1. Chapter 1 by Cheshire
Notes: This was written for the VAMB Secret Santa 2012 exchange. Thanks to my ever dependable beta Quantumsilver! And, of course, I don’t own the characters. I just like to let them out for a different breath of air.
Homecoming by Cheshire
She will arrive soon. Three minutes and forty-seven seconds, to be precise. The escape sphere has already been taken in and the forty-seven seconds is the extra time added to the normal three minutes it would take to reach my assimilation chamber. Even efficient Borg drones require extra time when guiding a stasis unit through the corridors of the Primary Unicomplex.
But I can wait. I’ve been waiting. It’s taken seventeen hours for the sphere to travel to the Unicomplex. Tactical Cube One Three Eight was destroyed over thirteen hours ago. Just as Unimatrix Zero was destroyed and the thousands of drones with the imperfection that allowed them to travel there are destroyed.
My trust in Janeway to provide a solution has been validated once again. The humans created the virus; I perfected it. They, of course, had other intentions for it, but it is far easier to manipulate than to create. That pathetic “paradise”, the imperfect ones’ disillusioned sense of freedom had been their undoing.
I released the virus myself in their pitiable refuge. Within minutes the autonomic functions of every drone with the mutation had shut down. Once again, Voyager supplied me with the means to dispose of my enemies.
As a courtesy, I allowed them to retrieve their two remaining crewmen before I initiated the cube’s self destruct. Destroying the cube hadn’t been necessary, but humans have proved to be a nuisance when they are trying to recover one of their own. Better for them to live believing their captain had been killed while on the cube. Assimilating Voyager and its crew was an option I considered, but they have their uses as individuals.
The addition of unspoken voices attracts my attention as four drones carry in the stasis unit. A thrill of anticipation courses through me and with a thought I dismiss the drones from the chamber. I have three drones that assist with assimilations, but they aren’t needed just yet. For the moment, I want it to be just the two of us.
The stasis unit was placed on its stand at waist height, and my fingers trail over the transparent surface as I finally look down upon her still form – my prey. She still wears the uniform of her precious Starfleet. It will soon be stripped from her, but for now the woman herself is far more interesting to me than what she’s wearing.
I can’t deny the satisfaction I felt at watching the drone’s tubules impact the soft flesh of her neck, flooding the Starfleet officer’s body with the very essence of the Borg. The way his meaty hand wrenched her chin to the side exposing the perfect expanse of carotid artery coupled with the exquisite sound of pain that issued from her throat in that moment has been, by far, the high point of this whole unfortunate situation.
After her collapse, I commanded Janeway be immediately taken to a stasis unit, but the beginning stages of assimilation are efficient. The veins in her neck and face have already begun to darken under their assault from the nanoprobes, and her appearance, while still sufficiently human, has a pasty, grey hue to it. There’s a fleeting moment of joy that bubbles within me when I notice, that even unconscious, the expression on Janeway’s face at the moment of stasis had been one of pain.
With a silent command, two of the drones from the right enclave step forward and begin dismantling the stasis unit. There’s a slight change in the chamber’s air pressure as the unit releases; the stasis temperature set several degrees cooler than standard cube environments. It dissipates into the atmosphere and with it the last breath of Tactical Cube One Three Eight has been assimilated back into the hive.
Knowing how vain humans can be and not wanting her to be distracted by such a mundane detail, I halt the removal of Janeway’s clothes for now. Tubules are once again inserted beneath her skin; this time to recall instead of implant. The darkened lines of her veins begin to recede and color floods back into her face as the originating drone’s nanoprobes are neutralized and her imperfect human blood begins pumping furiously through her veins again. Janeway’s eyelids begin to flutter and the assimilation drones engage multiple restraints before drawing back to their alcoves.
It is the eternity of a moment for her eyes to fully open, but I wait, engaging the table to move into an upright position only when I know she is awake. It adjusts slowly, taking just long enough for the captive to shake off the last dregs of stasis before locking into position. An overabundance of silence fills the room as we eye each other, taking stock, assessing our positions.
She controls it well but I know her pulse has increased dramatically and perspiration is already emerging on the back of her neck. “Welcome, Captain. I’ve decided to be accommodating after all.”
She scans the area, swallowing several times to moisten what must be a very dry throat. “I wasn’t aware you were on the cube.”
