Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…
“What Color Is Your Borg?”
By Alan Decker & Anthony Butler
“Incoming!” Lieutenant Commander Tovar announced from the tac-ops as he magnified the image on the viewscreen to show the approaching threat.
“Good lord!” Captain Reginald Bain gaped, leaning forward in the command chair. “What a bunch of junk!”
“That is why we’re here,” Commander Prosak observed from her usual place standing off to Bain’s right.
That bunch of junk, more specifically a mass of space debris, was indeed why the USS Anomaly was currently in position near the moons of Plebus. The Plebuans, Federation members for almost eighty years now, had called in help as soon as their scientists discovered the danger heading their way. As part of their assignment as the Federation’s quick response vessel, the Anomaly had spent the majority of the last six months responding to this and other emergencies across the vastness of Federation space.
“I must say that I feel horrible about this,” Prosak added.
“Tut tut, Prosak,” Bain said. “It’s not your fault your ancestors didn’t know how to properly dispose of their space trash. I’m sure at the time gathering up all their non-functional satellites and tossing them away from the planet sounded like a fine idea.”
“The Plebuans are obviously thrilled,” Ensign Hector Arroyo remarked from the helm. “Of course, if they’d bothered to put a simple defense field around that historical site of theirs, we wouldn’t have to bother with this.”
“Fair enough, but we must protect their history. The Plebuans may not be a huge power, but they consider the site of their first moon landing to be quite significant, and this ship is not about to stand by and let it become a Romulan junkyard!” Bain said.
“Sir, we’re being hailed,” Tovar reported.
“By the satellites?” Bain asked surprised.
“By Admiral Larkin,” Tovar said.
“Oh. Well that’s different then. I was starting to get a bit worried it was those satellites. The last thing I want is another blasted evolved machine intelligence to deal with. Ask the Admiral to hold on half a tic, then I’ll get right to her.”
“Are you sure we shouldn’t ask for a whole tic?” Tovar replied.
“Tovar,” Bain said disapprovingly. That boy’s mouth seemed to have taken on a life of its own since the Yynsian had his Interloping life force removed.
“I have dealt with the admiral.”
“Thank you. Now then, are we ready, Doctor?” Bain asked, turning his attention to Dr. Natalia Kasyov, who was current running some last second figures at the science console.
“All set, Captain. Lieutenant Marsden reports that the engine room is ready.”
“Capital. Let’s get to it, then. Ensign Arroyo, move us into position and commence the crunch.”
The Anomaly sailed forward toward the approaching mass of satellites, then whipped around, taking up a position directly in front of the incoming devices.
“Extending warp field,” Kasyov reported. The Anomaly’s two nacelles glowed a brighter green as the ship’s warp field extended to encompass the cluster of space debris. “Contracting now,” she added a few moments later. On the Anomaly’s viewscreen, the cloud of debris moved closer and closer in, until the satellites were actually touching each other, then crushing each other, then pressing inward and inward until all that remained was one large ball of metal. “Latching on.” Kasyov activated the Anomaly’s tractor beam, which latched onto the synthetic asteroid.
“At your first convenience, Ensign,” Bain said. Arroyo pushed the ship into a steep dive. A few seconds later, Kasyov deactivated the beam, sending the metal clump off on a new course.
“That should do it,” Kasyov said. “In fifteen years, it will fall harmlessly into the CY-78 black hole.
“Smartly done,” Bain said, relaxing in his chair.
“Captain…” Tovar said.
“What is it, Tovar?”
“Krissers! Damn near forgot. On screen.”
The image on the screen quickly shifted from the starfield to Admiral Kristen Larkin’s unperturbed features. “I take it I commed at a bad time, Captain,” Larkin said placidly.
“Just a bit of a mess we had to clean up, Admiral,” Bain said.
“I am pleased to hear your assignment for the Plebuans was successful.”
“It wouldn’t be anything else.”
“I know you didn’t comm just to check up on this little mission,” Bain said. “Are we needed elsewhere?” Bain didn’t even try to hide his eagerness for another assignment. Now that the Anomaly was back in the Milky Way and back in perfect working order, Bain was anxious to show the galaxy what his ship was made of.
“We may have a situation developing in the Delta Quadrant, and the Anomaly is the only vessel that can reach the location fast enough to investigate in a timely manner,” Larkin said.
“What sort of situation?”
“Honestly, we are not sure. We recently lost both telemetry from and subspace contact with one of our LAP/TOPs.” The LAP/TOPs, or Listening Analysis Posts/Tactical Observation Posts, were small facilities established at points well away from Federation space to gather tactical and scientific data. Besides providing valuable information for starships heading out to explore these regions, the LAP/TOPs also gave Starfleet advance warning of possible hostile movements against Federation space.
Over the years as the Federation boundaries expanded into more and more of the galaxy, most of the LAP/TOPs were shut down or converted to strictly scientific outposts. The Delta Quadrant, however, due to the attitudes of many of the species residing there toward the Federation, remained one of the regions were LAP/TOPs were quite active.
“LAP/TOP 64 is located on the outskirts of BorgSpace,” Larkin continued. “However, considering the current state of the Borg, we cannot be certain that they are involved. We aren’t even certain that the outpost has experienced anything other than a mechanical problem.”
“Then we’d best find out,” Bain said. “We’ll anti-sing out there post haste.”
“I had no doubt that you would, Reginald. Good luck. Larkin out.”
“You heard the lady,” Bain said to Arroyo after Larkin closed the comm channel. “To LAP/TOP 64! Bain to Cabral. We’ll be needing the anti-sing drive now. Warp K.”
“I am ready, Captain,” Cabral’s voice replied over the comm system.
“I’ll be with Cabral,” Dr. Kasyov said, quickly heading toward the turbolift to see to her favorite brain.
“I don’t suppose we could avoid seeing the Borg,” Arroyo said.
“Chin up there, Arroyo,” Bain said confidently. “The Borg are no different than any other alien species out there. You just have to know how to deal with them, and in the Borg’s case that usually means giving them a swift kick in the arse.”
“And how long does it take them to adapt to an ‘arse kicking’?”
Bain smiled. “They haven’t yet.”
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 176085.4. I have the upmost respect and admiration for those officers who choose to serve at a LAP/TOP. The trip out there alone can take years, nothing like the 50 or 60 it would have taken a century ago, but it’s still a long voyage. Before the Anomaly, a situation like the one at LAP/TOP 64 would have been hopeless. All Command could do was wait and hope that somehow the outpost re-established contact. But now with anti-singularity drive, we can take action. Of course, what action we’ll end up taking will depend greatly on what we find when we arrive two days from now. In the meantime, I can relax and let Cabral work his magic.”
