Author: Maija Meneks
THE REJECT’S TABLE
Book Five of Five (5 of 5)
By Maija Meneks
with end material by Alan Decker
The Reject’s Table Concept by Anthony Butler and Alan Decker
Captain was staring intently at nothing; to the uninitiated, he appeared to be bored. To those, none of which were present, who could actually feel his state of mind, they would say he was in fact very bored. As the timeless night had worn on, the stories of the Federation captains had gone downhill from the already low starting point; drunkenness obviously played a role, but alcoholic drinks could only cover for part of the foolish display. Too bad the rest of the Federation wasn’t as inept, for assimilation would thence be relatively simple.
In the middle of a review of the list of “things to do” when he was finally allowed to return to his cube (top of the list was 279 of 300, assuming half the ship wasn’t a pile of smoking cinders), Captain nearly missed the question.
“Mr. Borg,” said Vorezze, almost daring to reach forward to tap Captain on the arm, “is it not your turn to tell a story? Are you even paying attention?”
Captain snapped out of his reverie, “Of course I have been paying attention. First captain Baxter related a tale of being a slave to his hormones, captain Rydell next described his more than likely unauthorized trek to recover a relatively minor crewman from an insane officer, then captain Beck told of her childhood adventures, and finally you muttered your way through an account of improbable planetary and stellar events.”
“Are you going to tell a story or not?” asked Beck sharply.
The four faces watched Captain intently.
“It all began over,” pause as a quick calculation was made, “twenty-seven Terran years ago, with myself as a newly assimilated drone. In my prior existence, I had been a young engineer on a tramp freighter, but that information is irrelevant, as is my species designation. That fateful cube swept in, and my life was radically changed.”
“Wait a minute,” interrupted Rydell. “Twenty-seven years? How old were you when the Borg got you?”
“That is not relevant.”
Irritated, Captain replied, “Twenty-three years old. Now if I can continue….”
“That makes you fifty, then!” chimed Baxter. “Shouldn’t you look a bit, well, wrinkled? Losing your hai…right, Borg are already bald, aren’t they? Anyway, you don’t look fifty.”
“Assimilation does wonders for the complexion; everyone should have a cosmetic adjustment with nanites. Hold still and I’ll give you a sample.”
“Er, never mind. Continue the story?”
“Yes…as I was saying…
“The Collective would rather this wasn’t general knowledge, but there are occasional glitches in the assimilation process. Millions are processed without a hitch, then one is screwed up. ‘Assimilation imperfection’ is the name, when individuality is not quite replaced by the Oneness of the Collective. This tends to cause problems in the Greater Consciousness, so it locks up deviant voices on Cube #347, an Exploratory-class ship.
“Now, I had been held in stasis for some time, waiting asleep for my transfer to Cube #347, as I had been discovered to be a glitch. I was originally slated to be assigned to the engineering hierarchy, but as the idiom goes, ‘Sh** Happens.’
“Cube #347 had recently lost a small number of drones due to a hull breech, which in turn had occurred when some of the crew had bet among themselves that each could drive the ship through an asteroid belt without shields. Among those lost was one of the Hierarchy of Eight, from which the Captains are drawn. Lucky me had the correct qualifications to be a replacement within the Eight, so I gained my primary designation of 4 of 8.
“If that wasn’t bad enough, the remaining seven flubbed their records, making sure that I was the drone up in the rotation for Captaincy the next assignment. Therefore, my first memories of being aboard Cube #347 is a massive download of my new position as Captain, what the duty entailed, some unhelpful hints and notes about the job, and directions for the task to be undertaken.
“I shall relate the details as best I can with this poor verbal method of communication, but without actually linking and experiencing the memory as a collective, there will be particulars I will be unable to explain in full.”
I was confused. I could remember my transfer to Cube #347, new designation of 4 of 8, and assignment to this particular alcove, but after that, all was darkness as stasis had been reinitiated. Even the brief memories that I did retain were clouded, as if I had only been half awake.
The silence on the ship was daunting; I was the only drone awake. All the others were asleep, their minds quietly drifting on the intranet of the cube. Not knowing what else to do, I reread the information which was in my active memory, the one addressed to the entity known as Captain.
“Assignment: Sub-collective of Cube #347 is to travel to system Epsilon 4a. Task: Recover memory crystals from computer belonging to species #431 (extinct in non-assimilated state) and return them to planet #27 for analysis. Relevant asteroid is marked with transponder.” A target frequency followed the body of the message.
I now realized my new temporary designation was Captain. I automatically released the clamps which held me in my alcove and stepped to the catwalk. I went to the railing, taking a long time to look first up, then down, seeing the seemingly endless rows of walkways with their attendant alcoves and machinery.
“Hello?” I tried, hearing the rusty croaking of an unused voice, one which now held the synthetic undertones of implant surgery. “Hello?” I paused as only an echo bounced back. “Echo?” The word faintly repeated before relative silence reigned again. “Okaaaay,” I commented to myself, “now what the hell do I do?”
