Literary Challenge #39 : Lone Drone
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Join Date: Feb 2013
02-27-2013, 01:48 AM
The Lieu- sorry, the Commander (I have to get used to saying that!) was easy to pick out. This was Risa, after all, planet of flower-printed sarongs and fruity drinks with little umbrellas in them. The drab and the dangerous stand out, and the Commander (yes! I remembered!) is both in an unsteady mix. She was an angular, hairless sort of woman, all hips and chin and shoulders, with blotchy, jaundiced skin, like she'd been dipped in acid by the topknot. Among the bright colors and flowing silks, she stuck out in that moving, brown leather bodysuit - it covered her all the way to the tips of her hair, but she did like to draw the faceplate back in social situations. She looked like a Jem'Hadar shock trooper in a toy store. It was hilarious. I had to hug her.
"Congratulations, Commander!" I squealed out as I ran across the sand and wrapped her in the tightest hug I could. She tensed up like a copper-bondium-platinum alloy coil under a light photonic charge, all rigid back and pained expression. Eventually she patted me on the back, mechanically, and jerked out a "You too, Lieutenant," before peeling me off of her body like I was an unwelcome second skin. "Promotions all around, it would seem. I just got back from checking in with the Admiral. Who knew a reward involved this much paperwork?"
"But it's Risa, Commander!" I was getting better at the title thing, I could just feel it. "You should see Seichu, she's confusing everyone at the firewalking pit. Buried up to her neck. Lyell's in the clinic after the fight last night. Half a bruise, she is. It's wonderful! Can't you just relax for once?"
"No can do, Lieutenant Judun," she said. She was holding a datapad under one armored brown arm, and flashed it up to me. I could recognize the lined face of Doctor Dorig even in profile. "Oh, no," I whimpered, "They've scheduled you for psych tests again?" I mean, yeah, the Commander is of a particularly weird kind of species - if it even is a species, there's definite evidence for genetic tampering. But she can't help what she is, and she does good work even if it does leave her a little scattered sometimes. Hell, when you look at it, none of our little band is particularly unbroken: Lyell is walking post-traumatic stress disorder, Seichu is a deprogrammed cult member, and T'Pame is... well, Vulcan. Me? I'm Osroe. I think that's a disorder in and of itself.
"Every time I get a new berth, it seems. Which is even more paperwork. I have to put in for requisitions, once I actually decide what kind of ship I'd like to Captain next. Provided they don't peg me as incurably insane or insatiably hungry for the mnemonic juice of the innocent, that is." She sighed a great, Commander sigh, as if her lungs were pressed flat by an incalculable weight of stone. "This may take a while, Osroe. Might as well enjoy your shore leave."
"About that," I said, tapping my elegantly manicured finger against my elegantly molded chin, "I have a little side project I'd like to see done, before we go back to scampering about the universe getting shot by all and sundry. Before they reassign the Compulsion, think I could borrow the runabout? I've got Anderson coming with me and everything. See, there's this guy on Hotep IV, kind of a nut, huge biological collection that I've been itching to get my tricorder into..."
I laid it all out for her. How could she resist? The Celeii Sky Dragon had been thought extinct for decades! If this guy had one in medical stasis, then I'm certain I could clone the species back to a healthy breeding population in no time. All it required was a little negotiation, and who would be better at buttering up an overeducated hermit than blonde, beautiful, freshly-tanned science officer Osroe Judun? All I'd really need to do is nip some samples, and voila - one extinct species, ready to serve.
Of course I was approved. Half the crew was on Risa already, and as much as I love the place (and the people, and the drinks, and watching Commander Mnemophage bake in the sun), I was already feeling that itch at the back of my knees that comes when there's something more important I should be doing. So it was the very next day that me and Brian Anderson beamed back aboard the Compulsion - the lovely, black-painted, beat-to-hell Nova that we had all called home for the last year and change - slipped onto her well-appointed runabout and flew right out to talk one cranky old biologist out of his extinct apex predator.