For all the troubles Janeway has caused, she also brings moments of pure pleasure. “Tactical Cube One Three Eight has been destroyed. You have been brought to the Primary Unicomplex.” I pause, allowing the knowledge to sink in. Knowing Janeway as well as I do, I’m sure she is concentrating more on the fact that the cube was destroyed, possibly with her people still on board, than she is on her own present circumstances. I want her attention here. “How do you feel, Captain?”
Her eyes had drifted downward in thought, but they snap back to mine. “What?”
The sensors on the table keep a running scan of every muscle twitch and breath Janeway has. It’s fascinating information fed directly into my consciousness. I am more aware of her body than she is. I’m not even sure she’s noticed her current lack of nanoprobes; she has proved before that her physical state is not necessarily high on her list of priorities. “I’m curious, Captain. What do you feel right now?”
“Why the sudden interest in my emotional state?”
Emotions. How typically inferior and weak. “I was referring more to your physical state of being.” Given the subject though, it is possibly worth exploring further. “However, your emotional state will also be of interest to us.”
Remaining true to her obstinacy, she ignores both questions. “Why am I here?”
Does she really not know? My head cocks to the side in a human gesture that I hope she appreciates. “I thought it would be obvious. You’ve been brought here to be assimilated.”
The table registers another spike in her pulse, her temperature elevating another point five degrees in response. It also catalogues an increase in energy output as Janeway’s muscles tighten and strain against the restraints. Her hands curl into fists and I can see the restraint cutting into the skin at her wrist as she pulls against it. I regret allowing her to keep the clothing; I think I’d enjoy seeing her musculature better, but for the moment, she is still attempting to conceal her actions and the Starfleet colors obscure all but her most visible efforts.
“Why didn’t you just let your drone finish the job? Why bring me here?” Janeway snarls, her voice registering an octave lower than usual.
“Our intentions are to assimilate you, bring you fully into the collective, and to better ourselves by adding your distinctiveness to our own. However, as I think you know, the neural suppressant in your system would have blocked our efforts to join you to the hive mind.” Her pupils dilate. It is a measurement of the smallest possible increment, but it’s also a sign of fear in most species. I continue. “When we recalled the drone’s nanoprobes from your bloodstream, we also negated the suppressant. It will no longer pose an obstacle to your complete assimilation.”
Blood rushes from her face, feeding into her muscles as her body begins to accept the inevitable and prepare her for fight or flight. She won’t have the opportunity to do either, but the resulting paler appearance is more to my liking.
“It would’ve worn off eventually,” Janeway finally manages to grind out. “You couldn’t wait?”
“We could have, but you caused a great deal of suffering with your attempt at insurrection.” I pace behind her, arriving at her side as I offer the coup de grace. “Once I had the solution available, I saw no reason to prolong the conflict.”
“The nanovirus you created to maintain the drones’ independent states; you identified all the mutated drones for us. We modified your virus and delivered it into Unimatrix Zero.” For this revelation, I face her, watching as the realization of what she’s done descends upon her. “All the mutated drones have been destroyed.”
I don’t need the input from the table’s sensors to tell me Janeway’s reaction. It’s easily visible as she slumps in her restraints. The whispered plea however is unexpected.
It hadn’t occurred to me that I would lose Seven of Nine in this as well. I never saw her in that aberration, not during my visits or through the eyes of the drones I sent there. If Seven of Nine did have the mutation though, it explained Voyager’s sudden interest in things that did not concern them.
When the connection is available, it only takes me a moment to access Seven of Nine. Currently, there is no response. That alone is inconclusive. It’s possible Seven of Nine isn’t currently regenerating and therefore not in a vulnerable state.
It’s also possible I will have to find a new favorite.
Janeway watches me closely, looking for hope. I will not give her any. “If Seven of Nine has been exposed to the virus, she will die. Hers will be yet another death on your hands, Captain.”
Fueled by anger and grief, Janeway regains some of her swagger and straightens against the table once more. “And Voyager?”
I’ve been expecting the question. Expected it sooner. “You are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths today and yet you worry only about your ship. Your Starfleet principles are as weak as your body.”
“My principles require me to accept responsibility for my actions, not yours,” she snaps back. “You killed those drones. You killed them because they scared the hell out of you.”
Her accusation is a manifestation of how little she understands. “They were confused. Irrational. I had no choice.” I hold her gaze, allow her to see herself in my eyes. “You would have done the same in my position.”
Her lip curls in apparent disgust at the suggestion. “I don’t slaughter people for being different than me.”
“A minority of beings threatens the safety and security of the majority of others under your care, your protection, and yet you claim you would not eliminate that threat.” Her personal history would suggest otherwise. “Given the opportunity, you would destroy me without hesitation.”
