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Mission 10 - Ghost Machine

The Borg. The Undead of the Universe. Whispers of a Sphere in the Delta Quadrant started until they became a dull roar. The USS Mackenzie, with previous Delta Quadrant Experience, is called up to assist in investigating what some are calling, "The Ghost Machine".

GM 001 – Delta Dawn

USS Mackenzie
6.01.2401

The alarm shook Captain Wren Walton from her sleep. Blearily, she tapped at the end table console, “Wren here; what is it?”  In the darkness, the overnight commander, Lieutenant Commander Danny Parks, informed her there was a priority one message from the Task Force Commander.  “It’s two am….what the hell.  Give me a second.”  She shuffled out of her warm bed and slipped on a uniform from the shelf, shuffling to the desk station in the corner of the darkened room.  The lights came up slowly at her command as she pulled her hair together, “Put him through.”

Captain Geronimo Fontana appeared, a concerned look on his face.  “Wren, sorry for the early wake-up.  We need you in the Delta Quadrant.  A message came through the wormhole a few minutes ago regarding some odd activity about a Borg ship.  You’re next door to the wormhole.  We’re ordering you to the Delta Quadrant to investigate.  More information will be available at the Markonion Outpost…but you gotta go now,” he glanced at his watch, “…like now.  I wish I had more.”  The channel closed before she could respond.

“Goddamn Fontana.”  She tapped the console on the desk, “Captain Walton to bridge – set a course for the wormhole, maximum warp, and engage.  Wake up the senior staff and get them to the briefing room.  While you’re at it…get us a couple of buckets of coffee.”

 

“Borg?”  Commander Park was the first to ask, her eyes widening, “That’s…new.”  She sipped soothingly at her cup of coffee doctored with cream and sugar.

Walton held out her empty hands, “Captain Fontana sent us what information they had received, but the classified word is…it’s not just in the Delta Quadrant that things are heating up.  Scattered reports across systems and sectors are pushing the Fourth Fleet to action.  The Mackenzie’s been to the Delta, so we’re being ordered to return.”

Kondo De Fontaine sighed, “It was not a…positive experience for us.  We made some new enemies in our time there.”  He looked to Cardamon, “It is fortuitous we have our Voth along for the ride.”

Cardamon smiled nervously, ‘It is…going to be interesting returning to my home quadrant, Captain.  I will help in whatever way I can.”  He took a long drink from his mug.  He had discovered coffee and found it agreed with him.  He had found out the hard way not to drink it close to his sleep time.  That had been a disaster.

Wren gave him a nod of thanks, “The other bump in this road is our new crew.  Over half of them are recent cadets or fresh ensigns from Bravo.  That shakedown cruise is going to have to happen in the DQ…and I don’t have to warn any of you how important it is to work on preparing them for what’s out there.  We’re arriving at the wormhole in ten minutes and are slotted to jump ahead of whoever’s in line, so it’ll be quick.”

Park said, “We’ve drafted a suggested training schedule for your teams – we’ll be begging and borrowing to cover shift schedules while we get as many of our new people up to speed on the Borg and the Delta Quadrant.  You’ll need to brief your teams on the way.” She looked around the table, “This isn’t what we imagined our first mission with a new crew.  We’ve got a mystery to investigate.  Let’s get to it.”  The crew quickly cleared out, leaving Park and Walton staring at each other.

Park broke the silence, “Borg…I’ve never had the pleasure.”

Walton understood.  “I’ve never had direct engagement with them.  It’s going to be a new experience for most of us.  How are you feeling about it?”

Her XO threw her hands up, “I’m nervous and scared, Wren.  Starfleet just nearly lost everything to the Borg and the Changelings.  We will be alone out there…facing one of the most resourceful and challenging enemies.  They’re the story parents tell kids to scare them into acting right.  Only they’re not a story – they’re a real threat.  With teeth.  Stabby teeth.”  She chuckled at her joke, and Wren returned the smile.

“We don’t know what the future holds, Park.  We only know that we have a place in it, somewhere.  What happens in the next act, or chapter…that’s up to us and those we serve with.”

“…and the Borg.”  Park leaned on the chair before her, “I don’t know if we’re ready.”

Wren shrugged, “There are many examples of captains and crews that weren’t ready…but somehow managed to survive and make a difference.  Push, pull, or drag.”

Park chuckled, “You’re going to be dragging my ass across the finish line, aren’t you?”

“Whatever it takes, Commander Park.”  She watched her XO stand at attention and leave the briefing room.  The Delta Quadrant was just minutes away.  She was asking herself the same thing.  Was she ready?

Was she? 

GM 002 – The Last Goodbye

USS Mackenzie - Markonion Outpost
6.01.2401

Cardamon walked carefully off the docking platform and nervously approached the docking officer.  The Voth was dressed in his civilian attire.  He handed his PADD to the officer, “Cardamon, a Voth.”

The docking officer accepted the PADD and examined the data, inputting the required information into his console.  He scanned through the data that returned.  “Purpose of your visit?”

He had rehearsed this answer several times in the mirror and with his fellow officers on the Mackenzie.  “I’m here to close out my shop and put the space up for sale.  I also need to verify my status with the Voth systems.”  He let out a small sigh of relief.

“According to our records, your shop has remained closed.  You can still access it.  As for the Voth…,” he tapped at the console, “…your record with the various Voth governments is clear and valid.”

Cardamon felt his face contract in a frown, “Clear and valid?”  Standard words were sometimes a struggle, even with the universal translator they had gifted him.

The deck officer stared at him and then explained, “It means there are no reports about you in the positive or the negative.”

The Voth felt his face relax, “No reports?”  He felt a flash of relief flood his body.  “They will not…hunt me?”

It was the deck officer’s turn to frown, “Why would they hunt you?”

Cardamon realized it had been the wrong thing to say.  “It is a game Voth play.  A…version of your hide and seek.”

The frown lessened, and he tapped the console, “Well, you’re cleared to enter Markonion Outpost. Welcome aboard.”  He filed a report on the Voth’s statement, just in case.

 

The hallway to his shop was still as busy as it had been.  The long structure at the end was covered as he had left it.  It took him a few minutes to remove the covering and security alarms.  The old shop unfolded before him, and he tapped the console control.  The lights flickered back on, revealing all his old inventory waiting to be tended.  He wondered what life had passed by his store in his absence.  A quiet pang of loneliness echoed through his heart as he surveyed the shelves, each item bringing a memory of how he had acquired it and then tried to sell it.

He ran his clawed hands over some of them, wondering what would have been had he chosen to remain here and not join the Mackenzie.  The arrival of Captain Harris had been a moment of chance.  It was a chance to escape the chains he felt were forming around his feet the longer he stayed in the shop.

“You have returned.” He turned to the voice, nodding as he recognized the voice.  It was Fog, one of the station’s Ferengi residents.

“I have come back…if only to remember this place for a moment.  To return suggests that I would stay.  I will not.”

Fog stepped closer, eyeing the storefront and the merchandise inside, “What will you do with all this…stuff?”

The Voth shrugged, “I will sell it.  Do you wish to purchase it?”  For Cardamon, it was simple – the memories of this place and his time here were not worth keeping.  The more distance he could put between his old life and the new would help him.

Fog rubbed his hands together and typed a figure into his device, showing the Cardamon the number, “Does this meet your needs?”

Glancing at the number, he tapped the ‘agree’ button on the device, “It is yours to do with that you will. I will notify the administration.”  

Fog stared at him in wonder at the lack of negotiation.  “That was too easy.” Cardamon walked away as the Ferengi mused, “If only the rest of the Delta Quadrant was as easy.”

 

He sat at a table alone.  The early morning had given way to lunch, and the food court was busy with the new arrivals and the old guard eying each other.  Cardamom paid it no mind.  He stared into the world around him, remembering why he had landed here in the first place, why he had left.

“Afternoon, Cardamon.”  The Quartermaster, Henry Wyatt, slid into the seat across from him with two plates filled to the brim.  “You look…well, I’ve only met a few Voth, so facial expressions are hard to read. You look…pensive?”

“Pensive?”  He searched his memory for the word.  Failing that, he pulled out his PADD and searched.  “Ah.  It is an accurate interpretation.”  Wyatt offered him some from his plate, and the Voth accepted, sliding his empty plate over.  “You are very old, Quartermaster Wyatt.”

Henry chuckled, “A lot older than you, sure.  You’ve lived a hundred years, so you’re also old.”

“Not as old as you are.”  Cardamon smiled with what he hoped came across as sly.  It worked.

The Quartermaster cackled, “You speak the truth.”  He took a bit from his plate, “You didn’t have to come back here.  I know how that goes.”

The Voth shook his head, “I’ve heard the saying, ‘needs must’ many times.  I needed to come back to settle the pieces of me that I left here.  We are whole again, Quartermaster Wyatt.  This place…this home…is no longer for me.  I can fly through the stars without thinking about the places I’ve abandoned.  As the Ferengi says, ‘the accounts are settled”.

Wyatt chuckled at that, “That’ll be the day.”  He drank the soda, “At least you’ve found where you belong.”

Cardamon ate from his plate and asked, “And you, Quartermaster Wyatt?  Have you found where you belong?”

Henry stopped his fork halfway to his mouth.  He gently set it down on the plate, “That’s…a hard question.  As a people, we don’t have a home anymore.  The Borg ripped that away from us and nearly exterminated us all.”  He thought for a moment.  Despite the Borg’s initial incursion and destruction, the El-Aurian people had survived and spread across time and space.  The Borg hadn’t succeeded in their elimination.  “I don’t belong anywhere, Cardamon…at least for long.  I’ll outlive the Mackenzie crew…and I might outlive the next threat.  I’ll continue on my journey of listening, watching…such is the way of our people.”

The Voth finished his plate and offered, “It sounds beautiful.  I learned this word ‘beauty’…it may be hard, it might hurt…but there is beauty in what you do with the lives you lived and will live.”

Wyatt smiled, “A quadrant may separate us…but you and I are much the same.” They remained at the table, enjoying each other’s company until the call from the Mackenzie came.  

It was time.

GM 003 – She’s a Mystery to Me

Kasat Planet and Colony
6.1.2401

Walton ordered, “Yellow Alert.”  The lights on the bridge faded to a soft yellow as the Mackenzie dropped from warp speed and approached the first planet.  “Science, you’re up.”

Thasaz was ahead of her, “Readings are consistent with a Borg Sphere having been in the system, but they’re at the edges.  It does not match exactly with our Alpha Quadrant ships.  I’ve got the approximate path.”  The viewscreen showed a dotted path from the far edges to just inside one of the nearby moons and then back out again.  “They got close enough to scan and be seen…but then they were off again.  I’ll have the team work on tracking further and drawing up some possible paths.”

Wren turned to Atega, “Hail them, let ‘em know we’re here.” A nod and the communications chief reported a response.  “Let’s see how we’ve got.”  She stood and adjusted her uniform.  The screen filled with a Romulan face.  “I’m Captain Wren Walton of the Federation Starship USS Mackenzie.  We received your message.”

“Partes Jasa, President of the Kasat Planet and Colony.  We lost track of the sphere…can you tell us it is gone?”  Wren assured him it was and that they were monitoring long-range sensors.  “Do you know why they came here?  We’re not technologically advanced by any stretch…we may be many here on the planet but we live a simple life out here.

Walton wasn’t sure either, “It’s odd behavior from a Borg Sphere.  We’d like to send a team to do a routine scan and look at your systems?”  Jasa nodded, and they arranged for the away team to meet with them.  The channel closed, and she turned to the bridge, “Let’s get to work.”

 

“Now, that’s interesting.”  Chief Science Officer Thasaz sat at the older model console in the archaic command and control bunker.  “As old as this thing is, it still could take readings from the scans.”  She flipped open her equipment bag and found a cord to connect the older model computer to the PADD in her hand.  “Let’s see what we can see.”  The transfer took a few minutes.  Her eyes roamed the transferred results, “It looks like they were scanning for something particular.”  She handed the PADD to Jasa, “Anything you recognize there?”

He didn’t, “Not at first glance.  They were only here for ten minutes.  Our people are concerned they may come back.  We’ve had isolated riots from groups that think we’re hiding the truth.”  Partes shuddered, “We’ve managed to keep things working well out here for quite some time.”

Commander Park was working on a nearby console, “Delta Quadrant isn’t a friendly place, Mr. President.  Why’d you all choose to come here?”

His shoulders dropped, “As foolish as it sounds…we wanted to get away from the Alpha Quadrant with a fresh start.  We ignored many warnings…and somehow, we’ve survived.  Not without loss, I confess.  It is a hard place to survive, Commander; you are right.  It is also a place for exploration and discovery.”

Park wondered if it was worth it.  A Borg Sphere wasn’t something you survived…and wasn’t for exploration or discovery.  It was for death.  “Well, I hope your streak of luck continues, Mr. President.”

Thasaz walked from console to console, updating her PADD with what she could pull from the screens and computers.  There was a troubling element in the scans the Sphere had completed.  It had scanned biological life only and ignored the mechanical units, almost as if they were indifferent to the possible uses within the old equipment.  She amended that statement in her head – it would have made sense to ignore the out-of-date mechanics, which left her with the question of the focus on the biological that the Borg Sphere was taking.  She returned to where the President stood, “Borg behavior is a science…and it isn’t.  We know enough to understand why they might do something.  In this case, they looked at you and decided you weren’t worth assimilation.  They’re looking for something biological but didn’t find it here.”

Jasa felt relief at the news, “So we’re not advanced enough for them?  Or…our bodies aren’t advanced enough?”

Thasaz shrugged, “Yes to both, but with a question mark at the end.  The Borg are intentional in what they do that we do know.  Whatever they’re doing, there’s a reason for it.  We just have to figure out what that reason is.  Thankfully, you’re not it.  You can tell your people to breathe – you’re not on the menu for the Borg.”

He thanked them and headed back down the hallway to meet with his cabinet and government officials.  Commander Park joined Thasaz, “Who are they looking for?”

Thasaz grimaced, “That’s the million latinum question, Commander.  I need to get this data to my team.  Hopefully, it gets us closer to an answer.  I’d rather not be in the middle of the Delta Quadrant any longer than I have to.”

GM 004 – Into the Mystery

USS Mackenzie
6.1.2401

“That’s what they’re looking for?”  Captain Wren Walton squinted at the holo display in the briefing room, “I’m not even sure what I’m looking at.”

Thasaz agreed, “We’re not sure either.  The data we were able to pull from the older computers is far from the detail we can get from our sensors.”  They had spent hours poring over the stream of information and narrowed it down to what they theorized was a biological signature.  As the Chief Science officer explained, she cautioned, “We’re not convinced this confirms why they’re here – it’s our best guess.  If my Vulcan brethren were giving this report, they’d have qualified and quantified why this conclusion isn’t supported…blah blah.  The problem is they wouldn’t be wrong.”

Wren sighed, “My Captain’s Chair for a modern colonial computer.  Do we have any idea…”

Suddenly, the room’s communication channel sparked alive, “Captain to the bridge!”  They all stood and walked briskly down the hallway and onto the command center of the USS Mackenzie.

Lieutenant Juliet Woodward sprang from the chair, “Captain, we’re receiving a distress call from a transport group about an hour away.”  She motioned to Atega to play the message.  Walton slid into the chair as the message played.

“This is the Transport Group Alegani…we are under attack from a sphere-like ship…two ships have gone dark in the last five minutes…they’ve disabled our warp engines, and we’re trying to get away without much luck.  We need help…repeat this is…wait – get those shields back up!  Don’t..no!  NO! NOOOOO!!”  The channel cut off with a scream, and the bridge went silent as everyone’s eyes turned to Walton.  She considered her options.  Whatever the Borg were up to, they were moving fast and were ahead of the Mackenzie by several days.

“Plot an intercept course and get us there as fast as she’ll fly.”  The Mackenzie was soon underway, and Walton asked Thasaz, “What can you tell us about the transport group?”  They had been given a download of ship and organization data from the Delta Quadrant when they arrived at Markonian.

“They’re tough ships, but against the Borg, they’ll lose.  They have limited escape pods.  They are technologically advanced enough that they might be considered helpful for assimilation.  The crew would be a mix of Delta and Alpha Quadrant species.”

Park worried, “If they’re still there when we show up…”

Walton warned her gently, “We’ll take it one step at a time.  Get to sickbay – we will be doing emergency search and rescue at a minimum.”  She turned to Woodward, the Chief Counselor, “Get your auxiliary medical teams activated and join the commander – we’re going to need all the help we can get.”  She followed Park into the turbolift with a simple nod.  Wren told the bridge crew, “We’re going to do everything we can to help them…but we cannot attempt a direct attack on a Borg Sphere.  There would be no chance that we would make it out alive.  As good as the Mack is…she’d need a small fleet to lead that attack.”  She looked at each of her bridge officers, and they nodded individually.  She gave one final order before returning to her chair, and it was to Gabriella Castillo at the helm, “If we come under attack from the Borg, we run.  Is that clear?”  The young woman gulped but affirmed the clarity of the situation.  Walton tapped at her console, “Start the clock.”