Transwarp is an odd place, especially for a Trill. Ever felt that there's a pothole inside you, growing larger with every bump and rustle? But it's blessedly short (usually), and we popped right out in the Gamma Orionis system before we even had time to replicate some breakfast. Brian is a nice sort of fellow, very courteous, an old-style English gentleman - it was actually him who insisted on coming with me, out of some outdated notion of chivalry, I suppose. Or he liked me. Bundle of repression, that guy. Still, I can replicate my own eggs, and left Brian at the helm while I attended to the very important business of eating (and studying up on my Celeii animal cell biology). We switched only when he was perfectly certain I was absolutely satisfied - a gentleman! And not that bad looking - and so it was me who got the first long-range sensor readings on Hotep IV.
And me who almost fell out of her seat at the sight of Borg debris circling the inhabited world. There were colonists down there! I had to interrupt Brian's tea, at least long enough to get him to notify Starfleet, while I increased our speed and collated the data as it came in. A lot of wreckage, and in a state where I couldn't readily identify what it had belonged to. It was Borg to the buttons, though, from the right angles and gunmetal finish to the ugly green gases spewing out of its wrecked interior. A big, stretched ring of former menace - perhaps a Cube, or several Spheres - circling the planet like a closing fist of doom. And none - no, one life sign. Something had hit this thing hard, and Starfleet had no idea it happened. We knew why they came here... but what had beaten them down?
We pulled out of warp directly over the planet, sensors agog, Brian on the horn with Starfleet appraising them of the situation. We were ordered to remain in orbit and continue to take readings, while a science vessel would be dispatched to check on the planet itself. I agreed wholeheartedly - doesn't take a beautiful genius Trill to gather that two officers in a runabout are the wrong sort of people to walk into a potential foothold situation. And there was still that one life sign, all alone in his sealed and drifting portion of wreckage. You could almost feel bad for the guy - except that, as a Borg drone, he probably wasn't feeling anything for himself anymore.
I continued to poke him with the sensors, though. Definitely male, probably of Vulcan or Romulan origin, and the only reason he survived is because he was, well, halfway to a machine. The section of wreckage he was stuck in was some sort of exterior weapons platform - he was sealed in, no way to regenerate, no light, heat or power, effectively in stasis. Once we got some proper equipment we could see about disconnecting and removing some of his implants - he'd sure have a story to tell, once he got used to being the only man in his own head again. And almost as if in anticipation of rescue, I saw the little dot of wreckage light right up - minimal power reserves, enough to get the lights on, as if telling the universe, hey! I'm here, I'm waiting for you!
Except then he shot us.
We weren't in any way expecting it. Sensors showed no torpedoes, no way there was enough power to support a beam weapon, but it was none of the above - a new sort of projectile that fired quick and came at us screaming through the black, dark on dark and difficult to target. We made a stab at it with the phasers but then it was on us, connecting with an all-consuming crash that ate our aft shields and pierced the hull. Then the wreckage read no life signs... and our runabout read three.
I turned to check on Brian just in time to see it reaching for him. Ghastly white face, half-burnt, a leering black-fanged monster inside - and it had Brian by the throat! I shot him, I did, all sympathy gone and burned out but what did it matter? Brian fell to the floor, grabbing at his throat, and I could see by the labored breathing - by the little black veins already twining up his face - that it got him. And he looked at me with this absolute shame, like it was all his fault and said, "Please, miss, think of your own safety," and that's when I knew I couldn't shoot him. I was never very good at shooting anything. I just shut the door to the aft compartment and blew the controls from the outside. There would be a ship here soon, after all. They'd get him in time. We'd be fine.
