Fandom: Star Trek Voyager.
Rated: R. Contains angst and some violence.
Series/Sequel: Written for Voq Je Bang’s Voyager Eighth Season Project.
Summary: The crew of Voyager find their Starfleet ideals tested when they rescue a Cardassian member of the Borg.
Disclaimer: No profit is intended in the writing of this story. Star Trek: Voyager and its characters are the property of Paramount and Viacom.
Feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. Archiving and downloading is welcome as long as you credit the author. Many thanks to Meagan for beta-ing this.
Pain overwhelmed Tusa Curat.
It assaulted him via all his senses. He could see it as blinding white novas searing into the retina, pursued by nonsensical algorithms that were the last gasp of his malfunctioning processors. He had not imagined that pain could be heard, yet he could hear it as a low incessant moan, reverberating from the walls of the crater. It could be smelt in the acrid stench of his burnt-out nodes; it tasted of vomit, coarse sand and coppery, salt-less blood.
And pain could be felt. A crawling, incessant agony, as if all his implants were trying to push their way out through his skin, abandoning his decaying body. He knew he was dying, but not quickly enough. Nowhere near quickly enough.
As he staggered on - survival had long become a force of habit, rather than a rational choice - Tusa clung to the one thought that was more precious than jemonite. A reminder of his newfound individuality.
‘My name is Tusa Curat. I was born in Tozhat Province, Bajor. I am Cardassian.’
His ocular implant crashed again, shutting off the sight in one eye. Ironically, Tusa’s vision improved as his other, biological eye took over. The rim swam into view, a curve of barren rock in the distance, burnt ochre by an alien sun, fringed with the straggly remains of dead biomatter. Nothing would grow in the irradiated crater, which made the presence of the trees seem puzzling, incongruent. They stood around him in a grove, tall fibrous trunks that branched out into short roots and fronds, waving as if blown by the wind.
There was no wind inside the crater walls.
In the fraction of a second before his implant reset, blinding him once more in a cascade of electronic detritus, Tusa saw the trees move toward him.
* * * * * *
The Tykas called it Godstamp.
Like many races that had evolved sentience, the Tykas had created the idea of a divinity to both explain and reassure themselves about the overwhelming power and mystery of the environment they depended on. Increasing scientific knowledge did not rid them of this need. There is comfort in the illusion that one’s interests are being watched over by some all-powerful yet benevolent entity - rewarding the virtuous, punishing the guilty, assisting in military conquest and later, as the planet became more civilized, in commercial and sporting success against rival city-species. Life had a certain balance to it, a natural justice.
All that had changed in less than an hour, when the Tykas were suddenly made aware of the true indifference with which the universe regarded them. The evolution of layered centuries was physically ripped from the ground and stripped of all that was useful to the invader, the remains dumped to burn up in the atmosphere in a fiery rain across the vision of the shocked and dying survivors. All that remained was this crude gouging in the earth - a dusty, radioactive hole tens of kilometres wide. The sheer force that could achieve such a thing was inconceivable. A starship’s tractor beam paled in comparison. To comprehend such power, to know it lay in the hands of a ruthless and implacable enemy was to understand true fear, to cause a once proud species to burrow into the ground and live like crawling insects in the hope that mere insignificance would protect them. The Tykas had long stopped believing in a just universe, merely a God that smote them not in anger, but out of the casual cruelty to which all lower lifeforms are subject.
At times, however, even a piece of the Almighty falls to the earth.
Ci-Molos drove the GEV along the crater rim in the brutal fashion with which his species treated all non-living technology. His visual symbiotes peered and pulsed through the haze of red dust, trying to detect a clear path down into the crater. With the destruction of the city all traffic control systems had died, but he still hated to use the Outworlder vehicle’s lidar and autonav systems. In the passenger cage behind him the aliens held on desperately as they bounced and skidded over the rough surface. The average Tykas was twice their size with a lot more gripping tentacles, so they were picking up more than a few bruises as they rattled around in the overly large compartment. Tough.
There was a path that appeared negotiable, the top marked with blinking traffic clearance lights, another alien import like his ground effect vehicle. Without hesitation Molos spun the GEV at the cliff edge, shooting out into the crater as if trying to fly across it, then dropping hard onto the steep ramp. Adaptive forcefields absorbed their impact, but it was still enough to throw his passengers forward with audible grunts. And then they were hurtling down what had once been a petrified Great Tree, collapsed against the crater rim and paved like a road in asphalt. They were on the crater floor in less time than it would take to fall the distance.
