Literary Challenge #39 : Lone Drone
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Join Date: Dec 2012
02-24-2013, 12:48 PM
Azera Xi: Fools and Children
"We've lost engines, helm control, external sensors... damn it!"
Azera hadn't ever heard Luverala swear before, much less bang his fist against conn station, but if the situation could drive even her shy, nervously introspective Betazoid engineer into a glowering fury, it had to be even worse than he'd admitted. She rose from the captain's chair and cast a worried glance at the unnervingly blank gray viewscreen before darting over to his station and looking over the young man's shoulder at the flashing red warnings.
"It looks like engineering still has auxiliary controls. First priority's to get back to Federation space, we can deal with restoring the rest of the systems then."
She tapped her combadge.
"Bridge to engineering, prepare to go to transwarp on my mark. Engineering?"
She straightened up from Lieutenant Onplav's station, looking back at the darkened screen looming over the Roanoke's bridge like a shroud and then tapped it again.
"Azera to engineering, can you hear me?"
She shook her head once and tapped it yet again as she paced back toward her chair.
"Azera to security, we have an emergency situation. Hello?"
She sank back into her chair and gave her communicator another frantic tap.
"Azera to sickbay!"
The young captain muttered a curse under her breath that'd leave Luverala's frustrated exclamation pale in comparison had anyone else on the bridge overheard it, ran her fingers nervously back through her long rose-pink hair and then sighed and tapped her combadge one more time, even as her expression slowly sank into frustrated resignation.
"Captain Azera Xi to all hands, respond if you can hear this message."
No answer, just the deathly silence of the comm channel amid steady hum of the bridge systems all flashing their error codes to the bewildered officers. Her first officer finally broke the tensed stillness, her blue antenna flared back across her head with muted anger.
"She's cut us off from the rest of the ship. We're trapped on our own bridge."
As though to prove Commander Corspa wrong, Azera's combadge beeped at that moment. The two women exchanged startled glances and Azera quickly tapped it.
"Azera here, who is this?"
"We are the Borg," a young girl's voice said tonelessly through the channel, "we will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile."
"Six of Twelve," Azera growled, "stand down immediately."
"Your offensive and defensive capabilities will be unable to withstand us," the girl calmly replied, and then she paused for a moment before continuing in a subtly plaintive tone that only seemed emotional in contrast to how dead it'd been before, "Azera Xi, captain of the starship Roanoke. You should be happy. You should want this more than anyone."
"Nobody here wants to be assimilated, Six! Stand down!"
Azera's communicator chirped again and went silent.
"Luverala," Azera leapt back to her feet and began to stride purposefully around the bridge as she barked orders to the crew, "we need the turbolifts unlocked and our combadges working right now. Focus your efforts there, but don't let her get into any other primary systems. Lieutenants Auslaz, Cregin, you're both with me. Corspa, you have the bridge."
"Captain," Corspa nodded in assent, "where will you be?"
"Once we're able to leave, the armory. We're taking back this ship."
* * *
Three Days Before
Captain's Log, Stardate 90768.26 - While on a reconnaissance mission in the Gamma Orionis sector, we detected the remains of a Borg probe crashed on the surface of a small class L moon in the Vorn System. The energy readings indicate at least some of its systems are still active and we're preparing an away mission to investigate. Though the risks of sparking a confrontation right in the heart of the Borg's enclave in the Beta Quadrant are enormous, the prospect of gaining insight into their activities in this sector cannot be ignored.
"Inviting," Corspa muttered with a quick shudder as she looked around at the barren, windswept plateau, its rocky outcroppings tinged with ice beneath a dim purple sky. Since her Andorian first officer came from an ice world, the captain could only guess that her shudder came from the desolation surrounding them and not the wind biting through her uniform. As for Azera, she drew her hands up into her sleeves and tried to keep from shivering.
"Better tell Risa they've got competition," Auslaz quipped through her chattering teeth, and then her voice grew lower, "it's just over that ridge. I can't get a fix on any individual drones, but there might be interference from the wreckage. We should proceed with caution."
Azera nodded wordlessly and drew her phaser, and the rest of the away team silently followed her lead, raising their own weapons as the group began to march up across a gently sloping gravel mound. Pebbles skidded and tumbled down behind them with each footstep, their boots sliding precariously through the loose rocks as they climbed up higher, but after a few more carefully measured steps the team stood atop the crest of the shadowy hillock.
And beneath them stretched the shattered wreckage of a nightmare.
The night-black metal didn't just cover the valley below: it melted into it, twisting through the ground, infecting it with a cybernetic leprosy that'd begun leeching the very soil as raw material with one last expiring gasp before it'd died. Azera couldn't help but think of the wrecked ship as a creature, a leviathan gliding through the abyss with its drones as mere cells in its body, tending to it and attacking its enemies like leukocytes converging on germs. She dug her fingernails tight against her palms, took a single trembling breath and nodded to each of her crew before taking the first cautious descent into the dim, flickering green glow of the pit.
