Summary: Janeway agrees to an unusual trade with a race of telepathic aliens, and dips a toe into seven possibilities.
Characters: Janeway, Tuvok, Chakotay, Seven, Paris
Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/other
Disclaimer: Paramount's universe; fanfic's playground.
Warning: Most of this story could be rated PG-ish, but there's some heavy stuff in a few chapters, particularly Chapter IV. You have been warned.
Part II | Fear
She can barely hear Captain Amasov bellowing orders over the bedlam on the bridge. The last hit took out weapons and propulsion, and the ship-wide comm went down in the middle of the engineering report. Her comrades lie dead and dying around her, unseeing eyes brought momentarily and grotesquely to life with each red pulse of light. The alert klaxon blares in time with the sluggish beat of her heart. She believes that this is the last day of her life; it seems only fitting that it should feel like the longest.
She drags herself to her chair, breath rasping in her lungs. Her knee is dislocated, she has several broken ribs, and she suspects there are other injuries: there is a tearing agony deep inside that can only mean organ damage. Blood drips irritatingly into her eye from a still-gushing head wound and she shakes her head to clear it, then has to wait for the nausea to subside. “Commander,” she hears, and she turns toward Amasov. “Any word from Engineering?”
“Nothing, sir,” she yells across the divide of the centre console. “I’ll send a runner –”
She is cut off by whoever is now manning Tactical shouting a warning, and the dark red light on the bridge is suffused with green. The klaxon is abruptly silenced, the shouts and screams of her crewmates die away. An unearthly static fills the sudden quiet. She feels her guts clench.
We are the Borg.
All the briefings, all her nightmares have not prepared her for this. The Endeavour is trapped in the cube’s tractor beam, pinned like a moth to a board.
Lower your shields and surrender your ships.
Her hands are shaking. Behind her she can hear someone praying in a language she doesn’t understand. A man is weeping; keening, really. She feels the echo of it in her own desert-dry throat. She almost wishes it was over, just so that she wouldn’t have to be so afraid anymore.
Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own.
Her console beeps and she turns to it automatically; it’s a warning: shields have failed. She hears Amasov cursing quietly, fluently, beside her.
You will be assimilated.
Captain Amasov rises from his chair. She fancies she can hear his joints creaking, but he stands erect and proud. She feels herself straightening as well, drawing on some wellspring of courage she didn’t know she had until she saw it in her commanding officer. He addresses the faceless multitude of voices on the cube. “We will not be assimilated,” he roars. “We’ll die first.”
Death is irrelevant, return the Borg, and she watches as a green pulse of fire curves from the cube’s launchers and grows ever larger on the viewscreen.
The torpedo pummels its target, and the Endeavour lurches sickeningly, listing to one side amid the groaning of its hull. “Inertial dampeners are offline,” cries the ensign at Tactical. Gripping the arms of her chair, she watches in horror as Amasov and several other crewmen tumble head over end across the deck like so many dandelion clocks. “Structural integrity is failing.”
Amasov hauls himself upright against the helm, bleeding profusely from a head wound and favouring his left arm. “Abandon ship,” he shouts. “All hands to escape pods.”
Able-bodied crewmen scramble to obey, lifting or dragging the injured with them. She stays in her chair, trying frantically to re-establish the internal comm system so she can relay the escape order below decks.
“That means you too, Kathryn,” her captain bellows, and when she shakes her head he strides over, bracing himself against the listing of the dying ship, and grabs her roughly by the elbow. “Get out now, while you still can.”
“I’m trying to –” she starts, but he shakes his head. “No time. Go!”
She makes it to an escape pod off the bridge, noting that most of the pods on Deck One have been ejected and praying that Amasov is right behind her. She sets a frantic course away from the crippled ship and immediately finds she has to pilot the pod manually through the debris field. How many Starfleet ships have been destroyed here today? How many lives lost?
She guides the pod behind the wreckage of the Melbourne. Through the viewscreen she watches as the Borg ignore the half-destroyed hulk of the ship that has been her home for the past year in favour of scooping up the pods that have just escaped it. Sickened, horrified, she can almost hear the terrified screams of her crewmates as they’re drawn inexorably into the uncaring cube.
And then her pod lurches and she loses helm control, and she realises she is about to share their fate.
She tries scattering the tractor beam, remodulating the pod’s hull, even fires ineffectual phasers at the cube’s tractor emitter, but it’s no use. She is pulled into hell. A drone cuts through the pod’s hull and clamps its unforgiving hand around her arm, dragging her sobbing and fighting into the sour heat of gridlocked metal. She can hear screams and smell blood. She is taken to an assimilation chamber, a room of untold horrors; she watches as a young man in a gold uniform is dumped unceremoniously onto a table, his moans cut short as tubules plunge into his neck, his arm sawn off above the elbow, his skin mottling grey.
