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Like the waters of a vast ocean, the voices threatened to drown him. They surrounded him, weighed him down, pulled him inexorably into their midst. As uncountable as sea waves and as unsympathetic, they battered him from all sides.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard lay on his back, the metal table beneath him once cold and hard, but now beyond his ability to feel. He stared blindly upward, no longer seeing the complex equipment pervading the alien vessel. Numbness suffused his body, a welcome release from the thousand natural shocks to which his flesh had been heir.
A glimmer of recognition darted through Picard's awareness. Shakespeare, he thought, grasping for the paraphrased fragment of dialogue, desperate to latch onto something—anything—familiar. Shakespeare, The Tragedy ... The Tragedy of ...
William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, said a voice in his head—said all the voices, knit together as one. Hundreds of Borg—perhaps a thousand or more—spoke in unison, a chorus of unremitting pressure. Until now, their refrain had articulated only pronouncements of conquest: Strength is irrelevant. Resistance is futile. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.
A single voice loosed itself from the whole and spoke to him through the continued din of the aggregate. To die, to sleep—no more; and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. The words came in flat tones, devoid of emotion, the cadence robotic. Act Three, Scene One, of Hamlet.
How do they know that? Picard wondered. Had they extracted the information from his brain, or had they gleaned it from some other source? Even as he posed the question, he understood the answer. Though he and the Enterprise crew had discovered from their first encounter with the Borg that the physically augmented humanoids procreated, it had grown clear just how they added the "biological distinctiveness" of other species to their own: by brute force. The restraints that bound Picard prevented him from peering down at himself, but earlier he'd heard the awful sound of a drill penetrating the side of his skull, he'd felt the strange sensation of tubes pushing into newly opened holes in his torso, he'd watched a dark, plated mechanism being secured to the right half of his face.
And he had begun to hear their voices, no longer without, but within, side by side with his own thoughts. As he resisted, they continued to tell him that he had been chosen to speak for the Borg in all communications, in order to facilitate their introduction into Federation societies. The Borg would make him one of their own, both physically and mentally—just as they had with so many others. Their knowledge of Shakespeare had not come from him, but from some other individuals they had incorporated into their hive.
When did you learn Shakespeare? came another lone voice, barely distinguishable from that of the Borg mass, yet divergent enough to impose a primacy of attention.
Where did you learn Shakespeare? asked a second.
Why did you learn Shakespeare? demanded a third.
Picard did not intend to respond in any way, but his mind's eye conjured the image of a classroom. He saw himself in school at the age of fourteen, listening to Ms. DeGiglio, his literature instructor. He knew at once that the Borg had in that moment ascertained the answers they'd just sought, and more: the appearance and name of his teacher. The mere act of hearing their questions had amounted to an irresistible interrogation.
More voices peeled away from the ongoing swell of Borg thought rushing through Picard's mind.
What else did you learn?
What scientific concepts did you learn?
What scientific applications did you learn?
Though he made no conscious effort to do so, Picard thought about the warp-field effect, about the equations he'd studied during his years at Starfleet Academy. He envisioned the classroom, the campus in San Francisco, diagrams in textbooks, and schematics he'd seen in Enterprise's engineering section. Distressed by the idea of the Borg gathering any information at all about Starfleet and its abilities, Picard attempted to blank his mind. He understood that the human brain did not function as a computer did, or even as Data's positronic brain did. The Borg could not simply download his organic intelligence and memory, so that they could then scour the data for useful information, but after connecting their collective mind to his psyche, they could "see" and "hear" his waking thoughts. If they could compel him to think of some particular detail, then they could incorporate that detail into their own body of knowledge.
Despair washed over Picard like the tide, carried along by the unrelenting voices of the Borg. They had already exhausted his body and his mind, leaving him with a faltering resolve that he knew he couldn't maintain for much longer. He had promised to resist the Borg with his last ounce of strength, but once they had worn him down, what then? It required no guesswork to determine the information they wanted most—information he retained as the captain of Enterprise.
No! Picard cried without opening his mouth. He would not think of his starship. Instead, he struggled to envisage the night sky above his childhood home in La Barre. As a boy, he'd often stood out in his family's vineyard, gazing upward and identifying the constellations and stars that so fascinated him. He'd spent more than a few nights imagining himself aboard a starship, warping through space.