Unless you are ever fortunate enough to become part of the Collective, you will never know the euphoric feeling to have the knowledge of over five thousand species at your call, or the ability to simply take a little nugget of data from the datastream to incorporate into your active memory. When I first asked myself a question, a virtual flood of information hit my mental senses, causing me to reel. Directions and protocols twirled in my mind; imperatives and notes warred for space. I now knew what to do. Instinctively I felt out, feeling the idling transwarp drives. In a way, I was, and am still (along with four thousand crewmates), my ship. The computer patiently waited for specific command codes on that day, which I gave. Cube #347 began to awake.
I swiftly realized that mine wasn’t the only named position. Several else also existed, acting as focal points for hierarchies within the command structure of the ship and functioning to keep everything running smoothly. A normal cube was of one mind when actions were taken; this one needed departments with heads to make sure the drones within didn’t wander off (mentally or physically) to pursue their own designs. The process didn’t always work, hence the reason I gained my job, but the method ran reasonably well.
There were six hierarchies in the cube, and seven positions to be filled. The first, command and control, was headed by Captain, and served not only to settle disputes and keep all running smoothly, but also dictated speed, heading, and other travel plans. A second-in-command, known as Second, had to be chosen by Captain for redundancy purposes. The second hierarchy was weaponry, headed by Weapons; the function was evident and the head chosen by lottery among the designated weapon drones. A third drone, Sensors, was also designated by lottery, and was in charge of sensor grids. Doctor and Assimilation were somewhat similar positions and were filled on a rotating basis, much like the command hierarchy; Doctor was drawn from the Group of 27 and Assimilation from the Group of 20. In charge of different parts of the drone life, Assimilation oversaw assimilation and prosthesis manufacturing, and Doctor personal maintenance. The Engineering hierarchy was the final department, headed by an engineering drone chosen by Captain. Not really having a clue of what to do next, but feeling the waking cube waiting expectantly, I called into the net, “Hierarchy heads report in.”
“What is all this stuff you are telling us about?” asked Rydell.
Replied Captain, “Everyone else gave a ‘set-up’, so I thought it prudent to do so as well. I could jump directly to the action, if you prefer, or if you are bored, but it would make absolutely no sense from your point of view.”
“Quiet, Peter Pan,” shushed Beck to Rydell before he could answer.
A jumble of voices and minds was the reply. I could only wince painfully at the sudden mental discord before shushing the babble. “Let’s try again. Start with Weapons.”
“Howdy Capt’n, this ol’ drone be 76 of 83, and I’ll be yer Weapons this assignment,” drawled a voice. Yes, it is possible to ‘hear’ a drawl within the nets. “I’m not much fer violence, ya gotta understand; I mostly work with Tractor Emitter #2, buuuut, the computer says my luck jus’ ran out.”
A second voice roared, “You be a pacifist weenie! You don’t even belong in the weapon hierarchy! 45 of 300 is Weapons! 45 of 300 is going to be Weapons!”
“Now wait jus’ a cotton pickin’ minute. Yer a new drone on this ship, jus’ come in with the other replacements like our new Capt’n here. Look at the protocols which govern the efficiency in our cube, and you’ll see I’m Weapons fair and square.”
The second voice, 45 of 300, who would still be known as Weapons twenty-seven years later, efficiently be damned, screamed again, “45 of 300 is Weapons!”
“Well, lookin’ at yer personal history here, we can see why you got shuffled off to Cube #347, now can’t we? Get with the picture, you ain’t Weapons, I am.”
As the two drones argued with each other, I tried to block it out, and was unsuccessful. There are drawbacks to literally hearing thousands of others all the time; at that point I was still too inexperienced to know how to distance myself from the general dataspace, or how to force others to end their discord. I forged forwards as best I could.
“Let’s try Assimilation.”
“2of20reportingasAssimilation.” The words fairly buzzed past. I understood it, but the rate of speaking was much faster than the standard speed.
The explanation continued, but I didn’t listen as I was too busy fishing in the files for the background information on 2 of 20. Let’s just say that when the Borg assimilated 2 of 20, there were enough narcotic drugs in his system to give the entire Collective flashbacks for the next several months. His brain structure had been permanently altered to such an extent the forced detoxification by nanoprobes never could completely repair everything.
“NEXT!” I interrupted Assimilation’s diatribe of the fundamental flaws of the galaxy for not providing the perfect hallucinogenic fungus. “Doctor?”
“Yes? 26 of 27 is Doctor?” This mental signature sounded normal, in a relative sense of the word.
“You are Doctor, correct?”
“26 of 27 is Doctor, yes?”
“Yes, you are Doctor.”
“I must see to my hierarchy then?”
It took me awhile to figure out that 26 of 27 adds an interrogative at the end of every statement, so one tends to think she is always responding with a question. Of course no one thought to put that in her dossier or make a note in the files the Hierarchy of Eight maintain. It was general knowledge, but general in this case means nebulous, and not available unless one asks exactly the right question or initiates exactly the correct search.
Meanwhile, the fight over who would be Weapons had come to an abrupt close. Internal use of the transporter was being registered into the cube’s automatic code files; it is much easier to beam elsewhere in even the smallest cubes than it is to walk. 45 of 300 had transported himself to 76 of 83’s alcove, then proceeded to physically bash him in the face.
“Ouch! That was uncalled fer. Fine, ya’ll can be Weapons.”
