Author: Anthony Butler
USS CORSICA MIRANDA-CLASS STELLAR OBSERVER BETA QUADRANT
“The time is 0800 hours. You are due in Stellar Cartography in fifteen minutes. If you do not acknowledge this automated message, an official reprimand will appear on your record,” the computer announced.
A hand thrust out from the cramped bunk and stabbed the control on the comm console, and a groggy, aged English lilt answered, “Shut up, Computer. No, on second thought, give me today’s schedule.”
Lt. Commander Horace Malloy rolled off his bed, ran a hand through his sparse layer of hair, and released the same chilling sigh he’d emitted each day for the last twenty-six years.
“0815…Stellar Cartography. 0915…Polytechnics. 1015…Deck Four Maintenance Closet. 1115…Chief Engineer’s Head.”
Another morning, identical to hundreds of previous mornings. Hours spent scouring room after room, deck after deck. Then afternoons of writing reports upon reports. Crunching lines and lines of numbers, organizing them into tables, reconciling them with other numbers, sorting, coding, re-sorting, and coding again each string of data, so the other number-crunchers at Starfleet Command in the Home Office could do the entire process over again in reverse to make sure he’d done his job correctly.
For Horace Malloy, like so many thousands of crumbling souls like him spread over two quadrants, it was another day on the job. He prepared to trudge five decks up to Engineering. What other crewmember would be stuck in a cabin at the extreme bottom of the ship? What other crewmember would be loathed and hated wherever he went?
“Horace Malloy, Inventory. Open up, please.”
“I’m in here taking a dump. For the love of the prophets, how about cutting me a break and coming back in an hour,” responded the Corsica’s half-Bajoran Chief Engineer, Bejark “Buzz” Folgoy, over the bathroom’s comm system.
Horace sighed and looked down at his padd, as if to gain strength from it. “I have a lot of work to do this afternoon, Mr. Bejark. Just expedite whatever you’re doing in there so I can account for the presence of your hand cleansing machine and leave.”
“It’s in here, you bloated piece of sh**! What’s the matter? Don’t you believe me?”
“It’s not a matter of whether I believe you. I have to actually see the equipment. It’s regulations.”
“Horace, you’ve been doing this for half your life. You retire in a month. Can’t you bend a regulation, just once?”
“Very sorry.” Suddenly, he heard the soft hum of the waste extractor. Moments later, the door to the Chief Engineer’s head slid open.
“There,” Buzz said, heading back down the corridor toward Main Engineering. “It’s all yours.” He chuckled. “Enjoy.”
Horace sighed, clipped his nose shut, and charged in.
Several minutes later, Horace walked into Engineering to thank Buzz for his patience, when he saw something that made him drop his padd.
An Ensign, one of Buzz’s assistants, was using a phasic modulator to clean out her ear.
Traversing the distance between himself and the offending ensign in an instant, Horace ripped the modulator out of her hand (careful not to touch the wax-coated area). “Ensign! What in the hell do you think you’re doing?”
The ensign, a freckled red-head, crinkled her nose. “What’s it to you?”
“What’s it to me? Don’t you know who I am?”
“Horace Malloy. Chief Property Control Officer.”
“And I’m supposed to care because…”
“You impudent little…”
“What’s going on out here?” Buzz asked, stepping out of his office.
Horace stabbed the modulator at the Ensign accusingly. “This disrespectful little git was abusing Starfleet property!”
“Oh, the horror,” Buzz muttered. “Look, we have a lot of work to do here. If you’re finished, I’d appreciate it if you just took your padd and lef–”
“I will not leave!” Horace cried. “I will be heard!” Anger flared in Horace. He’d been tread on day after day for too many days. It would be stopped, then and there.
“You’re nuts, mister,” the ensign said.
“Listen, Mr. Malloy, why don’t you just go back to your quarters and relax,” Buzz said, wrapping his arm around the portly Inventory officer and leading him out of Engineering.
“Why is everyone always pushing me away!” Horace cried, flipping Buzz over his head like a sack of potatoes and bringing an elbow crashing down into his neck.
“Urk!” cried Buzz.
The redhead’s hand scrambled for the comm switch. “Security to Engineering!”
“No no no!” Horace screamed, yanking his trusty inventory tagger off his belt, shoving it onto the woman’s mouth and thumbing a button.
A squarish silver tag imbedded itself over the young girl’s mouth, with an unbreakable blend of polyduranide and super glue.
Thoughts and colors raced through Horace’s mind. His life didn’t have to end with retirement in a month. There was more out there. More to be done. It was so unbelievably clear. Horace raced for the transporter room.
Planetside, near the site of the crashed Borg ship, Commander Eno rose an eyebrow at the recently-gleaned metallurgy report
Unlike the previous find several years ago, this was a full- sized Borg vessel, somehow crashed on an alien world far from Federation trade routes. Was this ship the vanguard of another Federation invasion? Was it destined attempt to assimilate Earth like its two predecessors? Only to be stopped by a simple gravimetric imbalance in the space surrounding Soskan Three?
The Corsica herself had been forced to carefully re-tool her impulse engines and take an extremely irregular orbit around Soskan in order to avoid this Borg ship’s fate. Now she would have to make a hasty salvage effort in order to get a sufficient chunk of this Borg vessel back to Federation space for study.
The Benzite Executive Officer’s thoughts were interrupted when he noticed the blue glimmer of a transporter beam flicker beside him.
“Who are you?” Eno asked bluntly.
Horace reached out a hand to detach the Benzite’s breathing tube and shoved him up against the craggy face of the crashed Borg vessel. “You are the First Officer of the Corsica. Responsible for all crew, correct?”
“In theory,” choked Eno.
“Then you should know who I am!”
“Well, I don’t.”
“I’m Horace Malloy, Chief Inventory Officer.”
“That’s fascinating. How about letting me go?”
