Below is my one and only stab at fan fiction in the form of a 7,700 word story called Deadly Reunions and based on the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV and film series.
Back in 1997 Pocket Books announced they were accepting submissions of short stories based on the multiple Star Trek franchises in a new anthology titled, Strange New Worlds. Although I had been writing since the age of seven, at the time the announcement was made I had only been submitting short stories for publication for about three years with no success, and so I jumped at what seemed like a great opportunity to be published and make my first sale to a major publishing house.
After writing the first two drafts, I had some friends and Star Trek aficionados read it for editing and story feedback, wrote one more draft with a polish, and then submitted the story to the editors at Pocket Books. Needless to say the story was rejected. The next year there was another call for submissions for a followup Strange New Worlds anthology, and so I took a second stab with a story based on the Star Trek: Voyager series. I soon realized I had cribbed a major plot line from a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine TV episode half way through the first draft, and abandoned the story, thus ending my short-lived segue into the world of fan fiction. Soon after I was accepted into film school and my main writing focus shifted to screenplays.
I filed the Star Trek: TNG story away and didn’t look at it for another 14 years until recently I found it during our last move. I dusted it off, did another polish and edit, and now here it is, finally seeing the light of day. Reading it over, I can see why the editors at Pocket Books passed on it. While I feel I did a pretty good job at capturing the essence of Captain Picard, Riker, Data and the Borg Queen, the climatic resolution to the conflict is rather ambiguous. It was also probably a little presumptuous of me to try and create an origin story for the Borg since, you know, they are a licensed property.
Chronologically, the story takes place after the events of the Star Trek: First Contact and before Star Trek: Insurrection. It references events from Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series. Specifically, Season 3, Episode 26: The Best of Both Worlds, Season 4, Episode 1: The Best of Both Worlds: Part II, Season 4, Episode 2: Family, and Season 7, Episode 1: Descent, Part II.
Deadly Reunions by Blake Casselman
Located 7.8 light years from Earth in the constellation Leo, it’s the fourth closest star to Jean-Luc Picard’s home planet. The Captain of the starship Enterprise and his crew had spent the last year traversing some of the farthest explored regions of the Alpha Quadrant. In fact, the United Federation of Planet’s flagship hadn’t been back to Earth since…
Since the Borg.
Pensive, Picard bit down on his lip nearly hard enough to draw blood. He turned from the bridge’s view-screen, and adjusted his uniform with a firm tug before sitting down in his command chair, occupied by troubled thoughts. The last time he and his crew had encountered a Borg Cube was to intercept one, against explicit orders from Starfleet Command, to aid in protecting Earth from being assimilated. Using Picard’s knowledge of Borg technology, the Cube was destroyed, but not before an escape pod managed to travel to 21st Century Earth, and threaten Zefram Cochrane’s historic first Warp space flight. It became the task of Picard and his crew to not only pursue and defeat the renegade Borg and their Queen, but to preserve the past by ensuring Cochrane’s flight and first contact with Vulcan emissaries took place.
“Captain,” Counselor Deanna Troi said from her chair to Picard’s left. “Something’s troubling you.”
Picard looked at the beautiful half-Betazoid, and showed her a grim smile. “Seven years, Counselor, to the day. The battle that was waged here… so much death and destruction. And here I am drawn back, like a fly to ointment, because Starfleet feels it’s my duty to lead the ceremony in launching a new memorial for the people whose blood is on my hands.”
“Blood not on your hands,” Troi said, correcting him. “It was Locutus of Borg who was responsible for the loss of 11,000 lives, not you.”
“Is there a difference, Counselor?” Picard asked her with his attention to the view-screen. The Tolstoy, the Saratoga, the Kyushu, the Melbourne… they and thirty-five other Federation ships were wiped out by a single Borg Cube in less than an hour’s time. “I was Locutus of Borg, and Locutus of Borg was me. There’s no rationale around that fact.” What he failed to mention to Troi was his troubled sleep, where Picard witnessed the dead, as if they visited him from beyond the grave as part of some maniacal plan to keep him from forgetting his deeds. They would weep, laugh, and boil with rage at him, demanding to know why he senselessly took so much from them. At times he would witness their final moments just before their ships were incinerated—reaching out to touch their burning flesh in a fruitless attempt to comfort them until the nightmare ended and he awoke in his darkened quarters, bathed in sweat and shivering.
“We’re passing out of Wolf 359, Captain.” Will Riker’s voice drew Picard from Troi’s intense, probing gaze. “We should be arriving at Earth in fifteen minutes.” Picard nodded to his First Officer and shut his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose with a thumb and index finger to ward off a sudden, impending headache. “Do you need a break, sir? I can take it from here.” Riker said.
The throbbing in Picard’s head subsided as he regarded Riker’s handsome, bearded features. “Not necessary, Number One. Just a little fatigued today.”
Riker studied Picard for a moment, as if assessing the Captain’s response. “Sir, if I may ask, why is Starfleet memorializing the battle of Wolf 359 after all these years?”
“A valid question,” Picard replied. “It’s as if the bureaucrats have waded through the required red tape it took to finally recognize what happened here. Still, the battle will certainly be forever looked upon as a black mark on the Federation’s illustrious—“
The Captain stopped mid-sentence. His pounding headache began to emerge once more. Riker and Troi exchanged concerned glances.
