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Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2012
Posts: 106
# 2
02-18-2013, 04:45 PM
Azera Xi: In Memoriam

It wasn't exactly standard procedure for the head of Starfleet Intelligence to handle a starship's personnel matters, much less an ensign's medical issues, but mysterious incidents surrounding the Borg had a way of ending up on Admiral Kane's desk. That suited him fine: he preferred a more hands-on approach to reports on the Borg than most of the admirals, to stay at the forefront of Starfleet's research rather than simply waiting for the team to come to his office with their findings. For one thing, he liked to get things done himself, to lead the investigations instead of simply ordering them. For another, he liked to think that, in some small way, his old mentor's legacy lived on in these late-night reviews of the latest data on the Borg.

It'd been almost 58 years since the Hansens vanished, and now the sensor ghosts they'd chased across the galaxy had emerged as the Federation's greatest threat. How different might things be if anyone had believed Magnus and Erin's theories all those years ago? And what other theories might still change history, if only the right person believes them in time?

A theory, that'd be a nice thing to have with this case. Right now all Admiral Kane had was a name and a Starfleet personnel file flashing on his handheld PADD as he paced around his mahogany desk. Enisgn Azera Xi. Female, species unknown, approximately 18 years old. Raised on Earth after being found in a sublight stasis pod in the Khazan Cluster, traveling from the direction of the Scutum-Centaurus arm of the galaxy at the approximate age of 7. Unusual, but not unprecedented: the Department of Cartography estimated that over a thousand refugees from unknown worlds cross the Federation border and become citizens each year. Some of them, and lately more and more of them, had been fleeing the Borg, the last remnants of yet another civilization swallowed up by the ever-spreading penumbra of Borg space.

Well, that's a theory in itself, isn't it? Azera Xi, the mysterious orphan and recent Starfleet Academy graduate who'd had a traumatic flashback aboard the bridge of the USS Roanoke during their battle with a Borg cube, whose stasis pod seemed to have originated somewhere in the Delta Quadrant... a refugee of one of the Borg's assimilated worlds would dovetail nicely with those facts. The rest of Starfleet Intelligence certainly thought so: they'd come to precisely that conclusion and were ready to update Azera's records to reflect her status as a Borg refugee. They just needed Marcus's signature as head of the department to close the case.

He hadn't signed it yet. For one thing, the reports from the rest of the crew on her flashback didn't quite make sense to him. He sat down at the desk, leaning back in his chair and lifting the thin tablet above his head as he scrolled between different files with the touch of a finger, and settled on rereading the transcript of Ensign Koja's report to sickbay.

"I couldn't make out most of it," Koja had told the chief medical officer, "she was talking so fast, and whispering it all to herself. But she said something about the 'black cubes,' and I think she said... no, I'm sure she said 'the machine priests.' She wrapped her arms tighter around herself and started whispering faster when I tried to talk to her, and then she screamed for her parents just before she passed out, like she was terrified. Is she going to be okay?"

That was as detailed a report on as anyone could offer: Azera herself had woken up two hours later in sickbay with no memory of it, or any curiosity about it. The ship's doctor had confirmed that she really didn't remember having it, and his opinion was that pressing the matter too hard could cause psychological trauma. He believed her prolonged unconsciousness in the stasis pod might have relegated her memories of everything that happened before to the same status as dreams, causing them to surface again only during altered states of consciousness. Like the one on the bridge... except what was it that altered her consciousness?

And then there were the words she'd used. Different cultures often had their own names for the Borg, and neither Marcus nor anyone else in the Federation could claim to know each and every one of them. But the names tended to follow a pattern, and "machine-priests" simply didn't fit that pattern at all. If only there'd been a recording, a transcript of what she actually said. Starfleet Intelligence had argued for years that starship bridges, at least, should be constantly recorded for both historical and security purposes, but it'd always run up against the Federation Council and its concerns about the expectation of privacy. Still, there must be something left from the incident, some file that has at least a hint of what happened on that ship.

He suddenly had an idea.

"Computer," he snapped upright in his chair and practically slammed the PADD down as he instead began to tap the darkened touchscreen embedded in the surface of his desk, sparking the LCARS display to flashing blue life, "pull the USS Roanoke's communication records from 1107 hours, stardate 90550.35. Is Captain Taggart's call to sickbay still on file?"

"Affirmative," a pleasantly automated female voice replied.

"Okay, maybe we'll hear something in the background. Load and play it."

The jumbled interface windows dancing across his desk instantly resolved themselves into a display of a dozen different waves rolling across a timeline grid, each one a separate source of sound on the bridge. The sound clip was hardly five seconds long, though.

"Bridge to sickbay," the captain's gruff voice rang out, a beacon of authority rising above a din of murmuring worry, a single red wave dipping up and down around the flurry of smaller waves hovering closer to the middle of the chart, "we have a medical emergency."

