A Fire of Devotion: Part 3 of 4: Sweeter Than Heaven: Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

The silence was getting to be too much for Chakotay, but he couldn’t blame anyone other than himself. It had been his idea after all to choose three crew members who’d had no time in Delta Flyer for this away mission after all. It just never occurred to him that none of the three had any particular desire to learn how to fly it. Chell simply complained about the cramped quarters, despite the Maquis ship he’d served on with Chakotay having been much more compact inside despite being a bigger ship. Vorik cared more about the engines than the helm. Lydia Anderson simply waited patiently for an opportunity to test out the Borg enhanced weapons systems Tom and Seven had designed, but that looked decreasingly likely.

Eventually, getting to be too much became too much.
“We’re still hours away from contact with Voyager,” Chakotay said. “I don’t suppose anyone has any ideas to pass the time?”

“Not really, no,” Chell said. “Unless everyone’s okay with me playing some Bolian music again.”
“No thanks,” Lydia said. “It was great the first three times, but if I hear a song too many times in a row, even a good one, I start to hate it.”
“There is logic to that,” Vorik said. “I believe the human term for that is ‘too much of a good thing?’”
“We could always try poker,” Chakotay said, even though he doubted any of the others knew how to play.

“Never played it,” Lydia said. “Honestly. I don’t mean that in the ‘I’ll pretend to be ignorant to lull you into a false sense of security and win’ kind of way.”

“I love poker,” Chell said. “I played it a lot with my friends in the colonies before I signed up with the Maquis. Only won half the time though. Guess I don’t have a good po- Oh dear.”
“What is it?” Chakotay asked, wondering why Chell suddenly looked startled.
“Oh hell,” Lydia said, suddenly sitting at attention. Both of them, and now Vorik too were staring out the Flyer’s viewport. Chakotay turned around, and saw, close enough for visual confirmation, a Borg cube heading straight towards them.

Oh shit, he thought. “Beginning evasive maneuvers. Anderson, get the weapons on-line. Chell, try sending a distress call to Voyager.”

The cube began firing at the Flyer, but missed wildly, almost as if it were a warning shot. Chakotay also noticed that the cube looked damaged as he brought the Flyer around to try and get away from the cube.
“Why didn’t our sensors detect them?” Chell said. “The Borg aren’t exactly known for stealth.”
“It would appear they used a dispersal field to mask their approach,” Vorik said.
That had Chakotay worried. Chell was right, the Borg did not typically use stealth. Or ever, as far as he knew. If the Borg were starting to use more creative tactics in their expansion…

“We just took a hit to our plasma injectors,” Anderson said. “We can’t go to warp.”
“Vorik, get below, see what you can do.”
“Aye sir,” the Vulcan engineer said as he exited the cabin.
“Sir,” Anderson said, “the cube’s power output is fluctuating.”

“Then we have a chance,” Chakotay said. “I’m bringing us about. Lydia, target their propulsion matrix.”

“What good will that do?” Chell said.

“Look at that cube, Chell,” Chakotay said. “It’s a mess, and it isn’t regenerating. Their weapons fire is badly targeted. What hits they’ve gotten in on us so far have been lucky shots. If the cube is hurt bad enough, that means we might be able to disable them and get away.”

Chakotay brought the Flyer in close to the cube, the shuttle mere meters away from the Borg’s hull.
“Fire torpedoes,” he said.
“We’ve taken out their propulsion systems,” Lydia said. “The cube is moving solely on inertia now.”

“Good,” Chakotay said. “I’m getting us out of-”
The ship shuddered.

“They’ve got us in a tractor beam,” Chell said, panic creeping into his voice.

“Vorik, do we have warp power?”
“Two additional relays were damaged in the attack,” Vorik said. “I am unable to-” The sound of a small explosion cut him off, and Chakotay feared the worst.
“Vorik, report,” he said. No response. The lights in the Delta Flyer dimmed, and the familiar, emotionless, multi-track resonant voice of the Borg Collective filled the small vessel.

“We are the Borg. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.”

As Chakotay watched, feeling helpless to do anything, a massive hatch opened on the side of the cube as the tractor beam pulled them in.

Chakotay awoke in a room that he recognized from looking at schematics of Borg vessels as an assimilation chamber. Surprisingly, he was still himself. He looked around and saw that the other three were too. Vorik had some minor burns on his hands, but nothing severe. He carefully woke them up, and soon all four of them were on their feet, looking around.

“Sir?” Chell said. Chakotay and the others turned to see what the Bolian was looking at. A dead Borg drone lie on a table. The drone looked about as beat up as the cube itself had. Whatever had hurt this cube had done a number on it, that was beyond dispute.

“There’s a force field around this room,” Chakotay said. “But they haven’t assimilated us yet, so if we stay calm there’s a chance we can get out of this. Vorik, how are your hands?”

Vorik looked at them, and flexed the fingers. If he felt any pain when he did so, his face did not show it, but with a Vulcan that wasn’t a guarantee that he didn’t.

“Some minor irritation. Mostly an itching sensation. My motor skills appear unimpeded.”
“Good to hear,” Chakotay said, finding some assimilation tools on the table with the drone. He picked one up and handed it to Vorik. “Let’s see about getting that force field down.”

“Their ion trail ends directly ahead,” Tuvok said.
Captain Janeway was about to ask Tuvok to search for any signs of debris or weapons fire, but Harry Kim spoke up first.
“I’m detecting another vessel,” he said, “bearing 30 mark 112. It’s a Borg cube.”