“45 of 300 is Weapons! 45 of 300 is victorious! I will win many battles for the Collective.”
I decided not to dispute decision, instead moving on down the list of positions. “Sensors?” I called, almost afraid of what basketcase would reply.
“Me, 15 of 510 is Sensors. I’m excited! I’ve always wanted to be in charge of something.”
Well, other than a high enthusiasm, nothing appeared to be odd. Only time would tell. The final heads I had to assign. A quick scanning of the records of engineering drones found me a winner, an experienced, if different, mind.
“12 of 19, you will be Engineering.” Silence. I should explain about 12 of 19…that is the designation of a drone with two bodies which are controlled by one mind. The story behind her would take long to tell, but in short, the bodies are simply differing appendages used much like you might use your separate arms. The silence was broken by the two-toned signature which is unique for 12 of 19.
The reply: “This had better be the last time I am called to this duty for a full rotation of the Eight, you all hear me? You hear? I am sick of running this hierarchy, as I have done for five times in the last seven assignments. If I am picked, are you Eight listening? If I am picked again before a full rotation, I will make your life a living Hell.” And she can, too. There is a reason, probably relating to the fact she can literally be two places at once, she is top rated. “Thus, I will be known as Omega this assignment.” 12 of 19 doesn’t like the term ‘Engineering’ for a sub-designation; she is currently serving as head of engineering hierarchy in this here and now, calling herself Delta.
“Last position.” I needed a drone more experienced with moving through the convoluted dataspaces. “I will pick 5 of 8 to be Second.”
“NO!” echoed the voice in the nets and verbally elsewhere in a differing subsection, submatrix. It was at that point the information filtered to me that 5 of 8 was supposed to be Captain this assignment, not me. Too bad. It was time to begin.
Once Sensors provided the appropriate charts, I set the heading towards Epsilon 4a, engaging the transwarp drive to maximum speed. For better or worse, we were on our way.
Mumbled Rydell under his breath, “For not knowing what a set-up was, he has picked it up pretty well. Rather long-winded too.”
“Explain, please, captain Rydell. What is long-winded? I obviously don’t have access to Terran slang databases at the moment, and I don’t normally keep such trivial data in my personal memory,” spoke up Captain, hearing the mumble perfectly well.
“What?” asked Rydell, attempting to look innocent as he took a sip of his most recent beer. “Long-winded?”
Baxter smugly replied, “Means that he thinks you talk too much.”
Rydell wilted slightly under the stare Captain gave him, pretending to be absorbed in a strip poker card game happening a few tables over between Picard, the Kirks, and Fritz. After tearing up Redbeard, Fritz had wandered elsewhere in the bar. The cat appeared to be winning, but only because the other three were so drunk they kept dropping their cards. “That cat can hold his liquor well, eh?”
“Don’t try to change the subject, captain Rydell. I apologize if I am not satisfying your appetite for mindless violence and/or encounters with the opposite genders, but there are other things in life. However, the set-up is done, and it is time to get on with the story.”
The trip to Epsilon 4a took eleven days. There are many downsides to being purposely isolated from the Greater Consciousness, but the largest is the boredom. A normal cube traveling for long distances spends time immersed in the Collective, the minds well stimulated as the bodies go about daily activities; time becomes more or less meaningless. Cube #347 is a totally different matter since it is kept mostly isolated from the whole. Four thousand minds ranging from slightly to highly neurotic by Borg standards makes for a small sub-collective to a brain primed to depend on trillions. Everyone is known and the Greater Consciousness tends to keep illicit and nonrelevant material out of the local dataspaces, although bits are always smuggled in. This boredom is one of the primary reasons for the trouble Cube #347 gets into, for there is very little to keep idle minds busy.
My job, as I quickly learned, was to ride herd on the entire sub-collective. This is not trivial, and only a select few have the mental qualifications to do so. I very quickly learned why there is no possibility of power-grabbing among the Hierarchy of Eight: all dislike the position of Captain, which is essentially a tiring task of baby-sitting thousands of scheming children.
I was very happy when system Epsilon 4a come into sensor range.
The system is a vast asteroid belt, millions of rocks orbiting a red dwarf sun. There was nothing special about the system, other than the transponder, a signal of which was detected shortly after I had clumsily inserted the cube into a polar orbit to avoid the worst of the mess.
As I waited for the orbit to bring us to a more optimum point to swing towards the target asteroid, I experimented with the sensor grid. I have never been comfortable with raw sensor data, primarily because it is not under my direct control and tends to change incoming frequencies at the most inopportune times, but the standard screens installed on the cube are even worse when it comes to viewing the surroundings. In this case I absently watched tumbling rocks in an enhanced visual spectrum, taking part with a section of my mentality in computing intersecting orbits with potentially dangerous asteroids. Something was wrong with the orbits; they were much more perturbed than they should have been.
“Whoa, boy. Um…the gravametric sensors are picking up odd readings heading at us at high speed,” hurriedly said Sensors into the general net.
I attempted to realign my senses to the sensor grid as the base data suddenly changed to a new frequency, but the wavy distortions of gravametric only caused queasiness. I could not pick out the problem, nor which way to dodge the cube. “Well, what is it?”
