The Farther Shore | Chapter 16 of 35

Author: Christie Golden | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1879 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 7

AFTER AIDAN had dematerialized, Libby walked on the beach for a while, absently picking up rocks made smooth by the ceaseless rhythm of the sea, caressing them, and then returning them to the ocean. The action calmed her thoughts. Yes, she was doing the right thing.

She returned to her little cabin in a better mood than when she had left it, but her tension returned when she saw there was a message.

“I hope it’s Harry,” she muttered under her breath. She tapped the screen and Covington’s face appeared.

“Hello, Agent Webber. Just wanted to check in and see how you were progressing with the material I sent you. I’ll want an update by this afternoon. And if I may offer some advice, woman to woman—it’s always a bad idea to date the boss.”

[80] She smiled and winked in a sisterly fashion, and then the screen went dark.

Libby almost couldn’t breathe. She had debated the necessity for putting up the dampening field at all, considering how isolated she and Aidan were. Now her legs went weak and she fell into the chair, her stomach churning. Thank God she had used the dampening field. Covington was still watching her.

She and Aidan hadn’t shouted their relationship from the rooftops, but they hadn’t made an effort to hide it, either. No doubt Covington knew they had once been involved. Thank God for that, too. All Covington suspected was that Libby was thinking of cheating on Harry, and she could handle that.

At least, Libby desperately hoped that was all that Covington suspected. Suddenly shaky and feeling extremely paranoid, she removed a small, round object from a drawer and began to check her room carefully for bugs.

 

Brenna Covington finished her message to Libby Webber, then leaned back in her chair and stretched. The man in her bed said, “God, I love it when you do that. You look just like a cat.”

Slowly, she turned and gave him a wide, sultry smile.

“You still here?” she teased. “Don’t you have things to do, misinformation to spread, quarrels to start, suspicions to plant?”

Commander Brian Grady stretched in the sheets, imitating her.

“Oh, yes. But you make it damned hard for a man to leave.” He beckoned lazily. “Come back to bed. We’ve both got time. Rank hath its privileges.”

[81] Resentment stirred faintly inside her. Brenna Covington knew how to give a lover pleasure, how to feign delight and lust and passion. She had learned those lessons well, from observation in her safe place deep inside. But no man’s caresses ever truly moved her.

The Hand had seen to that.

It took her utmost skill to not cringe from Grady’s caresses and kisses, to smile up into his face as if she was as enamored as he.

But it was not that he was a cruel or even an unskilled lover. Every man’s hand was the Hand. Her deliberate, calculated response of feigned desire was her revenge. She had used her body, tall, taut, and well-shaped, as a tool, as she had used her powers of observation, her brain, her detachment as tools, and all had served her well. Brian Grady was useful to her now. He was in a position where he was trusted and well liked. Those were his tools. She told him what to say and do, and who to say and do it with, and he obeyed. It was easy to manipulate him. He had been hers for three years now. She had something he wanted, wanted desperately, and she exploited that mercilessly to get him to dance to her tune.

So she returned to the bed, and put her tools to work. At one point, he seized her roughly and said, “You know what I want.”

“No,” she said. “Later. Tonight. It takes too much time.”

Disappointment and anger flickered across his face. Denying him anything always frustrated him, so she tried to do so only when necessary. That was part of her power over him—she knew how often he had been [82] disappointed, been overlooked, been denied. She didn’t care, but she knew, and utilized that knowledge.

By all rights, Project Full Circle should have been his. She, too, was disappointed that he had not been selected to lead the project; it would have made her job so much easier had her lackey been given such power.

Instead, Starfleet had appointed the hero of the hour, Admiral Kenneth Montgomery. He had courage, intelligence, and tenacity, and, unfortunately for Covington’s ultimate plans, scruples. The man was incorruptible. Covington knew; she’d tried, several years ago. She had done nothing to truly compromise herself or her plans, of course. She was far too sharp for that. But she had done enough for Montgomery to regard her with suspicion and distrust.