 

“Dropping at the system’s edge in 3…2…1.”  Castillo took a deep breath as the Mackenzie dropped into the area.  She waited for Kondo or Thasaz’s report.  Her heart was beating fast.  The Borg were a terrifying enemy on a good day in Federation space. They were in the Delta Quadrant. There was little calvary to call.

Kondo De Fontaine, chief tactical officer, was first, “Sensors have three transport ships in various states of damage within the system.  No trace of a Borg Sphere or signal – we have their path on sensors.”

Thasaz tapped at her console, annoyed, “They were here…tracking their path is more complex this time, captain…looks like they’ve adapted their warp and transwarp trails.”  She sent the information to her science teams to begin taking it apart, “We’re working on it.”

Wren leaned forward, “Get us to them.  Maintain yellow alert.” The clock at the front of the bridge ticked forward as the three wrecked transport ships slowly came into view. “Mr. Kondo?”

“Two of the ships have been ripped apart.  We’re not going to be able to transport aboard them.  The remaining ship…looks like she was the group leader.  Engineering has been breached, but they managed to secure it from the rest of the ship.  Life support and gravity systems are functional on most of that ship.”  He continued to work the sensors.

At science, Thasaz shook her head, “Life signs are…hard to verify.”  She caught the glance from Wren and explained, “Normally, we’d be able to detect them – their shields are offline, and the composition of the hulls isn’t getting in the way.  There’s something else at play.  I am detecting signs of biological and mechanical life, but it’s phasing in and out, so I can’t get a lock.”

Commander Park tightened her grip on the Executive Officer’s chair.  There wasn’t any doubt now – it was the Borg.  The mechanical life signs would be assimilated drones.  Whether they were connected to the collective or lost to the emptiness of disconnection was the next question.  She managed a quiet, “What does that mean…phasing?”  She was a former science officer, and there were so many types.

“Unknown – the computer is having a hell of a time determining the type, kind, modulation, or frequency of whatever phasing it is.”  Thasaz tapped at the console, and the viewscreen displayed the various readings.  

Park frowned as she stood and got closer to examine the data.  “That looks like a Collective connection signal…but then what’s that?”  She gestured at one of the other readings.  “That’s…looks like a brain activity scan transmitted in real-time.”  She continued to study it.

Thasaz agreed, “That’s just two of fourteen signals sending the analyzing systems into a warp core breach.  The only way we’re going to figure it out is…”

Walton finished it, “…is by getting aboard the ship and investigating it ourselves.”  She stood from her chair, “Activate the Hazard Team and assemble Away Team Bravo with them in Transporter Room One – I’ll meet them there.  Commander Park, you have the CONN.”

As the door closed on Wren, the XO shifted to the center seat.  The air on the bridge felt tighter than usual.  The posture of the officers was straight, focused, and tightly wound.  The Borg were here.  And they were going to meet them.  She spoke quietly but firmly to the bridge crew, “Steady on, everyone.  Let’s stay on target and take this one minute at a time. We’ll get through this…whatever it is.”

Park hoped they all believed it.

She hoped she believed it.

GM 005 – Danger Zone

USS Mackenzie
6.1.2401

The lights of the transporter faded as each officer on the away team rapidly filled their hands with phasers and tricorders in equal measure.  The Hazard team had moved through the initial cargo bay and secured the area.  They waited for the next move from the ranking officer of the away team that had appeared.  Commander Thasaz had her tricorder out and was moving a short distance away and back in a circling manner.  Her science background would be helpful, but it was her sixth sense that was tingling.  “The bay is clear of any phasing or mechanical signatures.  The rest of the ship is a scramble.”  She turned to the Chief Engineer, Commander Okada, “It feels like…something’s off.  I can’t quantify it.”

Okada hefted her heavier engineering scanner, “The systems are a mess – something’s modified the gravity, environmental, and dampener systems. It’s still livable, but that uncomfortable feeling…it’s a place meant for something else.”

Doctor Henry Longfellow came from the rear, his medical tricorder beeping as he looked from it to the PADD in his other hand, “It will come as no surprise that the settings are a baseline for Borg…it matches the readings from the files, and recent engagements.  Long-term exposure will cause some harm, but I don’t think we’re here for a long time.”  He muttered, “I don’t want to be here for a long time.”

The Chief Engineer ignored his comment and said, “Let’s move towards the bridge.”

The corridor is where the lighting faded into darkness.  Flashlights clicked on, filling the hallway with a stark white light as the aches and pains of the shifting deck groaned underneath them.  The lack of an engine or power system created a vacuum of sound as they walked – everything they shuffled over, kicked, or bumped into sent a shock through the group, their senses balanced on the edge of concern.

“Goddamn it.”  Longfellow groused as he slowed, “We’re never going to get to the bridge at this rate.”

The group halted with a shout from Lieutenant Horace Krato at the front.  A body was lying across the corridor intersection.  Krato, the Hazard Team Lead, motioned Longfellow forward, and the doctor soon saw why they had stopped.

The body was that of a young man halfway assimilated, twitching with soft moans.  Longfellow gave the Hazard team an annoyed look, “If he moves to take me out, you can shoot him…but we need to figure out his condition.”  Henry knelt, moving his medical tricorder over the man, “Parts of him are still human…as if they got so far and gave up.  This wasn’t interrupted artificially…this assimilation was stopped by the collective.”  He increased the detail and location focus on the tricorder, “His mind is split between the human and Borg consciousness.  It’s as if he suddenly had a conjoined twin attached to him.”  The body jerked loudly at that, and the rest jumped back, shocked.  Longfellow remained, his eyes trained on the tricorder and his patient, “He’s not connected to the collective – that link has been severed permanently.”

Thasaz stared at the eyes of the young man.  There was a deep emptiness in his stare, broken only by sporadic blinking and muttering incoherent babble from his trembling lips.  “Can he be saved?”

Longfellow completed his scans, “No.  Too much damage has been done to the cognitive parts of the brain as well as the brainstem, not to mention most of his major organs…he wouldn’t live through any removal surgery.”  A quiet moment of repose passed between the team before Henry continued, “We will need to bring him aboard the Mack for study – whatever they were up to here…we need to find out as much as we can.” He stood and glanced at the away team leader, Okada.  She stared at the body, her face falling as she realized he would never live again.  He would die in their care.  She brushed the tightness in her throat away and gave a nod.  The body was tagged and transported to an isolation chamber under guard until Longfellow could return.  They moved on in silence.

They made it to the bridge.  The lights flickered over a gruesome scene.  Borg drones had been ripped apart with great force while human and alien bodies lay in morbid stages of partial assimilation.  Longfellow shook his head in disgust.  He moved from body to body, scanning with the help of his science counterpart, Thasaz.  At each, they reported the percentage of assimilation and the body’s condition.  Unlike the discovery in the corridor, there was nothing left alive here. A rank smell of death and decay floated above the command center.

Okada felt her stomach churning as she tried to look everywhere but at the dull red blood that arrayed the floor.  She managed to compose herself and ask, “I suppose we’ll need to examine them as well, Doctor Longfellow.”  He gave a sad nod.  They tagged the bodies and watched as the bright lights took them as if to transport their spirits to a better place.  A garbled message came through the communicators, “We’ve made entry into the back of the ship…you need to see this.”

 

“What the….” Longfellow faded off as they entered the rear cargo bay that had been sealed and locked.  Bodies were piled high, all empty-eyed, and none assimilated.  He scanned lightly, “There’s more than the crew numbers for this transport ship.  I suspect these are the crews from the others.”  He stepped closer, his eyes searching the pile, “They fought…hard.  Every single one of them has burns from Borg weapons…when you attack a Borg…you become a threat.”

Thasaz was using a larger sensor unit, “Wait…there’s…someone alive in there.”  Longfellow bounded over and glanced at the readings.

“Shit…she’s right.  Tricorder couldn’t get through the piles…Hazard Team, need a hand here.”  It was gentle work as they removed the bodies slowly at Thasaz’s guidance to locate the one life sign signal she’d found. Nobody spoke in the silence broken by the sound of hands delicately gripping arms and legs and the footfalls as they respectfully laid the bodies to the side.

Suddenly, there was a shout, “Get me out! GET ME OUT!”  The pace picked up as they moved more bodies until a flash of an arm waving wildly jumped out of the pile, shouting for help.  It took them mere moments to clear the remaining bodies around the teen girl and help pull her to stand amongst them.  Longfellow went to scan her, “You’re safe.”  He gave her their ship name as he gently guided her to sit away from the bodies, “What is your name?”

She looked at them in a new light, “You said the USS Mackenzie…is Captain Harris still your captain?”  Longfellow felt a shiver as he gently explained that he had died in the line of duty and that they had a new captain.  Her face fell in sadness at the news.  She whispered, “He was kind to my people when he was here.  We know your ship. Doctor.”  She looked around the bay, misery filling her face, “You couldn’t have stood a chance against this.  My name is Eileen Strickland…and I think I am the last of my people.”  She sobbed as her face fell into her hands.

Longfellow stood, “We need to get her to the Mackenzie – we try and debrief here; it’ll make it worse.”  He leaned down, “Eileen, I need to take you to my ship and help you…is that ok?” Through the shuddering sobs, she nodded, inconsolable.  He placed a tag on her and soon disappeared in the bright lights.

Thasaz turned to the team, “Let’s get through the rest of this ship…see what we can pull from the computers and systems.  There’s gotta be an answer here somewhere.”  As they moved about the ship in teams, she wondered if they would ever find an answer to such brutality.  What do you do in the face of a stoppable, monstrous mechanical nightmare?

What could you do?

She kept asking herself that question. 

GM 006 – Needle in a Haystack

USS Mackenzie
6.1.2401

“Sensei Longfellow…there was nothing you could do for this man.”  Lieutenant Hiro stood beside her commanding officer, Doctor Henry Longfellow.  His face felt hot at the emotions swirling around his heart and head.

“I am aware, Hiro.  It doesn’t lessen the weight of being able to do nothing.”  He had patiently worked with the remaining life contained within the bruised and butchered half-Borg half-Human body.  It had held on as long as it could until the inevitable failures of the internal organs, long overdue, began to signal the impending reality and ruin of death.  “This was someone once.  Alive.  Now a husk of…mechanics.  In their push for perfection, the Borg are an abomination…a curse among the stars.”  He gripped his hands on the table and leaned forward.  Why was there such an urge to perfect things?

His charge nurse’s voice was a quiet oasis in the storm, “Sensei…you cannot carry him with you.  The weight won’t allow you to stay above the water.”  He closed his eyes and began the process of adjusting his breathing.  They had spent much of the last month working backward to the loss of his wife a year ago in June.  They had worked out between each other ways for him to check himself in the moment.  One of the images they had settled on was the ability to tread water and not be pulled down.  He grimaced.  It wasn’t easy to let things go into the depths of the water below him.

But it was the only way he could keep moving forward.  He couldn’t keep diving down to try and save everyone and everything.  He opened his eyes a moment later, “Thank you, Hiro-san.  Your reminders are most helpful.”  Longfellow secured the body and activated the full sensor scan.  There were several other bodies next door in the surgery suite that required his attention.  Lieutenant Hiro followed him.

He slipped on his protective suit, helmet, and gloves while Hiro did the same.  They went through the decontamination hallway and entered the staid room with the three bodies half assimilated.  Tapping the multi-media console, he activated the cameras and microphones.  Captain Wren Walton and the bridge crew were tuned into his session.  He heard her voice confirming they were receiving and for him to continue.

He began with a report while completing the additional examination and scanning on the bodies, “Initial scans detected no sign of life with the living tissue. That had become necrotic.  What was continuing to broadcast and seek out the collective was the biomechanical devices of the partially assimilated elements.  Those are the 14 signals that Commander Thasaz identified.”  He adjusted the cameras to focus on one of the bodies assimilated pieces, “What we see here are unusual pieces of Borg assimilation technology.  We’re still analyzing their uses, but our early hypothesis is that they were designed to test the adaptability of the assimilated with the collective.”  He had the cameras focus on the similar devices on the three bodies.  Longfellow concluded, “The rest of the assimilation tech is the standard we’re accustomed to.”

The voice of Walton spoke out of the speaker, “To clarify…the Borg are doing…experiments?”

Longfellow tapped at the console, bringing up photos from his autopsy sessions, “I don’t know if that’s even the correct word, Captain Walton.  The Borg are not known for their…intellectual hunger or interest.  It’s the will of the Collective that governs them.  Given what we know about what was reported to have occurred with Admiral Janeway’s actions against the Borg here and the events of Frontier Day back home…the Borg are probably suffering a loss of drones and equipment.  Lieutenant Hiro and I have an uncomfortable theory – this Borg Sphere is looking for someone, something, or a people group to repair their wounds and build back what was taken from them.”

He could hear the soft conversations on the bridge as his theory was absorbed.  He wasn’t completely sold on the idea.  The Borg were predictable and unpredictable – you could think you’re playing checkers when they’ve adapted to three-dimensional chess.  Or they could just be playing checkers with you.  Walton’s voice returned, “Thasaz and her team are working on the data they were able to pull from the transport’s computer.  What about the last survivor?”

 

Eileen Strickland lay comfortably in the biobed, her eyes closed.  The door to her room opened, and she was startled, only to be comforted as an officer in blue pulled up a stool beside her bed.  “Good mornin’…er…afternoon.  Lieutenant Juliet Woodward, at your service.”

The young girl stared at her, “What are you here to do?”

“I’m the chief counselor.  Which means I talk to a lotta people as a part of my job.”

“Is it just you?  This ship seems hella big.”

Juliet laughed, “No, I have a small team.”  The bright laughter infected the girl as she chuckled a little, a small smile crossing her lips.  Juliet asked, “How are you?”

Strickland shook her head slowly, “I don’t know.”  She struggled to identify her state of mind.  So much had happened; so much had been torn from her.  The wounds to her heart and soul were open but haphazardly bandaged as if they could open up any moment.  “I feel like there’s this bubble around me, and every so often, I feel or hear something that reminds me that I’m the only one left…but then I sit here, and I watch a show I love…or read a new book…and it’s on hold…like I don’t have to feel it all the time…you know?”  Woodward understood.  “It’s hard to feel all of it all at the same time.”  She played nervously with her hands.

The counselor acknowledged, “Feelings are hard.”  She shifted closer to the bed, “Would you be comfortable sharing some things about what happened?” A slow nod.  “OK.  You can ask for it to stop at any time.”  Another slow nod.  “Start wherever you want, Eileen.”

Resistance is Futile.  You will be assimilated.

“It was like they said in the movies.  That line.  That…fucking line.”  She accepted a cup of water and continued, “They came out of nowhere…we’d been tracking something just outside sensor range…I was on the bridge with my dad…and then…it appeared.”

“Raise shields!  Get us out of here!  Move, move…”

“It was massive…and it moved so fast.  It took out the warp engines for all three ships in five seconds flat.  Then they started on the other two ships.”

“Captain – they’re tearing them apart!  I can see…oh god, I can see the bodies!”

She took another drink.  “Then they came for us.”

“Whatever you do, Eileen, run.  Run, hide, get to cover…whatever it takes.  We will fight as hard as we can to keep them from getting to you and the others.  Don’t stop running from them.  Don’t give up.”

Tears ran down Strickland’s face, “I heard the screams.  I heard the sounds of the…assimilation…only they didn’t finish them.  They stood over the bodies, watching…waiting…for something.  Whatever it was, it never came.  I heard the human voices crying out for mercy…to die.  The Borg didn’t care.  My father and the rest fought them.  They took more than a few with them…but they adapted.  I ran.  And I ran.  I found the bodies like you did…and I could hear the drones coming down the halls.  I had to climb into the bodies.  I had to hide.  Daddy told me to hide and not give up.”  She openly sobbed as she spoke, and Woodward pulled her close.

“You don’t…”

“I need to finish.” Juliet gave her a nod.  Eileen grasped tightly onto her emotions as she continued, “They couldn’t detect me in the pile of bodies, so they piled more and more on top.  I felt like I was being crushed.  It was so hard to breathe…staring into the faces of people I knew…friends I had loved…my people.”  She wiped the free-flowing tears away as if it would stop the raw emotion from erupting from within.  “I was about to give up…about to surrender to dying there…when I heard your voices.  You saved me.”

