Author: Brendan Chris
Lt. Josh Shurgroe wrapped his arms around his body and shivered. When he’d been assigned the position of D-DoS, Director of the Department of Shipbuilding for Starbase 341, he’s naturally assumed that he’d be spending a lot of time in the shipyards. What he didn’t realize was that one, after more than half a year they still had only two shipyards actually operating and two, most of the hands-on work was done by Major Dekaire and Major Bown. This left him with the choice of either sitting in the almost empty Shipbuilding Operations center in the DoS tower, or helping Lt. Wyer with Department of Maintenance Operations duties in the Haven Command Complex.
Both of which, of course, were located Downtown. A tram ride, a walk, several flights of ornate stairs and a turbolift jaunt away. Followed by more stairs.
As he sat in the otherwise empty tram, Shurgroe shivered again. It was still winter in the city, with a foot of snow coating almost everything. Automated bots cleared the snow from streets, tram tracks and sidewalks, however there weren’t many residents to appreciate it. Cold winds continued to whip between the skyscrapers and the entire surface of the lake had frozen solid.
The tram crossed over one of the bridges leading Downtown, giving Shurgroe a view of the hockey rink the Jungle Squad had cleared near the beach. Matrian Hockey was a far cry from the Terran version, but for some reason the civil security team liked to set aside their loincloths and beads and dress up in heavy winter gear long enough to pummel the crap out of each other on the ice. (What Shurgroe didn’t know was that Matrian Hockey was largely an excuse for the team to spend more time in the Matrian equivalent of a bubbling hot Jacuzzi.)
Maybe he should consider joining the team, Shurgroe mused. His posting to Haven, first overwhelming him with the sheer scope of learning to build ships in an alien facility, was turning into boring drudgery. With nothing to do on the shipbuilding side, he filled his days by helping Wyer with the D-DoMO duties that should have been taken care of by the missing Lt Cmdr Virgii. He wandered the city, playing with Matrian technology, digging around the computer systems and generally making sure he understood how things worked. His evenings were…dull, to say the least. Even his model-building had been stopped after two of his models damaged the city.
The tram eased to a halt in the Transit Hub. Shurgroe got to his feet, stepped onto the platform and walked slowly towards the glass-enclosed staircase that would take him to the Command Tower lobby.
“I’m sick of winter,” Captain Elizabeth Simplot mused, leaning over the railing on the lower level of Ops. “I want to feel the sun on my skin. I want to lie on the beach, and listen to the sound of the waves crashing against the sand. And I want a sexy waiter with a six-pack to serve me drinks while I’m doing it,”
“The Jungle Squad…er…the Civil Protection Team has requested that we extend winter another two months,” Colonel Abela replied dully from the second level. She’d tuned one of the big screens to the security feed from Shipyard Three and was watching as dozens of construction bots re-attached the hull plating to a Federation starship undergoing refurbishment.
“Screw that,” Simplot grumbled, “What’s wrong with those people? They’re from a tropical island! They should be wandering around in giant, fuzzy parkas freezing their butts off!”
“Most of them had never seen snow before,” Abela shrugged.
“If you’re really that glum, you could take a vacation down on the planet,” Lt. Wyer said helpfully from the Dome Operations pulpit, “Matria Prime does have several resorts…and we’re far enough past the Qu’Eh invasion that some of them are actually doing good business,”
“No, then I’d just have to come back to this,” Simplot sighed.
The turbolift doors opened and Lt. Shurgroe stepped into Ops.
“Hi, Captain,” he said glumly.
“Hi, Josh,” Simplot replied in the same tone. They looked at each other for a moment, sighed, then Simplot turned back to her musings as Shurgroe ascended to the command deck.
Abela couldn’t exactly blame them. Despite her best efforts, Haven was still a ghost town. She’d held dozens of discussions with the government, all of them coming down to the exact same thing: There was no point in moving residents to Haven unless there were jobs for them. And with the shipyards mostly shut down, there were none. Abela, of course, replied that they should USE the frickin’ SHIPYARDS already, especially since Matria’s existing facilities were running full time. The government, in turn, replied that they didn’t currently have the mineral resources to support more shipyards. And so on, and so forth. Even the existing merchants on board were starting to grumble, as the current shipbuilders and Starfleet skeleton crew were barely enough to keep their businesses afloat.
Needless to say, the mood aboard Haven was getting grim.
Doctor Janet Annerson had a spring in her step as she stepped out of the turbolift and into Ops. The oldest of the USS Stallion crew to have been reassigned to Starbase 341, she was ‘comfortably middle-aged’. She was also non-human, though it didn’t necessarily reflect in her name.
“Hi everybody!” she said cheerfully, “Guess what!?”
“What,” came the chorus of dull replies.
“Geez, what happened, did somebody die?” Annerson shook her head, “No, of course not. I would have had to do the autopsy!”
“What’s up, Janet?” Simplot asked tiredly.
“Now that we’ve got the Hummingbird ready to start regular runs between here and Waystation, my husbands and sons are finally moving here!” Annerson exclaimed.
“Oh yeah…I keep forgetting you’re married…with children,” Simplot smiled politely.
“How else do you think I learned how to handle people like Josh?” Annerson teased.
“Meh,” Shurgroe grumbled.
“You guys are REALLY down in the dumps today,” Annerson was starting to look concerned, “I bet it’s this weather. We need some sunshine and warm air. Or I can just prescribe free happy pills for everybody!”
“I’m sure once we get Haven’s population up, we’ll all feel better,” Abela said.
“Well yes, a sense of community would probably help,” Annerson nodded, “Also…when’s the last time any of you had sexual relations?”