From her chair in front of the console she used to monitor Cabral, Dr. Kasyov eyed the black sphere of the Anomaly’s resident brain as the two sat alone in Science Lab Four.
“You seem preoccupied,” she said finally.
“Maintaining our speed while avoiding anything in our path is quite challenging,” Cabral replied. “This is far more difficult than the trip to Andromeda and back. At least there we could go straight without worrying about obstacles in the way.”
Kasyov considered this. “I really hadn’t thought of it that way.”
“Evidently.” Cabral was silent for several more seconds. “And there’s this small matter of the Borg.”
“Ah ha! I knew there was something else bothering you.”
“I really need to work on being more mysterious.”
The human scientist smiled. “It wouldn’t work. I’d figure you out anyway.”
“I don’t doubt it, but at least I would stay interesting to you for a while longer.”
Kasyov rose from her seat and stepped over to Cabral, running her hand along his housing. “You will always be interesting to me. Now tell me what’s bothering you about the Borg. Have they tried to assimilate you in the past?”
“It’s not me I’m worried about.”
“Me then?” Kasyov asked surprised.
“Undoubtedly, Captain Bain will send you down to investigate whatever has happened to this outpost. If the Borg are there, you’ll be right in their path. I’ve heard the stories.”
“Just relax, Cabral. We’ve come a long way since the days when the Borg could assimilate with impunity. The Collective isn’t what it used to be.”
“Even so, I wish I could be there to help,” Cabral said.
“You just want to keep an eye on me.”
“You do the same for me.”
“That I do,” Kasyov said. “And I’m going to continue to do so.”
Cabral went back to his work of maintaining the Anomaly’s speed as Kasyov slipped into her own thoughts. She knew he had to be going a bit stir crazy locked in this lab all the time. Of course, he did have complete access to the external sensor arrays, but Kasyov imagined that it wasn’t quite the same. She needed to find a way to broaden his horizons. The question was how.
“Cabral says we’re here,” Ensign Arroyo said from the helm as the Anomaly began to slow perceptibly. It was the first real thing Arroyo had had to do since the Anomaly first entered anti- sing two days earlier…not that Arroyo was complaining. There were certainly worse jobs than this in the cosmos.
“Tovar,” Bain said, barely tossing a glance over his shoulder from the command chair.
“Shields are up. Weapons primed and ready.”
Bain smiled. Now that was the Tovar he knew.
“Cabral’s fine,” Kasyov said, rushing out of the turbolift.
“Why wouldn’t he be?” Bain asked.
“Oh I see. He’s just a piece of machinery to you. Just another part of the engines.”
“Stand down, Doctor. You know bloody well I don’t feel that way.”
“Do I? I never see you down there talking to him.”
“My point exactly,” Kasyov snapped as she took her station. She quickly pored over the readouts while Arroyo steered the Anomaly, which had now safely exited anti-sing, into a geo- synchronous orbit above the small LAP/TOP outpost, which consisted of little more than three buildings, sensor arrays, and transmitters located on a small, Class M world. At least it used to. Bain could tell immediately from the images of the outpost that Kasyov was flashing across the viewscreen that the place had been slightly redecorated. The buildings were still there, but the sensors and transmitters were gone. Only clean marks of a cutting beam remained in their place.
“I hate to jump to any conclusions before you, Doctor, but that looks Borg to me,” Bain remarked.
“I’d have to agree,” Kasyov replied. “Especially since there are a large number of Borg signatures inside one of the buildings with what appears to be the outpost crew.”
“Any fighting going on?”
“No. They just seemed to have the crew surrounded.”
“Bloody hell,” Bain muttered. “Commander Prosak, take a team down and see about getting some answers.”
“Mister Tovar. Doctor Kasyov,” Prosak said, heading toward the turbolift.
“I’ll have Doctor Nooney meet you in the transporter room,” Bain called out just before the turbolift doors closed. He shifted in his command seat as his every nerve moved to an “on- edge” position. He didn’t like this, didn’t like it at all. Surrounding the crew he could understand, if he was right about which Borg were down there. But the missing technology just didn’t fit their modus operandi. For now, he’d just have to wait until Prosak reported in or something else happened up here. And Bain had a feeling it would be the latter rather than the former.
After the away team materialized inside the perimeter of LAP/TOP 64, Dr. Kasyov immediately realized that Dr. Fred Nooney, the Anomaly’s Chief Medical Officer, seemed to be even more giddy than usual. He had his medical quadcorder on in a flash looking for Borg.
“Should we be worried about this?” Kasyov asked, leaning over to Prosak.
“Considering the worst that could happen is that the Borg assimilate him, I would say no,” Prosak replied, drawing a laugh from Tovar, which in itself was also disconcerting. Bain was not the only one to notice the differences in Tovar’s personality since the removal of his Interloper.
Tovar locked his wrist phaser into position and activated Borg mode (i.e. a random phaser frequency generator). “Everybody ready?”
“Yes yes YES!” Nooney cried. “I’ve always wanted to see a Borg up close and personal.”
“Not to disappoint you, Fred, but I don’t think you’re going to get one naked,” Kasyov said. “Although, I have to admit being slightly curious to finally see how their neural interfaces for real rather than in a simulation.”
“Wait a second,” Tovar said. “How many of you have actually faced the Borg before?” Prosak started to raise her hand. “And not in a holopod.” Prosak’s hand quickly went back down.
Tovar rubbed his hand over his face. “Great. Fine. Perfect. Bain sends me down here with a bunch of amateurs.”
“Watch your tone, Lieutenant Commander,” Prosak said, emphasizing Tovar’s rank.
“All right. Let’s get this over with.”
“We’ll follow your lead, Tovar,” Prosak said. Actually, Prosak was more than happy to step aside an allow the experienced officer to take point on this assignment. It was only logical. And besides, Prosak wasn’t all that certain that a holopod simulation had prepared her for the true horror waiting for them inside the LAP/TOP’s main structure.
Tovar nodded his approval. “Just let me do the talking,” he said as he activated the door control and stepped inside, Nooney close on his heels. Kasyov chucked softly as she and Prosak entered the building.
“Doctor?” Prosak asked curious.
“I told Cabral that the Collective isn’t what it used to be. Guess I’m about to see if I was right.”
“That, Doctor, is going to very much depend on which Collective we’re dealing with,” Prosak replied.