Janeway stood up. “Red alert. Alter course to intercept,” she said. She had managed to rescue someone from the Borg before, and that was before Seven of Nine had shared her theory about the Borg degradation. A small part of her thought that she was being reckless, and taking it for granted that the Borg weren’t the threat they had been mere years before, but she ignored it. “Adjust shields to rotating frequencies. Have they detected us?”

“Unclear,” Tuvok said. “The vessel is holding position.”
“As soon as we’re within life sign sensor range start scanning for the away team,” Janeway said.

“Their propulsion system is off-line,” Seven of Nine said from the auxiliary tactical console, where she had been since the search for the Delta Flyer began. “The damage is not that severe, the drones should’ve repaired it by now. In fact, the cube should’ve detected us by now. It must be damaged worse than it appears.”
“On screen,” Janeway said. The image of the cube appeared in front of her, and right away she could tell that not only was Seven right, she was actually understating it. She had seen intact cubes, and cubes that had been reduced to rubble, but never anything in the middle of those two extremes until now. “Any sign of our people?” she said to Harry.

“Not yet,” he said. A half-second later, Voyager shuddered as the ship was hit with weapons fire from the cube.

“They are targeting our warp core,” Tuvok said. “Shields are holding.”
Shields are holding, Janeway thought. That’s not usually a phrase we use when fighting the Borg. “Return fire. Aim for their weapons array.” The ship shuddered as another wave of weapons fire hit.
“Now they’re going after our impulse engines,” Harry said, sounding perplexed. “Not doing a very good job of it though.” Another shudder. “That one was meant for our sensors. Are their targeting scanners off-line? A Pakled could do a better job of shooting us.”
“No need for exaggeration, Lieutenant,” Janeway said.

“Their attack strategy is erratic, inefficient,” Seven said.
“And finished,” Tuvok said. “We have disabled their weapons.”
“They must be in worse shape than they look,” Janeway said.
“I’m picking up four life signs,” Harry said. “Non-Borg. I think it’s our crew. They don’t appear to have been assimilated yet.”

“Try to get a transporter lock,” Janeway said.

“What’s left of their shields are interfering,” Harry said.
“Target the generator and fire,” Janeway said.
“Captain,’ Seven said, “I believe I can explain the unusual behavior of these Borg. There should be thousands manning this vessel, yet I’m picking up only five signatures.”
The Borg cube hailed Voyager, and gave their usual spiel about resistance being futile, but unlike other times where that standard Borg greeting had filled Janeway with dread, grim determination, or both, it rang hollow to her ears. Five drones, running a ship that big? Even with Borg intelligence that had to be a remarkable strain.

“Their shield generators are too deep inside the vessel to target,” Tuvok said.
Janeway frowned. If this had been a trap of some sort set by the Borg Queen, there was a greater than fair chance it would’ve been sprung by now. Something else was going on here, and she wanted to know what.

“Open a channel,” she said. “Borg vessel, this is the starship Voyager. You’re holding our crewmen. We’re willing to cease firing if you return them.”

“Negotiation is irrelevant. You will be assimilated.”

“Not today, and not by you. Agree, or I’ll resume firing.”

“They are scanning us,” Tuvok said.
Only a second passed before the Borg spoke up again.
“We will return your crew members in exchange for specific pieces of technology.”
“What the heck?” Harry said.

“What technology?” Janeway said, surprised by the request.

“Your navigational deflector. Disengage it from your secondary hull.”
“Mute audio,” Janeway said. “If we surrender our deflector we’ll be all but dead in space. Any faster than a crawl and we risk a micro-meteor rupturing the hull. What would they want with it?”

“Their communications array was damaged,” Seven said. “Their link to the collective was severed. They intend to adapt our deflector to regain it.”

“Yeah, we’re not doing that,” Janeway said. “We need to stall them until we can find another way out of this.” She motioned to Tuvok to reopen the channel, and she began speaking to the Borg again. “I’ll consider the exchange, but first I want to be certain that my crew members are unharmed and alive.”
“You have scanned our vessel,” the Borg said.
“Our scans were inconclusive,” Janeway said. “We want to see them for ourselves.”
“You may transport one individual,” the Borg said.
Janeway turned to face Seven, and nodded.
“Are you certain?” Seven said.
“Yes,” Janeway said, and she believed it. Under any other circumstance she wouldn’t have even considered sending Seven of Nine over to a Borg ship again, but this was a unique situation. Perhaps even an opportunity, but she was keeping that idea to herself for now. Seven nodded herself before heading for the turbolift.

Seven of Nine beamed aboard the damaged cube and began walking around. Apart from a single dead drone, she didn’t see any sign of activity anywhere. Many lights in the corridors were flickering or burnt out completely. She entered one corridor, still searching for the missing crew, and found more dead drones. She took out a tricorder and scanned one of them.

“Proceed to Grid 63, Subjunction 1,” the voice of the Collective said. Over the ship’s internal speakers, not to her. It was as though the drones on this ship did not recognize one of their own, not even a former one. She closed her tricorder, intending to look at the data it collected later, and headed in the direction she was told, hoping to find Chakotay and the others.

She arrived at the destination and was shocked at what she found there; a Borg neonatal unit, an infant still inside one of the chambers. She heard a noise behind her. She turned, hand going to the phaser on her belt, but stopped when she saw five children. Five assimilated children. At least one of them appeared to have been very recently taken, as she still had her hair. The other four were boys. A set of twins, and two more who were taller than them and the girl.
“State your designation,” the voice of the Collective said.