Janeway doesn’t respond immediately, her flinty, blue-grey eyes track me as I move freely around the chamber. She raises her chin, adopting an angle that allows her to look down at me. “Perhaps.”
Her minimal admission amuses me. “You would kill to protect your crew. You have killed to protect them.”
There is no hesitation from her on that point, at least. We have both killed to protect our collectives. It is one of many similarities we share that Janeway will see as truth only after we have become one. It would be inefficient to pursue the topic further at this point.
“You haven’t asked about your crewmen; the ones that came with you onto my cube.” I regain her complete attention with that statement. “Your neural suppressant didn’t work as well on Tuvok’s mind as it did yours and the other’s. Your hologram didn’t account for the physiological differences.” There should be denial at this point, the exclamation that nothing happened to her beloved officer. “Vulcan thought processes are logical and highly ordered. A trait we value in the collective. They make excellent drones.”
The table registers no changes this time. It’s taken her a few minutes, but Janeway’s mastered her reactions, her emotions. She believes she will no longer participate. To her credit, the only visible reaction she has in regards to the Vulcan is a facial twitch; the muscles along her jaw flexing as she grinds her teeth in silence.
It’s a foolish strategy on her part. I’m only prolonging our conversation because I enjoy these verbal exchanges. They are a rarity in the Collective. There is perfection in silence, in the millions of noiseless voices all working together in concerted effort towards a single goal, but the occasional absurdity of human banter is a pleasant amusement. They are always so convicted in their foolish beliefs of superior individuality, refusing to see the truth that the collective offers, and Janeway is at the forefront of the obstinate beings and their ignorance.
She remains silent, but her face has taken on a slight sheen of perspiration. The standard Borg temperature is hotter than humans tend to enjoy. With a silent command, I increase the chamber’s temperature another five degrees. As a Borg, she’ll learn to adapt.
“I wonder, Captain, what is your individuality worth to you?” I circle behind her again, knowing it irritates her. “Is it something you could assign a quantitative value? If so, what price would you be willing to pay to keep yours?”
I pause, offering her a chance to reply. None is forthcoming. “What about the reverse? What could make you willingly give up your uniqueness? Would a single person’s freedom be enough in exchange, or would it need to be more than one? Or does it matter more who the one is?”
“I was willing to board your ship and be assimilated, just to give those drones a chance at retaining their freedom.”
Janeway has never been one to remain silent, even when she should. I’m surprised she lasted as long as she did.
“Yes, a chance. That’s all you were willing to offer.” I close the distance between us for the first time, placing my hands on the sides of the table, insinuating myself into her space. “You weren’t offering to take their place, Captain. You had a plan; you were going to be rescued.” As close as we now are, I can see the small beads of perspiration building above her upper lip. “You were never going to join the collective for them. You weren’t expecting to fail, Captain.” Janeway pulls herself back the mere centimeters the space provides, but I follow, allowing her no retreat. “You must not have considered their value equal to that of your own single needs and desires. How petty and small you are, Captain.”
We are not so close that I can feel Janeway’s pulse, the beat of her heart as it struggles against fragile emotions, but I can see the rise and fall of her chest as she breathes, involuntarily filling her lungs with the same air I have just exhaled. It’s minuscule and something I’m sure Janeway doesn’t even notice, but it’s special. It’s the first true moment of our joining.
In defiance, she pushes back against me. “I was willing to die for them.”
It’s practically her mantra. I raise my hand to her face, skimming my fingers down the damp cheek and along her jaw, wondering if she knows how much she pleases me. “Death is irrelevant, Captain.”
Janeway’s pulse spikes again and for a moment I try to remember how it feels; the rush of unregulated blood coursing through me, flowing up and down appendages, tingling nerve endings and heating the body from the inside out.
Pure chaotic feelings that have no place in the ordered mind. When Janeway’s chaos joins the collective, her distinctiveness will be tempered and muted, molded into only its most useful components.
It will become ours instead of hers.
The process will strip away some of Janeway’s unique, albeit disruptive, character, but the intelligence, the ingenuity and drive, the resilience of her spirit will improve and benefit the collective, giving us an extra element, forging within us an even greater dominance. She will be second only to me and by tempering her inconsistencies; we will refine her as she refines us.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize the chaos that she currently possesses for the momentary diversion that it is.
I can even be generous enough to reward it. A screen flares to life above and to the right of the captain’s head. All of Janeway’s muscles tighten at the sight of her former ship on the viewscreen.