The unmistakable shape of a Borg craft loomed large on the Anomaly’s viewscreen as Lieutenant Bre’zan Brazzell, who had taken over at tac-ops, kept tabs on the cube’s approach. “We can still run. Still run. Still run. Oh! No it’s too close.”
“I have no intention of running from these blighters,” Bain said determinedly. Bain took a closer look at the cube. Instead of the drab gray neo-industrial look of your standard, 24th century Borg cube, this one was covered with soft white paneling. “Particularly not THESE blighters,” Bain said disdainfully.
Through the ring of Borg surrounding his crew, Commander Borax, the LAP/TOP’s commanding officer spotted the approaching Anomaly away team. Considering how long he expected it to be until reinforcements arrived, the Krenim officer was more than surprised.
“WE’RE SAVED!” Borax cried, pointing excitedly.
As one, each and every of the thirty Borg in the room turned to face the newcomers.
“Shields,” Tovar said conversationally, touching the small metal collar around his neck he and the others had put on before leaving the ship. The soft tickling under his chin told him that the field was functioning properly. Neck Shielding was one of Starfleet’s key innovations allowing them to exploit a Borg weakness. Careful research had shown that Borg always grabbed their victims’ heads and jammed their assimilation tubules into their victims’ neck; therefore, Starfleet had the brilliant idea to make necks less accessible. Now, if a Borg tried to jam tubules into the neck of an officer wearing the Neck Shield, the tubules hit the field, sending a powerful blast of randomly modulated energy into the Borg’s inner workings, effectively frying the drone.
That technology, once shared with as many species as the Federation could contact, had helped severely cut down on the Borg’s APY (Assimilations Per Year) average. That combined with other technological advancements and socio-political turmoil inside the Collective itself concerning the true meaning of “perfection” and other issues, had led to some big changes for the Borg Collective. Actually, it had led to several different collectives, each with a slightly different philosophy.
Some of these Collectives were still quite dangerous. While others, well, others were more of a nuisance.
As Tovar looked around at the white exoskeletons of the Borg in front of him, he knew he definitely was dealing with the nuisance variety.
“Welcome, seekers of perfection,” the Borg said serenely, their group voice echoing through the LAP/TOP recreation room where the crew had been cornered. “Your path to enlightenment awaits.”
“We’re not interested,” Tovar said.
“We are many who have found peace as one. Join us and know that peace,” the Borg chanted.
“Thanks, but I have enough peace in my life,” Tovar replied, pushing past the Borg to Commander Borax.
“Join us. Join us.”
“It’s been like this for almost a week,” Borax said tiredly. “We’re scared to sleep. They just keep staring at us. If we hadn’t managed to find an old replicator and get it up and running, I think some of us would have given in days ago just to get them to shut up.”
“But that wouldn’t shut them up,” Tovar replied. “They would now be in your head. Is anyone injured?”
“No, but…” Borax shuddered. “You have to get us out of here!”
“Nooney, go talk to the Borg,” Prosak ordered, as she and Kasyov pushed through to join Tovar. “When did they attack, Commander?”
“They didn’t,” Borax replied.
“I didn’t think so,” Tovar said. “White Borg don’t attack. They just annoy.”
“Oooh! Tell me more!” he heard Nooney’s voice exclaimed as the Borg near here were explaining all of the spiritual benefits of assimilation.
Kasyov sighed. “I guess I should save him from himself,” she muttered, heading back over to Nooney.
“This surgical removal of technology is more like pre- faction Collective tactics,” Tovar said concerned. “If the factions are reuniting…”
“They were green,” Borax said. “I know that for sure. They swooped in, ransacked the place, taking almost everything, even our escape ship, then they left. The White Borg swooped in a day later.”
“They sensed souls in need,” Prosak commented drily.
“That also doesn’t make sense,” Tovar said. “Green Borg may salvage and scavenge, but they’ve never been known to outright steal.”
“Times change,” the Krenim observed.
The pale white corridors of the White Borg cube visible on the viewscreen were starting to give Bain a headache. Either that or maybe it was that serene synthesizer music playing in the background. Or maybe it was just the White Borg themselves.
“Listen here, you right bastards, I do NOT want to be assimilated!” Bain said angrily.
“Your anger shows that you need enlightenment,” the White Borg group voice replied calmly. “Lower you shields, and one of our missionary teams will beam over to start you on your way.”
At least, the White Borg asked your permission before assimilating you, not that Bain had any intention on granting them permission. “I don’t want…”
“AHHH!” Brazzell screamed suddenly.
“Has the light dawned?” the Borg asked eagerly.
“More Borg!” Brazzell cried.
“With enlightenment comes safety,” the White Borg offered helpfully. “We could have your entire crew assimilated in no time.”
“We’ll have to get back to you,” Bain said quickly. He spun around to face Brazzell. “Who? Where?”
Brazzell shifted the image on the viewscreen to show a Borg sphere-ship racing toward their position. A fiery red sphere- ship to be exact.
“Bloody hell,” Bain muttered as he watched the incoming threat. “Mr. Arroyo, are you familiar with Red Borg assault tactics?”
“What’s to know? They charge; we run.” The Red Borg had come to the conclusion that the way to perfection was to wipe out every other species in the galaxy as violently as possible. To that end, the Red Borg Collective had become a group of single- minded drones that locked onto and attacked every non-Borg ship they detected.
“Good man,” Bain said. “Let’s get to it.”
Arroyo quickly activated the Anomaly’s polaron drive, steered the ship around the white cube looming directly ahead of them, and sent the ship surging forward. The Red Borg sphere, meanwhile, continued charging at the Anomaly, completely unconcerned about the White Borg cube directly in its path…
…so unconcerned, in fact, that it smashed right through the cube, boring a gaping hole from the cube’s front to rear face, then blasted out the other side.
“Now I bet they found that en-‘lighten’-ing,” Bain remarked with a chuckle. No one else laughed. “They’re lighter now, so they’ve been en-‘lighten’-ed. Do you get it?”
“Better luck next time, sir,” Arroyo said, holding the Anomaly on a steady course toward the star system’s sun.
“The sphere is closing fast,” Brazzell said urgently.
“I certainly hope so,” Bain said. “Steady, Ensign.”
Brazzell switched the viewscreen to split-screen mode, displaying the approaching sun and the closing Red Borg.
“Steady…steady…steady…steady…NOW!” Bain exclaimed, grabbing onto his seat.