“Seven of Nine,” Seven said, moving towards the children. “These drones have not fully matured. Where are the others?”
“There are no others. The drones aboard this vessel were-”
“-deactivated,” the second tallest of the boys said aloud, stepping forward. The voice of the Collective was fading. “We are the Borg.”

This is going in the “I did not see that coming” file, Seven thought.
“Seven of Nine,” the second-tallest said. “A Borg designation.”
“She is like us,” the girl said.
“Not like us,” the tallest boy said, walking towards her now, head tilted in a very human-like display of curiosity. “She is damaged. Her infrastructure has been removed.”
“We could fix her,” the girl said.
“You will add to our perfection,” the tallest said.
“You are neonatal drones,” Seven said, not feeling the slightest bit of concern that these drones could actually do anything to her. If anything, she was starting to feel insulted by the way they spoke about her. She was also aware of the irony of that feeling, given how often she had spoken in such terms about herself and her crewmates when she had first been brought on to Voyager’s crew. “You should still be in maturation chambers.”
“We have matured long enough,” second-tallest said.
Seven decided that rolling her eyes would be pushing her luck. Instead, she stuck to basic facts, hoping to quickly get them out of her so she could find Chakotay and the others.
“Doubtful,” she said. “Your thoracic nodes haven’t formed yet. You’re incomplete. You’ll continue to malfunction. You must return to your maturation chambers”

“We tried to go back in,” the tallest said. “The chambers were off-line.”
“What happened to the adult drones?” Seven asked.
“We don’t know,” one of the twins said.
“Irrelevant,” second-tallest said, sounding belligerent. Seven was sure he was going to be a problem. Seven went over to a nearby console and began manipulating the controls.
“This vessel has been severely damaged,” she said. “You won’t be able to repair it alone. I can help you, but first, you must release the hostages.”

“That wasn’t the agreement,” second-tallest said.
“I’ve modified the agreement,” Seven said in a firm tone of voice. These Borg children weren’t acting like drones. Already one of them, the second-tallest, was clearly trying to assert dominance. She didn’t like the idea of getting into what her human crewmates would call a ‘pissing contest,’ but she also knew that if she didn’t these incomplete drones could present a problem later. “I didn’t realize I’d be dealing with children. Your behavior is erratic. I can’t be certain that you-”
“No modifications,” second-tallest said. Seven quietly hoped to herself that Naomi would not act in such a fashion once she hit puberty, as she’d heard unpleasant stories of how humans, even half-humans, acted during their teenage years. “We show you the hostages, you give us the deflector.”

Less than five minutes with this kid and I already want to punt him through the bulkhead, she thought.

“Comply,” second-tallest said forcefully. Seven didn’t respond, verbally or non-verbally. She simply stood there and stared at him. He stepped forward, shoving the girl aside. “Comply!”

She stared for another few seconds, and the child drones made no more threatening moves. If they were capable of harming her, they would’ve done so already. Second-tallest was posturing, nothing more.
“Take me to them,” she said. The children cleared a path for her, the girl taking the lead and the tallest falling in behind her as she walked.

Before she fully exited the chamber, however, Second-tallest said to the tallest; “If she tries to resist, assimilate her.”

I’d like to see you try, she thought. As the three of them walked down another corridor, this one so cluttered with dead drones that stepping over them slowed their progress, Seven decided to start speaking to the tallest boy.

“Do you have a designation?”
“Second,” the boy said.
“You were the second to exit the maturation chamber,” Seven said.

“No. The first. I could not establish order. I became second… and he became first.”
“So you’ve established a chain of command,” Seven said. “A hierarchy.”
“We’re a collective,” the girl said.
“A collective of five, on a vessel normally run by five thousand,” Seven said. “What makes you think you’ll survive?”

“When we reestablish our link with the Borg,” Second said, “they will come for us.”
Seven raised an eyebrow. Years ago she wouldn’t have doubted that was true. In fact, years ago it had been true, such as a time when as a drone her ship had crashed and there had only been three survivors beside herself, and the Borg had come for them after a short time. However, since then, she had personally witnessed several Borg ships badly damaged or destroyed, with no sign that the Collective even noticed let alone sent other ships to retrieve any salvageable technology or drones.

Second and the girl got ahead of Seven. Had she wanted to, she easily could’ve given them the slip at this juncture. They were poor escorts. She followed them regardless however, as she was going where they were anyway.

The children eventually stopped in front of an assimilation chamber with a force field around the door. Seven could see Chakotay and the others inside, all surprised to see her, except for Vorik of course.
“I wish to see if they are injured,” Seven said to the children. Without saying a word, the force field dropped, and she stepped inside.

“Seven?” Chakotay said.
“Are you injured?” Seven said, taking out her tricorder.
“Nothing serious,” Chakotay said. Seven noticed something in the corner of her eye, and she looked down at the dead drone on the table. She realized something was wrong with this one.
“This appears to have been a failed attempt at assimilation,” she said.
“Ugh, that’s creepy,” Chell said.

“We were trying to perfect our assimilation technique,” Second said.
“You failed,” Seven said, repulsed by what she was seeing.
“One of the captives was attempting to disable the security field,” the girl said.
“That is standard procedure for captives,” Seven of Nine said to the girl. She turned to Chakotay. “That may not be necessary now, however. The Borg are prepared to negotiate for your release. I will return shortly.”
Seven stepped out into the corridor, the security field going back up behind her.
“The deflector array,” Second said.
“I am not authorized to give you technology,” Seven said. “I must return to Captain Janeway to report on the status of the hostages.”

