Vludro growled and walked off. His commander couldn't help a slight smile -- most people would object to
this brash command style, but to Nausicaans like Vludro it came naturally.
The man walked through the science facility, glancing over each technician's work as he passed. The
project was going well. Within six months, it might be possible to finally activate the transspace engine...
and then it would finally be over. A new beginning.
"Coordinator!" Another voice came up behind the man. He turned to see Elax, the fully-dissimilated
Bufannsum who was currently organizing the transspace project. "I'm glad you could make it. I know the
war keeps you busy...."
"Not busy enough," said the man with a grunt. "This is more important. What do you have?"
"Stability." Elax grinned. "The nine-light-second portal Vludro told you about is fully stable. We can
accomodate any number of vessels inside it and transport them safely."
The coordinator raised his eyebrows. "You're sure?"
"Excellent -- but keep working on expanding it. Stability is vital, but the most stable disc in the galaxy
won't be good enough if we can't act quickly."
Elax nodded. "Sir, there was one more thing. Rox found this on the BCF piggyback sensors this morning."
He handed the coordinator a techpad.
"Hmm. It looks like she's up to her old tricks."
"Stop calling me that." The coordinator faked a stern glower rather convincingly.
"Yes. Of course. I'll, um, be getting back to work now."
Elax scurried off. The coordinator read through the techpad's contents again, then tossed it aside and
walked off. As he passed, he muttered, "I'd just better not have to save her again...."
From a few thousand kilometers away, the Borg homeworld looked like any other planet, aside from a
slight glow it had recently acquired. Few knew what was really happening there.
If Ankin Rotor had known, he would have devoted his entire force to recapturing the planet.
If Sycorax had known, she would have sent her most powerful ships to destroy it.
Neither of them knew, nor did anyone in the Alpha Quadrant. Only the coordinator, the people on the
planet, and one other being knew. And they were all prepared to guard the secret with their lives.
Around the planet in a tight orbit were two Borg cubes. Eight more were in the next-closest orbit. Then
another eight. And another. Another. Another.
For half an astronomical unit in any direction, space was dense with Borg vessels.
It was the largest gathering of such ships in the entire history of the galaxy. Never had the Borg's forces
been so closely assembled. Never had they been so formidable -- or so vulnerable to one sudden attack.
They had come there to wait.
Within six months, their waiting would be over.
* * *
The Doctor saw Paris and Kim rush through the door. He quickly made two gestures, one for each. Both
men immediately understood what he meant -- Paris came to help, while Kim backed up and stayed out of
the medics' way.
The Doctor's optical subroutines conducted a preliminary survey of the damage to Seven. There were
severe plasma burns all over her head and neck, the deepest being on her forehead near the cortical node.
What little of her hair was left had been charred beyond recognition. The angle of her leg implied a break,
probably sustained when she was thrown against the wall by the energy discharge. She had lost a great
deal of blood and was clearly in shock. In the 0.01 seconds it took the EMH to make these observations, he
had already decided exactly how to proceed.
"Nurse," he said, "apply enough thorozine to stop the bleeding. We have to revive her before she lapses
into a coma. Tom, set the broken leg and begin re-knitting the bone. Computer, raise the bioshell and
secure this section of Sickbay. Someone get me a stimulator!"
"Computer, program Kim 14. Energize." Before the Doctor registered that Kim had been speaking, a
stimulator materialized in his hand. He took the 0.00212 seconds to observe that Kim, in the few moments
he'd been present, must have rigged a quick program on his PADD to autobeam whatever tool the EMH
had most recently mentioned. There was no time to thank the man, however -- Seven was the priority that
overrode all others right now.
Maybe not just right now.
In the 0.0044 seconds between applying the stimulator and rechecking Seven's biosigns, the Doctor realized
he and Kim had at least that one thing in common.
"Her vital signs are fading fast!" said Paris. "Doc, I'm more use to you with the --"
"Stay, Mr. Paris!" The Doctor picked up a microphaser scalpel, increased the magnification of his optical
processors a thousandfold, and leaned over Seven's head. "The stimulator's not working. My scans show
minute debris in her cortex. I need to operate."
To his credit, Paris instantly got the message. The EMH would need all his concentration now. His
holographic heart still shaking violently, the Doctor suppressed all subroutines not related to the skill he
would need. Then, with a hand steadier than any human doctor's, he began the delicate work.
At the end of twenty grueling minutes, the Doctor stood up again. He ran a new scan of Seven's systems
and registered the information, keeping his expression perfectly still. Then he looked up and spoke in a
hollow apostrophe to the computer.
"Operation complete. Crewman Seven of Nine became technologically dead at 2213 hours. Her biological
systems remain functional, but unless her cortical node can be repaired, she will be fully paralyzed for the
remainder of her natural life. End recording."
How could Tuvok be so calm?
"We will begin by investigating the procedures she used in her attempt to repair the plasma coil," said the
Vulcan, seated behind the desk in his office. In front of him, Harry paced back and forth, his mind in
"She began by conducting a Level 5 self-diagnostic of the coil. This is the log file," Tuvok continued, and
he handed Harry a PADD.
Harry scrolled through it, pretending to be interested. "Seems in order," he said. His thoughts were
anything but. I can't believe this! How could this happen to Seven now? After all we've been through, how
can we lose her to a damned plasma coil? How can I lose her? It's not fair!
Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "Mr. Kim, we must concentrate. Please focus your thoughts."
"Easy for you to say."
"You are not helping Seven, Lieutenant."
That did it. "How DARE you say that? You don't give a damn about all this! At least I care that Seven is
lying paralyzed in Sickbay! To you, this is just some new logic puzzle!"
Tuvok leveled a very cold, very even stare at Harry.
"I'm sorry, Commander," he said. "I spoke without due respect for your rank."
"You spoke without due respect," said Tuvok bluntly. "Lieutenant, do you in fact believe that I am
indifferent to Seven's suffering?"
"I... no, I...."
"She has been my student, my co-worker, and my reliable associate for nearly six years. I place great value
on her contributions to Voyager. To say otherwise is neither accurate nor fair."
"I apologize, sir."
Tuvok looked back at his PADD. "Your assessment of this diagnostic is correct. We will next examine her
repair procedures. Open the second log file."
And froze for a good three seconds.
"No way," said Harry. "This doesn't make sense. Seven wouldn't...." Harry's whole expression suddenly
changed. "It wasn't her, Tuvok. Seven didn't make this repair."
Tuvok raised both eyebrows. "She was recorded doing so, Lieutenant."
"Or someone who looked like her. Or someone controlling her. I don't know how it worked, but this was
Pointing at the relevant section of Borg code, Harry proceeded to show Tuvok exactly why this was so.
Inside Seven of Nine's forehead, nanoprobes were busily at work.
Five thousand had been dispatched to the shattered area of her cortical node. Another thousand were
working on repairing the structural damage to Seven. With typical Borg efficiency, no others had been
called away from their normal duty: floating in the bloodstream to detect and react to any microscopic
On a scale smaller than all but the most sophisticated medical scanners could monitor, the nanoprobes
executed their functions. They re-fused split metal. They adjusted microforce field tensions. They pieced
together what debris they could find and replicated what they couldn't.
Unit Seven of Nine had been compromised. Unit Seven of Nine would adapt.
"It would never have happened," said Kim. "She's not perfect, but she doesn't make this kind of mistake."
Chakotay looked over the data one more time. "I can understand where you're coming from, Lieutenant,"
he said. "But you must realize this isn't proof."
"I know, sir."
"As I have attempted to remind Mr. Kim," added Tuvok, "we cannot make accusations until we do have
"Come on!" said Harry. "You two know as well as I do that Seven doesn't take unnecessary risks -- it's not
the Borg way. If she's repairing a plasma coil and she sees signs of an overload, she's going to seal off that
part of the coil before she does anything else. You or I might just finish the repair because the odds of an
explosion are so low, but Seven? No way."