“Not until you approve a transfer. Get me out of this god- forsaken duty!”
“I’ll have to clear that–”
“You’ll have to clear it with nobody! Just do it! Make me a–a–Stellar Cartographer.”
“You can’t just get into that line of work. There’s training, research to be done–”
“So I’ll never be better than a simple inventory officer? Is that what you’re telling me?”
“Is that what you are? An inventory officer? My, I’m sorry.”
“I just told you that!” Horace screamed. “No one ever listens! Or cares!” Horace grabbed Eno’s phaser and held it right in the Benzite’s face. “Do you care about this phaser? Do you? I do! Starfleet property number XJ77564PH-12! Did you know that? I don’t think so! Why? Because you don’t care about order! We need order. Tagging brings order.” Horace trailed off, his gaze running along the huge mass of Borg technology crashed before him. “Untagged?”
Eno tried to shake Horace off, growing furious. “Listen you insignificant…”
Horace cut him off, slamming Eno’s head repeatedly against the Borg cube until he was unconscious, then let him fall limp to the ground. He stripped off his outer tunic, which barely stayed together around his round belly to begin with, and crammed himself between two busted bulkheads and into the Borg vessel, chanting and dancing all the way. He pulled out his auto-tagger and began slapping tags on every piece of machinery he passed.
“Tag this, tag that!” Horace giggled insanely. “Tag! Tag! Tag!” He fired off shots from his tagger like a Wild West gunslinger. At long last, Horace Malloy had found heaven.
By the time the rest of the away team had converged on Eno’s position minutes later, the Benzite had developed a massive headache.
“He’s completely mad,” Eno rasped, as a med tech administered to his wounds and reattached his breather.
“We’ll find him,” said Will Dunst, the Corsica Chief of Security. He grabbed up Horace’s fallen tunic and examined it. “I don’t need a stinking comm badge to do that. I hear the man weighs a metric ton.”
“Take him alive. He’s obviously quite disturbed. We’ll probably have to take him to Tantalus.” Eno bristled inwardly. What was it about him and madness? First, his prior Captain, Balish, and now this inventory fellow. It was like insanity followed him wherever he went.
“Understood,” Dunst said crisply, yanking out his phaser. Then Eno’s comm badge beeped.
“Corsica to away team,” came the voice of Captain Leonard Quinn.
“Here, Captain,” said Eno. “What is it?”
“A Borg vessel has just entered the system to collect its sister-ship. We have to evacuate. Now.”
“But we’ve got a missing crewmember inside the derelict, sir.”
“Someone by the name of Horace Malloy.”
“Never heard of him.”
“He’s our inventory officer, sir.”
“Oh. Well, too bad we don’t have time to rescue him. The Borg vessel will be in sensor range in two minutes. We have to leave now.”
“But what about Mr. Malloy?”
“He’s someone else’s problem, Eno. Now let’s get out of here while the getting’s good. I don’t want to be here when they arrive.”
“Who? The Borg?”
“No. Someone worse.”
INVENTORY MOTHERSHIP GREENSPAN
The Ambassador-class Inventory Mothership Greenspan coasted into the Soskan system and bathed it with sensor-sweeps. The Greenspan was equipped with the highest-tech sensors available. It was, after all, one of the elite guard of starships responsible for tracking every padd, phaser, and photon torpedo tube in the Federation. It didn’t take long for it to find what it was looking for.
Commander Velara raised an eyebrow, rod-straight in her command chair. “Where is he?”
The ensign at sciences gulped. “Not down on the planet. I’m only detecting small remnants of the Borg derelict.”
“Long range scan. Where is the Borg vessel?”
The ensign’s hands trembled as she checked the sensor data. “Three parsecs off sir. The Van Nolan system.”
“Intercept. Maximum warp.”
“Sir, are you sure that’s a good idea?” asked the helmsman. “That’s a Borg ship.”
“They are in possession of numbered and coded Federation inventory equipment, and a numbered and coded Federation inventory officer. Those items must be retrieved. To leave them in Borg hands would go against our highest precept.”
“Isn’t that the Prime Directive?”
“Negative. I am speaking of the Inventory Corollary. ‘Seek out, assess, account for, and secure all sensitive property at all costs.’ Now plot that intercept course and engage.”
“Coming up on Borg vessel,” said the helmsman moments later.
Velara watched dispassionately as the green-tinged Borg ship loomed on the viewscreen. “Hailing frequencies.”
“Open,” said the man at communications.
“Borg cube, this is the Federation Inventory Mothership Greenspan. Please return our officer and our equipment.”
“We’re getting a response.”
An image of the Borg cube interior suddenly flickered on screen. The image panned to reveal a rather stout, balding Borg.
“Inventory mothership, I am Detritus. Lower your shields and prepare to be boarded.”
“You will not assimilate us,” Velara said swiftly.
“You will not be assimilated.” Detritus paused for effect. “You will be inventoried.”
“S’c’ll,” said Velara quietly and gutturally. It was a Vulcan curse word. Actually, it was THE Vulcan curse word. Roughly translated, it meant logic and emotional control were about to be tossed out the nearest airlock.
After the Greenspan was harvested for parts and its crew slapped with inventory tags and left for dead, Borg Cube #590 sped out of the Van Nolan system.
Minds muttered about what to do next. Several hours ago, the cube had been suddenly and inexplicably cut off from the rest of the Borg Collective. That event, curiously, coincided with the moment they found and assimilated a Federation officer by the name of Horace Malloy.
There was nothing wrong with Cube #590 that any of the twenty thousand-odd crew could tell. They had simply experienced a change in objectives. Things had become much clearer now.
“Seek out, assess, account for, and secure all sensitive property at all costs.” That was their new tenet, and with or without the support of the Collective, it would be carried out.
