The Best of Both Girls
A Captain Janeway Adventure
by Jim Wright
[As the last chapter ended, Captain Picard convinced Janeway to bring him back into the Collective in order to defend Earth against two approaching Borg vessels. Commander Riker, meanwhile, is one of a diminishing number of resources Janeway has on the USS Duchess, which is moving toward the Dominion Drone planet in the Gamma Quadrant. Janeway's control of the Collective has weakened to the point that open hostility across the galaxy is now inevitable.]
Chapter 10: "Fistful of Whupass"
Commander Riker stared at the transceiver in his hand. He'd been instructed in its use, and at the time was looking forward to it--but conditions had changed. He felt a chill at the thought of attaching his mind to the Collective. He knew how it had changed Picard's life, and even a taste of that experience was more than he cared for.
But if he didn't volunteer, a rebel drone might just draft him into the Collective. Janeway had to win this.
"Here goes nothing," Will Riker muttered under his breath, then placed the transceiver on a patch of smooth skin behind his left ear. He felt a slight tickle as the adhesive gripped the flesh and the transceiver began to feed data to his brain.
JANEWAY: It's good to have you aboard, Commander.
Riker was surprised; he'd expected to be bombarded by a trillion voices at once. But all he sensed was a low, indistinct murmur--and the clear-as-a-communicator voice of the captain in his head. It's less crowded than I expected.
JANEWAY: For your protection. This is a secure connection; you'll only be aware of those voices I allow into this subnet.
RIKER: Understood. Where should we start?
JANEWAY: The Dominion drones are on the fourth planet of the Weyoun Cluster. As long as they're linked to the Collective they are a threat to the Collective, and to all four quadrants of the galaxy. We will disconnect them.
RIKER: Acknowledged. But…I'm not sure I like the way you say disconnect, Captain.
JANEWAY: As I said, Commander--this is a Borg matter.
* * *
Janeway now had allies on two fronts. Locutus, whose consciousness was coming online, was welcomed with gladness. Some rebellious drones ended their resistance at the realization that his return was due to the Queen's--and that his loyalty to her was absolute. Her protectiveness of Locutus was also palpable. Janeway had helped obscure Riker's presence on Duchess; for now, he was her secret weapon. She allowed the rebels to believe she was powerless there.
But elsewhere, Janeway's vulnerability was not feigned.
Deep in the Beta quadrant, a Cube appeared in high orbit around the second planet of a system which the Borg designated Species 3948. The Federation, which had yet to reach this part of space, had named it after the prolific 22nd-century stellar cartographer who first discovered it, Dr. Melrose Spelling.
The 2.9 billion Saurian-descended life forms were advanced to roughly the technological level of early 21st-century Earth, aside from their lack of a space program--there was no nearby moon to aim for, and the nearest planet was still beyond their reach. They did watch the stars with interest, but had yet to breach the stratosphere. Content with the planet they had, applying their technology to improving the quality of life, the dominant species of Spelling 90210 simply called It Home.
The drones of this rebel vessel intended to assimilate the population and add its technological distinctiveness to its own. The Saurians' leisure devices could be employed to counteract the effects of the order-imposing vinculum. The planet was theirs for the taking. Resistance was futile.
Or so they thought.
The Saurian astronomers whose task it was to watch the sky were abuzz over what occurred next. Their recording equipment noted the arrival of the large, blocky object in Melrose Space. Their scanners locked onto it, analyzing it to within an inch of its life, and waited for it to do something other then hang there in the sky.
What it did next was fly into the large yellow sun, where extremes of gravity and solar activity ensured a rapid disintegration. Janeway had managed to isolate the navigation systems, and her loyal drones had piloted the vessel into the path of fiery destruction.
For generations, there would be wild speculation among the natives of Home, who debated the lessons to be learned from the object's behavior. The more pragmatic among them concluded that leaving the safe harbor of Home made one insane.
The galaxy was bleeding.
* A cube in the Gamma quadrant successfully assimilated a planet of 142 million members of an advanced but hostile species renowned for its hunting skills. The reptilian creatures that species had bred for the hunt, however, got away. One, remembering a kindness he had received on the other side of the stellar Eye, returned to DS9 and told the tale to Chief O'Brien--and, one Tosk to another, wondered aloud what he would do with his life now that there was nobody left to chase him.