She had to get him out of the way, or at least hamper him as much as possible. He wasn’t a fool, and sooner or later, he’d be onto her. So Covington had searched for the perfect innocent agent to take him down. Libby Webber’s name had reached her desk. Libby’s former connection with Voyager made her someone that Covington needed to redirect as soon as possible. The pretty thing was an information gatherer, nothing more, and Covington found her sweet, malleable, and eager to please.

So Covington had spent some time putting together some false evidence and put Little Miss Music on Montgomery’s trail. Although Covington had to admit, Libby was better and had more initiative than she had suspected.’ Libby’s decision to track down Blake came perilously close to jeopardizing the entire plan. [83] Fortunately, Blake, though brilliant, was utterly devoid of social graces and probably wouldn’t know what had happened if Libby had actually seduced him.

One thing Covington knew for certain, though, was that, seduced or not, Blake would never utter one word of the plans he, Grady, and Covington had been working on over the last several years. He had too much at stake.

And seeing Aidan Fletcher ... Covington dismissed it. She knew he and Libby had an affair a while ago. She made it her business to know these things. Apparently, boring good-boy Harry Kim wasn’t enough to keep Libby’s attention for long.

Voyager’s return played right into Covington’s hands. It couldn’t have been timelier. There it was, complete with two Borg and a host of futuristic refits. All attention was focused on it. It was unknown, unfamiliar, and she understood well that it was never a big leap from “unfamiliar” to “suspected.”

Grady, acting on Covington’s instructions, was the first to voice suspicions about the Doctor when the strike erupted, and the Borg when the virus began to manifest. She didn’t have the pleasure of seeing him do it, but she knew how he would look: reluctant to cast blame on returning heroes, embarrassed to think bad thoughts about them, but ... just worried enough so that Montgomery would be worried, too. And Montgomery was one who didn’t sit on his hunches, but acted.

She had watched with amusement, standing just out of viewing range, one time when the meddlesome Janeway had contacted Grady. How easily he lied to [84] Voyager’s former captain, that boyish freckled face screwed up into an expression of concern. It had been all Covington could do not to give herself away by an injudicious snicker.

Janeway had been a problem, that much was certain. Covington had not fully appreciated the depth of Janeway’s devotion to her crew, even the Borg, even the artificial doctor. They needed to be safely away under suspicion, of course. The last thing Covington needed was two Borg and a doctor putting their heads together with Starfleet trying to figure out the virus. They would, she was certain of it. And both Covington and her carefully laid plans of the last several years would come to ruin.

Janeway was like the dogs Covington learned the admiral loved: dedicated, loyal, and not likely to surrender something once she had gotten her teeth into it. Her continuous yapping, fortunately, had alienated the one man she ought to be courting—Montgomery. The more Janeway demanded, the more he dug in his heels. It was all working out better than Covington had feared.

Not soon enough for Covington, Grady was spent. He whistled as he put on his uniform. He would be in top form today, she knew.

 

Harry didn’t say much during their lunch together. He toyed with his noodle salad and let his coffee get cold. When Libby tried to make conversation, her only reward was a monosyllabic response.

The average girlfriend would start getting suspicious at this point. She’d feel hurt and rejected, [85] wonder if there was someone else, or if her sweetheart was growing tired of her. Libby knew better than to jump to such outrageous conclusions. For one thing, she knew Harry. For another, she knew what Harry was involved in.

She didn’t know for certain, of course, what his specific plans were. It was a pity they couldn’t trust one another, but that was something she had accepted going in to Starfleet Intelligence on the level she desired. No one outside of a very few people in SI was to know what she was doing, or else she’d be of very little use. That included friends, concert managers, family ... and Harry.

She even wondered if she’d made a foolish slip by giving him the “code name” of Peregrine. No one in Intelligence used code names like that. But she needed a moniker of some sort and what had first flashed into her mind was the sight of the great, glorious falcon wheeling above them during their trip to the desert. She’d seen it shortly before sunset, when she was partway through the delicious meal with her beloved in the middle of nowhere, only a few hours before they had made love for the first time in over seven years.