Your vessel possesses warp capabilities, stated a Borg voice. What other technologies does it employ?
Cepheus, the constellation of the King, Picard forced himself to think. He recalled the formation of stars from memory. Ursa Minor, the Little Bear, he thought next. Draco, the Dragon.
What are your vessel's armaments?
Alderamin and Errai in Cepheus, Picard recited to himself—to himself and to the Borg. Polaris and Kochab in Ursa Minor. Eltanin and—
What are your vessel's newest technological developments?
Newest, Picard echoed, the word shining in his mind bright as a nova. Newest, he thought again. The newest technological developments aboard Enterprise.
His thoughts drifted backward to—when? Hours ago, perhaps? Or had days passed? The perception of time had slipped away from him beneath the constant assault of the Borg intelligence. Still, whenever he had last been aboard Enterprise, he'd witnessed firsthand his crew's most recent technological achievement. In a flash, related sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings, emerged from his memory.
The Borg saw everything.
The turbolift glided to a stop, its doors easing open with a whisper. Captain Picard stepped out onto deck twelve and strode purposefully down the corridor, headed for one of Enterprise's numerous science laboratories. His presence there had been requested by Commander Riker, who had just contacted him about a highly unusual—and wholly unauthorized—project undertaken by Lieutenant Commander Data. Unclear as to precisely what he would find in the lab, the captain feared the worst-case scenario, already rehearsing what he would say to Starfleet Command in such a circumstance.
Picard approached Room 5103 and reached for the door control. The panels parted before him to reveal Riker standing beside Data and Counselor Troi at the periphery of the raised octagonal platform that dominated the space. Lieutenant Commander La Forge and Ensign Crusher stood off to one side. Each of the officers faced the experiment chamber at the center of the room, though they all peered over at Picard as he entered. Whatever conversation they might have been having immediately ceased.
Gesturing toward the chamber as Picard mounted the platform, Riker said, "Captain, this is Data's—" He hesitated, seeming to search for the appropriate word. "—creation," he finished.
Picard regarded the humanoid figure. Slight of form, perhaps a meter and a half tall, it projected a neutral, unfinished appearance. It wore no clothing, and its bronze skinlike covering showed neither hair nor sexual characteristics. Its nose had no nares. Narrow slits formed its eye sockets and mouth.
"Lal," Data said, "say hello to Captain Jean-Luc Picard."
The android looked first to Data, then to Picard. Its head did not turn smoothly, but incrementally, much as Data's often did. "Hello, Captain Jean-Luc Picard," it said, its voice possessed of a vaguely electronic quality, not really masculine, not really feminine.
Picard did not reply. Of Data, he asked, "How similar is this android to you?"
"Lal is very similar to me," Data said, "though I have attempted to improve those design elements I could."
Any hope Picard nurtured for an uncomplicated resolution to the situation vanished. He studied the android, and began slowly working his way around the experiment chamber to examine it further. It had not been so long ago that Picard had fought Starfleet to establish Data's own rights as an individual. While a reasonable argument could be made to apply that decision to Data's new creation, the captain doubted that Command would agree so readily.
"Lal has a positronic brain much like my own," Data continued. "I began programming it during my time at the cybernetics conference on Galtinor Prime." Data had attended the conference more than a month earlier.
"Nobody's ever been able to do that," said La Forge. "Not since Doctor Soong programmed you, anyway." Soong had constructed Data three decades earlier, not long before the doctor's death.
"That is true," Data agreed, "but at the conference, I learned of a new sub-micron matrix-transfer technology. The process intrigued me. As I studied it, I discovered that it could be utilized to set up complex neural-net pathways."
"So you used your brain as a template," Ensign Crusher said, "and transferred the setup to Lal's brain."
"That is correct, Wesley," Data said. "With this advance, I realized that it would be possible to continue Doctor Soong's work. The initial transfers proved promising, and so I brought Lal's brain back to the Enterprise with me. Several more transfers will be required in order to complete the process."
As Picard completed his circuit around the new android, Riker asked, "Data, why didn't you tell anybody about this?" The question bespoke the captain's own thoughts.