Shurgroe, Simplot, Abela, Wyer, Fisset and the rest of the Matrian day staff exchanged uncomfortable glances.
“Not with each other,” Annerson clarified.
“Oh thank Goddess,” Fisset breathed, going back to work.
“Please, we all know you nailed Stoneryder at least once,” Abela sneered.
“There. Aren’t you feeling better already? And all I had to do was mention sex once!” Annerson beamed.
“That just makes me feel worse,” Shurgroe looked even more downcast, “I can’t even remember the last time,”
“We need something to cheer you people up,” Annerson decided, “Like a weekend at a resort, or a nice evening out, or a-“
“Quantum anomaly,” Fisset spoke up, her panel beeping.
“Is that a drink?”
“No, there’s a quantum anomaly forming one million kilometres from here, towards Matria IV!” Fisset said.
“On screen…I mean, on window…whatever!” Simplot snapped.
One of the big windows looking out into space shifted, zooming in on a region of space. There was a flicker of light, a blur of motion, then a Hummingbird-class ship appeared.
“Hey!” Fisset perked up, “I recognize that ship! It’s the Roadrunner! They’re back!”
“Yay,” Simplot stood, “That means I have to deal with that pompous British bastard again,”
“Starbase 341 this is the USS Roadrunner, Acting Captain Tyler Virgii speaking,” the familiar, officious voice came over the comm.
“Captain,” Simplot tried to sound pleased, “On behalf of all of us, congratulations on a safe return to Fed-“
“Shut up and listen to me, woman!” Virgii cut her off, “Our science officer’s magical powers have driven her mad, the Borg are getting into a war with the United Federation of Fungus, Crewman Billings was turned into a toad and there’s a Borg cube right behind us!”
Simplot and Abela blinked, then exchanged looks.
“Shurgroe, lock a tractor beam on the Roadrunner and bring it into a docking port. Annerson, I want Lt Comdr Virgii brought in for a full psychological assessment,” Simplot said, stepping into a turbolift, “I’m going down to MoM’s. Does anybody want a coffee?”
“Decaf, cream and sugar, please,” Wyer called.
“Regular for me,” Fisset replied, “But hold off on the water beetles,
“Same, but with the water beetles for me, please,” Abela said.
“I will never understand why you people think that bugs in coffee is an acceptable thing.” Simplot shook her head.
“THERE IS A BORG SHIP FOLLOWING US!” Virgii screamed on the screen.
“Yes, yes,” Abela said. “I’ll make sure we have a docking bay ready for your Borg friends,”
“Somebody sure craves attention,” Wyer commented.
“DIDN’T YOU HEAR ME??” Virgii roared at the tiny image on his screen, the bridge of the Roadrunner almost shaking, “I SAID THERE’S A BORG CUBE RIGHT BEHIND US!”
“I heard you,” the shapely Matrian woman on the screen said to him, “I’ve never heard of these ‘Borg’. Will their ship fit in a docking bay, or do we need to pull the packing wrap out of another docking port foyer?
“The Borg!” Virgii snapped, “The most deadly enemy the Federation has ever faced! Thousands of ships, trillions of drones, a collective hive-mind with the knowledge of thousands of species!”
“It’s in your ‘So, You Want To Be A Starfleet Officer’ study package,” the Yynsian in the background told the Matrian woman.
“I’m still reading up on the Q,” the Matrian told him.
“You must prepare the defences!” Virgii went on, “The Borg may have been infested by the Federation of Fungus!”
“Federation of Planets,” the same Yynsian corrected him.
“NO! Fungus! The same Fungaloid race that was hunting us because we had a magical Lupressa-thing on board!”
“You know,” Laarthi said to Boxer, “I was annoyed at first that they weren’t taking us seriously. But now I completely understand,”
The ship shook, then began moving.
“The starbase has us in a tractor beam,” Boxer reported.
“I was planning on docking us anyway,” Ensign Mulans said calmly from the helm, “Oh well. Makes my job easier,” With that, he put his boots up on the helm and laced his fingers behind his back.
“YOU…YOU…” Virgii fumed.
Then he disappeared in a shower of transporter sparks.
“Continue docking procedure,” Laarthi said, slipping into the command chair without missing a beat, “And Ops, we really are serious when we say there’s a Borg cube on the way,”
In the background, the Yynsian spun around on his chair so fast he fell to the ground. The other Starfleet officer on the screen, this one with odd patterns shaved into his head, likewise jumped to his feet.
“WHAT???” he exclaimed.
“Yup. I know Virgii sounds like a maniac, but he’s actually telling the truth.” Laarthi tapped the comm panel, “Roadrunner out,”
Virgii materialized in one of the high-security, sub-Command Tower transporter rooms and was immediately set upon by Dr. Annerson and her two nurses. Captain Simplot watched from behind them, thoroughly enjoying the scene. Virgii had royally pissed her off the last time they’d met…watching Annerson getting him into a wrestling hold was proving thoroughly enjoyable.
“YOUR CAREER IS OVER, YOU STUPID WENCH!” Virgii yelled in her direction as Annerson and the nurses tried to restrain him. He was STRONG! “THE BORG WILL ASSIMILATE THE MATRIANS! Or maybe infest them. Either way, THEY’RE BUGGERED!”
“You just relax,” Simplot said cattily, “These nice people will take you somewhere where you can relax until Admiral Wagner can send a counselor to…evaluate you. He’s really anxious to see you again, after you dumped him in the Galactic Core for a few days,”
At that, Virgii’s eyes widened in panic and his struggles were renewed.