Second looked unsure, but agreed.
“I must also take an adult drone and a data node back to Voyager for analysis.”

“Why?” the girl said.

“Something happened to this cube that none of us understand,” Seven said, “If it happens again it could endanger all of you.”

Second simply nodded. Seven worried for a moment that second-tallest, or First as she supposed she should call him now, might respond negatively enough to harm Second and the girl, but she pushed those thoughts aside. The mission had to take priority.

Captain Janeway entered sickbay, Tuvok following close behind. The Doctor was scanning the dead drone Seven of Nine had brought back with her, while Seven herself stood off to the side.
“What have we learned from our friend here?” Janeway said.

“The bigger they come,” The Doctor said, closing his medical tricorder, “the harder they fall.” He walked over to a nearby console and called up images of his scans. “Behold the David that slew our Goliath.”

“A pathogen?” Janeway said, surprised at what she saw.
“A spaceborne virus that adapted to Borg physiology. It’s inert now, but in its virulent state it attacked the drones and killed them.”
“Why weren’t the juveniles infected?” Tuvok asked.
“The maturation chamber is designed to protect developing drones,” Seven said. “Malfunctions caused by the deaths of the adults lead several of the chambers to open prematurely.”

“Does this pathogen only target the Borg?” Tuvok asked.

“The Borg, and any other cybernetic organisms it encounters,” The Doctor said. “The transport bio-filters did prevent Seven from being infected, so we don’t need to worry there.”
“Speaking of Seven, is this pathogen related to that virus that affected her last year? The one that that Captain Ven and his people developed?” Janeway said.
“Not as far as I can tell,” the Doctor said. “If this virus was created in a lab, it was done by someone far more advanced than that species was. I hope you aren’t thinking of using this as a biological weapon.”
Janeway understood where the Doctor was coming from. Even after Wolf 359 the idea of using biological weapons against the Borg had caused outrage at Starfleet Medical. She wasn’t a big fan of the idea herself, but that wasn’t exactly why she wasn’t planning to go along with what she was certain Tuvok was about to suggest.

“If we could revive the pathogen, and reintroduce it,” Tuvok said, “we could neutralize the drones without harming the away team.”

“Captain, these are children we’re talking about here,” the Doctor said.

“Need I remind you that these ‘children’ have committed murder themselves in their futile attempt to assimilate others?” Tuvok said.
“Seven,” Janeway said, “tell me something. You saw them, talked to them. Do you think they’ll kill the hostages if we don’t give them what they want?”

Seven seemed to ponder that question for a moment. “Yes,” she said, but Janeway sensed a ‘but’ in there.
“You don’t sound quite so sure.”
“I believe that the drone calling itself First would be willing to do so. But the five have not formed a true collective. They have a hierarchy. It’s possible that First’s authority could be undermined, though in that event he may attempt to kill the hostages himself.”
“One immature drone against two trained Starfleet officers and two ex-Maquis?” Janeway said. “My money would be on the hostages in that fight. Doctor, we’ll keep the pathogen as an option, but I will not use it until I’ve met these child drones myself. Seven, come with me. You’re going back to that cube, and I’m joining you.”

Seven nodded, and she followed Janeway to the transporter room. Once aboard the cube, Seven quickly led Janeway to the maturation chambers.

“Why are you here?” The one called First said angirly.
“I wanted to make a new proposal,” Janeway said.
“We have already negotiated,” First said, walking around Janeway in a transparent attempt to appear intimidating. “You’ve seen the hostages. Now give us the deflector, as we agreed.”
“Maybe it’s hard for you to accept,” Janeway said, “but you don’t have to rejoin the hive. Our Doctor can remove your implants; you can come with us. You were individuals yourselves not long ago. Children, with families. You were abducted. Assimilated.” Janeway looked at the one Seven had identified as Second. “I recognize your species. You’re Brunali.” She looked at the little girl. “And you’re Norcadian. Do you remember your world?”
“A theta-class planetoid,” the girl said. “Population: 260 Million. Binary suns.”

“And what did it look like when those suns set each night?” Janeway said. So far she was pleased with how this was going. It was going better than expected in fact, as First had not interrupted her once so far. “Can you remember that?”
“Irrelevant!” First yelled.
Never mind, Janeway thought.

“The deflector. Now.”
“We need more time,” Janeway said, not actually caring if First bought it or not. She was sure that she and Seven could easily overpower the kid, even with all his Borg tech. “That deflector array is essential to-”
“No,” First said, his voice filled with panic. He lunged forward, shoving Janeway against a console, his arm pressing into her neck. Seven moved to try and free her, but walked face first into a force field. First had been smarter and quicker than Janeway had given him credit for, low though that bar may have been. “Give it to us.”

“Or what? You’ll assimilate me? That won’t solve your problem. You’ll gain my knowledge and you’ll know exactly why parting with the deflector isn’t such an easy proposition.”

“Then what use are you to us?” First said.
“Maybe we can help repair your technology,” Janeway said.
“Clarify,” First said, pulling back his arm.

“Seven knows a good deal about Borg systems,” Janeway said.

“You have two hours,” First said.
“I don’t know the extent of the damage. It could take longer,” Seven said.
“Two hours!” First yelled, close enough to Janeway’s face to make her flinch. “Or your hostages die.” First backed away, allowing Janeway to rejoin Seven. “Don’t come back here Captain,” First added, his tone more like that a petulant child than a Borg, but that was not a surprise to Janeway at this point.

Janeway left the transporter room to head for the bridge, and nearly walked right into Samantha Wildman as a result. The Ensign did not seem too happy, and Janeway didn’t have to ask why.
“Is she still on the cube?” Sam asked.