“Certainly history has shown many nations have been slow in paying tribute to important events that were looked upon as failures.” Troi said.
Lieutenant Commander Data’s display beeped. “Captain, sensors have detected a strong carbon-based anomaly in this sector.
“Helm, slow thrusters. Mr. Data, let’s take a closer look,” Picard said.
Locutus, my love.
“We have a visual,” Data said.
We will stand together. We will fight the enemy.
“On screen,” Riker said.
Resistance is futile.
A large, bluish-white cloud filled the screen. Small traces of energy pulsed at random points along its expanse. It reminded Picard of a cluster of crystalline shards haphazardly thrown together by an impatient schoolboy preparing his science project.
Futile for them…
“Sensors cannot determine what type of energy is emitting from the cloud,” Data reported as his hands flew over his console. “Although there is a heavy influx of bioelectric particles, I cannot detect any distinct life signs.”
“Captain, I detect no weapon signatures as well,” Lieutenant Riley Hunter said from his perch at tactical, on a rise above Picard’s command chair.
“What do you think, Number One?” Picard asked Riker.
Riker stroked his beard. “It appears plasmatic in nature. If it’s a gaseous cloud, my question is how can it throw off so much light?
Together, we will bring the universe to its knees.
Picard rubbed both temples. That voice speaking to him, which penetrated his consciousness, was an impossibility. She was dead. He killed her with his own two hands back in the 21st Century.
A delicate hand touched Picard’s. Deanna Troi had risen from her chair. “Captain, I’m sensing confusion and even some despair coming from you.”
Picard smiled at her concern. “It’s nothing, Counselor. I’m fine.”
“I am picking up traces of contained anti-matter,” Data said. “As if a warp-core is somewhere inside the cloud.”
“If an alien ship is hiding in there, they may be using the cloud as a cloaking device,” Hunter said, his eyes glued to the data crowding his display.
“Agreed, Mr. Hunter,” Picard said, rising from his chair to face tactical. “Hailing frequencies on all channels. Let’s not give whoever may be inside that cloud any reason to believe we’re here with hostile intentions.”
“Aye, Captain,” Hunter said. His console beeped as he issued numerous hails covering various known languages and dialects.
A sharp, stinging sensation pricked the base of Picard’s neck. What the hell? He clamped his hand over where the pain emanated from, and withdrew it to find blood. While staring at the trace of blood, his vertigo fluttered. He shuffled his feet to keep from losing his balance, and reached for his command chair to steady himself. Instead of passing, the dizziness increased.
Riker noticed Picard lean against the command chair. “Captain, are you alright?”
Picard shook his head at his First Officer to communicate he wasn’t, but also in an attempt to possibly rattle her voice from his consciousness. What the Borg did to him, he returned the favor to her, in spades.
What the Borg did to him. What they did…
“What exactly did they do to you?” Robert Picard asked his brother.
Picard found himself suddenly removed the Enterprise’s bridge, back on Earth, and sitting on the muddy ground of his family’s vineyard. His dead brother, Robert, sat on the ground across from him. Both men were covered in mud, nursing the stinging blows they had traded earlier before grappling each other to the ground. The fight had only lasted a few moments before anger gave way to fits of laughter.
Picard’s laughter had shuttled into tears of humiliation.
Robert Picard regarded his brother with a keen eye. “Tell me, Jean-Luc, what did they do to you?” He repeated.
An intense shame, mixed with rage, coursed through Picard. He realized it was time to finally face the self-doubt he had carried since his crew had rescued him from the Borg, freeing him from Locutus of Borg. “They took everything from me,” he said, continuing to sob. “They used me to kill and destroy and I couldn’t stop them! I tried so hard but I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t good enough. I should’ve been able to stop them!”
“Then you’re guilty,” Robert Picard said in a matter-of-fact tone.
“What?” Picard asked. His brother no longer sat across from him.
“Guilty,” a gruff voice said to his right. Picard found a large Klingon dressed in battle armor and armed with a wicked-looking bat’telh, standing a few paces away.
“Guilty,” another voice echoed, calm yet authoritative. A Vulcan, dressed in the dark ceremonial robes of his people, stood at Picard’s left.
“It’s not looking good for you, old friend,” a familiar voice said in front of Picard. Jack Crusher smiled at him. He wore a crisp Federation uniform and didn’t look a day older than the last time Picard had seen him alive.
“Jack,” Picard choked out in greeting.
Crusher kneeled down in the mud in front of Picard. “Hello, Jean-Luc. How’s Beverly?”
“Jack, I don’t…” Picard started to say, and swallowed hard. Sunlight peeked over Jack’s shoulder, bringing Picard to shield his eyes with his hand. “She’s fine.”
“I appreciate you keeping your hands off her,” Crusher said, lowering his voice as he tilted his head closer to Picard’s. “I’m sure the temptation has been unbearable for you at times.”
“Jack, please… when you died…” Picard silently cursed his sudden inability to string a coherent sentence together. A stout-looking Romulan and a tall, lanky Cardassian stepped up to flank Jack Crusher on either side. “Guilty,” they both announced in flat, yet clear voices.
Smirking at Picard, Crusher shrugged. “Looks like the verdict is unanimous,” he rose to full height. “Guilty it is.”
“How can I be pronounced guilty when no charges have been brought against me?” Picard said. “This is lunacy. I’m not supposed to be here.” He looked at Crusher. “You are not supposed to be here.”