* A rebel Sphere targeted a convoy of Vidiian vessels; its vinculum overloaded, frying the synapses of all aboard, but allowed the sphere to complete its intercept course, where she left it as a gift to her old adversary. The Vidiians, who had never met Borg before, were more than happy to dissect the four thousand unprotesting, vegetated drones for fresh organs, which would alleviate some of the suffering of their phage-plagued people.
* Three cubes on a path toward Vulcan had their transwarp conduit diverted by drones who complied with Janeway's directives. The vessels emerged from Transwarp to find themselves surrounded by an armada of Pakled ships. Issuing the standard greeting, You will be assimilated, the Pakled were delighted to learn what assimilation entailed--and they wouldn't take no for an answer even when the rebel Borg had second thoughts. The unrelenting chorus of 20,000 Pakled minds chanting "We are smart now! We are Strong Now!" was too much for the Perfection-minded rebels to bear--they couldn't trigger the self-destruct fast enough. Adding insult to injury, even the sweet release of orgasmic death was tainted by the chattering of Pakled drones. They sighed happily as their vessels and everyone on them turned to plasma: ooooooh, preeeetty…
* A drone-infested planet, comprised almost entirely of Species 8086, formerly known as the Pentii, tried the novel approach of asking the Queen to please let them return to their pre-assimilated state. The Pentii had been peaceful, artistic, and a trifle unsanitary--which is why they had been left on their home planet to mine its rich dilithium ore. Janeway readily agreed, thanked them for their service to the Collective, and wished them well. The vinculums were shut down, and the nanoprobes reprogrammed to end inter-drone communication. The nanoprobes were also set to help the body heal, to gradually allow the Borg implants to be removed. The healing would be gradual, but the Pentii, free at last to think for themselves in unshared minds, rejoiced. Poems were penned and sculptures crafted in the honor of the merciful and wise Queen.
* A convoy of Scolari-controlled Cubes attacked Unimatrix 13, a massive Borg complex that was the hub of Borg activity on the Delta/Gamma quadrant border near the galactic core. Sixteen billion drones were lost when a series of quantum singularities were created inside the larger structures in the space-bound Unimatrix, which formed gravity wells so intense that soon no traceable matter in the parsec remained.
Janeway had been unable to do anything but weep at the magnitude of that sudden and massive loss--the destruction of all those drones, and more importantly the massive memory and data processing centers of the Unimatrix, was like a brutal blow to the head. She reeled from the lobotomy, and in her confusion and pain her rebellious children scored other successes, further weakening her.
* Shortly afterward, another Scolari convoy of 73 cubes headed for the venerable Unimatrix 1, intent on repeating their success. But their transwarp conduits destabilized for reasons known only to the enraged Janeway, and what emerged at Unimatrix 1 were 73 clouds of minutely pulverized matter. Drone vessels were dispatched to collect and process the debris--waste not, want not. Hundreds of thousands of lights went out in Janeway's awareness, but that was a small loss compared to the hundred billion spared at Unimatrix 1.
Back on Earth, Admiral Patterson took some encouragement when Janeway ordered ice cream, hoping the dessert meant the crisis was nearing its end. His hopes were short-lived. Offering a bitter laugh, Janeway said after her first bite, "Revenge is a dish best served cold."
The myriad engagements caused many wavering elements of the Collective to throw their support behind the Queen. But others redoubled their opposition. The civil war continued to be fierce. But wherever Janeway could help it, the casualties were limited to the Collective itself. Only the rebels sought to involve other species. Janeway's commitment to her principles both appalled and inspired.
A good 40% of the Collective, Janeway noted, neither helped nor hindered, and seemed oblivious to the greater conflict. They just performed their menial tasks, returned to their alcoves, regenerated, and resumed their duties when their regeneration cycles were complete. She knew her subjects all too well. Many had been drones long before they ever met the Borg, and barely noticed the difference when they were assimilated. Despite the wealth of data available to indulge in, all those pitiful souls bothered to hear was Welcome to the Collective. Here's your alcove and your identity core. Now get to work.
On thousands of vessels, in dozens of unimatrixes, loyal drones squared off against rebels. In many cases the battle was simply that of words and wills, as drones pondered their present and future--and some, their past. Some sued for peace and begged for release from the Collective. Some wanted to stay, but pleaded, suggested or demanded changes in the Collective's goals. Quite a few, Janeway was pleased to note, were very much in line with her own goals for a kinder, gentler Borg. More exploration. More galactic service. Less aggression. Advertising--make joining the Collective voluntary, and tout its appeal. See the Universe! Meet interesting people! Never be alone again! The Borg had tried to employ a spokesdrone with Locutus, but this new proposal advocated persuasion rather than coercion.
