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Part of USS Redding: Starve the Borg and Bravo Fleet: We Are the Borg

Node 7: Needle in the Storm

USS Franscini, Xi Velorum
June 2401
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Iskander al-Kwaritzmi, Personal Log, supplemental: after deciding that the USS Franscini should be evacuated, our squad has been assigned to different tasks. The deflector dish has to be cleared of Borg machinery, the impulse engines must be manually reactivated to bring the ship out of the ion storm, and Commander T’Konte is explaining me my task.

Iskander and Commander T’Konte walked fast in the direction of the shuttlebay.

Iskander had been ordered to take an advanced engineering kit (quite a voluminous item, but the EV suit had servomuscles), while the Vulcan chief of operations had retrieved a box from Engineering before evacuating.

“The assimilated crew of our ship are trying to build a beacon to call reinforcements” was explaining the Vulcan. “It is a primary drive for them. They will not desist until they achieve communication and are retrieved.”

“Hm, yes” agreed Iskander, nervously. He kept looking right and left. No sign of Borg in the dark corridors.

“However, Commander Siouinon postulates that, if a beacon was active, they wouldn’t try to use the deflector dish of the Franscini.”

“Hm, probably not” agreed Iskander again. “Are we going to build a beacon for them?”

“That would be an illogical course of action. We want the beacon to not be aboard the Franscini. And it is not necessary to build one when we can reassemble one.”

The thought stroke Iskander.

“All of this started when an xB horror you were transporting — a nanomolecular forge — started transmitting a distress signal! Your crew came into contact with nanoprobes while deactivating its beacon!” he remembered.

T’Konte raised the box she was carrying.

“That is correct. The antenna of the beacon was deactivated and is safely preserved in this tech stasis unit. I estimate that, when reattached in the appropriate fashion, it will reactivate the forge beacon.”

“And then? The Borg will come!”

The Vulcan walked steadily. Nothing in her expression or posture suggested unease.

“That is correct. If they interpret this as a salvage mission, they will retrieve what they perceive as belonging to the Borg and will leave.”

“… and if the Franscini isn’t in advanced state of assimilation, you’re hoping that they’ll leave the ship alone!”

“We are not hoping. There is a historical probability of 28.4% of the Borg interpreting this as a simple salvage and retrieval mission.”

They walked ten more minutes.

“If they do, they will still take every member of your crew who is partially assimilated and extract them” remarked Iskander.

“Yes” said the Vulcan with perfect control. “This is a logical conclusion.”

Iskander tried to add something, but couldn’t. He guessed that Commander Siouinon had insisted on this course of action. It was horrible — sacrificing friends and colleagues who had been assimilated, in order to guarantee that no other person fell — but he couldn’t find anything different.

“So, where’s the nanomolecular forge?” he asked, eager to change topic.

“We couldn’t leave it on board. The drones would have found it and used it. It would have sped up the rate of assimilation by 381%. It was an unacceptable risk.”

“So, where is it?”

Commander T’Konte took out a PADD and pressed a button on it.

The screen on the inside of Iskander’s helmet lit up with the information that was been transmitted to it. He could see coordinates and instructions.

“It’s… oh… OH! It’s in the middle of the ion storm” he said.

“Yes, Lieutenant.”

“You pushed it out of the ship and let it drift.”

“It couldn’t be risked to remain on board. It’s a nanomolecular forge.”

“Right. And now you want me to go out there, in the middle of the storm, and reattach the antenna to it.”

“You are to take a shuttle. It can get close to the coordinates. For a short time the shields of the shuttle can be extended, protecting your extraveicular activity.”

Iskander nodded. It wasn’t a bad plan. Drive to the forge, get out for a couple of minutes while protected by the shields of the shuttle, get back inside. Easy.

They entered the shuttlebay and there was no shuttle.

THERE WAS NO SHUTTLE.

Commander Vistia Xe of the Redding stood there with the rest of their away team.

“Lieutenant al-Kwaritzmi” she greeted him. “Commander.”

“We require a shuttle” said T’Kelme brusquely. Her self-control was slipping.

The Deltan commander nodded.

“They are evacuating part of your sick and needy. They will be back in twenty minutes.”

“You took our shuttles too” said the Vulcan.

“You had many sick and needy” explained the Deltan.

Iskander looked at the Vulcan. In her eyes he could read, for the first time, pain and panic.

“Is that too much?” he asked.