“SEDATE HIM!” Annerson barked, “Give the Shurgroe-strength stuff, I don’t think neurozine is going to cut it!”
One of the nurses managed to get an arm free long enough to grab the indicated hypo. Virgii lunged, managing to smack it out of her hands and down to the blue-carpeted deck. He dove down, taking all three of the medical personnel with him. There was a struggling mass of bodies, the sound of a hypospray going off, then Virgii was on his feet…Annerson and one of her nurses remaining motionless on the deck.
“If you can’t take proper charge of this situation, then I shall!” Virgii announced loudly, slamming the hypo against Simplot’s arm before the captain could react.
Virgii ran out the doors and into the steel paneled corridor outside. As Simplot collapsed to the deck, she faintly heard her comm-badge going off.
“Ops to Simplot. Um…it turns out we really DO have a Borg cube on the way. Captain? Captain???”
“I hate that man,” Simplot muttered as her world went dark.
Virgii ran through the corridors of Haven’s high-security levels before he realized he had no idea where he was or where he was going. He tried to think back on what he knew of the city from his visit a few months ago, but realized that since he didn’t know where the transporter rooms where, he could be anywhere in that massive structure.
“Computer!” he barked, “Where am I?”
“Please follow the lighted indicators. They will lead you to your specified destination,” a cold, contemptuous voice said. A wall panel next to him started blinking cheerfully….leading absolutely nowhere.
“Very funny!” Virgii snapped, “Show me how to get to Ops!”
“How pathetic,” the voice seemed to sigh, “One moment. Voiceprint recognizes Lt Cmdr Tyler Virgii, Director of Maintenance Operations. Security level 1. Reported as missing in action. Welcome back,” this last practically oozes disdain and sarcasm.
“Let’s get on with it, unless you want your cybernetic guts chewed up by the Borg!”
“Calm yourself,” the computer replied, “and proceed to Stairway 4. From there, you must ascend to Level Three of the Transit Hub and proceed to a crossover bridge,”
“Just shut up and walk me through it!”
“Don’t blame ME for your limitations,” the computer sniffed.
The second the Roadrunner had docked, Laarthi and Boxer beamed themselves directly to the Command Complex.
“-USS Montreal and USS Vendome can be here in two days,” the Yynsian officer was saying, “They’re on patrol near the borders. The Montreal is near Qu’Eh space, and the Vendome is in the opposite direction, near…well, we’re not sure what’s out there. That’s why they’re patrolling it.”
“Two days?” the man with the shaven hair pattern, Shurgroe, as they recalled, looked panicked, “The Borg will eat us for lunch way before that!”
“Those are only Excelsior-class ships anyway,” the Yynsian went on, “They don’t exactly have a great track record against the Borg.”
“I’m afraid things are a bit more complicated than the standard Borg attack,” Laarthi said, getting right to business. Before she could continue, the comm went off.
“Simplot…Simplot to bridge. That stupid British guy overpowered us in the transporter room! I don’t know where he went!”
“Uh-oh,” Boxer said softly, “Who wants to bet he’s coming up here to try to take charge of everything?”
“He can try,” Colonel Abela said sharply, obviously overhearing.
“Ma’am,” Laarthi said, her tone polite. (This one was of her new bosses, after all, and she desperately wanted a better supervisor than Virgii had been!) “Lt Cmdr Virgii can be very…stubborn,”
“He’s still a Starfleet officer,” Abela said smugly, “Which means, I know his weakness,”
Laarthi was going to ask what she meant by that when the turbolift doors on the lower level hissed open, releasing a flood of profanity.
“Bollocks! More blasted stairs? Who the hell designed this nightmarish contraption??”
Shurgroe, Boxer and Laarthi looked down between two control pulpits and saw Virgii climbing to the second level, one arm pulling at the railing. Sweat was beading on his forehead, his face was red and he was breathing heavily. Abela gave them a smug look, then turned to face the ascending officer with her arms crossed.
“I am Captain Tyler Virgii of the Federation Starship Roadrunner!” he declared between breaths, “And I am…phew…I am taking command of this station immediately!”
“Acting Captain,” Laarthi corrected him casually.
“And since you seem to have arrived safely back in Matrian…Federation space,” Abela grudgingly corrected herself, “You’re no longer a captain, acting or otherwise. You are the Director of the Department of Maintenance Operations. So go sit at the DoMO station and prepare to receive orders,”
“I will do no such thing!” Virgii snapped, hauling himself up to the command deck, “I was in command when we came across the Borg and the Fungaloids! Therefore I am in command of this situation!”
“No, that means this situation is your fault, and you should probably be court-martialled,” Lt. Wyer said calmly, “Not to mention that you apparently assaulted our Captain and Doctor.”
“We can do this the old-fashioned way if you like!” Virgii snapped at Abela, going into a fighting stance, “But I am in command here!”
“Oh please,” Abela rolled her eyes in a very human gesture, “You do realize that on Matria Prime the women are the combative sex, right?”
“I don’t care how much genetic enhancing you’ve had, I shall best you!”
“Um,” Wyer turned to Virgii and raised a finger.
“Shut it, Lieutenant!” Virgii snapped.
“Your funeral,” Wyer sighed.
“Shall we?” Virgii said, egging Abela on.
“If we must,” Abela shrugged.
“I am totally going to kill him,” Simplot fumed as she and Annerson rode the turbolift to Ops, “Assaulting us both! I have SUCH a headache!”
“Yeah, that’s more from the antidote than the sedative,” Annerson said quietly, one hand massaging her temple.
The doors slid open and Simplot stormed out, up to the second level, along the curved walkway, then up to the command deck.