Arroyo tapped furiously on the helm, sending the Anomaly into a quick dive and slamming on the brakes. The Anomaly jerked to a halt just below the Red Borg sphere, which streaked overhead and straight into the sun before it realized its target was no longer where it was supposed to be.
“If those buggers ever get any sense, they’ll be dangerous,” Bain said. “Get us back to the LAP/TOP, Arroyo.”
“On our way.”
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 176088.3. Upon returning to LAP/TOP 64, we contacted the away team and learned that the attack there seems to have been perpetrated by Green Borg. I am in full agreement with Lieutenant Commander Tovar that this is highly unusual behavior for the Greens, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t seeing the beginnings of a new behavior pattern from this Collective.
To investigate this possibility, we’ve retrieved the away team and set a course for a known Green Borg flea market located in this sector. In the meantime, Lieutenant Marsden and an engineering team have remained at the LAP/TOP to try and stabilize the situation there.
The White Borg at LAP/TOP 64 were called back to their cube after it was severely damaged by the Red Borg sphere. I assume that they are starting repairs, but we haven’t seen any signs that the new tunnel through their ship is closing. And believe me, we’ve been watching, since the cube has been trailing us all the way to the flea market and sending a continuous stream of comms offering to assimilate us to enlightenment. We’ve respectfully declined.”
Ensign Arroyo’s stomach had gone from slightly anxious to full-blown nausea as the Anomaly dropped out of warp to approach the planet holding the Green Borg flea market, better known as the Green Borg Collective Of Bargains.
Several ships of various designs orbited the world, but all of these were dwarfed by the twenty or so Borg cube ships sitting in place above the planet. The cubes were what had Arroyo ready to run for the nearest toilet. The Borg holo-documentaries from the Academy alone had been enough to give him nightmares, but now he was here, really here, in the midst of enough Borg to assimilate them all many times over.
Yet Captain Bain looked totally nonplused. If anything, the whole situation seemed to have him more annoyed than anything else.
“I suppose we’re going shopping, Kassie,” Bain said to Dr. Kasyov as he rose from his command chair. “You have the conn, Commander.”
“You do not wish me to lead this away team?” Prosak asked slightly-insulted.
“No offense intended, Prosak, but I’ve been to a few of these in my time. If you aren’t careful, these Green Borg will sell you real estate in a black hole. Completely without scruples. Coming, Tovar?”
“Absolutely,” Tovar said eagerly. “The weapons table at the last one of these we went to was amazing!”
“Anything you want me to look for while I’m there, Commander?” Kasyov asked.
Prosak thought for a moment. “Well…I have been wanting a holovid of the 25th century performance by the D’Ceti ballet of Squid Lake.”
“I’ll keep my eyes open,” Kasyov said, heading toward the turbolift behind Bain and Tovar.
The Green Borg were really the victims of a plan put in motion by the Ferengi well over a century earlier. Planning ahead and seeing literally trillions of potential customers, as the Ferengi Commerce Authority was prone to do, the Ferengi had sent an unmanned ship hurtling into the Delta Quadrant with one and only goal: get captured by the Borg.
Knowing that the Borg would want to add the ship’s technological distinctiveness to the collective (and to make doubly sure of this, the Ferengi had added a few special gizmos to the ship. Now, most people didn’t need an anti-matter powered ear wax removal system, but the Ferengi were pretty damn sure that the Borg had never seen one before), the Ferengi had implanted a cleverly-designed worm into much of the ship’s software.
The Borg were familiar with software worms. Hell, every space-going species with half a brain had tried to develop some kind of computer program to bring down the Collective, but the Ferengi worm slipped through the Borg defenses for the simple reason that it was not designed to harm the Borg in any way, shape, or form. Instead, as it slowly spread (it couldn’t hit every Borg at once because that would have called too much attention to its existence), more and more cubes suddenly realized the value of commerce.
By the time of the Great Factioning, those Borg affected by the Ferengi worm broke off on their own to form the Green Borg. They even went so far as to send a message to Ferenginar requesting that a Ferengi come to lead them. Of course, by the time any of this happened, Ferengi society had altered a bit itself, but that’s a story for another time.
What all of this boils down to is that the Green Borg pursued the philosophy of “Perfection Through Profit” (they had this slogan emblazoned on several banners inside the Green Borg Collective of Bargains), and to this end they opened one of the largest flea markets the universe had ever seen here on this planet that was once the home of some species that had been completely assimilated long ago.
Bain and company materialized inside this structure as aliens from dozens of different species milled about, looking over the wares the Green Borg had to offer. Most of it was Borg surplus or equipment salvaged from some old starships captured by the Borg years ago. Some particularly industrious Green Borg had attempted to develop new products using Borg know-how, and actually they had made a quite successful foray into the world of gardening. Of course, traditionalists such as Captain Bain had no intention of letting a bunch of nanoprobes run loose in their soil.
“Let’s stay within sight of each other,” Bain said. “Doctor, scan for Starfleet technology.”
“From this century, I presume,” Kasyov said.
“True enough. There’s bound to be enough of the older stuff around. Tovar and I will listen for scuttlebutt. If the Green Borg have changed their business model, someone here will be talking about it.
The group passed under a “Resisting Our Prices Is Futile!” banner and moved off to survey the lay of the land. Tovar quickly spotted a table containing alien weaponry and broke off from the group. Bain found a promising kiosk of various odds and ends, leaving Kasyov alone in the middle of the aisle. As unobtrusively as possible, she unwound her quadcorder, but rather than putting it on her head, she strapped it around her arm and set it to vibrate if it picked up any Starfleet signatures.
Then a table caught her eye. Holovids and lots of them. With little to do until the quadcorder finished its scan, Kasyov wandered over on the off chance that the Borg would have an interest in “Squid Lake.” Personally, Kasyov would rather pass. She didn’t mind disembodied brains, but aliens with tentacles just freaked her out. Maybe it was all those calamari rings her brother had practically force fed her when they were kids.
Pushing that aside, Kasyov began browsing through the various holovids (all obviously bootlegs recorded by the Borg over the centuries; although, judging by the titles, someone took a real liking to “The Adventures of the Silly Shiny Starship.”).
One of the Green Borg manning the table stepped over to Kasyov. “This drone is ready to comply with all of your audio- visual needs.”
“Um…right,” Kasyov said as the green-exoskeletoned Borg stared back at her blankly. “Do you have ‘Squid Lake’?”
“This merchandising subcollective carries several versions. What species designation?”
“Species 10376. Affirmative. Do you require a specific time period?”
“I will retrieve the requested item. Please continue to browse our wide assortment of holovids, remote cameras, and other merchandise.”