 

“She’s the only survivor.”  Wren stood at the nurses’ station as Juliet finished her report.  “17 years old, and she’s…alone in the world.  What will happen to her?”

Woodward explained, “She’ll remain in our custody…we’ll reach out to Markonian and see if they have any information on people groups similar to her that could take her in…but in talking with her…she wants away from the Delta Quadrant as soon as possible.  She asked if we would return home at the end of the month…and if she could hitch a ride.”

“You seem sold on the idea of her staying aboard.”

“Capt…Wren…she has nowhere else to go.  I can’t fathom putting her on a planet with people she’s never met or known.”

Walton pointed at her, “So help me if say…”

Juliet’s lopsided grin was followed by, “…we’re her family now?”

“You’re fired.  Get the hell off my ship.”

“You can’t fire me, I quit.”

Walton couldn’t keep a straight face with her chief counselor. They had developed a banter that had served to break up the tension in their conversation.  She smiled, emphasizing the first two words, “For now, we’re her family.  Set her up with some quarters…set the rules.  I don’t need a teenager joyriding one of our shuttles in the Delta Quadrant.”

It was Juliet’s turn to point, “I seem to recall a young teenage Wren Walton story involving something similar.”  She cackled as she walked back towards Strickland’s patient room.

Wren scoffed, “Why did I tell you that story, anyway?”

A tongue stuck out at her was her answer, followed by, “It’s cause you love me, Captain!”  She slipped into the room and quickly closed the door, preventing Wren from a clever retort.

 

GM 007 – Surprises

USS Mackenzie
6.1.2401

“Five minutes to intercept.  The planet operations center reports half the population in emergency shelters, while the other half is on their way.”  Ensign Oscar Reede spoke with a faux confidence as the reports sputtered in his earpiece.  Inside, there was a windy storm of doubt and fear increasing in intensity with each minute that passed.  Another planet had detected the Borg Sphere, and the Mackenzie had been close enough this time.  Close enough, Reede reminded himself, didn’t count for much right now.  What would they do if the Sphere decided to attack the planet and assimilate everything in sight?  He wished for something else to face.  A space whale, a planet monster, or something…anything else but the Borg.

Captain Wren Walton stood in the middle of the bridge, aware of the renewed fear coursing through the command center and into the rest of the ship.  They had been in another review meeting looking at the readings when the call had come.  She walked to stand behind her Security Chief, “Let’s start the process of deploying our boarding defense teams.”  Seraphina Pearce tapped at the console with a nod.  She’d taken on most of the new crew from Bravo.  She’d kept her complaints to herself, but Wren had sat her down early and asked her to vent.  Wren had to credit the Lieutenant – her language creation skills had been exceptional.

Commander Park sat at the operations station, her hair tightly wound, echoing her internal weather, “All departments report secure from Red Alert.”  She’d taken on the role as they had not replaced the former operations chief.  Another tap of her console, “Three minutes to intercept.”

Thasaz was hunched over her science console, “The Borg Sphere is four minutes from the planet.”  She muttered, “But they always find a way to speed things up.”  The ruby lights filtered across the stations as each officer and crewman focused steadfastly on their duties.  Whatever came next, however it happened…the need to be ready outweighed any daydreaming or imagining beyond what lay in front of them.

The rest of the Mackenzie stood at stations, waiting and listening.  Those off duty had reported to their muster stations; there was no need for coffee.  The impending meeting with the Borg was keeping their tired eyes wide open.  The new ensigns and crewmen milled about their stations, their wells of worry and anxiety filling with each passing minute.

From the helm, Ensign Gabriela Castillo stared at the stars swarming by on the viewscreen.  She called out, “Thirty seconds to intercept.”  At stations on the bridge and across the Excelsior II class, postures went rigid, and those final words of encouragement were whispered, said, and prayed.  Captain Walton shifted her feet, her fingers softly rubbing together as the clock above the screen clicked forward. Castillo tapped at her console, wishing they could fly home.  “Arriving.”  The stars slowed, and a pastoral planet appeared in the distance, growing larger as the Chief Flight Control Officer steered them near.

“Borg Sphere caught up to us…arriving now.”  Thasaz went to work while at tactical; Kondo kept his hands off his console.  Any perception by the Borg of what they were doing could signal their definite doom.

Walton remained standing as she advised the bridge crew, “Steady…steady.”

Thasaz reported, “Sphere is entering the system…scanning has begun. I’ve got our sensors tuned in to listen.  Permission to scan it?”  She turned in her chair, looking at her new captain.  They had debated her question for several hours, and neither had come to a satisfactory conclusion.  The risk and the reward were unknown.

Walton stared at the Sphere as it moved lazily through the system.  “Have they scanned us?”

“Not beyond their passive systems.”  Thasaz turned as her console sang a bitter tune, “They are starting the scan of the planet.  No sign they’ve taken notice of us.”

“They’ve seen us…they just don’t view us as a threat or worth the trouble.”  Wren wanted to hold her breath and wish the Borg away.  She wished the magical stories she’d read as a child could be a reality, and she’d cast them into the darkest depths.

“Captain…?”  Thasaz wasn’t taking her avoidance for an answer.

She sighed, “What the hell. Start your scans.  Helm – plot an escape course and be ready to engage.”  Wren still didn’t return to her chair while Castillo followed her orders and answered that it was ready.

“The planet is hailing us, Captain,” Oscar felt his nerves tighten as if walking on a tightrope high above the planet.  So much of their immediate future depended on what the Borg saw them doing and if they would respond.

Walton mused, “I’m guessing they’re having a little panic like we are.  Thasaz?”

“They’ve just completed their scan.  They’re not moving.”  She felt her heart start to spin.  Every pair of eyes stared at the viewscreen where the ominous and glittering Sphere stared back, silent in its repose.

“Goddamn Borg.  Let’s try and share our feelings with the planet.  Reede.”

The screen changed to the face of the communications director in a massive facility, his eyes wide, sweat dripping, “Captain Walton…why aren’t they leaving?  They should have gone by now.”  The others in the background were working on their consoles and shouting into their headsets.

“If I could tell them to leave…or go to their room…I’d have done it.  We’re going to have to wait.”

The man’s eyes widened in desperation, “You can run if they attack, Captain…we cannot.  Our waiting is different than yours.  We don’t wish to be ripped apart to serve a collective.”  He held up a device, “We’ve agreed to self-destruct if they attempt to attack.”  He leaned into the camera, “You hear me, Borg!?  We would rather die than serve your masters.”  The channel cut as the man walked away.

Thasaz was in shock, “What the hell just happened?  They’ve got a…”

Kondo’s hands remained off his console, “Knowing what we know about assimilation…and what it does to you…it is hard to argue with them.  Living out here in the wilderness of the Delta Quadrant…I can’t imagine.”

Walton now wanted to sit down and process.  There wasn’t time as she grumbled, “I’m starting to understand why you all hate this place so much.  Reede, can you get him back?”  The chief communications officer attempted several times, shaking his head at each failed try.  “Thasaz, please tell me they’re leaving.”  The longer the Sphere sat there, the more twisted her stomach became.

“Readings are showing nothing of note.  Normal power operations.  No communication…she’s just sitting there.  Perhaps they found…,”  Suddenly, the Sphere shifted forward and then jumped to warp.  The Romulan Science chief sighed, “…and like that…they’re gone.”

The rest of the bridge crew relaxed, an audible sigh cascading across the command center.  Reede alerted the captain, “We’ve got the planet back.”

Wren waved the channel open and headed for the center chair, sitting in relief as she addressed the man on the screen, “You really have a self-destruct system down there?”

The man wiped his face as he chuckled dryly, “Captain Walton…if you spent more than a month out here at a time…you’d know eventually the system will have to be tested…or heavens forbid used.  We won’t be taken alive against our will for someone else’s purpose.  If it’s not the Borg…it’s someone else.  It’s kept most of them away from us.”

Park turned from her science station, “You know the Borg won’t care like the others do.  They are relentless.”

“This is the only time they’ve come this close – we must not have been interesting to them.  You may not understand our ways, Captain…but they are ours.  Not yours.”  The channel closed.

Walton didn’t know what to say at the moment.  Thasaz saved her with a worried look as she reported, “We’ve got more data from the other scans and this one.  We need to speak with Cardamon.  The computer flagged the Voth as a possible match.” 

GM 008 – Take Me Home, Country Roads

USS Mackenzie
6.1.2401

“You said so yourself, Cardamon…your record is clear.”  Captain Wren Walton sat on the right end of the couch, an iced tea in her hand.

The Voth perched on the end of the other side of the couch, his claws clattering together, “It’s…how you humans say…complicated.” He shrugged a very human shrug as Thasaz stared at him from her chair in the ready room.  “It…they may have cleared my name from the sector records and removed any…you call them warrants…from the system…but a Voth’s memory is long, my friends.  We live long lives, and our…what is the human word…penchant…for holding grudges until we can take our revenge…is great.”

Commander Park leaned against the back wall, “Do you think they’ll listen to us if we tell them they’re a target?  I mean…impending doom can be a great motivator.”

Cardamon scoffed, but as a Voth, it sounded like a snarl.  “Impending doom is our motivation to spill blood. The fight…the battle…in this way, we are similar to your Klingons.”  He allowed, “The Borg is the one enemy that has ever given us true fear.”

Walton asked, “Do you think they’d listen to us, at least?”  She had quickly come to understand the way of the Delta Quadrant – everyone was paranoid, suspicious, and looking at everyone as an enemy or, at a minimum, a threat.

Cardamon wasn’t sure.  “They will hear you, I assure you of that.  What they do after that, I do not know.  I have learned new words from you…words that would fit my people very well.  Pride and hubris in the…what is that word…,” he tapped at his PADD until he located it, “…the extreme.  I have read the events of your Wolf 359 and the Borg’s original march on your Earth.  They humbled you.  My people do not know such humbling…and I fear they will repeat your errors.”

Wren understood the message even as the metaphor pushed up against her sensibilities.  She could forgive Cardamon, as he was still learning the language and culture of the Federation and his adopted home, Earth.  “Then we have to try our best.  I’m leaving the choice to join us on the planet up to you, Cardamon.  You don’t have to make an appearance if you don’t wish to.”

The Voth shook his head quietly, “It is not about my wishes, Captain.  It is about having the courage and strength to stand before them.  You would refer to it as ‘destiny’ or ‘fate’.  I cannot run away from my past any more than I flee to the future.”

 

“They’ve made no conditions about weapons.” Security Chief Kondo De Fontaine stood in Transporter Room One with Commander Park, Commander Charlie Hargraves, Commander Thasaz, and Cardamon.  “We’ll be addressing the senior command of the Voth Planetary Government.”  He glanced at Cardamon, “They are aware of you, Cadet Cardamon.”

He gave a quiet bow, his fresh uniform bringing him some level of comfort, “I am ready.”  The group stepped onto the transporter pad.  Moments later, they vanished in the bright lights.

They opened their eyes to a crowd of Voth officers in various uniforms.  One larger Voth stepped free of the crowd, “I am Voreth, Supreme Commander of the Voth Planetary Colony.”  He peered through the small group of Starfleet officers, “I see you brought a murderer into our midst.”  His snarl was not a misinterpretation of Voth posture or facial expression.

Cardamon shuffled forward, his uniform drawing gasps, growls, and pointed claws as it became clear who the erstwhile Voth had sworn his allegiance.  His initial cowering stance straightened out slightly, “I cannot refute the accusation.  Unlike my brethren, I cannot lie.  I could not be taken back into chains to serve a higher calling that was not my own.”

A buzz of conversation swept through the crowd as Voreth returned to caucus with the others.  Hargraves turned to the Starfleet group, “We’ve provisionally granted Cardamon as a protected party on the Mackenzie and a pending application to Starfleet Academy.  Diplomatically, he’s been granted asylum with us.  We’ve started the process for him to become a Federation citizen.  I suspect they’re going to try and claim him back.”  Park glanced behind him, and Charlie turned as Voreth stepped forward.

“Cardamon has admitted to the murder.  He must be tried and executed according to our laws.”

Charlie handed a PADD to the head Voth, “We’ve claimed him.  He’s a part of our crew and has been given several protected statuses within the Federation.”

The tall Voth screamed as he swatted the device back to Hargraves, “Lies!”  His posture tightened, “You came here for a purpose.  We will deal with the heretic soon enough.  Why are you here?”

Park stepped forward and explained the Borg threat and what they knew.  Several of the Voth in the crowd gasped and turned to talk with those around them.  At each revelation, a new smattering of conversations would break loose.  As she finished, Voreth sneered, “You think we fear the Borg?”

Cardamon chuckled, “I know we do…”

The lead Voth shouted him down, “You are not a piece of us anymore, traitorous murdering trash! You have been away too long.  You don’t know us anymore…and we do not know you.”  Voreth spun his eyes to Commander Park, “You Federations claim to be the smartest of them all…in the end, you are foolish beyond measure.  We will stand against the Borg.  We have developed new weapons and powers.”

Park wasn’t sure what to say or how to respond.  Hargraves, the diplomatic officer, tried, “We think they’re going to come for you because of certain qualities in your DNA struct…”

Voreth exploded at Cardmon again, “You gave them samples?  You sold us out to them with your allegiance…but also your blood?”  He withdrew a blaster and pointed it threateningly at the offending Voth, “I should kill you where you stand!”  He looked around and found each Starfleet officer had pulled a phaser rifle or phaser out and was pointing it back at him,  “You dare point your weapons of war at me?”

Thasaz intoned, “You’re threatening to kill one of our crew, Supreme Commander.  We take that shit pretty seriously.”  She went further, “You said you do not know him anymore – it would seem to a layman Romulan that you’ve expelled him from your group…and your laws no longer apply to an exile.” The Supreme Commander huffed and stared her down before shuffling back to the group to confer.  Everyone lowered their weapons.

Charlie sidled up to her, “Nice work commander.”

She shrugged, “It’s only ‘nice work’ if it works, commander.”

The commotion slowed, and Voreth returned to face the Starfleet crew.  “You…are right.  Cardamon is an exile.  Effective immediately, he is exiled under the penalty of death should he ever return to this place or us in space.  We will enforce this no matter who he is ‘traveling’ with at the time.  This is your only warning.”  He assumed a taller posture, “As for your warning – it is the practice of you Federations to try and scare others into your protection for your gain.  We reject it as we reject you.  The exile conditions apply to you – if you return to us for any reason, we will bring you out of the sky into the fires that consume all heretics and traitors.”

The XO blinked twice, “Then yes.  We’ve been warned.  I hope your defenses hold the Borg when they come looking for you.”  They turned to leave.

Voreth spat, “And you would never sell us out to them, would you?”

Thasaz spun on her heels, locking eyes with him, “Whatever you think of us or have heard of us…that is one thing we would never do…can you claim the same?”  She withdrew and joined her retreating group.  Voreth simmered as he watched them vanish into a transporter beam.  He hated them with every bone in his body.  Despite this, his mind felt the cold worry of their warning trickling down his spine.

GM 009 : Rescue Me

USS Mackenzie
6.1.2401

“That went well.”  Captain Wren Walton turned in the center chair as the away team stepped back onto the bridge, “We got a twofer threat on Cardamon and us.”

Commander Park moved to the operations station, “We can put them on the ‘do not call’ list.  I wonder if their claims are true.”  She had thought she’d seen a flash of fear in Voreth’s eyes.  Reading the Voth’s facial expressions had become more accessible with Cardamon aboard, but it wasn’t easy.

Cardamon sat in the left chair in the command circle, “My brethren are effective liars…it is part of why I broke from them.  They are also good at building effective and powerful weaponry – it is an instinctual knowledge we all have within us.  I do not doubt there is at least some truth to their statements and beliefs about facing the Borg.  I worry it is misplaced and will be their undoing.”

A rude beep from communications interrupted their discussion.  Oscar Reede ran his hands over the console, “We’ve got another distress call – this one is close.”  He listened to the message, “A small colony has the Sphere on its long-range sensors and is requesting evacuation.”

Walton turned in her chair, “Population?”  500 was the answer.  “Sphere’s distance?”

Reede read with relief, “Six hours.  Must have gone back home for brunch or something.  We’re an hour away.”  He felt like there was a chance in all this for some good. He was desperate for something good to happen.

Wren didn’t even have to think about it, “Helm – get us there as fast as possible.  Park – get with the quartermaster and his team – we need the cargo bays converted on the double.  Everyone else – pull out your evacuation procedures for colony operations.  We might get to save someone in the Delta Quadrant for once.”