Sensors was already loading examples of temporal and spatial phenomenon into active memory, attempting to compare each with the reality which was currently in tenacious orbit about the star and slicing towards the ship. “Nope. Not it. Definitely not it. Hey, who catalogued these subspace shots of nebula in this datafile?” went the mutterings of Sensors. Meanwhile, I had managed to somewhat calculate the vectors which the distortion seemed to be heading on; the outcome was not good.
“Sh**! It’s going to hit! Brace for imp….”
Before the general order could be completed, the gravametric distortion sliced an insubstantial filament of itself less than 100 meters from a cube edge. Although it technically did not hit, the space-time eddies which followed in its wake spun the cube sickenly about, much as the asteroids in the system had been knocked around. Unlike the chunks of rock, this object was a complex piece of hardware; power blacked out throughout the cube as universal constants momentarily warped. Seconds later, normality reasserted itself, pi once more became an infinite number beginning with 3.1415, and the reactor cores of Cube #347 began to function again.
“Wait a minute…how could you tell pi wasn’t pi?” asked Beck.
“Cube #347 was built to operate in realities where pi is of the value 3.141592654….”
Beck turned white as the count into the infinite continued well past the thirtieth decimal point and appeared to be not ending anytime soon. “Stop!” Captain stopped. “But your answer only brings up more questions. Again, how could you tell pi wasn’t the current pi; and pi changes?”
“Certain systems stopped working, that was how one can tell pi changes. And this whole discussion of a universal constant, not a realities constant, is irrelevant. I do have more story to tell.”
“Superstring,” stated a weak voice. “I think the readings indicate a superstring.”
“Shut up,” growled Omega from Engineering, chorused by her hierarchy. “Captain, we have moderate damage; nothing that won’t eventually be fixed within a couple of days, but there will be inconveniences. For instance, several subsections are open to vacuum, and we have lost five cargo holds. Most of insystem propulsion is intact, but warp is not available. Two of the redundant cores are off-line.”
“Weapons are nonfunctional,” continued Weapons before Omega could finish her report. “The tractor emitters along edges #1, #3, #6, and #11 are in need of repair. There is conduit damage in nearly all areas supplying phasers and lasers; and launching tubes for all torpedoes and rail guns need to be personally inspected before they should be used. One bright note is that shields are intact.”
Sensors had been quiet thus far, following the command of Omega to shut up. As the reports continued and priority scheduling of repair commenced (and degenerated into arguing), he began to locate the place of the cube on the star charts. From the conclusions he was reaching, we were in the same place, complete with tumbling asteroids. The superstring was in a slightly different orbit, but otherwise, everything was as it should be, with one slight exception.
“Captain. There is no transponder signal now.”
“So? With our luck, that string probably wiped out the asteroid and the assignment.”
“Negative. I’ve located the appropriate rock, and it is in no danger of being smashed. However, there is no sign of the signal.”
“Okay. We’ll assume the distortion managed to mangle the signal, go pull the memory crystals, and get out of here before we get swatted again.”
I activated thrusters to put the cube enroute to the target rock while keeping a wary eye on the superstring. The latter appeared to no longer endanger the ship. The very large battle ship of unknown configuration which uncloaked less than one thousand kilometers distant came as a complete surprise.
The unknown ship roughly bulked the same tonnage of a Federation Galaxy-class starship, but had a much more compact silhouette. It was dwarfed when compared to even a small cube like Exploratory-class, but the presence was still formidable. A squat and rather blocky body sported three nacelles spaced equidistantly around the ship’s circumference and set upon extremely short pillions. The position of the bridge, normally evident, was unknown; speculation rose in the intranets that it was buried towards the center of the mass. Phaser banks and torpedo bays were numerous. This was not a ship on a peaceful mission.
“Borg cube,” came the initiated hail, “this is Captain Plankus of the Latinum-class Ferengi battle cruiser ‘Rules of Acquisition’. In the name of the Federation Hegemony, you will lower shields and prepare to be boarded…or you will all die.”
Pandemonium in the cube broke out. A short list of questions were ordered shortly. (1) What was the Federation Hegemony? (2) Why would any ship short of species #8472 attempt to threaten a cube? (3) Since when did the Ferengi have such a ship? And why was it in service to anyone but themselves? (4) What were they doing in Borg-claimed territory anyway?
“Borg cube, this is your last warning. If you do not surrender to us, we will unleash our Betazoid Empathic Attack Unit. When we are done, you will be begging to buy our best in Ginsu knives.”
“Betazoid Empathic Attack Units? Just a cotton-picking minute here….” spluttered Vorezze. He was shushed by the other three Federation captains.
“Omega, report! Can we get out of here?”
“At anything above half-impulse? You gotta be kidding. We won’t be able to form a conduit in anything less than three hours, and even then our speed will not be good.”
“My hierarchy will fight to the death! Of course, most of the torpedo tubes may blow up when they are used and the majority of phaser banks are off-line, but there is still the possibility of ramming. We are much bigger than they are, after all.”
Second muttered under his breath from his alcove, “We are screwed.”
“I heard that, Second!” I yelled, “Do you have any useful ideas? As far as I can tell, that is what Seconds are for.”
