"Its design does not correlate with any Borg vessel I am familiar with." Seven of Nine was cold, precise.
"Why a cone?" Harry Kim asked.
"Why not? We've seen just about every other geometric shape among the Borg." Captain Kathryn Janeway turned to the tall, dark-skinned Vulcan Security Officer, "Well, Mr. Tuvok, what do we have?"
"It appears to be a scout vessel, but it is far more heavily shielded than any common Borg ship we have encountered so far. Lifesigns indicate 5221 drones aboard."
"Minimal, it was, apparently, not designed for combat."
"Probably why they haven't attacked us yet." She stated dryly.
"Perhaps it belongs to a splinter group."
Control Chamber, The Cone
Taran debated his next move, he had to tread carefully, the crew of the Voyager, particularly its captain, were highly intelligent and extremely cunning. They had resisted The Collective several times, and in one disastrous encounter had killed one of Her bodies. He had no desire to assimilate them, they had rejected The Gift, they were unworthy. But he was curious, and he had interests in this world. The Voyager was a Federation starship, bound by the laws of that government, they would not provoke an attack, not even against a Borg vessel. As long as he remained inoffensive, he was safe.
Janeway considered the mysterious Cone, it was small by Borg standards, little bigger than Voyager herself. It had powerful shielding and minimal weapons, and was orbiting a pastoral world with no sentient life. It just didn't fit the typical Borg pattern.
"Captain, we're being hailed."
"It looks like we're about to find out what our cybernetic friends are up to. Onscreen"
The image that confronted her was certainly not what she had expected to see. A male Cardassian, barely more than a boy, stared back at her with artificial eyes. His handsome, pale face, free of Borg implants, expressed curiosity. Individuality. The background was an interplay of red and orange light, rather than the typical Borg green.
"Greetings, Captain. I am Exarch of Unimatrix One." His voice was soft, even soothing.
"I"? Harry whispered
"There is no such Designation among the Borg." Seven stated, matter-of-factly.
"With respect, Seven of Nine, you have been outside of The Collective for two years, we have adapted in many ways. I was assimilated less than a year ago."
Janeway had expected the typical Borg line, "You will be assimilated, resistance is futile..." But a friendly greeting? Well, 'When in Rome...'
" Greetings, I am Captain Kathryn Janeway of the USS Voyager."
"Yes, I know."
"Well, I must say this is a pleasant surprise, I'm not used to polite conversation with Borg, usually it's assimilate first, talk later. Of course, by then the conversation's pretty dull."
"That is part of my function, to converse with other species."
"I don't mean to be rude, but, what exactly is your function within The Collective?"
"I have several functions," There was a hint of pride in his voice, " I am The Voice of the one you call The Queen, I speak for Her when diplomacy is necessary. I provide Her companionship. I am also fully equiped for medical repairs and surgical enhancements."
Suddenly Janeway saw this young man in an entirely different light.
"Surgical enhancements?" Her tone was slightly sarcastic, "You mean you cut off people's arms or legs and replace them with machines."
He held up his right arm, or what should have been his right arm. It was a long, slender servo-armature bristling with medical equipment, "I ask nothing of others that I am unwilling to take upon myself. I have sacrificed my right arm and both eyes to come closer to Perfection."
"Then you got a bum deal, kid." The captain said flatly.
The Borg cocked his head oddly, and his face showed no sign of comprehension.
It suddenly dawned upon Seven, this was what She had wanted all along, Picard, Data, herself, all had been given the same offer, "You gave yourself to Her, willingly..."
" Yes. I was so alone, I was always alone. My parents died when I was six, and The State left me to starve in the streets." His pale face flushed, his voiced quivered, "My life was..." He paused, took a breath, composed himself. "The Borg were my Salvation. Now I am never alone, never hungry or frightened. For the first time in my life, I am wanted. I have a purpose, a meaning now."
He had said too much. He had been careless. Why did he tell them? Did he feel the need to justify himself? To prove that his motives were pure, and not base treason or cowardice? Their opinion of him was irrelevant. Such an idiotic move! Now they had leverage over him...
Janeway watched the emotions playing across the Cardassian's face. He'd said too much and he knew it. Now they could use his past as a psychological tool, a weapon even. Janeway had no desire to use someone's childhood trauma against them, the very idea disgusted her, but if her crew was ever at stake...