 

Commander Park walked the streets of the fledgling colony, PADD in hand, as her earpiece was filled with reports.  They had arrived ten minutes ago, and the operations team had fanned out with engineering to ensure as much of people’s belongings were collected.  The request from the colony had been unequivocal – they didn’t want to remain in the Delta Quadrant even if the Borg passed them over.  The threats from the various groups had become too much.  The Sphere’s appearance had pushed them over the edge.  She checked in with the intake team working through the line of evacuees.  Each person had their identity input into the system along with a blood sample that was checked for vaccination needs along with anything that needed attention.  They were then equipped with a wristband with a communicator and assigned space in the cargo bays.  Once they were transported aboard, cadets and crewmen from all departments were put to work, escorting them through the maze of corridors on the Mackenzie to their temporary home in one of the cargo bays.  For the new crew, it felt comforting to have something to do that was making a difference in the face of the specter of the Borg.

 

Wren sat in the center chair, a PADD in hand, as she worked through the final reports of the refugees, “200 in Cargo Bay 1, 200 in Cargo Bay 2, and 100 in Cargo Bay 3.”  She complimented her XO at the operations station, “Good work, Park.”  A small smile from her friend and subordinate was the reply.  “Let’s connect to their camera network and wait for our old friends to arrive.  Helm – let’s make our move behind the moon.”

Ensign Gabriela Castillo accelerated the Mackenzie into the predetermined course and intercept location.  Thasz at science had evaluated the system for a place for them to hide and decided the third moon would provide cover.  The colony had given them access to their surveillance system, and the images of the colony soon filled the main screen.  Castillo reported they were in place and secured.  She felt her heartbeat echo in her chest.  They were going to be close to the Sphere again.  The Flight Control Officer had input an escape course as ordered, and her fingers held over the ‘execute” command in anticipation of the need to vanish.

Kondo De Fontaine spoke from tactical as he accessed the sensors, “Borg Sphere coming into the system now.  Sensors are actively scanning the area.”  The yellow lights bathed the room.  They weren’t taking any chances.  The bridge remained focused as Kondo reported the Sphere was entering orbit, something it had not done previously.  

A harsh tone sounded from where Thasaz sat, and she narrated with an edge in her voice, “The Borg have transported drones to the planet’s surface.” The crew collectively turned to the viewscreen as the various cameras showed the arrival of the Borg on the colony streets.  They moved as Borg moved – slowly and deliberately.  The drones moved from street to house, scanning the ground and buildings.

Walton leaned forward in her chair, fascinated at watching the Borg in action, “What are they looking for?”  They moved in a row-by-row search pattern until they reached the colony’s center.

Thasaz theorized, “Not what, captain…who.  Look.”  The drones had begun to tear into the buildings, smashing down walls.  “They’re trying to find the people who were there.”  The destruction continued apace until there was a pause in the work.  Slowly at first, and then with speed, the drones turned to face the camera that was closest to each of them.

Park muttered, “Oh…shit.”  The drones marched to each camera, and the green scanning light covered the lenses.  “Captain…”

Wren was watching.  She wasn’t going to take chances, “Cut the feed.  Helm – get us out of here.  Now!” Castillo’s hand slapped the console, and the Mackenzie swerved out from behind the moon and leaped to maximum warp.  She gripped the arms of her chair, “Thasaz…are they pursuing?”  Her heart was racing now, her palms starting to sweat.  They’d pushed too far with the Borg, she realized.  They should have fled when they had the chance.

The Romulan Science Chief watched the long-range sensors pinging the Sphere.  She held her breath as the Sphere drifted at impulse speed for a moment…and then was off like a shot towards them.  “They are in pursuit.  They will overtake us in fifteen minutes.”

Walton muttered, “That’ll be the day.  Red Alert.  Activate battle stations.  Castillo – open up the throttle – redline our engines.”  The red alert klaxons sounded as the call for battle stations sounded on all decks.  Wren set her jaw, and she stood and walked behind Thasaz, “We need a place to hide… preferably something that’ll screw with them just as much as us.”

A tap of the console pulled the short and long-range maps of the sectors and systems around them.  She set the filters as some crew left the bridge hurriedly for their stations, and others slipped through the doors to take their positions.  She made note of the four heavily armed security officers who took posts equidistant from each other.  She realized they were there in case the Borg took the bridge.  She forced her full attention to the task at hand.

Castillo gripped her console, the panic rising.  The Borg were closing the distance.  She confirmed, “Captain, Borg Sphere is closing distance. Seven minutes.”  She had put the engines at maximum.  They couldn’t go any faster.

Thasaz desperately searched the filtered results for answers until she spotted it, “There.  That nebula.  It’s four minutes away..and it’ll play havoc with their systems and ours.”  Wren ordered the helm to adjust their course, and the Mackenzie swerved towards salvation.

Moments passed as the red alert klaxon sounded softly in the background.  Walton walked from station to station slowly, speaking soft encouragements to each of her bridge crew, her eyes glancing at the screen and the clock above it as it ticked down how close they were to their saving grace.  Across the Mackenzie, word had spread.  Already tested nerves were nearly fraying in the face of a Borg Sphere inching closer and closer, a faceless demon with a genocidal reason behind the hunt.

At the helm, Castillo was glad to see the approaching nebula alerting on her console, “We’re in range…dropping from warp.”  The ship flashed into the area and immediately banked at full impulse for the outer edges of the phenomena.  A shrill alert sounded from multiple consoles, and she reported it, “Borg Sphere is entering the system.  She will intercept us in one minute.  Thirty seconds to the nebula.”

Every officer on the bridge held their breath.  In corridors, departments, and offices across the ship, eyes turned to screens.  The Borg were hunting.

They were hunting them. 

GM 010 : Into the Mystic

USS Mackenzie
6.1.2401

“So we’re blind.”  Captain Wren Walton sat on the edge of the center seat as her second-in-command, Park Seoyeon, finished with the report on the conditions of the nebula.  The screen filled with static, and the lights flickered as the unique qualities around them impacted the power regulating systems.  “At least we won’t be alone in stumbling around this thing.  Ensign Castillo?”

The Chief Flight Control Officer gritted her teeth as she felt what was in front of her, “I can see maybe ten feet in front of me, captain.  It’s like the worst kind of fog.”  She kept an eye on the scattered sensor reports from her console, “We’re getting hints on where the Sphere might be compared to our position, but it’s sporadic.”  She didn’t add, I’ll take stumbling around in the darkness versus getting assimilated.

Walton put her hands together as if to pray, “Steady on then.  Can you extrapolate the exit point of the nebula?”  She didn’t like being trapped anywhere, and wandering around with an unhappy Borg Sphere was pretty low on her list of experiences she wanted to have.

Thasaz was running her hands across the console, “We started mapping the exterior. as much as we could.  It’s large, but there are some indicators of where the exit points would be,” she put the scans on the screen, “There will be significant readings of these three variables.  The good news is our shields are unaffected.  Everything else is crap.”

 

Thirty minutes had passed.  Castillo shifted them carefully through the clouds of gas and energy.  She’d seen readings that suggested the Sphere was nearby.  She’d resisted the urge to take a hard right turn or dive down into the basement of the nebula at full impulse.  She’d been excited to take on the challenge.  Now, she would be happy to get free of this thing and back in the clear black background of space. Gabriella was aiming for a collection of readings that looked promising.  Suddenly, the ship shook as alarms and klaxons rang.

Kondo’s hands were on his console now, “That was a near miss from a Borg weapon, captain.  It slid across the shields.  We’re holding at 90% – engineering has dispatched damage control teams.”  He glanced sideways at his helm partner, “Recommending a course change, Ensign.”  She saw the adjustment and gave a nod, her eyes still wide.  The Borg had nearly missed them and taken their shields down ten percent.  The warnings from her captain were no longer rooted in theory.  They would die at the hands of the Borg if they couldn’t get away.

Walton remained on the edge of her seat, “Thasaz?”

“They might be tracking us.  The team is evaluating.”  She paused and turned, “We should disable our transponders, communications systems, and passive operating systems – where it is safe to.”

“Make it happen,” was her answer.

 

Thirty more minutes had passed.  The shields had returned to full strength.  Castillo had put them on a diagonal transit pattern, hoping to find a way out. Her hands gently crossed her console, her eyes watching the sensor readings closer as she and Kondo worked in tandem, identifying what was around them, near them, and behind them in hopes of getting a navigational miracle.

The floor beneath them shook with a heavy drop as the lights on the bridge exploded in sparks and fire.  Castillo clenched her jaw tightly to prevent the screams that were erupting in her throat while she held onto her console tightly, feeling gravity pulling at her as the ship shook around her. Gabriella’s eyes searched the sensors wildly for a guestimate on the Sphere as the bridge continued to shudder.  As the seconds passed, she took a risk and sent the Mackenzie into a hard left turn, and the floor stopped shaking.  She looked up from her console and gasped.  The emergency lights were on, and people were slowly picking themselves off the floor. The fans engaged, drawing away the low-hanging smoke and the acrid smell of burnt flesh.

Walton accepted the hand of her XO as she was pulled off the floor.  “I’m fine,” she waved off the concerned look and gestured to the rest, “Get them checked out.”  She walked to the front console, finding a new depth for her burning hate of the Borg and the Delta Quadrant.

Her tactical officer, Kondo, reported, “Shields are at 75% – that was a direct hit.  Looking at what little the sensors can tell us, that was a chance meeting – we passed right by each other before I lost them again.”  He turned to Gabriela, her face crestfallen.  “You couldn’t have prevented that, Ensign.”

Wren agreed, “The bastards got lucky.”  She looked at Castillo and motioned a medic over, “Take a look at that head.”  The ensign tried to protest, but the captain leaned down to meet her eyes, “We need you at your best.  You’re keeping us all alive.  We’re going to do the same for you, ensign.”  Castillo swallowed nervously and nodded, her hands working on steering the Mackenzie out and away from this nightmare.

 

It had been over two hours since they’d entered the nebula.  Castillo’s back was sore from her position and attention to the situation.  She felt the aches and pangs of frustration and anxiety mixing around in her muscles, screaming for resolution.  Another turn to the right and a downward shift completed her recent attempt to find a way out of the clouds that taunted them from a malfunctioning viewscreen.  They hadn’t felt the sting of the Borg since the second attack.  The lights had been repaired, and the carpet cleaned in the interim.  Thasaz hadn’t been able to detect the mechanical nightmares either.  The helm officer sat up, “Captain, I think I have a reading on an exit!”

Thasaz looked at what the ensign was referring to, “It’s the best reading we’ve had.”  She felt the relief flooding her body.  Were they finally going to escape them?  Walton ordered a course change, and the Mackenzie swerved towards a possible exit.  All eyes were glued to the screen as they inched closer and closer until…,”That is definitely an exit.”

Castillo waited to smile in relief until they were clear from the clouds and for Kondo to check his threat screens, to which he reported, “We’re in the clear.  Nobody in range.”  There were gasps of thanks and sighs of relief across the bridge as Walton put her head in her hands, relieved that this part of the journey had ended.

“Set a course for the planet, maximum warp.  Park, have Doctor Longfellow meet me in Cargo Bay One.  We need to figure out why the Borg were ready to chase us.  You have the CONN.” 

GM 011 : A Whole New World

USS Mackenzie
6.1.2401

“You think they wanted us?”  Larissa Trow was the mayor of the township they had evacuated and was in disbelief that they would be anything the Borg wanted.  “We’re not technologically advanced or really anything special.  We lost twenty last winter to the flu…and it put half the town in intensive care.  We’re not a very hardy people, Captain.”

Wren Walton understood.  Initial impressions of the Nama people hadn’t been very impressive.  The colony was small and had always been small – birth rates were low, and the plague of disease and infection were a regular occurrence.  “How long have you been there?” she asked.

Trow thought momentarily, “We recently began to track our history…we were able to track back at least five or six generations…but it could have been longer.”

Doctor Henry Longfellow had been listening to the conversation while reading through the updating reports on the ongoing medical scans and exams taking place in the three cargo bays, “We’ve had a hard time understanding how you came to this planet or even the Delta Quadrant…you’ve got many similarities to the human genome, but there are enough differences to suggest something else.”  His concerns were growing the more he learned about the Nama.  There was a thread of intentionality in their existence that bothered him.

Trow shrugged a deep sadness pooling in her eyes.  “We do not know how we came to be.  You would think we’d have a creation story or a myth that would explain it in metaphor…it is something we have always searched for…but never found in ourselves or around our colony.  We just… came to be.  It is the best answer we’ve come up with.”

Walton put her hand on Trow’s shoulder, “We’re headed back to the colony to check on its status.  I’ve received your request for asylum and transport back to the Alpha Quadrant…I have our Chief Diplomatic Officer working on it.”  The young woman thanked her and walked back to her people.  Wren turned to Longfellow, “Something’s got you bothered, Doc.”

He shook his head, “I can’t quantify…but I can qualify it. Something feels…off.  They shouldn’t have survived this long…five generations?  With our data so far, they should have died off ages ago…but they keep going bit by bit.  We looked at their census data…they’ve never made it over six hundred people in the colony.”  He showed her the PADD with his analysis, “I need to investigate more.”

Her face tightened, “Find us some answers, doc.”

 

“Approaching the Nama colony.”  Castillo had taken a few hours off the helm.  It had been helpful to take a shower and get some rest.  The Borg were still out there, but she felt she could face them again.  The Mackenzie slid into position.

Thasaz gasped as the sensors began their work, “Captain…I’m unable to detect the colony.”  She ran the scans again and somberly reported, “The colony site..is gone.”

Wren stood from the center chair, “On screen.”  The screen showed a distant view of the site. Once a thriving township, a gaping maw now stood in its place.  “Zoom and enhance.”  She knew what she was going to see but had no choice.  They needed to verify what had happened here.  The cameras pulled them closer until the true extent of the damage became clear.  “They…scraped it.”

At science, Thasaz concurred, “Sensors are detecting that it was just lifted wholesale from the ground.  This happened with the first encounters with the Borg on the Enterprise.”  The image on the screen was eerily similar to the photos from the reports she had spent so much time reviewing recently.

Walton stood abruptly, “Commander Park, you have the CONN.  Woodward, with me.”  The crew watched the two vanish behind the closing doors of the turbolift.  They initially wondered why and then realized what the captain would have to do.  Break the news to their new friends.

 

“Heavens.” Larissa Trow had fallen back in a chair in the briefing room as the images of her former home were displayed on the screen.  “They…didn’t leave anything behind, did they?”  

Walton shook her head, “We have our Hazard and Science teams doing an initial investigation on site, but there’s nothing left. I’m truly sorry.”  Woodward sat next to the woman.  They sat in silence for several minutes.

Trow frowned, “There was…something.”  She pointed to the book she had brought, “One of our more… eccentric citizens has had this conspiracy theory that we came not from somewhere, but from someone.”  She held up her hands, “We long dismissed it and humor him mostly these days.  The book has lots of his theories written out.  It goes off on plenty of tangents.  Believe me…I had to read it.  But there’s a part where…,”  she slid it off the table. She flipped through the pages until she landed on what she sought, “…here.  It describes a place where we began.  I could never make sense of it…maybe you can?”

Wren took the book and examined the open pages, trying to make sense of the scribbled words, figures, and numbers.  She tapped her badge, “Commander Thasaz, briefing room one.”  She traced the errant drawings, “It’s been a bit since I’ve worked a science rotation, but I’m wondering about these circles and these numbers.”  Woodward glanced at them from her seat and raised her eyebrows.  They signified something.

The door slid open, and the chief science officer barreled through the door, expectant.  Walton handed her the open book without giving her a clue.  

Thasaz murmured, “I do enjoy a mystery.”  Her eyes examined the details. She muttered under her breath as she turned the book around a few times and back again until she concluded, “It’s a coordinate map…a rough one, but it indicates a location on a planet.”  She handed the book back to Walton and waited silently, and the stares were shared among the gathering.    Thasaz asked in confusion, “What?”

 

On the bridge, Thasaz was amused and annoyed.  “You’d have to know what it was you were looking for and the general location even to have a chance at detecting it…but there’s a small outbuilding there along with what the computer thinks is a small underground facility with minimal power.”

Park scoffed, “How did the Borg miss it?”  She wasn’t sure what to think.  There was something about this group of people that had the Borg on a tear.  The answers were fleeting, and the questions gnawed at her patience.

Standing behind the science station, Walton explained, “The Borg knew where the Nama people were; they’ve mapped and observed them.  They’re a systematic bunch of bastards – very linear when it comes to what they want and how to get it.”

At communications, Reede perked up as his brain made the connection, “They lack intellectual curiosity.  They don’t see the need to look beyond the center of the target.”

Wren mused, “They missed the forest for the trees…and so did we.  Commander Thasaz put an away team together.  If we get a hint of the Sphere, we will pull you out and run away.”  Thasaz didn’t argue with that point.