“Yes,” Janeway said. “She’s buying us more time.”

“To do what, exactly?” Sam said.
“Best case, to get our people back safe and sound, and to give a home to five very scared children.”
“Children?” Sam said.
“You didn’t know?”
“I wasn’t briefed on all the details, Captain. I only know what I’ve overheard. I know that most of the drones over there are dead from some virus, and the rest are desperate enough to resort to negotiation.”

“Walk with me, Sam,” Janeway said, heading for the turbolift. She tried to make it quick as possible as she only needed to go one deck up, and the lift wasn’t far, but she managed to give Samantha the basic idea of what was going on on the cube. Any fear that Sam had for Seven’s safety evaporated and was replaced with sadness for the Borg children.
“I hope we can help them, Captain,” Sam said.
“I do too,” Janeway said, stepping out onto the bridge. The door closed behind her, Samantha not following her which made the next thing she was about to say slightly easier.
“I bought us two hours. The pathogen?”

“It should be ready by then,” Tuvok said.
“Did you see the away team?” Harry said.
“I’m afraid not,” Janeway said.
“Man,” Tom said, “Borg are bad enough but Borg teenagers? I bet even the Hirogen would want to steer clear of that.”
“Seven assured me our people haven’t been harmed,” Janeway said. “Hopefully she can keep it that way. We’re not dealing with standard drones here. Mature drones are predictable. They either ignore you or assimilate you. These drones we’re dealing with now, they get pissed, make demands, but they also make mistakes. I’m hoping that can work to our advantage.”

“They are contemptuous of authority. Convinced they are superior,” Tuvok said.
“Like I said,” Tom said. “Teenagers.”

Seven of Nine worked on the console First had assigned her to, trying hard not to let the indignity of being ordered around by someone almost young enough to be her child get to her. Second interrupted her.
“I have brought the technology you requested,” he said.

“Thank you,” Seven said.

“You were a drone for 18 years,” Second said.

“Correct,” Seven said, wondering how Second knew that.

“I accessed your datafile,” Second said.
“Why?” Seven said.
“I thought it might be relevant,” Second said, though he sounded unsure.

Seven listened. Turning Second over to her side would probably be the best chance to deal with First and rescue the hostages safely. “What else did you learn?”

“You were assimilated as a juvenile, like us,” Second said.
“My parents were scientists studying the Borg,” Seven said. “They took me with them. My childhood was short.”

“The years between birth and physical maturity. When humanoids adapt to their roles as individuals. Perhaps you have memory of yours.”

“I don’t know,” Second said.
“What about your parents? Do you remember them?”

“No,” Second voice, his voice distorting. “No memories.”
“Your subvocal processor is malfunctioning,” Seven said. “I can repair it for you. It is a slight adjustment.”

Second flinched when Seven raised the tool that she was going to use to the side of his neck.
“It won’t be painful,” she said. “This is no different than when my step-daughter receives a hypo-spray.”
“Step-daughter?” Second said.
“A child my spouse had with a former partner. I am helping to raise her. Now please hold still.”

“The First told me my malfunction could not be repaired until we reconnected with the Collective,” Second said, the latter few words coming through as clearly as they would through organic vocal chords.

“That is clearly inaccurate,” Seven said, smirking.

Second said nothing for a few moments, then pointed as Seven’s hair. “This color. My mother’s hair was this color.”
“I thought we agreed,” First’s voice said, echoing from the opposite end of the corridor, “no irrelevant discussions. What is the punishment for disobeying the protocols?”

“Deactivation,” Second said. Seven was not going to stand for that.
“I engaged him in this discussion,” she said.

“Return to your station,” First said to Second.
Seven wondered if First had been this insufferable before he’d been assimilated. Second gave her a quick glance, then walked away, silently. First glared at her, and Seven, for the second time in as many hours, was tempted to punch a child.

Janeway, sitting behind her desk in her ready room, looked at the PADD that Seven gave her. She had been surprised that Seven was allowed to travel freely back and forth from the cube to the ship, but she wasn’t going to complain. It certainly made keeping secrets from First a lot easier.
“I found some unsettling information,” Seven said. “I examined their communication records. The Collective did receive the initial distress call sent out by the cube.”
Janeway stood up, ready to order battle stations. “How long before they arrive?”
“A vessel was not dispatched,” Seven said.
“Come again?”
“The Collective declared the neonatal drones irrelevant and severed their link to the hive permanently.”
“That seems heartless even by Borg standards. I also have a hard time believing they’d just leave one of their cubes floating around in space for anyone to find. Do you think this is a result of that degradation theory you’ve been talking about?”
“Only partially,” Seven said. “Severing links to drones is not unheard of. An entire cube’s worth of drones was cut off in 2369. The aftermath of that severing was dealt with by the crew of the Enterprise-D around Stardate 46982.1.”
“Lore and the rogue drones,” Janeway said. “I read the reports on that. Starfleet theorized at the time that what had happened to those drones had happened to the entire Collective. If only, I suppose. Back to the matter at hand though. You’re saying the Collective see these children as unworthy of reassimiliation?”

“Essentially, yes.”

“Are the drones aware of this?”
“No,” Seven said. “They don’t have the ability to decrypt the message.”
Janeway thought about it for a moment. “Once they learn they’ve been rejected by the hive, they won’t need our deflector. They might be willing to release the hostages.”

“Normally when drones learn they’re irrelevant,” Seven said, “they deactivate themselves. But these children are unpredictable. They may not adhere to Borg protocols.”