VISIGOR FIVE TWO SECTORS AWAY
Personal Log, Lt. J’hana,
Stardate 53207.3. I have been ordered by Commander Conway to take a vacation because my attitude, as he puts it, stinks. However, I would like to see how HE handles litterers. Being thrown out an airlock was far too lenient for that ensign. Attitude indeed. Since I was given the choice of leave or another invigorating counseling session with Counselor Peterman, I have opted to travel to the world of Visigor Five, where I am attending a professional wrestling fantasy camp. It is my intention to bring the world of Andor a place of honor in the field of professional wrestling, since they have not had a contender in that sport since 2320, when Vlarak the Great bit the head off Sivello the Small- headed. I will have fun. That is all.
“Come on, you dishonorable shlemak!” J’hana cried, circling the wrestling ring and growling at the cowering Ferengi that occupied the opposite corner of the ring. “Fight like a man!”
“They told me this would be fun!” the Ferengi cried. “I was told I would have fun!”
J’hana made a pouty face. “You’re not having fun?”
“Then ask for a refund.” She pounced on the Ferengi swiftly, in a blur of blue. She jerked the Ferengi’s leg backwards until she heard the satisfying crack of bones, then let him fall limp.
The Andorian hopped out of the ring and grabbed a towel, mopping the azure sweat that streamed from her forehead.
“Lt. J’hana,” said a voice from behind her. She chortled. It was the UFP Professional Wrestling Fantasy Camp’s smarmy Program Coordinator, Dan.
“Ah, Dan, come to find me a new opponent?” she said merrily.
“Actually,” the smallish man said weakly. “We’ve had a few complaints…”
J’hana watched with amusement as the Ferengi was carted away from the ring on an antigrav stretcher. “You don’t say.”
“The Betazoids are very angry. You nearly killed one of their government officials. Not to mention what you did to the Gorn free trader…” Dan made a nervous grunt. “Ahem. I’m afraid what this means is–”
J’hana turned. “You’re not kicking me out.”
“There were certain rules in your fantasy camp membership application–”
J’hana glowered at the coordinator. “There was also the promise that I would meet several of the galaxy’s most prominent professional wrestlers.”
“And we’ve delivered on that.”
“The only professional wrestler I’ve seen here is Sizlik the Hopping Saurian, and he was disbanded from the Galactic Wrestling Federation five years ago for crying during a fight. He’s a washout!”
“But you should hear him play the mesophone! He’s quite good!”
“That has nothing to do with anything.” J’hana folded her arms. “I’ll leave your puny fantasy camp. But I want my latinum back.”
“So does that Ferengi whose leg you just broke!” Dan exclaimed.
J’hana picked Dan up by the neck. His legs flailed. “Give me back my latinum, or I will remove your flexible spine and let Sizlik the Hopping Saurian play ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ on it!”
“It sounds as if you had a good time on your little trip,” Dwanok said with satisfaction over the shuttle Marco Polo’s comm as J’hana counted her latinum.
“Yes, pity it had to be cut short,” J’hana muttered. “Now I’ve got four days, and I don’t even know what to do with them.”
“You could meet me in the Ilad system. I’m getting ready to obliterate a small pseudohominid culture that’s been meddling with one of our planet-based listening posts.”
J’hana bit her lip thoughtfully. “That sounds fun, Dwanok. But it would take me a day to get there, and another to meet back up with the Explorer. That would only give us two days in which to obliterate a culture and make love.”
Dwanok grunted. “True, we’d end up doing neither very well. What will you do with yourself, then, J’hana?”
“I haven’t decided. Maybe I will drop in on the boat show on Bensak Six. I hear the new SeaStalker has an optional phaser array.”
“For annihilating those hard-to-get-to fish!” Dwanok exclaimed.
Then an indicator on J’hana’s panel bleeped to life. “That’s odd.” J’hana stuffed her latinum into a satchel and tossed it into the chair beside her. “I’m picking up a signal from a Federation escape pod.”
“Bah! Escape pods! What a waste of space on a warship.”
“Completely, however, I’d better check this out. I will call you when I return to the Explorer. Enjoy destroying that culture.”
“Oh, I will. Dwanok out.”
J’hana brought the scans of the life pod up on one of her screens. It contained one occupant. Vulcan. J’hana sighed. Alive.
She steered the Marco Polo in the direction of the escape pod and readied the emergency transporter. She would make sure to subtract this from her vacation time.
J’hana wondered what sort of conversation she’d make with the Vulcan during the long ride to the nearest starbase. She despised Vulcans. Perhaps this one would just be content to be quiet and sit in the back. At least Vulcans, unlike humans, would probably be less inclined to whine about the circumstances that resulted in them being jettisoned from their ship in an escape pod.
When the Vulcan materialized, she quickly took stock of her surroundings. “I am aboard a Federation shuttlecraft.”
“You are perceptive,” J’hana said dryly, and turned in her chair to plot a course to the starbase.
Suddenly J’hana was spun in her chair. The Vulcan squatted down to stare her in the eye.
“I am Captain Velara. We are in grave danger,” blurted the Vulcan.
“Correction. You are in grave danger for spinning me about like that, Velara.”
“You do not understand the gravity of this situation. A Borg vessel is nearby.”
J’hana’s antennae twitched with excitement. “Really?”
Velara slid into the chair opposite J’hana. “We must stop it.”
“Sounds excellent,” J’hana said agreeably. “I am always up for a good suicide mission.”
“This is not about suicide. This is about inventory.”
J’hana rolled her eyes. The one word that could even suck the joy out of attacking the Borg alone. “Inventory.”
“That is correct. A Borg ship has assimilated a Starfleet inventory officer. Apparently, because of him, their mission has turned to one of inventorying, as opposed to assimilation.”
“It is difficult to decide which is worse.” J’hana rubbed her chin. “So what does that mean exactly?”