"Seven is continually making progress in embracing her humanity," countered Tuvok. "It's possible she
decided to take the risk on this occasion. There is, as Mr. Paris might say, a first time for everything."
Harry opened his mouth for a retort, but Chakotay raised a hand. "Tuvok's got a point," he said. "We don't
know for sure, and more to the point, we can't expect anyone else to make these same conclusions. We
can't confront Rotor with this -- not yet."
Harry's face fell, but Chakotay stood up and put a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Lieutenant," he
said, "look me in the eye. Can you say without the slightest uncertainty that Seven would not have made
this mistake? Is there any doubt in your mind?"
"No," said the lieutenant, meeting Chakotay's stare. "I know her better than that. I don't know how or why,
but whoever did this... was not her."
Chakotay came around to the other side of the desk. "Then I'll take this one on faith. We'll get to the
bottom of this."
Tuvok frowned slightly, but Harry smiled and said "Thank you, sir."
The first officer nodded. "Dismissed."
Kim left. Tuvok turned to follow, but Chakotay gestured and he stayed back.
"I know you're not happy about this, Tuvok," he said. "You think I'm getting Harry's hopes up for what
may be nothing. I have two reasons for doing that. One is that it may not be nothing, and so it's important
that we investigate this thoroughly."
"And the other?"
"We need Harry at his best right now. Voyager is in a very dangerous situation -- we can't afford to risk
any of our resources, human or otherwise. If Harry didn't have something like this to pursue, some hope
that what happened to Seven can be avenged, he would be in despair. You've seen how he reacts to
problems in his love life."
"Indeed," replied Tuvok. "There have been three occasions to date on which Mr. Kim has become
insubordinate due to a romantic attachment."
"Exactly." Chakotay sighed. "If you were human, Tuvok, you'd be telling me how cold I'm being. It's not
that I don't understand why Harry gets that way. But Voyager has more than enough problems right now...
we don't need another one from him. For his sake and our own, Harry needs a goal."
Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "A most logical course of action, Commander."
He means that as a compliment... wish I could take it as one, thought Chakotay a little sadly. Then he
handed the Vulcan a PADD. "One more thing, Mr. Tuvok. I'd like you to make a list of strategic
preparations we can make for each of the following events."
"Do you believe that any or all of these are likely to occur?"
"I don't know. But I know that if they do occur... I want us ready."
"....and so here we are, negotiating with the Borg. I ask you, what kind of idea is that?"
"I can't say as I know for sure, Tom," replied Mike Sullivan behind the bar. "Shall I pour ye another?"
"Yeah, thanks." Tom handed over his cup and turned to the customer next to him. "What do you think?
Am I nuts or is everyone else?"
"Destroy," replied Satan's Robot.
"Yeah. Can't argue with that."
Sullivan came back with Tom's beer and, not for the first time, took a long stare at the one next to him.
"Beggin' yer pardon, friend," he said to Tom, "as I know ye've explained it once already, but... where did
this peculiar fellow come from?"
Tom smiled. "He's from one of my other holoprograms. My files got a bit scrambled here and there when
I was loading them into the new holodecks."
"Ah. What manner of fellow is he, then... and is it me eyes, or is he a mite lacking in colour?"
"Among other things," replied Tom with a grin. "He's a robot. Sort of a mechanical person."
"Then he's... like me, and the rest of the townsfolk?"
That hadn't occurred to Tom. "Yes, I guess he is. But much less sophisticated."
"It don't seem to me as we should sell the fellow short," said Michael with a frown. "Pr'haps he's to us as
we Fair Haven folk were to you. You all have come to be treatin' us very kindly indeed... I'm thinkin' I
should be ready to do the same."
"INTRUDERS!" shouted Satan's Robot suddenly. It raised its arms and started swinging them back and
forth; one clipped Mike on the side of the head and he leapt back. "Intruders detected in the Fortress of
Doom! Surrender! Spies of Proton! Destroy Proton! Destroy! Des--"
Tom flipped the toggle switch on the robot's chest to "OFF." It immediately stopped shouting; its arms fell
back down and swayed gently in the Irish air.
Michael looked at Tom, rubbing his bruised forehead. "Much less sophisticated?"
"Much less sophisticated," echoed Tom, sipping his beer.
"You think that's what happened?"
"There's very little doubt in my mind."
"You realize we can't risk acting on this -- not until we have proof at the very least."
Janeway and Chakotay walked into Transporter Room 3, where Lieutenant Baxter was on duty. "Center of
the cube, Walter," said Janeway. "You know the drill."
"I do indeed, ma'am," said Baxter with a smile. "And thanks again for that recommendation. I'd never
have made full Lieutenant without it."
"My pleasure," the captain replied, and smiled back. It had felt good to help reward one of her own. She
stepped up onto the beaming pad and looked down at her first officer meaningfully. "Chakotay, you know
I can't be directly involved right now. I'm authorizing you to take whatever course of action you feel is
necessary, but make that judgment carefully. We're in a very delicate position."
"I understand," he replied seriously. "Good luck."
Janeway nodded. "And to you. Energize."
She disappeared. As Chakotay walked back to the turbolift, Tuvok caught up to him in the corridor. "I
received your orders," he said. "Commander..."
"Spare me, Tuvok," replied Chakotay with a smile. "I know we don't have proof. I plan to get it."
The Vulcan raised an eyebrow. "How?"
"Sickbay," announced the first officer once they were both in the lift. He turned back to Tuvok. "The
Doctor and I are going to board Rotor's cube. If we can get to the central plexus and access the emission
logs, we'll be able to download the evidence we need."
"I must strongly advise against this course of action. If you are detected --"
"We won't be."
"You cannot be certain."
"Yes, I can." Chakotay grinned. "Seven's parents will see to that."
Janeway and Rotor had been in the planning room for four hours, making the final decisions about fleet
movements. Normally she would have been tired of it by now. This time, however, there was more going
on than simple strategic planning.
"....and your ship here," finished Rotor, "to counter the Sernaix's left-flank advance."
"Voyager would be better placed here with the central forces," said Janeway.
"I disagree," replied the former drone. "There's no one else powerful enough on the left flank. If I were the
Sernaix, I would focus my attention there."
Janeway sighed. "Perhaps you're right. This can't be a permanent placement, however. Voyager may be
needed elsewhere at any time -- we can't be tied down to one location."
The Sulorian paused, and Janeway watched his expression very carefully. "An understandable wish," he
said at last. "You're right: your ship is a unique resource. We must be careful to keep it mobile in case it is
Janeway's comm badge chirped, interrupting Rotor. She tapped it. "Janeway here."
"This is Nurse Cunningham. Captain... Seven just woke up. And you won't believe what she's saying."
Janeway turned to Rotor just in time to see his fist connect with her forehead. She slumped to the floor,
"He took control of my body," said Seven, still nearly hyperventilating. "I was unable to take any action of
my own will. I watched as he -- as he --"
"Calm down," Cunningham urged. "It's going to be all right. Everything will be all right." I wish I could
actually be sure of that, she thought. Right now all I can do is try to ease Seven's terror. I can't even figure
out how she regained consciousness. Where's that hologram when I NEED him?
Cunningham tried her comm badge again. "Captain! Captain, what happened? Are you still there?"
No response. Better call Tuvok, she thought --
-- just as a sudden blow knocked the wind out of her. Cunningham scrambled to her feet to see Ankin
Rotor reaching for Seven. Her mind was immediately taken over by one imperative: protect her patient.
She leapt forward, shoving Rotor as hard as she could.