Molos engaged the braking-surge just in time to avoid ploughing into a Tykas-Ke herder. She was riding the monolithic form of a draught animal, her feelers linked into its brain, guiding the creature with gentle electric signals. It was hauling a misshapen lump of alien technology. Molos could not identify it, but the design was unmistakable.
Folding the speaker microphone down to his mid-trunk, Molos deepened his vocal cavity and boomed: “WHERE IS THE BORG DRONE?”
Several of the herder’s symbiotes turned in their direction, then curled back into her trunk. The animal did not stop, lumbering past them on its six legs towards the ramp. Cursing, Molos retracted his gripping tentacles and punched the door release, tumbling out onto the radioactive sand. Its bitter taste did not improve his mood. “Silent smooth-trunked dirt-scavenger! I’m talking to you!”
Back in the GEV, Tuvok activated his combadge. “Away team to Voyager.”
“This is Voyager, go ahead.”
“I need a scan for Borg lifesigns in our region.”
Beside him, Seven of Nine watched as Molos shouted up at the herder, his tentacles forming the sign of his status. She did not look impressed; symbiotes jittering in a manner that was clearly an insult.
“I’m reading a Borg bio-signature 160 metres at a heading of two eight two.”
“Place a lock on that signature. Prepare to beam it up should I give the order.” The Vulcan leaded forward, holding down the loudspeaker button. “CI-MOLOS, OUR SHIP HAS DETECTED A BORG SIGNATURE 585 KIN FROM OUR PRESENT LOCATION!”
Pausing only long enough to return the herder’s obscenity, Molos slithered back to the vehicle, cursing as his motive roots caught on jagged stone and metal. Dropping into the vehicle with a loud thump, he gripped the driver’s cage and powered up the engine in a single movement. “What direction?”
“Kin-ee,” answered Tuvok, pointing off to the left.
They spent precious minutes weaving their way around the miles-deep shafts left by long dead city roots. But they could hear the crowd long before they could see it - a low-pitched mourning cry that echoed off the distant crater walls. Ahead of them a circle of petrified fingers pointed at the sky that had plucked away its brethren. The outer ring of a Great Tree; Seven calculated it must have been at least 300 metres in diameter. There was a crowd of Tykas inside, hundreds of them, their upper symbiotes moving in waves, like fields of grass caressed by the wind.
Molos drove straight at them, bellowing a warning cry through the loudspeaker. At the last minute the crowd realised that the GEV wasn’t going to slow down and scattered to either side in a flowing tide of bodies, exposing an inner group of Tykas-Ke surrounding a lone, crawling figure encased in Borg armour. As they slid to a halt Seven saw a herder lash out with one of his tentacles, the tip morphing to razor-sharpness as it sliced through the air. It struck the drone across the back, splitting apart the exoskeleton as if it were paper.
A murmur arose from the crowd as Seven of Nine exited the vehicle and shoved her way through to the fallen drone. He lay on his back, legs and arms drawn up to protect himself from the rain of blows, his body covered in dirt and blood.
“I am Seven of Nine, what is your designation?” Behind her she could hear Molos thundering in anger. Tuvok, Dennett and Ensign H’torr surrounded them, their eyes on the crowd.
Slowly the drone lowered his arms, staring at the woman in front of him. Seven took in the reptilian features, the protruding pineal body, the neck and eye ridges. Species 5653 - Cardassian.
“What are you doing?” Molos was shouting. “This drone should have been handed over to Exo-Security! Where is your Tykas-Ci?” His only answer was a rising undulation as hundreds of Tykas and their symbiotes joined in death-song. The away team gripped their phasers. Seven could see the fear on Dennett and H’torr’s faces.
“Do you understand me?” Seven flipped open her tricorder, scanning the drone. She could not detect an interlink signal. This drone’s link to the Collective had been severed. She brought up the tricorder’s field medical subroutine.
“You . . . you’re human!” The drone’s voice was a faint croak. Seven had to strain to hear it. “That’s a Starfleet insignia. What . . . how?”
“It is a long story. Commander Tuvok!” she shouted over her shoulder. “He requires immediate medical attention.”
