Tuesday, September 3, 2019

"Echoes of the Past"

Borg drone courtesy of Paramount/CBS. Steamrunner and background by Samuel Kowal. TJ Thyne by
Christina Moore. Annika Hansen by Paramount/CBS and Rabittooth.
_____


“Aye, Captain. I’ve been thinkin’… that I want ta remain aboard the ship.”

Dominic Murphy blinked. Had he heard right? “You…want to remain aboard the ship?”

“Well, it does nae have ta be this particular ship, though I’d certainly nae say no if’n ye welcomed me,” replied Keel McMurty. “I’ve got no problem servin’ aboard a Starfleet ship, though I s’pose I could just as easily go back ta the Border Patrol.”

Murphy shook his head—it was going on seven in the morning, they had all been up since early yesterday, and he was tired. He had not the energy to expend thinking about the ramifications of the engineer’s situation.

“Listen, Mac… I can’t do this right now. I’m about to collapse from exhaustion,” he said. “I’m off-shift today. Give me at least until noon-thirty or 1300 hours to sleep, then stop by my quarters and we’ll talk.”

“Of course, Captain,” agreed McMurty with a nod. “I’m about done-in meself.”

The two parted ways then, and Murphy rode the lift up to his own deck. Within minutes he was dressed for bed and slipping under the blanket, his last tired thought of how beautiful his Blue Angel had looked in the dress she wore to the wedding of their new friends.

Of course, as often happened, he felt as though he’d just gone to sleep when suddenly he was awake again. Thankfully he wasn’t as tired as he could have been after only about five and a half hours of sleep—the ability to fully function on less sleep than one who was fully Human was one of the few benefits of being half Klingon. Still, didn’t mean he was personable, and like so many who were slaves to their routines, he was not someone to mess with until he’d had a few mouthfuls of strong black coffee with four sugars.

Murphy had just settled at his dining table with a steaming mug when the door chime rang. Recalling that McMurty was supposed to come by to talk, he stood as he bid the visitor enter. Tall, lanky McMurty stepped into his quarters with a bow of the head and a somewhat cheerful greeting. Murphy liked the guy, another half Human fellow whose other half was from a warrior race—in Mac’s case, the Capellans.

“Come on over and have a seat, Commander,” Murphy said, gesturing toward the table. “Help yourself to a drink if you need it.”

McMurty thanked him and ordered a cup of coffee, straight black. He then joined him at the table and took a swallow before saying, “I’m sorry I hit ye out o’ the blue with what I said this mornin’, sir. Probably seemed like it was comin’ out o’ nowhere.”

“Kind of,” Murphy replied. “I mean, I certainly didn’t expect those precise words to come out of your mouth, but to be perfectly honest with you, after reviewing your record when you were assigned to us for the systems testing, I wondered why you took the yardmaster job to begin with. You’re a systems engineer, not a structural engineer.”

“Aye, that be true enough,” McMurty agreed. “I accepted the job because they asked for me specifically—puffed up me chest with a bit o’ pride, that did. And really, I’ve always had an interest in shipbuildin’, and so I looked forward ta the challenge o’ doing somethin’ new and different.”

“I sense a ‘but’ coming,” Murphy observed as he raised his coffee to his lips.

McMurty nodded and took a drink of his own before he continued. “But the job’s a bloody headache—more than bein’ chief engineer ever were. Echo’s yards are strictly repair docks, freein’ up the fleet yards at Regulus III for ship buildin’. Many of the parts used here are manufactured there—”

Murphy snorted. “Well that doesn’t make any sense. You’d think Echo would have the industrial facilities to manufacture anything the repair yard needs.”

“That’s just it—they have got the facilities, or at least they have the space for ‘em, but it’s one o’ the few things about the station that never got finished, even near two years later. Priority was given ta shipbuildin’, not ship repairin’, as yer well aware of, and the brass were damn focused on gettin’ that station up and running, though goodness knows why that particular station was such a bee in their bonnet. So we have ta get parts from the fleet yard, which again, we get lower priority on. I’ve often had ta wait weeks for parts I could have easily manufactured in a few hours if Echo’s facilities were online. I’ve had ta deal with repair schedules that keep changin’ because o’ not havin’ the parts and equipment needed, captains that think their ships deserve greater priority over someone else’s, chief engineers who think they could do it better and faster… I swear, it’s a bloody nightmare of a headache ta be a yardmaster.”

He paused to sip his drink and Murphy did the same, allowing the other man time to get his thoughts in order. He sensed there was more to McMurty’s desire to leave his prestigious post than the aggravation of dealing with the egos of ship captains and their engineers.

“Starfleet Command would have likely rather assigned a junior engineer ta oversee the systems tests, given yer first mission was a fairly routine nebula survey,” McMurty went on at last, flashing a grin when the captain rolled his eyes, his thoughts drifting for just a moment to the tediousness of the survey. “But I actually requested ta be the one sent. We were only supposed ta be out here fer two weeks, after all, and I needed a break. This is the first time I’ve been out in space on a starship since I arrived at Echo, if’n ye can believe it. And bein’ out here… it’s reminded me of everythin’ I’ve been missin’. Even in the mundane, there is some level o’ excitement. I’ve missed the challenge and adventure, the needin’ ta think quick on me feet, solvin’ puzzles that come out o’ nowhere… Meetin’ new people, discoverin’ the previously unknown… Everythin’ what comes with bein’ on a starship crew is what drew me ta the job in the first place, and bein’ out here with yer crew has only reminded me of that. I know I’m of an age where I should by rights be a captain of me own ship and all—I know I practically am a captain as yardmaster, except by official rank—but all I’ve ever wanted was ta be an engineer. And I want ta be an engineer again.”

Murphy thought about what he’d said for a moment, then slowly nodded. “I can understand that. Though I’ve always had it in mind to be a captain one day, I went down to the science labs more than once after I took command of the first Messenger, helping them out down there to finish a project or even to start one of my own. I wanted to keep my skills as a scientist sharp because I know that even as a commanding officer, I might be required to use them. And I like getting back to my roots as a Starfleet officer by doing work that is familiar to me, even comfortable.”

“But you accepted yer captaincy because it’s what ye wanted, and ye’ve kept it because ye love the work ye do. Because yer good at it. And I may well be good at what I do as yardmaster, but I don’t love it. I’m constantly frustrated and honestly feel as though I’m on the verge o’ burnout. I do nae want that ta happen. Here on this ship, I’ve nae felt that way, not once. I’ve only felt nostalgic fer the work and the camaraderie of a starship crew, which ye really do nae find anywhere else. Well, except maybe Starbase Echo—they’ve a crew there that works together much the same, I think.”

Murphy nodded. “I think it helps that most of Echo’s command crew have worked together before, and I know they’ve been through some rough times.”

The captain then drew a breath. “If you are a hundred percent sure you want to return to starship duty, then naturally, the first thing to do is put a request in through official channels. Chances are—if they grant it—you’ll be shuffled back to Patrol, but given the state of the fleet, I suppose there is equal chance they’ll assign you to a billet with a Starfleet crew in need of a good engineer.”

“Which you lot happen ta be.”

“Yes and no,” Murphy countered. “We haven’t a chief engineer at present, but Lt. Mallory is our assistant chief and has been since the first Messenger’s launch. She’s due for promotion.”

McMurty’s expression shifted. “Oh, that’s right. She’s a talented lass, and will do the job credit. I guess I’ll just have ta hope that I do nae get stuck at Echo for much longer. Somebody’s got ta need a chief engineer.”

Just then, the door chime rang for a second time. Curious, and hoping that Calista had decided to drop in, Murphy looked toward the door and called out, “Come in.”

He was surprised more than disappointed to see Carla Mallory stepping across the threshold; standing, he offered her a greeting. “Funny you should stop by just now, Lieutenant. Commander McMurty and I were just talking about you.”

Mallory raised an eyebrow as she glanced between them; McMurty had also risen to his feet. Placing her hands behind her back, she replied, “All good things, I hope. Sirs.”

McMurty laughed. “Indeed, lass. Well, Captain, I should probably go and send in that request. No doubt ye’ll be hearin’ about it by the end o’ the day.”

Murphy chuckled. “No doubt, Commander. See you later.”

The other man rounded the table then, and after a nod in Mallory’s direction, quickly strode out. When the door had closed behind him, Mallory asked, “Is this a bad time, Captain? I didn’t mean to run him out.”

Murphy grinned. “You didn’t, Carla. What can I do for you?”

She drew a breath. “I hate to spring this on you out of the blue, but… A very good friend of mine, a guy I know from the academy—Commander Andrew Whittaker—has been tasked with putting together a new SCE rapid-response team. He’s asked me to be a part of it as his second-in-command and said he’ll even push for a promotion to lieutenant commander, which I’m up for in three months anyway. I know it’s really sudden, Captain, and my leaving will put Messenger in a bit of a bind, what with Commander Zabrak’s transfer a month ago, but you haven’t named a new chief and I’ve been thinking maybe the reason it’s taken so long for you to decide is because you weren’t going to give it to me and were trying to figure out how to let me down gently, and this is such a fantastic opportunity for me I think I probably would have accepted even if I was made chief engineer—”

Murphy halted her breathless speech when he stepped closer and put his hands on her upper arms to give a comforting squeeze. “Firstly, Carla, Messenger will be fine. I can promise you that. Secondly, the reason I haven’t chosen a new chief is simply because it hasn’t been on my mind. I know—I’m a slacker for not giving the matter the attention its due, but losing one ship and prepping another, then getting sent out on the most boring assignment, followed by the intensity of the whole moon thing…”

Mallory laughed. “’The whole moon thing’ is putting it mildly, sir. And when you put the last four weeks in that perspective, I guess I can understand how naming a new chief might not cross your mind. Truth be told, I’ve been pretty distracted with everything that’s happened as well; it’s only been twice, maybe, since we lost the first Mess that the chief engineer thing has occurred to me.”

“More often than it occurred to me, apparently,” Murphy replied with a snort. “And actually, I have thought about it, just not to the extent I should have. I do apologize for that; you and your team down in Engineering deserve better. In fact, you becoming chief was what McMurty and I were talking about right before you showed up—I’d just told him you were due for promotion.”

She scoffed. “And here I am chastising my captain as though he were a child. I’m sorry about that, sir.”

He waved off her words. “Don’t be. Like I said, I should have dealt with it already. Though now that the issue has been brought to more direct focus, looks like I’m going to have an even harder time figuring it out now that you’re leaving us.”