“Jean-Luc, I’m very disappointed in you,” Crusher said. He crouched back down. “You’re going to sit there in that mud and insist you can’t figure this out? What brought you back here seven years ago, before fire gutted this place, burning Robert and your nephew, Rene, almost beyond recognition?” He tapped his index finger against Picard’s head. “What was that big brain of yours dealing with then?”
“I dealt with it,” Picard said. “It was here that I came to terms with what I did. I have made my peace.”
“Well, bully for you,” Jack said. “Problem is the universe hasn’t made peace with you. It demands justice for your crimes.”
Picard’s steady gaze met Crusher’s. “You’re not real. None of this is.” He searched the vineyard for something to serve as a catalyst to pull him from the waking nightmare he was trapped in. Take him back to the bridge of the Enterprise. “I refuse to believe in any of this.”
Crusher glanced up at his fellow accusers. The group, excluding the Vulcan, broke into a fit of laughter. Crusher slapped Picard on the shoulder. “Whatever you say… Locutus.” He nodded to the Klingon and Romulan, who responded by grabbing Picard by his shoulder blades, and hauling him to his feet.
“Take him to our leader,” Crusher said.
The Klingon and Romulan marched Picard away from Crusher, the Vulcan, and his brother’s house and toward rows of carefully-tended grapevines. The Cardassian followed with his disrupter trained on Picard’s back.
The three shadowed Picard through rows of grapevines, saying nothing to him as they maintained a steady pace. Picard fixed his attention squarely on the path ahead of him, his mind a jumble of possible escape routes if remembered this section of the vineyard correctly. As they rounded a corner, Picard bolted from those accompanying him, running headlong into a Borg drone that blocked the path with his massive fame. The Borg’s hand shot out, catching Picard on the collarbone and knocking him off his feet.
“Careful, Three-of-Twelve,” the Borg Queen said as she stepped out from behind the drone. “We don’t want our prize damaged. His human guise makes him far too vulnerable.” She smiled at Picard, and offered him her hand. Reluctantly, he accepted it, and brushed dirt from his uniform after he regained his feet. A check of the vineyard revealed him to be alone with the Borg Queen and her drone. The Klingon, Romulan, and Cardassian had vanished.
“You owe me your gratitude, Locutus,” the Borg Queen said. “Your accusers are gone. Those who transported your mind from your ship to this place nestled away in your memories, they are the ones who seek to condemn you… destroy you for simply acting on your true nature. I broke through their defenses and they fled like they cowards they are.”
“I don’t understand why I’m speaking to you,” Picard said. “I killed you on the Enterprise. Your body, along with the drones who also perished aboard my ship, were shuttled out into a sun once we traveled back to our time.”
“Come now, Locutus. It’s an arrogant assumption to suppose the destruction of one body would bring a finite end to perfect, living matter,” she moved closer to Picard. Her cold lips brushed his cheek. He shivered at her touch. “We are the Borg,” she whispered in his ear. “So long as the Collective survives, we are immortal. In a sense, you also died, Locutus. But soon, you too shall return to your rightful place in the Collective as my Consort.”
“Never,” Picard said with an emphatic shake of his head. “I will fight you every step of the way.”
“It’s unavoidable,” the Borg Queen said, moving to face Picard. “You think your place in the universe is as Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the Enterprise. Yet our enemy seeks to condemn you for crimes committed as Locutus of Borg—therein lays the answer to your true identity. You cannot deny that Picard and Locutus are inseparable. It is only a matter time before the dominant one, the one purified from all human frailties and weakness, overtakes the weaker.”
“Under Borg influence, crimes were committed,” Picard said. “And while I have no knowledge of who my accusers are, I would think any fair and impartial court would see that I in no way acted on my own.”
The Borg Queen laughed. “My dear Locutus, fairness and impartiality are the last things you’ll receive. Did you listen to their verdict? You’ve been tried and convicted without any formal proceedings. The Borg is your only hope for survival.”
“No!” Picard cried out as she reached for him. A sudden darkness covered him, cutting him off from the Borg Queen and her drone.
“Red Alert, Mr. Data,” Will Riker’s voice sliced through the murkiness shrouding Picard, like a sudden ray of light appearing down a dark tunnel. “Shields at maximum. Lieutenant Hunter, phasers and photon torpedoes ready.”
Picard willed himself through the shifting murkiness of his mind, using his First Officer’s voice as a beacon, until he forced his eyes open and was met by the crimson-hewn pulse of the bridge’s red-alert lights. His attempt to sit up sent a wave of disorientation over him. It threatened to topple him back into the dark abyss of his subconscious he had just crawled from. A hand touched his shoulder, steadying him, and he instinctively knew it was his ship’s Counselor. Deanna Troi’s concerned features, coming into focus, helped dissipate the cloud covering his mind.
“Counselor,” Picard said with a sigh of relief. “What happened to me?”
“You collapsed,” Troi said as she helped Picard into his command chair. “and were unconscious for two minutes.” Two minutes? His time in the vineyard had been much longer. “Dr. Crusher has been summoned,” Troi continued.
Picard waved her off, but found Riker kneeling next to him. “You alright, sir?” Picard nodded, but Riker appeared unconvinced by it. “Captain, I think you should go to Sick Bay.”