"They're dead," Nyzoph reassured the apprehensive girl as her purple eyes glanced from one pallid white corpse to another strewn about the shattered alcoves and twisted girders, and he studied his beeping tricorder for a moment, "cortical implants are fried. It looks like maybe a solar flare overloaded their ship's shielding and the feedback fed through the implants."
"Still," Corspa answered him with a quick glance over her shoulder as she walked slightly ahead of the group, "we might be able to extract something useful from them..."
She nearly slammed headlong into a Borg drone standing alone amid the debris, and instantly fell back with a scrambling cry as she fumbled and lifted her phaser. Azera raised her weapon at the creature, fighting her panicked instinct to open fire, and in another second the whole group had formed into a crescent of phasers aimed at the solitary Borg.
It didn't move. They kept their phasers aimed at it.
"I think it," Auslaz remarked curiously, lowering her weapon slightly as the tensed standoff began to gradually give way to hesitant confusion, "I think it's a child..."
"Is it alive," Azera asked warily as she stared over the creature. It certainly looked smaller than any drone she'd ever seen, though still clad in familiarly dull black armor, its white skin mottled with the cybernetic wiring beneath. One dark eye stared at them alongside the flickering red laser of its eyepiece. She shuddered in revulsion and shook her head once, and then looked at it again. It did look like a child, actually... it looked almost like a little girl...
"Her vital signs are fine," Kwam nodded, the Bajoran doctor studying the tricorder he'd already pulled loose from his belt and waved over the immobile drone, "but there's severe damage to some of her implants. Her proximity transceiver's burnt out, her neural transceiver's been destroyed... captain, I don't think she's linked to the collective at all."
"Is she dangerous," Corspa asked, her phaser still drawn on the impassive drone.
"She doesn't have assimilation tubules," he replied, waving the medical tricorder once more and then scrolling through the readout display, "too young for them, I'd guess."
"Can you hear us," Corspa turned her attention to the young drone.
The drone gave no answer, no hint that she'd even heard the tactical officer's voice.
"Are you aware of our presence," she shouted a little louder. The Borg stood as utterly still and silent as before, practically a mannequin of a drone perched before them.
"I don't think anyone's home," the Andorian murmured nervously as Azera stepped a little closer to the drone, her apprehension gradually overcome by scientific curiosity.
"Where did you come from," Azera wondered aloud to herself.
"Grid 318," the drone replied in a tonelessly female voice.
Azera jerked her head up with a start to find the Borg looking straight at her. The rest of the away team had lifted their weapons again, and Corspa spoke again.
"Can you hear us," she asked, each word hissed impatiently this time.
The drone didn't speak or move, or give any hint she'd done so before.
"Can you hear me," Azera hesitantly asked.
"Yes," the young Borg replied as she looked up at the captain.
"This isn't creepy at all," Azera said with a quietly gulping laugh, and then she spoke louder again, looking the strange drone in the eye, "what is your designation?"
"Six of Twelve, Tertiary Processor of Unimatrix 83."
"I'm Captain Azera of the USS Roanoke," she continued, forcing her voice to sound calm and steady in spite of herself, "a Federation starship. Do you understand?"
"Then you understand that you've been captured as a prisoner of war."
"Will you resist us," Azera asked intently, "if we take you back to our ship?"
"No," she answered as impassively as before.
"Okay then, I'm glad we have that settled," the captain nodded to the drone, then she looked over the Borg's shoulder at the rest of her team, giving them a firm nod betrayed only by the bewildered look in her eyes, and then she tapped her combadge, "Azera to Roanoke, have security meet us in Transporter Room 1. Six to beam up when you're ready."
* * *
Azera grabbed one of the phaser rifles mounted along the armory wall, lit up the electronic readout with the touch of a button and checked the power level before handing it to her security chief without a word. She lifted up another one, checked its settings and passed it over to her nervous science officer, and then snatched a third phaser rifle from the wall, flipped it on and slung the loose strap across her left shoulder to let it hang along her right side.
"Captain," Auslaz began haltingly, "I know this is bad, but... are we really...?"
"If it means saving the lives of this crew, that's not even a question," Azera grimly shook her head, and she led them back out into the deserted ship corridors. At that moment her combadge beeped again, and the captain took a quick breath before tapping it.
"Azera here," she answered.
"Captain," a stammering male voice piped through the channel, "it's Lieutenant Onplav. I'm just testing the combadges, and since reaching you was our top priority..."
"Hi Luverala," she smiled with relief, and then tried to make a nervous joke, "I was expecting someone else. I take it you've restored shipboard communications?"
"Yes sir," he answered, though his voice crackled and wavered slightly as though speaking through an old handheld radio set, "she's using a narrow subspace scrambling field to block our transceivers, but I've got most of them tuned to a few bands she missed. It's not the best quality, but our communicators should be okay at least. We've also got the ship's sensors and internal scanners working, but long range communication's still offline."
"Guess we're on our own," Azera muttered, and then she spoke louder, "good work, lieutenant. You said internal scanners are up: do you have a fix on her location?"