Seven of Nine's designation was mentioned frequently.
Each engagement--win or lose--further weakened Janeway's grasp of the Collective. Every drone had been a part of her. Every loss diminished her.
Despite the consolidation of allegiance in many quarters, order continued to shrink. Entropy loomed.
The Queen wept.
Picard's flesh was now as pale as Janeway's. He sported only one conspicuous Borg implant, an exoskeletal wristband like Janeway's.
He was Locutus. But he was also Picard.
"Two to beam up, Mr. Data." Deanna Troi stood side by his side, looking nervous but determined to be with her colleagues in the coming fight. Her presence would be needed to reassure the bridge crew. "Bring us directly to the bridge."
Aye, sir. Energizing.
Picard and Troi materialized on the bridge of the Enterprise-E. The bridge was darkened with the silent, periodic flashes of warning red.
Picard stepped toward the android second officer, who rose from the captain's chair. "One minute to intercept, Captain."
"Acknowledged. Are you ready, Mr. Data?" Picard's outstretched hand held the subspace interface, similar in function to a neural transceiver, that would link Data to the Collective.
"Yes, Captain." Reaching up as though to scratch his left ear, Data unfastened a fold of "skin", exposing the blinking positronic circuitry of his android brain. With swift precision, Picard made the necessary attachments, then refastened the hair piece.
Neither spoke, but they communicated nonetheless. Data nodded a second later, then hailed Voyager. "This is Commander Data. Transport me directly to your bridge."
Acknowledged, a trembling Ensign Kim responded, adding, Thirty seconds to intercept. A moment later, Data materialized on Voyager's bridge, and assumed command. There were no objections; Commander Chakotay had briefed them on what was to happen. Data selected an available terminal and jacked in--effectively, Data and the ship were now a single shared consciousness.
And through Commander Data, Janeway finally knew her ship in a way she had never dreamed possible. How are you, girl? She had a moment to revel in the intimacy of the brave ship that brought her family home safe from the other end of the galaxy. The nacelles throbbed; the sensors responded readily to her commands. It was so unlike her Borg vessels, models of efficiency. The sleek beauty of Voyager appealed to what little vanity she had, and she gleamed in the darkness of space.
"Commander, all the lights on the hull just turned on," Harry reported, uneasy with the idea of being a mere spectator.
"As you were, Ensign," Data said simply.
"At ease--before you sprain something." Data cocked his head, unsure why he just said that. "Hmm," he said to himself.
But Harry knew. He he watched the furious activity on his Ops board, the modifications to Voyager's systems that came at a rate no human crew could have managed, with a meticulous attention to detail that could only come from one source. Filled with reassurance, Harry beamed; Janeway really was here, and as long as she was, things would be okay. "Aye, Captain!"
On Enterprise, Locutus of Borg looked each of his bridge crew in the eye, holding his gaze until he received their acquiescence. It was not strictly necessary, but Deanna Troi noted the decrease in anxiety that followed Picard's gaze. She assumed that Janeway did not object to the use of those precious seconds for the purpose.
When there was consensus, Picard raised his hand toward the navigation console, and the assimilation nodules sprang forth, initiating a direct link from Enterprise to Picard--and thence, to Janeway.
She's a fine ship, Locutus. She'll serve us well.
As is Voyager. You have ridden her hard the last three years, haven't you?
It was a hard journey, Locutus. But she did her job--she got my people home.
That she did, my Queen.
The Starfleet Collective now established, the two starships veered off in seemingly random directions, exposing Earth to the Borg.
* * *
JANEWAY: Seven of Nine, tertiary adjunct of Unimatrix 01.
Seven of Nine awoke from her regeneration cycle. The damage from her encounter with the rebel drones had been repaired. Yes.
JANEWAY: You will adjust your secondary communications module to frequency 5623 gamma four.
SEVEN: I will comply.
SEVEN: I will comply.
William T. Riker was surprised when a third voice came online. Seven? Is that you?
SEVEN: Commander. Or should I call you by your Borg designation, Phallus?
Riker chuckled. Another time, perhaps. Good to have you with us. We could use the help. That was an understatement. Janeway's control over the Duchess had been rapidly declining, despite his best efforts. He was practically Janeway's only eyes and hands left on board.