The bird symbolized hope for her, and before she knew it, she’d picked it as her contact name. Fortunately, she had kept the peregrine close to her heart. Harry had noticed her looking at it but they had discussed it only briefly. With luck, he wouldn’t make the connection.

Her hunch that something big was going down with Harry and probably several other Voyager crew [86] members was confirmed when, at the end of the meal, Harry pushed aside his half-eaten entrée and announced, “I just wanted to let you know that I might be out of touch for a while.”

She sipped her tea. Her own lunch hadn’t stood a chance against her appetite and she’d almost licked the lasagna plate clean.

“Really?” she asked, hoping she had the proper mix of concern and trust in her voice. “What’s going on?”

“I can’t tell you.”

Mentally, Libby shook her head and chuckled. Good heavens, but he would make a lousy spy. Aloud, she said, “Why not?” as she reached for his hand.

“I have orders.”

That confirmed what Libby suspected. Whatever Harry was planning, higher ranks than the junior officers were involved. She wondered if Harry realized how much information he was conveying while explaining that he couldn’t tell her anything.

He turned his hand over so he could entwine his fingers with hers.

“A mission?” Libby pressed.

He squeezed her hand, and then released it. “I told you, honey, I can’t discuss it.”

“How long will you be gone?”

To her surprise, he laughed, then sobered at once. “I’ve no idea.” Again, he had told her something. He wouldn’t just be out of touch, he’d be physically away from San Francisco.

“I know it’s hard for you to understand,” he continued. “You’re a musician. You’ve got your concert schedule to honor, but you’re the one who makes that [87] schedule. When you’re in Starfleet, you don’t get to make the decisions.”

“I do understand,” she said. He would never know just how much. “It’s all right.” She smiled. “You’ve been too much of a distraction anyway. I need to get a lot of practice in if I’m going to be ready for that Vulcan tour next month.”

Even as she said it, she saw him visibly tense, and she knew why. There was a very real chance there wouldn’t be any more humans on the planet by next month.

The entire population of the Earth could be Borg. Would be Borg, if something weren’t done to stop it. One thing she had said to Harry had been the honest-to-God truth—he was a distraction. She had work to do.

When he kissed her good-bye, he was at once more intense than usual and more distant. She stroked his cheek and looked into his eyes lovingly, trying to convey nothing more than girlish sorrow at parting and hoping to hide her worry. Something big was definitely going down, and she wished she knew what it was.

When she materialized in her cabin, she saw a blinking red light. Adrenaline flooded her. She desperately hoped the message was from Fletcher, not Covington.

Instead, the face that appeared on the screen was Harry’s. His brown eyes were large and his handsome face somber.

“Libby, once before I left on a mission on Voyager. I was gone for seven years. I don’t know what’s going to happen, so I—hell, I’m breaking every rule in the book by talking to you, but I just couldn’t walk off and leave [88] you, knowing I might not come back. I wanted to say a proper good-bye, in case ... in case things didn’t work out. I love you, Libby. And when I get back,” he paused and smiled, “you and I are going to have a nice long talk about a few things.”

His image disappeared. Libby blinked back tears. “I love you, too, Harry,” she said into the silence.

 

Covington went through her day as usual, showing up at her office and conducting the day-to-day business of Covert Ops as if it actually still mattered. And as usual, she stayed late, saying a cheerful goodnight to her staff as they went home. They thought her a hard worker. They thought her pathetic and lonely and married to her job.

She was content to let them think that. She knew why she was staying late.

Around two a.m., after taking a last scan of the entire building to make sure she was alone, Covington took a deep breath. Excitement and anticipation shivered through her. What she was about to do aroused and excited her more than any clumsy male touch.

Here was intimacy. Here was connection and power and fulfillment and passion.

Here was love.

 

It was late when Libby finally heard from Fletcher. His face was unreadable and his manner uncharacteristically brusque.