"No one's judging you," She spoke gently, she meant it, at least for herself. This kid seemed more pitiful than evil, "If you have found meaning in your life through the Borg, then that's your choice." She shrugged, "But we're quite happy with the lives we have, and we don't want to be assimilated." In that she was sure she spoke for everyone.
"I know, and I have no desire to assimilate you. You have rejected The Gift, you are unfit for our Perfection."
Janeway turned to Seven, "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
"Unfortunately, The Queen does not agree with me on this issue." he continued, "She has a... Fixation upon Species 5618. I have no real authority within The Collective, I cannot prevent your assimilation should you be captured."
"Well, it's the thought that counts." Janeway replied. "And since when does the Queen allow anyone to disagree with her?"
"The Queen and The Collective sometimes disagree upon a course of action. That is part of my function, to serve as a differing point of view."
"A differing point of view with no power to back it up." Janeway sat in her chair and crossed her legs, "Sounds like The Queen, even when She wants a second opinion, She makes it Herself."
Chakotay turned to the captain, silently requesting permission to speak and reminding Janeway to have a talk with Seven of Nine later about etiquette on the bridge of a starship.
"Excuse me, Exarch," He was unsure what name or title to address this creature with, as he hadn't said, and this question was potentially embarrassing, "But what do you mean when you say you provide the Queen with 'companionship'?"
"And non-Borg call us single-minded." He smiled thinly, "I am a companion, it is difficult to explain, but it is not in any way romantic."
Harry choked down a laugh, and Janeway shot daggers at him.
"I keep her company, The Collective has no true personality, and She, like all beings, needs the company of others." He turned slightly, looking at something they couldn't see. Neural Transmitters jutted from the back of his skull. Just like those of the Queen, "I am going to the surface. Would you care to accompany me, captain?"
Janeway hadn't expected that, either. Was The Queen pulling on Her drone's leash? "You will forgive me if I am . . . Hesitant. What do you want on this world, anyway? No sentient life, no apparent technology, nothing to interest the Borg."
"Planet 765637111 is home to an indigenous race of non-sentient, aerial cephalopods. I wish to observe them in their natural habitat."
"You're going on a safari?" Now it was really getting weird.
"I suppose you could call it that. But I'd suggest you keep a defensive screen around your party, we are dealing with swift, aggressive predators. Their usual prey are large, six-legged mammals, but, like any efficient carnivore, they'll eat whatever is available."
"With all due respect, I haven't agreed to anything, yet."
The Ready Room, Voyager
The reaction was obvious.
"You can't be serious!" B'Elanna clenched her teeth, "He's a Cardassian and a Borg, that's the closest you can come to pure evil. " The former Maquis had legitimate grievances against the Cardassian State, if not its people, and had learned quickly that the Borg were even worse.
"Racial prejudices aside," Tuvok said calmly, "This 'Exarch' admittedly joined The Collective of his own free will, and has assimilated other beings. And, even if he is sincere, The Queen could easily take control of him at any time. She may, in fact, be manipulating him without his knowledge."
"I believe he's sincere," Chakotay said, "But I also believe he's insane, and I wouldn't want to be around an insane Borg."
Janeway looked toward Seven, she had, after all, been a Borg for most of her life, "And what do you think, Seven?"
"He is obviously emotionally unstable. It is illogical that The Queen would choose such a being. In previous encounters She spoke of a 'counterpart' perhaps even an equal. This individual does not seem to fit that description. It could be potentially useful to determine why he was chosen."
"If there is one truth about the Borg Queen, it is that She lies," Janeway looked around at the assembled officers and crew, "I don't believe this young man" bears us any evil intent, but he is, in the end, a glorified drone, a slave of The Queen." A hint of disgust entered her voice, "She took someone so desperate for affection that he was willing to sacrifice his own flesh to please her, and she's using him as a pet. She never wanted an equal, oh, She wanted something more than an ordinary drone, but not an equal. An equal could be a potential threat, he might get ambitious or arrogant, and turn on Her. He's doubtless highly intelligent and skilled, but he lacks the ability and ambition to oppose her. He's a stray puppy, desperate to please Her, and she's used that to dominate him. And that, gentlemen, is utterly unforgivable."
"I'm going down, if only to look him in the eye and try to let him know what She really is."