“I’m fine, Number One…” Picard started to say before his attention drifted to the view-screen over Riker’s shoulder. Thousands of ships, all of them approximately five meters in length—flat on the bottom, while smooth and angular at the sides and top—surrounded the Enterprise. Beyond the smaller ships was a monolith with a similar design, but nearly two kilometers larger. The entire fleet of vessels cast a peculiar green light that pulsed erratically, as if a means of communication between them. “Good God,” he finished.
“Our hails drew the large ship from the carbon cloud just after you collapsed,” Riker said. “It sent us a fragmented message saying it meant us no harm and to lower our shields. We didn’t, and it seems we called their bluff, although it was unintentional. Thirty seconds later, the smaller ships flew out of the bigger one’s underbelly, and into what appears to be an attack formation.”
“How many ships?” Picard asked.
“Counting the flagship, six thousand, seventy-two,” Data replied.
Beverly Crusher entered the bridge with a tricorder in one hand, and a medical bag slung over her shoulder. Picard smiled at his Chief Medical Officer, waving her off in an effort to show the danger had passed. “You may be on your feet now, Captain,” she said, immediately scanning him with the tricorder. “That’s not going to save you from an examination.”
“Really Doctor, I’m—“ Picard started to say before cutting himself off. A pang of regret struck him as he recalled the cruel words spoken to him by her dead husband. He cherished the close bond he had nurtured with Beverly during their decade of service together, and how in some ways he had been able to act as a father-figure to her son, Wesley. There were times he had felt inclined to inform Beverly of his feelings for her, yet those feelings were often matched by a deep fear—worries fueled by the thought of losing something beautiful in their friendship to simply to satisfy his own selfish desires. Back at the vineyard, it seemed the specter of Jack Crusher had played upon those fears, using them against Picard.
Crusher completed her scan on Picard. “Everything appears to be normal. There’s a slight inflammation to your cerebral cortex, but that could be attributed to your black-out. There’s also a tiny wound at the base of your neck,” she stepped for a closer look. “Captain, did you feel anything before you lost consciousness?”
Picard nodded to her. “I felt a stinging sensation on my neck. There was a trace of blood. Before that I remember a headache coming on.” Perhaps the wound served as enough evidence to attribute the incident in the vineyard as being more than a figment of a delusional mind. Picard turned from Crusher to Deanna Troi. “Counselor, what have you sensed from the armada?”
Troi’s brow furrowed with concentration. “From the smaller ships, there’s nothing. Emotionally they’re an empty shell. From the flagship there’s an intense resolve, as if—ouch!” Her hand felt the base of her neck, and she withdrew it to find blood on her fingertips. She closed her eyes, touched her forehead, and wavered on her feet.
“Counselor,” Picard said, reaching for her.
“So cold,” Troi murmured as she staggered into Picard’s arms, and lost consciousness. Picard gently eased Troi to the ground as Crusher scanned her with the tricorder.
“Imzadi,” Riker groaned out as he knelt next to Troi. He touched her face. “Her skin’s like ice.” He turned to Crusher, his dark eyes penetrating. “Doctor, what’s happened to her?”
“She’s gone into deep neural shock,” Crusher said through gritted teeth. “Here, lean her against me.” As Riker helped Picard perch Troi in the crook of Crusher’s arm, Troi’s head lolled against Beverly’s shoulder. Crusher tapped her com. “Transporter room, two to Sick Bay.” White light shimmered in the space the two women occupied before they vanished from the bridge.
Picard instinctively touched his neck. Both he and Troi had been assaulted in the same fashion, while on the bridge, which could only mean…
“Intruder alert,” Picard called out. He shifted his attention to tactical. “Mr. Hunter, I want a security detail on all decks. All crew members not on active duty are to be confined to their quarters.”
“Aye, Captain,” Lt. Hunter replied as he entered the orders into his console.
“Mr. Data, I need a full biometric sweep of the entire ship, every nook and cranny,” Picard continued. “Report anything that’s remotely out of place to the nearest security team.”
“Enacting sensor sweep, Captain,” Data said. His fingers flew over his console like a blur.
Riker stepped up next to Picard, “Captain, if someone or something’s breached our shields, the internal sensors should have detected it.”
“Agreed,” Picard said. “Yet both Counselor Troi and I were attacked on this bridge, and somehow the perpetrator continues to move freely on board.”
“A shape-shifter,” Riker offered. “One of the Dominion perhaps?”
Picard shook his head. “Unlikely. A Dominion spy would be more likely to attempt sabotaging the ship.” He returned his attention back to the armada, “Nor does a Dominion presence explain this. Mr. Data, has your internal scan turned up anything?”
“Sensors show nothing out of the ordinary, sir,” Data said. “However, an external sweep detected the same bioelectric residue on the flagship’s hull. It may be nothing more than parasitic microbes which attached themselves as we passed through this sector.” He swiveled in his chair to face Picard and Riker. “Sirs, I accessed my positronic brain’s neural memory for any possible information about this race. There is nothing reported by any Federation vessels, but there was a report of a Pakled freighter coming in contact with a large, unidentified ship matching the flagship’s description near Ohniaka III four years ago.”
“That was the Federation outpost the Borg attacked while under Lore’s influence,” Ryker said. Picard noticed Data raise a troubled eyebrow at the mention of his brother’s name.
“Perhaps it’s the Borg this armada is after, and not us?” Picard said.
