The Farther Shore | Chapter 24 of 35

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

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Chapter 15

KAZ KNEW that he was no slouch intellectually, but standing next to Data and the Doctor, watching them process information nearly at light-speed, left him feeling a bit inferior. An android and a hologram were beating him at his own game. Quickly, he shook that thought away. Everyone had strengths and weaknesses. Even Trills, and androids, and holograms. One was wise to know and respect one’s own weaknesses and strengths. They needed his expertise, too, and when he was able to offer it, he felt inordinately pleased.

They had determined a great deal about the virus in the hour they’d had alone in sickbay. It was operated by nanoprobes that entered the body through touch or inhalation. The method of delivery should surprise nobody, Kaz thought, considering who they were dealing [177] with. It would remain dormant until given an order to be activated.

So far so good, but this was where it all fell rather nastily apart.

How was the order given? Could an infected person spread the virus before the virus was activated? Why weren’t adults with strong, functional immune systems affected yet? Would they be, and if so, when? How was the virus contracted?

“I am fond of mysteries,” Data confessed at one point, “yet I would be glad to have this one solved quickly.”

“I’m sure you speak for a lot of people, Commander,” the Doctor said. His acerbic tone of voice seemed odd, coming from the new hologram’s milder throat. “I suggest that we’ve spent enough time researching how the virus is transmitted. I have a theory on how we can stop it. Dr. Kaz, you said earlier that you had downloaded information from Voyager.”

“That’s right.”

“And you said you had begun experimenting with nanoprobes?”

“Yes. Your work with the cellular construction of Species 8472 pointed the direction.”

“Really?” The Doctor preened slightly.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t come up with a modified nanoprobe that would destroy the original ones.”

“Hmmm,” said the Doctor. “Perhaps that’s not the correct route. One thing we need to do right now is start replicating as many Borg nanoprobes as possible. I’m not sure how we’re going to use them, but I do know they will be instrumental in solving this particular mystery.”

[178] He glanced over at the chronometer. “It’s almost rendezvous time. Who should go?”

“I should,” said Kaz. “You don’t really need me.”

“On the contrary, Doctor,” said Data, “we need your expertise a great deal. You are more familiar with this virus than either of us. Besides, if a doctor were to be found wandering the corridors when he was supposed to be working on curing a virus, it could arouse suspicion. I shall go.” He turned to the Doctor. “If you modify your image programming to imitate my physical appearance, you can continue working here even if someone enters.”

“But then if that someone also ran into you in the corridor, they’d know something was wrong,” Kaz said. “I have to tell you, no offense, Doctor, but this whole hologram version of musical chairs is starting to become confusing.”

“No offense taken,” said the Doctor. “I’m having trouble keeping it all straight myself.”

“The simplest solution is often the most effective,” said Data. “Perhaps the Doctor should continue to deactivate if anyone approaches. I can always tell the truth, which is that Admiral Janeway requested my presence.”

“Good luck,” Kaz said. “Take Taylor’s phaser. We’ve got hyposprays if we need them.”

Data accepted the phaser, nodded to them, and strode out the door.

 

They met up in Cargo Bay Two, as Janeway had ordered.

“Status report,” she asked. “First, has anyone run into any guards yet?”

[179] “I have Constance Goodheart tied up in the holodeck,” Paris said.

“What?” exclaimed Chakotay.

“One of the guards is playing Constance Goodheart in my Captain Proton scenario,” Paris explained, clearly trying not to smile but failing. “The computer had my physical parameters for Proton as reference, and she kept them intact. It was easy to substitute myself for Proton and turn her stun weapon on her. The scenario’s still running. There’s a chance someone will go in after her, but they’d have to battle the Moolian Fleet to do it.”

“Couldn’t they turn the program off?” Kaz was slightly in awe of Lieutenant Commander Paris’s imagination.

“I designed the program,” Paris said, “and they never bothered to transfer the codes. I can’t lock the doors, but I’ve reprogrammed the computer with a code word. They can’t shut the program down unless I authorize it.”

“Very good work, Mr. Paris,” Janeway said, admiringly. “I see that Tuvok has disabled a guard as well.” Kaz looked over to see the prone, trussed up, and gagged figure of a fair-haired young man. He looked quite upset. Kaz couldn’t blame him.

“How are you three faring in sickbay?” Janeway continued.

“We had a surprise visit from a guard, but we disabled her. The Doctor did, actually. I can see why you’re all so fond of him. She’s presently unconscious in a cadaver drawer, but a hologram of her is standing around smiling, just in case anyone comes to check.”

Janeway was smiling openly now. “Chakotay and I took one down in the corridor. He’s stashed in a Jefferies tube and should be unconscious for quite some [180] time. We should put their comm badges in their quarters, in case Watson tries to locate them.”

“How many phasers were we able to obtain?” asked Tuvok.

“Three,” replied Janeway. “I don’t think Tom’s Constance was carrying a real weapon in the holodeck.”

“No, more’s the pity,” said Tom.

Janeway’s expression sobered slightly. “I haven’t heard anything from Harry, so I’ll try to contact him when we’re done here. Dr. Kaz, Data—what have you learned about the virus?”

They brought everyone up to speed, and Kaz desperately wished that he had better news. At least the Doctor seemed to think they had a direction now. Janeway was silent for a while, then at last she spoke.

“I’ve been thinking hard about this, gentlemen. We’ve eliminated half the guards, but there are still four left. One of them is Watson, whom I think suspects us, and another is on the bridge. I also don’t think we’re going to be able to let Seven and Icheb regenerate as long as Dr. Kaz would like them to. We need their unique knowledge and expertise.