"Yes sir," he replied, "she's on deck 2, heading for engineering."
"Get a security team to engineering now. We're heading there as well."
"Aye captain," he answered quickly, and the channel went silent, only to suddenly beep again a second later. Azera tapped her chest as she began to pace down the hall.
"Captain, it's Corspa," her first officer's steady voice crackled slightly through the interference, "we've just picked up three ships at the edge of the system, heading right for our position. It's the Borg, sir. They know we're here, and they're coming."
"Engines are still offline?"
"Afraid so," Corspa tersely replied, "we still have shields and weapons, but if she gets direct access to the override controls in engineering, it's a safe bet that'll change."
"Understood," she nodded, "Azera out."
* * *
By the time the door to her quarters chimed at the arrival of a visitor, Azera had changed into her pajamas, forced herself into bed, stared up at the darkened ceiling for half an hour, climbed back up and was in the middle of trying read a book, her eyes scanning the same paragraph she'd read eight times without thinking to flip it over to the next page.
"I'm sorry it's so late," Corspa smiled sheepishly at the door, "I'm honestly surprised you answered your combadge. If you're up for it, we can go over the report tonight."
"I'm really, really up for it," Azera answered as she ushered her first officer into the lounge and grabbed two cups of coffee from the replicator. She handed one of them to Corspa and then tumbled into a cushioned chair beside her, gulping her own cup down in one swallow.
"So the subspace dampening field's working," she asked.
"Yes sir," the Andorian nodded as she took a smaller sip, "her transceiver and interlink node are completely irreparable, so she shouldn't be able to send or receive any subspace transmissions anyway. But the dampening field will block any signals just in case."
"Good. Have you had any luck analyzing her neural processor?"
"I'm afraid not," Corspa shook her head a little, "we'd need to reconfigure the implant's settings just to download the data, and there's no way to do that without killing her."
"Hm," Azera nodded to herself and looked out the window for a moment before setting the empty coffee cup on the table between them and rising to her feet. Corspa blinked in confusion and stood up as well, and then spoke up as Azera began to move toward the door.
"There is more to the report," the commander awkwardly broke the silence, "we've been trying to interact with her, to reach out to her. But we're not having much luck."
"She's not cooperating," Azera asked suspiciously.
"She's not doing anything at all. She just stands there."
"Oh," she shrugged a little, "well, that's what they do."
"Not when you're around," Corspa replied, "she talks to you."
"It's a start. Captain, if you could help us, if you could work with her..."
"What about Lieutenant Onplav," the rose-haired girl suddenly cut off her first officer with a question, "he's a Betazoid. He could reach her much better than I would."
"Borg drones aren't easy to read," Corspa shook her head a little, "and besides, he can't sense anything if she's not thinking anything. I don't know why, but she only comes to life when she's talking to you. You might be our only hope of reaching her as an individual."
"That's a shame," Azera answered quickly, "I have too much to do right now."
"But sir, we have standing orders to make every effort to liberate a drone who..."
"We're already wasting three senior officers on this, Corspa," the captain suddenly snapped, whirling around to face her with a glare, "I'm not getting pulled in too."
"That's all, Commander."
"I see," Corspa sighed to herself, and then after a pause, "permission to speak freely?"
"Go ahead," Azera replied warily.
"You're weird about the Borg."
"None of us like them," the older woman explained, "but you don't even want to think about them. It's like most of the time you try to pretend they don't even exist."
"Your point," Azera glowered.
"This whole ship's a rumor mill when it comes to the senior officers. You should hear what they say about me and Nyzoph," Corspa tried to smile, to lighten the mood, only to be met by Azera's scowling frown, "but Azera, there are rumors about you too."
"About the way you act sometimes, about the Borg. I know," the Andorian paused for a moment, glancing down at the floor as though wondering whether to keep talking before giving a soft sigh and looking back up into Azera's eyes, "I know you can hear them..."
"Why would you say that," Azera snapped, mortified panic boiling over into fury.
"Who told you that," she snarled defensively.
"How would you know?!"
"Because you talk like them!"
Corspa's defiant shout, rising instinctively to match Azera's own furious tone, instantly gave way to a look of wrenching sympathy at the way her captain just stared back at her, the blood drained out of her face, her dark violet eyes wide for a moment and then suddenly twisting away with shame to stare out the window, fixing her stare on the streaking stars.
"It doesn't happen often," Corspa's voice a soft, reassuring tone again, "and I've never mentioned it to anyone. But we've faced the Borg enough now that... Azera, when you're tired, or there's too many of their ships, sometimes I see your lips moving a little when they're hailing us. Like you're speaking along with them. I know you don't notice it, but..."
Her words trailed off, her translucent reflection standing behind Azera in the glass.
"Telepathy," Azera answered softy, her voice shaking a little as her eyes kept tracing from one star to the next, "it's just because I'm telepathic, that's all."