We weren't fine. That projectile - boarding pod - whatever, it had done a number on us but good. I could see one of our nacelles just drifting out in front of us, sheared right off, and the other wasn't responding. Just grazed the power system at that, taking out one of the buffers and making the EPS conduits do a crazy realignment dance just to keep all the systems in place. Engines were right out, and we were bleeding power. Drifting closer and closer to Hotep IV, just one more piece of debris among our brethren - but unlike them, our orbit was decaying. We had two days, six hours, forty-four minutes and counting before our poor little runabout kissed the atmosphere and killed us both - providing, of course, that the environmental systems lasted that long.
Provided we did. Oh, Brian, why did you have to go and get yourself assimilated? I couldn't help it: I hit the comms, spoke as cheery as I could, smiling because I know you can hear it even if you can't see it. "Hello in there," I chirped, "How are we holding up?"
Horrible gasping. Raw, wretched, wet sounds, like a steak being cut with a cricket bat. "Never better," he growled. "Atmosphere is sealed. I have the replicator. I'm certain I can last forever. Would you do me the great favor of decompressing the aft compartment?"
"No can do, sweetie. Too much paperwork." Still smiling, always smiling.
"But of course. Then please beam yourself to ground. I'd rather they find one drone than two, after all." It sounded like it hurt to breathe, let alone speak. Something had gone horribly wrong with his voice.
I did a quick checkup of the power reserves. Bad, and getting worse. Not that I couldn't still engage the transporter; I could, but that would cut life support from two days to about fifteen minutes, and in his state - in any state - he'd be dead before help arrived. They can do great things with Borg these days. We've all learned so much. They'd get to us in time, and he'd be back to his prim, chipper self. Iced tea on the beach, and a girl that doesn't mind that it clinks when they kiss.
So I lied. "Too far gone for that, mister. You're going to have to deal with me for a while yet. I've got a distress beacon up and you rang Starfleet, we'll be good, okay? If you start hearing voices, you can tell them where to shove it."
"That's what I worry about, miss. They know very well where to shove it." Another bout of horrid gasping. "I'm very glad there's no mirror back here. Please don't engage the video." So of course that's exactly what I did, and there was poor Brian Anderson, a fallen soldier in Tactical red, hand over his throat like it was stuck there. He was already going white. Hair falling out. Little black bits sticking out of the corners of his mouth like a half-swallowed spider. I cut the feed and that was when I broke, big warm tears, and I think he heard me too. Why else would he cut the comms?
I tried to keep busy. Did a complete scan of the planet's surface, down to every last ant and fungal colony. Would you guess there wasn't a single drone anywhere? I could even pick up that Sky Dragon, one heartbeat per hour, all alone on a little island well away from the rest of the world. Hi there, little guy. Sleep well. Except by that point transporting even one person was out of the equation; I had underestimated the compounded effect of the power drain. Make it one day and that was stretching it. At least we'd never see planetfall. I set a program in place to kill non-essential systems in cascading order of importance. We'd have time. They'd find us. We'd be fine.
I tried to sleep. You have no idea how weird that is for me. There's this little metal button, see, nestled right up where the spinal column meets the skull, designed, tested and implemented by yours truly as the most reasonable cure for a lifetime's worth of insomnia. I max out at two, two and a half hours of sleep a night. Just fine on a starship. Pretty awful in a derelict runabout. When I managed it, it was fitful. When I didn't, I was pacing my little six-by-six foot coffin, checking how bad the systems were at, watching that stupid nacelle get farther and farther away from us, watching Hotep IV get closer in the viewscreen, trying not to eat off all my fingernails. Every now and again I would check on Brian, just a little Hey, Sweetie, but all was quiet back there and I couldn't check visuals, I just couldn't.
I forget what I was doing - checking one of the subsystems, shutting down the weapons, something - but in time, all too short a time, something started banging on the aft compartment door. Something. Because I did open comms, "Hey, Sweetie?" but what responded said "Release us!", and it was using Brian's voice. Something there, but not anyone I knew. Shut it down. Nobody needs that. They'll just give him a little stun when they get here, gentle as gentle is, and then he'll wake up in some sickbay wondering where did the hours go? We'd be fine. Where was that damned ship?
