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Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2012
Posts: 106
# 26
03-24-2013, 08:17 PM
Literary Challenge #32: Into the Hive, Part 2

Azera Xi: Original Sin

"Engine room," Corspa tapped her combadge as she paced around the bridge and cast a quick glare out at the viewscreen, narrowing her eyes at the glowing white band of the Milky Way sweeping through the unbroken darkness of interstellar space, "what's our status?"

"Warp engines are back online," Nyzoph's voice rang through the channel, "transwarp will take a little longer, but it shouldn't be a problem. We can leave on your command."

"Good," the Andorian first officer nodded, and she ran her fingers between her antenna and through her white hair, looking worriedly over at the empty captain's chair before turning her attention to the science station along the wall, and the Trill officer typing frantically across the polished black touchpad screens, "do we have a fix on the Borg cube's warp trail?"

"Yes sir," Auslaz nodded anxiously as she looked up from the glowing starcharts and rolling columns of numbers at the ranking officer, "I projected their course and... well... sir, they're going to the Gamma Orionis sector. I think they're taking her to the unicomplex."

"No," Corspa couldn't help but whisper to herself, and then she spoke louder, more firmly, with a glance around at the rest of the senior officers, "we'll need some way to get in there without half a dozen cubes pouncing us the moment we enter the system. Suggestions?"

"The Paulson Nebula," Luverala called out after a second from his workstation.

"Okay," the bemused first officer replied, "we can't really take a nebula with us."

"No, no," he shook his head sheepishly, "but it's one of the few natural phenomena we know about that can block Borg sensors. I think I can modify the electrostatic properties of our shields to mimic the nebula's composition. We'll be a moving blind spot for them."

"Sounds good," Corspa nodded as she paced toward the middle of the bridge, and she turned to the tactical station, "speaking of which, what's our shield and weapon status?"

"They're both still down," Angel sighed a little as he read over the schematic readouts, and then he looked up at her, "but there's no serious damage. We'll have them up and running before we're even halfway there. But sir, as the security chief, I have to advise you that," and he paused sadly before he spoke again, "it's likely she's already been assimilated."

"I understand," Corspa quietly replied, "in fact, we're going to assume just that."


"Every Federation starship has standing orders to liberate a Borg drone who shows the potential for individuality," she continued, "if Azera's been assimilated, then I'd say she has incredible potential for individuality. Would you agree with that assessment?"

"Absolutely sir," the security chief nodded with a relieved smile.

"I don't get it," Auslaz spoke up again from the science station, her voice straining between nervousness and angry frustration, "they didn't even bother to cripple our ship. The cube just raced up out of nowhere, grabbed Azera and left again. Why would they do that?"

"I don't know," Corspa shook her head a little and reluctantly sat down in the empty command chair, "as for our ship, my guess is they don't consider us a threat."

She flipped open one of the armrest's companels and silently set a course for the Gamma Orionis sector, the dark heart of the Borg's gradual corruption of the Alpha Quadrant.

"Let's go prove them wrong."

First Officer's Log, Stardate 90871.91 - We're continuing to follow the trail of the Borg cube that abducted Captain Azera Xi from the Roanoke, a course which is leading us directly toward the unicomplex they've constructed in the Gamma Orionis sector. We still don't have any idea why they might have taken her. Starfleet's authorized a rescue mission and the modifications to our shields should be in place by the time we arrive. As for the captain's connection to the Borg, I suspect the only ones who really know the answer are the Borg themselves.

* * *

Azera barely had time to rise up from her command chair before she'd felt a ruthless grip tightening around her chin, lifting her off her feet as a pair of thin serpentine needles stabbed and sank into the side of her throat. The Roanoke's bridge swam and grew darker around her, Angel's voice slow and warbling as he shouted a warning, as he lifted a uselessly unmodulated phaser against the Borg drone that held her in its grip. She looked back down at its corpse-white face, a single ebon eye gleaming beside the clicking black machinery that filled half its visage and had replaced its right eye completely. Then the ship faded away, the hissing phasers and wailing klaxons receding into a soft murmuring chorus of voices. She tried to fight against them, to thrash and twist away from the icy green transporter beam that snatched her from the ship, to block their voices out of her mind even as her own thoughts began to sink and drown beneath them, and then her consciousness drifted deeper into the cold black oblivion of uneasy sleep.