Mallory lifted her eyebrow again. “You’re not angry I’m going? I know Andy—that is, Commander Whittaker—should probably have filed a formal request or something with you first, or Starfleet Command, but I think he just wanted to make sure I’d be up for it before he started formal proceedings for my transfer.”

“I’m not angry in the least. If the science division had teams like SCE does, I’d have joined one earlier in my career.”

His visitor grinned. “I bet you’d be running one of those teams even now, Captain.”

Murphy grinned. “I probably would. So when will you be leaving us?”

Mallory pursed her lips. “I know the other task force ships are supposed to stick around another twenty-four, so I’ll likely hitch a ride on whichever one is heading back to Starbase Echo first. That’s where Commander Whittaker said he’d pick me up as soon as I could get there.”

“Any idea what ship your team will be assigned to?”

She shook her head. “Not yet. I don’t know that even he knows at present; he said he got his orders just before he contacted me over subspace.”

Murphy stepped back and offered a smile. “Well, allow me to be the first to offer congratulations, Lieutenant Commander Mallory. I wish you the best of luck with your new position.”

“Thank you, Captain,” said Mallory. “It has truly been an honor and a privilege to serve with you and to know you.”

He smiled. “Save all that mushy talk for your departure. I know you’re off duty today, so you’d best spend the time wisely and get to packing.”

Mallory smiled as well and soon departed. Murphy stared after her a long moment. He hated to see Carla Mallory go, but neither could he begrudge her for taking advantage of the opportunity to improve her skills as an engineer or to pad her résumé. He’d done her a disservice by ignoring the issue of Messenger’s lack of a chief engineer, so she’d decided to move on.

Nope. Couldn’t blame her at all.

As he had told her, the issue was now foremost on his mind. He now needed an assistant chief as well as a chief engineer, and frankly he was a little bit surprised Command hadn’t sent a dozen memos about it already. The department had been running so smoothly in the two weeks since their launch that with Command’s lack of communication, it was no real wonder why he hadn’t thought much about the matter. Murphy could not help wondering if there was a chance he could get Keel McMurty—the Scot-Capellan had said he would be willing to stay aboard, after all. He would then only have to submit a request for a new assistant chief, unless one of the other engineers had the qualifications to take the position.

With that thought in mind, Murphy moved to his desk and switched his computer on. He would not do another member of his crew the injustice of not paying attention.

***

Annika Hansen had been researching methods by which an object as large as the Alphans’ moon might be spun on its axis fast enough to maintain an atmostphere, as her assistance had been requested by Commander McMurty, when another of the science team—whom she knew worked with Commander Ja-Nareth daily—brought in a PADD with orders from Ja-Nareth himself. Her team had been tasked with cataloging and correlating all the data from the Paulson survey for presentation to Starfleet Command.

Hansen knew that the task was originally meant for the biologists, geologists, and chemists—Ja-Nareth’s crew, as nebula composition was more within their purview—and suspected that she and her two ensigns, as well as Cadet Sulu, had been assigned the task merely out of spite. She could not prove it, of course, and had accepted the assignment with her usual indifferent expression. It still smarted, to some small degree, and because there were so many gigaquads of data to be processed, she pulled Ensign Catsland from over in the Astronomy lab to help them.

With the assistance of four others, she hoped the information would be processed quickly so that she could turn her attention back to aiding McMurty in solving the moon dilemma. In truth, the Alphans’ desire for a sustainable atmosphere and their promise to help them achieve it was much more of a challenge and, in Hansen’s mind, far more worth her time and effort.

She was surprised when, after more than an hour of working, the door to the Astrometrics lab hissed open and Maya Verdeschi walked in. Hansen paused and turned to face her. “Mrs. Verdeschi, what brings you to Messenger?”

“Yeah, why are you not holed up somewhere with that handsome new husband of yours?” queried Sharp Smile.

Maya grinned. “Firstly, though I am honored to take my husband’s name, there is no need to address me as ‘Mrs. Verdeschi.’ You are more than welcome to continue addressing me as Maya. And second, my dear feline friend, I have already been holed up with Tony for the better part of the last four years! That we are now married has changed little else.

“As for why I have come, I thought I might give you all a hand at designing a means of rotating the moon. All of Alpha’s geologists and environmentalists are occupied with collecting samples of the lunar rock surrounding the base as well as from various zones all over the moon, as requested by Lt. Commander Ross via communication this morning. She said it will aid her in devising a separate terraforming plan for the Plato Crater as opposed to the rest of the surface.”

“Why aren’t you working with your own team, if it’s not too rude to ask?” pressed Sharp Smile.

“I would be, but there my new husband put his over-protective foot down. Tony does not wish me to spend a prolonged amount of time in an environmental suit, and in truth I was not looking forward to the task—the suits really are so very cumbersome and difficult to work in sometimes.”

“You should try on one of our EV suits sometime, then. They’re much more comfortable than older styles, though we cats don’t really like to be so confined. I try to avoid going EVA as much as possible myself,” replied the ensign.

Hansen drew a breath. “We are at present occupied with organizing the data collected during our survey of the Paulson Nebula. You may wish to seek out Commander McMurty and offer your assistance directly to him.”

Maya frowned. “You are not involved in the project, Lieutenant? I had thought you would be, given your involvement in Operation Orbit.”

“Only peripherally. Commander McMurty did ask for my input, but an order from my direct superior takes precedence.”

Maya looked as though she might argue the merit of that, given that McMurty outranked Ja-Nareth—even Hansen was not remiss to it—but she had no wish to incur Ja-Nareth’s wrath by ignoring his order in favor of a mere request for assistance.

“Well, perhaps I can assist you with your work? If we are all of us here working on it,” Maya said then, gesturing to the others in the room, “then surely it will be done that much sooner.”

“And then we can figure out how to spin your moon!” cried Sharp Smile cheerfully.

Maya grinned widely at the felinoid, and so she was led to a station and given one of the massive sets of files to go through. Around 1300 hours they broke for lunch, though Hansen carried a PADD in with her as was her habit. Sharp Smile, Maya, Sulu, and the others all ordered full plates of food, but the lieutenant merely ordered what Tom Paris had called a “smoothie”, listed in the ship’s database as Nutritional Supplement 21.

“Is that all you’re having for lunch?” Maya asked as the group sat to a table in the lounge between the two stellar science labs.

“Yes,” Hansen replied.

“Annika doesn’t eat much,” said Sharp Smile, who then popped a roll of sushi in her mouth. Swallowing it whole, she added, “I’ve only ever seen her eat an actual meal at dinner, and sometimes not even then.”

“Whyever not?” the Psychon asked.

“My nutritional requirements are not as extensive as those of others,” Hansen replied, then turned her attention to the PADD in her hand.

She knew Maya was curious, as were all those from Moonbase Alpha whom she had met, about the visible implants she bore. But she had given no explanation for having them, as she felt no need to do so when she had not directly been asked. It wouldn’t be long, certainly, before someone’s curiosity won out and she would be forced to tell her story.

Around her there was small talk as Maya asked questions of the others regarding their history. She was fascinated as much by Cadet Sulu being a fifth-generation Starfleet officer and a hybrid like Captain Murphy as she was by learning about Sivaoans and their traditions from Sharp Smile—especially how she had come by such an intriguing name. The ensign had only to demonstrate for their visitor to understand.

“Oh, I see!” said Maya with a laugh. “You’re not able to smile quite like us, but you do try, and it shows all those sharp teeth of yours.”

“Essentially,” replied Sharp Smile with a shrug. “I’m just trying to fit in with the culture of Starfleet and those living off world. I rather like trying new things, though to be perfectly honest, I do wish I didn’t have to wear a uniform.”

As if to emphasize her point, she tugged at the collar of her shirt. Maya laughed at the gesture, and remarked that had she not been advised to refrain from changing form while pregnant, she’d be happy to take a look at her without her uniform on and show her that she could make herself look just the same…then suddenly she gasped softly.

“I’m so sorry, I’ve gone and forgotten that Dr. Nir’ahn advised I should not speak of it,” she said.

“Why not? You can’t help what you are, what you can do,” offered Sulu. “No reason you shouldn’t be proud of your abilities.”

“That much is true, Mr. Sulu, but I have been informed that your Federation was very recently at war with a shape-shifting species,” Maya replied, “and that my own ability to change form might upset some who hear of it.”

“Cadet Sulu is correct,” Hansen replied, though she did not look up from her reading. “There is little need for you to conceal from those you meet that which they will eventually learn anyway.”

“Well, I suppose that’s true enough,” said Maya. “I’ve been thinking that we ought to educate ourselves on Alpha as to all the different species you know, as this is to be our home now.”

Here Hansen glanced over briefly. “That would be a prudent course of action. No doubt you will be granted access to texts regarding races, politics, and history.”

She turned her attention then back to her reading, though she nearly skipped over a line of code in the file. Hansen frowned and scrolled back, then stood abruptly and quickly headed back into Astrometrics. Surprised by her sudden departure, the others followed as quickly as they could.

“What is it, Lieutenant?” asked Sulu. Though they were on friendly terms, he had not yet taken up Sharp Smile’s habit of occasionally calling her Annika.

Hansen did not at first respond to the query; instead, she laid the PADD atop the main console and accessed the information she sought from the main computer. Bringing it up on the immense viewscreen, she could now create a visual copy, and found herself much intrigued by what she saw.

“What is that?” asked Ensign Devos, one of the astrophysicists.

On the screen was an object that measured roughly eight feet in length and about four feet across at its widest point—hardly worth making note of, except that it was the only thing within the Paulson Nebula that could not be readily accounted for. The composition of the object was entirely different from the surrounding gasses and spatial debris, and the passive scan that had picked it up showed trace elements of organic material, plastic, and iron.

Ensign Kra’shik, the second of the two ensigns who made up the astrophysics department (Hansen herself being the only astrometrics officer), spoke up then, “It’ss mosst unexpected.”

Hansen found herself nodding at the Selayan’s words, then turned her attention to the scant bit of data on her console. “The long-range sensors made only a passive scan of the object. Its size would have rendered it insignificant to raise an alert.”

“But you are interested in it anyway?” asked Maya.

“I am…intrigued by it.”

“Where is this nebula we’ve been studying?”

Kra’shik keyed in a few commands and the screen changed, reducing the present image of the mysterious object to a square in the corner while bringing up Messenger’s present location in the Levzor system relative to the location of the Paulson. “The Paulsson Nebula iss just over three dayss’ disstance at maximum warp,” he said.