“Thanks. I’ll do that,” Kasyov said, somewhat relieved as the drone turned its ocular implant away from her and moved off on its appointed task. She strolled along the table, looking over more of the holovid titles until she reached a section holding various holocameras, projection units, and holoemitters.
“Finding anything interesting?” Tovar’s voice asked from behind her.
“Just waiting for Prosak’s vid,” Kasyov replied. “How about you? Anything new in the Wonderful World of Weaponry?”
“There were a couple of Hirogen sniper rifles I wouldn’t mind having, but I restrained myself. I may go back if I don’t find anything else, though.”
“Well, the holoporn is down there,” Kasyov said, pointing down the table.
“Why would I want that?” Tovar asked defensively.
“I’m a doctor, Tovar. I know what’s going on. You’re free of the Interloper. You’re a new person. And now you’re going to try to catch up on all the fun you missed while you weren’t quite you while you try and figure out who you are now.”
“So that’s your professional diagnosis?”
“Yeah,” Kasyov said. She stopped, peering at the Yynsian’s cranium. “By the way, can I look at your brain?”
“I haven’t done much work on Yynsians, and studying one recovering from an Interloper is quite an opportunity.”
“Won’t Cabral be jealous?” Tovar asked with a smirk.
“I’m looking for something for him right now,” Kasyov replied, picking up one of the remote cameras. “The poor brain never gets to leave the ship.”
Tovar nodded as Kasyov handed the remote camera to the Borg salesdrone across the table from her. “His sphere does tend to make mobility a problem, especially since he’s once again tied himself into all of the ship’s systems.”
“Oh dear,” Kasyov said mockingly. “Does that make your little security officer stomach queasy?”
Tovar’s eyes narrowed.
“Relax!” Kasyov said with a laugh as the drone handed a payment padd across to her.
“Will that be credits, latinum, dekells, or will you be providing this subcollective with new drones?”
“Credits,” Kasyov replied, typing in the commands to complete the transaction. She turned back to Tovar. “Cabral is just going to love this camera. Once Shelly and I get it tuned to his neural frequencies, it will be almost like taking him on away missions with us!”
“As long as it keeps him happy running the anti-sing. I’m all for it,” Tovar said somewhat distractedly. Captain Bain was on his way over shaking his head.
“I don’t care if they do bring my eating experience to a whole new level, I am not using nanoprobes as seasoning. Work directly on your taste buds, indeed. Sure they do. Right before they assimilate your tongue,” Bain groused.
Kasyov took her package from the salesdrone. “Not enjoying your shopping experience, Captain?”
“Well, I did find a nice planter for my petunias, but they won’t sell it to me without their blasted nano-enhanced soil. Any luck with the scan?”
Kasyov ducked her head down as though she was trying to get something out of her eye and looking into the quadcorder’s eye piece. “Nothing here. We need to move down to the other end of the complex, though, to be sure. This place is so huge, the quadcorder can’t take it all in at once.”
“Right then. Off we go,” Bain said, charging off down the aisle, almost taking out several other patrons as he did so.
Honestly, you can only be petrified for so long before the feeling sort of wears off. So despite the fact that on the viewscreen in front of him were numerous Borg cubes, any one of which could effectively end his existence, Ensign Hector Arroyo had slipped into something of a relaxed state.
Of course, it also helped that he had pre-programmed an emergency “Get the Hell Out of Here!!!” flight path into the helm that could be activated with the mere slam of his fist on the console.
Meanwhile at tac-ops, Lieutenant Brazzell found himself unable to look away from the image of the White Borg cube hovering behind the Anomaly. Despite the fact that the damage to their ship had occurred almost a day ago, the White Borg still hadn’t even started to close the gaping hole through their ship. It was quite an eyesore, it allowed Brazzell to see the horrible mess inside of the cube, and, worst of all, the hole was surrounded by all kinds of frayed edges. Borg or no, Brazzell had this incredible urge to just beam over there and start cleaning. Somebody had to because it was woefully obvious that the White Borg weren’t taking any action.
However, being the dedicated officer he was, Brazzell resisted the urge. Of course, it helped that he was also suddenly distracted by a flashing from his console.
“We’re being scanned!” he exclaimed. “Oh what they must think of us! This ship is a mess!”
“Who’s scanning us?” Arroyo snapped, breaking through Brazzell’s babble.
“It’s Borg! I don’t know from which cube.”
“Arroyo to Prosak,” the ensign said. Commander Prosak had adjourned to her quarters in Bain’s former ready room to keep the White Borg busy, so they’d stop comming constantly. Besides, she felt that explaining to the White Borg why she had no interest in being assimilated would be a wonderful test of her logic and debating skills.
“Prosak here,” the RommaVulc first officer’s voice said crisply over the comm system.
“You may want to get out here. We’re being scanned.”
“On my way,” Prosak replied quickly. A moment later, she rushed out onto the bridge. “Your timing was excellent, Ensign. The White Borg had almost debated me into a corner. I saw no logical alternative but to beam over and be assimilated.”
“No offense, Commander, but sometimes you just have to say no,” Arroyo said.
Prosak thought for a moment. “Possibly, but then they could have countered with the classic, ‘Why not?’”
“Nothing. Just because.”
“Interesting. I had no idea you were so skilled in the art of debate, Ensign.”
“I learned it from my three-year old twin cousins,” Arroyo replied with a smile.
“Excuse me!” Brazzell said impatiently. “But we are STILL being scanned!”
Prosak turned her attention to the Mezzakkan manning tac- ops. “Have you had any luck located the source?”
“It’s one of those cubes,” Brazzell replied. “And no I don’t know what they’re scanning for!”
“How very helpful.”
Down in Science Lab Four, Cabral was starting to get an idea of what the Anomaly was being scanned for. Actually, he hadn’t been paying much attention to anything outside of his sphere for a while as he waited for Kasyov to return from the Green Borg Collective of Bargains, but he attention was pulled outward as he was gripped by an all-too-familiar and unwelcome feeling.
A transporter was locking onto him.
“Cabral to bridge!” he said quickly. “HELP!!!”
And back on the bridge…
“What’s his problem?” Brazzell said irritated.
Prosak, however, put two and two together with a quickness that surprised her.
“AHHH!” Brazzell cried, slapping his hands frantically against his console. By some miracle, he actually hit the control to activate the Anomaly’s shields.
Just as quickly as it had grabbed Cabral, the transporter beam relinquished its grip, leaving him safely back in Science Lab Four.