“OK, fire up the internal sensors!” she barked as she climbed the last few steps, “I want to find the bastard that shot us up with… oh…”
Virgii was face-down on the deck, one cheek pressed against the cool stone floor. Abela was straddling his back, her feet intertwined in his and the veins in her forearms standing out as she pinned his arms behind him.
“I tried to tell you,” Wyer said mildly, “It was the Matrian men that were enhanced. The women have always been the fighters. And Colonel Abela was active for the first decade of the Gender Wars and is a highly trained combat expert,”
“Ow,” Virgii said softly.
“Now, are you going to behave?” Abela demanded. She looked at Simplot, “Or can we lock him up? Oh! Or better yet! A whipping!”
“Maybe later,” Simplot said thoughtfully, “But if there really IS a Borg cube on the way,”
“There is,” Boxer said helpfully.
“Then we’re going to need him,” she looked at the two other Roadrunner officer, “All of them. It’s a bit late, but welcome to Starbase 341. I hope you’ll enjoy your assignments here, now that you’ve finally arrived,”
“Do we have a late policy that covers MIA for nine months?” Shurgroe asked Fissett.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” she shrugged.
The next hour was a scramble. Strobnick and Fisset had huddled over the science pulpit and determined that the cube should have arrived ten minutes before the Roadrunner. Boxer had voiced the hopeful opinion that maybe the cube hadn’t made it, or that maybe it had turned around to go home.
Nobody really believed in his ideas.
The Roadrunner crew spilled out of their ship into the city, this time feeling relatively confident that they were home for good as opposed to the brief visit they’d had several months ago. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time for anybody to celebrate.
“More…more…more…” Laarthi was saying to Crewman Thebridge, “OK! Hold it! Let me get these connected!”
“My arms is getting tired!” Thebridge warned her as he strained to hold a nutation modulator in place against one of Haven’s many shield generators.
“We don’t have time for antigrav!” Laarthi snapped as she attached the Federation device to the Matrian generator, “And unless you want the Borg to drain our shields in under ten seconds, we’ve got to get all these generators modified!”
“Goodies,” Thebridge sighed.
Up in the command center, Simplot, Abela and…grudgingly Virgii were gathered around the holo-table, planning strategy. A communications link with a Borg specialist at Starfleet Command had been opened, and a hologram of the blond woman’s grim face was hovering above the table. Queen Anselia was likewise linked in from her office down on the planet.
“Their first priority will be to eliminate your defences,” the Starfleet specialist said in a crisp, clear voice that left little room for argument, “They are likely to avoid destroying your ships outright, but only when they calculate that the probable potential of the ship to cause further damage outweighs the potential gains in new drones, technologies and materials. Your orbital habitat is likely to be a prime target for assimilation. I suggest you evacuate immediately.”
“Well…we only have a skeleton crew anyway,” Simplot shrugged, “Hey, is that a Borg implant around your eye?”
“None of your business,” the woman replied, “Now, Starfleet has determined that dispatching ships to your location is ill-advised. At maximum warp, they would reach your planet one week after the Borg completed their assimilation of the population.”
“What about this super-fast drive that Starfleet’s been working on?” Abela demanded, “You could have ships here in days with that!”
“We have no QS-capable ships at this time,” the specialist replied, “The technology is too dangerous to mount on existing ships, and the third Hummingbird-class vessel will not be ready for some time,”
“You can’t just leave us undefended!” Queen Anselia insisted.
“Your Highness,” a small amount of emotion seemed to creep into the woman’s expression, “The Borg are the greatest threat the Federation has ever faced, representing not only the destruction of our way of life, but the absorption of our very bodies and identities into the Collective. We have several possible strategies that we will transmit to you, but you must understand that this is an enemy that successfully destroyed thousands of cultures. If they cannot be stopped before they begin assimilating your planet, there will be little the Federation will be able to do.”
“We still haven’t talked about the Fungaloids!” Virgii broke into the conversation, “They were infesting the Borg! And being assimilated. And un-assimilated! And…and…they were putting up a great fight!”
“Is that crazy guy still going on about mushroom-people, Seven?” a voice asked in the background. “We assumed your report on the Fungaloids was some sort of…sad joke. Or a pathetic plea for attention,” the woman admitted.
“Now see here-“
“However, as we have no information on them, we cannot be of assistance in that manner. Now, I suggest you send what ships you can to intercept the cube and attempt to lure them away from the planet using your orbital habitat. At the very least, that will buy you time to finish modifying your shields and weapons to the specifications we sent.”
“This is a city, not bait!” Abela exclaimed.
“I must return to work,” Seven said calmly. The channel closed.
“I agree with Miss Seven,” Queen Anselia said without pre-amble. “If Haven can draw these mechanical zombie-people away from our planet, it must be done. We will have Admiral Verithi deploy ships to assist you, and I assume you will use your two Federation ships as well,”
“What about the one we’re rebuilding?” Simplot asked, turning to a dark-haired man with Captain’s pips standing off to the side.
“Silverado is still in pieces,” he said, “Her engines haven’t even been re-installed yet!”
“Fine. Then you and your officers will command the Hummingbird, while Virgii and his people take the Roadrunner,” Simplot decided.
“Yes, ma’am,” Stafford nodded, then turned to leave. As he moved down the stairs he glanced out the lower windows at the sheer forty or fifty storey drop below the command center.
“God, I hate this place,” he muttered.
“Bring the reactors to full power,” Abela ordered one of the Matrian crewman, “Ready the sub-light engines. I shall be in my office,”
She quickly ran down another set of stairs and into her second-level office.