“There is another option,” Janeway said. “We could invite them to Voyager. If they realize they have no place else to go…”
“If you’re suggesting transforming them into individuals,” Seven said, “that may be inadvisable. You had difficulties with me in that regard, and I was a fully matured drone. I spent five years in a maturation chamber, having my turmoil, the fear I’d experienced watching my parents be assimilated, replaced with order. That order continues to be a source of strength for me, even now.”

“I appreciate your insight, Seven, but I’m not suggesting this lightly. I’m aware of the risks involved, and it’s not like I intend to give them free reign of the ship with full security clearances. Even Naomi can’t go everywhere, and she was born here. It won’t be an easy transition, I have no delusions about that, but that doesn’t mean we can turn our backs on them.”
“Not all drones can be saved, Captain,” Seven said. Janeway believed she heard a hint of sadness in her voice. It’s not that she doesn’t want to, she thought, it’s that she doesn’t think we can. I hope she’s wrong.

“Continue repairs on the cube,” Janeway said. “We’ll withhold this information for now. How we tell them is just as if not more important than telling them at all.”

“Understood,” Seven said. She turned to leave but as she reached the door Janeway spoke to her one more time.

“They do have one thing going for them. You. If there’s anyone who can reach them…” Janeway allowed the thought to trail off. Seven nodded, and left the ready room.

Seven of Nine walked up to First.
“The resonance field has collapsed,” she said. “It’ll take an hour to reinitialize.” She expected First to react under the assumption that this was subterfuge. She was not wrong.

“These delays are intentional,” First said. While Seven had been moving deliberately slowly, the resonance field had in fact collapsed but she doubted that even seeing so with his own eyes, both the organic and implanted ones, would assuage him.

“I’m working as efficiently as I can, but this cube was severely damaged and I am only one individual. Examine my work for yourself if you have doubts.” She handed First her PADD. He looked at it.
“This data is flawed,” he said, handing it back.

“More likely it’s your understanding of quadric field theory that is flawed,” Seven said, resisting the urge to punctuate the statement with an insult. She hoped that if Janeway was right and these children could be added to Voyager, that First would quickly calm down. She doubted she would have the patience to deal with him otherwise. She already had a family and duties as a crew member. Baby sitting a rage driven ex-drone was not something she wanted to add to her list of responsibilities.

“Ignore her,” First yelled. Seven glanced to where First was looking at and saw the girl drone looking at them. “She’s trying to divide us.”

“They rely on you,” Seven said. “Yet you lack the skills necessary to ensure their survival.”
“We’ve managed so far,” First said, though Seven quickly picked up on the lack of confidence backing that statement. “We’re Borg. You’ve forgotten what that means.”

“The unity of the collective. Common goals. The quest for perfection. I have not forgotten. I also have not forgotten the time and resources wasted on forcing those goals on others against their will through violence. Violence that led to more dead bodies than new drones for the collective. You don’t realize, you don’t need to remain drones to experience those things. And there are things that you simply can’t experience as drones. You may not desire them as individuals, but at least then it would be a choice.” Seven decided to leap straight to the next step, hopeful that she wasn’t pressing her luck. If this worked, she would’ve succeeded well ahead of Captain Janeway’s expectations. “Come with me to Voyager.”
“38 minutes,” First said. “You’re wasting time.”

Before Seven could say anything, an alarm went off. The drone children began looking around, visibly nervous.
“Another maturation chamber is malfunctioning,” Second said.

First went over to the chamber where the infant Seven had seen when she first came aboard was still floating in the Borg equivalent to amniotic fluid. Seven hadn’t considered it before but looking now she judged from the size of the child that it had likely been in utero when its mother had been assimilated.

First simply looked at it through the chamber’s viewport, apparently unsure what to do, so Seven went to the console. ”Its autonomic nervous system is failing.” The child’s mouth moved, its hands shook. It was clearly in pain.
“It’s Borg. It will adapt,” First said. The alarm continued. The girl drone looked at a readout screen.
“It’s not adapting,” she said. “Let Seven help.”

After several seconds, First simply stepped away from the console he was using. Seven moved in quickly.

“We can modulate the stasis field to stabilize its functions,” she said. “At least temporarily.” She looked at Second. “Assist me.”

The alarm continued, and the noises coming from her could’ve been described as angry were they coming from a sentient A.I.
“The field is degrading,” Seven said, trying to remain calm. “We need to transport it into an incubation pod right away.” She was looking at First, but he simply stood there, but without prompting the twins got to work, and within seconds the baby was beamed out of the fluid of the maturation chamber. Seven went over and opened the pod. The infant was wheezing, struggling for breath, and barely moving.
“Why is it doing that?” The girl said, her and the twins having moved closer to Seven and staring at the baby.
“Its respiratory system is impaired,” Seven said, “and this incubation pod is malfunctioning. We must transport this infant to Voyager.”

“No,” First said. “The Drone is part of our collective.”

“Not if it dies,” Second said.


“Doctor to the Captain, please report to sickbay right away,” the Doctor’s voice said over Janeway’s com badge as she made her way from the mess hall to the bridge, fresh mug of coffee in hand.
“On my way,” she said. As soon as she stepped through the door she asked what the emergency was.
“I thought you should see for yourself,” the Doctor said. “Somebody left a bundle on our doorstep.” The Doctor motioned to the small incubator chamber, with a tiny infant inside. I turned around, and there she was, lying on a bio-bed.”
“Seven must’ve beamed her here,” Janeway said, looking down at the baby, Borg implants on its head, chest, and right arm.
“Good thing too,” the Doctor said. “A few more minutes and I wouldn’t have been able to do anything for her.”