“It means they will stop at nothing to account for every piece of property in this quadrant. Even if it means bothering every Federation citizen within four hundred square light years. It will be rampant, unbridled, relentless inventorying, the likes of which our culture has never seen. The bloodshed will be significant.”
“Okay. How do we stop them?”
“We must destroy that Borg ship. It is no doubt cut off from the collective, so that will be an easy matter.”
“Hopefully not too easy. Do you know where they will strike next?”
The Vulcan pressed a control, and directed J’hana’s attention to one of the small viewscreens on her console. A starmap appeared. “After I escaped my they appeared to take this course.”
“Which would lead them directly to–”
“The Visigor system. Do you know it?”
J’hana grinned and set her course. “In a manner of speaking. Hold on to your ears, Vulcan.”
Dan was busy filling out the accident report forms left over from J’hana’s visit when a strange murmuring sound seemed to emanate from the room outside. Actually, that murmuring sound seemed to come from all around him.
It was a sound almost like wide-scale transporter beams. Like hundreds of people were beaming down all around his building.
Then the comm console on his desk bleeped: “Alpha Alert. This is Visigor Colony Control. We are under attack. The attackers are Borg. Abandon the planet now. And while you’re abandoning the planet, why not do it in style aboard an Oldsmoship Escape Craft? Safe, reliable, smooth-riding, it’s the Oldsmoship Escape Craft. Test drive one today.”
Dan rose from his desk as screams echoed throughout the Fantasy Camp. Before he could reach the door, it exploded open and a black-clad, whirring, whizzing Borg drone plodded in, focusing the laser sight implanted in one of his eye-sockets on Dan’s forehead.
“Human. Male,” the Borg said flatly. “We will add you to our list of inventory items.”
“Huh?” Dan stammered.
“Resistance is futile.” The Borg’s arm apparatus rose and slammed against Dan’s forehead. He felt the painful crack of metal spikes taking root in his skull. In the cracked mirror behind the Borg, he realized that it was some sort of tag.
Numbers flickered to life on the surface of the tag, and the Borg read them off.
“You are item number 0772 of 0772. Your designated space is Building 090, Room 120. If you move to another room, you must file a property transfer form, or you will be destroyed.”
Then more Borg rushed in to similarly plant tags on every item in Dan’s office.
Before leaving, the first Borg added, “a drone will come by each day to verify your existence, and the existence of these items. If you have any questions, you may reach us on communications channel 055. Thank you for your assistance.”
J’hana put her hands on her hips and surveyed the hysteria that was Visigor Five. Everywhere she looked, silvery tags with green glowing numbers demarcated Borg property. People screamed. But oddly, they didn’t move around much.
“They work fast,” muttered Velara. “That is commendable.”
“So they haven’t assimilated any of these people,” J’hana said in disbelief.
“Negative. From what I have observed, these people are free to go about their normal daily lives, as long as they don’t leave their designated position.”
“Borg are positioned throughout this world to keep track of the inventory,” Velara said. “It appears that the Borg make daily scans of each item. Inventory officers only do it monthly. Quite efficient.”
“Why have the Borg not bothered us yet?” J’hana asked.
“We do not pose a significant threat yet.”
“Shouldn’t they want to inventory us?”
“They do, and they will,” Velara said coldly. “More than likely, they have already filed a request to their ship. A specialized team will then be dispatched to add us to the database. When they get here depends on how far away the Borg ship is.”
“So you think certain drones have been assigned specific tasks?”
“It is a philosophy shared by Borg and Inventory officers alike.”
J’hana came across an elderly Zakdorn woman, who was sitting on a park bench, her lower lip trembling in fear as she stroked what appeared to be a small Yorkshire terrier.
“Madam?” asked J’hana. “Are you all right?”
“I was just sitting here, minding my own business, when this big, black, pale-faced cyborg came up and stabbed this,” she indicated the tag, “into my forehead. They told me if I left, I had to fill out a property transfer form. I don’t know what one of those is, much less where to get one.”
“As I feared,” Velara said. “Your designated space is this park bench?”
“Yes indeed. Me and Farkor here.”
Farkor looked up at J’hana and growled, as he angrily tried to scrape the silvery tag off his forehead.
“Let me see,” J’hana said, picking the terrier up and examining the tag. “And if we remove these?”
Velara looked up from her tricorder. “A deadly serum will be released into the dog’s nervous system. Actually, that is quite an interesting idea.”
Farkor suddenly got a glimpse of a Borg walking by and barked angrily at it, squirming out of J’hana’s arms and scampering across the lawn.
“Farkor, no!” screamed the old woman.
The instant the furry canine left his designated space, he exploded in a small orb of fire, his last yowl dying out with the embers of his burning fur.
J’hana stared at the burning remnants of Farkor regretfully. “That was unfortunate.”
“We haven’t seen the worst of it yet,” Velara said, as she and J’hana left the weeping old woman. “These Borg will stop at nothing. They will make the entire quadrant like this if we do not stop them.”
“Then we will stop them,” J’hana said firmly.
“Unfortunately, these Borg have the power and resources of Borg, with the added resolve and determination of a good inventory officer.”
J’hana stopped and kneeled to regard a small piece of metal lying on the ground. It was the more familiar grey and black Starfleet inventory tag. “It appears this was removed from a piece of Starfleet property.”
“Indeed,” said Velara. “It would seem that the Borg must remove our tags before they can affix their own, since our tags do not correspond to their tracking system.”
“Well, then,” J’hana said. “Defeating the Borg will be a simple matter.”
Velara almost laughed. “Simple. How?”
“All we need is a starship and an inventory expert. And I happen to know where we can find both.”
Captain Baxter blew on his morning mug of hot chocolate and stared over the steam at Lt. J’hana. “I must say, I’m surprised to hear from you, J’hana. Checking in to let us know you’re okay?” he smirked.
J’hana huffed on the main viewscreen. She appeared to be inside her shuttlecraft. “Hardly.”