“Thank you, Commander,” he said, a bit shaken. After his experience with the Associates in Andromeda, the thought of anyone beaming him off of the Anomaly made him understandably nervous.
“I am relieved that nothing happened to you.”
“Who did that?” Cabral asked; although, he was fairly sure he knew the answer…at least in generic terms.
“The Green Borg as far as well can tell. If I can trouble you to stay on the line, I’ll contact Captain Bain.”
Prosak nodded at Brazzell, who was already in the process of hailing Bain.
“Bain here,” the captain’s voice said over the comm system.
“We’ve just had a disturbing incident up here, sir,” Prosak reported. “The Green Borg just tried to beam Cabral off of the ship.”
“WHAT THE YVOT?” Prosak heard Dr. Kasyov’s voice shout in the background.
“I’m fine, Natalia,” Cabral said.
“Brazzell, switch us to a conference comm,” Prosak ordered. Brazzell tapped a control, putting everyone onto the same comm. “There. Much better.”
“I’m going to rip out every one of their implants,” Kasyov seethed.
“Calm down, Natalia,” Cabral said.
“This doesn’t make a blasted bit of sense,” Bain said. “A little theft I might believe, but kidnapping? That’s well beyond the Green Borg’s business purview.”
“Maybe they’re branching out?” Prosak offered.
“Not if Reginald Bain has anything to say about it! Cabral, old boy, you can rest assured that nothing like this is going to happen again.”
“Thank you, Captain, but there’s no need to start a war with the Green Borg,” Cabral said.
“War? Who said anything about a war? I’m going to speak to the Manager! Bain out.”
True to his word, Captain Bain headed straight to the turbolift leading to the Manager’s Suite up above the main floor of the Green Borg Collective of Bargains. Desiring to be good merchants, the Green Borg took requests to see the Manager, their equivalent of a Queen, quite seriously, but most shoppers had no desire to ascend to the Manager’s Office. That was mostly because the “Office” looked like a traditional Borg Queen’s chamber, complete with eerie lighting, dense fog, and flashing strobes, all of which, while pointless, had done wonders to scare the hell out of other species in the galaxy.
Bain and Tovar, however, were not intimidated in the slightest. They’d never met the Green Borg Manager face to face, but they’d dealt with him over a comm channel a couple of years earlier during a dispute over an uninhabited M Class planet in the Vilnyus system. The Federation had planned to put a colony there, but the Green Borg had earmarked the site for their new Green Borg Outpost of Outlets. Bain and the Manager held long negotiations over subspace, but the whole matter became moot when it turned out that the Dillon Consortium had swooped in and started construction on an upscale shopping/luxury condominium community right under the noses of the Federation and the Borg. With construction underway, the Dillon Consortium had staked a legitimate claim, leaving Bain and the Manager with nothing else to negotiate.
Dr. Kasyov, meanwhile, was far too upset to be intimidated by some cheesy haunted house effects. She was much more interested in dismantling whomever had just tried to snatch Cabral away from her.
Bain, Tovar, and Kasyov were escorted into the Manager’s Office by the Manager’s Tertiary Administrative Assistant just as the Manager himself lowered into the room from his regeneration chamber above. The Manager had once been a down-on-his-luck Talaxian traveling salesman who ran into the Green Borg soon after they learned that the Ferengi would not be sending anyone to lead them. Seeing that the Talaxian obviously had some sort of economic experience, the Green Borg offered him the Manager’s job. After considering the pros and cons of the position (Almost eternal life and limitless power vs. being assimilated), the Talaxian accepted.
“Captain Reginald Bain…Lieutenant Tovar. USS Maladventure,” the Manager said, looking over the newcomers with his coal black eyes. Dr. Kasyov made a mental note that Borgification did absolutely nothing to improve the warthog-esque looks of Talaxians.
“Tovar’s been promoted to Lieutenant Commander, and we’re with the USS Anomaly now, but I’m still the same old Bain,” Captain Bain said, extending his hand for the Manager to shake. “How are you doing, old boy? Keeping busy?”
The Manager hesitantly extended his hand to Bain, who shook it vigorously, so vigorously in fact that the Manager felt something in his mechanical arm come out of place.
“I am keeping quite busy,” the Manager said. Viewscreens around the room suddenly flared to life, displaying various feeds from cameras around the Collective of Bargains and other Green Borg sales facilities across the quadrant. “However, profits have grown 3% this quarter.”
“You’re getting closer to perfection everyday then,” Bain said with a grin. Kasyov was barely holding in her growing annoyance. Get to the point, Bain! However, she realized that he’d dealt with these Green Borg before and probably knew what he was doing…probably.
“Seeing as how I am so busy, is there something I can help you with, Captain?” the Manager asked.
“I guess you deduced this wasn’t a social call.”
“I am Borg. We do not receive many visitors.”
A voice deep down in Tovar’s consciousness muttered something about revamping the decor, but Tovar ignored it.
“Truth be told, we’re here concerning a theft at one of our outposts. All the evidence points to some of your folks.”
“Green Borg do not steal,” the Manager said firmly. “We’re a legitimate business.”
“Oh yeah? What about all of those parts from assimilated ships on sale out there?” Kasyov demanded.
“The crews are now Borg, so the ship now belongs to the Borg. What is the problem?” the Manager asked confused.
“What about Cabral?” Kasyov snapped.
“What is Cabral?” the Manager asked.
“One of my crew,” Bain said. “It seems that somebody tried to steal him as well.”
“Where is the profit in that?”
“Cabral’s a tad unique. Big brain in a black sphere. We’ve had trouble before with people snagging the fellow.”
“My drones have nothing to do with these incidents,” the Manager said.
“Why do I sense a ‘but’ coming?” Kasyov asked.
The Manager sighed and shook his head. “Recently, a subcollective rather abruptly evicted me from their dataspace. While they assured me that they had no intention of forming a new Collective of their own, they did say that they planned to pilot some alternative management strategies.”
“Theft and attempted-kidnapping seem to be their alternatives,” Tovar said.
“Where are they now?” Bain asked.
The Manager looked through his various viewscreens. “I do not know. I cannot sense them.”
“They have to be around. They just went after Cabral,” Kasyov insisted.
The Manager pointed at a screen showing several cubes over the planet. “Fine. You tell me which one they are.”
“Bloody cubes all look the same to me,” Bain said.
“Exactly! I can’t even keep my loyal drones straight. Are you 303 of 512, or 312 of 503? Who knows? Who cares? This was easier when I was selling plumbing supplies!” The Manager threw up his hands in frustration.