"It was a personal experience," Data said. "I have not observed members of the crew involving others in their attempts at procreation."
Riker's eyebrows arched as he glanced over at Picard. Data's characterization of his building the android as an act of reproduction signaled an added complexity to what Picard had already assumed would develop into a difficult situation. The captain needed to understand everything he could about Data's invention before the inevitable inquiries from Starfleet Command. "Commander Data, I would like to speak with you in my ready room in one hour."
"Commander Riker," Picard said, bidding his first officer to follow him. "Counselor." The captain exited, headed back to the bridge, his two officers in tow. Once in the corridor, Picard asked, "Why did we not know about this?"
"Technically, Data hasn't done anything wrong," Riker said. "He may have conducted his efforts privately, but he didn't violate any regulations about personal, off-duty use of the ship's facilities."
"Even so," Picard said, "his operating in secret precluded the possibility of us preventing this from happening."
"I don't think he meant to deceive anybody," Troi said. "You heard him: he views Lal not as his invention, but as his child."
"An outlook we must discourage," Picard said. "This android is an invention, not a child."
"I'm not so sure," Troi said. "Is biology necessarily a determining factor in what is and what isn't a child? Data has created an offspring, a separate life based at least partly on his own being. That suggests to me that Lal is his child."
"A child that can perform sixty trillion calculations a second and could lift me over its head with one arm," Riker observed wryly.
"An exceptional child, perhaps," Troi said, "but a child nonetheless."
The trio arrived at a turbolift and entered. The captain specified their destination, and the car started upward. Thinking beyond the new android's capabilities, it occurred to Picard that Data's motivations might help inform the situation. "Counselor, I'm recollecting Data's experiences during the past couple of months. Could his decision to do this be a reaction to what happened on the Jovis?"
"You mean his abduction by Kivas Fajo?" Troi asked.
"And the faking of his death," Picard said. Fajo, a Zibalian trader and a collector of rare and valuable items, had staged a shuttle accident in order to cover his kidnapping and detention of Data. "Could his facing indefinite confinement have contributed to his desire to construct another of his own kind? Or could his potentially having to kill his captor in order to escape captivity have contributed?"
"It's possible," Troi allowed, though with a tone of skepticism. "Post-traumatic stress can sometimes drive individuals to life-affirming actions, such as having a child. But I think such circumstances imply the presence of emotion, so I'm not sure this would explain Data's behavior."
"The conference was postponed a few months because of severe weather around the cybernetics center on Galtinor Prime," Riker said. "Do you think if it had taken place as originally scheduled, prior to the incident with Fajo, that Data still would have constructed Lal?"
"Provided that the technology he learned about was available at that time," Troi said, "yes, I do."
The turbolift reached the bridge, depositing Picard and his officers on the lower level, beside the door to the captain's ready room. "Counselor," Picard said, "I'd like you to look into that more. See if there's any basis for post-traumatic stress and related actions without an emotional component."
"Yes, sir," Troi said. She padded across to her position.
"Number One," Picard said, and entered his ready room. Riker followed. Inside, the captain crossed to his desk and took his chair. His first officer sat down opposite.
"Will, do you still have whatever research you conducted for the hearing on Starbase One-Seven-Three?" Picard asked. A year and a half earlier, Commander Bruce Maddox, a cyberneticist attached to the Daystrom Technological Institute, had moved to dismantle and reverse-engineer Data. Maddox hoped thereby to complete his own research so that he could then manufacture Soong-type androids for Starfleet. Data refused, causing the judge advocate general in the sector to decide on his legal status. When the JAG declared Data property of Starfleet, Picard challenged the ruling. The captain argued on Data's behalf, and because the judge advocate general's office in Sector 23 had just been set up and had yet to be fully staffed, it fell upon Riker to prosecute the case against Data's freedom. Picard and Data had prevailed, but Riker—unwillingly, but with little choice in the matter—had made the case for the opposing viewpoint quite convincingly.
Riker sighed. "That's not information I made any effort to keep, but I'm sure it's still in my files," he said. "Do you think we're going to have to wage this battle again?"
"I don't know," Picard said, "but I want to be prepared if we do."