“But there’s no Borg here…” Riker said before his voice trailed off. He cocked a questioning expression at Picard. “Sir,” he said with a more hushed tone. “Is there something you need to tell us?”
“Something I experienced while in my trance,” Picard said, nodding. He quickly related to the bridge crew everything that transpired in his brother’s vineyard. “Some things never seem to go away, Number One. It appears Locutus of Borg is still in some definite hot water. At least, with someone or something powerful enough to frighten the Borg Queen into interceding on my behalf.”
“The Borg Queen,” Data grimaced with unmistakable venom in his voice. Picard imagined his android mind uncomfortably replaying the suffering he endured as her captive.
“Crusher to Picard,” Beverly’s voice broke in over the com.
Picard tapped the communicator on his chest. “Go ahead, Doctor.”
“I’ve been able to stabilize Deanna, but she’s still unconscious. A full diagnostic showed no physical damage other than a small wound at the base of her neck similar to yours, but something on her cerebral cortex caught my eye. It’s different from the inflammation I found on yours—more pronounced. I’m going to conduct more tests to see if I can isolate the problem, but for now, it appears her mind has completely shut down.”
“Keep me informed, Picard out,” he said, turning back to Riker. “If the Borg Queen spoke the truth, whoever ‘they’ are seeking my life may be telepaths powerful enough to delve into my mind, use my greatest fears, some of my most profound experiences against me. Counselor Troi’s telepathic abilities would have seen past this mirage they’ve created, and she may have been attacked to keep her from exposing them.”
“Still doesn’t answer what kind of beef they have with Locutus,” Riker said. “Why go after him? Why not the whole Collective? The act of a single Borg is shared by the entire race.”
“And why wait seven years to seek my… Locutus’ head?” Picard asked. “It makes no sense. There are too many unanswered questions and no clues to answer them—“
“Locutusofborg,” a deep, booming voice cut through the ship’s com-link, vibrating the bridge’s interior. “You will comply with our demands to be tried for crimes committed against the Order of the Universe!”
Picard noticed every one of the small ships pulsed in unison with the flagship as the voice spoke. “I will not submit the charges,” he replied with authority. “As Locutus, I acted under Borg influence. My conscious is clear of any wrongdoing.” He swallowed hard. Is it really?
“Then let the sentence of death be carried out!” The unknown voice said with a commanding bellow.
“Disruptors on the smaller ships are powering up,” Lt. Hunter reported. “Their shields are at maximum.” The small ships moved into deliberate, orderly attack patterns, buzzing around the Enterprise as they fired from all directions.
Disrupter charges quaked the bridge. Picard and Riker stumbled back to anchor themselves against their command chairs. “Shields at ninety-four percent and holding,” Data said, as his hands flew over his console.
“Mr. Hunter, full phaser array. Destroy any vessel coming within range,” Picard said. “Let’s keep these mosquitoes off our back long enough to deal with the flagship.”
Lt. Hunter’s hands smoothly tapped at his console. On the view screen, multiple phaser blasts connected with the smaller ships, diverting them away from the Enterprise as they tumbled end-over-end. Within moments, the ships would right themselves, regain momentum, and resume their assault by reasserting themselves into the coordinated attack pattern. Lt. Hunter shook his head in frustration. “Their shields are too strong, even for their size. The best I can do is swat them away. Send them off- course temporarily.”
“Then we use photon torpedoes. Mr. Hunter, lock on targets—!” Picard said before a massive blast rocked the Enterprise’s right-side hull, knocking him from his feet. Picard stumbled into a feeling of vertigo as his legs buckled underneath him. The entire bridge seemed to sway and topple in that chaotic moment, threatening to break apart and collapse on him and the rest of the crew. He instinctively threw his arms out to stop his fall, but his head smacked against something smooth and cool and blunt. An array of flashing lights filled his field of vision as he struggled to maintain consciousness, regain his feet, repress a sudden wave of nausea creasing inside him, and deal with the attacking armada. He touched his forehead, expecting blood on his fingertips, but found nothing on his hand.
“Shields weakening Captain, down seventy percent,” Picard heard Data say, and registered that the android was the first to recover his station, “I’m rerouting auxiliary power to compensate. The attacking ships have increased their offensive. We are completely surrounded.”
Picard reached out for something to brace himself against, felt Ryker’s hand touch his, and allowed his First Officer to help him to his feet. His vertigo immediately leveled out and the feeling of nausea retreated. Lt. Hunter had regained his tactical post, sporting a noticeable gash along his forehead. He checked his console. “Photon torpedoes are breaking through their shields, but for every one we destroy three more take its place.”
“Continue firing at will, Mr. Hunter,” Picard said. He lowered himself into his command chair, bracing himself against the continuing barrage. Ryker followed Picard’s example into his own chair. “Helm, set coordinates to five-oh-seven-point-two. On my mark.”
“Aye, sir,” the helmsman sitting next to Data replied.
“Engage,” Picard said, nearly breathless as the bridge crew watched the flagship shift sixty degrees to the left, matching the Enterprise’s movement. Picard jabbed an index finger at the view screen. “There, see it?” As the Enterprise locked into its new position, the entire armada shifted in unison to match them.
“They moved as if part of one mind,” Data said.
Picard nodded. “Like a Collective. A race of powerful telepaths of unknown origin, who operate as one intellect, using the Enterprise and my presence here as bait to draw the collective out into open conflict.”