To her surprise, the large man was caught off guard and fell to the ground. She used the pause to shout
"Intruder alert! Security to Sickbay NOW!" Then Rotor was back on his feet, and the nurse had to act
quickly. She snatched up the nearest hypospray and brought it down on Rotor with both hands. This time,
the Sulorian was ready for her; he took the blow without faltering. A full-strength punch to her midsection
rendered Cunningham irrelevant.
Rotor turned back to Seven and stared at her intently. She turned as if to run... and then froze in place for a
full second. When she began to move again, she was no longer running.
Tuvok's security team burst through the Sickbay doors just in time to see Rotor and Seven vanish in a swirl
Ankin Rotor's Class 6 Tactical Cube spun on its vertical axis, opened a transwarp conduit, and exploded out
of the sector at a speed unimaginable to most beings. Aboard it were several hundred former Borg and four
The Delta Quadrant Alliance went into a panic. What had just happened? Where were Rotor and
Janeway? Dozens of different crews frantically examined their sensor data, contacted each other, tried to
figure out what to do.
Voyager's crew likewise examined their sensor data -- but without panic. There was no need to figure out
what to do, only how soon they could do it.
So far, so good.
Janeway woke to see Seven of Nine kneeling over her. "Where am I?" she asked, still in a daze.
"Ankin Rotor has brought us aboard his vessel," said Seven matter-of-factly. "The sensor data from my
ocular implant indicates that we are in transwarp space."
Janeway rubbed her eyes as Seven helped her to her feet. "We have to find a way to contact Voyager," she
said. "We can't take over this ship by ourselves, but if we can give them our coordinates, they'll find a way
to get us out of here. Are we secured?"
"No," said Seven. "In fact, we seem to be on the command deck. Perhaps Mr. Rotor was not expecting us
to recover so quickly."
The captain shook her head: "He wouldn't leave us here if he thought we were a threat. These consoles
must be locked." She walked over to one and entered a command sequence; nothing happened. "Damn.
We'll have to find another way."
"Perhaps we can boost the signal on one of our communicators."
"With no other equipment? Unlikely," replied Janeway. "We have to find Rotor. He's the key to all this."
"I have already attempted to locate him," said Seven. "None of the sensors here will respond. Perhaps...."
Seven paused as she noticed Janeway taking a long, hard stare at her. "Captain, is something wrong?"
"No," she said. "Nothing at all. Just... looking."
Seven rolled her eyes slightly. "We should attempt to locate the Director another way."
"We don't have to," said Janeway, her expression unchanging. "I know exactly where he is."
"Yes." The captain smiled. "I see my friend in there, but she's not the one speaking to me. Good try,
Rotor. Now let's dispense with the games, shall we?"
"All right," said Rotor. Seven went stock-still as the Sulorian walked onto the command deck to face
Janeway. "Very perceptive, Captain. And here I thought my imititation of your drone was perfect.
Apparently there was a quality I failed to duplicate."
"Know someone well enough," she replied, "and nobody's imitation can fool you."
Rotor scoffed. "It worked fine for the rest of your crew. Even the man your drone thinks she loves never
"Stop calling her that. Seven is not a drone -- not now, and not ever again."
The Sulorian's face took on a sinister cast. "Captain... you're all drones. Each moment in your lives is
spent waiting for the next, wondering what new pain this universe has in store for you. You have nothing
to hope for, no true happiness to find. It's one downward step after another -- until the story ends."
"And you're different."
"Then what are you, exactly?"
Rotor smiled. "The means to the end."
The sixth time the PADD magically flew out of her hands, B'Elanna really started to get annoyed.
She got up to retrieve it, and made it two steps before Miral latched onto her leg. She looked down at the
creature attaching itself to her body and sighed. There were those Baby Targ eyes, that desperately
pleading expression... any human's heart would have melted. But then, any human's circulation would have
been cut off by now.
B'Elanna pulled Miral off her and tried to explain one more time. "Listen, you. Mommy really needs to
work right now. We need to follow that ship, and without Seven around, your mom's the one who can get
the transwarp calculations done quickest. But not when her PADD is across the room!"
"Great. Look, do you want Captain Janeway back?"
Miral looked up, still teary-eyed. "Totay?"
"Yes, Chakotay too," said B'Elanna, rolling her eyes. "We're going to get them both back."
"But to do that, I need to get my work --"
B'Elanna was about to start throwing things when the door finally swished open and Tom came in. "I just
got off duty," he said. "Thought you might need a hand with --" He didn't get time to finish the sentence
before B'Elanna had shoved Miral into his arms.
"Get her out of here," she said. "Somewhere she can't... do whatever it is she does."
"Right," he said. He turned to Miral. "Guess what, baby? We're going to the Mess Hall!"
Miral gave him the purest expression of unenthusiasm he'd ever seen.
Harry's console beeped. "She's got it!" he shouted. "We can open the transwarp conduit any time."
"Then by all means," said Tuvok without turning, "make it so."
Harry entered the calculations and activated the deflector. The viewscreen shone with eerie green light as
Ankin Rotor's transwarp conduit spun open for the second time. Without a moment's pause, Ensign Jenkins
laid in the new course and engaged.
Voyager elongated across the sector and vanished.
Rotor had been gone for some time now. Janeway stood alone on the command deck, frustrated at her
helplessness. Voyager would come -- she knew that. But would it arrive in time?
Chakotay turned to the Doctor again. "Where are we?"
"The ninth quaternary sublevel," said the hologram ruefully. "Still."
Chakotay frowned. The Hansens' bio-dampener armbands were working like a charm, but they couldn't get
him through force fields -- and while he could shut a given field down, it would be noticed immediately.
There has to be a way through, he thought. We haven't come this far....
"Doctor," he said suddenly, "Seven once told me something about a universal masking code. Do you know
what that is?"
The Doctor closed his eyes for a moment. "She said that each cube has one particular access code which
allows the user to have the run of the ship, force fields and all. Apparently it's an unavoidable flaw in Borg
security systems. But she doesn't know how to find that code, and it only works for a single user."
"We're not on a ship of the Collective," Chakotay reminded him. "If someone scans their database, they
won't immediately know. Which means --"
"I know, I know," said the Doctor, rolling his eyes. "Somebody can go in there and get the code.
Chakotay smiled. "I'm glad we understand each other. Pass me an isolinear microcable...."
"Status," said Tuvok.
At the helm, Tom Paris rattled off the pertinent information. "Conduit stability still at 86 percent. Thirty
billion kilometers from the enemy ship and closing. Current speed, Warp 9 + 45i."
"Is Maneuver Kappa prepared?"
"Aye, sir. We'll be at the right distance in 73 seconds."
Tuvok counted off the seventy-three seconds in his head. At the exact moment they were complete, he
gave the order with Vulcan brevity: "Do it."
Tom couldn't hold back a grin at that as he keyed in the maneuver.
Rotor returned to find Janeway exactly where he had left her. His mental signal caused a bowl of stew to
materialize in front of the captive. "Hungry?" he asked.
Janeway looked down at the stew, then gave Rotor a steady glare. "No, thanks."
The stew vanished. "I can make you a coffee instead, if you'd prefer," said Rotor with a smile.
Janeway ignored him. "What's the point of this? Why are you keeping me alive?"
"Do you object to that?"
"Answer the question."
Rotor chuckled. "I don't think you're in a position to make demands. But I suppose I can spare the energy
to answer you... simply put, you may yet be of use to me."
"'Yet'? Was I before?" asked Janeway with an Okay, we'll play this game expression.
"Think about it, Captain. I know you'll figure it out. What did I stand to gain from your alliance?"
"Redemption in the eyes of the Delta Quadrant," replied Janeway. "Which you obviously no longer care
Rotor smiled. "Never did. You must admit I put on a convincing show."