“Keep scanning for that cube,” Simplot ordered Fisset, “And tell Wyer I want to know as soon as the shield modifications are done!”
“I have Lt. Laarthi handling that,”
“Whatever,” Simplot waved him off as she followed Abela.
Abela let the doors to her cramped office close behind her. She had a larger, more comfortable space further down the tower, but the situation called for her to be close to the command deck. She eased around her desk and sat, her eye drawn to the disc- shaped object sitting on her desk. Her terminal was still showing playback from the last Borg invasion of the Federation. She watched the round Federation ships bob, weave and explode. A huge ship soared into the picture, identical in design to the USS Medusa. The Medusa (actually the USS Banshee) had aided in the defeat of the Qu’Eh. She watched as over a dozen Federation ships concentrated their firepower on one small section of the Borg vessels hull until it exploded in a brilliant display of green fireworks.
Defeating them WAS possible. For a fully armed Federation fleet, commanded by a man who (according to the records) had extensive experience with the Borg. But for a Matrian fleet who’s only combat experience had been against a race of petty bureaucrats?
The doors hissed open and Simplot stepped in.
“Wow,” she said, looking down on Abela’s desk.
“I was going to ask Shurgroe to help me with it,” Abela said, gesturing at the object. It was the start of a scale model of Haven. She’d constructed the Outer Rim, the ‘ground’ of the city and the ring-shaped lake, but none of the buildings had been added yet, “He did amazing work on his other models. I thought this would make a nice fixture down in the Mall of Matria. Something to remind our citizens of how beautiful their home is.”
“It would,” Simplot’s throat tightened. Abela usually came across as so strong, confident and (let’s be honest) abrasive that Simplot often forgot that she was still a person. A two-hundred-plus year-old person who’d already watched her civilization be destroyed once, and was now on the verge of seeing it obliterated…permanently.
“I can’t help but think that without the Federation, the Borg probably wouldn’t have even noticed Matria Prime,” Abela said.
“They would have, eventually,”
“Eventually…when we would have been more prepared,”
“We don’t even know for sure that the cube is coming here,” Simplot said, “They were following the Roadrunner, but for all we know they’ve passed us and are on their way to invade Earth right now,”
“I suppose that’s reassuring,” Abela admitted.
“Look, if you…I mean, if you want some time to be with your husband before the shit hits the fan…”
“I really don’t have time for that,” Abela said, “In fact, I don’t have time to be sitting in here like some emotional little boy when there’s work to do,”
“He’ll appreciate it,” Simplot insisted, “I mean…if I was married, I’d want my husband to at least talk to me before we go into battle!”
“I suppose you’r right,” Abela admitted.
“Oh for…” Colonel Craigan rolled his eyes, “I swear, she’s turning more into a guy every day. I don’t have time for emotional baggage right now!”
Colonel Craigan, now a member of Matrian Intelligence, was in the small, clandestine Intelligence section, deep in Haven’s high-security area. Haven had a large Intelligence gathering and analysis section directly below the Command Tower. That huge chamber was largely deserted, however. And given the more secretive nature of Craigan’s position, working out of that facility would have drawn too much attention anyway.
“We’re still downloading strategies and possible procedures to use against the Borg from Starfleet Intelligence,” his assistant said, “You do have time for a…brief…personal moment,”
“Maybe, but SHE doesn’t!” Craigan fumed, “So far the master plan is ‘Fly Haven and several Matrian and tiny Federation ships right at the Borg cube and hope it doesn’t attack the planet’! That is unacceptable! And on top of that, the two Starfleet Int agents that were SUPPOSED to be helping us down here are too busy playing with shield generators to even make contact!”
“It IS a better use of their time…”
“This place is like a madhouse! How is it that after almost a year we’re not prepared for one invading ship!”
“Even if it is twice the size of the entire Qu’Eh fleet and armed with technologies the like of which our part of the galaxy has never seen?” his assistant pointed out.
Craigan frowned, the expression oddly comical on his petite, blond frame.
“Good point. I’m going to go visit my wife before we’re obliterated in a massive fireball of death,” he said, walking towards the exit.
Craigan and Abela met in the rotating rooftop restaurant of the Matrian Arms Hotel. OK, so the hotel wasn’t open, which meant that the restaurant was deserted and that they had to get their own drinks from the replicator. But Abela’s command codes had given them access to the huge, empty room at the top of the hotel. The restaurant’s transparent, domed ceiling was only a few dozen meters from the city dome itself, giving them a spectacular view of space and the planet. Abela tapped the controls behind the bar and the restaurant rotation mechanism hummed into motion. She and Craigan made themselves comfortable on a sofa near the perimeter of the room.
“Another day, another war?” Craigan asked softly as they sipped their drinks, looking out the window.
“It seems that way, doesn’t it,” Abela replied bitterly, “First ourselves, then the Qu’Eh, now these Borg things. I didn’t spend decades fighting a civil war and a century in suspended animation just to see our people ‘assimilated’, whatever that means,”
“It means,” Craigan replied, almost mechanically, “that the Borg will forcibly implant us with mechanical devices that will transform us into one of them. They will absorb our ships and technology, and use it to build more of their own. Our culture and knowledge will be added to their database, but since nobody but the Borg have access to it, we will essentially be dead as a civilization. Then they’ll-“
“Craigan, stop it!” Abela insisted, grabbing his hands and brining his attention back to her, “Don’t talk like that! The Qu’Eh implanted us with their stupid machines, and we beat them! We’ll beat these Borg, too!” She frowned, “And how do you know all of that??”