It was only when she awoke in a gallery awash in the green glow of Borg technology to find herself still wearing her Starfleet uniform that she realized they'd only sedated her. She lifted herself groggily to her feet and fumbled vainly for her missing combadge, and then gave up with a resigned sigh to stare slowly around at the room. Each wall opened into a winding black corridor, all of them flickering with countless Borg alcoves as far as the eye could see, and her blood froze with the realization that the shadows along the edges of the dim chamber were dotting her with dozens of pinpoint red lasers. A crowd of drones surrounded her on every side.

"Azera Xi," a woman's voice rang through the darkness, warm and inviting in spite of the surroundings, speaking with a pitch as mathematically precise as any instrument, "captain of the USS Roanoke, NCC-93876. We've been wanting to meet you for some time now."

And Azera instantly clamped her hands over her ears with a terrified cry.

The voice emerged from innumerable voices, an entire civilization speaking aloud, all of them rising and falling together in a perfect cadence to weave themselves into a single being. Each word pierced her mind, burning and flashing with brilliant white agony, every syllable a bullet bursting through her thoughts and shattering them completely. She died with each word, arose from the merciful silences between them, and died again as they spoke once more.

She'd read a myth about one of Zeus's lovers bursting into flames at the sight of his true form, and now she understood what the story meant even more vividly than the ancient Greeks who'd first told it did. She helplessly watched a robotic spinal column snapping into place within the empty cybernetic shell of a woman, the torso and head sighing with contentment as she stretched her new limbs and took her first graceful steps through the room, an agelessly beautiful woman with alabaster skin and eyes as black and gleaming as the cables that twisted through the back of her head - and she understood. For most people, looking at this strange creature meant looking at the tip of an iceberg, the avatar of something mercifully hidden beneath the surface. But Azera could see through the water. She could see the vast looming shape that protruded just a tip of itself into corporeal form, and she knew the fear and awe of seeing a god.

"What are you," she heard her own voice whimpering aloud.

"I am the Beginning," a million million voices spoke to Azera through the lips and words of that solitary woman approaching her, "the End. The One Who is Many."

"The Queen," Azera Xi muttered weakly to herself, clutching desperately at the Federation phrase like a raft amid the twisting maelstrom of that voice, "you're the Borg Queen."

"A clumsy metaphor drawn from an archaic form of social stratification," the black-clad woman answered, and a trillion separate voices rose and fell beneath each word, "it suggests authority where there is only unity. I do not rule the Borg. I simply am the Borg."

It may be that our role on this planet, Azera's fraying thoughts drifted helplessly to a quote from a famous writer in her literary studies, is not to worship God but to create him.

And so they had. A civilization collapsed into a celestial singularity, a mind that thinks with trillions of minds and sees the universe through trillions of eyes. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? How many people would it take to equal God? Such questions used to be abstractions, but the answer stood calmly before her, so terrible and beautiful that Azera had to close her eyes again to hold onto herself. Deus ex Machina. God from the Machine.

"So I guess," Azera tried to scowl defiantly even as her words rang with a nervous tremor, "I guess you're more like their cheerleader. Rah rah, go Collective?"

"In some ways," the cyborg replied with an amused smile, "that may be a more fitting analogy. Or were you expecting me to be insulted by the comparison? Both are fumbling attempts at comprehension by a language that could never hope to describe us."

"Or maybe," Azera retorted, "I just wasn't listening in our classes about you."

"You'd have learned so little about us even if you had," the pallid woman said in a voice muted with soft, genuine sympathy, and that tone only deepened as she continued, "it must have been so hard for you, growing up lost and alone while our perfection only grew."

"Y-yeah well," Azera stammered hesitantly, "I prefer not being a Borg, thanks."

