he downed the last of his drink.
It had been an honor and a pleasure.
He heard the musical chime before Admiral Quinn barked a “Come!” and the door slid open. The foyer was spacious. Befitting Starfleet’s most senior. Immediately across it, the Admiral sat, his collar undone as he bent stern features over a small display in his hand. He looked up as the door closed behind Hart, and stood, pulling down on his coat to straighten it before gesturing to a couch on the other side of the small table in front of him.
“Captain, please take a seat.”
Hart saluted quickly, and then made his way over to it.
“My thanks for seeing me at this hour, Admiral.”
The official nodded. “Last appointment for the day, and something I didn’t want to leave till morning.” Hart was about to say something in response but was surprised to find the Admiral’s hand shooting out when he got close enough. The shake was firm.
“I just wanted to shake your hand first.”
“Admiral?” Danen tried not to look as confused as he felt at that moment.
Quinn didn’t take any notice of his questioning tone, fixing him steadily as he let Hart’s hand go. The crows feet around the veteran Trill’s eyes deepened he narrowed his gaze for a moment before turning away to sit down.
“I’ve been reading up on some of your contributions, Hart. You’ve done some outstanding work in your time as Captain.”
Hart shifted once in his chair as soon as he’d sat down, suddenly uncomfortable as soon as he’d made himself at home in it. “Thankyou, sir.”
Quinn’s white haired features studied Hart again before picking up the tablet screen he’d been studying when the Captain had walked in. Hart was finding it difficult to look his superior in the eye, instead focusing on the papers that had lain underneath it. From a brief glance they looked like the profiles of Starfleet personnel.
“In fact, I’d say that overall you’ve been an asset to us in the role.”
Hart gave a wane smile that faded quickly. He wondered if it was standard practice to package marching orders in between compliments. He still found his gaze directed to the table although he wasn’t really looking at anything in front of him. Quinn tapped the tablet in his hands on the table once, like a gavel-rap.
“And that’s why, to cut right to it at this hour, Starfleet will not be accepting your resignation at this time.”
Danen looked up now at the Admiral, but found himself unable to speak, his mouth opening a quarter-inch but delivering nothing.
The Admiral’s crow’s feet returned.
“We need you out there, Dan.”
With the informal use of his name, Hart suddenly felt something lift from him. The weight of a role he’d indicated he’d indicated a desire to be free of.
“With all due respect, Admiral, my resignation was something I’ve put a great deal of thought into. It’s not borne on the back of recent events.”
The Admiral nodded, and then rubbed at his mouth with his hand eliciting a scratching sound from the light stubble already forming around it. He then sat back against the back of his couch and considered something for a moment before he continued.
“Hart, as a Captain, your attention is focused on your crew. It comes from your background as a ship’s counsellor, no doubt. For many years you were privy to the personal side of life on a Starfleet vessel. I’d venture a guess that you came to an understanding of a ship’s operation that most Captain’s don’t ordinarily get a glimpse of.”
Hart breathed deeply. He was suddenly aware that he was starting to feel annoyed, but concentrated on letting it go, trying instead to focus on Quinn’s reasoning, since he was quickly gathering he’d want a solid grasp of it before leaving this meeting.
“Yes, that’s true, sir.”
Quinn sat forward again.
“The trouble is, Captain, that you seem to regard this as a burden rather than an asset.”
Hart looked down at his feet.
“Admiral, I’m resigning because I’m responsible for the deaths of 72 crewmembers under my command, because...”
Quinn interrupted him. “Because you take their deaths personally?”
Hart didn’t respond, so the Admiral continued.
“I’m currently overseeing hundreds of ship’s, Captain, where many of my finest officer’s feel the need to punish themselves for losses. They have trouble with the fact that they’re going to have to send men to their deaths. You all learn it at the Academy - to let go. But nothing can train you for how it feels to lose those that have come to trust you. Friends. People you've lived with every day for months. Years. It's hard to come to grips with. It's a Starfleet officers greatest challenge and it's important to overcome. It’s especially important now in a time of war since it’s almost certain that people are going to die.”
Hart looked up as the Admiral paused briefly.
“I’ve sent alot of officers to their deaths, Captain. Alot. We all question the meaningless of it at times. That must be especially true of someone who has helped people find meaning in their lives – watching it get taken away. Especially since, as a Betazoid, you're also keen to the emotions of your crew.”
Hart’s mouth went tight, constricting his words as much as the tightness developing in his throat.
“I don’t believe I’m fit for the role of Captain, sir.”
Quinn blinked once, slowly.
“Then you’re wrong, Dan. What you’re feeling right now is exactly the thing that makes you one.”