Maya groaned. “How unfortunate. We might have taken an Eagle to have a look.”

“We could take one of our shuttles, or a runabout,” suggested Sharp Smile.

They could, Hansen reasoned, but for one thing: the excursion would have to be approved by the head of the science department, and she knew Commander Ja-Nareth was unlikely to sign off on it. She briefly entertained the notion of going directly to Captain Murphy, knowing him to be a scientist by specialty, but dismissed the idea just as quickly. It would serve her to maintain as good a relationship as she was able with Ja-Nareth, and going over his head could only make things more strained between them.

Still, anything of note had to be reported to him in any case, and there was always the very slim chance he might approve. He was a scientist, after all, and curiosity was a scientist’s stock and trade.

Picking up her PADD again, she called up the specific information regarding the object and turned to regard her companions. “I will present this discovery to Commander Ja-Nareth.”

Sharp Smile emitted a soft growl. “Well there goes any chance of going out to see what it is. The commander will never approve.”

“Perhaps he will surprise us and want to lead the away mission himself,” quipped Devos, who was well aware of the tension between her superiors, though was not of its cause.

Hansen looked to Maya. “Would you accompany me to the geology lab?”

“Ooh, good idea!” said Sharp Smile with a clap. “If she says she’s interested, Ja-Nareth might just say yes!”

That was precisely what Hansen was hoping, though she did not express her belief that even Maya’s interest would do little to sway the Efrosian to their cause.

The two women made their way out. In the corridor, Maya asked in a hesitant voice, “May I ask why everyone seems to believe Commander Ja-Nareth will say no to an excursion? I mean, I know it will take at least a week’s time, if not a little longer, to get there and back, but I can see no reason offhand that he should deny the request.”

“Commander Ja-Nareth is not pleased with my presence onboard Messenger,” Hansen replied.

“But why? You’re very precise and controlled in your manner, which some may describe as cold, but that’s no reason to dislike you.”

Here, Hansen knew, she would have to explain about herself. They reached the turbolift that would take them up two decks and were inside before she began her short narrative, having taken the rest of the distance from Astrometrics to figure out how best to explain to someone with no knowledge of the Federation’s deadliest enemy. “I am certain you have not been remiss to the cybernetic implants about my person—they cannot be missed. These implants, and others which cannot be seen, are remnants of my time as a drone in the Borg Collective.”

As the lift ascended, she explained in as succinct terms as she could about who the Borg were and why Ja-Nareth had such a great dislike of her.

“Oh, but that’s such rubbish!” Maya declared as they stepped off the lift onto Deck 2. “How can he hold what happened to his father against you? You were but a child when you became a captive of these Borg people!”

Hansen nearly paused in mid-stride. She found it interesting that the other woman should refer to the 18 years she was with the Borg as captivity; no one ever had, not even on Voyager. “Separated” and “liberated” were terms used to describe how her link with the hive mind had been severed, but never had the crew referred to her as a captive, only as a “former Borg drone.” She realized that, in essence, that’s precisely what had happened to her: that she, a child of but six years, had been kidnapped and forcibly assimilated against her will, leading to nearly two decades of captivity. When Captain Janeway ordered Chakotay to sever her link to the Collective, that little girl had been rescued.

She hadn’t herself considered her history from that perspective before, as when she had first begun to regain her humanity she had not looked upon the Borg with the same sense of hatred and fear as the rest of Voyager’s crew. Time spent learning about who she was, getting to know her fellow crewmen, learning to be an individual—through all the trials she had endured as a singular person in control of her own destiny, Hansen had learned to appreciate what that really meant. Having someone wholly unconnected describing her time as a drone the way Maya just had now opened her eyes to the truth of it. Understanding that truth felt…liberating.

They reached Ja-Nareth’s primary lab shortly, and found he and his team cataloguing what looked like samples of lunar rock. Though she felt sure he had seen them enter, the lieutenant commander did not acknowledge her presence until one of the others pointed them out to him.

Ja-Nareth glanced up only briefly. “I’m very busy, Hansen. What is it?”

Hansen straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin. “I have discovered an anomaly amidst the Paulson data.”

“Unlikely,” Ja-Nareth replied as he continued to tap information into the PADD he carried, moving from one sample to the next. “The readings from that nebula haven’t changed in years.”

“Until now, Commander,” Hansen replied. “I would not be here were I not sure of my findings—I am not in the habit of making false reports.”

“I have seen the data myself, Commander Ja-Nareth, as have others,” added Maya. “There is definitely something there.”

Only then did Ja-Nareth halt in his movements; he drew a breath and turned to them with a pinched expression, then stepped over. Hansen automatically held out the PADD in her hand, which he took and perused for less than a minute before thrusting it back at her.

“I’m surprised you thought that was worth being called an anomaly,” he said. “If anything it’s a meteorite—in layman’s terms, it’s a big space rock. Not even worth your time, and especially not mine.”

“If those are your sentiments, Commander, then allow me to say that it is my time to waste,” Hansen said then. “I request the use of a shuttlecraft to go and examine the object.”

He had already turned away from them, but turned back at her words with an aggravated sigh. “I think not. It’s just a meteorite, Lieutenant, no need for wasting ship’s resources to go take scans of a damn rock. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d appreciate it if you’d let the real scientists on this ship get back to work. Maya, it was a pleasure to see you again.”

Their dismissal was clear. Hansen executed a sharp about-face and exited swiftly, Maya following close behind. “Unbelievable! I am astonished that he just dismissed you like that—and to insult you besides, in front of his subordinates no less! It was incredibly unprofessional behavior.”

Hansen held up a hand to request silence; she needed a moment to calm her own ire before she made her next move. Drawing a breath, she released it slowly, then tapped her commbadge. “Computer, what is the location of Captain Murphy?”

Captain Murphy is in his quarters, the computer replied.

She immediately turned to the right and strode purposely down the corridor. Maya hurried to catch up, and remained thankfully silent as they walked. At the end of the hall she turned left, coming eventually to a stop at the door marked 2-01-F and pressing the chime.

Come in.”

As the door hissed open, Hansen stepped through. In her peripheral vision, she noted Captain Murphy standing from his dining table. He was not alone—Dr. Nir’ahn was with him, and there were plates of food on the table itself.

Turning to face Murphy, Hansen said, “I beg your pardon for the interruption, Captain, but I believe you instructed me to come to you directly if I felt I was being treated unfairly due to my…particular history.”

Murphy glanced at Nir’ahn, then back to her as he crossed his arms. “What happened, Lieutenant?”

Hansen relayed the encounter with Ja-Nareth in the geology lab. Murphy listened in brooding silence, though the Andorian doctor gasped when she repeated the Efrosian’s parting insult.

The captain then looked to Maya. “You were there, Mrs. Verdeschi?”

She nodded. “Just Maya, please. And yes, Captain Murphy, it happened just as she said. Frankly, I’m quite at a loss as to understand why Lt. Commander Ja-Nareth views Annika with such contempt. She explained to me about her origins and the Borg—she was just a child! She had no control over her actions, and she certainly did not harm the commander’s father.”

Murphy looked to Hansen. “Forgive me for asking, but you’re certain of that?”

Hansen nodded. “I am, sir,” she said. “As Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero-One, my place was near the Queen—to be always at hand when she required my services. As a drone, I was never in the Alpha Quadrant.”

He looked thoughtful as he mused, “And the Battle of Wolf 359 was in 2366, eleven years before your arrival.”

The captain’s eyes fell to the PADD in Hansen’s hand. “I take it that’s the data on the anomaly you found?”

She nodded as she stepped closer and handed it to him. “Yes, Captain. The object is approximately eight-point-two feet long and four feet across at its widest point, which is its middle. Our long range sensors picked up traces of iron, plastic, and organic components which were not identifiable at that range.”

“Plastic?” queried Dr. Nir’ahn, who stood herself then and came around the table to study the information on the PADD. “I can understand the presence of metal, even organic matter, but plastic?”

Murphy looked up. “I take it you want to go and study this possible meteorite?”

Again, Hansen nodded. “I request permission to take a shuttle and a small away team—myself and two others—back to the Paulson Nebula, sir. I have reviewed the findings of the last three studies conducted on the Paulson, including that which you performed on the U.S.S. Sherwood five years ago. This object was not detected during any of those surveys.”

She drew a breath then. “Perhaps it is just a meteorite which has drifted into the nebula from elsewhere. However, despite that possibility, I believe the presence of the object in an otherwise unchanged nebula warrants closer examination.”

“I’d say the detection of the plastic alone merits a closer look, Dominic,” offered Dr. Nir’ahn. “I admit to being rather curious about that myself.”

“As am I,” replied Murphy as he held out the PADD. Hansen took it as he added, “Prepare your away team, Lieutenant. I’ll send an authorization down to the hangar bay for the shuttle—and I’ll have a word with Commander Ja-Nareth while you’re gone.”

Hansen felt some measure of relief that the captain appeared to be taking the matter seriously. In truth, she hadn’t wanted to involve him, having hoped—perhaps foolishly—that Ja-Nareth’s attitude would subside and that they could at least get along. She didn’t need him to like her, just treat her with respect and courtesy. Today’s incident, however, had proven that she could no longer simply tolerate his behavior towards her. It was one thing to brush her off when they were alone in his office and she delivered her daily report, and quite another entirely to be blatantly insulted in front of subordinates.

“Thank you, Captain,” she replied, then with a nod at the doctor, turned and left.

“May I join your away team? I believe that’s what Captain Murphy called it,” Maya asked when they were in the corridor again.

Hansen looked to her. “I would gladly welcome your company, Maya, but do you not need the permission of Commander Koenig?”

“Well, certainly I shall have to ask him, but I am sure he’ll agree,” her companion replied. “The one who’s more likely to object is Tony. It might take me a little time to convince him to agree than the commander.”

Hansen paused. “Is it Psychon tradition to ask a spouse’s permission?”

Maya laughed. “Certainly not, nor is it Human tradition, I believe. It’s simply a courtesy to inform one’s spouse of your intentions, and their agreeing to a plan is much easier on the relationship between you than going against their wishes. Did you have no married couples on your last posting?”

Hansen started down the corridor again as she replied, “There were several crewmembers who were married, but whose spouses were not aboard Voyager. There were a number of couples among the crew, but only one was married, and they wed some years into the journey. As I recall, there were a number of times Lieutenants Paris and Torres openly disagreed regarding participation in away missions, especially after Lt. Torres conceived their child.”