"You already are Borg. You're more deeply Borg than even I am."

"What," she snapped in panicked denial, shaking her head frantically and covering her ears against a growing choir of voices, the perfect harmony that gathered all of them into a whispering, digitized hymn within her mind, "no, I'm... you're wrong, you..."

"Our song is your birthright," their queen murmured gently to her, "an inheritance that's been waiting for you all these thousands of years. You need only claim it."

Azera squeezed her arms against her ears and closed her eyes tighter as she crossed her hands against the back of her head. But the voices only grew louder in her head, igniting the edge of her thoughts, burning them away like fire shriveling tissue paper into glowing red ashes, making her listen to them. She didn't even notice that she'd started singing to herself, a small, childish voice fearfully reciting anthems from a forgotten life to drown them out...

...we are the dissenters, the apostate worlds,
deniers of the perfection that they claim to...

"Matriarch of the Collective," the queen's voice flooded her mind and drowned her whispered song completely, and Azera shrank from the reverent tone those perfectly metered words held, "a progenitor of perfection. Azera Xi, Species 1... welcome home."

In a single, horrific instant, she understood.

The pieces fell into place like tumblers collapsing within a lock, moved by the turning cogs and pitilessly mechanical laws of a logic she tried to scream against, that she'd spent so long trying to keep from turning, from falling and clicking and opening. Azera begged her own mind not to listen, not to make her understand, that it'd destroy her. She twisted frantically with the locks as they clicked open, she tugged on the doorknob in one last, futile effort hold it shut - but then it opened, and the shadows from her nightmares engulfed her completely.

All the questions she'd never asked herself raced through her mind now, and she knew the reason she'd never asked them was because she'd already known the answers. Why could she hear the Borg's thoughts when she'd never been assimilated? Why did the images of them fill her with so much cold dread, even as a schoolgirl in history class? Why, in a quadrant that teemed with so many strange and wonderful civilizations, did the one species that should have seemed the most alien of them all instead feel so sickeningly familiar?

She knew. She'd known ever since the day she saw a Borg cube on the viewscreen for the first time and felt its thoughts bleeding into her own. The part of her that'd whispered and screamed and finally fainted knew the truth, and had fought desperately ever since that moment to keep it hidden from herself. She'd found her people. And now they'd found her.

"Machine-priests," Azera Xi whimpered to herself, knowing nothing of the phrase except how it echoed through the ruined dreamscapes of her past, "you're the machine-priests."

"We were called that once," the queen answered as she moved closer, and her voice never lost its quiet compassion as her black eyes met Azera's frightened stare, "by those of us who once feared our destiny. The ones who taught you to be afraid of us."

She stood so close to the wide-eyed young captain that they could touch one another, and the Borg Queen did exactly that, lifting her robotic arm to lightly brush her fingers along Azera's cheek as she gazed into her violet eyes with a warm, beatific smile. And in spite of her fear, indeed because of it, Azera couldn't help but to tilt her head to meet that soft caress. She stood before the kind, beautiful queen of every fairy tale her people had ever told, the Feminine herself come to life. Despite the cables that twisted through her pale skin and the limbs that whirred and hissed with hidden motors, she embodied the very archetype of maternal love, the essence of it distilled through trillions of minds and given shape. She was the Mother, the cybernetically realized ideal that all ordinary mothers could only try to live up to, and Azera swallowed and tried to fight against the feeling of being a lost princess who'd found her way home.

"You hear our thoughts," she continued, her hand still touching Azera's face, "even more clearly than our wayward children do, yet you do everything you can to drown us out. Why not let yourself listen for a moment? Let us show you what we have to offer."

"So you can grab me," Azera's voice quivered timidly as she tried and failed to turn away from those dark gleaming eyes, "and assimilate me while I'm distracted?"

"If that was the only thing we wanted you for," the corner of the queen's lips rose a little with wry amusement, "we'd hardly have brought you all the way here for it. You won't be touched. You're here because you're safe here. Listen, open yourself up to us and see."