The door chime sounded precisely on time, exactly one hour after Picard had asked Data to report to the ready room. The captain reached forward and blanked the display on his computer interface, on which he had been reviewing the transcript of the hearing at Starbase 173. "Come," he said, and the panels retracted into the bulkhead to admit Data. "Have a seat, Commander."
Data sat down across the desk from Picard. "I perceive that you are upset with me, Captain."
"I am not upset with you, Mister Data," Picard said, "so much as I am surprised and concerned. I had no notion at all that you were even considering such a venture, much less actually embarking on one."
Data's eyes shifted, and he turned his head slightly to one side, just as Picard had seen the new android do earlier. When Data looked back over at the captain, he appeared to have reached a conclusion. "Since you have always known me to aspire to truly understand what it means to be human, of which procreation is frequently a part, I gather that your surprise must originate from you being unaware before today of the sub-micron matrix-transfer technology and its application." He paused, then added, "And I presume that your concern mirrors what you feel for other crewmembers who welcome a new child into their families."
"No, Data. I am surprised—I am in fact dismayed—because you told no one of what you were doing," Picard said. "Your creation of an android like yourself—your creation of a sentient being—will have serious repercussions."
"I am sorry, Captain," Data said. "I did not anticipate your objections. Do you wish me to deactivate Lal?"
"Data, we're talking about a living being," Picard said, his voice rising with his frustration. "It can't simply be deactivated." In truth, Picard wished that the complications sure to arise from Data's deed could be avoided by way of such an effortless solution. "What you have done, Data, is of serious moment. Have you considered how Starfleet will react when they learn of this?"
"Captain, I have violated no regulations," Data said. "I also understand the significance of this accomplishment. For that reason, I intend to notify Starfleet Research and Development about Lal, and to keep them apprised as we progress."
"I can only hope that will satisfy Starfleet," Picard said. He pushed back from his desk and stood up, intending to ease his apprehensions with a cup of tea. "You have certainly taken on quite a responsibility, Data." Picard started toward the alcove that contained his replicator.
"Indeed," Data agreed. "In preparation, I have scanned all available literature on parenting." The last word stopped Picard, and he turned back toward Data. "There seems to be no consensus on this issue. Human approaches range from punitive to laissez-faire, while other species, such as the Tellarites—"
"Data, I am not talking about parenting," Picard interrupted. "I'm talking about the tremendous consequences of creating a new life."
Again, Data regarded the captain quizzically. "I do not understand," he said. "Does that not describe what it means to become a parent?"
Picard waited a beat, inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly in an effort to quell his mounting exasperation. After a moment, he returned to the chair behind his desk. "Data, you are striving to achieve what only one person—your creator—has ever been able to achieve: to make another functioning, sentient android—to make another being like you."
"I am aware of that, sir," Data said. "That is why I must do this. Reproduction is a necessary component of humanoid life; without it, a species cannot sustain itself. Since the loss of Lore, I am the last of my kind." Created by Dr. Soong prior to Data, Lore had been located and reactivated more than two years ago, but when he tried to sacrifice the Enterprise crew to a powerful alien entity, he'd been transported out into open space. "If I were to be damaged or destroyed," Data went on, "my lineage would end, but if I succeed with the creation of Lal, then it will continue."
Picard nodded. "You do make a compelling argument, Mister Data."
"Thank you, sir."
Unsure what else he might need to know, and wanting more time to reflect on the unexpected state of affairs, Picard dismissed his second officer. Data rose and headed toward the door of the ready room. Before he reached it, the captain called after him. "Keep me informed of your communications with Starfleet Research."
Data exited, and Picard watched him go. The captain felt that he better understood Data's motivations in creating the new android, but his grasp of what drove Data did little to alleviate his concerns about what might follow. Picard recalled a conversation he'd had with Guinan during the time of the hearing on Data's legal status—a conversation in which his old friend had highlighted Data's value to Starfleet. A second android, not a member of the service and with no life experience, could actually prove even more valuable, should the recentness and the circumstances of its manufacture allow Starfleet to seize control of it.
Picard got up and walked over to the alcove. He peered down at the replicator, but then decided against a cup of tea. Instead, he returned to the bridge and resumed his duty shift.
