It only made sense for the USS Robert Hooke, an Oberth class science vessel, to meet with the Cooperative at the battlefield near the Jenolan Sphere. It was a symbolic location -- the site of the destruction of so many of the Collective. It was also a practical location -- the remaining wreckage provided excellent cover for the Cooperative vessels against Octanti scanners.
The Valkyrja and The Paladin, newly outfitted with upgrades, emerged from warp, making careful scans of the system and the Robert Hooke herself. Once they were satisfied the system was secure, Captains Lahn and Quint beamed over to a Cooperative cube to meet the Hooke's science teams. Despite visiting a Cooperative ship, Lahn insisted on a heavy security detail, quietly carrying a large array of anti-borg weaponry.
Doctors from the Hooke were there to assist with, and learn new techniques for removing Borg implants. While the war with the Borg had provided the Federation with plenty of practice in freeing the assimilated, the Cooperative were true masters of the craft. Despite their unmatched skill there were some things even the Cooperative could not reverse from a lifetime of assimilation. As one of the doctors explained to the Captains, freedom from all the borg implants for some liberated meant perhaps only a couple more years of life, as a body which would have died from a natural aging process long ago succumbed to a normal lifespan. For many liberated, who had already lost a lifetime being assimilated, having only at best a couple years of life free of Borg implants seemed a cruel twist, and many chose to extend their lives living with just some of the implants. For others, the connectivity that came with being in the Cooperative, without loss of individuality that came with the Collective, was an attractive option. Lines were being drawn -- Cooperative that sought to be completely free of Borg implants and those that couldn't or wouldn't completely let go. Like an iceberg, Captains Lahn and Quint could only hear the portion of the argument that broke the surface, as most of the discussion was over that channel that all the Cooperative shared, though they could both sense the tension between the many opinions forming.
Even as Dr. Kelson attempted to explain what he understood of the argument, the Paladin contacted Captain Quint, reporting a small force of Octanti approaching the wreckage of the battlefield. Captain Lahn immediately requested beam-up to her ship, with brisk instructions for her ship to enter cloak the moment she was on board. Captain Quint also requested to get to his ship, but also kept a channel open to the scientists and doctors on the Cooperative Cube.
The Octanti arrived in force, responding to the Paladin's request for their intentions with a dismissive statement of dealing with a dangerous Borg presence, and those that would hide them. The ships were of a heavy cruiser class, optimized for engaging the collective, with multiple forward batteries pointed at the Collective Cube, The Robert Hooke and the Paladin.
"Stand down?" The Octanti Flagship Captain considered with wry, harsh amusement, "I think not. We are tired of the Federation meddling in affairs it does not understand. Eleven *billion* were lost to the Borg. You are either with us in this fight, or against us. You are wrong, and more importantly, outnumbered."
"Are we?" was all Captain Lahn asked before the Valkyrja emerged from cloak. The phantom escort was broadside the Octanti ships, who were not only surprised, but suddenly no longer so sure of their numerical superiority. The Octanti ships lurched ungracefully, struggling to reposition themselves to cover their exposed flank.
But if Captain Lahn had turned the board, it was Captain Quint who upended the entire game, as his rapid instructions to the scientists aboard the Cooperative Cube brought forward a handful of liberated Octanti who had recently been liberated from the Collective.
The speaker for the small group was clearly in the twilight of his life. He explained that his family and friends were all gone, either assimilated by the Borg or long since dead while he lived on as a drone. He just wanted to live the rest of his life -- short though it may be -- free of Borg implants. He just wanted to go home.
Perhaps for the first time since the careful game of cat and mouse between the Federation and the Octanti over the Cooperative had begin, the Octanti reacted with a trace of humility, and a little shame. They powered down their weapons, and asked to merely observe, to which the Cooperative agreed. True to their word, they remained without shields or weapons powered, and allowed the newly fully liberated Octanti to be beamed aboard their ship -- after conducting a detailed scan of those that remained on the cube to make it easier to track them later -- but as Captains Lahn and Quint agreed, it could have ended much worse.
The Paladin,Valkyrja and Robert Hooke followed the Cooperative Cube a bit more, using warp scattering techniques to make it harder for the Octanti to circle back and follow them, and then retired to Delta Command, concluding the shakeout cruise of the Paladin's retrofit to be a success.