"You didn't fool me for a second."
"Liar. Oh, I know you never truly trusted me. But don't deny that you believed I meant at least some of
what I was saying."
Janeway only glared.
"Back to the point, then. Your alliance exists to fight the Sernaix, which I too must do. But I have to do
more than defeat them."
"Not exactly," said Rotor with a shifty smile. "I'm not going to give away the whole surprise just yet. The
point, however, is that I need the Sernaix defeated -- but alive, and in this galaxy."
Janeway took on an odd expression. "You were going to watchdog us. Help us survive the war, but make
sure we didn't win it."
"At last, you're beginning to get it."
Suddenly, Janeway burst out laughing. "I don't believe this! You were worried that my alliance, the one
that has yet to win a single major engagement with the Sernaix, would suddenly crush them under our
"Anything is possible, Captain."
Before she could reply, the cube lurched violently. Consoles sparked and exploded all around the room.
The viewscreen switched to rear sensors and revealed Voyager coming up fast, weapons blazing.
Rotor feigned astonishment, prompting Janeway to triumphantly observe, "You're right, Director.
Anything is possible." He allowed her illusion to persist.
The Federation starship Voyager had never yet made full use of its arsenal -- until now. Every torpedo tube
was wide open, every phaser bank afire. Blast after blast crashed across the surface of the Class 6 Tactical
Cube with incalculable destructive force. 95 percent of the cube's port side was damaged or destroyed
within the first ten seconds.
The attack pressed on, ripping through deck after deck. The internal shield perimeter faltered, flickered,
and died. And then....
....the advantage of surprise was gone, and Rotor's mighty vessel rallied its forces. All the shields went up.
All the weapons flashed out. Tractor beams latched onto Voyager; cutting beams blazed against her
shields. Now that the cube was in full battle mode, not even transphasic torpedoes could have dented it.
Voyager spun on an impossible-looking axis, twisted out of the tractors, and faded back into the conduit far
behind the cube to repair its damaged systems.
The cube's internal shielding had been offline for 0.92 seconds. It had been almost enough.
"We got her," said Lieutenant Baxter over the comm, and Tuvok saw Harry Kim's face light up with relief.
"But there wasn't enough time to lock onto the others. I couldn't get a clear enough signal."
"Understood," said Tuvok. "What is Seven's condition?"
"She's unconscious. I don't see any physical damage... okay, the medics just got here. They'll take her to
"Thank you, Lieutenant." Tuvok tapped his communicator off and turned to Kim. "Damage report."
"Huh? Oh." Kim looked down at his console, shaking off the distraction. "Our shields are at 3 percent and
the weapons need at least two hours to recharge. Nothing got through the deflectors -- we broke off just in
Tuvok heard Paris very quietly mutter "Yeah, it's not like the captain matters." He ignored it.
"Lieutenant," he said, "assist Lieutenant Torres in Engineering. Attempt to minimize our repair time."
"Aye, sir." Kim left; his relief, Crewman Paterson, took Ops.
Tuvok turned next to Paris. "What is our estimated time of departure from the conduit?"
Paris ran up the numbers and replied, "Looks like the conduit loses stability in 192 minutes. We'll have to
exit then if we haven't already."
"The weapons need two hours," said Ayala worriedly. "If we leave before then, we're vulnerable."
"Indeed." Tuvok headed up the bridge ramp to the turbolift. "All available personnel are to assist with the
repairs to our offensive and defensive systems. Mr. Paris, you have the bridge."
"Where are you going?" asked Paris.
"Sickbay," he said. "I wish to confirm a hypothesis."
The doors closed behind Tuvok, and Paris reluctantly took the centre seat. He leaned over and began
working with the armrest console. Ayala, noticing this, asked him what he was doing. "Testing a
hypothesis of my own," he replied. "I bet I know where we're going to come out of this conduit."
When the noise and shaking finally stopped, Chakotay let out a deep breath. "That was it," he said.
"Voyager just made its attack run... they must not have had time to get the rest of us out."
The first officer immediately felt a bit foolish for saying it out loud; the Doctor was there, but only
physically. His program was busy hunting in the cube's database for the secret access code. Just as
Chakotay was wondering if it might be a good idea to check on him, the hologram suddenly blinked and
unplugged his emitter from the wall. "I have it, Commander," he said. "I can program an armband to get
one of us through the force fields."
"The force fields won't prevent me from bringing equipment through," mulled Chakotay as the Doctor
worked on his armband. "I can carry your emitter with me."
The hologram sighed. "A nice midday nap. I suppose I'll wake up back on Voyager, or perhaps never."
"Don't worry, Doctor," said Chakotay with a chuckle. "As soon as we're past the force fields, I'll activate
you again. Remember, I did have a reason for bringing you."
"Oh, yes. That reason." The Doctor finished with the armband and reached for his emitter resignedly. "It's
so much better knowing I have something to 'look forward' to...." He pressed the appropriate button and
transfered his program to the mobile emitter. His frown was the last part of him to vanish.
As the Doctor's emitter and armband dropped to the floor, Chakotay quickly snagged them before they
could fall out of his own armband's masking field. Pocketing the items, he took a deep breath and stepped
through the force field in front of him. He had expected a strange crackling sensation; instead, he couldn't
even feel the difference.
Was that what it was like for a drone? All sensations the same, all actions without character or interest?
As he headed through the corridors to save two friends who knew the answer to that question, Chakotay
prayed to the Sky Spirits that he never would himself.
Ankin Rotor had known about the transponder in Seven's bloodstream, of course. Borg scanners missed
very little. Fortunately, she was the captive he could most easily spare; the half-human drone was of no
further use to him. Her survival of the plasma coil explosion had been unplanned, but only a minor
inconvenience. She would be terminated anyway when Voyager was destroyed.
There was still more to learn from Janeway, but that could wait. Now was the time to regenerate, to build
up his strength. Rotor stepped into the only active regeneration alcove left on his ship and began the cycle.
His last conscious thought was that Voyager probably still had a few tricks up its sleeve.
Then his mind came open, and he regenerated.
And he dreamed....
Ankin Rotor, isn't it? You're Zelbar's son? That's what the Council of Titans said when they sent you here.
Come, take a seat.
You'll feel right at home. The other children are very friendly and I'm sure they'll welcome you right away.
Won't you, children? Of course you will. Good boys.
Let's begin. Who can tell me what the prime root of A3 is?
No, not you, Mek. It's always you. Let's hear from someone else. Ankin, how about you? Do you know the
Very good. But you should circle the ampersand *before* you add the subscript-2. Otherwise you're a
little under the proper value. What? Don't look at me that way. I'm your teacher; it's my job to help you
with these things.
Yes, I *know* your way is easier. That's not the important part. Look... let me put it another way, all
right? You've listened to the storytellers in Principal City... you must have heard the Chronicles of Lekin
Tquruth before. At the end of the chronicles, when Lekin has to choose between Yreu and Weysi who are
both in love with him, is it the same story if he chooses Weysi instead? It could have happened either way
in real life, but it's not the same that way, is it? A story or a calcuation can't just end -- it needs to have the
Good, I'm glad you understand what I mean now. Take a seat and we'll do another question. Who can find
the &th power of 77Q?
We found them only a few light-rotations away. We don't know who they were or what they wanted, but
their ship... we've never dreamt there could be one so huge in all our years of studying the galaxy. Ankin,
you must tell no one about this -- not your friends, not your teachers, no one.
I know it's exciting, but you must understand the danger. This world is full of people who would want to
find that ship again and contact it. They're desperate for some sign that we're not the only intelligent race
to exist. Desperate people will do very foolish things.