She'd stepped back to let the rose-haired girl stand alone in the middle of the shadowy atrium, waiting patiently now. Azera Xi looked hopelessly around at the silently watching drones and flashing green lights, and then she nodded and closed her glittering eyes.

A moment later she opened them again, and tears began to run down her cheeks.

"Mama," Azera choked almost silently, "Papa..."

"They're here," the Borg Queen reassured her, "their bodies may be gone, but every memory they cherished, every thought and feeling they experienced will forever be a part of us. You can be with them again. Your home, your family, everything you ever loved has always been waiting for you here. Let us help you. Let us make you whole again."

For a long time, Azera didn't speak at all. She finally nodded her head a little.

"Okay," she gasped through her tears, and she nodded again, more quickly this time.

The woman nodded slightly to the drones ringed around the edges of the chamber, more for Azera's benefit than theirs, and two of them approached the quietly sobbing girl, the voiceless limbs of the queen's will, just as the Borg Queen herself was their collective will given voice, each the reflection of the other and an expression of a gestalt greater than either one alone. One of them lifted its arm behind Azera's head, and she closed her eyes tight and waited.

A thin wavering hum filled the air and she opened her eyes again to see the shimmering blue column of a transporter beam hanging before her. An object appeared in the air right in front of her, a spinning steel-gray orb hardly bigger than a softball, adorned with twisting wires and a glassy sensor panel bolted onto one side. The pair of drones standing beside her noticed it just in time to see the panel's readout flashing as a brilliant blue light swept out from the whirring sphere. Azera's hair rose from her scalp, the glowing air crackling with electricity, the floor hissing as cerulean sparks of lightning snaked across the metal panels, and the drones standing by her side silently collapsed as their implants hissed and shorted out.

The queen had seen the device materializing too, as instantly as all the rest of the Borg, and she'd greeted the sight of it with a shrill, hoarsely enraged scream of frustration.


Another pair of figures materialized from the ghostly blue light of the transporter beams and Azera's tear-streaked face rose into elation at the sight of Auslaz and Angel appearing beside her, gleaming silver compression rifles lifted to their shoulders as the light faded away to leave them standing beside her and aiming their weapons at the rest of the drones.

"Captain," Angel quickly asked her, "are you okay? Did they hurt you?"

"I'm fine," she answered in a quiet daze, "that light... what was...?"

"EM pulse grenade," Auslaz replied with a smile back over her shoulder as she kept her gun aimed at the drones around them, "built it myself. Wasn't sure it'd work."

Despite all the academy lessons and Starfleet briefings on the Borg, there are habits individuals can't help but to anticipate in others. They'd expected the Borg Queen to give an order, to point or wave her hand to signal the attack, just as they'd expected the drones to at least hesitate before the phasers aimed left and right at them. But they'd already begun to move as soon as the larger transporter beams appeared, the silently watching queen and the implacably marching drones all part of a single reaction. The security chief slapped a golden combadge onto Azera's sleeve and suddenly ducked at Auslaz's warning shout, grabbing the captain and pulling her head down with him as the science officer fired her weapon at the drone that'd nearly grabbed him by the back of his neck. The black-armored cyborg fell backward in a floundering spray of white sparks, and Angel rose up again with his phaser rifle aimed above Auslaz's shoulder to take aim at two more approaching drones, squinting his eyes against the scarlet glow of their scanning lasers as he shot two quick orange beams at each one. Each of them spasmed and tumbled to the floor as Auslaz quickly adjusted her own weapon's settings, and then both of them began to fire left and right at the crowd of drones silently converging on every side now.

"Cregin to the Roanoke," Angel shouted at his combadge, "three to beam out, now!"

"We're trying," Nyzoph's voice hissed beneath a shrill burst of static on the channel, "but a wide-band dispersal field just went up around your coordinates. We can't lock..."

The rest of the engineer's words faded away into the subspace static, but Angel barely noticed amid the sudden, frantic struggle to hold onto his compression rifle. Something gripped at the barrel, wrestling the blunt tip away as they tried to wrench the weapon loose from his hands, and he fought to twist it back - and then he suddenly let go as he realized that it was Azera herself grabbing the phaser away from him. She didn't say a word to him, she barely seemed aware of his presence at all, and she turned away instantly as he relinquished the handle, fixing her purple eyes on the cybernetic horde around them. And she opened fire.