"But it doesn't happen with Luverala," Corspa gently insisted, and then her voice steadied, "I know there are things about your past that you don't like to talk about, that you don't even want to think about. But right now they're clouding your judgement. It's my duty as your first officer to confront them... and as your friend, I want to help you through them. Azera...
"They assimilated you once," she asked softly, "didn't they?"
"NO!" Azera shouted in a panic, wrapping her arms tight around herself and staring harder through the window, and then she whispered hesitantly, "I don't know."
"Sir," Corspa said after a long silence between them, "you've more than earned my loyalty, and that of everyone on this crew. You've gotten us through things that would have destroyed any other ship. We've saved whole worlds under your command.
"I think the reason this is bothering you," she continued, "is because dealing with her reminds you of yourself. I think she sees it too somehow, and that's why she'll only talk to you. But whatever happened to you, you overcame it. You took the second chance Starfleet gave you and you really knocked it out of the park. Maybe we can help give her a second chance too. Look at what you've accomplished. Wouldn't you like to see what she can do?"
* * *
One of the red-clad security officers slammed backwards against the wall, his phaser dropping out of his hand as he stumbled dizzily and tried to balance himself against the railing, and another guard charged forward at the impassive young drone standing between the intersecting corridors, only for her to grab him by the throat with one small pale hand and fling him back down the hallway like a rag doll. She flexed her fingers once and silently continued down the silver corridor, and then paused again as a phaser beam sliced the air behind her. The orange glow melted against the translucent green bubble of her adaptive shielding as she glanced over her shoulder at the ensign firing the weapon, and then at the second and third officer aiming their phasers as well, three separate beams sweeping harmlessly across her shields.
She flung her mechanized left arm straight out toward a flashing blue corridor panel without turning around, and a pair of thin, snaking wires leaped out of her robotic hand to impale the touchscreen and twist deeper into the ship's circuitry. In another moment the gleaming tubules lashed themselves free again and she continued her stride as flashing red errors began to sweep along the corridor, bathing the whole deck in a strobing crimson glow.
"Deck 2 life support has been compromised," the computer's automated voice rang overhead, "all personnel evacuate immediately. Life support failure in 60 seconds."
Nyzoph had already sent the rest of his engineering staff to safety and narrowed his gray eyes at the sight of the Borg drone pacing steadily toward the engineering archway, his own powerfully built silhouette framed against the pulsing blue warp core. He turned away and darted to the engineering consoles to quickly type in a series of manual override codes.
"Computer," his voice tensed and steady, "increase the structural integrity field around engineering, seal off all the entrances and begin restoring life support, now!"
A shimmering white force field leaped up between the approaching Borg and the blue-lit shadows of the engine room. She took a cautious step toward it, just enough for the field to barely crackle with light along the tip of her nose, and then lifted and pressed her flat palm against the glowing surface. The emerald light of her own force field flared brighter and began to flicker against the security field, pulsing and blazing in a hissing duel that sent electric ripples sweeping through the air. Her eyepiece silently scanned the frequencies and adjusted her personal shield to match them and, after a few seconds, the force field projectors overhead exploded into a shower of sparks as the energy field vanished. She stepped through the raining sparks and continued her implacable march toward the warp core and its flashing panels.
"Six," Nyzoph shouted as he raised a phaser at her, "you don't have to do this."
The young drone paced around the engine and gazed calmly over the touchpad displays, and then lifted her cybernetic arm to unleash a pair of whipping tubules through the air, the writhing strands injecting themselves into the console. The screen instantly began to flash with a dizzying barrage of diagrams, schematics and readout displays from all over the ship. The chief engineer fired his phaser, stubbornly keeping the incandescent beam steady on the Borg even as it faded harmlessly away into the the ghostly green shell of her energy shield.
"Life support failure in 10 seconds," the computer announced.
The Andorian engineer lowered his weapon and cast one last, frustrated glance at the Borg drone calmly studying the charts and readings racing across the engineering console, and then he turned around and ducked back through an open pair of turbolift doors. He tapped a few buttons on the console and then leaned back against the wall, slapping his right palm across his combadge as the beige doors slid shut again and the turbolift began to rise.
"Nyzoph to the captain," he called out.
"Six of Twelve's taken control of the engine room. She cut life support to deck 2, but I think we can reroute power from the science lab to get it back online."
"Did everyone get out okay?"
"Yes sir," he answered, "the security team was injured trying to stop her, but our people got them off the deck in time. They should be on their way to sickbay now."
"Captain," Nyzoph continued, "there's one more thing. She must have downloaded the tactical modulation algorithms from our database. Our phasers won't work on her."
"I see. We're almost there, see what you can do about life support."
* * *
Two Days Before
"Great serve, Six!" Angel cheerfully called out across the holographic tennis court to his unlikely partner. The short, slight drone made no reply to his compliment, instead studying Azera and Corspa intently from across the net and then lifting her bare right hand to catch the yellow tennis ball as it materialized a few feet overhead and dropped into her palm. Against the bright blue sky of a simulated spring day, Azera could begin to imagine what the young girl she'd once been must have looked like. Even now, she couldn't be much older than nine or ten.
