As she leapt over a prone form, she felt a hot pinch on her thigh, and fired her pistol several times in its direction. A buzz in the pistol grips that let her know they were re-modulating to circumvent the continually changing Borg adaption protocols. Her armor preemptively changed modulation patterns, preparing the next wave sequence before it was needed. She kept running, shooting where she could, kicking when they got to close. Step on, step over, run through. Secondary explosions shuddered through the cube, and Lahn used the distraction to squirm down a counduit filled passage oozing an oily, nanite-rich steam and crammed herself behind a buckled strut. Outside the passage, the borg recovered and scanned for her, but she pulled her sensor net in tight, relying purely on visuals. You can’t feel me, and you can’t see me. I’m not here.
The armor slowly reset its systems and communications returned. “Lahn? Lahn, report.”
Not now. Busy.
The borg were already moving on, clearly Captain Myles and her liberated crew presented a higher priority threat. Lahn was mostly grateful, though slightly disappointed that the Borg were more focused on a battle raging in the Collective Mind that she would never see.
After a moment of only her breathing. She answered the comm.
“You’ve got their attention, Olsen. They’re heading your way.”
“Great. Things are already a little busy here. The charges worked. We’ve got a chunk of the cube drifting off from the main structure. Have you found Captain Myles?”
“Not yet.” She winced, inspecting the puncture on her leg, a neat hole between the duraplates in her armor. Stung, but shallow. Blood had oozed out of the hole a little before armor systems sealed the hole. The blood was dark. Too dark. The nanites infecting her were having to start from scratch, increasing their numbers from microreplications in her muscle to form more complex form to complete the assimilation of the host. It would take time, but not as long as she was hoping for. Her hand went reflexively to the nanite purge pack on her waist.
“Are you alright?” Olsen asked. “Helm says your suit was breached.”
“I’m fine.” She said, releasing the pack. “Whose bright idea was to use demolition charges to blast she ship free, anyway?”
“Whose bright idea was it to recover one of the ships built by the Iconians to fool the Undine into thinking the federation was attacking them?” Olsen countered.
“That would be Captain Myles.” Prodded by my host, Evlyn Yassal. Thanks Yassal.
“And whose idea to recover it and the crew when we found it buried up to the nacelles in a tactical cube?”
Lahn chucked. “Now that, that would be all mine.” Of course, it was really Captain Myles who had ordered the cube rammed. Captain Myles’ Liberated Borg crew had stumbled across the cube while hiding in the Rolor Nebula. Hiding from Starfleet and perhaps Yassal, she thought with a guilty pang. The tactical cube had been just as surprised as Myles and her crew were and in microseconds, identification signals were exchanged. The cube decided to bring their lost drones back into the fold.
Captain Myles’ had first tried to lose the cube in the Nebula, then tried to outfight it. The Iconian duplicate ship had performed exactly like a Starfleet vessel – outmatched against a fully armed tactical cube. In what they thought to be a final stand, they had overloaded structural integrity field , put all their countermeasures into weakening the cubes shields and rammed it at its weakest point.
Both craft had survived – after a fashion. The cube had been majorly damaged, but tactical cubes were massive and redundant. As the cube regenerated, the borg within engaged in a standard boarding action to re-assimilate the malfunctioning drones. Instead, Captain Myles and her crew had started liberating the Collective Boarding parties which started the first salvo of assimilation and re-assimilation, a battle where the casualties oscillated between sides.
“This would be a lot easier if Captain Myles had decided to stay with her ship.” Olsen quipped across comms.
“She's trying to get the borg to spread their forces.”
“It worked. ORCA teams salvaged who they could before setting the charges, but the bulk of the borg are in or converging on section 3-1-3. I’m guessing she’s there.”
Lahn hunched behind the strut as she extended her sensor net slightly – far enough to count the borg as they trooped passed the causeway . “You might want to check again.” She whispered. “There’s a wave of about two hundred heading down this corridor to your location. ”
Lahn waited quietly for Olsen to review sensor data. “Great, and that’s not the only corridor we’re seeing mass movement in, either. We’re going to up to our armpits in hostile nanites if Quint doesn’t make enough noise.”
Lahn squeezed further back between the strut and the wall, as team after team of borg passed the causeway entrance. Her leg throbbed. “Quint should be staring soon. I’m almost to section 3-1-3. But that’s still a massive area. Hopefully I can get a tricorder fix on her.”