“So will we in a minute,” said Molos, tensing as the surrounding throng appeared to change shape en masse. The vulnerable upper symbiotes were pulled in tight to the trunk of each host, while the gripping tentacles extended, morphing into long clutching fingers and barbed whips.
Drawing and aiming his phaser in one swift movement, Tuvok fired a warning shot, the beam disintegrating the remains of a nearby spile. His action only served as a catalyst for the Tykas. Projecting a wave of psionic hatred that smashed against his Vulcan senses, the crowd charged. Beside him, Molos appeared to explode as his tentacles shot outwards, shapeshifting into vicious cutting blades. “Away team to Voyager! Six to beam up!”
A staccato CA-RACK! ripped through the air as thousands of tentacles broke the sound barrier at once, hurtling towards them.
* * * * * *
Chakotay handed a padd to Captain Janeway. “He says his name is Tusa Curat, a former soldier in the Cardassian Militia. Apparently he was assimilated in the Alpha Quadrant four years ago. He and several other drones were on a reconnaissance mission to this sector when their link with the Collective was abruptly severed. The other drones didn’t have the skills to survive as individuals, but Curat remembered enough of his previous training to make it to where we found him. It must have been quite a trip; we found the impact crater of the Borg sphere fifty kilometres away in the desert. He was able to suppress the pain from his implants and give himself stamina by chewing local narcotic leaves, but he wouldn’t have lasted much longer even if the Tykas-Ke hadn’t found him.”
Janeway leaned back in her chair, her face pensive. “What’s his condition?”
“The Doctor was able to stabilise him, but he needs immediate surgery to remove most of the implants. There’ll be a long and difficult recovery__”
The agitated rustle of Molos’ symbiotes interrupted Chakotay. “We appreciate your assistance in locating the drone, Captain Janeway. Once your medical officer has finished treating his injuries I will take him back down to the surface. This is now a matter for the Tykas-Ci.”
“Removing a drone from the Collective is a delicate procedure,” said Janeway. “I’m speaking from experience here. Recovery can take months, years even. Sometimes we’re unable to remove all the implants, in which case they need regular regeneration and maintenance. Do your medical facilities have Borg regenerative equipment? Spare implants?”
“I’ll think you’ll find our facilities more than adequate for the task,” Molos said brusquely. “The drone is a prisoner of war, and therefore the property of our government. What happens to him is none of your concern.”
The Tykas official, unfamiliar with human body language, didn’t notice the stiffening in Janeway’s body that everyone else picked up on. But he couldn’t mistake her tone. “This is a sentient being, not your property. And while he is on my ship he is my concern. I’ll not release him while I consider there is a danger to his safety.”
“May I remind you Captain, that you and your vessel are guests in our space. Our species may not be as powerful as we once were, but we will not be walked upon by the hard feet of Outworlders!”
“May I ask what will happen to Mr Curat once he is in your custody?” asked Tuvok.
“He’ll be interrogated as to Borg intentions in this sector. Our bio-scientists also wish to examine him.”
“We’d be happy to let your officials question him on Voyager when he has recovered,” said Janeway. “We’re also willing to share all the knowledge we’ve gathered on the Borg__”
“I don’t think you understand Captain,” Molos broke in. “This is an enemy of our species, who landed on our planet with the intent to commit a hostile act, and was captured by Tykas citizens. According to our law this person is already in our custody. My explaining this to you is merely a courtesy. I expect this Curat to be handed over as soon as he is fit to move.” He rose up on his motive roots in a manner that indicated the discussion was ended. “If I may have the use of your communications equipment, I wish to send a report to my government.”
Janeway gave a barely perceptible nod to Tuvok. Chakotay waited until the two had left the briefing room before saying, “Curat won’t survive an interrogation by the Tykas-Ci.”
“I know.” She turned her grey eyes on him. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. A Cardassian. How are the Maquis taking the news?”
“I’ll talk to them.”
“This man has suffered a lot of trauma. Regardless of who he is, he’s got the right to be treated with consideration. I won’t just . . . hand him over for torture and execution. Right now he needs support, not hostility.” She smiled. “And I know just the person to give it.”
* * * * * *
“It’s a genetronic replicator,” said the Doctor, as proud as if he’d invented it himself. “It reads the DNA coding of a damaged organ and translates that into a specific set of replicant instructions, then . . .” With a showman’s air he indicated a tank of biometric gel. “We use those instructions to grow a replacement.”