 

“How old is this place?”  Chief of Security Seraphina Pearce had kicked down the rotted wooden door and cleared the area inside.  She decided it smelled as if death had taken up residence and planted a garden.

Thasaz had her tricorder out and scanned as she went, “Over one thousand years old.”  She worked her way through what once were hallways to a sunken landing, “And I think…there’s more below here.”  She scanned around the area, “Reading minimal power sources…,”  she raised her eyebrows as a beeping alarm rang from the device, “…and something that resembles a lifesign?”  Checking again she shook her head in disbelief, “One limited lifesign.”

Doctor Henry Longfellow grumbled as he walked gingerly through the decaying building, “I’m going to need to innoculate all of us against a long list of diseases when we get back to the Mack.”  He was making a list on his PADD, “This place resembles a wildland more likely to kill you then create you.”  He’d read the notes from the book and found it disconcerting.  If the theory was true, the implications for the future of the Nama people were significant.

Thasaz watched as the security team worked to clear the landing, “Come doctor, where is your sense of adventure, of discovery?  This could be the next big thing to feature in that journal you’re always reading,..The Olympic Journal?”

Henry grumbled, “Both of those things are resting comfortably back on the Mackenzie, thankyouverymuch.  As for the Journal – the editor in chief and I have had some…disagreements.  The articles remain compelling even if she does not.”

The security team announced the landing was clear and they’d forced the door open.  A long dusty stairwell awaited them.  Thasaz motioned him forward, “Come along, Doctor Longfellow…”

He stared her down and lightly rolled his eyes, “Very well.  I do not have to enjoy it.”

She retorted, “I would expect nothing less.” 

GM 012 – What Little Girls Are Made Of

USS Mackenzie
6.1.2401

The stairs were concrete and built to last.  As the away team delved further into the depths, the smell of aging decay filtered through their noses at first and then became an assault that brought on coughing fits and fumbling to strap on filtration units.  The steps came to a hard stop, and an expansive door stood before them.  It was metal, and the art was intricate but unfamiliar.  They worked at the door for fifteen minutes until a plate in the wall was shifted, revealing an old panel.

Commander Thasaz examined it with a tricorder in hand, “It’s still working.  Impressive.  Let’s see…,” she carefully tapped the console as the scans revealed the mechanics until she pressed the last button.  The doors groaned as the ground shuddered beneath them.  An earsplitting rumble screeched as the massive metal object complained after years of disuse.  The area ahead was dimly lit until she stepped foot inside.  A whine of power echoed off high ceilings as the ground shuddered again, heralding the massive lights above them to flicker and burn bright as the electricity flew through the hanging wires.  Rows upon rows of varying laboratory equipment and tables filled the room. Blinking status lights began to appear on the equipment, along with beeping alarms and status alerts.

Longfellow stared at all of it.  “This is…madness.  Half of this makes sense…the other half…I’m not even sure we’ve allowed such things.” Thasaz gave him a look.  Longfellow explained as he walked slowly around some of the nearby devices, “From what I tell…this was a…growing lab of some kind.  Those beds would have had hard cases…but they’ve probably broken long ago.”

Thasaz felt her skin crawl, “A growing lab?”

Henry spoke plainly, “This was a lab for growing…creations, Commander.  For us, it would be a clone lab…but this isn’t.”  He further examined the dusty and cracked consoles, “This is more of a… civilization creation lab.  Each of these machines can grow a unique body with specific characteristics…and there’s over…,” He counted in his head as he looked around, “fifty of them that I can see.”  He walked farther down the broad aisle in the middle, “There’s probably 25 more down there.  The beds are for the finishing touches – the finalization of the specimen.  And the rest of it…there are stasis beds against that wall…counting them, it looks like they match the others…” he rubbed his temples, “This was a creation lab for an entire civilization.”  He turned to Thasaz, “The Nama people had to have originated here…but if this lab is a thousand years old…”

She answered, “Then they were…created to exist as they were – imperfect and given to regular deaths to keep their population down.  They can only trace their history five hundred years ago…it makes you wonder what happened from year one to five hundred.”

Longfellow’s face was flushed as his frustration and anger grew, “You said there was a life sign.”

They continued to walk and catalog what they had found.  Thasaz had asked the rest of her team to examine them in detail.  The reading led them to a dimly lit hallway that opened into a small theatre.  The chairs had long fallen apart from time’s assault, but the stage remained.  A stasis chamber sat sideways, powered.  Longfellow walked down the aisles and stomped up the stage stairs with Thasaz at his heels, “Doctor…”

He sighed as he got a look at the body in the chamber, “He’s still alive…whoever he is.”  A quick scan of his medical tricorder added context, “…but he’s not going to survive long if we bring him out.  This thing’s lasted long past its standard operating cycle.”  He tapped his badge and informed Captain Walton of what they had found.

Her voice sounded strained, “How long will he live?”  He knew what she was asking.  Would he live long enough to give us the answers we need?  And is it worth ending a life to get those answers?  He knew what his answer was, but he restrained his response.  He needed to stay above the water.

He replied, “I can extend his life by several minutes with the right equipment, captain.”  He returned Thasaz’s stare as the captain gave the order to do so, and the channel closed.  “What?” he asked with hostility he didn’t intend.  He breathed and tried again, “I’m sorry…it’s hard to see all of that…and ignore my feelings on the matter.”

The science chief folded her hands, “A thousand years ago, something happened here.”  She gestured at the man in the pod, “We don’t know enough to cast judgment on this man.”

Longfellow spat, “And if it turns out he was another Khan?  Then will I be allowed to be upset?”  The sound of footfalls approached, announcing Lieutenant Hiro’s arrival.  She gave him a quiet look and maneuvered the equipment into place. He felt his face grow warm at her unspoken rebuke.  Henry busied his hands, assisting with the equipment preparation.  He was wrestling with both his personal feelings and his professional position.  Hiro met his gaze a few times as they worked together.  Thasaz stepped out to speak to the captain.  Henry sighed, “You heard that.”

She had heard enough to know her friend and teacher was treading water in the middle of another storm.  “Sensei Longfellow,” she used his last name intentionally.  She hadn’t used his full title in some time.  The weight of his anger gave her reason enough.  “The judgment of our patients isn’t up to us.  You are a doctor sworn to uphold the highest standards in medicine.  You must live them, not reject them.  Especially depending on who is in front of you.”  Her tone remained even, almost kind.  The truth was she was dressing down her superior in the harshest language she could remember using.  “You must be better than whoever is on your table.  No matter the name, the acts, or the cost.”

He stared at the stasis unit for a moment longer.  She was his conscience.  What would he ever do without her?  “You are right, Hiro-san.  I should be calling you sensei.”  She smiled at his gesture, bowing slightly. Thasaz returned to the room, giving both of them a curious look.

Longfellow cleared his throat, “Thank you, Lieutenant Hiro.”  He turned to Thasaz, “I’m sorry…again.  I’ve been reminded that I’m a doctor, not a judge.”  She looked to Hiro, who was working on the equipment, her face unbroken.

Thasaz felt her respect for the man grow just a little more as she replied, “Apology accepted, Doctor.  Shall we work on what we came here to do?”

He stepped up to the stasis pod and tapped at the console while Thasaz and Hiro stood ready to bring the equipment to bear.  The beep signaled the pod’s opening, and the two expertly attached the equipment and systems to the elderly man.  His eyes flitted open as his lungs filled with air, and his heart rate began to climb.  “Who…what?”

Henry explained as much as he could in their short time, “You’ve been asleep a long time…and the people you created are in danger.”  He shared about the Borg.

The man chuckled, “Oh yes.  Those fools.  I know them.”  He frowned as he surveyed the equipment around him, “You must want to speak with me desperately…I can feel my body fighting the decay.  What a fascinating feeling.”

Longfellow asked, “Why did you create them?”

There was a twinkle in the eyes of the man, “Why, to end the Borg, of course.”  He fought back a cough and winced at the pain, “But I couldn’t go through with it.  I couldn’t sacrifice them to those mechanical beasts…so I hid them.  I made them small…you must have discovered the natural rate of decay I built in.  They would never get big enough to draw attention.  The perfect weapon hiding in my corner of the universe.”  He lay back, “It seems they almost found them, too…but you saved them…all of them?”  Henry nodded, still processing the revelation.  “They will live on wherever you take them.”

Henry asked, “Can’t we use their blood or DNA…”

A sage shake of the head, “None of it will survive outside the body.  I knew eventually, someone would want to study them…poke and prod them.  If they were to use them as a weapon, they would have to look them in the eye before consigning them to death.”  Another coughing fit shook him, and he grimaced at the newfound pain levels, “I spent many of my years perfecting them…I learned my lessons from my first experiment.  I needed to complete the trials correctly.”  He looked to the other two, “They are a beautiful creation, the Nama people?  They have my name, you see.  Namash Loutan.”

The monitors from the Mackenzie began to beep aggressively. Longfellow asked desperately, “You said there was a first experiment…”

Namash frowned, “Yes…they were allowed to grow…I did limit their intellect to prevent them from reaching space…but they grew so numerous…I wanted to start over…throw them in the trash…but I couldn’t.  Not a great scientist, am I?  I should have been able to flush them down the river into the boiling magma…but it was not to be.  I left them, hid them…and came here to finish my life’s work with a better result.”  He started wheezing as the alarms grew louder, “You should find them…it is on the consoles…here…”  He handed Longfellow a device, “…this will allow you access to what you need to find…don’t let them find them…I built them before I knew of the Borg…before I knew to create a poison against them…”  His breathing fell into a haggard pattern as his body refused to continue and fought back against modern medicine.  Namash fell silent as the breathing slowed to a gurgle…and then nothing.  The vacant eyes of the creator stared into nothingness.

Longfellow closed the man’s eyes and stepped back as he and Hiro observed silence.  The revelations were ghastly and yet…good, Henry concluded.  A master of creation had found his heart twice in his trials and had tried to kill the Borg.  The faces of his creation had stopped his genocide.

Thasaz turned off the equipment one by one, “We should update the captain.  Do we tell the Nama about him?”

Longfellow wasn’t sure, but Hiro was.  “They should know where they came from – and how he cared for them.”  She looked to an intrigued Thasaz, “We should all know who gave us life, Commander.”

She answered, “Let’s get him back to the Mackenzie and update the captain…this isn’t going to be an easy decision.  I’ll have my team pull the data he spoke about.  If another group is in danger…we don’t have much time to lose.” 

GM 013 – My Head & My Heart

USS Mackenzie
6.2401

“This is…fucked up.”  Wren Walton stood in her ready room, sipping at a steaming black tea, staring out the wide windows.  “Were we able to get a location on his first experiment?” Park held up a PADD as an answer.  Her captain stared out into the blackness of space before asking her, “You’ve been awful quiet.”

The XO blew out a long breath.  What was so hard about this?  Longfellow had given her an earful when he’d brought the body and a collection of equipment from the lab.  She swirled her hot green tea in the other hand. “Seoyeon.”  She snapped up at Wren’s use of her first name.  Her friend had used it in the days before the Mackenzie.  It was a rarity for her to lean into their relationship that hard.

“I…uh…it’s hard to understand why they were made.  Part of my senior cadet project was a study of the Eugenics Wars and the players.  This…Namash Loutan…his efforts feel too familiar.  How do we know he isn’t lying?  What if there are other experiments out there…if he played with DNA like a roll of the dice until he found what he wanted?”  She sat down on the left side of the couch under the windows, “Shit.  It’s shit, Wren.”

Walton sat in the center of the couch, “It’s a shit sandwich.  And we’re stuck eating it.”  She leaned back on the couch.  “I don’t know if Loutan was telling the truth…Thasaz is working through his computer systems and records.”  She shifted subjects, “What’s your vote on telling the Nama?”

Park’s answer was simple, “We need to tell them.  They deserve to know.”  She sat up, anticipating her friend’s protest, “We can’t lie to them!”  She sputtered, “And no using Vulcan logic to explain away the lie either!”

Wren smiled at her friend’s passion for the right thing.  It hadn’t always been that way.  She put her hands up in protest, “No need to get all JAG-ey on me, Park.  The vote among the senior staff is that we need to tell them…and soon.  To decide on where to settle, they need to be in possession of the facts, even the ugly ones.”

 

“His name was Namash Loutan.”  Doctor Henry Longfellow stood on the theatre stage, the entirety of the Nama community seated before him.  “And he created you.”  He began the arduous process of explaining what they knew, how they knew it, and what it meant for them.  The Mayor, Larissa Trow, stood on stage with him and interjected when he paused as they’d rehearsed.  The crowd remained silent as the presentation continued.  When the revelation about how their creator had designed them as a poison pill, there was a wave of conversations until Trow explained how he had decided to spare them the designed death.

The presentation ended, and the mayor spoke to her people, “We had initially asked to be taken far from this place…and that decision is still available to us. It was essential to the crew of this ship that you hear the truth – they value truth and honesty.”  She turned to Longfellow, “We will begin to discuss as a group.  I will let you know once we’ve come to a consensus.”

Longfellow gave her a nod and headed out the door.

 

Ensign Carolyn Crawford walked the central aisle in Cargo Bay 2 with her group of engineering and operations officers.  “OK, Lawson, you take the right side.  Minot, you take the left side.  I’ll work the middle.”  They broke apart and went on their way.  Crawford checked the portable replicators first.  As she walked, she noticed she had a shadow.  A young girl, probably around eleven or twelve.  She stopped at her second replicator and went to work.  The child approached her, eyeing the equipment and the engineering ensign.

“The food giver.”  She said it in awe as she observed the tools Crawford was applying to maintain the unit.  “It was angry earlier.”

“I would be angry too if I ran out of food inside me.”  She slipped a matter refill unit in with a click, and the green light on the console returned.  “Food giver lives!” She said it exaggeratedly, bringing a broad smile from the girl.  She squatted down, “I’m Ensign Carolyn Crawford.”

The girl tapped at the replicator and giggled at the ice cream it produced.  She licked the treat and replied, “I am Anwa Platos. Bye!”  She was running off to tell her family that the food giver was alive again.  Crawford stood, a smile remaining amid the situation.  Hope remained, even if it was in ice cream, she decided.

 

“We wish to leave the Delta Quadrant.” Larissa Trow stood in the ready room, facing Walton.  “That is the simple request.”  She wasn’t sure how the next ask would be received.  “We would like to take our creator with us…and commit him to the afterlife.”

Walton turned to her Chief Diplomatic Officer, Charlie Hargraves.  He sat on the couch, a PADD in hand.  “I don’t think that’s impossible given your people’s circumstances.”  He tapped at the device, “There is something else we need to discuss.”

Trow nodded her head morosely, “Our condition…of population limiting.  If we engage in relationships with others unlike us…we may spread our condition.  It is something we expected to be an issue.”

Hargreaves held up his PADD, “Well, we may be able to help.  The science and medical teams are studying the files and records he left behind…there may be a way to reverse, or at least eliminate, that condition from being passed down to future offspring.”

Wren cautioned Trow, “We’re still in the early phases of running tests and scenarios but think we can do it.  Your people would be allowed to grow and travel the stars without worry of inflicting your condition on others.”

The young woman found words hard to speak in response.  The curse that had haunted them since their creation would be lifted?  They wouldn’t have to worry about the losses year after year?  They could live freely without fear of the next cycle of disease.  She managed a quiet, “Thank you, Captain.  We are in your debt.”

Walton shook her head vigorously, “There is no debt to repay, Mayor.  We don’t keep a balance sheet.  I’ll keep you updated.”  Trow repeated her thanks and departed.  The door closed behind her, and Wren sighed, “We’ve just got to keep them safe until the end of the month when we can get ourselves home.”

Charlie echoed her sigh, “I’ve been in contact with Markonian and the diplomatic team there.  It’s not impossible for them to come with us… we’ll have to get everything in line, and the paperwork needs to be perfect.”

His captain chuckled, “That’s why I keep you around, Charles.”

He faked being hurt, “The paperwork and keeping the ducks in line?”

“Exactly.  And the experience and knowledge you bring to the table when it comes to handling things that I’m historically shit at handling.”

He stood, amused, “But mostly the paperwork and ducks, right?”

She smiled wide, “Yeah, mostly.”

GM 014 – The Next Generation

USS Mackenzie
6.2401

“It’s an isolated location.  We would have missed it if we didn’t have a rough idea of where it was.  You can bet the Borg will eventually find it.”  Thasaz sat at the table in the briefing room, “We’ve reviewed the details from his computers and databanks…and he was right.  He didn’t build any failsafes into the first creation.  We ran some scenarios – the population could be anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 by this point.”

Another tap of the table console, “Based on his record of their creation, DNA, and details on their body structure…they’re an ideal candidate for the Borg based on the scans we’ve been using to fine-tune the methodology.”