“Based on current trajectory, Voyager has resumed course for the Alpha Quadrant,” I tell her.
She watches silently for a moment before venturing, “Am I the payment you expect in exchange for their safety?”
An interesting development. I had only intended to bestow a moment of comfort. “Are you offering yourself to us, Captain?”
Janeway’s facial tic returns as she watches her ship, no doubt cataloging the marks on its hull, scars from the firefight it has just benevolently survived. “Yes,” she swallows. “In exchange for Voyager’s continued safety, yes.”
There is no defeat in her voice – only resolve, as if she can affect the decision at all. “Voyager is insignificant and therefore of no interest to us. Your sacrifice is neither needed nor required, Captain.” It isn’t necessary for assimilation to acknowledge the complete loss of control, but it’s good for Janeway to know, to be forced to confront. “Your consent is not required. You will simply succumb to the Collective. It is inevitable.”
Janeway looks away from the viewscreen, her eyebrow arching. “Resistance is futile?”
I’d be a fool not to hear the scorn in her voice. “Yes.”
“Tell that to Picard.”
Of course she would bring him up. An old Earth phrase assimilated several years ago surfaces in my memory. It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I thought the sentiment foolish at the time, and after the loss of Locutus I began to despise it. Unfortunately, after assimilating so many humans that have known the phrase, it’s become part of our permanent memory – no matter how many times I’ve purged it.
Not that I ever loved Picard.
Nor Seven of Nine.
In truth, I prefer the phrase it is better to be feared than loved. After all, there is no love lost between Janeway and myself. But she does fear me. She would never admit it, but soon enough our thoughts will be one.
I discontinue the view of her precious ship and Janeway’s all-too-human gaze returns to mine. “I wonder, Captain, if you are aware of the improvements we have made over the years to the assimilation process?”
Janeway’s silence returns. some would go so far as to refer to her as stoic, but they don’t know her like I do. “The process becomes more efficient with every species we encounter.” My assimilation tubules run the length of the back of my right hand, the pointed tips housed just over my knuckles. “What used to take hours, sometimes days, can now be accomplished in mere minutes.” I wonder if she even knows I have the ability to initiate the process. “Locutus, for example, was only half ours when he addressed his ship that first time.”
“He resisted you,” Janeway growls, the strain against her restraints becoming more evident as we both feel the moment of completion growing steadily closer.
“He did,” I admit, “just as you will.”
Despite his acts against me, I still remember him fondly and can only hope that her presence will be as intoxicating to me as his was. “Did you know, Captain, that when his crewmen boarded that cube to ‘rescue’ him, Locutus did not go willingly?” The expected disbelief immediately shows itself in Janeway’s expression. “It’s true. He fought the Klingon and the android; he did not want to leave.” I prime my tubules, filling them with the properly coded nanoprobes that will be needed. “Imagine what it would be like, if your precious Federation allowed its deluded citizens to know that their stalwart beacon of humanity had actually embraced his new perfection with us.”
“I know Captain Picard and-”
“You don’t know him like I do,” I interrupt her protest before it is fully formed, “but you will.” My fingers play along her lips, silencing her, as I give her a whispered promise. “I’ll share him with you.”
She is as stiff and rigid as she can possibly be against my touch, but there is nowhere left to run. Nowhere that she can hide. Starting at her shoulders, my hands slide down her arms, feeling the flinch of muscles at the contact through the thin, imperfect material of her uniform. The red and black standing as the last barrier between us. It will be gone soon enough.
Raising my fist to eye level, I twist my hand so she can see the back of it clearly, her eyes lighting on the protruding heads of my tubules. “You’re going to be one of us, Captain. My nanoprobes will cleanse your body, neutralize your imperfections, and dissolve away all of those inconsequential concerns you burden yourself with. I am going to grant you your single most coveted desire – to be home again.”
“Earth is my home.”
And with a thought, my tubules extend, piercing her skin, sinking below the inconsequential layers of flesh until they find blood. I relish the release as my nanoprobes flow from me into her, flooding her system and eliciting a hoarse grunt of pain. It’s not as violent of an assimilation as her first taste, but it is not done without some degree of pain. She jerks against me and the restraints, her blue eyes slamming shut in pain only to open seconds later to stare into mine, recognition clouding over them until once again, more slowly this time, her eyelids slide closed.
I brush back sweat slicked strands of auburn hair and gently cup her face in my hand. “Welcome home, Kathryn.”
Thanks always to Audabee for giving my words a home!