The clip ended just as abruptly as it began. Nothing on the surface, but he didn't get into Starfleet Intelligence by stopping there. Marcus tapped a few more buttons on the desk console, scowled silently over all the different waveforms that'd rolled across the desktop screen for a moment and then highlighted one in particular, a tiny blue ribbon that bobbed to its own secret rhythm beneath the rest of the sounds. A ribbon that subtly stood out from every other voice on the bridge for one simple reason: it'd been formed by the carrier wave of a combadge's universal translator. It was the only voice on the audio file that wasn't speaking English.

"Computer," he muttered thoughtfully, "invert the phase for everything except the selected wave by 180 degrees and overlay the result with this file. Play it again on my mark."

"Acknowledged," the computer chirped, "modification complete."

"Proceed."

Just as he'd hoped, the captain's orders, the muted voices of the bridge crew, even the droning hum of the ship's systems had all cancelled out against their inverted waveforms. Only a single childlike voice remained, whispering fearfully to herself beneath the silence.

"...are the dissenters, the apostate worlds, deniers of the perfection that they..."

And the clip ended.

That was her voice. The dissenters, the apostate worlds... it was just the tiniest snippet of everything she'd said, but it was still more than anyone on the bridge could have noticed at the time, more than Azera herself had remembered when she woke up. If he hadn't thought to check the ship's combadge records, even that fragment would have been lost forever.

It sounded quick, measured, as though she'd been quoting it from memory. A nursery rhyme, a poem, an old story? Her whisper had been a rambling monotone, but still, the way she'd paused and emphasized certain syllables almost had a sing-song cadence that struck Marcus as vaguely familiar somehow. Not that the words themselves were something he'd heard before, but the structure of it was something that he should recognize. It felt as though he'd learned something like it himself - and then he remembered his mother's voice reading to him as a child.

Listen my children and you shall hear, the midnight ride of Paul Revere...

History. She's reciting a history lesson. That made sense: practically every known civilization taught its history to children through songs and poetry. Humans learned about everything from Guy Fawkes to the meaning of Christmas from songs. Vulcan children memorized T'Plana-Hath's sayings in meter form. Cardassians gained their understanding of justice from enigma tales. Klingons measured their entire history in epic verse.

So whose history was she quoting? How does the rest of that story go?

The bridge crew said they first noticed something was wrong when the Borg ended their transmission, when they heard Ensign Azera falling back against the wall and muttering to herself. But that meant it was already happening when they noticed her. When did it actually start? When she saw the Borg cube on the screen? But she'd graduated from Starfleet Academy, she must have already seen dozens of pictures and video images of the Borg during her classes. What happened while everyone was busy looking at the viewscreen?

"Computer," he spoke again, "did anyone else on the Roanoke bridge use their combadge at any point between 1100 and 1112 hours, stardate 90550.35?"

"Negative."

"What about," he mused, running one hand back through his dark hair and then suddenly snapping upright in his seat as a thought hit him, "computer, what about when the Roanoke hailed the Borg cube? Ship to ship communications are an open channel routed through the tactical systems, so every sound on the bridge between Captain Taggart hailing their ship and closing the channel would have to be embedded in the ship's database, right?"

"Direction unclear. Please rephrase request."

"Nevermind. Just load the audio file of the Roanoke's communication with the Borg on stardate 90550.35 and play it. Security Authorization Kane 1-8 Delta Tango"

"This is Captain Taggart of the USS Roanoke," a familiarly commanding voice barked through the desktop interface, "you are in violation of Federation space and..."

"We are the Borg," thousands of cold, pitiless voices instantly cut him off, echoing out of the glowing abyss in the heart of the cube, "you will lower your shields and escort us to your homeworld where we will begin assimilating your species. Resistance is futile."

The file ended there. Taggart hadn't bothered continuing the conversation: he'd already cut the transmission to order a rotating shield modulation, and for engineering to divert power to the forward weapons. The trouble with Azera Xi began hardly more than a second later, and Lieutenant Commander McMary was sure she was fine before the Borg's response. After all, Azera herself was the one who patched it through.

"Computer," Marcus said, "invert every waveform in the audio file that doesn't have a universal translator signature. Overlay it with the existing file, just like before."

"Acknowledged. Modification complete."

"Okay Azera," he muttered to himself, "let's find out just what set you off. Proceed."

The legion of voices from the Borg ship, Captain Taggart's defiant greeting, every sound on the Roanoke's bridge had been swallowed up in silence, cancelled out by its inverted duplicate to leave a single youthful voice murmuring to herself, just like before. And as Marcus adjusted the volume and listened more closely, his blood gradually began to freeze into ice water.

"We are the Borg," her tone numb and starkly unfeeling, her words all the more ominous for coming from such a quiet voice, "you will lower your shields and escort us to your homeworld where we will begin assimilating your species. Resistance is futile."

Last edited by sparklysoldier; 02-19-2013 at 02:21 PM.