Bang, bang, bang went the doorway. I kept working. Shields were down to absolute minimum needed to keep the microdebris from piercing the hull. All it would take would be a breath to knock us over, spin us into one of those Cube chunks, wham, gone. Wham went the aft door, again and again, like a metronome. I could hear him calling through the door. "You will comply. Release us. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated." Didn't even have the accent anymore. Wouldn't that be a funny thing, a Borg drone with an English accent? I'm pretty sure I laughed.
Hunger came quicker than thirst, but thirst is always more ravenous. He did have the replicator back there, after all. Before long I was smacking my lips and sucking on the ends of my hair. Long range sensors were the next to crap out - bye bye, hours of scanning the depths of space for anything like a rescue - and already I could almost begin to see the lights start to dim. He just never stopped with the banging, the yelling. I started to yell back, after a while, Shut Up, Just Shut Up, but that only made it worse, knowing I was listening. He started using my name - "Osroe Judun, you can not continue this pointless persistence" - and I thought I heard parts of the accent start to creep back into Brian's voice. See? Getting better by the minute.
Short range sensors died next, leaving me with nothing more than dim running lights and the visual feed from directly outside the runabout. Without having to worry about maintaining those non-essential systems, I busied myself with rigging up a makeshift water still using the left sleeve of my uniform, a boot, and a console coolant tank. And it was going quite well, too, until the gravity died on me, spewing big grey gobs of indigestible silicon-saline liquid into the cabin like the tears of all my fallen hopes. Wham went the aft door, and I could feel it in the deck plates beneath me.
"This ship is dying, Osroe," shouted the thing that was Brian Anderson, "but we do not have to die with it."
That got to me. I hit the comms - visuals, audio, all of it, uncaring of the power drain - and just started yelling. Listen Mister, and then a lot of well-meaning but truly desperate defiance, because the truth was I was scared out of my half-ruined uniform, I was thirsty, I was wired on adrenaline, I can never ever sleep and no one was coming to save us. The last functioning parts of the console gave us maybe four hours at this point, even with the cascade shutdown, at which point environmental systems would die for good and then maybe, maybe half an hour. The cold would get me before the oxygen did. Didn't know if that was a good thing or not. Didn't care.
They keep telling you of the risks, when you join Starfleet, especially in this day and age. War going on, after all. Terrible risks, wonderful rewards. And after the Host program decided they wanted nothing to do with a vain, insomniac Trill, who else could I count on to expand my education to the levels it deserved? You never do think about the dying, though. If you do, you always figure it's going to be a quick thing - disruptor fire, exploding consoles, maybe flash decompression. But the lights were going, the gravity was gone, and I was spinning above an uncaring world while the animate corpse of my former friend beat on the door and tried to convince me to just give up.
But you see, I couldn't. It had him now, I could see it. Still in Tactical red, bless his heart (or what was left of it), pale skin corpse white and contrasted against the black metal bits eating their way along his formerly familiar features. Hair only in patches, now. Centurion plates growing over his cheeks. Green glass frosting one blue eye, crack by crack as I watched. And he knew I was watching, and he looked at me.
"We know about you, Osroe Judun," he said to me. "We have the experience of Brian Anderson and we know you do not wish to die here." Damn right I didn't. And I didn't want him to die, either, and none of us would if I could help it. "Sleepless Osroe. You cannot stand one night of unconsciousness. How will you endure an eternity of nothing?" He lifted one white hand, skeleton outlined in hard black metal. "The one you call Brian Anderson is part of something vast and undying. His shell will adapt to the conditions of this failing vessel. You do not have to die here. You do not have to die at all. You will be assimilated." And damn it, he was beginning to make sense.