“Are you enjoying your vacation?” Counselor Peterman asked with interest from beside Baxter.
“Did you win your wrestling matches?”
“That I did, that I did.”
“That’s excellent, J’hana. So, what’s on your mind?” Baxter sipped his hot chocolate again.
“We need to use the Explorer as Borg bait.”
Baxter spewed a stream of hot chocolate in front of him. “WHAT?”
“The Borg assimilated an inventory officer, and have become obsessed with accounting for property. They’ve been drilling inventory tags into people’s heads.”
“Oh, my,” said Peterman worriedly.
Baxter sat his cup down in its holder. “J’hana, I don’t know what to say.”
A rather severe-looking Vulcan pushed her head in front of J’hana’s. “Say you will be here. Soon. Our time is short.”
“They’ve got a Vulcan worried,” remarked Tilleran from the science station. “It must be bad.”
“I can believe that,” Baxter said. “Mr. Ford, lay in a course to intercept J’hana’s shuttle. Maximum warp.”
“Come,” Baxter said above the music in his ready room.
Counselor Peterman walked in and immediately covered her ears. “What the hell is this, Andy?”
“Something Commander Conway turned me on to. It’s called Led Zeppelin.”
“It’s horrible! Like a droning air recycler!”
Baxter turned to smile at Peterman. “Shhh. Here comes the best part. DADADUM! DADADUM! DADADUM! DADADUM! DUM-DUM!”
“Lovely,” Peterman said. “So you’re locked up in your ready room with the lights down listening to some of Commander Conway’s mood music. I can only assume that means you’ve got some reservations about this Borg Inventory thing.”
“Reservations? Are you kidding? I’m more than reserved about this. I’m scared silly.”
“Of being defeated by the Borg?”
“Of going back into Inventory!” Baxter turned back to his viewport.
“I’m sure it’s not all that bad.”
“You didn’t work in that field for ten years. It IS that bad, trust me.”
“You think they’d try to recruit you after this mission?”
“Who knows? They have strange powers, Kelly. Any good Captain knows to avoid them. They work outside of Starfleet’s normal rules. They are the single most relentlessly bureaucratic group in the galaxy. Now that same philosophy has been absorbed by a race that is cold, systematic, and evil. They may just be unstoppable.”
Peterman moved to wrap her hands around Baxter’s chest from behind. “Well, if anyone can stop them, I’m sure you can.”
“Don’t be so–”
“Larkin to the Captain,” came Larkin’s voice over the comm.
“What is it?”
“We are picking up errant subspace signals from a nearby Federation colony. They appear to have engaged a Borg ship.”
Baxter and Peterman hurried out of the ready room, just as Commander Conway emerged from the aft turbolift. The three walked together down to the command arena.
“Put the comm traffic on audio, Larkin,” Baxter ordered, taking his seat.
“What’s this about Borg inventory officers?” Conway asked, but Baxter cut him off with a raised hand as the comm system crackled to life.
“Get the colony defenses on-line!”
“Scramble the fighter ships!”
“I want two large mushroom pizzas. Just a little tomato sauce and a dash of oregano on each, please.”
“Prepare to evacuate all the civilians!”
“But Doctor, I’ve done everything I can and the rash just keeps spreading! It hurts just to walk! I can’t even–”
Suddenly, a much less happy voice intervened. “WE ARE BORG. LOWER YOUR SHIELDS AND SURRENDER YOUR SHIPS. WE WILL ADD YOUR BIOLOGICAL AND TECHNOLOGICAL PROPERTY TO OUR LIST. YOUR CULTURE WILL FILL OUT THE PROPER PAPERWORK AND COMPLY WITH OUR INVENTORY TEAMS OR BE DESTROYED.”
“Yellow Squadron, attack!”
“Why are we always the first ones to attack? Why not Red Squadron?”
“WE ARE BORG. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.”
“So anyway, about this rash–”
“Channel off,” Baxter said abruptly.
“But I wanted to hear more about that guy’s rash,” Ford said self-consciously. He’d been itching for weeks ever since he’d been dared to climb that tree naked in the arboretum.
“Tough, close the channel!” Baxter snapped. “Change course to intercept that Borg ship. Maximum warp and then some!”
“Aye, sir,” Ford muttered reluctantly.
Supplemental. We’ve arrived in the Gregoris system too late for its occupants. As quickly as they had come, the Borg left to go ransack another system and add its inventory to their own or some such thing. We’ve just rendezvoused with Lt. J’hana, and Commander Conway and his team have returned from examining the Borg handiwork on Gregoris.
“They’re efficient bastards, if nothing else,” Conway muttered.
Lt. Commander Larkin gestured to a graphic on the conference room’s main screen. “This is a multispectral scan of one of the Borg inventory tags. Unlike Starfleet inventory tags, these have several unique features.”
“We know,” Velara said dryly from her place at the other end of the conference table.
“At any rate, Lt. Tilleran and I have come to the determination that nothing can be done to remove these tags without causing massive damage to the piece of ‘property’ and to whatever unlucky person happens to remove the tag.”
Baxter tapped a padd thoughtfully on the conference table. “There is a way to deactivate those tags.”
“Enlighten us, brilliant one,” Conway muttered.
Baxter shot Conway a dirty look. He then turned his attention to the screen. “What are those two lumps on either side of the tag, Larkin?”
“Subspace transponders, to the best of our knowledge,” Larkin replied. “Used to link each tag with the collective.”
“So each piece of property the Borg tag is then tied into the sub-collective of that Borg ship.”
“Then, forgive me if my Borgology is a little rusty, but doesn’t that mean all we have to do is destroy the Borg ship?”
“‘All we have to do…’,” J’hana echoed sarcastically.
“You have a plan for destroying the Borg ship, Captain Baxter?” Velara asked.
“They’re compelled to collect inventory tags?” Baxter asked, putting up his eyebrows. “Let’s give them some inventory tags to collect, then. Massive amounts.”