“Look at the bright side, you started out with a nebula-sized haystack. You’re now down to a small city sized haystack.”
“More like straw in a needlestack.” As she watched rank after rank of Borg shuffle by, she thought Please be starting soon. The strut as her shoulder vibrated from muffled explosions. The rank of borg currently passing the causeway stopped, and after a brief moment, walked the other way.
“Quint is right on time.” Olsen chirped, relief clear in his voice.
“What, today isn’t a good day to die?”
“Today is never a good day to die. Now tomorrow, tomorrow is a good day to die.”
“Procrastination is acceptable when it’s to your own funeral.” Lahn said, slightly amused. “You’re in good hands. I’ve seen the Paladin fight before. They’ll keep the Borg from locking a tractor beam on you and keep the tactical cube defenses busy.”
“He’d better. We have no shields, and no engines. We’re going to be flying by pure momentum out here.”
“I thought the Vendetta will be towing her.”
“Not until we’re clear. I want to Vendetta to be able to recover ORCA teams and provide point defense. You’d better get moving. You have about twenty minutes to find Captain Myles, Lahn – after that, even the transport booster you’re carrying won’t cut through their dissipation fields – you’ll wind up as a puff of dust between the cube and the Vendetta.”
“Beats assimilation.” She murmured, pressing lightly on the puncture in her thigh. The wound already felt fevered and hot.
“Amen to that. Still, don’t be l-“ the comm crackled.
Late. Don’t be late.
“Olsen?” More static. Lahn recalibrated her shields, reinforcing the midsection to better protect her symbiont, then tried comms to more static. That’s it then. Good luck, Quint, Olsen. She kept a pistol in one hand, a tricorder in the other as she wormed her way from behind the strut and out of the causeway. She adjusted the settings and tried again – the tricorder was struggling to find anything in the atmospheric masma of nanites, communication viruses, and countermeasure wave patterns. The war waged from the personal to the subatomic level as if two distinct and hostile realities were colliding. On the tricorder, a light turned red and pulsed. A metallic blossom appeared on the display plate.
Shit. Lahn flung the tricorder away from her. It landed neatly on four metallic, spider-like legs, and turned toward her, exploding from a crimson blast from her pistol. Fragments bounced off the walls and were quickly deconstructed by nanites for material to use in the next assault. She drew a shuddering breath. Anti-assimilation tech worked great until it failed catastrophically. She’d seen armor lose that battle, the wearer shrieking and tearing at it while it until one armor and wearing were indistinguishable. The purge modules – an bio-energy-chemical purgative -- worked most of the time.
She heard a high pitched, grinding voice through the comms. “You are injured. Captain Lahn.”
Lahn froze. “Helm, is that you? Are you alright?” Helm, hadn’t had time to properly form synthetic vocal cords, and now every utterance reminded her the sound of tearing metal.
“I am fine, though I miss my body. The ships systems are not an adequate substitute.”
“Its hard getting used to a new body. Take my word for it. At least it didn’t take you almost four days to adjust.” She quietly made her way closer to the center of section 3-1-3. Her leg twinged with each step.
“Oh, a reference to your joining! I see. Lahn, do you ever remember when you didn’t have a host?” Helm’s body had been destroyed on the ship’s impact with the cube, but the construct had managed to upload its sentience into the Iconian mock ship. A join in minutes. She wondered if Helm was still sane.
“Sometimes.” She muttered, back backed at a corner, crouching low to look around. “I dream of the pools.”
“What is it like?”
“Empty. I think we’re born needing to join.”
“Your armor indicates you have a nanite infection. ”
Lahn tried to sound clinical. “It’s a shallow puncture, and I think the armor is clean. Helm, my tricorder was assimilated. I can’t find Captain Myles.”
“The Borg have adapted since Janeway’s day. I will update your armors counter-protocols based on what we’ve gathered from the borgs current assimilation techniques. I can help you locate Andrea.”
She chuckled. “Andrea is it? Do you call her that on the bridge?”
The voice, grating as it was, sounded slightly affronted. “I’m sure it was quite clear that Captain Myles and I were consorts, though our bridge interactions are professional. Take a left through that junction.”
“Your relationship was clear to me, at least. Are you sure about this direction? My sensor net is picking up some strange readings.”
“The Borg seem to adapt quickly to sensor nets and provide false readings. I, however, am using their own sensors, and can see that the way ahead is clear, and don’t you mean that the relationship was clear to Yassal?”