“Uh, it was in your Starfleet study guide,” Craigan said, thinking quickly, “I was bored.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes more. Abela knew that any second now, she might get a call from the command center that the Borg had been detected. (Craigan knew the same, except that his call would come from the MIT cell.
“Do you ever regret it?” Craigan asked softly.
“Giving it all…giving it all up,” he said.
Abela was suddenly pulled back in a wave of memories. Her parents, her siblings, the home where she’d grown up on the outskirts of the city that eventually became known as Matronus. Classmates, colleagues…the first squad she’d been in after joining the Matrian Defence Force. The thousands of people who had worked under her, transforming Haven from a pile of diagrams and dreams and into a giant, floating metropolis.
All of them…dead for more than a century. Lost to her, because she’d chosen to use stasis technology in a desperate bid to outlast the war.
And Craigan…her only constant companion through everything she’d gone through since the start of the Gender Wars. Craigan…whom she’d held captive all that time.
“Do you ever regret what I did to you?” she countered, trying to hold in her emotions.
“You mean ignoring the order for my execution?” Craigan asked.
Abela reached out and pulled him close as tears spilled down her cheeks.
They held each other for a few moments, refugees from a time and place long gone. They watched as the city spun around the planet. Matria Prime’s moons weren’t visible at the moment…in fact, all that was really visible at the moment was space debris. After the Gender Wars and the Qu’Eh invasion, one thing Matria Prime had plenty of was space debris.
With a sigh, Abela let Craigon go.
“I should get back up to the HCC,” she said, “Since the only plan we have seems to involve using the city as bait, I better see if we can’t figure out how to keep the Borg from turning this place into a massive pile of junk,”
Craigan’s eyes widened and he jumped from his seat.
“Junk!” he exclaimed. “That’s it! A massive pile of space junk!”
“What are you…” Abela’s expression slacked with realization. She slapped her comm-badge. “Shurgroe! Shurgroe! Dammit, Starfleet, get your skinny ass on the line!”
“All requests to initiate communications must include a sender and a recipient,” Madam’s derisive, condescending voice came on the line, “If you’re not going to use proper protocol, you can’t expect me to follow your commands,”
Abela squeezed her comm-badge until it started emitting a shrill, high-pitched squeal in protest.
“OK, OK, putting you through!” Madam squawked.
“Shurgroe here,” the voice of the gangly Starfleet engineer came through.
“Meet me in the HCC!” Abela ordered, “I have an idea!”
“Uh…I’m already here,” Shurgroe said, sounding confused.
“Then just…don’t go anywhere!”
Up in the HCC, Shurgroe shrugged as the channel closed.
“As I was saying,” Lt Laarthi continued, “our lack of manoeuvrability is going to make us a giant target. We will have to rely on the Roadrunner, the Hummingbird and the Matrian ships to draw fire away from the city long enough for the city’s weapons to have an effect,”
“We hope,” Boxer said, scratching his ear, “that if we focus enough firepower on specific points, we can cause the cube to fracture. Sort of like the last one that attacked Earth,”
“Sounds good,” Simplot said, standing near the railing with her arms crossed, “Except that to focus as many weapons as possible on the Borg ship, we’ve got to come at them head on, with the dome towards them. What happens if we get a breach and end up spending half the battle spinning like a frisbee because our atmosphere is fizzling out?”
“Get rid of it,” Abela’s voice cut through the room like a knife through butter. She had emerged from the turbolift and was climbing the stairs to the second level. “Initiate full emergency venting of the dome.”
“I…I…WHAT?” Wyer’s eyes were the size of dinner plates, “Uh…ma’am?”
“Yes, I’m with him,” Simplot asked, looking like Abela had just danced around the room in a tutu, “What?”
“We need to shed mass,” Abela replied smartly, “As much as possible…immediately. And atmosphere may not mass much, but the water in the lake does. Vent it. Now.”
Moving as through his console would burn him, Wyer started tapping in the commands. There was a distant ‘wooshing’ sound, then outside the windows/viewscreens they could see three trails of diffuse matter spiraling lazily towards the planet. The lake was largely frozen, but as the atmospheric pressure dropped it began to sublimate, as did the snow. Wyer adjusted the dome transparency, letting in more heat from the Matrian star, and within a minute the entire city was awash in water vapour. Even that began thinning as it was sucked out into space.
“It’s going to take a lot of work to replenish all of that,” Wyer said glumly.
“Let’s focus on the now, not the then,” Abela replied, “Now alter orbit to 0.4 eccentricity, major axis 6000km, 20 degree incline, argument of apogee of 12 degrees and a longitude of ascending node of 178.” She turned to Shurgroe, “Begin adjusting the energy transceiver to emit a graviton field. The procedure is in the computer banks,”
“Wow…open purse, remove balls,” Simplot muttered to herself. Louder, “And would you care to let the rest of us in on this plan?”
“We’re going to invite the Borg to a game of beach,” Abela said confidently.
Everybody stared at her.
“Beach?” Shurgroe asked.
“You know…with the stick? And the balls? And the pockets? That Terran game!”
“Oh…you mean pool,” Simplot corrected her.
“Whatever.” Abela looked out into the rapidly emptying dome.
“We’re going to toss a few million tons of space junk at them.”
A short time later, Lt Comdr Virgii was back in the command chair of the starship Roadrunner. Mulans was back at the helm, Laarthi was back at engineering, Boxer at tactical and Kods at science. Only Strobnick was absent, having flatly declared that he could contribute more from Starbase 341’s science labs than he could from the ship.