Commander Park leaned back in her chair, “Giving the Borg 100,000 bodies to assimilate would tip the balance of things around here.  We’d go from shit to…well, whatever’s next on the spectrum of crap in the Delta Quadrant.”

Captain Wren Walton steered them back on track, “It’ll take us two or so days to get there.  We’ve decided to keep the Nama people onboard – we move them to Markonian, and there’s a chance the Borg follow their scent there.  For now, we can bob and weave our way around them.”  She finished with, “There is another problem we can use the time to work on.”

Thasaz tapped the console one last time, “According to his records, the planet is hidden, but there’s not much protection outside of the interference.  Once a ship makes it inside, there are no defenses or naturally occurring ways to combat anything.  Which leads us to…,”  She gestured to their PADDS, “…we’re going to have to find a way to hide the planet from the Borg.  It’s a Goldilocks scenario – it has to be good enough to fool them, but it can’t be too complicated to rouse their suspicion that they’re being played.  Evacuation is out of the question if the numbers we’ve gamed out are accurate.  I’ve assigned you to a science team to lead them through the process.”

Walton leaned forward, her arms crossed on the table, “This is the priority over the next few days.  Commander Thasaz’s team identified the planet, its composition, and its general position in the system.  We must figure out how to make all that work with what we have to hide them.”  She looked around the table, “We’re in the business of saving…let’s rack up another win or two.”

 

Two days had passed. “What do we got?”  Wren sat forward in her chair.  Thasaz ran the sensors carefully.

“Pre-warp.  The population is over…holy sh…one million…the computer is still working on a full count.  There are six cities spread across the planet.”  Thasz was in disbelief at the numbers as they updated.  It had been over a thousand years.

Wren gasped, “That is much more than the computer estimates were…”  That was a lot of souls.  “That many bodies…would feed the Borg’s advances for a long time.”  She turned to Oscar Reede at communications, “What are you reading?”

He pressed a hand to ear, “Radio transmissions mostly – music, news, talk…they’ve got a planetwide radio network from what I can see.  There is also a television network…but not a satellite out there.” He read through the data, “I think they’ve done it through terrestrial transmission towers.”  The images from the shows played across his screens.

Thasaz said, “They can’t see or know we’re here.  No planetary defense system is detected…or any system to reach out here to see what’s happening.”

Walton dryly observed, “If he kept them hidden here all this time, they’ve never had a reason to look to the skies in fear or worry about what is out there.  Makes you think.” She wondered what she would have preferred – an eternity of peace with the threat of an apocalyptic enemy around a blind corner or the life she had lived in her service to Starfleet.

The crew watched the peaceful-looking planet momentarily, feeling the relief of not being chased or under threat.  The one thought nagging at the back of everyone’s mind was how long that would last.  Walton broke the moment, “Get your teams back together – let’s evaluate what we knew against what we’re seeing now.  Let’s figure out how we will save all one million people.”

 

“That nebula we went through…could it be…replicated?”  Assistant Engineering Chief Carolyn Crawford stood in the meeting room with her Chief, Commander Katsumi, and their engineers.  The holo screen at the center of the room displayed the qualities of the phenomena.

Katsumi rotated the image around, “Replicating it whole would give the Borg a reason to question the sudden formation of a nebula in the middle of this system.  They’d test the theory.”

Ensign Matthew Jarvis stepped forward and tapped into the console, “What if we…created the illusion of an apocalypse or something?  Like… an asteroid had impacted the planet and destroyed all organic life.”  The planet changed to reflect his suggestion, “The Borg are hunting for it…if we remove it, they’ll give up the hunt.”

Crawford moved closer to the plans and pointed out as she adjusted the inputs, “They’ll need to believe it…holographic presentations can be convincing…but we’d need to make sure there’s evidence on the planet of nothing left.”  She tapped a few more commands, “We can mask their life signs – we know how and what they’re looking for…if we install transmitters across certain points on the planet….”  She kept working as she talked through her plan, “We’d have to do some actual damage to some buildings to make it believable…”  Another round of console work, and she stepped back, “There.  It’s a lot of work, but it’s doable.”

Matt examined her work, impressed, “Solid.  Those transmitters…we could also modify these to not only prevent their signatures from being read…but we could also send readings to the Borg – massive casualties, a poisoned atmosphere…identify what the Borg aren’t willing to risk to assimilate and work that into the plan.”

Katsumi looked at both of them, “That’s good.  There’s one more piece you’re forgetting – the atmosphere will need some of that poison to convince the Borg it’s true.”  She scanned the holo screen, “It could be done with runabouts and shuttles disguised as the phenomena themselves – the movement and spreading of the atmosphere effect would hide them well enough, I think.”

“You’re going to have to be able to validate the violation of the Prime Directive.” They turned as the Chief Diplomatic Officer, Charlie Hargraves, stood in the doorway, “The other groups have similar suggestions…but yours seems the most plausible.”

Katsumi knew the answer: “The Prime Directive can be violated if certain requirements are met.”  She gestured to the plan on the holo screen, “I think we meet most of them.”

Charlie smiled in response.  Katsumi knew her business, and she wasn’t just an engineer.  She’d made a point of studying and working in the other departments on the Mackenzie recently.  “Compile a report and send it to the captain.”  He was about to turn when the Red Alert klaxons rang out, “Crap.  What now?”  He headed for the bridge while the group of engineers dashed to stations. 

GM 015 – The Last Carnival

USS Mackenzie
6.2401

“Long-range sensors report the Sphere has moved on,”  Thasaz reported from science as she tasked the sensor suite.  “We’re coming into short-range now.”

Captain Wren Walton stood from her chair.  The distress call from the Voth had not been through official channels.  It had been a desperate call from someone in the midst of it who was pinning their hopes for survival on the Federation.  “Get me a visual.”  The screen showed the planet closer as Gabriella Castillo increased the zoom.  The planet was a hulking mess.  The flight control officer didn’t recognize it from their recent visit two days prior.  “Survivors?” Wren asked.

“Intermittent.  We’re getting the same phase readings from before.  Lots of interference this time around…I’m seeing some radiation readings…I think they used something similar to Old Earth’s nuclear weapons…we’ll need to get into orbit and land some probes…but I think the weapons they discussed were similar to them…but much more potent if these readings are correct.”

At the operations station, Commander Park was also reviewing the sensors reports, “There’s no pattern to this – it looks and feels like this was a last-ditch effort to stop whatever was happening.  Kondo?” She asked the tactical chief for clarification.

He studied the readings profile and examined them further as he evaluated what he could see, “You’d see a pattern of detonations on the battlefield…that’s not the case here.  The sensors confirm these weapons were powerful – I’ll need more information to decide what was used ultimately.”

Walton shook her head, “What a goddamn waste.  Helm – get us in orbit.  Reede – have Cadet Cardamon meet me in the observation lounge.  Park – you have the CONN.”

 

“There were three thousand of us on this colony, Captain.”  Cardamon stared at his home colony through the massive windows, his hands folded together, claws shaking with sorrow.  “Two days ago, I was exiled…I did not imagine having to return here again.”  He turned to her, “It is regrettable it has come to this.  They were still my people despite our harsh feelings for each other.”

Walton put her hand gently on his shoulder, “We’re working to find out where we can land a team and make an accounting for what happened here…I’m going to recommend that you not join the away team.”

He put his hand on hers, “Captain…I’ve learned much from your people about life and living it.  Regret isn’t a foreign concept to us as Voth…and I do not wish to live with that weight of what I should have done…or could have done.  I will go with your permission.”

Wren looked into his eyes, “You need to be sure of this, Cardamon.  You won’t be able to unsee what’s down there.”

“I must face it as I face everything, Captain.  With courage…and with my new friends.”

 

“They were able to assimilate a hundred, maybe.”  Doctor Henry Longfellow stood in front of the main hall for the Voth, his medical tricorder in hand and a PADD in the other.  They all wore ventilators and protective suits.  The fires raged across the planet, and the radiation had redlined the sensors.  The engineering crew had laid a path where the effect would be lower..  They would all need to be inoculated and undergo treatments back on the Mackenzie. An account was required, and probes only gave them so much information.

Cardamon sat limply on the stairs, his eyes reading the updating casualty reports as shuttles and runabouts scoured the planet with high-powered sensors.  They had not found any survivors, only the dead, the half-assimilated, and the radiated.  “They would not have gone easily, Doctor.  They would have fought…hard.  The Borg did not win today.  I take comfort in this.”  Longfellow held his tongue.  He did not understand the Voth ways.  Cardamon looked up and saw the look on his face, “I have grown to understand your face, Doctor Longfellow.  I know you must wonder why we are the way we are.  Sometimes, I do not understand us as a people.  As long as I have been…the human word is ‘disconnected’ from my people…the Voth part of me can never be fully erased…even if they are.”

The voice of Commander Park through the communications channel broke the moment, “Doc, I need your help in sector twenty-three!”

Longfellow helped the Voth up, and they tapped the badges for transport.

They emerged into the highest level of hell.  Bodies, Borg and Voth, were spread everywhere.  Some of the Borg drones twitched out of reflex, startling Cardamon as they walked down the path marked by engineering toward where the XO stood. Two security officers stood in a ready stance with phaser rifles charged and ready.  Longfellow bounded down the path and up the hill to Park, “What do we…holy shit.” Voreth, Supreme Commander of the Voth, lay on the ground.  He wasn’t fully assimilated or even half assimilated.  He was on the outer edges of his existence as a Voth with the Borg devices implanted in him pushing him farther away.

Voreth’s eyes remained furious and determined as he struggled to breathe, his words spilling out in a gasping cadence, “It…is not…lost…on me…that you are…my rescuer.”

Longfellow went to work, “It is a good thing this happened to you in 2401, Supreme Commander.  The chances of your survival are dramatically higher than they were twenty years ago.”

The rage-fueled Voth gasped, “Who…says I want…to live!”

Cardamon pushed himself into the circle, his eyes searching his former leader’s eyes, “A Voth does not cherish meaningless death, Voreth…death is earned…it is power.  It walks with us into the darkness.”  He clasped his talons together as his voice grew louder, “I say you want to live, Supreme Commander.  The words of our people say you want to live…you are ordered by the ancestors to live!”  The voice that had come out of him gave the Starfleet officers pause as they turned to gawk at his sudden turn of posture and sound. There was something ancient within the Voth that had awoken.

Voreth was quiet, and he stared at Cardamon.  Longfellow looked between the two Voth, desperate for permission, “Can I treat him?  The longer I wait…”

Voreth’s eyes started to roll back in his head as he wheezed, “Save…me…”

 

“100 survivors.”  Walton threw the PADD across the room, where it slammed into the wall, crashing to the ground, still in one piece.  “Out of three thousand.”  The Mackenzie captain wasn’t simmering.  She wasn’t boiling.  Wren was furious.  “I..that…is an unthinkable number.”  She couldn’t speak straight and sat roughly on the couch in her ready room.

“I…gods, I wish I had better words for both of us, Wren.” Chief Counselor Juliet Woodward paced the room, her mind wallowing in mourning and furiously wanting the right words.  The bodies of three hundred Borg littered the planet below while the impact sites for the Voth weapons numbered half that.  “One hundred and fifty bombs…I can’t imagine being pushed to the point of genocidal apocalypse.”

Wren didn’t retrieve the PADD.  Anything less than a soothing tea in her hand was likely to get tossed in a vain attempt at releasing the pressure.  She hadn’t been this angry in some time, and she had walked to her ready room to avoid a display of a severe lack of decorum and professionalism in front of her crew.  “We’ll have to figure out a way to stop this Sphere.  We’re running around putting out fires and finding a wasteland of death where there was once thriving life.  It’s shitty.  The senior staff knows it’s shit.  I know it’s shit.  The crew will figure it out if they haven’t already.  We won’t be able to do this for a month, Juls.”

Woodward stopped pacing, “The crew has already figured it out, Wren.  Our appointments are racked and stacked – and it’s mostly the new and fresh crew that’s freaking out.  Every report I’ve read from department heads, assistants, shift leads, and team operators runs the same – they’re terrified of what’s coming next.  It’s already affecting productivity.”

Walton groaned, “I’ve been reading Chief Katsumi’s reports…she’s worried about engine maintenance…never mind Pearce’s concerns with her security teams.  She’s got ensigns who are locking up in simulations.  We can’t keep relying on the most senior officers to hold the line.”  The chime to the room rang out, “Enter.”

Commander Park stepped through the door and gave them both a nod.  “The Voth are requesting asylum.”

Wren looked for something to throw but held her frustration.  She sipped her steaming green tea, “That’s now 600 extra souls onboard.  We do have an emergency capacity rating of 5,000…but I do not want to test it.”  She rubbed her temples to release the stress that threatened to overwhelm her.  “Right.  Cargo bays one, two, and three are in use.  Park, work with Quartermaster Wyatt – let’s get number four set for our new Voth guests.”  The XO left the room with her orders.  Wren ignored the stare her chief counselor was giving her.

Juliet asked, “That’s the angriest I’ve seen you, Wren.”  She said it softly.  Her friend was hurting.  It wouldn’t help to accuse.

Walton let out a long sigh and stared at the windows of her ready room, her mind trying to restore the order of her passionate heart.  She found her words, “This job…being a captain…it’s galaxies away from what I used to do.  I’m ultimately responsible for our wins…and our losses.  And we lost here today…we lost three thousand members of an alien species to a mechanical monster…that’s…that’s a hard thing to shoulder, Juls.  Three…thousand…lives.  What makes it worse is they hated us, and one of them still thought to call us…because they knew we’d come no matter what they had threatened us with.”  She wiped at her eyes, the tears flowing.

Juliet sat beside her friend, “We lost something that should have never been taken from us.”  She leaned into Wren, “The one thing I’m hanging on to now, Wren…is that they called us.  They knew our quality.  They knew we’d come.  That helps me.”

Walton leaned into her counselor, “It helps me too.  Not enough…but it’s a start.” 

GM 016 – How to Save a Life

USS Mackenzie
6.2401

“Long-range sensors showing no Sphere.”  Thasaz sat on the edge of her seat at the science station, her mind focused.  A cup of coffee balanced on the console.  It had been a long night.

Captain Wren Walton sat in the center chair, coffee in her hand.  “Some good news, at least.”  She tapped the arm of the chair, “Charlie, your team ready down there?”

In transporter room one, Chief Diplomatic Officer Charlie Hargraves clenched and unclenched his hands, “We’re ready enough, Captain.  If this doesn’t work, be ready to yank us out.”

To his left, Doctor Henry Longfellow was dour, “And if yanking doesn’t work, feel free to fly down and rescue us.”  He wasn’t happy about being on the away team. During the period, men wore suits and hats while women wore dresses.  He smiled at the annoyed look the Assistant Chief Engineer had on her face.  Carolyn Crawford hated dresses.  She had eschewed them as a child, teen, and young adult.  She had away team experience from her time on the USS Mercy, so she’d been moved to the front of the line.

“This reminds me of a past life,” the quartermaster, Henry Wyatt, mused.

Crawford groused, “Me too.  One I didn’t plan on reliving.”

Juliet Woodward expressed mock shock at her side and leaned into her accent, “You do look ever so pretty, Ms. Crawford.”

Carolyn stared at Commander Park, who was amused, “I’m going to kill her, Commander Park.  One more crack about the color of the dress and my eyes…”

Park put her hands up in surrender, “Right, let’s stow it until you’re back. Then Kondo can put you into a ring to deal with your feelings.”

Woodward cracked, “Only if she wears the dress!”

Crawford turned to her, annoyed, “Look, Juliet, I’m gonna…”

Park ordered the control officer, “Energize for the love of all that is holy.”  The argument continued as the transporter beam flashed into existence and then was gone.  The XO sighed, “They’re getting along so well.  Keep a lock on them.” She headed for the bridge.

 

Crawford walked behind Woodward and Hargraves with Wyatt at her side.  “…and that’s why I hate dresses.”

Wyatt chuckled, “That is certainly a childhood trauma, Ms. Crawford.  I’d have a hard time showing my face back at the school the next day.”  

His sly smile gave her cause to roll her eyes, “I was in third grade!  That shit followed me to high school!”  As they walked into the city, she kicked at the ground, “I hate dresses.”  They continued into the massive city, taking in the tall skyscrapers.  All around them was the smell and sound of industry.  Cars and trucks of various sizes drove all around them.

 

After thirty minutes of walking, they reached the town center and mounted the steps to the city hall.  They entered and found their way to the front desk.  Hargreaves asked if it was possible to meet someone in the government. With some questioning to clarify what they needed, they soon sat in a large room filled with books and furniture suited for a mansion on Old Earth.  Hargreaves walked along one of the many bookcases, reading the titles, “There’s a lot of science books here.  Haven’t seen a lot of literature or philosophy.”  He wondered what that meant for the people they were about to meet.