“Right. Well. We’ll just let you get back to it then,” Bain said, backing toward the exit. “If you ever visit Earth, you’ll have to drop by for supper and meet the missus.”
The Manager nodded distractedly as he watched a group of Kazon teenagers enter the Collective of Bargains on one of the monitors. Bunch of hoodlums.
After calling for beam out, which was accomplished by lowering the Anomaly’s shields for just a split second, Bain, Kasyov, and Tovar headed straight to Science Lab Four to confer with Cabral…and show him the new remote camera Kasyov had purchased for him.
“That’s wonderful, Natalia!” Cabral exclaimed happily after Kasyov showed him the device. “Now you can film all of your away missions for me.”
“This is for a bit more than that,” Kasyov said. “Once Shelly and I get done with it, you’ll have a direct neural link with the camera controls.”
“From what Kassie tells me, it’ll have anti-grav capabilities,” Bain added.
“Just think of it as an extension of you.”
“That sounds very appealing,” Cabral said. “No offense to you, dear Doctor, but did you have any luck tracking down who tried to take me?”
“Other than the fact that they’re Green Borg, not really,” Kasyov said apologetically.
“But whoever did this also has the equipment from LAP/TOP 64. I’m sure of it, and to prove it Tovar and I will search each and every one of these cubes ourselves if we have to!” Bain said, causing the Yynsian to shoot him a glare that clearly indicated Bain was alone in that sentiment.
“I don’t think you’ll need to go that far, Captain,” Cabral said. “I may have an idea how to draw the perpetrators out.”
“I’m not going to like this, am I?” Kasyov asked.
“I really don’t like this,” Dr. Kasyov grumbled from the science station on the bridge as the Anomaly prepared to put Cabral’s plan into action.
“Steady there, Doctor. Everything is going to work splendidly,” Bain replied confidently as he sat in the command chair seeming infuriatingly relaxed.
“Lieutenant Commander Tovar and Cabral report ready,” Lt. Brazzell said. “And Commander Prosak once again has the White Borg occupied.”
“Good. The last thing we need is those buggers comming in the middle of this. Look sharp, people. We may end up angering a real beehive here.”
“I’m ready to flee on a second’s notice,” Ensign Arroyo said.
“I usually prefer the term ‘strategic withdrawal,’ Ensign,” Bain said to his helm officer.
“You say tomato…”
Bain smiled slightly, then shifted back to full command mode. “On my mark. Three…two…lower shields.”
“Shields are down,” Brazzell reported.
“Scanning,” Kasyov said.
“Here fishy fishy fishy,” Bain chanted softly.
From his housing in Science Lab Four, Cabral monitored the activity up on the bridge. With the Anomaly’s shields down, he was effectively exposed to whomever might want to make another attempt to steal him…which is exactly what he hoped would happen.
He didn’t have to wait long. Not five minutes after Bain ordered the shields lowered, Cabral felt a transporter locking onto him again. But this time he was ready. Cabral activated the transport inhibitor field Kasyov and Lieutenant Polnuc from Engineering had just rigged around his sphere.
“Bridge, they have made contact,” Cabral said.
“I’m tracing now,” Kasyov said. “Just hold on, honey!”
Hopefully the rogue Green Borg responsible for this would make a couple more tries, giving Kasyov the chance to pinpoint their cube. Of course, Cabral’s real hope was that the Green Borg wouldn’t find a way to get around the transport inhibitor in the process.
No such luck. Four Green Borg drones materialized in the science lab mere meters away from his position. Without a word, they began to advance on him. Left unmolested, they would have the transport inhibitor field down in seconds. Unfortunately for them, Cabral had prepared for just such an eventuality.
Before the Green Borg drones made it two steps, the science lab doors slid open, and Tovar charged in followed by a six officer security team. The drones never even had time to turn around to face the newcomers before they were all blasted with several well-placed shots from the security team’s wrist phasers.
“My compliments on your aim,” Cabral said.
Tovar nodded. “And this was a lot more fun than a holopod simulation, too. Maybe they’ll send more!” The Yynsian seemed way too eager about that last statement. Cabral was about to say something to that effect when ten more drones materialized in the room.
“Scatter!” Tovar shouted, blasting two of the new arrivals as he and the team zig-zagged around the mostly empty lab. Unfortunately, Cabral and the console Kasyov used for monitoring him were really the only two spots of cover in the room. Not wanting to draw fire that way, though, Tovar raced along the opposite wall, firing as he went. Frankly, he couldn’t imagine how Borg encounters were even survivable in the old days of having to manually readjust your phaser frequency after every shot. Wrist phasers, like every phaser model in the last 100 years, had built in randomizers that did all the work, leaving Starfleet Officers free to worry about just hitting their targets.
Speaking of targets, another fifteen had just beamed into the room, making the science lab rather crowded. Three of Tovar’s security officers had already been grabbed and only escaped assimilation because of their neck shields. The Green Borg who’d tried it were currently quivering on the floor after taking some nasty shocks through their tubules.
“Tovar to bridge. Are we going to be getting the shields back up soon? It’s getting ugly down here!”
Bain looked over at Kasyov, who was deep into her scans. “You’re going to have to hold them back for a little bit longer, it seems.”
“Got them!” Kasyov exclaimed suddenly. “It’s the cube at coordinates…wait…it’s on the move.”
“Where to?” Bain asked.
“Right at us!” Brazzell exclaimed. Bain’s head whipped back to the viewscreen as a massive Green Borg cube charged at them.
“Shields up! Arroyo!”
“Going!” Arroyo replied, his hands flying across the console as the Anomaly rocked under the first blast from the cube’s weapons. Brazzell had literally gotten the shields up just in time.
“Return fire,” Bain said. The Anomaly jolted again.
“Shields down to 85 percent,” Brazzell reported. “And I’m not sure our shot knocked theirs down much at all.”
“Captain, I’m reading several Starfleet energy signatures aboard that cube,” Kasyov said. “I think it’s the equipment from the LAP/TOP.”
“Should we ask for it back now?” Arroyo asked grimly as another jolt almost catapulted him out of his seat.
“Shields at 65 percent…and we have a big spill on deck eight,” Brazzell said. “I’m sending a cleaning crew immediately!”
The ship bucked again, tossing the bridge crew violently to port as the lights flickered.
“Ensign Arroyo, I think it’s time for some new evasive maneuvers,” Bain said rather conversationally considering that they were currently getting the crap pounded out of them.