She is next. The drone beside her places an implacable hand on her shoulder and presses her to her knees; she looks up at it, begging, pleading for mercy, for some scrap of humanity. Finding none, the last of her tattered courage fails her, and as the tubules bite into her throat she can only whimper. The nanoprobes course into her bloodstream in a wave of devastating agony and she drops her gaze to her hands, sees the polluting grey march across the white of her skin, and as she casts one last prayer to the universe for death instead of this fate worse than death, she thinks, but this isn’t right, this isn’t how it happened …
… and she bursts into consciousness with her throat still raw from the endless screaming, gasping, gulping for breath.
“Captain,” says Tuvok softly, and she turns wide eyes to him, crouched beside her in the chamber.
“Tuvok,” she chokes out, and as she involuntarily grasps for his hand she recognises that her own is white and smooth, her skin unmottled, her veins undarkened by Borg nanoprobes. “Oh, God.”
“What did you see?” he asks.
“The battle of Wolf 359,” she says shakily, feeling her breathing returning to normal as her conscious mind asserts itself over the horror of what she’s just experienced. “I was first officer on the Endeavour.”
“The only ship to survive destruction during the battle,” he notes.
Her mouth twists. “Yes, although half the crew was lost and the ship itself heavily damaged. I made it to an escape pod, as did Captain Amasov and the remaining crew, and we were retrieved by a transport ship a few hours after the cube had been disabled. At least, that’s what happened in reality.”
“But not what you saw.”
“No.” She drags a shaking arm across her mouth. “In this … session … my pod was tractored into the cube, and I was assimilated.” Her hand tightens reflexively on Tuvok’s. “It felt so absolutely real. I saw other Starfleet officers being assimilated. I felt how hot it was inside the cube. I could smell the blood and servo fluid.” She shudders. “I could feel the nanoprobes entering my bloodstream. I was praying for death, and then –” She shakes her head. “I don’t know. Something told me it wasn’t real, and I woke up.”
Tuvok is quiet for a moment, then observes, “It is fortunate that you did. If First Prelate Mekhaal is correct, your brainwave pattern was likely becoming synchronised with that of the Kh’Laan guiding you through the session. Had the synchronisation been complete, you would have died when your guide disconnected.”
“At that point, I would have welcomed it,” she says softly.
As her heartrate slows to normal, she becomes more aware of her surroundings. She looks around. The chamber remains darkened, but she can’t see any Kh’Laan in the room. She and Tuvok are alone. Glancing down, she remembers that she’s naked, and draws her knees up to her chest, wrapping her free arm around them. She can’t seem to let herself release Tuvok’s hand. Not just yet.
“Captain, given your reaction to this first session, continuing this process presents an unacceptable level of risk to your safety.”
“Perhaps.” She manages a smile. “But when have you ever known that to stop me? I can’t back out now, Tuvok. If I do, the Kh’Laan will destroy Voyager. You know I won’t allow that to happen.” She squeezes his hand one last time, reflecting as she does that the fact he has allowed her this physical contact for several minutes is evidence of his concern for her, and lets go. “How long was I out, anyway?”
“Eleven hours and twenty-three minutes,” he replies.
“What?” His answer steals her breath again. “But it felt like barely an hour!”
“I requested an audience with First Prelate Mekhaal when your session passed the six-hour mark. I was … concerned,” Tuvok allows, and she imagines fleetingly how concerned a non-Vulcan would have been in his place; how concerned, she realises, the crew on her ship must be at this moment. Chakotay … Before she can allow herself to explore that dangerous train of thought, Tuvok continues, “Mekhaal hypothesised that your alien neurology was sufficiently unfamiliar to your guide that he found it difficult to make the necessary connection. Additionally, your guide may have been seeking a scenario of sufficient resonance to you to achieve his aim of exploring his chosen aspect of your nature.”
“Well,” she mutters, “it seems he found one. Clearly, he was intending to experience how I react to fear. I wonder what my next guide will choose.”
“It is to be hoped that your next session will prove less taxing.”
“Yes, it is.” She touches his hand again, once, lightly. “Tuvok, you need to return to the ship. Give Chakotay your report, ask him to send down my next tak’aan, and get some rest.”
“Understood, Captain.” Tuvok rises, and then to her utter surprise, she feels him lightly touching her mind with his own. A sense of calm steals over her and she smiles up at him. “Thank you,” she whispers, and follows him with her gaze as he turns toward the door. As he leaves, the seven shrouded Kh’Laan file back into the room, and one steps forward and places her hand on Kathryn’s forehead.