Hart nodded slowly and then looked to the door. There was a moment of silence between them. In the quiet, Danen once more became aware of the hum of the station. Those things usually ignored on the periphery. He shifted forward to the edge of his couch, getting ready to leave.
“Is that all, Admiral?”
Quinn was motionless at first, then rubbed his eye, feeling fatigue starting to set in.
Hart watched him reaching for a sheaf of papers.
“While I’m not accepting your resignation, I will be reassigning you. You’re to take up a new command.”
Hart’s eyes widened in response. To his surprise, the thought that he wouldn’t be captaining the Gnostic anymore suddenly made him feel put out. To his chagrin, he realized that on another level that served to reinforce what Quinn was saying. Some greater part of him was invested in the helm of the ship he’d thought he wanted to get away from.
“A new ship?”
“Not exactly.” Quinn drew out a sheet and turned it as he placed it in front of Hart, performing the gesture almost ceremoniously.
Hart was suddenly caught in a swell of emotion, so he put a hand over his mouth as he swallowed it, looking at the schematics in front of him.
“You’ll be captaining the Libertus. I believe you’re familiar with it.”
Danen just nodded, picking up the sheet.
“As the ship’s counsellor in the past, there may be a few on board that you saw in that capacity. I imagine that might present an issue for some, having you return as Captain.”
For the briefest second, Hart considered the professional complications that could present themselves, but they were instantly swept aside, even as the Admiral reassured him as to why.
“I doubt it though, since most of the testimonials I’ve received have actually called for you personally.”
The betazoid’s mind went back a few years, conjuring up some old names and faces from more innocent times. There was suddenly a twinge of guilt over newer acquaintances.
“What about my current crew? There’s some on board I’d need to talk to first, personally.”
Quinn smiled. “Of course. Though, we have already notified a few people.”
Danen frowned. “Before you spoke to me? Even though I’d just resigned?” He tried to sound annoyed, but it mustn’t have sounded very authentic.
“A little presumptuous of us, I guess.” Quin said, failing at an apologetic reply. “But we’d already started shuffling our cards as you were returning from Hromi.”
Hart wondered if that had been before or after what had happened near Xarantine, but he didn’t ask.
“Your chief Science Officer has agreed to fill the opening on the Libertus, as has most of your bridge crew. We had a bit of difficulty accommodating people actually. Most want to go with you. Another sign of a good Captain.” The Admiral’s crow’s feet smiled at Hart.
It took a second for it to register.
“Sounds like alot of senior staff. Can I ask...?”
Quinn’s eyes went dim for a moment. “Away team never came back. Another party including their Science Officer went down and tried to fight for the bodies. There was almost a third mission before they came home. Turns out it works both ways, Dan. Sometimes a crew take the loss of a Captain personally too.”
Hart sighed. He knew what they must be feeling. Bailey and Schwik had been good friends of his back when he’d served aboard the Libertus. He wondered who else had gone down. Garrik probably. She’d not have left without her Captain.
“Can I count on you, Hart? Or do you still want to leave?”
Hart snorted. Like he had a choice now.
“I can see why you’re in charge around here, Admiral.”
Quinn smiled briefly, then moved to stand, grabbing two more folios as he did so, passing them to Hart as soon as soon as he was also on his feet.
“What have we here?” the Captain asked, flicking the first open.
“You’ve got a new crew member for you. Field appointment who requested assignment.”
Hart received another surprise as he glanced over the statistics in front of him.
“I believe that’s what everyone’s calling her, yes. She’s been having a bit of trouble getting along in the academy, so we decided to put her out in the field. Too much of an asset to us at this stage of the game not too, though I’d not let her know we said that. Got something of a ticket on herself already, which is half her classmates trouble.”
Hart smiled to himself, remembering the Borg they’d tried liberating a year ago.
“She asked for you by name, Hart. You must have made an impression.”
“Seems that way, yes.” He closed the folder and slipped both of them under his arm. “What’s the other?”
“Details on the fleet we’re sending you to. Designation is The Consortium, under the command of a Tymme Hunt. Give it a look over and then contact her as soon as you can. I’ll leave it to you both to work out the specifics, but I’ll let you each individually know Starfleet’s plans for you when I have them.”
Hart nodded, then put out his hand. Quinn took it, this time feeling the firmness in Hart’s grip.
“My thanks, Admiral. Most sincerely. I...”
“You’re most welcome, Captain. Now get out there and show ‘em why you’re exactly what Starfleet wants in command.”
Hart saluted crisply before he exited.
Aghhhhhhh, couldn't........... tooo much........... tooo reeeeeaaadddd!
Found it a pretty good read. Bookmarked it to see if there was more posted so still waiting.
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