“Montgomery won’t be fooled forever, either. And once he figures out that we’ve duped him, things are going to start happening very fast.”

Kaz did not protest. Even the little bit of time that Seven and Icheb had been allowed to regenerate would help them, and he knew as well as Janeway did that they didn’t have the luxury of time on any front of this strange battle they were waging.

“What do you want us to do?” asked Chakotay, quietly.

“We’ll awaken Seven and Icheb and send them back [181] to sickbay with Kaz and Data. The rest of you will come with me. This was our ship, once. We’re going to take it back.”

 

Brenna Covington lay on the bed, her skullcap removed and her brain exposed, calm and yet excited at the same time. She had the utmost trust in the EMH Mark One. He had not failed her yet, which was more than could be said for many humans. It had taken time, and she had lost patience more than once with him, Grady, and Blake. But they always had come through for her in the end.

She had grown weary of being a partial queen. It was good, to have the superior strength and access to the hive mind. It was even better to be able to link with them, as she could when she regenerated, to feel their need and love of her. But that was as a taste of honey on the tongue, sweet but serving only to awaken further cravings. She wanted more. She wanted it all.

Covington wanted information to flow through her body like her blood did. She wanted to penetrate all the drone minds, all the time, thoroughly and completely, with no separation. She wanted to experience the thoughts of healthy adults, not just the malleable brains of children and the sometimes dry and barren minds of the elderly. Intellectually, she knew what she would become when she was at last complete, and she thirsted for it like a man in the desert thirsted for cold, sweet water.

Had she been the true queen, the process would have taken place within moments, if not seconds. The Royal Protocol program would have selected her, imbued her [182] with knowledge that came as quickly and effortlessly as breathing. It would have replaced weak human organs with metal, and she would have become queen almost instantaneously. The Borg needed their queen, could not function without her.

But what she, Blake, and the EMH were doing was new, experimental. Had never been done before. They were creating a queen from scratch, as it were, with a recipe that had only recently been understood.

Odd, that she would use a cooking metaphor. She seemed to smell food being prepared ... cookies, she thought; baking slowly in an oven.

“I smell cookies baking,” she told the EMH. He stood behind her, busily working on her brain. She was used to it, accustomed now even to the sight of her skullcap, bony and bloody, sitting in a dish behind a sterile field.

“I’m stimulating that part of your brain,” the EMH replied. “That’s only natural. I hope it’s a pleasant association.”

“It is,” she said, her mind going back to the time before the owner of the Hand invaded her life, when she and her mother baked chocolate chip cookies every Saturday morning. She had not smelled cookies baking since then. Odd, how the mind worked, what it chose to remember.

Once the transformation from human to Borg queen was completed, she would have no need for the laborious task of chewing, swallowing, and digesting nutrients. Her taste buds would all but disappear from disuse. Anything her body needed, it would acquire through the more efficient means of direct absorption.

Faintly she heard the EMH’s voice, as if coming from far away. “... have to put you fully under, Your Majesty.”

[183] “You may proceed,” she said, her voice thick and her words slurred. As she closed eyelids that had become suddenly heavy and drifted into darkness, her last thought was one of regret at never again smelling and tasting chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven.

 

The slow-passing hours were taking a dreadful toll on Allyson. Andropov, Robinson, and many of the others who were Starfleet-trained were in excellent physical condition, even if they did have the dreaded “desk jobs” and weren’t operating on sufficient food, water, or sleep. Allyson was just a girl, barely twenty, and had obviously never had to endure anything resembling physical hardship on the measure of what was expected of her here.

The circles under her eyes grew almost as he watched. It would take days, of course, for the flesh to melt off her bones, but she was visibly weak. Twice, she had stumbled away to vomit up what little food and water she’d been able to keep down. Once, she had paid for it by feeling the sting of the lash. Andropov had rushed to her defense, shielding her body with his own and taking the brunt of the punishment. The rider didn’t seem to care which of the organics was beaten, as long as someone was. He had laughed and spurred his horse into a canter, riding off to another point to supervise the slaves.

“Thank you,” Allyson whispered, gazing up at him with hero worship in her eyes. “You’re already so badly hurt, and yet—”

“A few more lashes won’t make any difference to me,” he lied, forcing himself not to wince as he moved [184] away from her and got to his feet. He extended his arms to help her up, she stumbled, and fell against him.

For a moment, he permitted himself to hold her, to feel her heart beating against his chest, to feel how fragile her body truly was. He’d come from a large family and had always wanted kids, but somehow it had never happened. He’d imagined teaching his son how to play sports and have fun, taking his daughter out to a fancy dinner on her sixteenth birthday and treating her like a gentleman should treat a lady. Making her feel special.

“When this is over,” he said, “I’d like to take you out to dinner.”

She blushed. “I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but ...”

“Not a date,” he pressed. “I’m far too ancient for you. But—” How to even find the words? It would be hard under the best of circumstances, but here, in the scorching sun, smelling his own stench, weak and wounded—how could he find words to explain what he was feeling toward her?

“I never had a daughter,” he said bluntly, “and I don’t think I could be prouder of her than I am of you right now. Let me do this for you.”

Her eyes searched his as they made their slow way back through the shifting sands to haul more stone, make more mortar. Finally, she nodded.

“I understand,” she said. “All right. But you should be warned—I’m going to eat like a horse when we get back!”

Warmed by the acceptance and trust in her words, Andropov laughed aloud for the first time since the hellish ordeal began.

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

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