“Wonderful. Um…plans, anyone?”
Fragmented consensus began to be formed, helped along by my inexperienced mind. Years later I would be able to initiate strong consensus within seconds, but during my first mission I had trouble ordering my own thoughts, much less the thoughts of thousands of others. Running away to hide in the asteroids, ramming the battle cruiser, or playing “dodge the superstring” were equally weighted options. Finally the captain of the “Rules of Acquisition” lost patience, closed with Cube #347, and opened fire.
Sparks danced as unharmed power relays surged and the superstructure of the ship shook. Shields were being lost faster than they could regenerate, and much swifter than any known Federation, much less /Ferengi/, ship should be able to accomplish. Weapons had began return fire, but it appeared to be oddly ineffective. I moved the cube towards the asteroids, searching for as much cover as possible. At the same time, I tried to rotate the ship to present a less damaged face to the threat. Another phaser blast rocked the cube.
Voices babbled on the intranet, frantic minds pulling out of their hierarchies and attempting to grab control of local propulsion systems. My own sanity was questionable at that point, but I was forced to take action to fend off a hundred separate minds.
Sensors suddenly yelled, “Cube exiting transwarp! It is on vector for the enemy ship!”
Pressure was taken off Cube #347 as the Ferengi battle cruiser veered to face the new threat. The other cube, of the same size as Cube #347, powered straight into the face of phaser fire from “Rules of Acquisition.” Unlike the defensive armaments on my own cube, the shields of the other easily held under onslaught, allowing its own torpedoes to rake the cruiser’s flank. In anticlimactic drama, cutting beams lanced out to sever all three of the enemy’s nacelles from the main fuselage. Scant seconds later an oxygen fueled explosion lit the void, extinguishing to glowing debris as flammable gasses gave way to entropy.
I slowed my cube, setting it into orbit above the asteroids in the system. Warily I watched the other cube through the ship sensors in an augmented visual frequency range. The sub-collective had just realized that the other cube was not in local files; and, more odd, requests sent to the Greater Consciousness for information on recent launchings from the ship yards were being ignored.
In fact, while the subspace thread to the Greater Consciousness was intact, it was quiet…too quiet. Although Cube #347 distanced itself from the Collective (as the Collective distanced itself from Cube #347), we could generally “hear” what could best be translated as mutterings in the far background. The mutterings were now faint and few. I had begun to send the protocols for direct linking of the local sub-collective to the other cube when a subspace /hail/ was received.
The multi-voice of the Collective said, “Identify yourselves, unregistered cube. We are Strike-class Cube #347 of the Borg Collective. We have weapons trained on you. If you have been compromised by the virus and attempt linking, we will destroy you. This cube is clean, and we intend to stay that way.”
I halted the linking protocols. Still stinging at the previous disastrous attempt to gain a general consensus under pressure, I decided to respond promptly and on my own, but first, “Second, make yourself useful. I want transwarp back as soon as possible. Get it organized.” I partitioned myself from the babble which began between Omega, Second, and a complaining Weapons.
“Cube…um…#347. This is, well, Exploratory-class Cube #347. This verbal exchange of information is extremely inefficient. We need to link our sub-collectives. Something is wrong; extremely wrong.”
“Yes, something is wrong. There is, and can be, only one Cube #347. And until you can prove you are clean of the virus, we refuse any link. If this is a complex plot of the Federation Hegemony, you will leave here little more than debris, like that Ferrengi battle cruiser.”
Something was more than not right; the situation was downright rotten. I replayed the opening hail from the other cube, listening to the harmonics. The Collective voice was not quite complete. Unlike the Greater Consciousness, the quasi-individuals of Cube #347 manage sporadically to formulate impromptu intuitions, occasionally to the detriment of the cube as the line between impulse and action often blurs; sometimes it can be hard to tell where one’s own thoughts end and software code commands begin. In this case, the intuition was a simple clicking of an idea in my mind. “Strike-class Cube #347, this is going to be an odd request, but bear with it please. We would like a visual, repeat a visual, but not of the catwalks. We have enough of those over here. We need a visual feed of the drone who is acting as the current consensus monitor and facilitator. Understand?”
“Understood.” I routed the incoming visual to a local monitor with the ubiquitous fisheyed view. Looking back from the screen was…myself.
As Cube #347 slowly repaired its systems, information flowed back and forth between the two ships. It was swiftly discovered the superstring had flung the cube into an alternate universe. Apparently the string existed in at least two realities, and distortion eddies propagated by the near miss had caused the ship to skip, like a stone on water, out of its original universe and into the current one. Theoretically it was possible to get back, but repairs would have to be complete first, as the return trip would more than likely cause just as much, if not more, damage. Until then….
Vorezze crowed, “I knew it! There ain’t such thing as Betazoid Empathic Attack Units. Trust me, I would know, or at the very least I would have read about such a thing.” Again, Vorezze was shushed.
This alternate universe was not a happy one, at least not for the Borg. Historic events proceeded much alike those in Cube #347’s timeline, up until several years prior. At that time, one drone, eventually to be known as Hugh, had been captured by the Federation by the evil Captain Picard, and later returned, seemingly unharmed. It turned out to be a ruse. Where as the individuality virus engineered in my universe had only affected the one cube before being isolated and severed from the Collective, the history of the current universe had individuality spreading rampant throughout the Borg. Although the Collective had survived, it had lost tens of billions of drones to the calamity.