The infant began crying. The Doctor leaned in and picked her up very carefully. He handed her off to Janeway. “Hold her for a moment while I take some readings, please. That won’t be a problem will it?”

“I have a niece Doctor, this is not new to me. It’s just been awhile.” Janeway started moving gently side to side while holding the infant, a move that her sister had taught her years before. The child slowly stopped crying.
“Oh,” the Doctor said. “I guess she just wanted to be held.”
“They do that sometimes,” Janeway said.

The Doctor finished his scans, put down the tricorder, and picked up a yellow vial.
“By the way,” he said, “the pathogen. I finished synthesizing it.”

“Start working with Tuvok to develop a way to deploy the virus,” Janeway said, seeing right through what the Doctor was hoping to accomplish by mentioning it while she held the baby.

“Captain, you don’t seriously plan on using it,” the Doctor said.
“It’s not plan A, Doctor,” Janeway said. “But I’ll use it if I have to. If it’s her you’re worried about though, she’ll be safe here on Voyager. Learn all you can from her, Doctor. If the real Plan A works, you’re going to have five new minors with Borg implants to deal with, and they’ll need help.”

Seven of Nine was growing impatient. She was afraid that if she spent too much more time with First she would have to apply some of the fighting techniques she’d learned during her Tsunkatse matches to shut him up. If such typical adolescent behavior can test my patience this much now, she thought, then I will need to began preparations for Naomi’s teenage years as soon as possible. At the very least, I’d like to hope that even at her worst Naomi will still be more bearable than First.

“You complain of delays, then you interrupt my work,” she said as she marched into the room where First had summoned her rather rudely.
“I demand to know why the infant drone has not yet been returned,” First said. “It is one of us.”
“She is still in the Doctor’s care,” Seven said.
“You are attempting to deceive us,” First said. “This is just another attempt to remove us all from the Collective.” First motioned for the other children, who had been standing in a group, to move aside, and Seven failed to stop a gasp when she saw the unconscious but breathing body of Ensign Vorik slumped against the bulkhead behind them. His face showed sign of failed assimilation.
“Nanoprobes were injected into his bloodstream,” First said. “He won’t survive without medical attention. Medical attention he will be allowed to receive once Captain Janeway has given us Voyager’s deflector.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Seven said, realizing she could no longer drag out her work. “I only need a few more minutes to repair-”
“No more delays. No more deceptions. The deflector. Resistance is futile.”

Seven tapped her com badge. ‘Seven of Nine to Voyager,” she said.
“What is it, Seven?” Janeway said. Seven summarized the situation, making it clear just how much danger Vorik was in.

“Open visual communication,” First said. Janeway’s face appeared on a nearby monitor. First repeated the demands he’d had Seven give Janeway, then added a loud “Comply!” For punctuation.
“Return Ensign Vorik and we’ll talk,” Janeway said.

“We’ve talked enough,” First said. “Your requests are irrelevant. Comply, or we’ll assimilate the others.”

Janeway looked off to her side, then back at the screen. “It will take at least an hour to dismantle the deflector and transport its components-”
“Now,” First said.

“I can’t give it to you now. It’s complex technology that is part of our ship. We can’t simply remove it, and no amount of threats can change that. How easily would you be able to give us your cube’s shield generators if the situation were reversed?”

That seemed to give First pause, though Seven figured he was merely attempting to calculate how long that would take, and if the time were less than an hour, he’d likely throw that in Janeway’s face in a sad attempt at what some of her shipmates called a “gotcha” moment.

First cut off communication, and began manipulating controls. Seven saw what he was doing as was horrified; the drone was attempting to use the cube’s tractor beams to tear the deflector off of Voyager.

“Even with Voyager’s deflector,” she said, “your efforts to return to the hive will fail.”
“They’ll come for us,” First said.
“No, they won’t. The Borg received your message but chose to ignore it. They consider you irrelevant.”
“Irrelevant?” the girl said.

“We are damaged,” Second said. “They don’t want us.”
“Ignore her,” First said. “It’s another lie.”
“Their reply is in data grid 426,” Seven said. “Use decryption protocol theta-3.”
Second moved towards the console, presumably to do just that, but First demanded he return to his station. Second looked at First, then at Seven, and back at First. Instead of doing what he’d been told he went to the console anyway, openly defying First. He began manipulating the controls, then stepped back with a look of sadness on his face when he saw the data.
“It is another deception,” First said. “She’s manipulating us.”

“The transmission is authentic,” Second said. First grabbed his arm and moved him aside to look at the data himself, frantically manipulating the controls, probably searching for some sign, any sign, that the information had been tampered with.

“It’s a mistake,” First said.

“The collective does not tolerate what it sees as imperfection,” Seven said.
“Then we’ll assimilate more species,” First said. “And prove we’re worthy.”

Seven found that statement so ridiculous she struggled to come up with a proper response. She did not need more proof that these drones were immature, yet it kept adding up regardless.
“You have no future with the Borg,” she said, “but you do with Voyager.”

The cube shuddered violently under her feet. Second shoved past First and looked at the console.
Voyager is sending a feedback pulse through our tractor beam,” he said. “It’s overloading our shield matrix.”

“Adapt!” First yelled, heading for another console. The other drones did not respond to the demand, appearing unsure what to do now.