Yes, it *would* be foolish. I can't explain why I feel that way. Something about that ship... I don't know,
son. It troubled me. I don't want them near us. As long as we keep this information to ourselves,
everything will be all right. Things aren't so bad, are they? We have a good life. We're happy enough. A
little loneliness is a small price to pay for that.
Thank you, son. I know you'll keep your word. Let's go get your mother and we'll go to the xrinx park for a
while. I'll buy you a treat.
Please, just come back for a moment! We need to talk. Why won't you listen to me?
It wasn't easy for me to admit I cared about you in front of everyone like that. Sometimes I wish there
*were* no Choosing Day. But now that you know how I feel, doesn't that mean anything to you? If you
don't love me, then say so. Why do you have to act like you don't even care?
Of course you have a destiny. Everyone does. That doesn't mean there's no room in it for you to love
someone. How could anyone's destiny be that cruel? Ankin, *look* at me!
I don't believe that. And if you *were* meant to do that, how would you know? It's ridiculous. One person
couldn't possibly end the whole universe anyway -- and if that *were* possible, why in the world would it
be you? Ankin, we're young! We're meant to live, to feel... not to do such terrible things.
No... no, I won't tell anyone. But I think you should talk to your parents or... or something. This side of
you is scaring me a little.
Ankin... do you think you could ever care about me? I know you don't now, but someday?
I guess this is goodbye, then. I'm not going to Principal City with you and the others. I've decided to stay
here. Working for the Council of Titans is just too much responsibility... there's no room for a life there.
Good luck, Ankin. I hope you and your destiny can come to terms.
Working with me isn't going to be easy, my friend. I handle all the most serious cases. It's up to me to
decide what happens to those who break away from authority -- those who think they know best.
I've looked over your file, and I think you can handle this work. But you have to be aware of how much will
be asked of you. Being the son of a famous astronomer won't do you any good here. As the aide of the
Chief Justice, you'll have more responsibilities -- and more power -- than most other *officeholders*, let
alone other aides. Do you think you can handle it?
Then congratulations and welcome aboard. I don't doubt that you and I will get along fine. Let's go over
some of the ground rules. Here in the office you can just call me Pavriqur, but in public I'm Chief Justice
or Commander. You'll be interviewed, but always make it clear that I make the final decisions, and don't
make any pronouncements or statements of opinion on my behalf unless I've told you to. Wear the uniform
at all times, even to bed. You never know where the scanners are. Keep your hair short -- you can
lengthen it if you're on vacation, but not here -- and don't even *speak* to women, because that's all it
takes to get the rumours started. Are we clear?
Good. The mantle of justicekeeper isn't an easy one, Ankin, but there's no more fulfilling destiny in this
world. Let's get to work.
Mr. Rotor! Mr. Rotor! You've been aide to the Chief Justice for eight years now -- how does that make you
Wait! Don't leave! We have more questions! Better questions!
Thank you. Now then, if you'll please take a moment to sign the authenticity forms... good. Let's start.
First question: where does the Justice Office stand on the issue of reconvicting criminals?
All right. Second: do you ever wonder if what you do is all that important? I mean, is justice really
Hey, come back!
Son... do you remember what I told you about all those years ago, the ship I detected? And how I said it
had to remain a secret? It seems my assistant didn't take that to heart. He's told the government about it...
sold them my information. They came for it this morning.
No, it's all right. I can walk. The leg is just bruised, not broken. I tried to hold them off, but it was no
good. They took all my notes. They say they're going to send a message out in that direction... it may
happen as soon as tomorrow night.
Yes, their uniforms were purple. Why do you ask? You don't think...?
Ankin, be careful.
All right, put the plaser down. I really don't want to call the guards on you, Ankin. I don't blame you for --
hey! Look, I said put it down! One more inch and you would have blown my head off! Are you trying to
throw your life away?
Listen to me. Zelbar had no business withholding information from the government -- reporting his
findings is what we pay him for. Is this entire planet supposed to suffer because of his "bad feeling" about
the ship he saw? This is a momentous day for Sulor, Ankin! We have proof that we're not alone! And
tomorrow night, we'll --
Put. The. Plaser. Down. NOW. This is your last warning. What good are you to Zelbar if you're dead?
Good. Now listen to what I'm saying. We're going to contact that ship if it's still out there. It may not be --
it's been years. But if it is, who knows what technological advances it could bring us? More than that, we
may have found our first true friend as a species. It's a big, cold universe out there. Two races together
stand a better chance to prosper and survive than two races alone.
Look at the way you're letting what happened to Zelbar cloud your judgement. By Frixx, Ankin, he's not
even your real father.
That's right. I know. You think I would have taken on an aide without knowing *exactly* what his history
was? I know every detail. I know who really raised you. I know the ideas he put in your head. I know
what you think your destiny is.
And I have news for you -- it's all lies. Rwathorn Qum was a madman, driven from society for his
obsessions. You were his way of getting back at Sulor. He knew he was too old and weak to do it himself,
so he stole you as an infant and warped you into truly *believing* his insane delusions. I knew him, and I
know you're better than that. You don't have to share his madness.
We'll talk about this again later. I need to go make the preparations for tomorrow night. I want you to
*think*, Ankin. Think about how you should live your life. Whether you should waste it chasing a lunatic's
dream of destroying the universe, or spend it making that universe a better place. I know you'll make the
Tomorrow, Ankin... tomorrow everything changes.
We are the Borg. Disarm your satellites and surrender your populace. We will add your biological and
technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.
Welcome to Unimatrix Zero. Relax. Don't panic. You're going to be all right.
I see you're a Sulorian. From the number of you we've seen, I'm guessing that all Sulorian drones have the
malfunction that sends Borg here. This place is where you'll go from now on when you regenerate... it can
be anything you want it to be, and I hope you'll let it be home. The Queen can't touch you here. Tell me,
what's your name?
Ankin Rotor... interesting. My name is Axum, and these are some of my friends -- Iriken Ref, Captain
Korok, Uzu, and Annika. They'll all welcome you. (But don't get too close to Korok. He bites.) And look,
here comes Pavriqur. He's another of your species who appeared here recently.
Oh, you two know each other?
I remember when you were my aide and we brought peace to Sulor. How long ago that seems now. We've
awoken from something more terrible than any nightmare, Ankin. We've awoken with power we could
never have dreamt of in our old life. We can't simply ignore that.
Unimatrix Zero, the Collective, the Queen... they're all in the past. We few who have survived have
inherited thousands of Borg ships and the full range of their technology. We're *still* the greatest power
in this quadrant. We have two choices now: we can sit back bemoaning what we've lost, or we can move
forward. We can retake Borg space and expand it. We can be the champions of an entire age!
The Complex is a start, but it's held back by its weak link. I don't know whether Axum is insane or simply
blind. He thinks of himself as, I don't know, some kind of "drone with a soul" trying to atone for the wrongs
he committed as a Borg. Think back, Ankin. You were a drone for eleven years... you remember everything
you did. You can never, *never* make up for that much evil. The same is true for each one of us. I was
judge of a world, but I never dreamt there could be such a crushing weight of wrongdoing upon one
being... let alone thousands. We have to accept that we are beyond redemption.
And that *liberates* us.
I'm going to break away from Axum. I've built up trust with him -- he'll never expect it. Korok says he'll
back the move, and I can count on Prime Wesfin, Uzu, and Xale to do the same. Will you?
Good. Good! Together, Ankin, you and I will construct a whole new galaxy. All we need is to wipe away
the old one.
It's all working out at last. The Constructive has never been stronger. The New Collective and the
Complex have failed to destroy us, and we've emerged stronger than ever. And I have you to thank for that,
Ankin. Your battle strategies have kept us alive.
We're *winning* the war now, not just surviving it. We haven't been winning it since that dsokdpach
Korok turned out to be working for Axum. I....