"Hey Six," the captain tilted her head as waved the Borg girl over to the net. Azera jogged across the court to meet her and then braced her palms against her bare knees, catching her breath and flipping back her ponytail with one hand before standing up straight again.
"Why," Azera asked the calmly approaching girl, "won't you talk anyone else?"
"They are irrelevant," she answered.
"But you think I'm relevant?"
"Well," Azera pressed her hands against her knees to lean down closer and look the little girl in the eyes, "I think
relevant, so wouldn't that make them relevant too?"
Six paused for a moment, quietly considering the statement, and then she nodded slightly and turned to look back over her shoulder at the Roanoke's security chief.
"Your performance has been acceptable," she stated simply.
"Stop it," the brown-haired man couldn't help but grin, "you're making me blush."
In truth, the two-on-two game might just as well have been Six practicing serves alone. What the armor-plated child lacked in agility she more than made up for with cybernetic strength, the geometric precision of her swings and the instantaneous calculations of her eyepiece as it scanned the court and mapped out a dozen different trajectories at a time. Azera jogged back to her corner of the court, lifted her racket as Six tossed the ball into the air... and as she blinked, a yellow flash darted across the net and the computer announced another point.
"Game-love. First set, Six and Cregin."
"That was," Corspa paused and shook her head with wonder, "decisive."
"You're telling me," Azera replied with a wincing smile, and then she looked up at the drifting blue clouds overhead and thought for a moment before calling out, "computer, import the physics settings from tennis training program Azera 34. Resume game."
Azera answered Corspa's confused look with a playful wink, and then lifted her hand to catch the holographic tennis ball as it dropped into her palm. She bounced it up and down a few times, tossed it lightly into the air and swung the racket to begin her serve. Neither Angel nor Six had time to take a single step before the ball had already flown past the net, bounced across their side of the court and vanished over the edge into the invisible walls of the holodeck.
"15-love," the computer chirped as Azera snatched the materializing ball out of the air.
"30-love," it declared a second later, and then "40-love."
Azera gave another swing of her racket and the tennis ball flashed impossibly fast across the net, bouncing right between her opponents and ricocheting out of bounds again.
"Game-love," the computer announced, "Second set, Azera and Corspa."
The drone immediately marched back to the net with a look that could almost be a scowl.
"You cheated," she flatly declared as Azera jogged back over to meet her.
"Maaaybe," the young captain sang, and then started whistling innocently.
"You altered the program's physics to accelerate the ball," Six continued, "you also changed the trajectory calculations so your serve could not go out of bounds."
"But you still lost," Azera smirked, leaning down with both her hands clasped behind her back to look the young girl in the eye again, "does that bother you, hmm?"
"It is irrelevant," Six answered, "this is an unproductive game."
"We could reset the program for one last round. But if it's irrelevant..."
"I will comply."
"Oh, I didn't mean that as an order," Azera answered with an obviously exaggerated tone of innocent misunderstanding, "after all, you're right. It's just an unproductive game."
"You are attempting," the drone looked decisively back up at the captain after a long, introspective pause, "to provoke an individual response through competition."
"Yep, probably," Azera smiled brightly, "is it working?"
Six of Twelve stared at her for a long, wordless moment, meeting Azera's look with one dark gleaming eye, and then she lifted her racket across her shoulder.
"You will lose," she announced as she turned back toward her side of the court.
"That's the spirit," Azera couldn't help but grin as she watched Six's proud march, and she spoke up, "computer, reset the physics parameters to default. Resume game."
* * *
"Azera to sickbay," the captain called out as she tapped her combadge and paced impatiently before the locked turbolift doors. She lifted a thin flat PADD from her belt, linked it to the ship's safety protocols to try to override the lock and sighed a little, reading the flashing red environment code beside its schematic diagram of deck 2 with a worried scowl. She focused her attention back to the voice that'd just answered on the other end of the channel.
"Dr Umliz here."
"Doctor, it's Azera," she repeated, "how's the security team?"
"Surprisingly intact," his voice as calm as ever, twinged with only a subdued hint of the tension permeating the rest of the ship, "considering that several of them went hand to hand with a Borg drone. A broken bone, several sprained ribs and bruises, but nothing serious."
"That's a relief," she answered with a small nod, though her voice hardly wavered from its grim focus, "Kwam, what happened to Six? Why did she turn on us?"
"I'm not sure she had a choice," his voice wavered through the static, "I can't be completely certain without having her in sickbay, but judging from the internal scanners, it looks like her subspace transceiver's working again. She's connected to the hive mind."
"Our scans showed it was too damaged," Azera snapped, "that it couldn't be repaired."
"It was," he replied, "the translink frequency's slightly different. The transceiver wasn't just repaired, it's been completely replaced. The EM field her nanoprobes use to coordinate their activities has jumped almost tenfold since our readings at the crash site. My guess is they've been slowly rebuilding her cortical implants ever since we found her. It just took this long for them to finish the process so they can go online and and reconnect her with the collective."