Maya scoffed. “That’s what I’m afraid of—that Tony will insist I remain behind for the sake of the baby,” she said. “He already tried to stop me transporting back and forth after I told him I was pregnant, and only Dr. Nir’ahn’s assurance that doing so would not affect our child got him to relent. This mission would be the first time he and I will be apart for more than a day or two since we met.”

They reached the turbolift then. “Then it will be good for you to go, that the two of you learn to spend time apart. It is not healthy for any relationship to always be in the same place.”

“You think absence will make our hearts grow fonder?” said Maya with a laugh.

It hadn’t worked for her and Chakotay, Hansen mused silently. But then, she hadn’t grown less fond of him—she’d grown more fond of herself and her independence, and had found her need to explore life away from Voyager and her crew to be a stronger imperative than maintaining a romantic connection.

She missed him, but not as much as she had when she had first begun her very personal journey of self-discovery. In her mind, that meant their relationship had not been meant to last. And really, a romantic liaison was the least of her concerns at present.

The lift car arrived at last and they stepped inside. Hansen ordered it back to Deck 4 before saying, “Having observed Mr. Verdeschi on several occasions, I believe that he will argue with you but eventually relent and allow you to join the away team. When we return, he will immediately sequester you in your quarters, where he will not allow you out of his sight for a period not less than twenty-four hours.”

Maya laughed again. “That sounds just like Tony, my friend. You have an uncanny ability to describe people exactly as they are.”

***

Hansen’s prediction about Tony Verdeschi’s reaction proved eerily accurate. Maya had made use of one of the work stations in Astrometrics to contact Alpha and speak to Commander Koenig while she informed her team of the away mission, selected Takeshi Sulu and Verlyn Devos to join the team, and gave instructions for the next few days to the rest of the stellar sciences crew. The three were departing to pack for the trip when Hansen passed her new acquaintance and overheard her pleading with her husband to agree, stating that she was certain there was very little chance of danger in going to explore a “space rock.”

For her own luggage, Hansen needed to pack very little besides her portable regenerator, and since her quarters were literally right next to the hangar bay access door, she was the first to arrive. She decided a runabout would best suit for the mission, in case there was reason to bring the object back to Messenger, and after confirming that the authorization had been received by the flight deck crewmen, headed for the Gladden. She was onboard and beginning the pre-flight systems checks when Devos showed up, then Maya Verdeschi arrived with Alan Carter.

“Tony refused to let me come alone,” the Psychon said with a grin as she and Carter boarded the runabout.

“He’s busy with coordinating the security upgrades to the base that have already been approved,” added Carter, “or he’d probably have insisted on coming himself. I’m here to provide security, not that we’re likely to need any on a simple survey mission, eh?”

“No, Mr. Carter, we are not,” Hansen replied. “There is no reason to suspect we will encounter any trouble.”

Carter grinned in reply, then all their attention was drawn to the hangar bay when they heard “Hansen!” reverberating around the cavernous flight deck through the open door of the small craft. A glance through the front window showed a contrite-looking Sulu walking toward them behind a clearly angry Ja-Nareth. It was reasonable to assume that the cadet had informed the older man of their mission.

Rising calmly, Hansen exited the runabout, the others following close behind. Before he had even reached them, Ja-Nareth raised a hand and pointed. “You’ve got a lot of frakking nerve! Did you think I wouldn’t find out? How dare you go over my head like that! I don’t know how the hell you Borgs operate on your own ships, but on a Starfleet vessel we have rules! We have protocols and they are meant to be followed! When a superior officer makes a decision, you adhere to it—you don’t do an end-run to the captain whining about not getting what you want!”

Carter stepped forward, placing himself between Hansen and the raging Efrosian. “Now, hang on a minute, mate,” he said, holding his hands up in a placating manner. “There’s no need to get all riled up. How about you take a second to calm down, and we talk about this rationally?”

“I’m sorry, Lieutenant,” said Sulu. “I met him in the turbolift and he asked why I had a duffel with me.”

“There is no need to apologize, Cadet,” Hansen replied.

Ja-Nareth scoffed. “Wow, you’re a real piece of work. Some supervisor you are—what kind of example are you setting for this kid, running off to the captain to cry about me telling you a frakking rock wasn’t worth our notice—”

“That is not what I said at all!” Sulu protested.

“Contrary to your erroneous assumption, Commander,” Hansen began, “that is not what I did. I was following the captain’s orders when I spoke to him.”

“Bullshit!” snapped Ja-Nareth as he stepped closer. “Do you think you can lie to me now and get away with it?”

Carter also took a step forward. “I think you’d best back off, mate. I don’t know what your problem is with the lieutenant, and frankly I don’t care. But far as I can tell, she’s done nothing wrong, and she’s keepin’ a clearer head than you are.”

Ja-Nareth raised his hand again and pointed his finger in the other man’s face. “You stay out of this. It doesn’t concern you.”

Carter crossed his arms. “I’d say it does, when you come at my friend screaming like a Tasmanian devil caught in a bear trap. Why don’t you calm down, show the lady a little respect, and act like a professional—”

Ja-Nareth started laughing. “Lady? You’re calling that frakking killing machine over there a lady? Gods, you Alphans really are primitive apes compared to us—you’ve got no clue what she’s capable of. What she’s done all in the name of perfection!”

Maya gasped in alarm and reached out to put a hand on Carter’s arm when he took another step forward. “Alan, don’t. It’s not worth it.”

He ignored her plea. “Maybe I don’t have a clue about her, but I do about you, pal. And if you don’t back the fuck off and chill out, you’re going to find out just how primitive this ape can be.”

“How about I clue you in, buddy—that is, if your primordial brain can handle the information overload,” Ja-Nareth snapped. “That thing, that bionic bitch over there—”

Tyrone Ja-Nareth didn’t get to finish his sentence. Almost before anyone knew what was happening, Alan Carter had drawn back a fist and laid him out; the Efrosian scientist fell hard to the hangar bay floor, having been knocked out cold.

Cries of alarm were expressed by Maya, Ensign Devos, and the two flight deck crewmen, who’d stepped out of the control booth on hearing Ja-Nareth’s raised voice. Cadet Sulu dropped his duffel bag and knelt down next to the fallen officer.

“Ensign Devos, please retrieve a medical kit from the runabout,” said Hansen, before she tapped her commbadge. “Security to the hangar bay.”

She then double-tapped her badge, closing the first channel and opening another. “Hansen to Captain Murphy. Please report to the hangar bay.”

Aggravation was clear in the captain’s voice in his gruff reply. “I’m on my way, Lieutenant.”

Devos was quick to come out of the Gladden with a medkit; she knelt next to Ja-Nareth and scanned him with a tricorder. “Looks like he’ll be fine, Lieutenant. He’s just unconscious.”

Carter snorted. “I could have told you that.”

Two security officers, one of them Inel, came striding into the hangar bay as Ja-Nareth moaned. Devos quickly returned the tricorder to the medkit and stood back, joined by Sulu. The flight deck operators stepped forward to help lift Ja-Nareth to his feet as Inel asked, “What happened here?”

“That’s what I’d like to know,” demanded Captain Murphy, who stepped into the expansive flight deck just then. He took a quick look at the assembled parties and shook his head. “It’s my day off—my day off, people! Could you not have saved the interpersonal conflict until I’m back on duty?”

Ja-Nareth shook his head as if to clear it, moaned softly as he did so, and then turned an angry gaze toward Carter. “Captain, I want him thrown off the ship and his transport privileges revoked.”

Murphy crossed his arms. “And why is that?”

“Because he just punched me, Dom!”

“What he’s neglecting to mention, Captain Murphy, is that he came storming in here screaming at Lt. Hansen—some nonsense about doing an end-run and going to you over his head—and insulted her after I had politely suggested he back off, calm down, and treat the lady more respectfully,” Carter explained. “So I knocked him on his ass.”

“Dom, there’s more to it than that—you know there is,” Ja-Nareth said.

Murphy looked to him. “Go to your quarters and wait for me there.”

Ja-Nareth frowned. “Come on—you’re not seriously going to confine me to quarters for this, are you? He hit me!”

“I didn’t say you were confined to quarters, Commander, but now I’m considering it,” Murphy replied. “Do not argue with me. Just go.”

The science officer huffed angrily, and after shooting a hateful glare at Carter and then Hansen, stormed off toward the exit door. Murphy then nodded at the two security officers, who acknowledged the dismissal without a word and walked away. When they had gone, Murphy looked to the flight deck crew. “Did you see what happened?”

Both crewmen nodded, their gazes studiously fixed on their captain. “Yes, sir,” said the male of the duo. “It went pretty much like the gentleman said it did.”

The female petty officer cleared her throat. “Commander Ja-Nareth was very angry, Captain, pointing and yelling about what a poor example Lt. Hansen was setting for the cadet, sir. Mr. Carter decked him after he called her a killing machine and a bionic bitch, sir. And he called the Alphans primitive apes.”

Hansen only nodded when the captain looked to her with an eyebrow raised in question. Murphy shook his head and muttered words even her enhanced hearing could not make out, then drew a breath and said, “You five had better get going. The sooner you leave, the sooner you return and we all discover just what the hell it is that caused all this damn nonsense today.”

“Yes, Captain,” Hansen replied, then turned and gestured to Devos and Sulu. The two of them quickly climbed back aboard the runabout, followed by Maya. Alan Carter started to follow, then paused and turned to Murphy.

“I’m sorry if I was out of line. I really did try to diffuse situation before I cleaned the guy’s clock,” Carter said.

“Violence generally isn’t the answer, Mr. Carter, something I’m sure you’re aware of. I’ll let it slide, this time, but I will be informing Commander Koenig about what happened,” Murphy said. “His people were involved, so he has a right to know.”

Carter nodded. “I understand. Just… wait until after we’re gone, or you’ll have Tony demanding Maya return to the base where he can keep an eye on her.”

The captain laughed. “No doubt—I remember the transporter argument all too clearly.”

With a nod and a laugh, Carter climbed aboard the runabout. Hansen waited until the flight deck crew walked back to the control booth, then said, “I regret that I am the cause of so much animosity, Captain, which has interfered with your leisure time.”

“You’re not the cause, Lieutenant,” Murphy countered. “I told you Ja-Nareth has issues with the Borg—that’s on him. You’ve done nothing wrong. In fact, I’ve received a number of memos from various crew members regarding your efficiency and dedication to detail.”