But no longer.
Janeway cut in. Seven of Nine. You will proceed to processing annex 9A and secure its controls. You will encounter resistance.
SEVEN: Resistance is futile. They will fail.
Riker could actually feel Seven's jaw set. He had known Seven was stubborn, but until this moment of shared awareness he'd had no idea how potent her will really was. He liked it.
They shared consciousness. He saw through her eyes--he offered defensive techniques he sensed she could use against her attackers, and felt her satisfaction as she put them to use, disabling those drones who stood in her way.
He also discovered something he hadn't expected. Her name. Annika…
SEVEN: That designation is irrelevant.
RIKER: Not to me. He'd known only one other drone's former name. He shook his head to dismiss that painful thought--he had work to do, and to dwell on Four of Seven would only distract him from his task.
While Seven accepted Riker's input, she offered some in turn. Riker's task was to reprogram the Cube's powerful communications array. He wasn't entirely sure of Janeway's plan; she wasn't providing details.
He wasn't sure he wanted to know. He only hoped it would work.
It was a desperate gambit. Janeway had traced the communications pathways the Dominion drones had used to contact the rest of the Collective, before the rebellion exploded.
She would follow the same path, with a new message.
Janeway continued to eat voraciously, steeling herself for one last attempt to reassert control. She maintained her links with Picard and Data, with Seven of Nine and Riker, and with countless other loyalists throughout the galaxy.
A little longer. She had to hang on just a little bit longer.
Just take it a thousand crises at a time.
The two Cubes passed the gleaming moon and approached the outer perimeter of Earth defenses. The automated weapons platforms were analyzed and deemed insufficient to resist.
The announcement was made to the people of Earth.
WE ARE BORG. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED.
The response came back in kind.
JANEWAY: WE are Borg. You are not in compliance. You will submit yourselves to the Collective.
WE ARE THE TRUE COLLECTIVE. THIS PLANET WILL BE ASSIMILATED.
JANEWAY: You must comply. You will be destroyed if you do not comply.
RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.
Janeway sighed. Her thought filtered through Picard and Data, and to the vessels that were extensions of herself. The vessels leaped to comply. The word was Now.
Picard and Data had no need to look at the forward viewscreens. Their vessels' sensors were their senses; the ship's reflexes were their own. Acting as a single organism, Voyager and Enterprise charged toward the two cubes.
With a thought, Janeway had transformed the starships' shields into impervious shells of multiphasic energy fed by the perfectly-tuned warp cores. Either ship could plow at full speed into a planet and come out the other side without a scratch. The inertial dampers had also been supercharged, channeled through the warp core to protect the fragile creatures inside.
The plan wasn't all Janeway's. Picard and Data had added their minds to hers. Picard's consciousness contained the legendary Picard maneuver. Data's positronic matrix contained the countermove to that maneuver. Together, they had cooked up something truly special.
The key to a Borg vessel's integrity is in a location few species had ever discovered--a seemingly innocuous processing matrix a few hundred meters from the Cube's exterior, between which lay little more than vast stores of dense, raw materials. It took substantial firepower to blast through that much matter, and few deemed it worth the effort. There were more obvious strategic targets elsewhere on a cube--weapons ports, tractor beam hubs, and so on.
But Janeway knew where to hit, and how hard.
RAMMING SPEED! Picard shouted for the benefit of his crew. It was fair notice that everyone should find something to hang onto. Data did the same on Voyager, bellowing in an impressively commanding baritone.
Borg weapons were turned on the two starships, but they proved ineffective. Approximately forty thousand meters from their respective targets, the Picard Maneuver kicked in. The two smaller ships leapt into an infinitesimal warp jump, giving the impression that the vessels were in two places at once.
One Voyager, and one Enterprise, 40,000 meters from the cubes.
One Voyager, and one Enterprise, coming out of warp, inside the cubes.
With the properties of gigantic invulnerable cannonballs, propelled by furious inertial velocity, Voyager and Enterprise crashed through the interior of the Cubes as though through empty space, and blasted out the other side--taking with them the sizzling remains of the vital components that held a cube and its drones together.
There was no time for the rebels to react. No time to launch the insidious virus. No time even to scream.
Seconds later, the night sky above Earth's Western hemisphere lit up like noonday in the glow of twin novas, a brief but awesome spectacle.