"I thought the nanoprobes couldn't do that," she insisted, "repair, yes, but rebuild them from scratch? Why haven't we seen this happening with other liberated drones?"
"Captain," he said quietly, "this might be happening precisely
of those other liberated drones. The Borg may be adapting to make it harder for them to escape."
"That's horrible," Azera whispered softly, giving her head a quick shake before speaking louder again, "what about the dampening field? Shouldn't that have stopped them?"
"I'm afraid all I can say is what you already know: it didn't work."
The ship suddenly bucked and lurched beneath their feet, nearly spilling the trio down a dangerously tilted corridor. Angel locked one arm around the railing and grabbed onto Auslaz's hand to keep her from falling while Azera snatched the turbolift doors with both hands. In another instant the corridor had leveled itself out again, leaving behind only a sickening vertigo.
Azera's combadge beeped again, and she tapped it.
"Captain," Corspa's voice rang from the bridge, "we're under attack. The Borg are trying to lock a tractor beam onto us and they're hammering the shields with torpedoes."
"Do we have weapons," Azera barked at her communicator as the ship lurched again, swaying precariously forward for just a second as a barrage of plasma torpedoes slammed across the Roanoke's aft shields and then leveling out again beneath her swaying legs.
"Negative," her first officer answered, "Lieutenant Onplav has his hands full just trying to keep Six from bringing our shields down. She's breaking the encryption codes as fast as he can set them up. A few more hits like that, though, and they'll come down either way."
Angel tapped his own communicator, listened intently to a muffled voice that Azera couldn't quite make out over the creaking, groaning onslaught against the shields, and then the security officer closed the channel with a tap of his finger and nodded to Azera.
"Sir," he called to her, "Nyzoph just confirmed deck 2 life support's back online."
"Good," the captain nodded to him, and then she spoke again to her combadge before tapping it and scrambling into the open turbolift to join her officers, "reroute power to the shields and have Luverala prepare for transwarp as soon as they're secure. We'll deal with Six."
* * *
"What was your name," Azera asked the girl over her shoulder as she leaned down to scroll through the holodeck's library of simulations, "your real name, I mean?"
"Six of Twelve," the pale, black-clad drone replied with just the slightest hint of confusion at the captain's question, "Tertiary Processor of Unimatrix 83."
"Okay," Azera persisted, "but what was your name before that?"
"Then there's no harm in saying it, right?"
"If you like," the young drone answered reluctantly after a slight pause, "Enala."
"Enala," Azera smiled a little as she stood upright again to look at her, the two of them framed by the hulking exterior archway of the holodeck, "that's a beautiful name."
"Beauty is irrelevant," Enala answered in a rote, flattened voice that sounded more like repetition than conviction, "that name is inefficient. It conveys no meaning."
"I think it conveys all kinds of meaning," Azera said softly, turning around to tap a few more buttons on the console before nodding, "okay, the program's ready."
The thick metal doors slid back to reveal a rolling, gently sloping meadow tinged with pale blue light, the turquoise-stemmed flowers waving through the steady breeze as thin wispy white clouds drifted across the sky toward a horizon ringed by dark leafy forests. The captain led the way through the arch and the Borg girl followed after a moment, glancing curiously about the landscape as the doors closed behind them and faded away into the azure fields.
"It's just a planet," she declared with what could almost have been a shrug.
"I guess you've seen plenty of them," Azera smiled, "huh?"
"My memory," Enala answered, "contains experiences from 1,307 planets."
"Impressive," the young woman whistled, and then she back up a few steps, stretching each of her legs like a track runner, "but you know the bad thing about memories?"
The girl didn't answer, but glanced toward Azera with a curious tilt of her head.
"You can't do impossible things in them," Azera said, "here we go!"
The captain took a running start across the field, her pony-tailed hair fluttering in the wind as she sprinted through the flowers, and then she leaped as high as she could into the air, her slender form silhouetted against the sky for a moment in its casual blue pants and wraparound, rose-colored tunic. Then her shadow darted higher into the air, swooping up across the clouds, spinning and diving toward the ground, and the Borg girl suddenly found herself watching Azera bobbing happily before her like a dandelion seed, her feet dangling above the ground.
"We are," Enala paused with muted confusion, "in a selectively weightless environment."
"Very selective," Azera winked, "come on, try it."
The drone looked sideways at the tree-rimmed horizon and took a quiet breath before she began to spring forward as well, the weight of her armor and implants gradually giving way to the building momentum of her run. As she ran the air seemed to grow thicker, more buoyant around her swinging limbs and, after a few more steps, she kicked herself up off the ground and suddenly tumbled headlong through the air and toward the clouds. Azera swooped up beside her and turned to face the young girl as they both flew higher above the cerulean fields.
"Just kick your legs whichever way you want to go," she explained to the startled drone, "and hold out your arms to fly faster. If you want to stop, just push back a little with your arms. You'll get the hang of it after a second - it feels more natural than it sounds."