She quirked an eyebrow. “No doubt they also expressed their views on my coldness.”

“I’ll just say you’re often compared to Vulcans, which you’ve heard before and isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” he replied with a grin. “Like I said, the problem isn’t you, so you’ve nothing to feel guilty about. Now go on and hurry off to your space rock.”

Hansen nodded. “I will be sure to make a detailed report of our findings, sir.”

Murphy laughed. “I would expect no less of you, Lieutenant. Good luck out there.”

When the runabout had gone at last, Murphy sighed. He should have known that the relative peace would not last, that eventually Ja-Nareth would flip out on Hansen at some point. The Efrosian was a brilliant scientist, but he could, at times, be nearly as hot-headed as himself. Knowing that the conversation he needed to have with his officer—and friend—was going to be difficult, when he departed the hangar bay, he went first to Counselor Roijiana.

When he had explained what happened, she sat thinking for a moment, then said, “Firstly, I think it is time that Commander Ja-Nareth re-enters counseling. He underwent it for some years in his youth after losing his father—the two were very close. Lt. Hansen’s presence appears to have re-awakened his anger management issues, his need to be in control of every aspect of his life. He takes it out on her because she represents those who took his father from him.”

Murphy scoffed. “I’ve already figured that much out. What I need to know is what to do about it—besides ordering him into counseling.”

Roijiana cocked her head to the side. “Well, I think it would be helpful if we could remind him of her humanity. Although she remains dependent on several implants which regulate her vital systems, Hansen is not a Borg drone anymore. For that matter, she didn’t ask to be—no one does, certainly not a six-year-old child.”

The captain crossed his arms, one hand raised to stroke his chin thoughtfully. “How do you propose we do that?”

Roijiana pursed her lips and frowned as she considered his words. “Pictures of her, as a child. I believe she has an aunt that may possess some, if they are not already on file in the ship’s database. Also, I think it may help if he were given limited access to the psychological evaluations that Starfleet medical conducted when Voyager returned.”

“Providing I approve that course of action, Counselor, what good do you think it would do?”

She raised her eyebrows at him. “Captain, have you read the transcripts? Watched the video recordings?”

He shook his head. “No. I only read what I thought was necessary, which was anything that said she was fit to serve.”

“Well I have. One of the counselors was able to make a connection with Hansen,” Roijiana continued. “She convinced her to undergo hypnotic regression therapy; the lieutenant didn’t think it would work, but it did. There is one video where she took her back to the day it happened—when she and her parents were captured and assimilated. It is…difficult to watch. Given what happened today, I think he needs to see it. To be reminded that she is a person with fears and feelings, just as he is.”

Murphy was silent for a moment as he considered her words. “All right,” he said after a time. “I’ll make contact with the aunt, you request the video file, unless you already have a copy, and send it to my office terminal.”

She acknowledged and turned immediately to her computer. Murphy departed her office and headed once more through the cadets’ classroom, determined to see to his part of the task.

***

Just over an hour had passed before Murphy was finally able to make his way to Ja-Nareth’s quarters. Some of that time had been spent waiting for Irene Hansen, the aunt Roijiana had mentioned, to locate a number of pictures to scan for his science officer to see. She’d required little convincing as to the necessity; having thought her niece dead for nearly 20 years, the woman had displayed a fierce sense of protection for her brother’s daughter.

Murphy had also taken the time to make some inquiries of the science department, and there were several crewmen—not just Hansen’s own team—who admitted to their superior not behaving toward her in a professional manner.

He rang the chime at Ja-Nareth’s door and heard a clearly agitated “Come in!” in reply. On stepping inside, the Efrosian whirled away from the window and cried out, “Where the hell have you been? I’ve been waiting for you for over an hour!”

Murphy’s eyes widened, and for a moment he was so genuinely stunned by the outburst he was not sure how to react. Then, gathering his wits about him, he turned around and started back out the door, and made a show of looking around before he stepped back in again.

“What are you doing?” Ja-Nareth asked.

“Checking to make sure I’m not in the wrong place,” Murphy replied. “I mean, for a second there I thought I’d walked into the holodeck, because I could have sworn you just yelled at your commanding officer.”

Ja-Nareth then drew a breath and expelled it in a rush. “Sorry, Dom. I’m just so annoyed at that Borg bi—”

The scowl that descended over Murphy’s face brought his science officer up short. “First and foremost, Lieutenant Commander, let’s get one thing straight: Annika Hansen is not a Borg drone. She is a Human being who was held captive in the Collective against her will for eighteen years. In the last four years, she has done her best to reintegrate into the society from which she came. It has not been easy for her, as our way of life is as foreign to her as her former life is to us. There is also the fact that there are some, like yourself, who behave like a jackass and treat her with spite and hatred when her years as a drone is a matter over which she had absolutely no control.”

“A jackass? Are you kidding me? I’ve done nothing of the kind!” Ja-Nareth protested.

Murphy crossed his arms. “Oh really? So you are denying that you have been purposefully rude, dismissing Hansen’s ideas and advice to you? You’re denying that you just this morning claimed she was not a real scientist, or that you insulted not only her in the presence of witnesses, but the Alphans as well?”

Ja-Nareth groaned and rolled his eyes. “Okay, so maybe I haven’t been exactly nice to her, but I have my reasons.”

Murphy shook his head. “Which are based in anger and ignorance and prejudice, Tyrone. Hansen is not responsible for what happened to your father at Wolf 359—if anyone is, it’s Jean-Luc Picard, and even he is not to blame because his tactical knowledge was stolen from his memories as he was forcibly assimilated. Just like six-year old Annika Hansen was forcibly assimilated. Neither of them, or any other drone, is truly responsible for their actions—”

“Not responsible?! Captain, how can you say that? You’ve seen what those bastards are capable of!”

Murphy nodded. “You’re right, I have. But what I have come to understand, especially since meeting Lt. Hansen, is that they don’t have a choice. A person loses their individuality; their entire identity is repressed when they’re assimilated. Drones are only capable of following the orders of the Queen. And there’s something else you seem to be conveniently forgetting: no one asks to be assimilated—nobody wants to be forced against their will to kill or alter another living being.”

The captain paused, drew a breath. “Your behavior, especially what happened today, skirts dangerously close to conduct unbecoming an officer. I suggest you can the attitude and straighten the hell up, because if one more person tells me that you have not treated Lt. Hansen with the courtesy, consideration, and respect she is due, I will not hesitate to put a reprimand into your permanent file. Hansen has as much right to be here as you do.”

Ja-Nareth was scowling himself now, but Murphy ignored him. Instead he pulled from his pocket a data chip and laid it on the desk against the wall beside where he stood. “Take the rest of the day off and have a look at that. Take the next week to think about how you’re going to apologize to Lt. Hansen when she returns from her field trip. Think about how you’re going to apologize to Alan Carter and Maya Verdeschi for insulting the Alphans—and be glad that I’m not going to make you apologize to all of them.”

With that, Murphy turned on his heel and exited the science officer’s quarters. He was a few steps down the corridor toward the nearest turbolift before he paused and ran a hand over his face and through his hair. Damn, but it was the most difficult thing to have to do, coming down on someone like he’d just done to Ja-Nareth. It was the thing he hated most about being a captain, especially when the officer he was chastising was also a friend.

***

“Approaching the Paulson Nebula, Lieutenant.”

Annika Hansen nodded, though her eyes remained on the readouts of her own panel. “Slow to one-quarter impulse, Mr. Carter.”

Alan Carter keyed the commands into the helm. Hansen glanced up thoughtfully from the command console in the center of the cockpit to watch; she had to admit that the man was a very quick study—he had expressed an interest in learning to fly Federation vessels on their first evening in the runabout, so she’d given him access to the Gladden’s database, where he could read the operation manual. Carter had pored over it for most of that first evening and also much of the day following, and on the morning of their third day announced that he felt sufficiently knowledgeable about how to operate the runabout so as to “have a go” at piloting it.

With the runabout on autopilot, as it had been for the most of the trip, Hansen had programmed several training scenarios into the helm for him to practice. She did not think him capable of having absorbed enough of the operating procedures to be able to correctly pilot the small craft so quickly—after all, he’d only studied the manual for two days, and the disparate nature of the Alphans’ technology compared to that of the Federation was such that she thought it unlikely any of them, though they were an intelligent lot, could easily understand how the latter worked. She had been certain it would take several months, if not a year or more, for any of them to develop any sort of understanding of Federation technology.

Carter proved her wrong. Though he was a little slow at first to find the right keys on the control panel, the more he concentrated on the task, the more smooth and confident were his movements. He mastered the easier scenarios with no trouble, and the harder few—though they took him more time—were soon conquered. The Australian’s only complaint was that the controls were all on a flat panel and did not include any buttons, dials, or a yoke with which he could “feel this baby move.” Hansen then made Carter happy by informing him that she would be only too happy to introduce him to the Delta-class shuttle, which she had herself a hand in designing, and which included all the things Danube-class and other shuttles lacked. Devos had added that there were even larger starships with a manual steering column for use during emergencies.

“I am amazed, Mr. Carter,” said Sulu, who sat at the Ops console to his left. “No offense, but I kind of thought it would take your people a long time to learn how to operate Federation technology.”

“I, uh, kind of thought the same,” agreed Devos, who was behind Sulu. “I am sorry, sir.”

Carter glanced at Maya, behind and to his right, and they both grinned. “No offense taken, kids,” he said as he guided the Gladden smoothly into the nebula. “I’m quite well aware that your Federation technology is far superior and more sophisticated than ours. I certainly don’t in the least understand the mechanics of your propulsion systems—yet. Nor have I figured out how in the world warp speeds are calculated, let alone achieved. The physics simply escape me. I should like to understand in time, but if I don’t, that’s okay, so long as I am able to fly.”

Maya chuckled. “Alan is never more at home than when he is at the controls of an Eagle. Piloting is his first and greatest passion.”

“Your ability to so quickly understand how to operate the controls is impressive, Mr. Carter,” said Hansen then. “However, I strongly advise you to make every effort to understand the physics of warp travel. Every pilot in Starfleet must understand how we are able to travel at warp speeds as well as how to control the starship that gets us where we are going.”

Carter grinned at her. “I will do my very best, Lieutenant.”

“Lieutenant,” said Devos then, “sensors show that the object detected by Messenger’s initial scan of the nebula has drifted by a distance of 13.46 meters from the original coordinates.”