“To what end?” Larkin asked, her android interest piqued.
“Simple. We’re going to make a trail for them to follow.”
“And that trail will lead…” J’hana asked.
Baxter grinned. “Straight to hell. Let’s get to work, people.”
“Look at them fly!” Lt. Hartley exclaimed, as piles upon piles of inventory tags flooded from one of the Class Five Industrial replicators in engineering.
“It is a welcome sight. So many beautiful tags,” Velara said, enlisting a curious glance from J’hana.
“You certainly are passionate about your work,” J’hana grunted. “For a Vulcan.”
“Vulcans are not devoid of passion, Lieutenant. We merely suppress it. At any rate, it is not passion I feel for the field of Inventory. Just simple, total, devotion.”
“You’d have to be a Vulcan for that.”
“Had I any emotions, I would have taken great offense to that remark, Lieutenant.”
“Then let’s be glad you’re not.”
Hartley switched the replicator off. “Okay, what’s next?”
“Load the first ten thousand of these babies into empty torpedo shells,” J’hana said.
“What about the other thousand?” Hartley asked, directing Ensign Stuart to the piles of silvery-gray tags.
Velara raised an eyebrow. “They are for a…special project.”
“This is exciting,” exclaimed Tilleran, as she carefully implanted a nanite into the surface of the Starfleet inventory tag with microtweasers. The nanite looked like a little cockroach under the microscanner. It quickly buried itself under micron- thick polyduranium protective layer that surrounded the tag.
“Too bad we do not have a Borg to tesssssst thissssss on,” Dr. Benzra said eagerly, hovering over Tilleran’s shoulder.
“Itching for some payback?” Baxter asked jovially. He was desperate to bond with his Flarn doctor. It would help him not be scared to death of her when it came time for a physical. Something about having a four meter insectoid with sharp claws as long as a phaser rifle asking you to “turn your head and cough.”
“Very much sssssssso,” hissed Benzra. “They did, after all, exterminate my people.”
Conway shrugged. “What can I say? Borg kill bugs dead!”
Baxter grimaced at Conway and slapped him in the back of the head. “Tilleran, what do we have?”
“The nanites are programmed to nest inside the tags and multiply. If we drop this tag into the sack of other tags, they’ll spread to the whole batch in less than an hour.”
Velara glowered. “Then we load the inventory taggers.”
“How are we to be sure that these nanites will have the desired effect?” J’hana asked.
“We’ll know ssssssoon enough,” Benzra said eagerly.
“And why are you going aboard the Borg ship, if I may ask?” Tilleran asked Velara..
“Because,” Velara said coolly, “I would like to at least try to get my officer back before we destroy the Borg vessel.”
“I knew you had a soft spot,” J’hana said gruffly.
“Not at all. I would simply like to benefit from some of the techniques the Borg have no doubt taught him.”
“And you wonder why I got out of this business,” Baxter said, turning for the door.
“About that…” Velara said, turning.
“You can forget it! Conway, J’hana. You’re with me. The rest of you finish up with the nanites.”
The Borg vessel stopped in mid-inventory. Somewhere, out in space, it detected a massive concentration of property control tags. But they were attached to no specific property. This created a brief page fault error in their processing system. Tags, but no property? What were they to do in that situation?
Logic soon reigned supreme again. The tags were obviously meant to tag something, most likely something important. They must investigate and add the mystery item to their own inventory. The number of detected tags grew. More tags were being distributed. The source would be found and inventoried with the mysterious new items. Resistance was futile.
The Borg vessel changed course.
“Have we found the Borg yet?” Baxter asked, stepping out onto the bridge, followed by J’hana and Conway.
“Correction,” Larkin said, rising from her chair and moving back to ops. “The Borg have found us.”
“The tags must’ve gotten their attention,” Baxter reasoned. “Mr. Ford, find me an asteroid field. We’re going for a ride.”
“Joy,” Ford muttered, and punched the Explorer’s engines up a notch, shifting course toward the nearest asteroid field.
It took almost no time for the Borg vessel to catch up with the ship of tags. It was en route to a large intersystem planetary debris field, composed of many unremarkable metals. What was the ship of tags doing here?
Regardless, it had a wealth of tags to be replaced. It would be inventoried, no matter the cost.
“Ready on the magnetic generator, J’hana,” Baxter said. He punched his armchair comm button. “Lt. Hartley. How are those torpedoes coming?”
“Locked and loaded, Captain,” Hartley replied over the comm. “Oh, and I’ve been instructed by our shipboard inventory officer that our plan constitutes a massive violation of Inventory Interdict 212.”
“Tell her to kiss my butt, Lieutenant.”
“Already have, sir.”
Baxter grinned. “J’hana, magnetize the field.”
J’hana tapped a control, and a massive surge of magnetic energy shot forth from the Explorer’s deflector dish.
“Magnetic energy spreading throughout the field, sir,” J’hana announced.
“Fire torpedoes. Dispersal pattern omicron.”
Baxter watched the viewscreen eagerly as the torpedoes shot out of their bays, exploding with a rain of tiny metal bits.
Peterman squinted at the tags as they zipped through the field and found their homes on the various asteroids. “You really think the Borg will fall for this?”
“I know how inventory people think, Kelly,” Baxter said. “Trust me. Mr. Ford, pull us out of the field.”
The bridge crew watched on the viewscreen as the Borg vessel dove into the asteroid field, which had quickly become peppered with tags.
“Wonder what they’ll do now?” Conway asked skeptically.
It was then that tiny green beams came to life throughout the field.
“They’re beaming Borg out there!” Peterman exclaimed.
“Of course!” Baxter said. “Someone has to pry the tags off.”
“That magnetic energy must be a bitch,” Conway mused.
And sure enough, Borg began clanging into one another. Then a couple of the twisting asteroids smashed together, sandwiching Borg in between.