Chakotey nodded his head, "If you insist, but remember, The wider the smile, the sharper the knife."
Control Chamber, The Cone
K'erash was uneasy, "I do not trust this Janeway, she is too dangerous."
"She is a Federation officer," Taran replied, "She is bound by her laws to attack only when threatened. I have no intention of threatening her."
"'Threatened' can be a broad term." The Fek'lhr growled, "I do not see why you wish to meet her face-to-face."
"Because she is dangerous. She is also willing to compromise with The Collective, as she did during the war with Species 8472. She can be a powerful enemy or a powerful ally. If we can come to some sort of agreement, we may be able to help one another if a similar situation were to occur."
K'erash grunted, "I suppose you are right, and, if she becomes a threat, as Sun Tzu said 'Know your enemy.'"
Tuvok looked over the sensors, "Two Borg have beamed to the planet's surface, one Cardassian and one Fek'lhr."
Janeway turned to the Vulcan, "Fek'lhr? The Guardian of Gre'thor?"
"Actually, the beings who inspired that mythological entity. They are a sub-species of Klingon, extremely rare beings who display atavistic traits of ancient hybrids born from the mating of Klingons with an unknown alien species. Klingons consider the subject taboo, and believe that the Fek'lhr will one day return and plunge the empire into chaos. Needless to say, few Fek'lhr live very long."
"A Cardassian Borg, A mutant Klingon Borg, and giant, flying carnivorous squid. What could possibly go wrong?"
The location was a plateau overlooking a vast savannah where large, six-legged animals grazed peacefully beneath a purple sky.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" His voice was soft. His back was to her, as he stared out across the magnificent vista.
"Your Queen said that she couldn't imagine why anyone would want to live in such a 'primitive' world."
He turned, square irises focusing on the new arrival.
"You are referring to her opinion of Unimatrix Zero?"
"It was destroyed before I was assimilated."
"A pity, I think you would have enjoyed it."
A gentle breeze swept across the plateau, bearing a scent remarkably similar to vanilla.
He was small, and of a slimmer design than most Borg. He had switched his medical servo-armature for a more traditional arm with a hand, possibly to put her at ease. The creature beside him was far more intimidating, he had obviously Klingon features, but with a concave nose, enlarged cranial ridges and protruding, malformed jaws filled with long, pointed teeth. And he had enough weapons installed in his prosthetics to take down a Romulan battleship. He wore a Bat'leth strapped to his back, and he was definitely not attempting to put anyone at ease.
"You may call me Taran, and this is K'erash, my personal guardian." He indicated the being beside him.
"What is he guarding you from, the entire Dominion?"
"Possibly." He was entirely serious.
"Do all of your drones have names?"
"No." He didn't want to be pulled into that trap.
"I assume you choose who has free will and who doesn't?"
"No, first, they are not my drones, The Queen allows me to use them, second, if I did allow every drone on my ship to leave the Collective, I know of at least 37 who would immediately commit suicide, 529 who would attempt to sabotage the ship, 74 who would try to kill me, 136 who were assimilated at such a young age that they could never function outside of The Collective..."
"I get the idea," Janeway shook her head, the Borg really knew how to ruin people's lives, "But, speaking of a young age, how old are you?"
"That is irrelevant."
"Is it? You can't be more than 17 or 18..."
He said nothing, but looked to the sky
A shadow swept across the plateau, then another, and yet another, as a school of large blue-green squid-like beings flashed overhead. They swept down upon the herd, snatching up individual beasts in thick, ropy tentacles.
"Aren't they magnificent?" Taran said, in a tone of wonder, "They use bladders filled with certain gases to fly. Air is sucked in and out of their funnels at tremendous force to direct their movements."
Janeway understood the order of life, predator and prey, one must die so that the other may live. Knowing that didn't make it any easier to watch. She was suddenly very grateful for the suggestion of an energy shield.
"They have very complex, efficient minds, they've almost achieved sentience."
"And when they do, the Borg will assimilate them. Destroy this beautiful world, turn it into a giant factory, polluted and dead." She was deliberately harsh. She didn't know if he was brainwashed, insane or just deceiving himself about the true nature of the Borg. Either way, she wanted him to know what the Borg really stood for.