Hansen read the sensor information on her panel. “Indeed it has, though it is not unexpected. An object in motion will always be at motion in space, unless another object obstructs its path. Mr. Carter, adjust our heading to match.”

“Already on it.”

Hansen was again impressed he had anticipated the order, though if he was as skilled a pilot as she had been led to believe, she knew she ought not to be. Indeed, her estimation of Alan Carter’s capabilities was growing, though of all the Alphans she had met, Maya was her preferred companion. The Psychon was incredibly intelligent and fast-thinking, and had been an enormous help to the crew during Operation Orbit.

It was not long before they were approaching the location of the object. Hansen frowned as she took note of the oblong shape to the fore of the runabout, her prosthetic eye zooming in to bring it into greater focus even as her companions were scanning it with the runabout’s sensors. Devos gasped when Sulu cried out “Deities! It’s a couple of Borg drones!”

Hansen stepped around the control console and walked as close as she could to the forward viewport. Maya had stood and joined her.

“Are you all right?” the other woman asked softly.

“I am perfectly well, thank you,” said Hansen without looking at her. “Mr. Carter, bring us to a stop one hundred meters from the object. Mr. Sulu, run a detailed analysis—confirm that the object is in fact a drone.”

The cadet consulted his panel. After about a minute he said, “I’ve run another scan, Lieutenant. That’s not just one drone, it’s two.”

“If these readings are correct,” spoke up Devos, “they appear to be encased in ice.”

“I shouldn’t wonder about that,” observed Maya. “Floating through space as they are, they were bound to pick up some matter, not to mention that space is immeasurably cold.”

Hansen forced herself to look away from the drones and down toward the two younger members of Starfleet, over whom she was in charge and knew she must set the example. “What about the trace of plastic detected by Messenger’s earlier scan? The iron and organic matter?”

“Looks like the iron is concentrated mostly on one drone, and the plastic on the other,” Devos reported. “Now that we’re much closer, sensors are also picking up silicone, copper, rubber, even leather!”

Hansen raised her eyebrow. “The suit of a Borg drone is mainly comprised of extremely tight-fitting heat-conducting rubber that is lined with a thin layer of suede to prevent chafing. The outside of it also features some types of leather as well as silicone components.”

“The plastic I’m reading on the other drone is…well it’s strange,” said Sulu.

Hansen looked down at him. “Strange how, Cadet?”

The young officer trainee looked up at her, his expression at once confused and curious. “Well, it’s the same kind of heat-resistant, reinforced plastic found on a Starfleet EV suit. The kind that makes up the life support shell and the visor. Silicone is also an element of the suit itself.”

“Lt. Hansen, I’ve been able to scan through the block of ice surrounding the drones,” said Ensign Devos then. “I’ve identified their species as Andorian and Human…and there’s a minimal energy reading.”

“How minimal?” Hansen asked, even as she moved to take a look at the readout on Devos’s console.

The Rutian gestured toward the small screen where the data was displayed. “One drone appears to be very dead, and the other nearly so. Based on these readings, the power won’t last more than a day.”

“Wait, this can’t be right…”

Hansen turned to Sulu as Carter asked, “What’s wrong, mate?”

The younger man’s fingers flittered across his console. “This can’t be right,” he said again. “I mean, the one I could understand, but—”

“Cadet Sulu,” Hansen addressed him. “What do your scans show you?”

He glanced up briefly, then looked back at his readouts. “Well, if these readings are accurate, and I shouldn’t doubt them, I know, then one of those drones has been out there only about five years—which means it could have been on the cube at the Battle of Sector 001—but the other is reading at just over three hundred years old.”

There was surprise and disbelief in his voice, but Hansen knew immediately the truth of it. She could not help but know.

Moving back to the command console, she began to key in several sequences. “Annika, what is it? What are you doing?” asked Maya.

“I am reconfiguring our forward phaser array to emit a low-energy pulse,” Hansen replied.

“You’re planning to melt the ice?” asked Carter. “Whatever for?”

“She intends to bring them aboard,” said Devos. “But why would you do that, Lieutenant? There’s still one drone out there with a power reading—don’t you think it would be dangerous to bring it on the ship?”

“The energy signature is minimal—as you observed, Ensign, it is barely alive,” Hansen pointed out as she worked. “Considering my intimate knowledge of Borg technology, and the deteriorated condition of the drone, it will not be difficult to terminate the power supply so that it cannot become a threat to us.”

When she had finished recalibrating the phasers, Hansen stood straight and placed her hands behind her back. She glanced briefly at Maya and Carter before shifting her attention to Devos and Sulu. “Our sensors show that the two drones are Andorian and Human, both founding members of the Federation. Do you truly believe we should leave them to continue drifting through space? Should Captain Janeway have returned me to the Collective, or the crew of the Enterprise not fought to save Captain Picard?”

Sulu glanced to Devos. “She’s right. We can’t just leave them there, now that we know they are there and have seen them. They deserve more respect than to be left floating like this.”

Devos flittered her eyes from one person to another, her gaze falling at last on Hansen. With a nod of her head, she said to her, “Forgive me, Lieutenant. I meant no disrespect, it’s just…”

“I have no more desire to be assimilated than you do, Ensign,” said Hansen. “But I believe the risk to be minimal, and worth it, that these two individuals might be returned to their respective families for a proper burial.”

“What can we do?” asked Maya.

Hansen looked to her. “Right now, nothing. If Mr. Sulu and Ms. Devos and I require additional assistance, we will be sure to ask.”

Sulu cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Lieutenant, but I think it’d be a good idea to have someone monitoring the sensors while we’re busy—you know, so nobody sneaks up on us or anything.”

She regarded him a moment, then nodded. “That is a wise suggestion, Cadet. Mr. Carter, if you don’t mind?”

He shrugged. “Not at all.”

Hansen nodded, then turned her eyes to Maya. “You may join us in the rear compartment—perhaps there will be something you can do that I have not considered.”

Maya grinned. “Thank you. I was hoping you would say something like that.”

With that decided, Hansen initiated the short phaser burst that would melt the ice encasing the two drones, and when it was done she locked on with the transporter to beam them into the dining compartment. Leading the way through the runabout, she was the first to enter, and her suspicions were confirmed when she walked in to find the two drones on top of the dining table.

One of them was in the familiar, standard white and red EV suit. From the doorway, she could see that the person had not been fully assimilated. The visor of the helmet had been fractured, leaving a hole, and there was a scorched hole in the center of the chest.

“I was right!” Sulu exclaimed softly as he came in behind her.

Both he and Devos went immediately to the table to examine the two drones with tricorders they had taken from the equipment locker. Shaking herself mentally, Hansen approached the complete drone—it was the Andorian, and a female. The years in space had done a lot of damage to her exposed skin.

“I wonder when he was assimilated,” she heard Devos say. “I mean, when and where did he come in contact with the Borg and why was he in an EV suit?”

“They’re tethered together,” Maya observed, pointing to a cable that linked the two at the midriff level. “Do you suppose that when they came across one another, they decided to share power?”

Hansen lifted her head. “It is more likely that the complete drone attempted to siphon power from the incomplete one to prolong her existence. It would be the tactically superior option, as the Borg do not ‘share’ anything.”

She then reached under the Andorian and lifted, turning her on her side so that she could access the back of her neck. Underneath a plate there, she knew could be found the equivalent of an “off switch”; Devos was sent to retrieve the tools she would need to remove the plate to get to it.

“Man, this cannot be right,” muttered Sulu.

Maya chuckled. “You know, for a scientist, you’re saying that an awful lot.”

Sulu grinned, then looked back at his tricorder. “According to this, this guy here is the one that’s been drifting for three hundred years. But I am completely stumped on how it’s possible when he’s wearing an EV suit that was designed and put into service in like, 2372. Only six years ago.”

“Yeah, that makes no sense,” said Devos as she returned and handed Hansen the tool kit. “Which means either the tricorder and the runabout sensors are both malfunctioning, or… something happened that’s probably classified.”

Hansen ignored the obvious invitation to speculate in the younger woman’s voice and concentrated on reaching the switch that would eliminate any possibility of the drone reviving; no matter how remote it was in her condition, she was not going to take the risk. Only when she finished did she address the curiosity of her companions.

“Ensign Devos, Cadet Sulu, I hereby invoke the Temporal Prime Directive—”

“Temporal?” cried Maya. “You mean it involves time travel?”

Hansen looked to her. “Precisely. What I am about to reveal must not be discussed with anyone. Devos, Sulu—you are not to write or record any logs, personal or otherwise, regarding what you know. You are not to speak to anyone about the details of this discovery, not even Captain Murphy.”

She paused for a breath, then explained the true aftermath of the Battle of Sector 001 and where the two drones had likely come from: The Enterprise had followed a Borg sphere, launched from the cube just prior to its destruction, back in time to the year 2063. Upon discovering the Borg’s intention to prevent First Contact and subsequently assimilate Earth, the crew worked directly with warp drive pioneer Zefram Cochrane to ensure his historic flight took place—as well as stop the Borg from calling in 21st century reinforcements. If the enemy had been successful, their efforts would not only have destroyed the Federation before it could be formed, but would also have annihilated the Human race and others. The Andorian had probably been on the assaulting cube, assimilated long before being thrown into space by the explosion that destroyed it (thus making her eventual identification difficult). But given the presence of the EV suit and the age of his remains, it was a certainty that the Human was a member of the Enterprise crew that had somehow been in cast into space mid-assimilation while the Sovereign-class starship was still in the past.

“Per standard procedure, he is likely wearing a commbadge underneath his suit. I will use it to identify him before informing Captain Picard via secure channel,” Hansen finished.

“How do you know all this, Lieutenant, if it’s restricted by the Temporal Prime Directive?” asked Sulu.

Hansen raised her eyebrow. “I was Borg, Cadet. The entire Collective was aware of the plan before it was initiated. Also, Captain Picard himself asked me directly if I had any knowledge of the event.”

“But doesn’t invoking the TPD mean that all the Gladden sensor logs will be classified? All of our tricorder scans?” asked Devos. “What will we put in our mission report?”

Hansen felt herself frown. Obviously a mission log would be required, but the Directive limited what they could actually put in it. “I believe only the bare minimum facts are required, Ensign. We discovered two deceased Borg drones floating in space, identified their species as Human and Andorian, and chose to return their remains to the Federation. As to sensor information, I will see to its classification.”