“The confusion will buy us a little time,” Baxter said, standing up and grabbing a phaser from Lt. J’hana.
“A little time for what?” Peterman asked worriedly.
Baxter sighed. “Somewhere, on that ship, a man who was about to retire from inventory is being held captive. I have to do whatever I can to save him. He’s spent years of his life tagging–I can’t let him spend the rest of his life that way. He’s suffered long enough, dammit! I will free him!”
Peterman pulled Baxter into a tight hug. “Be careful, honeybear.”
“I will,” Baxter groaned. “Conway, you have the bridge.”
Captain Baxter, Commander Velara, Lt. J’hana, and Dr. Benzra materialized in one of the cramped, dark corridors of the Borg ship. They immediately switched on their beacons.
“How sure are you that these things will work?” Baxter asked, eying the inventory tagger holstered at his side skeptically.
“Far from one hundred percent,” Velara said. “Since they have never been tested.”
Benzra hunched down in an effort to squeeze through the corridor. “We will get that opportunity ssssssssoon enough.”
“I am reading a Federation comm signal forty meters in this direction,” J’hana said, studying her tricorder.
“That would just be his uniform,” Velara said. She looked around, narrowed her eyes in intense concentration. “Malloy is this way.”
“How can you be sssssssure?” asked Benzra.
“We can smell our own,” Velara said simply, and led the group down the corridor.
Baxter just shrugged, looking from J’hana to Benzra.
“That one’s new to me.”
“Uh-oh,” Tilleran said, checking her readouts. She’d just returned from the lab.
Conway and Peterman both looked back at her. “What do you mean ‘uh-oh’?” Conway asked.
“I think the Borg are tired of counting rocks.” She switched on the external view. The Borg vessel obliterated every asteroid that had an inventory tag with its powerful green plasma weapons, then charged toward the Explorer. So much for property control. Evidently, since the rocks didn’t exist anymore, they hardly counted as property anymore either.
“Shields up,” Conway stammered.
“They already are,” said Gellar.
“Sure they are,” Conway replied, irritated. “Target the Borg ship with phasers and quantums. Prepare to fire on my mark.”
“What do we do now?” Peterman asked fearfully.
“We enact phase two of the plan,” replied Conway.
Conway shrugged. “Destroy the Borg ship.”
“With my HUSBAND aboard!” Peterman shrieked.
Conway clamped his hands over his ears. “Somebody muzzle her before we go deaf!”
Peterman fumed, clenching her fists in anger. “When Andy gets back, you are in soooo much trouble, mister!”
“Where’s that damn muzzle!”
The away team found Horace Malloy strapped into a Borg alcove. He stared at them emotionlessly.
“YOU WILL BE INVENTORIED,” said the voice of the Borg collective, from all around the away team. “RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.”
“Fine, fine, we will be inventoried!” Baxter said. “But I want to choose my inventory specialist.”
J’hana glared at him. “What?”
“Jusssssssst play along,” Benzra whispered. “He ssssssseems to know what he’sssss doing.”
“You have not known him long enough,” J’hana replied curtly.
“Inventory Interdict 295,” Baxter said. “An officer may designate an inventory specialist to work with.”
The Borg mulled this over.
“VERY WELL. YOU MAY CHOOSE.”
Baxter stabbed a finger at Malloy. “I want this one.”
“HE IS OBESE. ARE YOU SURE?”
“I like my inventory personnel fat.”
The Borg nearly sighed. “IF YOU INSIST.”
Suddenly the bolts holding Malloy in place in his alcove exploded all around him, and he stepped down.
“Prepare to be inventoried,” he said dully.
Then the first explosion hit.
Peterman beat Conway about the shoulders repeatedly and painfully. “Stop doing that! You’re going to kill them!”
“That’s the idea!” Conway bristled.
“Not the Borg, our away team!”
“It was Baxter’s plan,” Conway muttered. “He said if they didn’t accomplish their mission in time, we were to destroy the Borg ship by setting adrift quantum torpedoes with inventory tags attached. The Borg take them aboard, then we detonate them. Good idea, too, despite its source.”
Peterman continued smacking. “But…you’re…going…to…kill …him!”
“They’ve still got time to get out of there,” Conway said. “We’re still ten whole minutes away from the sun.”
Peterman blinked. “The SUN!!! What do you plan to do? Tag THAT?”
Conway giggled devilishly. “How did you know?”
Horace Malloy, aka “Detritus,” listened patiently to the Borg collective. They were having a slight problem with the latest pieces of property from the Federation tag ship. It seemed that the equipment was very suddenly exploding as they brought it aboard, doing massive damage to the interior of their ship.
Horace bashfully suggested that they might just be better off not bringing the torpedoes aboard. He’d also been the one to come up with the “if we blow it up, it’s not property anymore” plan.
The Borg liked his suggestion, and immediately ceased beaming aboard the torpedoes.
“Well, the explosions stopped,” J’hana said.
“They have adapted,” Velara reasoned.
“No further delays,” said Detritus. “You must all be inventoried.”
“Good enough for me,” Baxter said, reaching into his holster. “How about you inventory this first?” Baxter shot a tag directly onto Detritus’ forehead. The tag crackled with electricity and Detritus paused for a moment, looking at Baxter with confusion.
“New mission parameters uploading now. ‘Count each Borg aboard this vessel and fill out the appropriate paperwork on each.’”
Baxter grinned, patted Detritus on the back. “That’s a Borg!”
“We’ve got company!” J’hana shouted, as legions of Borg stormed in from either side of the corridor.
“Now thissssss is what I wasssss waiting for!” Benzra said triumphantly, stabbing claws left and right into the Borg, slamming them together, and crushing their skulls effortlessly.
“All right,” Baxter said, “start tagging, guys!”