At that point, history began to widely diverge from what I considered to be my native timeline. The Ferengi, through a devious combination of corporate takeovers and biological vectors, had literally annexed the Federation, turning it into an ultra-capitalistic society bent on expanding markets everywhere, at any cost (as long as the profit returned was greater than that extended, of course). After the races of the Federation fell, next went the Romulans, followed by the other two great powers of the Alpha quadrant - Klingons and Cardassians. Lesser independent races converted to the Federation Hegemony; if there was resistance, deadly Betazoid Empathic Attack Units would give “attitude adjustments.” After that…propaganda (and widespread use of subliminals, campaigns of childhood brainwashing involving purple dinosaurs, and specially tailored viruses) maintained the status quo.
For a time it had looked as if an empire from the Gamma quadrant called the Dominion might be able to stop the dreaded advance of the Federation Hegemony…but within less than two years, the Dominion was happily buying products ranging from fuzzy dice for starship viewscreens to “Feather Gro”, guaranteed to regrow pinfeathers on those annoying bald spots. Even if the species was silicon-based and did not have feathers to begin with.
Now the Federation was extending into the Delta quadrant, taking advantage of its vast technological base and the continuing confusion caused by the original virus. For a time the diminished Borg had held the Hegemony at bay; whole planetary populations and species had voluntarily allowed themselves to be assimilated, swelling the drone ranks. Consensus was it was better to be part of the One, than a mindless consumer of useless products, stuck in the work grind in an effort to pay for the latest in trendy exercise equipment.
The most recent attacks had crippled the Borg - variations of the individuality virus, of which there was no cure, had been released into the Collective in ingenious ways. For all practical purposes, the Greater Consciousness which was had collapsed; only a relatively few sub-collectives, ranging from small cubes to entire planets, had survived intact. The Borg which endured fought an increasingly rearguard action; tens of billions of drones still remained, but many trillions of ex-Borg were now happy Federation consumers buying the implant polish “Glow of Chrome.”
Enter Strike-class Cube #347, the special forces of the remaining Borg. Unlike the misfits of my native timeline, those aboard that Cube #347 were the closest knit individuals the Collective had, perfecting Oneness in the theory that the reality of one vast individual would defeat the purpose of the dreaded virus. The sub-collective was coming increasingly close to perfect Oneness, but not enough to test the consequences of the virus nor pass on the mental alterations to the rest of the Greater Consciousness.
I listened to the thudding hammers, whining saws, and pinging of metal-stress sounders which were working in my submatrix, one level above. Most of the vacuum sections had been repressurized. Transwarp was available at last with full reactor core auxiliaries standing by, although top conduit speed was not possible yet. Offensive weaponry was in the process of inspection and repair. Status report complete, I returned my full attention to the data stream being relayed by my counterpart, “So, this system, because of the superstring, is the latest under contest?”
“Yes. The string has only recently been detected, by both the Collective and the Federation Hegemony. We have theories as to energy harnessing from quantum filaments, and the possible generation of new weapons which would shred the fabric of reality itself when the enemy attacks. Unfortunately, the Hegemony has many of the same ideas, stolen from us from former drones. That whom can control this system may win the war.
“We were the closest at the time, arriving just as the battle cruiser was attacking you.”
I pondered, “So this is about to become a majorly bloody and dangerous sector of space to inhabit in a short amount of time.” I copied and sent data on the carnage experienced by the Federation in my timeline the few times the they had threatened a cube head-on
“Yes. Except both sides will look like that, not just one. Last one still functional wins.”
“Um…how much longer until the sides arrive?”
“Borg forces are massing. We will arrive in twenty-six hours. Spy probes show Federation Hegemony forces also gathering, and will arrive approximately the same time.”
“Who is going to win?”
“Projections show a better than eighty-six point three percent chance the Federation Hegemony will be victorious.”
“You are diving into a losing cause, you know.”
“We know. We also know there is a zero percent chance of the Greater Consciousness surviving if the Federation is allowed to take the superstring without resistance. The galaxy must be saved. Resistance to consumerism must not be futile.”
‘This version of the Collective was a nutcase,’ I carefully thought to himself, or at least I mentally voiced a nebulous consensus held somewhere within my own hierarchy. “Projected time for repairs so we can ride the superstring back?”
“Not enough,” simply returned Omega.
Several hours later, I reinitiated contact with the mirror Cube #347, “4 of 8, are there any samples of the individuality virus on file?”
“The virus is extremely dangerous. Why would you wish to commit suicide?”
“You understand that this sub-collective is not the elite One that Cube #347 is in this universe? We are imperfectly assimilated, much more separate from each other than Borg should be.”
“An odd notion, but yes we do realize you are not One. The virus is still dangerous.”
I sighed, a feeling and action which would become very familiar throughout the years. The notion I was trying to get across was not translating very well. “We have come to consensus here that we may be able to resist the virus. An individuality virus can’t affect those who already are individuals…or at least near individuals, we hope. If we can analyze the structure of one of the virus variations, we should be able to offer an antivirus. Armed with the cure, the Borg of this reality should be able to gain back ground through assimilation.”