“What about Alan and I?” asked Maya then.

“You are not technically bound by Starfleet regulations, but I must insist that you speak of the details to no one—not even your husband. We cannot risk the accidental revelation of sensitive information, as doing so could cause serious repercussions.”

Maya appeared to consider her words, then nodded. “I will make sure Alan understands. Now… what to do with the bodies?”

Hansen stepped back and pointed to one of three hatches set into the deck. “There are six escape pods under the deck plating in this compartment and two under the deck in the cockpit.”

Sulu snapped his fingers. “Right! We can reconfigure two of the pods to act as stasis units, preserving the bodies until we can turn them over at Starbase Echo.”

“We will not be turning them over at Starbase Echo, Cadet,” Hansen rebutted. “Due to the presence of the Enterprise crewman, I think it best we release them to his former crewmates. Captain Picard will know the proper procedures to take thereafter.”

Sulu and Devos looked to one another, then both agreed with a nod. She set them and Maya to retrieving two of the escape pods while she moved around the table to search the Human for his commbadge. Hansen discovered it where she expected to, still attached to his shirt on the left side, and on pulling it out, scanned it with Sulu’s tricorder. Next she moved to the computer console on the starboard side of the compartment, downloaded the tricorder readings, and initiated a search of the personnel database. 

While Hansen waited for the results, she considered that there was no real need to identify the man before she turned him over to his captain—Picard’s crew could certainly do that themselves and would possibly even know him on sight. However, she found herself with a desire to know his name, that she could tell the Enterprise’s captain which if his lost crewmen he could take to a proper resting place.

The screen flashed that a match had been found. Hansen pressed the control to bring up the information and saw that the badge had been identified as belonging to Lt. Sean Liam Hawk, listed Killed in Action in 2373 at the Battle of Sector 001. He’d been the conn officer on the Federation flagship for only a year before his death.

The next several minutes were spent reconfiguring the two escape pods and placing the bodies inside. Before sealing the Andorian’s pod, Hansen confirmed with a scan that the energy signature Devos had detected was gone. Had she not been in such a damaged state, the drone’s automated energy processing system would have converted the very air itself into energy in order to restore power and repair the damage it had suffered. Though she would have liked to do for the woman what had been done for her, as in all likelihood the drone’s link to the Collective had already been severed, Hansen knew she simply could not take the risk of being wrong. So she had made sure there was no chance of recovery, even as minimal as it was to begin with.

After ensuring the pods were set aside and out of the way, Hansen dismissed the others back to the cockpit. Devos asked what course she ought to have Carter set, seeing that their business at the nebula was concluded, and was surprised when told that they were to hold position until contact had been made with the Enterprise. She advised them to begin writing their reports but to remember that they could say nothing about the connection to the Enterprise or time travel. When she was alone, Hansen downloaded the information from Devos’s tricorder onto Sulu’s and then erased the scans from the former’s memory circuits. She next copied all the sensor logs from the runabout onto the second tricorder before erasing those logs as well, so that the only evidence pertaining to time travel was their individual memories.

Finally, she engaged the subspace communications system and opened up a secure channel directed to the Enterprise. It was several minutes before the bald pate of Captain Jean-Luc Picard appeared on the small screen.

“Lt. Hansen. You’re looking well,” he said.

“Thank you, Captain,” Hansen replied, briefly flashing back to the interview he’d been asked by Starfleet Command to conduct as part of her commission evaluation. She recalled that he had been polite, even kind, but also reserved—at least at first. As they spoke, she was sure he had begun to understand that while his experience with the Borg had been devastating, it could not be measured against the tragedy that was her own.

“I would ask, Lieutenant, to what do I owe the pleasure—but seeing that we are on a secure channel, I do not believe this is a social call.”

She raised her eyebrow at his levity. “Indeed not. Captain Picard, I am in command of a small away team investigating an anomaly within the Paulson Nebula.”

Picard frowned. “An anomaly? The Paulson readings have not changed in years,” he said.

“Until eight days ago, that would be a correct assessment. However, during Messenger’s survey of the Paulson, our sensors detected an object which had not been registered on previous surveys. The anomaly was not discovered until three days ago, as our study of the data was delayed by the appearance of the Alphans’ moon.”

Picard smiled. “I shouldn’t wonder. What an incredible experience it must have been, on both sides. Your crew is to be commended, both for saving the inhabitants of Levzor 5 as well as setting that moon into orbit of the fourth planet. I do not doubt that you will also devise a method for rotating the moon on its axis, as I have heard you mean to do.”

“We have determined it will be necessary in order to maintain a natural atmosphere, as the Alphans hope for.” Hansen paused and drew a breath. “Captain, the anomaly we discovered was, in fact, two Borg drones encased in ice—an Andorian female and a Human male. The female’s identity is at present unknown, but as the male was wearing a Starfleet EV suit, I determined that identification was necessary. He is Lt. Sean Hawk.”

On the screen, Picard’s expression fell and he paled slightly. “You are certain, Lieutenant?”

Hansen nodded. “Lt. Hawk was still wearing his commbadge, sir.”

A moment of silence passed. Picard drew a breath, released it, then drew another before asking, “Where are Hawk and the Andorian now?”

“We have secured them in two of our escape pods, converted to stasis units for preservation,” Hansen replied. “At present the Gladden is still inside the Paulson; I thought it prudent to speak to you before deciding on our next course of action.”

Picard stroked his chin as he nodded. “Yes, that was a wise choice. You do understand, Lieutenant, that this away mission of yours is now subject to the Temporal Prime Directive?”

It was Hansen’s turn to nod. “I am aware, Captain. My subordinates have also been informed of the fact, and I will be reviewing their mission reports before submitting them to Captain Murphy. All the data we collected has been downloaded to a single tricorder and erased from the runabout’s memory core. I intend to extract from it what we can reasonably include in our logs.”

Picard smiled. “It would seem, then, that you have the situation well in hand. You contacted me directly because of Hawk, so I think it wise that the Enterprise relieve you of your cargo.”

“That was precisely my intention.”

He consulted his computer for a moment. “We’re twelve lightyears from the Paulson, Lieutenant. I’ll transmit our present coordinates to you; we can each of us set course for a rendezvous point in the middle.”

“Our maximum speed is warp eight, sir. It will take us just over two days to travel half the distance, and will delay our return to Messenger and Moonbase Alpha,” Hansen said.

“Moonbase Alpha? Members of your team are Alphans?”

“Yes.”

Picard huffed. “That may complicate things. Have you explained the Temporal Prime Directive to them?”

“I have, sir. Maya Verdeschi, Alpha’s chief scientist and a vital assistant in Operation Orbit, has assured me that she and her colleague will adhere to the Directive.”

Enterprise’s captain nodded. “Very well. I will contact Starfleet Command on your behalf, that they may notify Captain Murphy of the delay in your return.”

“Thank you, Captain. Your assistance with discretion is appreciated,” Hansen replied.

Picard chuckled. “Considering, Lieutenant, that the Enterprise’s actions five years ago—or three hundred years, depending on how you look at it—is responsible for the necessity of that discretion, it is only right that I aid you in doing what must be done. I regret that you must conceal vital information from your captain, but as you are aware, it cannot be avoided.”

Hansen inclined her head. “Indeed. However, withholding information is not the same as lying, therefore I can live with that concealment.”

“We will see you and your team in two days, Lt. Hansen. Until then, take care.”

“The same to you, Captain.”

***

The rendezvous with the Enterprise went smoothly. No doubt due to the presence of their fallen comrade, the Gladden was directed to land in the starship’s main shuttle bay.

Upon opening the hatch, the first person to appear was Captain Picard, who declared he wished to speak in private for a moment to Hansen’s team; after apologizing for the need of having to do so, he reiterated what they had already heard from Hansen herself, which was that certain details of their discovery must remain secret. He seemed satisfied with the assertions of the two Alphans, whom he said he was pleased to have met, that they would respect Starfleet’s Temporal Prime Directive and tell no one what they knew beyond the most basic information.

Picard then called for the extraction teams to come into the runabout. Four officers in teal, whom Hansen surmised were from the medical staff, came aboard pushing two anti-grav beds and headed into the rear compartment. The Andorian female was brought out first; they had removed her from the escape pod. Hansen silently approved, as removing the drones from the escape pods eliminated the necessity of having to wait for their return from the Enterprise’s Sickbay. The two escorting Sean Hawk’s body soon followed, and Captain Picard made to exit behind them. He paused in the hatchway and turned back with a solemn expression.

“Thank you, Lt. Hansen, for bringing Mr. Hawk home to us,” he said.

Hansen inclined her head. “I could do nothing else, Captain.”

With a nod of his own, he wished them all farewell and stepped out. Hansen and her crew each returned to their stations and prepped the runabout for takeoff. Less than half an hour after touching down on the deck of the Enterprise, they lifted off and flew back out into space, all of them eager to make their way back to their own homes.

***

Having returned to Messenger in the early hours nearly a day and a half later than originally scheduled, Maya and Carter were transported to Moonbase Alpha directly from the runabout before they docked. After they had, Hansen ordered Devos and Sulu directly to bed, a directive neither of them argued with. In her own quarters, she quickly put away her things and followed her own advice, as she’d only regenerated once in the last six days.

Seven hours later, a rested and refreshed Hansen stood before Captain Murphy’s desk in the ready room. He was—probably not for the first time—reading through the report she had submitted on the away mission, which included the observations of all members of the team as well as what of the sensor logs she had thought could reasonably be included. In the end, that amounted to everything they had observed and recorded about the Andorian female. All that remained of the scans and observations of Lt. Hawk were that he was a partially assimilated Human male. Both were listed in the report as “identity unknown”.

After several minutes, Murphy sat back in his chair with one hand stroking his chin in thought. Another moment passed before he lowered his hand and clasped both together in his lap as he said, “This report is not one hundred percent complete, is it?”

As it was a direct question, she decided to answer honestly. “No, sir, it is not.”

“Admiral Savari contacted me about the delay of your return, not you,” he observed. “It has something to do with what you discovered out there.”

“That is correct.”

Again he observed her silently before speaking. “I have to admit, Lieutenant, that I am damn curious. There’s so much information here about the female drone, but not the male—there’s almost nothing about him. He may as well have not even been there. But it’s clear that you can’t talk about it, so I won’t ask.”

Hansen gave a nod. “I appreciate that, Captain. I would not like to have to lie to you.”