Ankin? Is that --
No! NO! Not after all these years! Frixx on high -- do you STILL believe Qum's lies?
Don't do it! *NO!*
Rotor woke. His regeneration cycle was complete. His mission could continue.
"She's catatonic," said Nurse Cunningham. "I can't revive her. Whatever Rotor did to her has left her...
Tuvok raised an eyebrow.
"For lack of a better word," the nurse finished, embarrassed.
"There are thirty-eight," said the Vulcan. "However, I understand what you are attempting to say, and I
believe I know both the problem and the solution."
Cunningham was a little surprised at that. "What's the problem?"
"Director Rotor had possessed Seven's mind on two separate occasions over a period of days. The second
possession was cut short when we beamed her aboard Voyager, and that took place inside a transwarp
conduit -- constituting high-risk conditions. I believe the effect of these extraordinary stresses has been to
weaken Seven's mental stability."
"So what I said, but with more words."
Tuvok gave her a tired look and said, "Precisely. Which suggests a possible solution."
"It does? I thought I'd exhausted the medical options."
"You have; the course of action I propose is telepathic. I will attempt a mind meld with Seven. By doing
so, I believe that I will be able to guide her through the mental difficulties she faces."
"Are you out of your Vulcan mind?" Tuvok turned to her, visibly taken aback; Cunningham blushed and
said "Sorry. The Doctor told me to say that if you suggested a mind meld while he was gone."
A few feet away, Harry Kim finally let out the laugh he'd been holding.
Tuvok's face spoke louder than a hundred sighs. He turned to the nurse. "I will require an hour to prepare
for the meld. Please assemble the necessary equip--"
"Bridge to Tuvok!" Ayala's voice came through the Vulcan's comm badge. "Rotor's cube just exited the
transwarp conduit. Do we pursue?"
"Affirmative," he said firmly. "I am transferring command of Voyager to Lieutenant Kim; he will be on the
bridge momentarily. Tuvok out."
Kim took a step forward. "Tuvok...."
"Lieutenant, I am placing you in command. It is imperative that you handle the situation to the very best of
your abilities. Can you do so?"
Slowly, Kim nodded. "You can count on me, sir."
"I expected no less. We do not know where the conduit leads; your priority, wherever Voyager finds itself,
is to recover Captain Janeway and the away team."
"Go." Without hesitation, Kim headed for the bridge. Tuvok turned to Cunningham and said, "We no
longer have the luxury of preparation time. Bring the monitoring equipment; I will commence the meld."
As the nurse went to get the necessary devices, Tuvok sat down on Seven's biobed and lifted her into a
sitting position. Then he carefully brought his fingers into contact with the key points on Seven's face and
began the time-honoured incantation to start the meld.
"My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts...."
Voyager burst out of transwarp in a brilliant outpouring of light and energy. The sensors immediately
reached out for Rotor's cube and found it eighteen light-seconds away.
Between the two ships were nearly sixty Borg cubes.
Rotor returned to the command deck; there was Janeway, still in the same spot. Rotor smiled, knowing
what she planned to do.
"We've left transwarp," said the captain. "The screens are showing normal space. Where are we?"
"This is Constructive space. We're close to the core sectors."
"So what's the plan now? Have you figured out what to do with me yet?"
Rotor smiled. "You're the one who's supposed to be figuring some things out. You're an intelligent woman
-- I'll bet you already have."
"I'm not going to play this game."
"Sorry. It's your turn."
"What's it all about, Rotor? What do you want? Is it power? Territory? Do you just enjoy destruction?"
"You know what I want," said Rotor, coming closer.
Janeway sighed. "You want to destroy the universe."
"You told me already. 'Means to the end'? Not a man of subtlety, are you?"
"You'd be surprised."
Rotor took another step forward -- and Janeway suddenly whipped out a small device and activated it. An
intense beam of energy smashed into Rotor's chest. Janeway's eyes went wide as the Director absorbed the
impact without moving. "Please, Captain!" he said. "You thought some gadget you pieced together while I
was away was going to harm me? You didn't think I'd detect it the moment I came into the room?"
Janeway lowered the device. "I knew you'd detect it, but what you just did is still...."
"Impossible? I have the combined energy of thousands of drones. No weapon in your arsenal can touch
"The combined energy?"
Rotor laughed. "Please! Don't tell me you haven't put the pieces together by now."
"I had my suspicions." Janeway crossed her arms. "You're betraying your own people. What you did to
Seven -- you've done it to others too."
"I realized long ago that I could never give this universe its proper ending piece by piece," said Rotor,
turning to his viewscreens. "Killing one being at a time, even a thousand at a time, isn't the way. The ones
remaining would stop me."
"You have to kill everyone at once."
"And to do that," continued the Sulorian, "I need a way to control them. I was close to giving up my
mission before I was assimilated. The Borg, Captain -- the Borg are the key. I can use their evil to
accomplish the greatest possible good."
"That's why you couldn't risk our defeating the Sernaix," Janeway realized. "If you could assimilate and
then... possess them as you did Seven, their power would make you unstoppable."
"It will," said Rotor. "I will assimilate this galaxy, and when that task is done, I will assimilate all other
galaxies. Sooner or later, it will all be complete. There will be no more stories to end. And on that day...."
"The self-destruct order."
"It's not the fastest method, perhaps, but it's the only one I can be sure will work."
"It won't," said Janeway firmly.
"I'll stop you."
Rotor grinned. "Is that so. You still don't know your role in all this, do you?"
"No. What is it, validation? Am I supposed to convert to your cause after hearing you explain all this?"
"I try to be realistic. Winning over the Scourge of the Borg is beyond even my abilities. But you can still
be of use to me."
Janeway rolled her eyes. "I guess you're planning to send me back, then. Somehow blackmail or control
me so that I steer the Alliance as you see fit. Or send back a... Borg replicant or something like that."
Rotor laughed out loud. "Your presumption is truly astonishing. You're not that important to me, Captain -
- not as you are now. But the drone you once were will give me a helpful dose of energy...."
"Lieutenant? What do we do?"
Leaving Tal Celes unanswered, Kim looked at the englobing formation of Borg cubes on the screen and
tried, unsuccessfully, not to despair. We can't do it, he thought. This ship can handle one Borg cube or
maybe two, but sixty?
"The cubes are charging weapons!" announced Ayala.
There's no defense, no escape. This is it. Voyager's journey is over. And I'm the one who's going to be
"Harry!" shouted Celes. "They're about to attack! How are we... what do we...." The Bajoran trailed off.
It's all my fault. If Captain Janeway were here....
....she'd be a captain to her crew. Right to the end.
Harry stood up, a new determination on his face. "Red alert. Ayala, ready all offensive and defensive
systems. Paris, evasive maneuvers; if you see the slightest opening, go for it. Celes, keep those
transporters ready. We owe it to Captain Janeway to do this the way she would want us to, people. If we
go down... we'll go down fighting."
"Your ship is helpless, Captain. My fleet has it fully surrounded."
"Voyager's made it out of worse scrapes."
Rotor just chuckled at that. "Worse than facing sixty of the
galaxy's most powerful ships? Unlikely.
You've been very lucky in your dealings with the Borg, Captain, but every gambler loses in the end. It's
one story that always ends the same way."
Janeway was silent, so Rotor continued. "Today marks the true beginning of the end. My power will be
multiplied, and the Borg's most lethal enemy will finally become... irrelevant. I don't expect you to
appreciate the irony of that, of course, but it doesn't matter. You'll soon be one of many helping me bring
this galaxy's story to an end."
"You're insane," said Janeway coldly.
"Thank you," said Rotor. "You too. But which is the saner of us -- the one embracing this chaos we call
our lives, or the one seeking to finally bring order to it?"