Lahn peered down the junction, but her armor’s scanners couldn’t discern detail from a nanite fog. She tugged free a grenade, chucking it at least a dozen feet into the miasma, briefly lowering the armors sensornet as the grenade exploded, filling the area with nanite hostile power surges.
“Same difference. I remember the moment I realized you two loved each other.”
“Do you?” The tone was dubious.
“We were in the lounge. I was reading Sun Tzu and working on command reports. I was supposed…” She paused at a corner, letting her sensornet adjust against a fresh field of countermeasures. “…to be watching Andrea.”
“That was your job. To watch us, and kill us if necessary. At the end of the corridor here, make a right.” His statement was toneless, and Lahn strained to hear any trace of malice in it.
“Yes, those were my orders. But at that moment, I was watching her share a desert with you. Some sort of tart, I think – vortaberry. She leaned forward close to dab at your face with a napkin, and then -- she must have remembered I was watching her. She suddenly looked over at me and her face turned all grey. At first I thought she was frightened or sick. Then I realized she was blushing, and then I was blushing. She sat back so primly, and then burst out laughing. I don’t think I’d ever seen her laugh before.”
“I remember you left then.”
“I was your overwatch, not a damned voyeur.”
“I thought you were offended.”
“I’m a construct. I don’t even know if my builders made me to—“
Lahn picked up her pace down the corridor. “Helm, no one that matters gives a sh-“
Lahn froze. “What?”
The last came out as a metallic screetch. “Turn around, and take the other corridor.”
Lahn felt the hairs on the back of her neck bristle. She slowly backed away from the corridor, straining the sensornet in front of her, her pistols in front of her. At the corner, she whispered, “What’s down there, Helm?”
Helm let the silence linger.
“Maturation Chambers. Heavily defended.” Helm’s pauses were only adding to Lahns frustration as she grasped the situation.
“So that was your nav-plan? Lead me into an ambush?”
Helm’s voice became pleading. “Lahn, I -- Please don’t –“
Lahn crouched, clutching her head through her helmet. Her head felt hot, achy. She wondered if her blood was turning black like Andreas. “Don’t?” she mumbled, crouching to take deep breaths, hoping not to test out the armors ability to handle its wearer throwing up without having to break containment. Don’t what? Don’t take it personally that you just tried to kill me?
“Don’t tell Andrea. Please.”
“I have to get to Captain Myles, Helm. I’m here to help her. I’m here to help you. I told you Yassal regretted—“
“I have to get to Andrea.” She stepped lightly down the cooridor, her sensor net extended as far as she could. She debated locking Helm out of her armor, but knew her armor couldn’t stand up to the continual assaults from the cubes assimilation protocols alone.
“You’re being assimilated, Captain.”
“You thought I’d be a drone by the time I reached Captain Myles. Or was it revenge?”
“You do not have much time.” Helm said, the grind in his voice sounded eager to change the subject.
“Then I have to get to Andrea quickly.” Lahn said, her voice thick with urgency. I need to get to Andrea. I need to make this right. I need to not throw up in my suit. “How long do I have?”
“I cannot tell precisely. There is too much background radiation, and so much depends on your will Fifteen minutes, perhaps. After that, its probable you won’t be able to use your neutralizer module.”
“Its a proto-neutralizer, for advanced assimilation sickness. It should give me more time” Lahn found her hand reflexively clutching at the pouch.
“Proto neutralizer?” Helm asked.
“Left here. Will it work?”
Lahn took the left side of the fork. “Its supposed to reverse the assimilation process.”
“That sounds painful.” Helm observed.
“That’s not what I was told.”
“They didn’t tell you it would be painful? The nerve stripping alone – “
“They said I’d be in fucking agony, and out of commission after the treatment.”
“I see. That…sounds accurate.”
“No, you don’t entirely see. When the—what did you name this ship?”
“The Collective 483.”
She sighed. “Why?”
“Because the previous ship was the Collective 482.” Helm explained patiently, as if counseling a child.
Of course. “The moment the 483 is clear, the Vendetta is going to keep the breach open while the Paladin and the Grungnir fire torpedoes into it.”
“That seems tactically effective. The damage to the cube will be substantial. How many torpedoes will the ships be firing?”
“All of them.”
Helm’s silence was profound. “You’d best move quickly.”