“I appreciate that you don’t want to lie,” Murphy returned. “Do I even want to know which of Starfleet’s many directives brought about the gag order?”

She could tell him this, and faintly smiled as she replied, “Temporal.”

The captain groaned audibly and threw his hands up. “You know what? I’ve changed my mind—I don’t want or need to know anything. Time travel’s a frakking headache I can do without. Keep your secrets, Lieutenant, and make sure the others do the same.”

Hansen nearly laughed. Captain Janeway had said much the same thing about time travel, and on more than one occasion.

“Will there be anything else, Captain?” she asked instead.

“No, you’re good to go. Take the rest of the day off and relax—can’t have been easy being cooped up in a runabout with four other people for a week.”

“On the contrary—one week with four others was far more tolerable than spending nearly two months in such close quarters with five.” One of whom barely concealed his hostility towards me, she added silently.

Murphy laughed and dismissed her with a wave. As she exited the ready room, Hansen’s commbadge chirped and from it she heard the voice of Ensign Catsland; the Sivaoan requested her company in the mess hall for lunch, to which she readily agreed as she’d not had a meal since the evening before.

She and Sharp Smile were joined at their table by Ensign Devos, and after they had taken their seats, the felinoid immediately asked what they had found in the Paulson Nebula.

“Was it just a boring old meteorite like Ja-Nareth said it would be?” she pressed.

Hansen looked to Devos, who sat beside her. The ensign drew a breath and then casually lifted a shoulder as she speared a piece of the chicken on her plate with her fork.

“No,” she said. “Believe it or not, it was a couple of dead Borg drones encased in ice. Sensors showed one was Andorian and the other Human, so the lieutenant had us bring them aboard. The Enterprise was nearby, so we turned the drones over to them.”

Hansen watched Sharp Smile’s eager expression sober. “That was very kind of you, Lieutenant, to take them on board.”

“It was the right thing to do,” Hansen replied. “As it is highly likely that the two individuals were Federation citizens, it is my sincere hope that Captain Picard’s crew is able to identify the remains and return them to their families, that they may receive a proper burial.”

Sharp Smile nodded emphatically. “That is exactly what I would wish. My people will bury the dead where they fall, but always is the gravesite marked, so that the family may visit and find peace there.”

Hansen nodded and turned her attention to her own plate—a “proper meal for once!” Sharp Smile had called it—while in her thoughts she wondered at the propensity for humanoids to visit graves to “find peace”. Inner peace was a state of mind; the location at which one found it was of no consequence.

Her attention was diverted when Sharp Smile began to growl softly. Turning her head, Hansen noted Lt. Commander Ja-Nareth approaching. The expression on his face was unreadable, which was unusual for the Efrosian who, like so many, was excessively emotive.

He stopped at the side of their table. “Lt. Hansen, may I speak with you a moment—in private?”

“Of course,” she said, and stood immediately to lead him out of the mess hall. They walked several feet away from the door before she stopped and turned to face him.

“You wished to speak with me, Commander.”

An emotion she could not decipher flittered across his face. Ja-Nareth drew a breath, then said, “Captain Murphy has ordered me to apologize to you for my remarks the other day. I’m sorry.”

On reflex, and given his admission that he had been ordered to do so, Hansen harbored doubt that his words were sincere. Nevertheless, she gave a slight nod and replied, “Apology accepted. Was there anything else?”

He reached up and rubbed the back of his neck. “Uh, yeah… Murphy gave me this chip to look at that had some pictures of a little blonde girl on it. She was wearing a red dress, had a red ribbon in her hair. According to the file codes, they were of you.”

Hansen inhaled sharply as a flash of memory came to her: her 5th birthday party, the last one she’d had before the ill-fated trip into the Delta Quadrant. She’d worn a red dress, and remembered her mother tying a red ribbon into her hair—it was her favorite color.

“The datachip also had a video on it of a counseling session,” Ja-Nareth went on, his words causing her to frown. “Hypnotic regression therapy, the counselor called it. She took you back—”

“To the day I was assimilated,” Hansen snapped, interrupting him. “Why did you view that recording? Who gave you the authority to access my personal records? Counseling sessions are protected by doctor-patient confidentiality.”

Ja-Nareth held up his hands. “I already told you that Captain Murphy gave it to me on a datachip. I assume it was meant to remind me that you were just a kid when it happened. A scared little girl screaming for her—”

“I know,” she interrupted again, feeling her respiration and heart rate increase. She was agitated, anxious—not just because Murphy had shown Ja-Nareth confidential information, but because the memories, so recently accessed, were difficult for her to handle. She pushed the fear back as she had so many times before, pushed hard to lock it away before it could overwhelm her.

“I think he meant to remind me of your humanity,” Ja-Nareth was saying. “That you didn’t ask for this to happen to you. He did it hoping that I would see you in a new light and stop being so hostile.”

Hansen drew a breath through her nose, felt the calm, cool demeanor she normally employed reassert itself. “Was he successful?”

Ja-Nareth scoffed and paced away, his hands on his hips. “I gotta be honest with you, I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, it wasn’t easy to look at those pictures of a happy, smiling kid and remind myself that’s who you were. It was even harder to watch that recording, to see the grown woman you are displaying the emotions of a terrified child. I can’t help wondering if…if my father and everyone else who’s been assimilated against their will were as afraid as you were.”

“After my liberation, I was subjected to the personalities of at least two dozen individuals during a brief period when Voyager encountered a Borg vinculum that connected with my cortical node and attempted to reinsert me into the Collective, Commander,” Hansen said. “Regrettably, I can confirm that most of them were extremely frightened.”

“That—that right there!” Ja-Nareth cried as she spun to face her, his hand lifted to point. “You’re so cold, so emotionless—as bad as a Vulcan on your good days. How can you stand there and talk about people being scared out of their minds like it’s nothing? I mean, does it ever bother you—even for a fraction of a second—that you are personally responsible for ending thousands, if not millions, of lives?”

For the second time in only a few minutes, Hansen felt her guard slip a fraction. She’d been asked this question before—more times than she cared to count, really—and reasoned that being reminded of the intensely emotional counseling session where the memory of the worst day of her life had been brought back to the surface was cause of her momentary loss of control.

“I remember everything I ever did as a drone,” she seethed, hurt and anger and regret each vying for dominance within her. “I remember, and God knows I wish I could forget. I sometimes hear the screams in my sleep, even though the regeneration unit is designed to suppress my subconscious: men and women crying out in pain; children—terrified beyond measure—begging for their mommies and daddies to save them. If you carried the devastated lives of countless millions in your head, Commander, wouldn’t you do whatever it takes to keep those memories at bay? If that means behaving as a Vulcan does, a species who learned long ago to keep their emotions in check, wouldn’t you consider that an acceptable alternative to insanity?”

She sighed deeply, took a step back, and once more fought to rein in her emotions. “I didn’t choose to be assimilated. No one does. Do I regret the actions I took? Do I wish I could change them? The answer to both questions is yes. However, I know that what has been done cannot be undone, and so I must live with the consequences of those actions. I live with them every day of my life now but I do not dwell on them, as doing so would serve no purpose other than to make me utterly miserable. I would much rather be productive, and do whatever is within my power to demonstrate that Annika Hansen is no longer Seven of Nine.”

Without waiting for further reply, Hansen stepped around Ja-Nareth and walked away. She did not see that he stared after her, mulling her words and her reaction over and again, considering that it might finally be time to let go. Treating her with contempt, directing all the rage he had felt over the years toward her because she used to be Borg would not bring his father back.

Ja-Nareth drew a breath, straightened his uniform jacket, and turned in the opposite direction then Hansen had gone.


=/\=

6 comments:

  1. A really great story. A confrontation between Annika and Ja-Nareth was coming and I’m glad that Alan Carter interceded where he did. The crimes of her Borg past shouldn’t set the stage for what her future is going to be. You wrote a really great tale. I hope you continue along this route with the Alphans.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much Jack. You're absolutely right that Hansen's Borg past should not dictate her Human future. I know I have at least one more story to write with the Alphans in it. Beyond that, I can't say. Just have to see where the Muse decides to take me.

      Delete
  2. A welcome revisit to these wonderful characters, both original and canon. Especially the Alphans, whom I love seeing in the Trek universe, as well as the likes of Anneka Hansen, Picard, and even Lt Hawk, who will get a more deserving end than he was left with.

    The view of Borg drones as unwilling victims, of being captured and rescued, is something that should have been addressed in the TV shows and movies.

    The attitude by Ja-Nareth towards the Alphans was also telling, and I wonder how many others might feel the same.

    Picard's depiction feels very accurate, and I could hear Patrick Stewart saying his lines. The same with Anneka Hansen.

    All in all, a great read, Christina, and thank you for it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Deggsy! I'm so glad you are happy to see my characters, canon and original, and the Alphans as well.

      Besides the very first drones who knows how many years ago, I daresay every Borg drone is a victim of forced assimilation. It's definitely something that should be addressed but has not been - all anyone seems to focus on is the fear and anger the threat of the Borg generates.

      I hadn't considered that there would bee many who truly think of the Alphans as primitive; Ja-Nareth only said what he did because he was being a jerk.

      So, so happy you think I captured Picard well. Whenever I cameo canon characters, I always worry if I'm capturing them correctly. I imagined Sir Patrick's voice as I was writing his scenes, and I'm so happy to see that you did also. Poor Hawk certainly did get a lot better ending here than in First Contact - at least he'll get a proper burial instead of being left to float through space.

      I am chuffed you consider this story a "great read". You are most welcome!

      Delete
  3. Excellent story! I really like how you interweave the characters and their different stories in the larger narrative.

    I'm also quite pleased to see more of the Alphans. You've gotten Maya and Carter down perfectly. I very much look forward to reading more about them.

    While I have not been a big Seven of Nine fan in the past, I am quickly becoming a fan of your Annika. She's turning out to be a great character.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I literally clapped my hands with joy to see that you had stopped by again. Thank you so much for the kind words. I am so very chuffed that you are enjoying my work. I was happy to have Maya and Alan as guests in this story, and I'm so glad you think I have them "down perfectly". They will probably be back, as will other Alphans, I am sure.

      I'm also very much pleased you're enjoying my interpretation of Seven's character. Like pretty much everyone, she's still growing and learning and evolving as a person, just with a more unique set of circumstances. I hope that I have and continue to portray Annika Hansen as a more realistic person and less of a convenient plot device as Seven was on the show.

      Delete