“I did as you asked, Libby. The decrypted file is now in your computer. Contact me once you’ve read it.” And without another word, his image disappeared.

[89] Her initial surprise at his rudeness gave way to apprehension. Suddenly Libby didn’t want to read the document she’d breached all kinds of protocol to read. Suddenly she wanted nothing to do with this whole spy business. She wanted to just be what the world thought she was, a concert performer, utterly ignorant of espionage and lies and Borg threats like the rest of the world.

But she was who she was, and knew what she knew, and it was with trembling hands that she pressed the key and the file sprang to her screen.

There was a lot of technical jargon that she vaguely grasped. She could reread all that later, after she’d gotten the gist of the file. As her eyes flickered over the words, her breathing became shallower.

This was horrible. This was beyond imagining.

The question as to why the Borg virus had remained dormant for so long was an easily answerable one, and she wondered why neither she nor Fletcher had figured it out before now. Or maybe it wasn’t that great of a mystery. Maybe they just hadn’t wanted to acknowledge the dreadful truth. In order for the Borg virus to be activated, someone had to issue a specific command. That someone could be none other than the Borg queen.

The virus was active and had been for several days now. Which led inevitably to the conclusion that somewhere not too far from Earth, the queen lurked.

But how could this be? Starfleet knew how to find a Borg ship. There was none anywhere in the quadrant that they knew of.

[90] Libby swallowed and read on. Her stomach churned and suddenly she wished she hadn’t eaten quite so much of her lasagna at lunch.

Trevor Blake went on at great and monotonous length about theory and execution thereof. She had to rub her eyes and reread a sentence here and there to make sure she understood it. Exciting and fast-paced, Blake’s writing wasn’t. At one point, she saw something and did her usual rub and reread, certain that she’d misinterpreted it. After the third reading, she desperately wished she had misinterpreted it, but was sickly afraid she grasped the meaning all too well.

Trevor Blake had demonstrated a bit of a sense of humor in selecting the Royal Protocol document as the cover for his treatise on creating a Borg queen. Not only did it serve as a powerful deterrent in case anyone downloaded it—no one in his right mind would voluntarily slog through that mind-numbing document—but there was a second, terrifyingly ironic twist as well.

It sank in slowly, sickeningly, like the news of the death of a loved one.

Oh God. Oh God. Oh no.

Bile rose in her throat. She stumbled toward the kitchen and barely made it to the sink before she threw up, sobbing as she did so. Tears poured down her face in a flood as she sank to the floor, holding herself and shaking. Indigo and Rowena hastened to her, rubbing their furry faces against her bare shins.

Royal Protocol—this Royal Protocol—had nothing to do with etiquette. It had nothing to do with anything sane.

[91] “Royal Protocol” was the name of the computer protocol used by the Borg to create a queen. And it was already happening.

 

Brenna Covington rose and went to the small sonic shower she’d requested two years ago. She worked so late, she had explained; sometimes a shower revived her. Of course they installed one for her.

First, she removed her clothes. She took out her special contact lenses, carefully placing them in solution. She didn’t need them to see. Then the blond wig went, draped on its stand. She stepped into the shower and closed her eyes as the sweat, dirt, and makeup almost magically dissolved from her body, leaving her feeling reborn.

She stepped out of the shower and regarded her perfect body in the mirror. Long, strong legs. A flat abdomen. She touched it briefly, acknowledging what lay within, unseen.

The scars were all inside. The scars were always, ever, all inside.

Her gaze traveled up past small but firm breasts, to her eyes. She smiled at her reflection.

 

Get a hold of yourself, Elizabeth, Libby thought fiercely. You’re no good to anyone shivering here on the floor. Her limbs felt as if they were made of rubber, but she managed to clamber to her feet. She rinsed her mouth out and splashed her face with cold water, then stumbled like a drunken woman back to the computer.