The doors flew open as if in answer, and a tall bearded man strode in wearing a well-coifed suit and glasses.  His eyes searched the group, “I am the Secretary of the State.  My name is Harrison Nola.  You are a mystery to us.”  He pulled out a notebook, “We examined you as you walked through our city and into our hall. You do not fit any of our known people groups.  So, I must ask you – who are you…what, why are you here?”  There was a hint of malice in his words.

Charlie picked his jaw up off the floor.  “You’re a people of science…it would make sense you’d have ways to observe us.”  He cleared his throat, “We’re from a world outside your own…our ship is a peaceful ship that seeks to explore and understand the universe.”

Nola squinted at them, “And we are next on this…’list’ of exploration?”

Hargreaves waited for the universal translator to catch up before he put his hands up in surrender, “No. no…we’re…there’s another group of beings out there who are not peaceful…and they seek to subjugate and attack others to…mechanically add them to their numbers.  We think you are next on their ‘list’…and we wanted to find a way to protect you and keep you hidden.”

Another long stare from the Secretary of the State.  “You will need to put all your cards on the table.”  He gestured to a long table on the other side of the room.  They all sat, and Hargraves began explaining who he was and the ship outside the orbit.  That begat another round of questions, and he patiently explained the Federation and its members.  This required an explanation of the Delta and the Alpha quadrants and the wormhole that had got them here in the first place.

“So you are trapped here until the end of the month?”  Nola sat back, a confused look on his face, “That seems ever so unwise given what you’ve explained about this…quadrant that exists around us.”

Hargreaves allowed a smile, “Part of what we do, Mr. Secretary, is the choosing the unwise to save someone or someones in need…even if they don’t know it yet.”

“Still..an incredible risk.  It is hard to believe there are no conditions for your assistance.”  Nola sat forward, “For us…your ways do not make sense within the scope of our ways.  We are a dedicated science community – we’ve spent our lifetimes understanding this planet and ourselves.  We used to be given to risks…but with the deaths of our explorers and the inability for us to make our ships work…we gave up on searching beyond the sky.  We do not care about what lies beyond the clouds.  We care about what we stand foot on and live on.  The skies have remained silent…why would that change?”

Charlie pursed his lips.  How much to share?  He explained the unique properties of their world and the small system they called home.  Their creator had made it this way, and his dying words had led the Mackenzie to them.

“We long ago spurned the stories of our creator, Commander Hargraves.  It was deemed unscientific. His name has not been spoken in 1,000 years.  You’re suggesting the science we’ve studied and created is wrong.”  The malice was back in his voice.

Henry Wyatt stood, “Mr. Secretary…we’re not suggesting anything of the sort.”  He motioned to a blackboard on the wall behind them, and the man gave a curious nod.  “Your science has determined certain things.”  He went to work drawing the world and the understanding they had developed.  “That science, and the study of all of this…is still sound and true.”  He drew an additional piece – that of the creator, “He put this all together for you to discover, examine, and understand.  Your studies do not invalidate his existence. The two are not mutually exclusive.”

Nola eyed them all after examining the drawings on the board, “You…make a compelling case.”  He pointed upwards, “Your ship…is up there?”  Wyatt nodded.  “You must reveal it to us.  You came from nowhere and have said many things.  We must see it.”

It was Hargreaves’s time to return to the conversation, “We can show you. I can have a shuttle land outside the city in ten minutes.”

Nola assented, “I will get the president and one other.  He will need to see this.”

 

“It is…I do not have the words.”  President Mason Garrey stood in the shuttle’s forward compartment, staring at the cockpit window, showing the planet on one side and the USS Mackenzie on the other.  “It is…expansive.  Like nothing we’d ever imagined…and we’ve imagined plenty.”  He turned to Nola, “We must believe them.”

His Secretary of State sighed a long sigh of surrender, “How will we explain this to our people?”

Hargreaves had an idea, “You don’t have to acknowledge that this exists yet.  The plan requires some destruction…but you said you’re due for an emergency exercise.  You could sell the slight destruction elements to make the exercise more real.”

Garrey considered the suggestion, “It is not impossible…Nola?”

“If we are to avoid this…Borg…I must accept their suggestions.  We watched the same videos about them… they would consume us with no chance of survival.” He gestured to the space outside the window, “We cannot ignore the sky any longer.”

The President turned to the Starfleet crew, “Let us save our people…together.” 

GM 017 – Welcome to the Jungle

USS Mackenzie
6.2401

Four days.  Four days of overnights, late nights, and early mornings.  All focused on one goal – saving the lives on the planet below and keeping the Borg off their trail for good.  The Mackenzie had relocated far enough away to read the Sphere’s status still but not close enough for them to show up on the mechanical sensors.  The shuttles on the planet were doing their work while the other measures were activated – several city buildings had been selected for destruction. They had been burning for a few hours, sending black smoke into the atmosphere.  It was spreading like a stain, making its mark across the planet.  The Chief Science Officer reported, “Sphere is approaching the system – they’re scanning the entrance.”  She tapped at the console, and the resulting sensor view splayed across the viewscreen, a green blinking dot signifying the Borg Sphere.

Commander Park had shifted from her place at the operations station to her standard chair at the captain’s right.  She watched the movement of the Sphere concerning the planet.  It was absurd to hope or believe they’d pass the system over and continue their mechanical merry way.  Yet, she silently wished for them to do just that – leave and never return.

The dot began to move as Thasaz confirmed their fears, “Sphere is in motion…intercept course is the planet.”  Sighs of exasperation could be heard around the bridge.  Having the power of an Excelsior II class starship and being able to do nothing in the face of the danger looming over the planet wasn’t just frustrating…it was a paradoxical predicament of the highest order.  One million people would be slaughtered if the Borg sniffed out their ruse.  They had already lost three thousand Voth to the Borg.  She wasn’t sure the crew could take another loss like that.

Captain Wren Walton sat in the center chair, gripping the armrests.  They’d been able to spare the Nama people but had lost the Voth.  They needed a win.

Thasaz continued to update, “The Borg have moved to the planet…they’ve started their scans.”  All eyes on the bridge and across the Mackenzie stared at their screens, watching and waiting.

 

“You gotta admit, this is fun.” Chief Security Officer Seraphina Pearce was strapped into the right side console of the shuttle that Chief Flight Control Officer Gabriela Castillo was piloting through the atmosphere in coordination with four other shuttles.  Her jaw was set, clamped tightly as she tapped orders into the console while Pearce handled the coordination with the others.  Castillo wasn’t sure ‘fun’ was the word she would use.  Her predecessor, William Prentice, was more of an adrenaline junky than she was.  Part of her wanted him back for this mission if only to be able to sit back and watch his madcap maneuvers in action.

She swerved, avoiding a perilous pocket of turbulent air, “It is pushing the limits of the shuttle and the rest of us, so if that makes it fun, fun it is.”  She dived to avoid another pocket, “I have other words I would use…but we’ll go with fun.”

The shuttles and runabouts continued their work while on the bridge of the Mackenzie the clips, dots, and lines traced the movement of the Borg.  Park muttered as she watched the clock above the view screen, “Come on…get out of here.”  People nervously waited for a signal from the shuttles in the shelters and basements.  

Each second passed was another held breath or another sweat drip off a brow.  The Sphere just hung there in space, waiting.  Those on the bridge felt it was taunting them, drawing out the staring contest simply for kicks.  They knew the Borg were like Vulcans regarding emotions…but it was hard to ignore their feelings as the cragged metal creation stayed stationary.  

Suddenly, it shifted forward as if to head into the planet, and everyone across the Mackenzie held their breath, gripping consoles, hands, and hearts as the milliseconds ticked.

Tick.

Tok.

Tick.

Tock.

The Borg Sphere jumped to warp a full second later, the dot flashing away on the screen.

“They’re gone.  Tracking.”  Thasaz sat back in her chair at science, letting out the breath she’d been holding, “It worked.”

Walton stood, watching the screen.  “But they are not gone from the Delta Quadrant…they’re going to keep searching until they find what they want…and we’ll keep chasing them, trying to stay ahead of them.  That trick will only work once…they’ll adapt like they always do.”

Commander Park at operations agreed, “We can’t take them on in a fight…but we could find a way to slow them down…or just…put an end to their mission.”  Like many others, she was tired of the shuffling shuttle game they played with the Borg.  The challenge was they couldn’t stand up to them in a fight.  They would die needlessly.

Kondo sat back in his chair at tactical, thinking, “We know enough about them to know they’re much like our computer cores.  Their interactions with Picard and Janeway have shown us they have weaknesses…it’s just a matter of figuring out what that is…and hitting it hard.”  He’d spent much of his spare time in the boxing gym, working out his frustration and fears with gloves to bag.  It was helping.

Thasaz reflected on the conversation.  She’d never faced the Borg and had heard plenty of stories over the years.  Every story ended with a brutal loss in the victory.  Something had to be sacrificed.  She hoped they could avoid a similar fate.  She spoke up. “They know who the Mackenzie is…but we could use a shuttle or a runabout to board the Sphere.  Small teams designed to keep them from focusing on us…we go in with minimal weapons.”

Pearce at security was tapping at her console, “We could manufacture some hand-held weapons that wouldn’t trip their internal sensors…and there’s plenty of ways to rework our hand-held phasers and rifles to avoid drawing attention.”  As much as she didn’t mind a fight or two, she wasn’t looking to tangle with the Borg.  She wanted to live to see another day.

Wren appreciated their counsel.  “We’ll need a plan once we’re inside the Sphere.  Park, put some teams together.  Warm up the holodeck with the information we have.  We need to be ready for this with everything we have.  I don’t often say this…but we must be flawless in our efforts here.  Helm, set us on a slow course tracking the Sphere…we need to know where this bastard’s going.”

 

“How do you lie to the collective?  How do you get them to believe the impossible – that they found nobody with nothing to help them restore their numbers?”  Thasaz asked as she sat in the science lab with the team she’d pulled together.  “There’s a lot that can go wrong.”

The Chief of Security, Seraphina Pearce, wondered, “So they scan the sites, drop the drones to scan further…that data has to be stored somewhere, right?  The connection to the collective makes it pretty immediate…but the Borg is like any computer – there should be some kind of…storage device for the data.”

Commander Park was working on a console, “If we were to disconnect them from the collective temporarily…could we insert corrected data for transmission to the collective?  Overwrite the old data?”

The Romulan Chief Science officer grimaced as only a Romulan could, “It would have to be seen as an accident or something…the Collective would see us arriving or beaming aboard and conclude that the Sphere was under attack.  We’d have thrown a warp core breach into a wasp nest.”

Ensign Carolyn Crawford from engineering had been deep in thought since the meeting started.  Her PADD was a collection of brainstorms.  She snapped her head up as Thasaz finished, “What if…we disguised ourselves as a Borg drone team?”  The room turned to face her, confusion and concern filling their faces.  She pressed forward, “Look, we collected tons of Borg equipment from the sites we’ve been to – there’s more than enough to go around for a team or two…and I know Chief Katsumi could fabricate plenty of Borg pieces to make a shuttle or runabout look the part.”

Lieutenant Hiro winced, “Doctor Longfellow will not be happy…but it could be reasoned he is rarely happy.”  Her mind had begun to work through the possibility of the plan offered by the Assistant Chief Engineer, and her conclusion was – it wasn’t impossible.   

GM 018 – Save the Last Dance for Me

USS Mackenzie
6.2401

“Approaching intercept vector.”  The ensign at the helm was not Gabrielle Castillo, as she was in the shuttle bay, ready to launch in the first of two runabouts.  The Mackenzie was intentionally lagging behind the Sphere, and Captain Wren Walton was pacing the area before the command chairs.  She was nervous, and the thought of what they were about to do deeply unsettled her.  They had pressed their luck throughout their time in the Delta Quadrant.  Every hour and day that passed lowered their chances of returning home in one piece.

Walton tapped her badge, “Shuttle one, you are cleared for launch.  Save travels.”  She watched the view screen as the shuttle arced out and away from the Mackenzie.  She looked more like a trash heap than a New Atlantis runabout.  A cold wash of relief and hope washed over her – maybe it all worked. Maybe the Borg wouldn’t try to see through the facade.  She whispered a prayer before she ordered, “Engage course to the next intercept vector.”

 

“This sucks.”  Castillo sat roughly in the pilot’s chair, pulling away from the Mackenzie and aiming towards the last known position of the Sphere.  They each looked like a Borg Drone and even smelled like one.  That was thanks to Charge Nurse HIro, who had made it her goal to ensure they were as hidden as possible. It was rank, and Gabrielle breathed carefully to avoid her gag reflex.  

Communications Chief Oscar Reede was in the ops chair beside her and hated it as much as she did, “I am not enjoying this…and I don’t think I’m supposed to.”

The figure of their Chief Engineering Officer, Katsumi Okada, appeared in Borg form, “Remember our mission, remember to listen and follow…and we’ll get back home.”  She made eye contact with them, “We’re going to get these bastards.”  A nod from each of them was confirmation they understood. Whether they genuinely believed it wasn’t what Katsumi was worried about.  She was worried about what would happen in those first few minutes once they stepped aboard.  Would they be discovered?  Or would they be ignored?

 

The second shuttle was clear and jumped to warp. Ensign Deborah Callaway piloted them toward the Borg Sphere.  Lieutenant Kondo De La Fontaine’s hands worked the operations console as they flew, updating the sensors.  A voice from the back of the shuttle spoke, “I know I’m the last person to remind us…but we gotta stay calm.” Seraphina Pearce was the voice, and the instructions from her captain were still ringing in her ears.  She was being put in charge of this team because she had proven herself to Walton.  The unspoken warning was – don’t screw it up.  Lives were in the balance.  

Calloway was one of the better flight control officers, and she was still nervous.  Castillo’s encouragement was still fresh in her ears.  You can do this, Deb.  I believe the simulation results and your real-world exercise.  You can and will do this.  I’ll be flying the other shuttle.  Deb swallowed her fears as best as possible and kept the shuttle on its path.

 

The bridge of the Mackenzie was quiet.  Chief Science Officer Thasaz observed her monitor, gently touching the earpiece every few minutes to ensure it was still working.  They had put enough distance between them and the Borg Sphere.  Long-range sensors wouldn’t be of much use.  They could tell who was in the sector and if they were moving.

Commander Park had the CONN and was sitting in the center chair, her eyes staring at the screen while she updated the console on the arms of her chair.  She sent Wren to her ready room after her pacing made everyone nervous.  They would be blind to whatever was happening until the shuttles reached out or the Borg came hunting for them.

That fear held in everyone from the command deck to engineering.  The Borg had proven their talent for destruction and annihilation.  Everything depended on the shuttle crews and their mission.  It was on the mind of Assistant Chief Engineering Officer Carolyn Crawford as she sat in the crew mess, nursing a lukewarm coffee.

“May I sit?”  The voice of Cadet Cardamon interrupted her thoughts, and she gestured to the chair across from her.  He sat, steaming cup in hand.  “I have been searching the databases for the concept of waiting.”  Cardamon slipped a PADD across the table, “There are many songs, poems, and stories written about the subject.”  He sipped, ”It is a..foreign concept to me.”  His face made a frown, even as it looked like something else.  “This tea…is fascinating.  It is marketed as the favorite drink of Jean-Luc Picard.”

Crawford couldn’t help but smile.  Cardamon was mature and thoughtful in some ways, but other times, he was like a child, discovering the taste and feel of the world around him for the first time.  She asked, “Do you…like it?”

“I am…not sure.  It is a bold taste with a heavy flavor…it is not…as you humans would say, a subtle tea.”  He took another sip and pushed it away, “It is a very angry tea.”

Carolyn offered, “Well, traditionally, people would add cream and sugar until they got the mixture they wanted.” She slid over the small container of the team accouterments and watched, amused, as he experimented with the Earl Grey.  

A few moments later, he smiled, a look of peace settling into his eyes.  “Three sugars and two cream.  That has made this tea acceptable to my palette.”  He took another pleased sip, “How do you wait, Ensign Crawford?”

She accepted a replacement cup of coffee from the mess staff and tried to answer the Voth’s question, “I…I guess my dad taught me.  He taught me that the universe has a speed that runs at…and we can’t think to try and outrun it or beat it to the line.  We must wait for whatever it has for us, even if we think we know better.”

He looked at her for a long while, considering her words.  Learning from humans and aliens of the Alpha Quadrant had been generally a helpful experience.  Sometimes, they confused him and made him wonder if they had trouble with their complicated minds.  This was one of those times.  He asked, “Does that really work?”