Enala nodded and closed her single eye for a moment, and then kicked herself in a spinning, twisting arc above the ground like a rocket, her arms held out straight to send her racing across the meadow. She suddenly noticed the trees looming dangerously ahead and quickly pushed her palms downward to fling herself up past the branches and above the shadowy forest in a spiraling ascent that finally left her hovering hundreds of feet above the ground, immersed in the archetypal dream of flying that's molded into every non-avian child's thoughts.
When Azera floated back up in front of her, the girl spoke a little breathlessly.
"This is," she retorted through the straining hint of a smile, "an illusion."
"In a way, perhaps. But tell me something," the captain replied thoughtfully, "all those planets that you remember, how many of them did you physically set foot on?"
"None," Enala replied matter-of-factly.
"Then I'd say this experience, right here and now," Azera concluded as she dived up higher into the sky and beckoned for the girl to follow, "is more real than any of them. Come on, we're still too close to the ground. You haven't even seen what it's like in the clouds."
"How high does it go," the girl asked with stifled, barely-repressed curiosity.
"All the way to the stars," Azera called out from overhead with a wave before dipping down in a quick orbit around Enala and floating back up again, "I'll show you."
The drone kicked her feet down against the air and propelled herself even higher, leaping ahead of Azera and plunging upward into the shimmering, glowing white mists of the clouds drifting above them. For a moment, despite the eyepiece and angular black prosthetics of her body, Azera could only see her as Enala, a lost child beginning to find herself again amid the wonder of a holographic fairy tale. And as the girl stretched her arms to swoop down like a bird, past Azera and up into the clouds again, the sky rang with her giddily surprised laughter.
* * *
"Six of Twelve," Azera called out sternly through the ominously blinking shadows of the engineering deck at the drone plugged silently into the consoles, and then she lifted her flat palm toward the Borg. A wave of invisible force swept around the captain like a windstorm and suddenly flung itself out across the room to batter against the intruder. The drone began to stumble backward for a second and then suddenly clamped her metallic feet tighter against the beige carpet and continued scanning the readouts as the wires slide deeper into the control panel, oblivious to the pounding energy. Azera lowered her hand after a moment, panting.
"She's anchoring herself with the gravity plating," Auslaz shook her head as she flipped open a tricorder and waved it toward the drone, "telekinesis won't budge her."
"Maybe I can pull her away," Angel replied, and he took a quick breath as he began to sneak into the engine room to try to surprise the young drone with a tackle.
"Wait," Auslaz shouted in panic, "don't go near her!"
"I'm not going to hurt her," Angel sighed, his plan already ruined by her worried shout.
"It's not that," the Trill science officer called back to him, "it's her readings! Dr Umliz was right, her implants are being rebuilt. She has assimilation tubules now!"
"Six," Azera shouted frantically across the engineering archway as their security chief reluctantly rejoined the two of them, "Six of Twelve, Tertiary Processor... Enala!"
The girl looked up slightly from the control panels, casting one gleaming eye across her shoulder to meet Azera's stare for a moment, even as the engineering displays continued to silently flash with her cybernetic struggle to unlock the shield's encryption codes.
"She's connected to the Borg," Auslaz whispered sideways to her captain as she read the tricorder readouts, "the bandwidth is still low, but it's getting faster. 78% and rising."
"Enala, it's okay," Azera tried to steady her voice, "this isn't your fault. We didn't know the implants could replace themselves so quickly. Come with me to sickbay and we can turn them back off again, and keep them off for good this time. We'll be just like we were before."
"This way is better," the drone replied with a slightly echoing but still childish voice, and Azera couldn't tell if she was speaking with her own lips or through the computer itself, "your voice will be with me, and your crew's voices will be with you. We'll all be together."
"84% now," Auslaz read from the tricorder as she fidgeted helplessly with the device.
"No, we won't be together," Azera shook her head quickly, trying to blink away the gleaming tears from her eyes, "that's not how it works. You'll know everything we know, but that means there'll be no more talking together, no more sharing anything, no more learning about each other. We won't have any more experiences together, just memories."
"But we'll be one," Enala's voice rang unsteadily, and Azera suddenly, vividly sensed that the drone wasn't making her own arguments, she was repeating back the arguments the rest of the Borg were giving her. The emotion in the girl's own voice was pleading confusion.
"If we're all one," Azera answered her softly, "that means we're nobody. Let us help you. There are so many more experiences waiting for you out here, if you'll trust us."
The drone stared over her shoulder for a long, wordless moment and then turned back to look at the control panels, the numbers scrolling across the screen racing faster now. The ship suddenly rocked and shuddered beneath their feet again, another barrage of torpedoes slamming against the shields, and Azera steadied herself as Auslaz read her tricorder again.
"Connection's at 92%" her science officer sighed, "it's not her anymore. It's them."
"You don't want," the girl's slightly metallic voice rang out again, "to rejoin us?"
"No Enala," Azera pleaded with her, "we want you with us, but we can't go with you."