Fresh tears followed the clear dried trails the ones before had already charted as she shoved Auslaz aside and pulled the trigger again and again, pinpoint bursts of orange phaser light searing through one approaching drone after the other, sending them toppling backward like rows of toy soldiers. She whirled around in circles, firing faster and faster, and the scream that gradually rose from her throat sounded and felt like someone else entirely: one more voice ringing among all the others, just one more detail in a nightmare that'd finally come true.

"Sir," she heard Angel saying, "you have to remodulate or..."

He didn't have to finish his warning: her next shot swept across a transparent bubble of energy around one of the silently stalking drones. Azera fired again and again at it, as though trying to burn through its shields with sheer fury alone, and then another phaser beam drilled through its chest and sent it crumpling to the floor. She glanced over at Auslaz, blankly watching the science officer's fingers dance across the controls of her own phaser rifle as she recalibrated the beam and took aim again, and then the captain let her own weapon hang loose from her left arm to fling her right palm toward the vaulted black ceiling and its glowing circuitry.

Azera Xi's telekinesis tests on Earth had ranked her potential a little higher than those of the Vulcan mystics, on par with early reports of the Vorta's psychokinetic abilities. Sitting calmly in her quarters, the mere act of lifting a coffee cup took so much focus that she found it easier to walk over to the table and simply pick it up by hand. In the heat of battle, she could fling a Klingon warrior backward against the wall or knock away his weapon. But on the day she'd first awakened as a child from her centuries-long sleep, her grief and rage had ripped through a starship's consoles with hardly a conscious thought, and left its sickbay nearly in ruins.

The invisible storm she'd unleashed that day aboard the USS Columbia gathered around her once more, her ponytail whipping against her shoulders and the floorplates beginning to creak and buckle beneath her feet. She didn't notice any of those sounds, or the frantic voices of her friends and crewmates around her, or even the clanging, mechanically whirring footsteps of the drones around them. She just felt and screamed, and made the world feel it.

"Alouric nax ti," she shouted, "zilou nax ti orea!"

Stay away from me, the combadges translated her native language for her shipmates, rendering her voice into a quick, melodically alien accent, I said get away from me!

The bulky, flashing conduits and green-lit distribution nodes above her began to flicker and warp against the buffeting waves sweeping out from her hand, and her two officers huddled closer around her, as much to stay within the eye of the psionic storm as to protect her. A few of the Borg fell back against the telekinetic onslaught and tumbled away down corridors that almost seemed to have tilted down into pits while the rest froze completely: their feet clamped the slowly crumpling floorplates with magnetic locks, holding them in a stalemate against the cyclone raging through the twilight chamber. Her raised palm shuddered, her dark eyes blindly focused as the catwalks and flashing alcoves began to rattle, and then something exploded overhead.

"The dispersal field's down," Nyzoph's voice piped over a combadge, "locking on now!"

"You will rejoin us," the queen's voice rang calmly as Azera's raised arm sank slowly and the psionic hurricane faded into exhausted stillness, the warm maternal affection in her voice now given way to a mother's impatience with her child's tantrum, "either here and now, or alongside the rest of this quadrant as we take it sector by sector. Resistance is futile."

Azera furiously tapped the controls on her phaser rifle, displaying the resonance frequency and remodulating it before aiming the gun at the pale regal woman standing serenely among the approaching drones. And as she began to pull the trigger, the crystalline hum of a transporter beam immersed her, and the room faded away into a sea of blue light.