"Do I even need to answer you?"
"Of course not, Captain. You're a free being." Rotor smiled. "For the next three hours or so."
Janeway refused to be intimidated by Rotor's bravado. Sane or not, he was a monster who had only lucked
into his power.
"My God," said Janeway. "This isn't just a trap for Voyager. It's a trap for your own people!"
Rotor clapped his hands together once. "You got it! I knew you would! Why else would I order so many
of my ships here when I could handle your vessel alone? Five of those cubes are already under my control;
I've built up enough energy now to encompass the other fifty-three in one fell swoop."
"And when it's done, you'll be twelve times as powerful. You'll have the combined energy, knowledge, and
multitasking ability of all those thousands of innocent people."
"The kind of power I need...."
"....to find a way to assimilate the Sernaix."
Rotor grinned. "It's all coming together now. My mission is coming closer and closer to completion."
Slowly, Janeway walked up until she was standing right in front of Rotor. She looked him straight in the
eye, her own eyes aflame. "You sick bastard," she said. "I give my oath as a Starfleet officer that I will not
rest until I've freed every last one of your victims -- and made you pay for what you've done to them."
Without warning, Rotor's hand whipped out and gripped Janeway's throat. He lifted her a full foot above
the ground, squeezing as hard as he could without killing her, and finally tossed her across the command
deck like a rag doll. Janeway fell to the floor in a crumpled heap, clutching at her neck and gasping for
"Don't make promises you can't keep, Captain," said the Sulorian.
As Janeway fought desperately to pull herself up, Rotor activated his comm system. "All Constructive
ships, this is the Director," he said. "Voyager is of no further use to us. Destroy it immediately."
The cubes dutifully opened fire. On the screen, Janeway could see Voyager dance through its evasive
maneuvers, somehow managing to dodge most of the shots, but she knew the shields couldn't last more
than a few moments longer. If only --
"Hold your fire!" came a sudden voice -- one that sounded just like Rotor's. "All ships, cease firing
"Shields at 27%! We can't take much more of this, sir!"
"I know!" shouted Lieutenant Kim. "Tom, where are those...." Kim trailed off.
The cubes had stopped firing.
"Ayala! What just happened? Did you do something?"
"I... I don't know," said the man at Tactical, clearly as confused as Kim. "They just... stopped."
Rotor turned, and for the first time, Janeway saw genuine shock on his face. It mirrored her own. A second
Rotor had just walked onto the command deck. (And was that Chakotay behind him?)
"Who are you?" Rotor demanded. "Where did you...." He fell silent and simply stared at the unexpected
intruder with his face. The two Sulorian Borg stood face to face, unmoving. Rotor -- the "original" one --
was still agape. Janeway tried to turn her head to look at the second, but she was still too badly stunned to
move and could barely tell the two beings apart.
The moment seemed to stretch out, until....
"Made you look," said the new Rotor with a grin, and he punched his double in the face.
The first Rotor dropped like a lead balloon; Chakotay and the second Rotor whipped out Type II phasers
and opened fire at maximum power. Immobilized, the Sulorian struggled for a moment... until his eyes
finally fell shut.
The cube immediately lost all power. The command deck was plunged into darkness.
"Five of the cubes just went dead!"
Ayala pointed at the viewscreen. "See those five? All the power signatures from them just vanished.
They're not just not firing like the other cubes, they're dead in the water."
Tal Celes looked up from Ops, wide-eyed. "And so is Rotor's cube!"
Kim didn't need to hear that twice. "If their power's out, so are their shields. Tom, get us over there. We
have an away team to save!"
In the glow of the emergency lights, the Doctor was grinning like a hyena. "Commander, I admit it -- I was
wrong. This was an excellent idea!"
"Shh," said Chakotay as he helped Janeway to her feet. "We'll have plenty of time to celebrate later. Right
now, we need to get off this ship. Find an escape pod."
The Doctor grunted slightly and turned to a console. Quietly, seeing how bad her injuries looked,
Chakotay asked, "Can you walk, Kathryn?"
"I think so," said the captain. She pointed to Rotor emphatically. "Chakotay, you took him by surprise, but
he'll be conscious again any moment. He's too powerful to beat that way. We have to get out of here...
come up with a way to disrupt his hold on the other drones."
Still groggy, Janeway realized she'd been talking too fast. "Long story," she said. "Just...."
The transporter beam snatched her before she could finish the sentence. All three Starfleet officers
vanished, leaving the cube in dead silence.
Four point seven seconds later, Ankin Rotor woke up. He didn't waste a single moment. "All ships," he
shouted furiously, "open fire. Destroy Voyager NOW!"
"The cubes are arming their weapons again!" said Ayala. "And those five that were inactive are back
"We need to get out of here fast," said Lieutenant Kim. "Can we slipstream?"
"No," said Celes. "That was the first system to go and -- OOOOF!" Kim spun around to see what the
problem was; Celes had thrown herself into the opposite wall, but she looked fine. He raised an eyebrow.
"Sorry, sir," she said. "My console felt a little warm and I thought it was going to explode."
Kim rolled his eyes. And I thought *I* got nervous, he thought. Who let Reg Barclay on board? He shook
off the thought and rushed to the helm. "Tom, without slipstream, our best chance to escape is --"
"-- the same transwarp conduit we came out of," said Tom with a smile. "Course already laid in."
Kim glanced at the panel. "That course takes us straight through the Borg fleet!"
"Fastest way. If we do it right now while they're still confused, we just might get through."
"But still --"
Tom gave him an angry frown. "Look, Harry, do you trust me to fly this thing or not?"
"All right," said Kim with a grim look. "Engage."
Nurse Cunningham moved frantically from Seven to Tuvok and back, checking the sensor nodes over and
over. The mind meld had been going on for an hour with no sign of movement from either officer. If this
doesn't work, how will I know? she panicked. How do I know if I have to bring them out of the meld?
The air shimmered behind Cunningham as Voyager's chief medical officer materialized. He took one look
at the situation and groaned. "Oh, not again...."
A massive Borg cube loomed up suddenly on the viewscreen. "TOM!" shouted Kim.
"Relax," said Paris smoothly. "It's on the flight plan." As he spoke, Voyager made a stomach-churning
twist away from the cube and looped back through a hole in the enemy formation.
Ayala looked up. "They're firing!"
The bridge lurched and shook. Kim clutched the arms of his chair, thankful to have one for once. The
tremor passed and the lights went back up; the viewscreen was now clear. "We're through," said Paris.
"Transwarp conduit in twenty-five seconds!"
"Sir," said Ayala, "the cubes are pursuing. At least one of them will be in time to follow us through and --"
The former Maquis broke off his sentence as his console's sensor readings suddenly started going crazy. "I
don't believe this! I'm reading nineteen transwarp conduits opening directly ahead!"
"On screen!" shouted Kim.
The conduits opened. Through each one came one Borg cube, followed by another. And another....
"Seventy-one new cubes in-system," said Ayala, answering Kim's unvoiced question. "And they're firing --
on the other cubes!"
Paris took the words out of everyone's mouth: "What the HELL?"
From his cube, Rotor could see the new fleet arrive. He didn't need his friend-or-foe system to tell him
who had just arrived... and in what numbers.
Voyager would have to wait. There was time for only one action. Rotor reached deep into his power
reserves, focused his energy, and sent a massive, expanding energy wave through the uplinks to the other
For a moment, the pain was blinding, unbearable. Rotor fell to the floor and nearly screamed. His mind
was aflame. And then --
Then he was twelve times the man he had been only moments before.
The power coursed through Rotor as he stood up on the command deck, feeling the energy of thousands of
new drones wash over and through him. With a single thought, he opened twelve gigantic conduits and
took his fleet through them. The Constructive forces made good their escape.