"She... Will understand the need for natural resources." he tried weakly
"Yes, She will, in the same way the Cardassians do." She turned to look into his eyes, "Cardassia Prime is almost devoid of plant and animal life, and they've ruined the ecologies of other worlds, like Bajor."
She was somewhat frightened, but not for herself. She knew that, to The Queen, this 'Exarch' was expendable, his life meant nothing to Her. If She deemed him of no further use, or thought that he was showing the slightest hint of rebellion, She could simply deactivate him. Janeway didn't want to get him killed, but she hoped that he could add a little spark of good to The Collective. It might be wrong to use him like that, but any hope for a better Collective would be worth almost any risk.
"This world is. . . Primitive, of no interest to the Borg. It is inefficient to destroy planetary ecologies, when they may be of use to us one day. Perhaps a plant or chemical will develop to better aid us." There was sadness in his eyes, "Cardassia Prime was once a beautiful, forested world, now it is all but dead. My people destroyed their own home, and they didn't learn, they just went on destroying those of others."
"But you know better, don't you?"
"I seek to save my people."
"You truly care about them, don't you?"
"I hate them." His voice was filled with bitterness, "I hate what they did to me, to all the other orphans. They are the ones I want to save, the ones like me."
"By assimilating them? A year or two in a Maturation Tank is no childhood."
"It is better not to have a childhood, than to have a childhood like theirs, like mine."
Janeway didn't know how to respond to that.
"We have not yet achieved Perfection, when we do, when we are complete, everything will be Order. There will be no more suffering."
"And your Queen will be a goddess. Everything will live or die at Her whim."
"That is not what we desire."
"That is not what you desire, but what does She want?"
He hesitated for a moment, searching The Collective for the answer.
"Perfection, of course."
"Of course." Janeway sighed. "Are you aware of the circumstances in which Unimatrix 0 was destroyed?"
He could not find the answer. It was denied him.
"When we created a nanovirus that prevented The Queen from pinpointing the drones with the latent mutation allowing them to access Unimatrix 0, she began destroying entire vessels, killing thousands of drones if she could not hear a single voice among them. I witnessed this personally. And The Collective discards vessels and drones . . . Including children, if they are considered irrelevant or defective." She sat in the grass, and he followed, "There is a boy aboard my ship, about your age, named Icheb. He and five other Neonatal drones . . . Children, were abandoned by The Collective, left to fend for themselves. One boy was killed trying to reconnect with The Collective."
Taran, already deathly pale, turned almost pure, bloodless white.
'It was necessary, they would have infected the entire Collective, millions of drones could have died from the Species 2461 virus the boy called Icheb carried. It killed every drone aboard their Cube, over 60,000 drones. Only those in the Maturation Tanks survived.' The Queen's calm, comforting voice entered his mind, 'Six children weighed against millions . . .'
"She's speaking to you now, isn't she?" Janeway saw that Taran's eyes were far away.
'Couldn't they have been retrieved? Cured? Couldn't we have tried?' There was anger in his voice. Disharmony.
Janeway had managed to touch that nerve within Taran's 'soul', the bitterness and grief at his abandonment as a child that drove his every action, consciously or not. She was a cunning adversary, indeed.
The Queen briefly considered having K'erash kill her, kill them both. The Fek'lhr was devoted to Her Exarch, but She could force him. She decided against it, Taran was easily manipulated and distracted, and he was still useful, and Janeway . . . Janeway was intriguing.
The Exarch of Unimatrix One and the Captain of the U.S.S. Voyager watched the flying creatures together for about an hour, then went their seperate ways.
As Voyager left the Cone and Taran behind, Janeway couldn't help wondering how much of what they'd discussed The Queen would allow him to remember.
I originally misspelled Janeway's name, it's Kathryn, not Katherine. Thanks to whoever you are for pointing it out.
The name Undine comes from Star Trek : Online
I say six neonatal drones because I count the unnamed infant. The others were First, (never named), Second, (Icheb), Third and Fourth, (Rebi and Azan, identical twins), and Fifth, (Mezoti.) The episode was called 'Collective'. The virus Icheb carried was genetically engineered by his own people, and he was left for the Borg to assimilate, and thus become infected. Nice people, the Brunali, using their own kids as bait.
Species 2461 - Brunali
Species 5618 - Human
Species 8472 - Undine (the race that nearly wiped out the entire Collective.)