Starfleet Intelligence, with Trevor Blake as head [92] researcher, had spent the last several years deciphering this protocol. They had enough information to create a Borg queen, but had, at least at the time this document was written, not yet deciphered the entire protocol. Pieces were missing. There was a queen somewhere with enough power to activate the virus, but she couldn’t yet turn it into the sweeping epidemic that would nearly instantaneously destroy the Earth.

Not yet. But soon. Trevor Blake felt it would be soon.

The Borg had many advantages, but one thing they could not escape and that was almost a disadvantage was the nearly flawless logic by which they operated. Organic beings could bluff, go off on tangents, have inspired insights. But the Borg were as ruthless in their functioning and structure as they were in their decimation of worlds. It made a sort of frightening sense, and Libby wondered why no one had figured this out before Blake had.

Organic beings had created machines. But it was the machines that made organic beings into Borg. Without their technology, the Borg were like an old-fashioned lamp that had been unplugged. Everything the drones did was in response to orders from their queen, her instructions to the hive mind. Damage the queen, and the whole thing fell apart. The queen made drones. How, then, was a queen made?

She was an organic being who would have to become not just Borg, but almost a super-Borg. She was the complete operating system for the entire mammoth structure. She was more than a single being—she was the program made flesh and machine.

[93] In one of those odd connections one sometimes makes when under duress, Libby’s mind flashed back to a theater term: deus ex machina. In ancient Greek dramas, occasionally the day was saved by a god from mythology descending onto the stage by means of a mechanical device. It had become a slightly derogatory term in theater and literature, used when an author grafted on a miraculous happy ending when logically there was none to be had.

She didn’t give a damn right now about poor plotting and cheesy endings in books and holonovels. Her mind seized on the literal translation of the term “deus ex machina” and worried it like a terrier with a rat:

God from machine.

 

Clothing largely disguised the sickly gray pallor of Covington’s skin, except for hands and face. Special makeup designed by the doctor who had operated on her so well these past several years made her skin seem merely porcelain, not bloodless. Eyes that saw better than any human’s met those in the mirror.

But it was the back of her bald head she loved most. This was what Brian Grady so loved to fondle when they coupled; what drew him and held him fast, like a fly in her mammoth spider’s web.

No ... a spider wasn’t quite right.

 

The Borg had figured out how to create a god from a machine. Take an organic being, make her Borg, and give her access to the Royal Protocol ... and you had a queen. So this was how, when the Enterprise destroyed the Borg cube that had been host to Picard and also presumably [94] the queen, she had come back. This was how the Admiral Janeway of the future had been able to slay the queen, and yet there was one somewhere on Earth right now.

You couldn’t ever really kill the queen, because the queen wasn’t a person. It—she—was a program.

It was so simple. So logical. So terrifying.

For a long moment, Libby’s mind refused to function. It was trying to wrap itself around the almost inconceivable reality that Starfleet Intelligence was well on its way to creating a complete Borg queen who would utterly destroy humanity. Why? It was good to know how the bastards did it, of course, but who the hell would—

And then she knew.

 

Covington went into her office and settled herself at the computer. With the touch of a button, a hidden panel revealed itself. She licked her lips, drawing out the moment of pleasure, and then stepped into the secret alcove. Green light bathed her gray body.

At once, voices flooded her mind, but she was not overwhelmed. She reached out in joy, touching each mind one with her own, feeling the surge of their responses. Their need and desire for her. Tears filled her eyes and spilled down her cheeks, as they did every time she connected with them thusly. Their unconditional, unwavering, undying devotion and love flooded her, and she heard and responded with every cell of her body.

They were hers, better now for being hers than they had been before she had sought them out. And there would be so many more to come, soon, soon. Each one [95] a part of the nearly perfect whole. She loved and would protect and defend them, even as she gave them their orders, even as she instructed some to die in order to preserve the whole. They fed her spirit in a way that no single human ever had. They nourished her as she took care of them. Humans thought it all went one way, but they were wrong. Terribly wrong.

They were her beloved subjects, her precious drones, and she was their adoring queen.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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