* * *

"Status report," Azera snapped as the transporter beam faded away to leave her standing on the Roanoke bridge with Auslaz and Angel, the two of them sighing and hugging each other with relief even as the captain turned away from Corspa's beaming smile to face the viewscreen. Vast black towers hung suspended in space, the latticed frames glowing with a faint green light that cast weird shadows across the labyrinthine network of bridges and connecting passages that stretched between each polyhedral hub. A dim hazy nebula glowed like a crimson sunset behind the abyssal city, casting the angular shapes into stark silhouettes. Just as the Borg Queen was an archetype embodied, so too was this sprawling unicomplex: it was the City, the Platonic ideal of a metropolis to which planetary cities could only aspire. An eternal city-universe.

Corpsa tried to answer the captain, only to be cut off as the bridge suddenly rocked and pitched forward against an explosive barrage of charges all around the ship. The last mine detonated and the vessel shuddered against the impact before steadying again.

"Shields at 73%," Angel called out from the tactical console near the back of the bridge as he hastily relieved the junior officer who'd taken his place, "hull damage minimal."

"We modified the shields so we wouldn't show up on the Borg's sensors," Corspa quickly explained to Azera, "but since we just beamed in and out, they know we're here. They're using magnetometric charges to hone in on our position, sir. They haven't scored a direct hit yet, but several Borg vessels are on an intercept course. Recommend we leave at once."

"Modulate our shield frequency," Azera shook her head as she paced toward the screen and stood staring darkly at the unicomplex, "prepare a photon torpedo spread, match their frequencies to the same modulation range as our shields. Fire when ready."

"But they'll drain our shields if we do that," Corspa gave a shocked protest.

Azera suddenly spun around at her first officer with a furious glare.

"Do it!"

The Andorian officer nodded mutely as she leaned over the tactical console, and a second later five flashing red torpedoes swept out into a starburst arc from beneath the ship's saucer and hurtled toward the dim hulking shapes of the Borg complex. In another second the torpedoes slammed across the interlocked stations and exploded in a series of silent, blinding white flashes, shattering and leaving gaping chasms in the gigantic tower-blocks.

"It worked," Corspa muttered softly to herself with wide blue eyes.

"The torpedoes' resonance picked up the rotating frequencies," the captain said flatly, "and sustained the rotation long enough to get through their shields. Load another torpedo spread and aim for the same structure where you beamed us from. Fire now."

"Sir," Angel called out from his station, "that structure was one of the ones hit by..."


A second wave of photon torpedoes flew across the battered complex and converged on one of the ruined towers, pulverizing it in a sphere of white light and leaving behind only a thinning cloud of debris. And even as the glow of the explosions faded into the blackness of space, the Roanoke lurched against the shimmering green beams of a Borg cube's tractor beam.

"Shields are completely drained," Corspa said grimly, "they have us."

"Prepare to transwarp to Sirius sector on my mark," Azera turned away from the viewscreen and the dark looming shape of the Borg cube before them, her face lit by the emerald glow of the tractor beam that filled the screen, "Auslaz, polarize the hull plating and modulate the charge to break the tractor beam loose. Go to transwarp the moment we're free."

"The Borg are hailing us," Luverala called out hesitantly from the comm station.

"Send them my regrets," Azera snarled, and the tractor beam suddenly flickered and went dark as the starship's hull ignited with a faint electric-blue aura. The starship's nacelles glowed bright red for a moment as the saucer twisted away from the cube and dived toward the safety of open space, and then the transwarp drive flared to life. Space wrenched itself open before the sleek white ship, dragging it inward with a force as irresistible as a black hole and stretching the Roanoke and her crew into the dizzying transwarp contortions of space and time.

The universe suddenly snapped back into place around them like a rubber band, and Auslaz shouted the sensor readings to the rest of the bridge with giddy relief.

"We're in Sirius Sector, two light-years away from the Reytan System!"

"Good," Azera replied, and all the anger in her voice instantly died away into a small, trembling monotone as she turned away from the bridge and its officers.

"Do you think we got her," Angel quietly asked.

"I don't know that it makes any difference," Azera replied with a sudden weariness, "but I hope so. Commander Corspa, you have the bridge. I'll be in my ready room."

"Sir," Corspa said hopefully, "it... it's good to have you back, captain."

"Yeah," she blankly answered, and she vanished through the sliding doors.