Picard sat on the sofa in his quarters on deck eight, a glass of 2364 Chevalier de Bayard on the low table before him, an old-fashioned hardbound book propped open on his knee. He'd owned the antique volume since his days in secondary school in Moulismes. Picard had enjoyed the collection of French plays often over the years, though not in some time. He'd read halfway through Sartre's existentialist opus, Huis Clos, when a short sequence of electronic tones signaled a visitor calling on him.
"Come," he said. When the door opened, it did not surprise him to see Commander Data standing in the corridor with his new charge. In the days since he had created the android, Data had informed Starfleet Research of his efforts, then had followed up by transmitting regular status updates to the division's facility on Galor IV. The personnel there had twice requested additional information from Picard, but he anticipated that as time passed, they would seek more than just an observer's role; they would want to manage Lal's development. He remembered all too well Commander Maddox's intense interest in learning how to produce more Soong-type androids. Consequently, the captain had chosen to keep himself educated on the new android's progress, offering his own, minimal counsel in the hope that his labors could forestall any efforts by Starfleet to take direct control of the situation. He had therefore asked Data to report to him periodically.
"Would this be a good time to see you, Captain?" Data asked.
"Yes, come in," Picard said, setting aside his book. He watched as the two entered, the occasionally stiff, not-quite-human movements of the new android echoic of its—of her—creator. Data had allowed Lal to elect her own gender and appearance from among several thousand composites he had programmed in the holodeck. She had opted for the form of a human female, aged twenty-five or so years, with short black hair and dark eyes. Her pale skin approximated flesh tones far more realistically than did Data's. She wore a lavender vest and matching ankle-length skirt, over a long-sleeved purple blouse. "Please sit," the captain said, indicating the two oversized chairs facing the sofa. The pair took the seats, Lal watching Data as she did so, then moving with a deliberateness that seemed awkward, as though she had only just learned how to sit down—an accurate description, Picard realized.
"Good evening, Captain," Data said. Looking at the book Picard had placed beside his half-filled wineglass, he said, "We did not intend to interrupt your reading."
"Not at all," Picard said. Shifting his attention to the new android, he asked, "How are you, Lal?"
"I am functioning within normal parameters," she replied stiffly.
"Lal," Data said gently, "you are fine."
Lal peered at Data for a moment and seemed to process the information, then turned back toward Picard. "I am fine," she said.
Picard felt the side of his mouth curl up in amusement. As difficult as he found it to credit the view of Lal being Data's child, he could certainly see something resembling a father-daughter dynamic in their relationship. She seemed receptive to his efforts to teach her, with an eagerness that belied her emotionless existence.
"I am endeavoring to assist Lal in improving her conversational skills," Data explained.
"A worthwhile venture, but not a simple one," Picard said. "Good conversation requires not just skill, but art."
Art," Lal said. "The production, quality, or expression of beauty or significance according to aesthetic principles."
"That is correct," Data said.
"But people speak to each other with great frequency, merely for the purpose of imparting information," Lal said, confusion tingeing her voice. "How can that require art?"
"There are different forms of conversation," Picard said. "I did not mean to say that all such forms require art. But depending on the setting and the interests of the participants, personal dialogue can engage and even stimulate the mind. It can possess movement, like dance; it can flow, like writing; it can arouse visualization, like painting or drawing."
"I ... do not understand," Lal said. "People converse ... to create works of art?"
"Not precisely, but I have observed examples of that which the captain is describing," Data said. "In fact, Lal, are you intrigued by the premise of conversation as art?"
"Yes, I am."
"Then perhaps Captain Picard has just demonstrated an example of it," Data said.
Lal looked to one side, neither toward Picard nor toward Data, as though gazing into the middle distance. "Yes," she finally said, turning back to the captain. "Tell me more."
"How about we simply talk?" Picard said. "As many a philosopher has noted, the best education lies in the doing."
"Indeed," Data said. "In his Ethika Nikomacheia, Aristotle wrote, 'For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.'"
"And because he wrote this, it is so?" Lal asked.
"Not necessarily," Picard said. "One can certainly seek wisdom in the words of others, but be wary. As the English writer Somerset Maugham observed, a 'gift for quotation' is but 'a serviceable substitute for wit.'"