“Are you talking about the Borg, Captain?” Ryker asked.
“That’s exactly who I’m talking about, Number One–”
Locutus. We are coming, my love.
Picard shot to his feet. “Mr. Hunter, all hailing frequencies, now!” The computer beeped as the tactical officer complied. “Alien flagship, there is a Borg cube entering this sector with hostile intentions. You must cease these hostilities so we can combine our resources to face a common enemy.” He and the others on the bridge waited for a reply, holding their collective breaths, watching as one of Lt. Hunter’s pinpoint torpedo shots erupted a smaller vessel in a flash of light.
Picard noticed a slight ripple effect in the ship’s bulkhead before it exploded. “Mr. Data, you mentioned before that you picked up some bioelectric readings.”
“Yes, essentially a collection of unorganized living energy,” Data said. His brow furrowed. “And yet, my sensors still do not detect any life signs inside the attacking ships.”
“If their telepathic abilities are as powerful as you suspect, there may be less of an enemy out there than we think,” Riker offered.
“I think you’re right,” Picard said, and both men watched the view-screen as the smaller ships suddenly shimmered in space before dissolving into nothing. “There go your bioelectric readings, Mr. Data. It appears whoever is in the flagship were using it to create the illusion of a fleet.” A massive shock tilted the bridge up at nearly a ninety-degree angle, throwing the bridge crew, including Picard and Riker, against the right-hand side.
Data steadied himself in his Operation’s chair. He quickly checked his monitor. “Shields down to below thirty percent. That last hit came directly from the flagship.” A shrill tweet sounded from his station. He swiveled in his chair to face Picard. “Captain, the Borg have arrived.”
Picard gathered himself back to his command chair. “Helm, get us the hell out of here. Set coordinates for Earth, warp one, engage!’
“All primary systems are online, sir, but nothing will respond,” the Ensign manning the helm said. She struggled with the controls on her console. She turned to face Picard, despair etching her face. “Someone or something’s high-jacked the Enterprise.”
The crew watched the view-screen as a cube-shaped spacecraft zipped over the Enterprise’s bow, barreling straight for the flagship. The Borg ship fired a series of energy blasts, which the flagship seemed to absorb before returning fire. Multiple explosions creased the Borg ship’s outer hull.
Locutus, help us destroy this ship. We are here to protect you.
“No,” Picard whispered in reply to the Borg Queen’s mental command. “Not this time.” The Borg ship continued discharging its full weapons array at the flagship, only to receive it right back with force.
“Looks like the Borg weren’t expecting this type of resistance,” Riker said.
Picard nodded. “It would appear this race of beings has the psionic ability to absorb energy and turn it into its own weapon.”
Data turned in his chair. “Captain, are you implying the possibility that the smaller vessels were using our own phasers and photon torpedoes against us?” Before Picard could reply, a blast shook bridge. The crippled Borg ship rose up toward the Enterprise, shooting what weaponry remained, tearing at the bulkhead with multiple shots. Explosions ripped through the tactical, environmental, and science stations, sending the crew scurrying for cover.
“Shields are failing,” Data said. “We will lose them if the Borg fire on us again.”
“What about hull integrity?” Picard asked.
“We have hull breeches on decks twenty-seven through thirty, and decks thirty-eight through forty-one.” Data replied as he quickly read the flashing data on his console. “Emergency force fields are in place and holding.”
“Weapons status, Mr. Hunter,” Riker called out.
Lt. Hunter shook his head as he studied his still-smoking console. “Not responding, sir. Short-range sensor arrays, sensor probes, tractor beam, they’ve all gone haywire—intruder alert!”
All eyes on the bridge turned to Lt. Hunter. A tall, imposing figure, hairless, and dressed in a long, white robe and wielding a dark-colored staff of wood, stood over tactical where Lt. Hunter sprawled unconscious across his console. The intruder stared at Picard with a penetrating gaze that seemed to cut into the Captain like a sharp blade.
Picard flinched under the intruder’s gaze, but still was able to tap his communicator. “I need a security team to the bridge, now.”
The intruder pointed his staff at Picard. A crystallized jewel was attached at its head. “Locutusofborg, you will stand and face your accusers,” he said in a voice that cracked like thunder. “You will pay for your crimes so justice may be met.”
“This is insane,” Picard said. “There are no grounds for you to pronounce sentence on me. I was found innocent after I was freed from the Borg during a tribunal under the Starfleet rules of due process. The battle at Wolf 359 took place in Federation space. Whoever you are, you have no jurisdiction here.”
The intruder leveled a hard gaze at Picard. “How dare you speak to me like a commoner, Locutusofborg. Murderer—“
“Captain!” the warning tone in Riker’s voice shifted both Picard’s and the intruder’s attention to the view screen. The flagship rose up behind the crippled Borg cube as it fired a lancing bolt. Hot white energy engulfed the cube before completely incinerating it in a matter of seconds. The white light continued a path toward the Enterprise.
“Mr. Data, get us out of here!” Picard said before the energy washed over the bridge, absorbing everything in its path. Data, Riker, the rest of the bridge crew blinked out in its wake. Before the energy enveloped him, blinding him, Picard felt a sensation of his life moving backward like a video record in reverse, from adulthood to adolescence to childhood to infancy to inception, back before the beginning of all creation.
No, Locutusofborg. In the beginning there was the Ehlom.