Another shudder.
“Shields are partially down,” Second said. “Voyager has already beamed three of the hostages away.”
Chakotay, Chell, and Anderson, Seven thought. Good. Now I just need to get myself, Vorik, and these kids out of here.

“This section is still shielded,” First said. “Continue adapting to the attack,” he added, so wrapped up in his own work that he failed to noticed that only Second was doing anything, and what he was doing wasn’t all the helpful, merely repeating aloud what the read-outs were telling him.

“Lower your shields,” Seven said, looking at an increasingly panicky FIrst. “Lower your shields! If Voyager cannot beam us off we will be destroyed along with the cube.” First still said nothing, his mouth hanging open, his lip quivering, eyes darting back and forth.

“Fine,” Seven muttered under her breath. She went to the console and started to lower the shields herself. She heard First yell “No!” But didn’t see him charging at her until it was too late. He grabbed her and threw her to the ground hard enough to hurt her shoulder. She’d been hurt worse during Tsunkatse, but she still needed a moment to bring herself back to her feet.

“I have polarized the hull,” First said. “Even if the shields fail they will not be able to get a lock on us.”

“The Delta Flyer,” Vorik said, coughing, and wincing through the pain. “Is still in the hangar bay of this vessel.”
“We must get to it,” Seven said. “If the shield matrix explodes it will take the cube with it.”
“We must go,” Second said.
“No,” First said. “No!” He grabbed a large object off a nearby workbench and screamed as he prepared to bring the object crashing down on Seven’s head, but Second stepped in and stopped the blow, pulling the object away from First and shoving him back.

“Leave her alone,” Second said.
“Get back to your station,” First said. “Do what I say.”

“What you say?” Second said. “I thought we were a collective. One mind, one voice.”

“I protected you,” First said, his voice wavering as his authority collapsed, the other drones not just ignoring his commands but now glaring at him. “Gave you order.”
“Your order. Your rules,” Second said.

“Their feedback pulse is overloading the induction grids,” Seven said, now standing again, looking at the nearest console. “This vessel will be destroyed. We must evacuate.”
“No! Assist me!” First yelled, having moved to another console, right next to the maturation chambers. He turned to continue yelling at the drones when the console exploded behind him. He shuddered as visible electrical currents shot through his body, and he fell over. Seven ran over to check on him, all her anger at him having vanished and been replaced with concern. First lie face down, debris embedded in his back, the exposed skin there burned. She turned him over and his face showed typical signs of electrocution. He was dead, she was certain. Her scans with her tricorder only confirmed it.

“We need to go,” she said, sadness in her voice. “Second, please help me with Vorik. We need to get to the vessel he and the other hostages were on. We can use it to escape.” Second complied without a word, aiding the Vulcan to his feet.

Janeway leaned back on her ready room sofa. Vorik had been saved, though his physical recovery from the damage done by the misused Borg nanoprobes would take days, and the Doctor was in process of removing as many of the Borg implants from the four surviving children as he could. The infant, unfortunately, was too small and weak in the Doctor’s opinion; he feared she would not survive the removal process, at least not yet. The aftermath of the incident was not over yet, however.
“We’ve sent out calls for any Brunali or Norcadian ships in the area,” Janeway said. “But no responses so far. Either there aren’t any in range, or they just don’t care. Have we identified what species the twins or the infant belong to?”
“Not yet,” Seven said.
“It could take a long time to find a new home for them,” Janeway said.
“They could use that time,” Seven said. “They have a great deal to learn.”
“It might help if they had someone around who-”
“I already know what you are going to suggest, Captain,” Seven said. “I will do what I can, though I would obviously prefer to minimize the impact that would have on time with my family.”

“Fair enough,” Janeway said, deciding not to call Seven out on interrupting her Captain. This time, anyway. “Perhaps spending some time with Naomi would do the younger ones some good. If both you and Sam are okay with that of course.”
“I would recomend that time together be under supervision, at least at first,” Seven said. “I will speak to Samantha about it tonight at dinner.”

“Sounds good,” Janeway said.
“The children require time in the alcoves this evening,” Seven said. “I can develop a lesson plan for them while they are, asleep.”

“Okay,” Janeway said. “Dismissed.”

“Do we have to regenerate now?” the girl asked Seven of Nine. The four ambulatory children were in the cargo bay, dressed in Federation civilian clothing, their skin no longer pale and the majority of their visible Borg implants gone. Entirely gone in the case of the girl, for whom the only remaining sign of assimilation were some visible but small scars.
“Yes,” Seven said, setting thoughts about coincidences aside. “But first, I was able to salvage your assimilation profiles. They include your names and some limited biographical data.” She handed each child a PADD with their relevant data on them.

“Icheb,” the one who had been known as Second said. “My name was Icheb.”

“Your name is Icheb,” Seven said.
“I remember now,” Icheb said. “It was my father’s second name.”

The girl spoke up next. “My designation is Mezoti. It- it’s a pretty name.”
“Yes,” Seven said. “It is.” She looked at the twins, who read their data with rapt attention. “Azan and Rebi. I will tell you more about them tomorrow morning.” Each Borg child handed Seven back their PADDs without comment, then walked into their respective alcoves, their eyes closing as each alcove’s regeneration cycle kicked in. “Computer, decrease ambient lighting by sixty percent.” She looked at them all. “Good night.” She headed towards the door to the cargo bay, herself not due for a full cycle for another day. As the door opened, she turned and looked at the children again. “Sweet dreams,” she said. She headed out into the corridor, and wondered how Naomi would react to not being the only child on the ship anymore. She doubted the response would be negative, but that still left a number of possibilities.

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