Outside the port window he could see their sister ship, the USS Hummingbird. Commanded by a Starfleet Captain whose ship was current undergoing renovations, the other ship was identical to the Roadrunner in every way. Well, except that it had had a nacelle chopped off and reattached. And unlike the Roadrunner, the lower quarter of its ring nacelle hadn’t been ripped off during an uncontrolled slipstream exit. Still, the two ships were approaching the site of the Roadrunner’s most recent exit from slipstream drive, under the assumption that the Borg would appear nearby.
“Strobnick,” Virgii said, tapping the comm panel on his chair to select the channel back to the starbase, “At what point can we safely say ‘Well bother, they must have turned back’?”
“We really don’t understand the upper or lower limits of transwarp drive and transwarp conduits,” Strobnick’s stuffy voice came back, “We assume there are limitations, or the Borg would be sending ships all over the universe. But considering the distances involved, they could show up now, or in five years,”
“Thank you for that highly specific and useful timeframe,” Virgii grumbled, “Very well. Mr Mulans, keep us a thousand kilometers from the expected arrival suite. Direct the Hummingbird to follow suit, leaving a sixty degree angle between us,”
There was a pause.
“The captain of the Hummingbird respectfully reminds you that he outranks you, and that he’ll place his ship according to his intent and strategic plan,” Mulans replied professionally.
“What did he really say?” Laarthi asked from the back.
“Uh…tell that British ass that I outrank him, and I’ll put my tiny little ship wherever the hell I want,” Mulans replied.
Laarthi and Boxer snickered. Virgii just fumed.
“I tried,” Mulans shrugged, turning back to his panel.
They were sitting there for only ten minutes when space in front of them rippled, a pale, bluish glow appearing then pulling back and swirling, like water going down a drain. From the roiling mass, a dark, cube-shaped ship appeared.
“Transwarp conduit!” Kods barked.
“Holy cat shit!” Boxer cursed, “A cube! A Borg cube! Here! IN OUR BACKYARD!”
“Confirmed,” Wyer spoke into the comm, both hands tapping at his control pulpit, “A Borg cube has dropped out of transwarp drive. Hummingbird-wing is moving to intercept. Cruiser-wing is moving in, with attack-wing and fighter-wing screening.”
Grouping the Matrian ships into wings based on their size and class made sense, but calling the two Starfleet tugs their own wing seemed like somebody’s idea of a sick joke.
Fissett tapped at her panel. The city was flying head-on towards the cube, it’s engines roaring as they pushed the red-line, towing the city’s deadly cargo. The cube appeared over the holo-table, rotating slowly.
There was an odd sizzling sound, then every window in Ops changed to viewscreen mode, each of them displaying the same image: the notorious Catwalk Cam (TM). The image did not show a captain, commander, or other person of interest. Instead it showed a vast open space inside the Borg vessel, with rack upon rack of regeneration alcoves lining the walls. Hundreds, possibly thousands of drones were visible. When the Borg spoke, they spoke in a chorused multi-voice that conveyed the sheer enormity of their hive mind.
“WE ARE THE BORG. LOWER YOUR SHIELDS AND…stop that at once! LOWER YOUR SHIELDS AND SURRENDER YOUR SHIPS. WE WILL…WE WILL ADD YOUR BIOLOGICAL AND TECHNOLOGICAL…resistance is futile! You will be assimilated! DISTINCTIVENESS TO OUR…error, biological contamination in sub-junction 4523. TO OUR OWN.”
“This doesn’t sound like the recording in my study guide,” Fissett said slowly.
“What’s that?” Wyer was pointing to one corner of the nearest window.
“Is that…is that a tentacle? Wailing the hell out of a drone?”
Sure enough, barely visible in the screen, a Borg drone seemed to be battling a large, waving, greenish tentacle.
“There’s another one,” Shurgroe pointed, “It’s…EWWW! That’s not right!”
The tentacle had just forced itself down the drone’s throat. The drone spasmed for a moment, then more tentacles emerged from its mouth, nose, ears and even eyes. Implants were plucked out, trailing wires and body fluids, but the empty holes in the drone’s flesh filled in with the same strange substance the tentacles were made of.
“YOUR CULTURE WILL ADAPT TO…ow…SERVICE US,” the multi-voice continued, even as two more drones were infested. In another corner of the screen, they could see three drones subduing one of their infested brethren. They disappeared in a transporter beam.
“RESISTANCE IS…RESISTANCE IS…”
The multi-voice paused.
“PLEASE HOLD,” it finished.
The channel went dark.
The cube hovered menacingly, now surrounded by the Matrian vessels and the two tiny Starfleet ships.
“FIRE!” Abela’s voice came over the comm.
The Roadrunner and the Hummingbird soared in, both ships unleashing phasers and photon torpedoes against the massive cube. A full kilometer on each side, the cube didn’t even seem to notice the two ships, barely a hundred meters long if you lined them up end to end. Several modern Matrian cruisers moved in, the larger, roughly cylindrical ships opening up with energy beams and torpedoes that were a couple of grades below Federation standard. Two groupings of the smaller attack vessels found in Haven danced around the cube, firing with Old Matrian weapons that were easily on par with any similarly-sized Federation phasers. Weapons were shifted to random frequencies, shield nutations were re-modulated and pretty much any tricks the Federation had come up to counter the Borg were pulled out of the metaphorical hat. After about five minutes of the ships blasting away, Wyer accessed their sensor telemetry and started analyzing.
“Their shields are down by ten percent,” he reported over the open comm channel, “No damage reported by any of our ships.”
“No damage…have they even FIRED on up???” Virgii demanded.
“Bloody strange. Hail the starbase!”
“I’m picking up scattered energy surges all over the cube,” Lt. Laarthi said, her image being relayed to one of the pulpit display screens in the Haven Command Center, “No signs that they’ve armed weapons, or recharged their shields!”