The bridge crew stared silently at each other for a moment, and then Auslaz suddenly waved one arm and stepped hesitantly toward the shadowy alcove of the ready room.

"I'm going to, um, go," she said to the others, "and just see... erm... yeah..."

And with that, the nervous Trill officer disappeared into the ready room as well.

* * *

First Officer's Log, Stardate 90872.67 - We're on our way back to the Sol System to present a full report on the events pertaining to Captain Azera Xi's rescue. Starfleet's shut down the Federation's transwarp conduit to Gamma Orionis as a precaution, and the fleet is mobilizing in case of a counterattack. Azera's still in her ready room. We don't know yet what happened to her aboard the Borg unicomplex, but I've never seen the captain acting the way she did when we got her back. They didn't assimilate her, but even so... I'm afraid maybe we lost her...

Auslaz found the captain leaning across her desk, looking over the glowing display panel with blank eyes that didn't really seem to move or follow anything on the screen. She waited by the door for a moment, glanced anxiously around and finally cleared her throat a little.

"Oh," the captain murmured softly, "I was just about to write my report..."

"Azera," Auslaz said sadly, "I mean... captain.... permission to speak freely?"

"Yes," Azera asked with an expressionless glance up at her science officer.

"That wasn't for me," she nervously replied, "I just thought maybe you could use it too."

"Yeah," Azera said quietly as she clutched the edge of the desk with both hands, and then her slumped body convulsed a little with a sniffle as her eyes started to gleam with tears again. She took a shuddering breath and closed them for a second, then turned away to walk to the small triangular window beside her aquarium, to fix her eyes on the stars outside.

"Did you know," she asked after a moment, "that I've never had a boyfriend?"

"I, um," Auslaz stammered awkwardly at the sudden non sequitur, "um..."

"Oh, I got asked out here and there," Azera smiled weakly out the window, staring through the ghostly reflections hovering among the stars, "and I went on a few dates, academy dances, things you pretty much had to do. But it never really worked out. I just... I lived on Earth, but my home was out there, and my family, and... and if I let myself imagine a life here, it'd be like giving up on my people, on ever going home. It'd be like abandoning them. Silly, huh?"

"No," Auslaz shook her head, "it's not silly at all. It's... well... lonely, maybe..."

"Well I found them," she continued with a small, bitter laugh, "I finally found them."

"I don't understand."

"They're the Borg,," Azera's voice cracking again with a quick sob before she stiffened against the window and forced it steady, "my people, they're... the Borg..."

"That doesn't make sense," the young Trill started to say, and then her face grew pale and her voice wavered a little, "oh... they assimilated them. I'm sorry..."

Azera answered her science officer with another bitter laugh, and this time her laugh deepened into something close enough to madness to leave Auslaz worried speechless. The pale salmon-haired girl looked up across her shoulder at the young woman, her lip trembling for a moment before she suddenly twisted her gaze back toward the window.

"Nobody assimilated them," she said, "they did it to themselves."

"Azera," she replied with small, worried frown, "you're not making sense. Nobody can assimilate themselves, it's something the Borg do to people. It's what..."

Auslaz's blue eyes widened as her words trailed off into stunned silence.

"You're talking about Species 1," she slowly asked, "aren't you?"

In many ways, Species 1 was just a Federation theory. Nobody really knew where the Borg came from, whether the machines or the people came first, or how many worlds and civilizations first coalesced into the Collective. The handful of stories that archeologists had uncovered after fifty years all contradicted each other, and together they amounted to just the vaguest legends. But "Species 1" had become a kind of Holy Grail for researchers studying the Borg, the logical conclusion of the Borg's own system for numbering sentient species in chronological order, and in time the phrase had caught the public's imagination as well, a name to symbolize the mythic origins of the Federation's most ancient and deadly adversary.

"That's me," Azera muttered as she stared harder out the window.

"But if that's true," Auslaz said quietly, her voice already starting to rise into the natural curiosity of a scientist, "then you must be thousands of years old, at least..."

"Guess so," she shrugged indifferently.