Baxter and the away team lead a mad dash through the Borg ship, slapping tags with nanites left and right. About this time, the Borg would be experiencing a slight mood swing.
“One, two, three, four, five, six,” said Detritus merrily.
“Conway to away team,” chirped Baxter’s comm badge.
He tapped it. “About time, there, Conway. How goes your end of the plan?” A Borg lunged at him, but he deftly shot it with his tagger and scrambled between its legs.
“We just launched a torpedo with multiphasic shielding into this system’s sun, loaded down with the rest of our tags.”
“Then beam us aboard!”
“Are you sure you’re not Borg?”
A small glitch slowly worked its way into the subcollective of Cube #590. The ship of tags had shot a torpedo and a complement of tags into the system’s sun. Obviously it must be the Federation’s most important piece of property. It contained over two hundred individual tags. And it was huge–a thousand times bigger than the Borg ship. They must have it. But entering that sun was certain suicide.
But that sun was the largest inventory item ever. Like the omega particle itself, that sun was perfection incarnate.
But achieving inventory perfection would mean certain death.
The Borg inwardly shrugged and steered into the Gregoris sun.
The away team materialized aboard the Explorer just in time to see Borg Cube 590 consumed in a magnificent explosion in the Gregoris sun.
Velara stumbled, bracing herself against the portside engineering station.
“Are you all right?” asked J’hana, by way of common courtesy.
Velara blinked. “A strange sensation. Thousands of voices simultaneously crying out that they found it.”
Baxter stumbled into his command chair, Peterman hopping into his lap joyfully. “Found what?”
“Whatever it is they were looking for. I felt two specific words emanate from their ship just before they exploded: “Inventory perfection.”
Conway grunted. “Good for them. I’m just glad they’re dead.”
Benzra hissed approvingly. “Yesssss, that wasssss invigorating.” She stared down at the inert form of Detritus, then looked to Velara and sighed–a deep buzzing sound. “I sssssssuppossse you wish me to de-Borg him?”
“Please,” said Velara.
Benzra slung Detritus over her shoulder and gestured to Velara. “Come. Let usssss begin.”
J’hana stared around the bridge for a moment as if not exactly sure of what she should do.
Once he was able to disentangle himself from Peterman, Baxter had begun checking the damage the Borg had done to the Explorer. He looked up from his console. “Well, J’hana, I guess you’ll be wanting to have some of your vacation refunded.”
“That is an understatement.”
“Well, maybe you can take that fishing trip with Dwanok you’ve been hinting around about.”
“That would be acceptable.”
Baxter continued checking the status reports, then looked up again. “Something else?”
J’hana looked at Baxter askance. “You were once part of the inventory corps, sir?”
“For ten years. Why?”
“They are ruthless and efficient. They would make impressive killers.” J’hana headed for the turbolift. “I believe I now have a heightened respect for you.”
Baxter looked at Peterman once J’hana had gone. “I don’t know if I should be flattered or scared.”
Peterman grinned. “Terrified is more like it.”
Baxter shivered and went back to checking status reports.
That night, Baxter was awaken by a bright light flooding his bedroom. The comm panel opposite its bed had activated itself. He rubbed his eyes and sat up in bed. Commander Velara slowly came into focus on the viewscreen.
“Did I wake you?”
“It is ship’s night. I have a funny way of sleeping then.”
“My apologies. I wished to let you know that the Escort is preparing to take me to my next rendezvous.”
“Uh-huh,” Baxter said disinterestedly. “Good having you aboard.”
“I wish to make you an offer.”
Baxter laughed. “You want me to be an inventory officer again, right?”
Velara nodded, the humor of the situation totally lost on her. “You would command an Inventory Mothership. The Mussolini is currently lacking a commanding officer. Inventory Command believes you are the man for the job.”
Baxter grinned half-heartedly. “Thank you for your consideration, Commander, but I have a job already.”
“You may have a job, but this is not your true calling.”
“You were meant to be in inventory. One might say it is your destiny.”
“Are you going through pon’farr or something?”
“Well you sure as hell don’t know much about my destiny. I’m captain of an exploratory starship. Why would I want to go back to being a beancounter?”
“What you want is irrelevant, Captain. What will be is the only thing that matters.”
“Well what will be is that I’m staying right here, Velara.”
“We shall see.” Velara laughed coldly and closed the channel.
“Andy?” Peterman said groggily. “Who was that?”
“It’s not important. Go back to sleep.” Peterman rolled over and went back to sleep, but for some reason Baxter decided he would probably never be able to sleep again.
USS CORSICA SIX MONTHS LATER
“Lt. Liam Cheung, Inventory,” said the young, cheeky officer standing outside the office door of Commander Eno.
Eno grimaced. “Finally. Malloy’s replacement, correct?”
“Yes. Here to inventory your office.”
“Good,” huffed Eno. “Just try not to mess anything up.”
“I’ll be very careful,” Cheung said with a grin.
Eno went over to the replicator to get a cup of coffee. “See that you do.”
As the X.O. sipped his coffee, he heard a strange buzzing sound, and an audible “snap!”
“What are you doing?” he asked, turning. Cheung had ripped the inventory tag off his couch.
“New inventory tags,” Cheung said, holding up the silver piece of metal for Eno’s inspection. “Much more efficient. State-of-the-art design.”
Eno studied the new tag. Brilliant green numbers shone on its polished surface, while the sticky underside seemed all too willing to stick to his finger.
With a bit of effort, Eno pulled the tag off his finger and tossed it back to Cheung. “That technology looks familiar.”
“Maybe it does,” Cheung shrugged. “But that’s not really relevant. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some a long list of items to account for…”
Mr. Mirk’s telepathic powers go slightly awry when he contracts a Maloxian version of the flu, sending him catapulting from universe to universe each time he sneezes. Will the Explorer crew be able to track him down and cure him, or will he be left to the time-space equivalent of channel-surfing for the rest of his life?