“We are going to start moving out of the nebula at any time now” said T’Konte. “The Borg will take control of Main Engineering even sooner than that, and will try to use the deflector dish as a beacon. If the Collective receives a message from the beacon, they will want to retrieve the Franscini. This can’t be risked. The nanomolecular forge’s beacon must be reactivated before we are out, before the drones on board manage to –”

“Siouinon and Koli are at the deflector dish and are undoing its modifications” said Iskander. “The Borg won’t be able to use it as a beacon.”

“Out of the ion storm, they will be able to reach the deflector dish. They will reassimilate it unless a distress signal is already active.”

Iskander breather deeply.

“When does the nanomolecular forge beacon have to be operational at the latest?” he asked, forming a plan in his mind. He hated this plan. It was the worst plan.

“Four minutes, twenty-one seconds” said T’Konte. “If the beacon isn’t transmitting by then, the Borg will try to use the deflector dish, and the likelihood of the Collective taking the Franscini rises to 94.2%.”

Iskander set a timer of four minutes, twenty-one second in his EV suit. He moved it to the top right edge of the screen inside his helmet. Now he knew.

“The shuttles won’t be back in a useful time” remarked coldly Vistia Xe. She couldn’t have known.

“No” agreed Iskander.

He took the stasis container from T’Konte’s hands and started running.

“What?!” gasped the Vulcan.

“Lieutenant!” raised her voice Vistia Xe.

Iskander picked up pace. His engineering kit was firmly attached to the EV suit. He held to the stasis container with all his force and ran towards the force field at the end of the shuttlebay. Past it, the purple, angry ion storm.

“LIEUTENANT, STOP!” screamed voices in his helmet. It was impossible to know which of the two commanders had given the order, or if both, but that wouldn’t be a problem for long. Soon he’d be out and any communication would be lost to static.

The force field would let him through, he knew. He had already set the EV suit to interface with it — just like a shuttle, he would pass through like thin air.

He reached the force field and he jumped.

He was flying into the ion storm.

———————————————————————

He needed a couple of seconds to breathe deeply to forget the absolute stupidity and recklessness of what he had just done. He was utterly terrified, and yet astonished that he had found the courage to jump.

He looked up the coordinates of the nanomolecular forge and set a course for the navigation system of the suit. The EV suit, obedient, started moving using its limited plasma engines.

Deep breathes as the suits starts accelerating.

The plan was simple. Use the EV suit’s limited capacity for space travel to reach the nanomolecular forge. Try to get there with at least one minute to spare on T’Konte’s estimate. Attach the beacon’s antenna. Hope that the nanomolecular forge starts transmitting a distress signal, that the drones on board of the Franscini don’t assimilate the ship further, that the rescue ship from the Collective only teleports Borg technology and drones and leaves the Franscini behind. 200 people saved in its transporter buffers.

Failure would have meant that the Borg assimilate the Franscini further, reshape the deflector dish into a subspace beacon, and possibly get their hands on remaining Franscini crew or Redding away crew. A Collective rescue ship arrives, finds a Federation ship sending a Borg distress signal, and takes it back to wherever Borg nightmares are made. Half the crew, frozen in transporter buffers, either assimilated or dead.

Iskander increases the power of the engines of the EV suit. He could feel them getting hot against his skin.

The ion storm was around him, terrifying. Static electricity accumulated on the suit. The screen of the helmet sometimes flickered. The annoyingly scientific part of his brain informed him that thunder in space can move in all directions, not necessarily from the sky to the ground. Yet the silence was eerie, because Iskander had deactivated the sound conversion function of the suit.

He inventorized. The Borg antenna was still in his hands. He trusted his instincts as an engineer well enough to know he could correctly reattach it. The suit had still 82% energy — quickly dropping due the engines. T’Konte’s timer was now 3:21. ETA to the coordinates of the nanomolecular forge was 2:02.

He silently cursed his stupid bout of heroism. But his hand had been forced. He had been the only engineer already in an EV suit in the shuttlebay. There was no other mean of transportation — no time to look for a worker bee or an evacuation pod (both would have also been extremely inadequate). T’Konte had communicated that the beacon had to be reattached, that 200 lives depended on it, and… the need of the many…

He closed his eyes and breathed. The suit could handle driving itself to the coordinates.

He thought, as he often did, of Orsos. Iskander’s ancestors had believed in a thing called an afterlife — a place where a hypothetical noncorporeal version of a person’s consciousness would be somehow transferred upon death, a sort of katra for non-telepaths. His ancestors in Egypt would have thought that Iskander, in the case of death by ion storm, would have been rejoined to Orsos in some sort of feather-equilibrated utopic resting place.