The shields and inertial dampers on Voyager and Enterprise had worked perfectly; the crews were used to bumpier rides under the best conditions. If anything, that made the experience even more disquieting. Harry Kim offered a nervous whistle as his sensors scanned the damage.
Earth was safe again, for the moment. But Janeway's Collective had been diminished yet again, as thousands of mental lights winked out. Their physical proximity only made the pain of that loss harder to bear.
Commander Data had the enviable ability to deactivate his emotion chip at will--and neither Janeway nor Picard could blame him when he chose to do so.
Chakotay did what he could to offer support to his captain. Her condition had deteriorated over the past hour. Even the good news that Earth was safe had not been enough to revive her. Chakotay did what he could to keep her eating, feeding her himself when her hands failed her.
Lwaxana Troi now sat beside Janeway, fussing over her fellow redhead like her own Little One. She invited herself into Janeway's mind, not intrusively, and offered silent comfort, unsure how much longer the fragile human mind could endure.
Janeway summoned all her remaining strength. She called out to the Collective, to all who would comply, to hang on. She had one last battle left. She hoped that would be enough to end it.
* * *
The Weyoun Cluster was dead ahead. Seven of Nine had had her hands full fending off the drones, but was not deterred from her task. Riker had managed, with Janeway's help, to set up multiphasic shielding around Seven to allow her to complete her task. Riker was less protected physically, but his presence was so far undetected. He had the monitors rigged to wail if anyone came close.
Janeway talked them through their tasks, then through the events that followed.
JANEWAY: Allow the Cube to approach the Dominion Drone colony.
JANEWAY: Do not interfere if the drones beam aboard. Wait for the modified vinculum to arrive.
The Vorta had changed its function--rather than enforce compliance from the Collective, it undermined it. The Duchess would be used as the flagship of the rebellion, and the vinculum would acts as its Radio Free Collective.
When the Vorta-modified vinculum came aboard, Riker activated the modified shield array--nobody would get into or out of the Cube. It would adapt faster than the drones could apply countermeasures.
Seven of Nine activated the communications array. It had been boosted along those frequencies used by the Vorta drones to contact the resistance, along billions of branching subspace pathways.
The data from the dead Vorta attacker, supplemented by that supplied by Sisko from the captured rebel vessel, was the key to what happened next. Will Riker executed a command that initiated a harmonic resonance wave. Pumped through the modified vinculum, every drone who had keyed into that rebel frequency soon developed a terminal case of subspace tinnitus--a ringing in their cerebral implants that increased in frequency and amplitude at the nanoprobe level.
Blood boiled. Biomechanical implants fused and short-circuited. Cells ruptured. Melting flesh sloughed away from powdering bones.
The deadly signal continued its doomsday broadcast until there was nothing alive left to hear it.
Riker saw, through Seven's eyes, the effect of the wave on one of the Vorta drones. He had seen death many times, but never like that.
Once was enough for a lifetime of nightmares. Even the unflappable Seven of Nine had screamed.
It's done, Janeway said coldly--but the link didn't lie. Riker heard the desolation in her soul's voice, had heard the decreased volume that indicated a dramatic decrease in the Borg population…and wondered if she would ever be the same again.
Without warning, Janeway dropped off the net. Riker and Seven were alone.
Just then, the proximity alarm blared.
A murderer kills one.
A queen kills by the million.
Kill everyone, and you're a god.
Janeway had killed before she'd become Queen. She had seen battle. She'd killed a lot. She had always managed to convince herself that she had done what was necessary, that she had not taken life lightly.
But what she had just done…
Necessary? Perhaps. The Dominion had been too great a threat. But the cost…was there anything of Kathryn Janeway left?
Janeway wanted nothing to do with godhood. She had her fill of death. Janeway felt like the victim of a cosmic joke. Q, you sick bastard, make this go away.
But if Q heard, he did not respond.
The Vorta resistance and all who allied with them were eliminated. The horror of it had brought most of the Collective back. But not enough.
Comply! She had shouted. Demanded. Begged.
Too many said No.
Janeway withdrew into herself. She was tired. So tired. She needed to rest. She yearned to return to the seclusion and privacy of her own mind. Kathryn was only vaguely aware of the eyes fixed on her in the restaurant in San Francisco--a mere handful compared to the voices clamoring for her attention across the whole of the galaxy.
But she couldn't quit. She was the Queen. She was in control. She had to maintain control.
If not her, who?
[To be Continued…]
Copyright © 1997-1999 Jim Wright
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