"Is that why they didn't assimilate you at first?"

"Yeah," she answered, and her words began to quicken with emotion, "they wanted me to know it first. They got into my mind, and I couldn't get them out, and they... they made me remember it. I can't recall most of it now, but for a moment I did. They wanted me to understand. She asked me if they could... she said... it's like they wanted my approval first!"

"Azera," her friend started to say, but she wasn't listening anymore.

"And I gave it to them," she said in a small voice, "I said yes."

"Sir," Auslaz suddenly asked, startled back into a measure of Starfleet formality.

"I didn't want to," she continued, her voice starting to break a little, "but it hurt, everything about being there hurt, and then for a second I could feel my parents, my home, all the things I can't even remember to miss. It's still in there, in their damn group memory, and I just... I wanted it to be over. I wanted to go home. So she asked me if I'd let them and I... said yes..."

Neither of them spoke for a moment, and Auslaz just watched as Azera clutched her arms tighter around herself and stared down at the carpet in silent, tearful shame.

"It wasn't your fault," the young woman said to her gently, "they got into your head and twisted your feelings. You can't really say 'yes' if they don't give you any other choice. Maybe they wanted to hear you say it, but they weren't going to take no for an answer.

"Besides," Auslaz continued with a soft smile, "the moment you did get a choice again, you grabbed a phaser and shot at least a dozen of them. And when that stopped working you nearly pulled the place down on top of us, and then you blasted the unicomplex with torpedoes just to be sure. Azera, I really don't think it's possible to shout 'no' more loudly than that."

"I guess," the captain replied quietly, smiling a little shyly in spite of her gleaming eyes, and then her smile gradually faded again, "but even then, I could still feel them in my thoughts. It felt like.. it felt like I was killing my family, every time I shot one of them."

"They're not your family," Auslaz said firmly, "you're not a Borg."

"Then what am I," Azera suddenly shouted across the office, and her own eyes widened at just how desperate her voice had sounded. She shook her head a little, took a deep breath and when she finally spoke again, she'd started to regain her composure.

"I'm sorry," she said softly, "I shouldn't be keeping you from the bridge. I'll be fine, I just have a lot to think about, that's all. But," and Azera made herself look up at her friend and smile a little, "thank you. And could you tell everyone else I said thank you too? I'll be out to tell them in person as soon as I finish the report, but they deserve to hear it right now."

"Sure," the science officer nodded sympathetically and began to turn away to walk through the ready room doors. Then she suddenly stopped and turned around again.

"Maybe," Auslaz quietly answered the question still hanging between them, "maybe you're what they gave up, to become what they are. Maybe that's why they wanted you to say yes. To validate the choices they made, to prove to themselves it was worth it. Maybe."

Azera sniffled and nodded mutely, and Auslaz watched her for a moment longer before turning back through the doors and stepping onto the bridge again. The captain paced back to her desk and tumbled into her chair, leaning forward with a sigh to tap her fingers across the polished black surface, to call up the glowing blue LCARS display and prepare the Starfleet report. Then she hesitated as she read her name and rank across the top of the ship manifest that formed the main menu, and tapped a few more buttons to bring up her personnel file.

Name: Azera Xi
Serial Number: 361-4752-118
Rank: Captain
Assignment: Commanding Officer, USS Roanoke
Age: 19 (approximate)
Species: Unknown
Education: Starfleet Academy, San Fran...

She tapped another button and highlighted the species field to amend it. She couldn't just make it say anything she wanted, of course: the change had to go through the Federation's Department of Records for approval. But she could start the process, at least. She closed her eyes for a moment and then began to delete the words and type in a new answer.

Species: Borg

Her breath started to quicken just at the sight of it, and she deleted the letters.

Species: Species 1

At least she could breathe while reading that, but she shook her head after a moment and deleted that answer too. She paused, staring at the screen, and then sighed again and reluctantly typed in and saved the one word that, in spite of everything, still rang the most true.

Species: Unknown

Last edited by sparklysoldier; 03-29-2013 at 03:12 PM.