“Why aren’t the other Green Borg helping us?” Kasyov said angrily. “We’re helping them out, too!”
“They don’t like to get involved with combat. It’s bad for business,” Bain said.
“Then what are we supposed to do against that thing? You can’t very well pull out the heavy artillery with so many other ships around.”
“You make a good point, Doctor,” Bain said, gripping his armrests as Arroyo narrow dodged another attempt by the rogue Green Borg cube to lock on a tractor beam. “It may be time for us to withdraw. Now that we’ve identified the guilty parties, maybe the Manager can impose some sort of economic sanctions. Of course, I’d prefer to come back with a fleet and give the bastards a good what for!”
“They’re right on top of us!” Brazzell screamed.
“On it,” Arroyo said, pushing the ship faster and weaving in and out of ships as he went into a tight loop around the planet. The rogue Green Borg cube matched him move for move, closing the gap quickly and continuous trying to lock on with the tractor beam.
“Come on,” Arroyo said. “A little closer.”
“You want them closer?!?” Brazzell shouted.
“Just relax, Lieutenant,” Bain said. “The ensign obviously has something up his sleeve.”
“I’ll believe that when I…”
Brazzell trailed off as the saw the damaged White Borg cube suddenly come into view directly in front of them as the Anomaly whipped around the planet.
“AHHHHH!” Brazzell cried, shielding his eyes just before the impact…
…which never came.
Arroyo piloted the ship right through the massive hole in the center of the cube, missing the walls by mere feet as the ship sped by White Borg drones working on repairs at a serenely mellow pace.
The Green Borg cube was not so lucky. Hot on the Anomaly’s trail, it sped around the planet of the Collective of Bargains and slammed right into the White Borg ship, obliterating both vessels in a massive fireball just as the Anomaly sailed out of the opposite end of the White Borg ship.
“Bloody brilliant!” Bain exclaimed proudly, smacking his fist down on the armrest of his chair.
“That’s the way we play this game,” Arroyo said sounding a bit more smug than he felt. Honestly, he was surprised that little maneuver had worked, but it’d seemed like a good idea at the time.
Prosak charged out onto the bridge a split second later. “Who cut off my…” Her eyes fell on the viewscreen, which was currently displaying the debris field spreading behind the Anomaly. “Oh. Was that…?”
“Yes, it was,” Bain said. “Nice work distracting them.”
“As much as I hate to see such a loss of life, I have to admit to being somewhat relieved.”
“Did they talk you into getting assimilated again?” Arroyo asked.
“Well…yes,” Prosak replied weakly.
The turbolift doors opened, allowing Tovar to stroll out onto the bridge. His hair was a complete wreck, and several near misses had scorched his uniform, but he seemed to otherwise be unharmed.
“The science lab’s now the Borg Morgue, but we got them all,” he said. He turned to Kasyov. “And Cabral’s fine. He took out a few himself.”
“He’d better not have so much as a singe mark on him,” Kasyov warned just before she stormed into the turbolift.
Bain clapped his hands together loudly. “Right. That’s that then. Let’s see about wrapping this up, shall we?”
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 176090.7. The Green Borg Manager was quite relieved to hear that we resolved his little problem with the rogues, and he offered us a pretty penny for salvage rights to the pile of dead drones in Science Lab Four. The White Borg were a tad miffed about the destruction of their cube (at least I think they were miffed. It’s hard to tell, since they’re so blasted serene all the time), but the Manager also appeased them by giving them their own table at the Collective of Bargains where they can try to recruit new assimilatees.
We actually managed to salvage a surprising amount of LAP/TOP 64’s equipment from the debris field of the destroyed rogue cube, which will undoubtedly please Commander Borax a great deal. Lieutenant Marsden was able to rig together a make- shift transmitter for the interim, and contacted us a few hours ago to check on our progress. My suspicion is that the woman was getting a trifle stir crazy stuck there at the LAP/TOP. Well, we’ll more than take care of that when we return with all this equipment that will need to be reinstalled.”
Lieutenant Shelly Marsden was walking a bit like a Borg drone herself as she lumbered into the mess hall, which the holochef had chosen to turn into a 1950’s style diner on this particular evening.
“Marsie!” Captain Bain called from a round table at the center of the room as he waved her way. “Come join us!”
Bain’s table-mates, Lieutenant Commander Tovar, Commander Prosak, and Ensign Arroyo, scooted around enough to give Marsden room to collapse into an empty red cushioned chair. She did just that and leaned against the polished metal tubing of the chair back.
“Are we home yet?” she mumbled.
“On our way,” Bain said. “My compliments, Marsie. You did a bang-up job getting the LAP/TOP ship-shape again.”
Marsden nodded, barely managing to keep control of her head. “Between that and helping Natalia out with Cabral’s camera, I’m beat. I just need some food before I slip off somewhere to fall into a coma.”
“Do it somewhere where Nooney can’t find you,” Arroyo said. “That’d be an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.”
“I’ll be careful,” Marsden said, just as a holowaiter bopped over, dressed from head to toe in white, complete with white paper hat.
“What can I get you?” he asked.
Marsden looked around the room. “What kind of place is this again?”
“You want a hamburger and fries,” Arroyo said.
“And the chocolate milkshakes are really good,” Tovar said. As evidence, two metal shake containers sat on the table in front of him completely drained.
“I would have to agree. Chocolate is the logical choice over vanilla,” Prosak added.
“You’re going to have to explain that logic to me sometime, Commander,” Arroyo said.
“Have you decided?” the holowaiter asked.
“Yeah. What they said,” Marsden said with a tired wave of her hand.
“And there’s the good doctor now,” Bain said cheerfully, looking past Marsden at the mess hall doors, which had just opened.
“Oh no,” Tovar, Arroyo, Prosak, and Marsden said in unison, reflexively tensing up.
“Wrong doctor, chums,” Bain said, pointing as Doctor Kasyov entered the room, cradling a bundled up blanket in her arms. Spotting Bain and the others, she immediately headed over to their table.
“Do you have room for two more?” she asked.
“Two?” Prosak said confused.
“Yes. Me…” She pulled the blanket away from her arm, revealing a small black sphere with a lens mounted in the front. The sphere lifted up into the air and hovered over the center of the table. “…and Cabral,” Kasyov finished smiling broadly.
“Good show!” Bain said. “Can you hear me, old boy?”
“Loud and clear, Captain,” Cabral’s voice said from a small speaker mounted in the mini-sphere. “I hope I won’t be intruding.”
“Absolutely not,” Bain replied warmly. “Pull up some air.”