So I killed the link. "Go to hell," I whispered, and once again, he began to smash against that bulkhead, heavy and regular as a piston. Three hours, forty minutes to go. I was beginning to get the mother of all headaches. I checked and - yep, environmentals beginning their steady decline. Could be the noise, could be the stress, could be the beginning of oxygen starvation. Borg nanites often serve as CO2 scrubbers inherent in the lungs, and can erect filter modules in minutes. Internal heat sources can draw from ingested biomass. In extreme cases, a drone can enter a state of hibernation which can survive exposure to vacuum. If given enough time to generate the needed components. Like, say, three hours, forty minutes.
All I'd have to do is open the door. Just cut it open and I'd live forever. Kind of.
I kicked myself to the viewscreen and looked out at space. We had finally stopped our spin, caught in the gravity well of the nearby planet, with our nose pointed blessedly outward to the rim of the uncaring universe. The law of averages assumes that somewhere out there, if not now then at some close future time, someone like me will come round again. Maybe she'll find berth on a starship, maybe she'll make some odd friends. Maybe she'll be able to sleep through the night and get joined to something older and greater. Bang bang on that door, brother Brian. It's not such an odd concept after all.
At T-minus two hours it began to get pretty chilly. I mean, I've been in some cold places, and you don't traipse around the universe in a miniskirt without expecting environmental resistance, but there's cold and then there's black void of space cold. I did actually take my jacket off, set my phaser to the lowest setting and fuse that sleeve back on with a bit of repurposed chipwork from one of the dead consoles. Ugly looking thing, but it helped, a little. If I cupped the frost on the viewscreen in my hands, my body heat would warm it enough to drink. It tasted like desperation.
Bang. "You are failing, Osroe Judun. You will be assimilated. You will live through this." Yes, he had definitely reacquired the English accent. Wonder if this is a new adaptation? Wonder if it serves a purpose? At T-minus one hour I had to hug my legs in to keep warm, rub all up and down my spots to keep the blood flowing. Tricorder showed a distinct threat of frostbite if I couldn't maintain an adequate temperature. Bang went the closed door. He seemed to be doing all right in there. Keeping active.
Frost on the viewscreen, like white wings over dark sky. T-minus thirty minutes.
I had my phaser in my hands then. I had some half-cocked idea to gather loose materials and see about getting something embering, completely forgetting that they design these things to be fire retardant and I really shouldn't be using up my oxygen in any case. Or maybe I just didn't want to die, because when what used to be Brian said for the thousandth time, "Resistance is futile," all I could respond with was a tired little, "Sure".
There was a strike to shake the universe, a wham that coursed through the entire vessel. I had my phaser pointed at the door and my eyes at the stars. All those little fires. The whole universe seemed to shudder from some all-consuming impact..
And then the beautiful, bulbous blue saucer of a Horizon-class Starfleet vessel just filled the screen, spearing slow from right to left like a hand breaking the surface of a lake. Grasping a drowning man's hair. Pulling him up. With a stasis field, as it turned out. Like all good drowning men deserve.
There was a tick from my communicator, and I slapped it, frantically. "Starfleet Runabout Twitch, this is the USS Fugue. How's it going in there?"
I floated, goggling. "Lyell?!" I practically screamed.
"Just the one. Turns out old Dorig knew the Captain better than she let on. This beauty was waiting for us almost before the paperwork was done, and we figured we'd stop by and pick you up. You and our runabout. Which you're fixing, you know. What happened out here?"
The tears were freezing on my cheeks even before I knew they were there. "Anderson... Brian is..."
"Going to be fine," interrupted Seichu. Lovely, alien Seichu with her voice like cracking walnuts. "Medical scans show that not even half his organs are integrated yet. You're going to love this ship, my companion. Let's get you home."
"Osroe Judun!" cried a muffled English cyborg. I was right. It was kind of funny. "You will not escape. Resistance is futile!"
"Sure," I said, "But better than the alternative. Fugue, two to beam up." And with a great rush and sparkle, I became the light.
Last edited by mussapiens; 02-27-2013 at
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