Silence from the other cube. Then, “You would potentially sacrifice yourselves in a universe not your own? Excuse us for being paranoid, but why?”
“Because we need to gain time to complete our repairs. If there is some way to tilt the odds in favor of Borg here and now, we will take it.”
“It is your funeral. We have a copy of three virus variations stored in separate physical memory. The appropriate memory crystal will be beamed over.”
Second looked at the small data crystal I held in my non-prosthetic hand, having beamed to my submatrix level to see the hazard first-hand. “Why do the most deadly threats come in the smallest packages?”
I shook his head and contemplated the crystal as well. It was colored bright red with black alphanumeric inscriptions of warning blazed along the long axis. “Fate and gods may be irrelevant, but I am getting the feeling some transcendental entity is laughing its fool head off.” A sigh then general announcement, “Everyone, to your alcoves. We will be loading the virus into active memory in five minutes.”
Five minutes later, securely plugged into my alcove, I reached out to blindly shove the crystal into a data port. I completely severed the sub-collective from the nearly nonexistent Greater Consciousness present via subspace link in this universe. Next, a few quick commands released a marauding menace onto the nets.
The intranets of the Borg are a reality unto themselves. Each species, each drone, visualizes the datastreams differently - some visually, others as a complex labyrinth of scents, a small number as tactile sensations, a few in totally alien perspectives. I always see a combination of corridors, threads, yellow sticky notes scrawled with file names, and vague shadows which are other mental presences. The object which represented the virus was a giant centipede armored in latinum; as I watched, viscous acid dripped from mandibles, splattering with a hiss of corrosion on the floor of the corridor. The centipede peered around the dataspace, spying me.
I held my ground as the virus charged, thinking neutral thoughts. Latinum carapace tinkled musically as the centipede swarmed closer. Jaws opened wide as if to take a large bite; serrated mandibles shut with a smash inches from my torso. The virus looked vaguely confused, as much as an immobile visage could look confused, that is.
I carefully broke down the partition I had erected about my dataspace. As walls at either end of the corridor dissolved, I called, “Second, come here. Your turn.” A shadow floated into view, resolving itself as the form of Second.
The centipede whirled and galloped at Second. As with me, mandibles sliced at something unseen inches from the other drone’s midtorso. Again, nothing appeared to happen, which vastly confused the virus. It backed a few steps, then became a metallic statue as it went into stasis to perform a self-diagnosis on its programming.
Second squinted at the virus, obviously attempting to informally peel back layers of code. “I think it was trying to sever each of us from the whole. And I think it worked. I also think it was irrelevant as we can operate separately from the whole. As soon as the actual attack ended, we automatically and instinctively reestablished a link with the sub-collective; a drone wholly submerged within the Collective would experience vast confusion for several vital seconds.
“There appears to be a second layer of commands deeper within the virus, but they are not triggered until certain conditions are met. We do not meet those conditions, soooo…the virus does not work.”
The metallic centipede was still immobile. It shimmered and began to move again. Ignoring myself and Second, the virus spat a stream of acid, tore a hole in the corridor, then slipped through. The data corrupted from the action was inconsequential, healing within microseconds. Drone to drone, the centipede attempted to perform its programming, failing each time. Listening carefully to mental signatures, it was possible to follow the virus’ progress as individuals slipped out of contact with the general sub-collective, only to reappear moments later. Frustrated, the virus went into stasis once more, far removed from its original place of entry.
I called, “Doctor, take the virus apart. We need to know exactly what makes it tick.” Assent was sent back, along with the distant impression of a whirring saw and spinning drill.
Hundreds of ships from the Federation Hegemony, ranging from small Wesley-class scout ships to a giant Nagus-class dreadnought, uncloaked as they exited from quantum slip-stream. Already in-system were half as many Borg cubes, orbiting a wary distance from the dangerous superstring. Hiding in the shadow of a large heavy metal asteroid, my ship warily watched while frantically working to finish repairs.
Battle commenced between the two forces. Hegemony tactics were simple: get in close, use Betazoid Empathic Attack Units to confuse cubes, then deliver packages of individuality virus via direct transport of strike teams. If that didn’t work, simple firepower of powerful weapons would suffice. Borg tactics appeared equally uncomplicated with the expenditure of vast amounts of munitions while absorbing blow after punishing blow of damage. However, things weren’t all as they appeared.
One by one, Hegemony ships within transporter range of the cubes went silent and began to simply drift in space. Meanwhile, proven strategy of divide the hive and conquer appeared not to be working for the Federation.
I can only assume, knowing what the Borg unfortunately know about Ferengi in this universe (the Ferengi /will not/ be assimilated when the Borg expand into the Alpha quadrant), that latinum assessors on the Hegemony dreadnought were frantically plugging numbers into their computers, adding up cost versus probable gain and the amount of money needed to capitalize on that gain. Numbers which had earlier proclaimed a budget in the black began to leak red ink all over the place. The cost was no longer worth the expense. Sending the signal to retreat, regroup, and stabilize stock markets which had started to fluctuate wildly when the outcome of the battle had become less than clear, the visible outcome was Hegemony ship breaking ranks to streak away in slip-stream. The Borg were victorious.