“Confirmed” Wyer added.
“Destroy them at once,” Queen Anselia ordered, her head displayed holographically on the central table.
“Negative,” replied the holographic head next to her, that of the Starfleet Special Advisor on the Borg, “This opportunity to obtain intelligence on the Borg cannot be ignored.”
“Starfleet agrees,” added the third head, that of Admiral Edward Tunney, “If you can further disable that cube…”
“But we have a kick-ass backup plan!” Simplot objected, “To blow them up! And save Matria Prime! And…y’know…for the happiness of fuzzy kittens…or whatever.”
“It is clear that this particular cube is experiencing difficulties of some kind,” Seven went on, “Likely related to the…fungal creatures…that Lt Cmdr Virgii reported. The Borg are vulnerable to biologically-based weapons; clearly it is in the interest of the Federation to learn how these creatures are able to resist the Borg,”
“Fine,” Simplot said, “Virgii, send a team to the cube,”
“Well I’m all the way back here!”
“Your goal should be to locate their vinculum,” Seven advised, “It is the key link between the cube and the Collective. You will not be able to destroy it, but if you can scramble their fractal subspace frequencies, they will be cut off from the Collective,”
“Yes, yes. I am quite certain I can handle this without issue,” Virgii stood behind Laarthi, his hands on his hips. Laarthi, her face visible only to the Haven crew, rolled her eyes. “After all,” Virgii went on, “Lt Laarthi and Lt Boxer have already been to a Borg base and another cube, what’s one more? I’m certain they’ll be just fine,”
Laarthi’s face shifted briefly into an expression of accusation, basically saying ‘This is all your fault’ to the HCC staff before cutting the channel.
“I hope they don’t get assimilated,” Simplot commented.
“I will ensure that your doctor is sent the latest in de-assimilation techniques,” Seven promised, “Starfleet out,”
Abela rose from her seat and moved quickly down the steps and into her office. With a quick gesture she transferred the transmission from Queen Anselia from Ops to her terminal.
“This Starfleet plan is unacceptable,” Abela and Anselia said at once.
“We are glad you see that,” Queen Anselia added after, “Of course, we cannot allow them to play games with a deadly enemy that sits within our solar system!”
“Then what shall we do?”
“Captain Simplot mentioned a backup plan,” Anselia prompted her.
“Yes,” Abela replied slowly, “We have implemented the first phase, however it will be two hours before we’re in a position to deploy it against the Borg,”
“If Simplot allows you to continue,”
Abela thought for a moment.
“She hasn’t stopped us yet,” she said slowly, “And she’s not an idiot.” She paused. “Well, OK, yes she actually IS an idiot,” she corrected herself, “But Simplot isn’t going throw our whole plan away just because Starfleet says so!”
“She’s sworn to obey them. As you are sworn to obey us,” Abela said royally, “In any case, we must ensure that steps are taken to destroy that cube. We will be deploying whatever assets We can to ensure this happens, with our without Starfleet approval. If all else fails, you will use your city to ram the cube, even if it means both will be destroyed,”
“I…I understand,” Abela said tightly.
Down in the Intelligence cell, Craigain watched the exchange between Abela and Anselia with interest. It wasn’t surprising that Anselia would pull out all the stops to destroy the Borg, even against the Federations instructions. The political fallout would be…well, nothing really. Nobody on the council would blame Matria for ignoring Starfleet and doing everything possible to destroy the Borg. The cost to Matria Prime would be one empty city…which was nothing compared to the billions that would die or be assimilated if that cube got its act together. At least as far as the government was concerned.
Craigan didn’t agree.
Blah blah, cultural investment, blah blah blah, artifact of the Old Matrians, blah blah. Yes, the city was important to his people. More so to Matrian intelligence, who saw it as a major asset.
But to his wife, it was everything. And to Craigan, it was the only place he’d known for two hundred years.
Around him he could hear the thrum of the city’s engines as they strained, working to push the city away from Matria Prime and towards the Borg threat, along with the deadly cargo they’d picked up in orbit of the planet. Even with the lake and most of the atmosphere in the dome vented, the extra mass meant that it would be hours before they reached their goal, assuming the cube didn’t move. And if the cube DID move, odds were the city wouldn’t be able to redirect their cargo quickly enough to compensate.
Which meant that the Starfleet goal of disabling the cube matched his goals perfectly. And, from the sounds of it, the Queen’s as well. No doubt even now orders were already making their way through the Intelligence chain of command to destroy the cube by any means necessary.
But to make sure that they could achieve that goal, AND that Matrian interests were served, somebody was going to have to get on that cube. Somebody that he could trust, and more than that, somebody that the Starfleeters being sent to that cube would be willing to work with.
Craigan strode quickly over to the equipment locker, grabbed several items, then proceeded to Docking Bay 10.
“Colonel, we have a…wait…no, sorry, never mind,” Lt. Fissett said, her fingers tapping at her control pulpit.
“What is it?” Simplot asked.
“I thought I saw a ship departing from Bay 10,” Fissett replied, “But I’m getting nothing now. Must have been a glitch,”
Glitch my ass, Abela thought herself, sensing the hands of Queen Anselia at work.
“Yes,” she said firmly, “Must have been,”
“Maintain course and speed, Lt. Wyer,” Simplot ordered, “But be ready to abort if Virgii’s people manage to disable that cube.
“Yes, ma’am,” Wyer replied.
Abela crossed her arms, casually looking over Wyer’s shoulder at the heading & velocity readouts.
“Steady as he goes, Mr. Wyer,” she said cooly.