The Borg made no sign of having spoken, no upward glance, no shift in posture as she continued to scan the display with her eyepiece, her mind linked into the ship's computer and playing a lightning-fast chess game against the bridge to hold onto every system she'd captured and usurp the shields as well. A few more moves and she'd have a checkmate.
The ship rocked again under the relentless salvo and Azera's combadge chimed.
"Captain," Corspa's voice began even as Azera's digital tablet beeped from her waist, "we're not going to make it through another round like that. I recommend we..."
Azera had already completely stopped listening, the thoughtless habit of lifting up her PADD to see the message giving way instantly to wide-eyed shock at the words on it. She lowered the thin touchscreen device from her face to stare at the Borg drone still swiveling her head slightly left and right as she monitored the cybernetic struggle within the computer, then back at the words on the screen. Her dark lilac eyes shimmered brightly in the shadowy gloom as she clutched the tablet tighter in one hand - and then she quickly hoisted up her phaser rifle with her right arm, unleashing a quick flurry of phaser bolts through the engine room.
The orange bolts slammed through the Borg's armor, sparks bursting from her circuits as she tumbled backward from the controls and fell lifelessly against the floor.
"Azera to the bridge," the captain said blankly as she tapped her communicator again, "the shields should be secure now. Can you restore access to transwarp?"
"Aye captain," Corspa's audibly relieved voice answered, "engines are back online."
"Transwarp to Sol System now."
The universe suddenly elongated around them, corridors stretching out endlessly for an instant, the walls twisting and folding themselves into impossible Moebius shapes that forced Azera to close her eyes tight. When she opened them again, the world had changed back to normal, and the creaks and groans of the Borg's onslaught had fallen silent.
"We're in Earth orbit," her first officer practically shouted with relief into the combadge, "and there's no matching Borg transwarp signature. They're not following us."
"Good work," Azera answered tonelessly, "Azera out."
She stared at the fallen drone on the floor, the phaser rifle hanging loose from her shoulder as her left hand tightened its trembling, white-knuckled grip on her PADD. Auslaz and Angel both walked up behind her shoulders and hesitantly broke the ringing silence.
"Captain," Angel asked, "how did you get past her shield?"
Azera answered him by simply handing him her electronic tablet before staggering a few steps away to try steady herself. He looked over the oddly black screen with blinking confusion before he gradually understood what he was seeing. All the ordinary blue buttons and frames of the LCARS display had vanished to leave two tiny yellow words in the middle:
"Yellow's her favorite color," her voice tremored a little, "she told me that this morning..."
* * *
Captain's Log, Stardate 90771.31 - It's been almost an hour and there's no sign of Borg activity within the sector. It'd seem that the loss of resources an attack on Earth would entail simply isn't worth one dead drone in their view. Starfleet would prefer a more thorough autopsy and analysis of the Borg's new regenerative subsystems, but I've insisted that Enala's body will be afforded the funerary rites of her people. We've performed more than enough scans for their purposes, and besides, she's already given her life for us. Isn't that enough?
"I never thought to ask about her species," Azera confessed to Kwam as the two of them stood in the corner of the cargo bay, watching the rest of the crew gathering and talking in hushed whispers around the gleaming black torpedo casing that served as Enala's coffin, "everything happened so fast, and I thought we'd have time to talk about stuff like that later...
"Did your scans show anything," she asked the doctor after a long pause, "do we know where she came from, or what her people would have wanted for her?"
Kwam gave a soft nod and he glanced across the room at the casket, the top panel opened to reveal the girl's pallid face, her one natural eye closed as though asleep.
"They would want her buried in the soil," he explained gently beneath the crew's murmurs, "so that her comra can be released into the afterlife. She was Ocampa, captain."
"Ocampa," Azera repeated in shock. Kwam nodded again
"There's a very, very small number of them living in this quadrant. Her family must have been assimilated sometime late last year. She was a little less than six months old."
"Six months," the captain breathed to herself, "she'd hardly had any life at all..."
"Just what she'd learned from the Borg," he sighed, "and what she experienced here on the Roanoke. It wasn't nearly what she deserved, but I pray that it was enough."
Azera nodded to him and slipped into the crowd to join the rest of her friends already standing by the young girl's coffin. Luverala stood apart from them, lost in his own thoughts, while Nyzoph and Angel spoke softly a few feet away. The captain wondered what most of the crew must think, having never met or known anything about her other than that she was a Borg drone, but they still spoke as softly and respectfully as they would at any wake. Azera was glad for that. Even if she didn't get to live as a person, at least she could be remembered as one.
The captain joined Corspa and Auslaz as they looked down at the young girl.
"I still don't understand something," Auslaz reflected as she looked up from the casket at her captain, "when she asked if we'd 'rejoin' them. What did she mean by that?"
"She was confused, Auslaz," Corspa shook her head a little, "damaged."
"Aren't we all," Azera said quietly, and she lifted up the bright yellow blanket she'd brought with her to slip it beneath the casing and tuck it gently around Enala's shoulders.
Last edited by sparklysoldier; 04-11-2013 at