A tentative call from Strike-class Cube #347 intruded upon the awareness of Exploratory-class Cube #347. “The plan worked. We have captured the superstring, defeated the Federation Hegemony in this battle, and gained several hundred new drones. The individuality virus will trouble us no longer with the vaccines your cube produced. The neutralization is extremely simplistic, but we could never survive as One long enough to analyze the actions of the virus, much less the code. You will be leaving soon?”
I sent assent, “Yes we will. Three hours until complete repairs, and we will be ready to fling ourselves at the superstring and hope for the best.”
“We are glad you will be getting back to your home universe. We would offer to let you stay…but, there can only be one Cube #347. And, to tell the truth, your individualness gives us a nagging virtual itch. We don’t know how your Collective deals with your presence; we don’t have assimilation imperfection.”
‘Uhum…that’s what the Greater Consciousness in my own timeline would maintain as well,’ I thought quietly.
Captain ended his tale, looking around the table at the four Federation captains.
“That’s it?” asked Rydell. “There isn’t any more?”
Captain was confused, “What more is there to tell? Cube #347 made it back to this reality with moderate damage, we floated around for forty-two hours making repairs, then retrieved the memory crystals. The assignment was over, and I was allowed to give up command to 5 of 8 for the next task. The story is over. The end.”
“Still doesn’t seem right,” grumbled Rydell. “Don’t you think the same Beck? Baxter? Vorezze?”
Baxter remained silent, as did Vorezze. Beck shrugged, “It does seem to end abruptly, but doesn’t everything?”
“Yeah, well it depressed the hell out of me,” Baxter said.
“Explain,” Captain said.
“The Borg won.”
“Of course. Resistance is futile. Why should that be depressing?”
“I’m just used to rooting for the Federation,” Baxter replied.
“Even when they’re a bunch of Ferengi-controlled capitalists?” Beck asked.
“Okay. You’ve got a point there.”
“What do we have here?” Rydell said, looking off towards the bar. Five humans in completely black outfits similar to Vorezze’s Section 31 outfit had entered the bar and were speaking to an incredibly-battered Redbeard the Pirate. Occasionally, Redbeard would look back at Rydell and the others and point accusingly. Moments later, the Bolian waiter approached the table.
“Good work, rejects,” he grumbled.
“What’s going on?” Vorezze asked.
“Redbeard called in the cops,” the Bolian said. “They’re trying to shut us down.”
“Let me see what I can do,” Vorezze said, standing up and straightening his uniform. He strode over to the men at the bar exuding authority.
“What seems to be the problem here, gentlemen?”
“Who the hell are you?” the lead man in black asked.
“Captain Jad Vorezze.”
“I’m Section 31, too,” Vorezze said. The others started laughing. “What?”
“Section 31,” the leader said, controlling his laughter. “Big deal.”
“Then who are you?” Vorezze asked confused.
“Section 32!” the man replied smugly.
“Uh…sure,” Vorezze said. He turned and headed back to the reject’s table in defeat.
“Didn’t work, huh?” Rydell said.
“Well, blue boy here says we may be doing some prison time or something. Evidently, these guys aren’t real big on assault.”
“Goody,” Vorezze said.
“I could assimilate them,” 4 of 8 offered helpfully.
“I don’t think that’d do much for our reputation,” Beck said.
“I guess I’m going to have to save your asses again,” Fritz the cat said, approaching the table. He turned to the waiter. “I’ll cause a distraction; you get them out the back. Don’t worry, Baxter. I’ll catch up later.”
“Gladly,” the waiter said, no even attempting to hide his disgust. In a flash, Fritz was over on the bar, howling and slashing for all he was worth.
“Rabid kitty!” the lead man in black screamed, diving for cover.
“Move,” the waiter said, urging the rejects towards the back of the bar. Next to the door leading to The Captain’s Bathroom, another door materialized reading The Captain’s Emergency Exit. “Consider your tabs paid,” the waiter said, then shoved them all out the door.
Rydell, Beck, Baxter, Vorezze and 4 of 8 found themselves out back standing in a swirling gray nothingness. The only thing there was a large metal box labeled The Captain’s Dumpster.
“Just jump into the mist. It will take you back to your places of origin,” the waiter said, them slammed the door shut.
The five captains considered each other. This was probably the only time they would ever meet. Now, in this moment of departure, they thought of some words to say to sum up their feelings about the moment.
“Bye!” Rydell said, leaping to the mist and vanishing.
“That was deep,” Baxter commented.
“Yeah, well some of us have lives to lead,” Beck said, leaping after Rydell.
“Ditto,” Vorezze said, jumping into the beyond.
“Bye bye, Borgie,” Baxter said. “Sorry, couldn’t resist.” And he leapt.
Captain, AKA 4 of 8, took one last look around and considered his surroundings.
“Rejects are irrelevant,” he said finally, then jumped.
That’s it. We hope you enjoyed The Reject’s Table, but now you have to leave. You aren’t feeling rejected, are you? Uggh. Blame Decker for that one. He’s under the delusion that puns are funny. We’re getting out of here before he tries another one.