Data and Lal glanced at each other, as though searching for guidance. "That would seem paradoxical," Data said. "You decry quotation by repeating another's words."
"And that," Picard said, "can be described as dry humor."
"I ... do not understand humor," Lal said. "I do not understand humor of any kind, dry or wet."
"I do not believe that there is such a thing as wet humor," Data told Lal. "But do not concern yourself that you do not understand humor. I do not understand it either. In this especially, we can make our journey together." The two androids sat quietly for a moment, perhaps contemplating the concept of human comedy.
"So, Lal," Picard said into the silence, "how do you find the Enterprise?"
"I do not need to find it," Lal replied. "It is right here. We are aboard it."
"Lal, I believe you are interpreting the word find differently than Captain Picard intends it," Data said. "When he—"
"Bridge to Captain Picard," came the voice of Commander Riker.
"Go ahead, Number One."
"Captain, we've received a distress signal from New Providence," Riker said.
"That's one of the Federation's outermost colonies, is it not?" Picard asked.
"Yes, sir. It's on Jouret Four," Riker said. "The message provided little detail before it cut out, but indications are that they might be under attack."
"Attack?" Picard asked, glancing over at Data. "By whom?"
"Unknown," Riker said. "But we're the nearest starship."
"Best possible speed to the Jouret system," Picard said, standing up from the sofa. "Inform Starfleet Command. I'm on my way. Picard out."
Data rose from his chair as well, and Lal followed his lead. "Captain," Data said, "though much closer, Jouret Four lies in the general direction of our encounter with the Borg."
"I know, Data," said Picard, anxiety welling within him. The Enterprise crew had first encountered the Borg fifteen months earlier, but more than seven thousand light-years from Federation space. Starfleet had begun preparations to protect against a possible invasion, but had anticipated a lead time of at least three years to allow for the design and production of new armaments and defenses.
"Captain, if the Borg have already reached the edge of Federation territory," Data said, "then their vessels must possess a source of power considerably more advanced than our own."
"Yes, I know, Data," Picard repeated. He also knew that, if the eve of combat with the Borg did loom, the enemy would find Starfleet ill-prepared for battle.
The alert reached him through the shared consciousness of the Borg, overtaking his concentration on Data and the construction of Lal. He opened his eyes to see the overhead lights flickering, and he knew—because others knew—that the vessel, headed for the heart of the Federation, had fallen out of warp, its power distribution network damaged. An instant later, a rash of prioritized thoughts flowed to him, and through him, identifying the nodes that had failed: a cluster of three that had come under attack.
Phaser fire, he thought, reflexively recalling that the Enterprise crew had retuned the frequencies of both the ship-mounted weapons and their handheld units. He immediately tried to direct his thoughts elsewhere—back to Lal, back to La Barre, back to anywhere but aboard his vessel. He did not want to give up the technical specifications of the adjusted phasers, did not want to aid the Collective in adapting to the modified weaponry.
Too late, he realized, as he glimpsed through the eyes of several drones personal forcefields snapping into place, absorbing varicolored phaser beams. Tendrils of smoke drifted to his nose, while the whine of energy weapons and the flare of sparks resounded in his ears. Only when he had to step across the body of a fallen drone did he become aware that he no longer lay supine atop a Borg operating table.
Up ahead, several drones turned into a corridor from which emanated the high-pitched hum of phasers. He heard a voice—"They're adapting to the new frequencies"—and knew it belonged to Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Shelby of Starfleet Tactical. He thought to call out to her, but could not manage to do so. He felt himself moving his own body, his brain sending impulses to his muscles, but he no longer controlled his own volition. He came abreast of the corridor and halted.
"Jean-Luc," beckoned another female voice.
Crusher, Beverly, he thought, spontaneously supplying information to the Borg hive mind. Commander, chief medical officer, U.S.S. Enterprise. Human.
He turned to face her, and something in him reveled at the sight of her long red hair. I'm here, Beverly, he thought, understanding that he could say nothing, could do nothing. I'm here. It's me, Locutus.
"Captain!" called Worf. Lieutenant, chief tactical officer, U.S.S. Enterprise. Klingon.