Rotor's battle had ended with one minor failure and one major success.
The mission continued.
"Tom, bring us about."
"We're almost at the --"
"Now. The Constructive ships are gone, and these new ones seem to be on our side. We're not leaving
without finding out why." Kim turned to Ayala. "Hail the lead cube on all frequencies."
"All frequencies, aye sir."
Kim cleared his throat. "This is Lieutenant Harry Kim of the Federation starship Voyager. Please identify
The viewscreen blinked on, interrupting Kim. "Ha!" said the large, pale Klingon on the monitor. "I see
you've been promoted. Well done."
Kim blinked. "Wait, aren't you...."
The Klingon grinned. "You remember! Good boy. Coordinator Korok of the Free Borg Complex, at your
Captain's Log, Stardate 56501.3. Most of the Complex ships have returned to their home space;
Coordinator Korok has offered to escort Voyager back to the DQA fleet, and I've accepted that offer.
We've sent word ahead to the Alliance. I regretted having to inform them that the Constructive was
plotting against us -- or rather, that Rotor was -- but at least now we know his real agenda.
I fully intend to keep my oath. The Sernaix War requires Voyager's full attention right now, but I *will*
free Ankin Rotor's prisoners and bring him to justice. I only hope I can do it before he enslaves even more
Tuvok and Seven have come out of the mind meld safely; Tuvok is none the worse for the experience, and
Seven is recovering rapidly. The other injured crew members are all expected to be fine. Even Harry
seems more or less content again. It's hard to say what constitutes normal life on Voyager, but whatever it
is, we're returning to it.
"....and please allow me to thank you one more time for your help, Coordinator."
Korok scoffed. "You were going to escape anyway."
"It's the thought that counts," replied Janeway with a wide smile. "Where are you going to go?"
"Back to the homeworld. There's still a great deal of work to be done if our plan is to succeed."
The Klingon took on an expression of frustration, almost sadness. "We who remain of the Borg
Collective... we have no home here, Captain Janeway. The scars run too deep. No matter what we say or
do, the other races can never truly forgive us. We need a new beginning."
"I don't understand. What new beginning?"
Korok smiled cryptically. "You'll find out soon enough, Captain. You owe me a favour now, and in six
months' time I intend to call it in. You won't see me or any of my people until then."
"All right," said Janeway, frowning slightly. "If Voyager can help the Complex, we will. But I warn you
that we may not have the chance -- the Sernaix have to be stopped before we can turn our attention to
"I understand. Speak nothing of this until you hear from me again. Farewell, Captain. And --" Korok
handed her a techpad -- "give this to Annika."
Janeway looked at the pad suspiciously. "What is it?"
"A message, encoded using Borg algorithms. She'll know how to decode them. Tell her that the message
is for her eyes only, and that it comes from a mutual friend."
Korok spoke, apparently into thin air, "I'm done here, Vludro. Bring me back." There was a grunt in
answer, and then Korok began to fade away. "Six months," he told Janeway one last time as his atoms
began to fade, and then he was gone.
Tom was pounding the stuffing out of a punching bag when Janeway and B'Elanna walked onto the
holodeck. The engineer grinned. "Using Chakotay's programs, are we?"
"Just the one," Tom replied without turning. "You know, you two should try this too. It's amazing how
much stress you can get out."
Janeway walked closer to the punching bag and handed Tom a PADD. "I came to tell you I'm going to put
a commendation on your record for this mission. Your piloting skills were the only thing that kept Voyager
Tom gave back the PADD without looking at it. "Thanks, Captain, but you can save the brownie points for
The captain frowned. "Are you still --"
"Yes. I'm still," said Tom, turning to face her. "You made a deal with the Borg and it nearly cost us all our
lives -- AGAIN. Can our panel of judges guess what the moral of this story is?"
"It was a mistake to believe what Rotor was saying," admitted Janeway. "And --"
"-- and you've learned, hmm, let's see, nothing. The Constructive ships were barely out of the sector before
you were making a deal with this Complex thing."
Janeway frowned. "Mr. Paris, I have been more than patient. But I've had enough of your insolence on this
"And I've had enough of this matter -- period." Paris resumed punching the bag, raising his voice so she
could still hear him. "The evidence is all there. The universe has given you yet another session of Borg
Are Evil 101, and I'm not risking my baby on any more. You want to negotiate with Borg? Count me out -
- because next time, you're not going to change my mind."
Her expression unreadable, Janeway turned and left the holodeck. Once the doors had shut, Tom slumped
forward, resting his head on the punching bag. "I hate this," he said, half to B'Elanna and half to himself.
"There's no one in this galaxy I'd rather follow, but this... this blind spot of hers... I can't understand it."
"I can't understand either," said B'Elanna, anger bristling in her voice. "I can't understand why it is that
someone Janeway cares so much about -- someone who owes her so much -- is doing his damnedest to
make her job harder."
Hurt, Tom turned to look at B'Elanna. "Do you think I enjoy this? It's like stabbing myself in the eye with
a bat'leth, but I don't have a choice. I won't let anyone endanger my family... not even her."
"Really." She stepped forward, arms crossed. "Did it ever occur to you that I have a choice in this too?"
"B'Elanna, what are you saying?"
"Unlike some people," said the Klingon, "I know exactly how much I owe to Janeway. And if that means
following her down the same road to Gre'thor a thousand times, that's what I'm going to do. Whether my
husband is willing to come with me or not." Without another word, B'Elanna headed out the door.
Tom stood alone for a long moment staring at the floor. Then, with a surge of energy, he spun around and
slammed his fist into the punching bag one last time. A seam burst; the bag's stuffing began to pour out
onto the floor. Tom threw down his boxing glove in disgust and left the holodeck.
Seven of Nine set down the techpad, deeply shaken. She stood up and tried to focus her mind.
From the other side of the room, Harry saw her expression and came over to her. "What's wrong, Seven?
Was it bad news?"
"Anything I can help you with?"
"Seven, look at me." Harry put a hand under Seven's chin and lifted her head up. "I know you've been
through hell in these last few days. Whatever is upsetting you... I want to help you with it. We'll get
through this problem together, just like all the others."
Seven twisted out of his grip. "You would not understand."
Seeing that he couldn't help her right now, Harry walked to the door. Just before it would have opened, he
turned back to her and quietly said, "I love you, Seven."
Seven was silent for a few seconds. "I... love you too. But I require time alone."
Harry left without further comment. Seven stayed at the window for a long time, looking out into the
infinite emptiness of space.
"He was insane," said Janeway on her ready room couch. "He had to have been. Rotor clearly believed
every word he said about destroying the universe."
"Are you really so surprised?" asked Ozymandias. "It's not so alien an idea. To everything its proper
beginning, middle, and end."
"But to try and impose it on everyone?"
"The universe's history is a story like any other."
Janeway gave the holographic Sernaix a look of mock suspicion. "Sounds almost like you agree with
"Of course not," said Oz with a smile. "But I understand how he feels. To some, the greatest fear isn't
death -- it's attrition. A story that simply goes on and on soon loses its interest. A universe full of life can
end with a sudden clap of thunder, or it can end one piece at a time, one life at a time, as the galaxies and
the beings in them drift apart faster than the speed of light."
"Better to die together than alone?"
"There's nothing worse than dying alone."
"What about dying forgotten?" asked Janeway softly.
Oz frowned. "Do you think...?"
"I think you may not be the only one who shares a certain turn of mind with Percy Bysshe Shelly," said
Janeway, standing up and walking slowly to the window. "'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings....'"
"'Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair,'" finished Oz.
The human and the Sernaix were silent for a long time.
Outside Voyager, boundless and bare, the lone and level starscape stretched far away.