Picard found himself naked and curled into a fetal position. The metal surface he lay on cooled his skin, bringing a hard shiver. He couldn’t move or speak, but his mind lay open to the intruder’s thoughts, as if tiny razor-sharp shards of information burrowed into his skull. He tried to resist the mind probe, but to no avail. His Borg implants cried out in protest, urging the subdued side of him called Locutus to fight. But there was no battle to be waged between two opposing minds, only a one-sided, forced perspective through unsolicited information.
The Ehlom traveled the length and breadth of the galaxy, recording all that was witness in the Book of Life. Through eons of time, the Ehlom came to recognize themselves as observers of all developing life forms across the great expanse, who would watch the growth and evolution of a hundred million worlds. They became the law of nature when the very origins of life were in its infancy, thus the provenance to their authority to condemn all, he who is called Locutusofborg.
But why now, Picard asked. After so much time as passed?
A thousand years to man is but a passing moment to the Ehlom. Mortal life comes and goes to us in but a blink of an eye.
Has the Ehlom always existed?
No, Locutusofborg. All life in the universe has a beginning and end. This is the order of all things. The Ehlom’s origin, who we are and the purpose of our existence, have been recorded from the beginning, but gathering such information would require billions of your lifetimes to access. Information you, or any other mortal, could never grasp.
Yet the Borg know of you.
There was a time the Ehlom were of one mind, unitarily evolving as one in purpose. But as our knowledge of the universe increased, and our collective intellects grew, there were those among the Ehlom who desired more. Not only the continued expansion of their minds and observations, but physical insights and manifestations. To touch, dissect, and incorporate all aspects of life into their own experience. These practices led to long, impassioned debates between the two sides. The majority of the Ehlom felt our very existence was being threatened, while a vocal minority argued the old ways were weak and a detriment to our evolution as a species. A great council was held, and after further debate a vote was cast. The majority was victorious and those in opposition were forced to leave. Not only did we weep at the departure of our brothers and sisters at the thought never seeing them again, it was the first time the Ehlom experienced deep sorrow.
In time there were whisperings of a great unsettling to the order of the universe: Rumors of worlds being annihilated and entire species being wiped out in a single moment. Our investigations into these phenomena lead us to the knowledge of the Borg, along with the understanding they were once as we are. Once we realized the Borg were our former brothers and sisters, there has been a state of war between us. One of their principle motives has been to assimilate the Ehlom into their Collective.
Then I am nothing more than a pawn, Picard said with a bitter taste in his mouth. You used me to draw the Borg into open conflict.
True, Locutusofborg. Because of our link to the Borg, they know of our advances and are allowed time to make a hasty retreat. Yet, as Locutusofborg is Her consort, She will be drawn into open conflict. She will be assimilated back into the Ehlom and leaderless and lost, the Borg will be destroyed.
What about the crimes you say I am accused of?
You will be held accountable for your crimes, LocustusofBorg. Do you have the courage to face them–?
Courage to face his greatest fear: that the Borg subdue him again, and transform him back into Locutus. If so he would be responsible for the murder of more innocent people. Dozens of worlds would perish because he lacked the strength to resist his enemy…
The whiteness fled.
Instead of the Enterprise, Picard had returned to his family vineyard in France, standing among rows of harvested grapevines with mud up to his ankles, in the middle of a great battle. Scores of Borg drones overran the vines, moving with determination as phaser fire scattered around them. Behind Picard, Jack Crusher repeatedly fired a phaser as he nursed an injured left arm. The still forms of two Borg drones lay at his feet. The Romulan followed Jack Crusher’s lead with his disruptor, but soon the drones adapted to the frequency of their weapons, making them useless. The Klingon fared better with his bat’telh, using its curved blade to slice through the attacking Borg’s cybernetic circuitry and armor. A Borg disruptor blast from behind staggered the Klingon, frying the back portion of his uniform and driving him to his knees with a snarl and a painful grimace. The bat’telh slipped from the warrior’s grip as two more Borg fell on him to immediately start the process of assimilation. Nearby, the Cardassian laid face-down in the mud, unmoving, while the Romulan engaged in futile hand-to-hand combat with one of drones. Jack Crusher started a slow retreat, continuing to fire his, phaser even though it had no effect on the drones bearing down on him.
Picard spied the bat’telh as the subdued Klingon was dragged away, and scrambled for the honor sword, hefting it with both hands. At a corner of the vineyard he noticed a Vulcan silently observing the conflict from a safe distance.
A Borg drone suddenly approached Picard at a determined pace, its arm stretched out, ready to inject the Captain with its assimilation tubules. Picard stepped back, giving himself room to slice downward on the creature’s arm attachments and across its midsection. Sparking, the drone stumbled back, its flat, emotionless eyes fixed on Picard as it settled into self-repair mode from a safe distance. Picard hefted his weapon into a defensive stance, grateful for the hours he’d spent with Lieutenant Commander Worf practicing bat’telh technique. A second Borg approached from Picard’s left. The Captain brought the bat’telh up for another downward stroke, and then faltered, nearly dropping the weapon.
Locutus stood face-to-face with Picard, its assimilation tubules raised and ready to strike. “Prepare to rejoin the Collective, Picard,” it said in a voice sounding like his own, but hollow and without a hint of emotion. “Resistance is futile.”