She scoffed, “Sometimes.  Like when I was waiting for my application for Starfleet…my final grades…or my first assignment. It works, then.  But waiting for word that your friends are safe and that they’ve managed to save the day?  That’s harder.”

He sipped at his drink, ruminating on the conversation.  She didn’t speak either.  They remained like this until he concluded, “It is hard because you’ve become connected with them.  You don’t want to lose that connection.”

Crawford lifted her coffee to him, and they clinked them together, “To getting our friends back.”

He rejoined, “And to beating the Borg.”

GM 019 – The Lion Sleeps Tonight

USS Mackenzie
6.2401

“Report.”  Captain Wren Walton sat restlessly in the center chair.  It had been six hours since the shuttles had been sent behind enemy lines.  The long-range sensors told them nothing.  The Borg Sphere remained, as well as the two Borg signals that were, in truth, the Mackenzie’s two shuttles.

Walton was the only restless one on the bridge.  Commander Thasaz perched on the edge of her seat at the science station, watching every blip on the sensors.  Six hours was a long time.  “Signals remain the same. No change.”  She turned to face her captain, “How long do we wait?”

Wren wanted to wait no longer.  She wanted to take a running leap at the Borg Sphere and rescue her people from whatever hellscape was around them.  She sipped at her chilled green tea, wondering if they were about to discover the Delta Quadrant’s limits.  “I don’t know.”  She didn’t like that answer, but it was the best she had.  As much as her instinct was to jump face first, there was the harsh truth – they would all die at the hands of the Borg.  It would be a useless gesture.  If her away team were lost to the mechanical mutants, giving the Borg more of what they wanted would be reckless.

Juliet Woodward sat to the captain’s left, her requisite counseling role filled as she waited and watched.  The captain’s answer wasn’t wrong; she could feel the bridge’s tension shift back and forth with the clock ticking onwards.  Commander Park had been given bunk orders four hours ago.  A break for Walton and much of the bridge crew was coming up.

 

“Long night?”  Chief Diplomatic Officer Charlie Hargraves glanced up from his mug of coffee to greet the older face of the Mackenzie’s quartermaster, Henry Wyatt.

“Something like that.  We’re at seven hours since the shuttles started their mission.  Everyone’s a little worried.”  He continued to work on his PADD, “I’ve been asked to draft a report regarding all hands lost…just in case.”  He shook his head, “I know it’s a necessary thing, but I hate it.”

Wyatt slid into the seat opposite, his mug steaming with tea, “I don’t know how this mission ends if that’s what you’re asking.”

Hargreaves chuckled, “I’m aware of your skillset, Quartermaster Wyatt.  Even if you could see into the future of this thing…I don’t think I’d ask.  I don’t want to know – either way.”

Wyatt leaned forward, “There’s a piece of paper in the archives back on Earth by General Eisenhower.  He was the Supreme Commander of the Allied troops in World War II.”  He explained the D-Day invasion as best as he could through the lens of 2401.  “He had two letters drafted – one for the mission’s success and one for the failure.”  He let the moment hold before continuing, “Our fight against the Borg isn’t much different from the fight four hundred and fifty years ago.”

Charlie remembered his world history classes and dimly recalled the events Henry referenced: “The Allies won that war.”

Wyatt replied, “At great cost.”

 

“Coming up on twelve hours, Commander.”  The secondary science officer reported as she sat in Thasaz’s chair; her chief had been ordered off the bridge and to rest.  Park had returned to the center chair and was finding it difficult.  Nothing had changed on the long-range sensors.  No word had come by any frequency of communication.  It was quiet.

The commander replied, “Log it into the ship’s computer.  Next report in half an hour.”  The doldrums of the bridge returned as the officers and crew went through the rhythm that had taken hold twelve hours previous.  Every so often a transport ship would flicker on the sensors.  Anticipation would rise and then fall.

 

“Thirteen hours,” announced Thsaz.  Walton was back in the center chair while Park had returned to the operations console.

“Report.”  Wren didn’t expect much.  She wasn’t surprised when the science chief gave her the same report.  “Log it.”  She sat back in her chair.  There would come a time when she would have to take the Mackenzie to investigate.  She wasn’t sure when that time would be, only that it was coming closer and closer the longer the shuttles stayed attached to the Borg Sphere.

Suddenly, multiple consoles were alarmed, and Thasaz quickly reported, “One shuttle has departed the Sphere at maximum warp; the other is moving away at impulse power.”  She worked the sensors, “No communications…and no change in their transponder signals.  The second shuttle has now gone to warp.  Course for both is intercepting with us.”

Wren drummed her hands on the arms of the center chair.  There were multiple possibilities, and she would now have to prepare for all of them.  “Red alert.  Activate all security teams.  Secure the shuttle bay with repelling teams.  Commander Park, get to the shuttle bay.”

Park was up and in the turbolift with the doors closing behind her as the lights on the bridge faded to red.  She counted to ten and exercised her breathing.  As she stepped off the lift, a security officer tossed her a phaser rifle as he led her towards the shuttle bay.  “The shuttles aren’t responding to hails or signals.  They’re not stopping for anything.  We’ve tried to get footage from inside the shuttles, but the computers are not responding.  Whatever’s happened, the shuttles are cut off.  Scans show what we wanted the Borg to see – a Borg signature with Borg Drones inside.”  They turned the corner and ran down the remaining corridor to the entrance to the main shuttle bay.

Park stepped through the doors and quickly took control of the scrum, “Be ready for a crash landing.  We don’t know what’s coming through those doors.”  The shuttle bay team secured a forcefield around the team.  A channel from the bridge was opened as Thasaz reported the progress of the shuttles.  They were moving at breakneck speed, redlining the engines of the shuttles.

Park called out, “Here they come!”  They dropped the shields on the bridge, and the shuttles arced towards the open bay.  They slowed to full impulse, but Park knew it wasn’t slow enough.  “Use the tractor beams!”  The shuttle bay team responded, and while it slowed the shuttles, they were still coming in hard and hot.  Park shouted, “Brace!”

The first shuttle hit the deck and bounced.  Sparks exploded from the chassis of the shuttle as it careened across the empty deck, crashing into the nets.  It tore through it and slid into a far wall of the bay, cracking the wall and exploding a release of steam and smoke from its engines.  The second shuttle thundered behind it, careening toward the opposing wall as it screeched across the deck.  It slammed into the net and nearly flipped over as it came to an aggressive stop.  Flames licked at its engines as it sparked from the overload of energy.  The security teams jumped into action at Park’s command. Two teams surrounded the shuttle doors at a distance, phaser rifles at the ready.

The doors remained closed as Park stood at the rear of each team, watching the shuttles with a leary eye.  Sensors were still showing the same story – all Borg.  Suddenly the first shuttle door inched open, spilling out smoke as the coughing of its occupants exploded out.  The shambling figures of Oscar Reede and Gabriella Castillo appeared with hands raised.  The security teams quickly instructed them to follow their directives as medics from sickbay stood at the side.  Park waited for the Chief Engineer to appear.  Castillo was the first to be cleared, and she moved to report to the executive officer.  “Commander…Park.”  There were tears in her eyes as she confirmed, “Commander Katsumi was escaping after we completed our mission…but her disguise failed.  They…they started to assimilate her…but we…we stopped it.”  She turned to the open door of the shuttle, “She’s…dead, commander.  Reede and I had to make a decision…the moment we shot…they stopped assimilating her.  They…thought we were Borg…and so they…left her body.  We took her with us and got the hell out of there.”

Park bowed her head.  The Chief Engineer had been one of the first hired by Captain Harris on the Edinburgh.  She’d had a long and storied career.  She had been meant for so much more.  She asked, “And the mission?”

Reede had been cleared and joined the conversation, “We did everything right.  Took us longer than we thought…but we got it done.  When we left, the Borg Sphere hadn’t moved.”  Park motioned them to go with the medical team and turned her attention to shuttle two.  The door had opened and Kondo had shifted out of the door, carrying a limping Pearce with him.  They gave a similar report, their eyes heavy with the loss of Katsumi. The crews left for sickbay and Park stared down the door for the first shuttle.  She tapped her badge, “Captain to shuttle bay one.” 

GM 020 – The Bar at the End of the World

USS Mackenzie / Markonian Outpost
6.20.2401

Captain Wren Walton stood at the bottom of the platform leading to the shuttle. She stared at the open door, a gaping maw of loss.  She turned to her executive officer, Commander Park, “This one will hurt.”  A wordless nod from Park.  Katsumi had been the first officer to welcome Walton aboard the Mackenzie.  She’d also decided to stay, even with the loss of Captain Harris still fresh in her heart.

“Captain.”  The security officer let her know that the honor guard had been assembled to escort the body of their Chief Engineer to the morgue.  Walton gave a nod and adjusted her dress uniform out of habit.  A science team and medical team had come and gone to verify that any Borg implements were inactive.  Park had been delivered a fresh dress uniform from the quartermaster.

It took a few moments for the honor guard to retrieve the body and place it in a secure container.  Shortly, they climbed out of the shuttle door and escorted the covered body down the ramp, past Walton and Park standing at attention.  The gathered officers also stood at attention, observing the honor that Commander Katsumi had earned in her sacrifice.  The door to the shuttle bay hissed closed, but the silence remained.  Park turned to her friend, “I know her family will wish to honor her.  We still have until the end of the month before we can go home.”

Wren nodded, her tears being held back by her singular force of will.  “Coordinate with Woodward for a ship-wide service.”  She turned to Park, “I’ll make an announcement from the bridge.”  She sighed, “Goddamn Delta Quadrant.  Goddamn Borg.  Goddamn…everything.”  Park pulled her, embracing her captain and friend.

 

Walton stepped back on the bridge. She was still feeling raw as she walked to where Thasaz sat, “Any update?”

The science chief gave a sad nod, “The Borg Sphere is moving off…tracking shows it’s returning to Borg space.  We did it.”  There were no cheers from the bridge crew. The news of their loss had spread quickly.  

Wren sat in her chair.  She needed to compose herself.  The loss of an officer was something she had trained for over and over.  And yet…this one felt unlike anything she’d experienced.  She knew what her training told her.  And yet…it wasn’t that easy.  It was her first command.  Her first loss.  She tapped the shipwide channel, “This is your captain.”  She thought about what she was going to say.  What comfort could she bring?  What hope?  “We lost our chief engineer, Commander Katsumi, in the mission to stop the Borg Sphere.  She died, saving the rest of this quadrant from the threat of assimilation. She was an important part of this crew…she was here before I was.  She was the first one to welcome me aboard.”  Walton smiled at the memory, “We will take our time to grieve her loss and the parts of us that will need healing. Walton, out.”

 

“She loved this ship.”  Kondo De La Fontaine sat in the senior staff lounge as Juliet Woodward finished arranging the food and drink.  “She loved that it was alive…and that it was her baby.”  His throat tightened, “She was the heart of this crew.”

Juliet sat beside him, “She was somethin’ else, Kondo.”  They drank in silence until the rest of the senior staff began to trickle into the room.  Thasaz slipped into the seat opposite them, her eyes shining from the tears threatening to break over the dam she had built.

“I’m going to miss her.”  The Romulan dabbed at her eyes, frustrated at having to grieve once more at the loss of a fellow officer.  She had served on the Edinburgh, and they had lost their share of crew in her time aboard.  It seemed that wherever she went, death stalked her through her friends and crew.  A thought had simmered – why couldn’t she have been the one to die?  She had lived long enough.  She’d lived many lives in that time.  She knew you couldn’t negotiate with Death.  Nobody chooses when, she reminded herself.

As the remaining officers took their seats, Juliet stood.  Her position as Chief Counselor came with certain requirements.  One was handling funerals.  She addressed the command staff, “We’re headed back to Markonian Outpost.  We should arrive there by the 20th, which gives us ten days before we return home.”  She slipped a PADD off the table, “Arrangements for Chief Katsumi’s service are underway.  Those who would like to speak, please add yourself to the list.  Assistant Chief Crawford will speak for the engineering team at the end.”  She scrolled through the list, “We’ve started compiling a list of things she liked, and we think she would want to have at the funeral.  We haven’t been able to find the will she was supposed to file for whatever reason.”

A hand went up. Juliet found the source of the hand.  It was Chief Flight Control Officer Gabriella Castillo.  Woodward gave her a nod.  “That’s not… entirely true.”  She held up a data chip, “She…uh…she recorded something in case she didn’t come back.  We all did.”  She spoke to Walton, “I’m sorry, captain.  We…we just weren’t sure what to do with it.”  

Wren stared at her and motioned for the chip. She turned to Juliet, “Thoughts?”

Woodward chewed on her bottom lip for thirty seconds.  Nobody had seen it.  What unintended surprises might be in the recording?  She accepted the chip and slipped it into the large screen against the wall.  It flickered for a moment before the haunting face of Katsumi, Borg Disguise, and all appeared.  Juliet hit the play button.

“Well…this is what I never thought I’d have to do.”  The face of their former Chie Engineer clouded with an array of emotions as she spoke, “I’m sorry, Juliet – I keep forgetting to file that will.  So, here I am.”  She shrugged, “I’m pretty sure I’ll make it home, and we’ll delete this as soon as we get back on the Mack.  But…in case this thing goes wrong…I want you all to know I love you.  My time in the Eddie and the Mack…it’s been beyond special.  I remember when Commander Harris found me on Bravo…and I can’t imagine never going there again.  Open space is just so…alive.  So much to do out here…so much to explore…and so much to fix.”  She laughed, and the senior staff chuckled along with her.  “I’ve never really thought about it…death.”  Her face went serious for a moment, her signature smile fading.  “I’m not afraid of it…I just don’t want it to happen.”  The face of Katsumi returned to her good-natured smile, “I know that I’ve been really lucky to have the career I’ve had and the people I’ve known.  I meant it when I said it…I love you.  I love my engineering crew, even when they test my patience.  I love the senior staff I get to work with…I’ve gotten to know them from the Eddie to the Mack…and look forward to waking up to work with them.”  She paused.  A silence fell over the room as they waited for her next words.  It took Katsumi a full minute to find the right thing to say.  “I know the risks that come with being a Starfleet engineer.  I’ve had my share of close calls.”  Her smile faded again, and her eyes stared beyond the camera lens, “I never imagined going up against the Borg…I guess I can check it off my list.  If I don’t make it back…I wouldn’t trade it for the universe.  All the risk, the adventure, the doldrums, the quiet hours, the wild times…it was a worthwhile venture.  It was…what I wanted.  I couldn’t stay on Earth or a planet or a station…and after the Eddie and the Mack…I’d never want to set foot on solid ground again.  What we do…it’s a sacred thing.  You make an agreement with yourself about the risk…and how it is your business to take it.  The risk is worth it, even if I don’t make it back.  I died doing something for someone else.”  She paused, a new look of determination filling her eyes, “I’m glad I had a part in that.”  She checked her watch, “We’re almost there.  Time to get ready.  Wish us luck.”  The video cut, and the lights faded up.  

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as Juliet stood by the monitor.  She cleared her throat, “You’re welcome to remain here for as long as you need.  Service is set for the evening of the 20th when we return to the outpost.  Come as you are.”

 

“There’s a place in our hearts that is empty.”  Assistant Chief Engineer Carolyn Crawford stood at the podium, her voice cracking.  She was the last to speak; it had been a long service of celebration, grief, mourning, and hope.  She had tried to find the right words to end the funeral.  “Chief Katsumi forced us to find room for her in each of ours.  She wanted to know us and each of our stories.  She wasn’t willing to let us talk around ourselves – she was desperate to understand us so she could support… mentor and guide us.”  She looked around the room, filled with every officer aboard the Mackenzie.  They had arrived at the outpost earlier than expected, allowing the entire crew to attend.  “She loved this ship…and she loved us.  She demanded excellence from everyone…and wasn’t going to let us try and fall behind.  I still have the list of engineering journals she had me start with…she found a way to make me care about knowing as much as possible about what I do…it was nothing short of magic.”  She tapped at the PADD and read the testimonies from the various engineering officers and crewmen, pausing every so often for shared tears and laughs.  She took a deep breath, “Now…it’s the end.  Chief Katsumi always wanted us to believe in ourselves and better ourselves however we could.  And so, from the engineering department, we ask you – to continue the chief’s mission.  Don’t give up on what lies ahead.  Don’t forget, whoever sits beside you is there for you.  You are not alone.  Chief Katsumi made sure we belonged to something important – a crew.  We will remember her always.”  She looked out across the crew, “To absent friends.  May they continue to guide us through the stars, to the stars, and beyond the stars.”  She paused and repeated, “To absent friends.”

The gathered crew responded in unison, “To absent friends.”