But he, obviously, didn’t believe in Osiris and Maat. He thought of Orsos, the man he had loved, the man he had seen dying. Iskander didn’t care much about dying himself — he no longer loved life as he had — but he couldn’t tolerate the thought that, when he died, so many memories of Orsos would also cease to exist. He, Iskander, had been exclusive witness to a side of Orsos that had been shared with no one else. There was so little of Orsos left, aside from precious memories, and so many of them in his head and nowhere else. Iskander couldn’t tolerate the thought of the memories of Orsos being lost to this cruel, insensitive universe.

He opened his eyes. He would survive.

He could now see the xB molecular nanoforge, floating in the ion storm, an ugly blob of metal, uncaring, meaningless, hateful. Energy: 58%. T’Konte’s doom prediction: 1:35; ETA 0:16.

The EV suit decreased its speed and maneuvered to the nanomolecular forge: the longest 10 seconds of Iskander’s life. And then, frenetic action.

Engineering kit. Extracting the beacon antenna from the stasis holder. Checking for connectivity. Repolarizing. Finding where it belonged in the nanomolecular forge. Socket found. Serious burns, probably due to the ion storm. Relaminate to repair some of the damage. Add a sigma-sigma fluid in the socket. Motivator and coupler. Beacon antenna in position. Push it in. Coupler. Virtual extruder. Reenergizer.

Kick the ugly xB machine and scream.

The screen inside the helmet of his EV suit alerted him that it was detecting a strong Borg distress signal coming from a source about one meter away from him.

T’Konte’s doom timer: 0:23.

“Yes!” screamed Iskander. “YES!”

He added a couple of celebrative words that were, in hindsight, rather insulting to the concept of Borg motherhood and fatherhood.

He looked at the energy reading of his suit. 41%.

Not enough to make it back to the Franscini. Especially if it was moving.

Thunders suddenly danced in his vision field.

He knew why the ship was being moved out of the ion storm: so that transporters could be used to evacuate it. The ion storm interfered with transporter locking. In the case that the Collective decided to retrieve the Franscini, the non-assimilated crew would have been already gone.

Transporter locking.

Iskander hadn’t spent years at the Lisa Meitner Research Facility for nothing. He hadn’t specialized in transporters and worked at a leading transporter research institution to die in this ion storm. He didn’t carry the memories of kissing Orsos just to give them up in a stupid purple nebula.

He took the engineering kit and found what he needed: a signal amplifier.

Insufficient, of course. Without even thinking, he started working. Dismounted its base. Demotivator. Decoupler. Optronic extruder.

In a blinding shower of violet light, he was hit by a thunder.

For a moment the pain was like nothing he had ever felt. But fortunately an EV suit was almost like a Faraday cage: most of the electric shock had not been communicated inside. Most.

The screen had cracked, but held.

Injection — 20 cc neuropralzine, 30 cc tinofen-D, 15 cc ematocytic solution, informed him the flickering screen of the EV suit. Of course it had a first aid automatic system and could partially medicate him. Please seek medical assistance.

“Double the amounts” he whispered, surprised that his vocal chords could still work. He couldn’t afford not to be lucid. The suit alerted him, and he overrode the objections. Drugs in that amount could kill him, but so would have the next thunder.

The EV suit complied and Iskander’s mind was flooded with a thirsty energy and lucidity. His heart beat like crazy. The EV suit energy level had dropped to 9% — most certainly from the thunder.

No time.

Extruder. Optronic rescambler. Open the dataport of the EV suit. Forcefully remove the Y-S junction, replace it with a G-J manifold. Quantum collimator. Synchronizing the primary and secondary readers. Locking the modifications. Recoupler. Motivator.

He had connected the signal amplifier to the internal systems of his EV suit in record time. He had made his EV suit into a signal amplifier.

He was almost without breath, and knew that his heart was probably about to stop beating. 8% energy remaining in the suit.

When the deflector dish of the Franscini stopped its perturbation, when it stopped blasting energy and distortions in all directions, then the Redding would be able to scan inside of the nebula. They’d be able to see Iskander. Thanks to his signal amplifier, they could beam him on board.

He just had to power the signal amplifier. He transferred all power to it.

Everything inside of the EV suit went dark. He could only see the purple ion storm through the cracked glass of his EV suit.

When the deflector dish… stopped… then… they could beam him… through the storm… signal amplifier…

Iskander al-Kwaritzmi closed his eyes and could see Orsos.