Picard braced himself, and firmly shook his head. “No,” he said. “I reject you. I reject… all of this.” He swept a dismissive hand over his family’s winery and the battle taking place. “None of this is real.”
Locutus moved in, its tubules clawing for Picard’s exposed neck. Picard blocked Locutus’ hand, and struck the Borg with a cross-cut across its chest, crying out in pain as he stared down at his own chest. An exposed swath of his torn uniform revealed blood seeping from an identical wound scythed across his chest. He touched the wound with a sense of disbelief, and pulled his hand away. Blood smeared his fingers.
A strong hand closed around Picard’s throat. A determined grimace stretched across Locutus’ face as it attempted to choke the life from Picard. Jean-Luc struggled to break himself from the Borg’s vice-like grip, but Locutus’ hold only tightened. A shadow settled over Locutus’ face.
“Jean-Luc,” a weakened voice called out. In his peripheral vision Picard saw Jack Crusher limping toward him, a bloodied mess. Behind him, the Cardassian had been overwhelmed and was already being assimilated by a drone. More drones descended on Jack from behind with purposeful strides, ready to take him down. Crusher aimed his phaser at Locutus with a shaking hand, and fired. Locutus easily absorbed the phaser’s energy as it kept his attention on Picard. Undaunted, Crusher fired twice more at Locutus with similar results.
The Vulcan approached Picard and Locutus from the opposite end of the vineyard without giving any heed to the battle raging around him, his hands clasped with his index and middle fingers extended and pressed together, his other fingers locked. Picard looked at the alien, pleading with his eyes as a summons for help, but the Vulcan only stared back with a passive expression. Through eons of time, the Ehlom came to recognize themselves as observers of all developing life forms across the great expanse; an authoritative voice in Picard’s head recounted. In a sense they became the law of nature.
He was on the bridge of the Enterprise, which meant the thing choking him wasn’t Locutus. Picard remembered the wound across his chest after he struck Locutus with the Klingon bat’telh, his own blood smearing his fingers. He shifted toward Crusher. “Shoot,” he gasped out. “Jack… Shoot me.”
Jack Crusher’s aim wavered. “Jean-Luc, what–?”
“It’s alright,” Picard said in a long, wheezing breath. “Just shoot me.”
At first it appeared Crusher would disobey Picard’s directive, but after a hesitant moment, he fired the phaser. Its red stream of energy struck Picard square on the chest. White-hot energy flooded Picard. His insides felt on fire. Locutus released his grip on Picard’s throat, stumbling backward as his midsection sparked red energy.
Picard collapsed in the mud, overwhelmed by pain and gasping for air as he clawed at his own throat. Through a curtain of pain, he glimpsed Jack Crusher dropping the phaser as he was swarmed over by the remaining drones, while Locutus aimed his tactical prosthetic at the Vulcan as it fell to its knees. An emerald plasma bolt fired from Locutus’ prosthetic, striking the alien before he could react. “No!” Picard cried out in a voice like rough sand.
The Vulcan lurched back in a spray of green blood, just as the entire vineyard shimmered and dissolved back into the Enterprise Bridge.
Locutus transformed into the Borg Queen as she powered down and Picard’s strength completely gave out. The Borg Queen’s body twitched violently as raw red energy continued to spark throughout her cybernetic circuitry. She collapsed against Picard’s command chair, an electronically-enhanced cry of frustration culling from her throat before she powered down and went silent.
Data held a hand out to Picard. He held a blackened, smoldering phaser in his other. “Captain, are you well?”
Picard nodded as Data helped him to his feet. “Fine, Mr. Data.” The bodies of crew members and Borg drones were scattered about the smoke-filled bridge. Lt. Hunter lay a few feet away, half of his lifeless face showing the beginning stages of a Borg assimilation.
“The Borg transported aboard just before the alien flagship destroyed their Cube,” Data said. He kicked the dead Borg Queen. “My internal sensors detected no biological readings in this one. It is my theory the Borg created a facsimile of their Queen in an attempt to lure you back to the Collective.” Data’s brow furrowed. “Captain, that was their attempt, was it not?”
Picard patted the android’s shoulder. “I believe you’re right.” Riker was near tactical, kneeling next to the fallen Ehlom. The alien being had changed, no longer the imposing figure who had suddenly appeared on the Bridge, but a smaller, more vulnerable-looking humanoid. Picard crouched next to his First Officer. The Ehlom raised a weak hand, and Picard took it into his own.
“He’s fading,” Riker said with a subdued tone. “I tried to have him beamed to Sick Bay, but I think he blocked it with what strength he had left in him.”
“It’s alright,” Picard said. “It’s his choice.”
“Not that he had much of one,” Riker said. “The flagship took off once Data disabled the Borg Queen. Guess they felt he wasn’t worth it.”
The Ehlom locked eyes with Picard. “Courage… Jeanlucpicard. The sentence of death is carried out. My life for yours.” His once-powerful voice had been replaced by something frail.
“No,” Picard said. “This was murder, not justice.”
“Justice… is delivered. That is how it has always been for the Ehlom.”
“Then it will be so, if that’s your wish,” Picard said with a soft reply.
A small smile crept over the Ehlom’s face as he let out a final, elongated breath. His eyes closed before his body dissipated into a greenish energy. Within moments, the energy dissolved as well.
“It’s over,” Riker said.
“For both of us,” Picard said, heavy with emotion.