Yes, I'm the captain ... Captain Jean- ... Captain Jean-L—... Jean-Luc—
Worf rushed down the corridor toward him, obviously bent on retrieving him and returning him to Enterprise.
Yes, yes, take me back! he screamed with his mouth closed, his face immobile. His personal forcefield flared green when Worf struck it. The security chief fell backward, striking the deck hard.
"Enterprise, get us out of here now," Shelby barked into her communicator.
He watched Worf climb back to his feet, then disappear with the others—Shelby, Crusher, and Data—amid the dulcet purr and white sparkle of a Federation transporter beam.
Reroute, the Borg said as one. Decentralized systems permitted the redirection of power throughout the vessel, facilitating the bypass of nonworking equipment. He closed his eyes and watched as those Borg sufficiently specialized to execute such a task moved throughout the ship, throwing switches and realigning the currents of power through conduits. It would require only minutes before they restored warp capability.
Repair. In his mind, he saw other Borg retrieving materials and approaching the locations where power-distribution nodes had been destroyed. Drones utilized their individual, specialized tools to begin replacing the demolished machinery.
Recycle and complete termination. Eight Borg had perished during the attack by the Enterprise away team. Other drones approached the corpses and recovered various technological components from them, triggering the dissolution of those fallen.
Communicate. He opened his eyes, understanding that the imperative had been targeted to the lone Borg who satisfied the criteria necessary for the delivery of the final message to the Enterprise crew: Locutus ... Picard himself. Above, the lighting continued to flicker, but less frequently as drones redistributed power throughout the ship. A group of Borg neared, and he understood that they would accompany him to the nearest communications terminal.
He fell in behind the eight drones and marched with them through the ship. At last, they turned down a corridor, at the end of which hung a viewscreen. The Borg stepped aside to allow him an unimpeded line of sight. The screen flickered to life, revealing Commander Riker and Lieutenant Commander Shelby standing together at the center of the Enterprise bridge.
"I am Locutus of Borg," he said, even as he exclaimed, I am Picard, inside his head. "Resistance is futile," he continued, hearing an unnerving robotic quality in his own voice. "Your life, as it has been, is over. From this time forward, you will service us." He saw the horrified expressions on the faces of the people who had become his family: Beverly and Wesley, Deanna and Worf, even Data appeared gripped by the unfolding events.
Riker stared, stone-faced, from across the gulf that separated the Borg and Federation starships, and Picard knew what his former first officer would do—what the new captain of Enterprise must do. In that moment, the Borg also knew, but too late. They had sought the information from Picard, had searched for whatever new weaponry the Starfleet crew might have improvised, but he had managed to hide it from them until now.
"Mister Worf," Riker said, "fire."
A thousand Borg minds functioned as a single entity, studying the information Picard recalled from his meeting with his first officer. Geordi and Data want to install higher-capacity power transfers to the deflector dish so that they can generate a concentrated energy burst at a specific frequency, Riker had informed him. The Borg systems showed susceptibility to the phasers when they fluctuated into a high, narrow band. A thousand drones focused on conceiving an adaptation, a means of thwarting the efforts of Picard's crew.
"Deflector power approaching maximum limits," La Forge said at a rear station on the Enterprise bridge. "Energy discharge in six seconds."
Six seconds, Picard thought, whatever part of him that had become Locutus of Borg agonizing at the too-short time frame.
The part of him that remained a Starfleet captain rejoiced at the words. He heard the growing hum permeating the Enterprise bridge, then felt the jolt as the high-intensity deflector discharge slammed into the Borg vessel. As systems overloaded, the collective consciousness of a thousand drones raced to find a solution. A titanic blast ripped through a section of the Borg ship to Picard's left, exposing its interior to space. He saw scores of Borg blown out into the void even as emergency forcefields crackled into existence to protect the rest of the vessel.
For just an instant, Picard saw out in space the forward starboard quadrant of Enterprise's primary hull. Then another explosion tore through the Borg ship, and then another. The hive mind crumbled as the infrastructure supporting their communications collapsed. Unexpectedly freed from the embrace of the Collective, Picard regained full control of his mind and body.
In the last moment of his life, knowing that the Enterprise crew—his crew—had vanquished the Borg, Picard smiled.
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