Tusa Curat eyed the black multiphasic probe pointing down at his torso. Sweat beaded his forehead and his skin was pale grey, except where his exoskeleton had been removed. There it was a mottled pink with black node scars. “I don’t suppose I have any say in it, do I?”
The Doctor dropped his voice an octave. “You have the choice to refuse treatment. I won’t do anything to you against your will but I must point out that your immune system is rejecting your Borg implants. The pain is only going to get worse, and the consequences . . .” He broke off momentarily as the door slid open and the captain and Seven of Nine walked in. “The consequences could well be fatal.”
“How is our ‘patient’, Doctor?” asked Seven, deactivating the forcefield long enough to step through it. Janeway stopped to talk to Crewman Dennett, who was nursing his injuries on a nearby biobed.
“Mr Curat was worried I was going to dissect him,” replied the Doctor dryly. “His Borg armour protected him from the worst of the blows . . .”
“Not all of them,” muttered Tusa, pressing the palm of his hand against the metal connector nodes still embedded in his skull. “Thank you for saving my life, Seven of Nine. It was . . . unexpected.”
“But I’m picking up some disturbing fluctuations from his cortical node. I’d like to begin operating immediately.”
“The captain requested I assist you in the procedure, Doctor,” said Seven. She looked directly at Tusa, speaking so quietly he almost didn’t hear her. “This is a lonely time. Too quiet.”
For a long moment the Cardassian stared back, taking in the silvery implants on her face. “Yes, I’d like that.”
The biobed’s clamshell slid up over Tusa’s body, its surface displaying a three-dimensional representation of his internal organs, the Borg implants rendered in black and grey. Tusa’s eyes widened as he saw the Doctor push his hands straight through the sides of the clamshell and into his chest. He half expected to feel cold hands gripping his insides.
“Say something,” he whispered to Seven, who was crouched beside him, scanning the remains of his bionetic implant. “Talk to me.”
Seven was annoyed at the interruption, but she said, “Where are you from?” She had learned it was a useful conversation starter.
“My family’s from Cardassia IV, but I was raised on Bajor. My father . . . what’s he doing?”
“The Doctor is connecting you to the biobed’s life support system. We will then use a site-to-site transport to remove the non-vital implants. You were talking about your father.”
“He was a mining engineer. My mother . . . my mother worked in Safety Investigation. Don’t you have a human name?”
Seven used a microfilament to tease open Tusa’s interlink node. “I was assimilated at a very young age. My previous name no longer seemed relevant.” One of the ports had fused shut. She exchanged the microfilament for a laser scalpel, feeling a sudden presence at her shoulder, a familiar scent.
“It feels like I was assimilated the day before yesterday,” said Tusa, talking faster. Although the lower part of his body was anaesthetised he could still imagine the medical probes pushing into his skin, sliding through veins and arteries to his heart and lungs. “My unit was assigned to guard a Jem Haddar cloning facility. It was dull but safe, a long way from the fighting. Then one day this Borg cube shows up right in the middle of our lunch break. In thirty seconds they’d knocked out our shields and then . . . then they just scooped up the entire facility from the surface of the planet!”
Voyager’s captain stood above him, looking down. A pallid human face. Red hair, matching her uniform. She must look quite vivid to their eyes.
“What are your favourite sporting activities?” asked Seven. Opposite her the Doctor rolled his eyes. You use the answer to formulate your next question. Hadn’t Seven learnt anything from him?
“Our disrupters were absorbed by the drone’s shields, but the Jem Haddar fought with their bare hands until they were all killed. I saw their Vorta commander commit suicide . . . he cut his own throat. Hera, he was called. We liked him. He was always willing to have a glass of Kanar with you. That’s what he used to cut his throat. A broken Kanar glass . . .”
Seven of Nine raised her left hand, firing her assimilation tubules into Tusa’s interlink node. The Cardassian tried to pull away but she held him in a vice-like grip. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
“Relax!” ordered Seven, in a tone that would ensure he’d do anything but. “I am establishing a direct neural interface. Your bio-monitor shows you are in a heightened emotional state. I need to regulate your inhibitor subroutine.”
“DAMN RIGHT I’M IN A HEIGHTENED EMOTIONAL STATE! TAKE THOSE THINGS OUT OF MY HEAD!”
“Seven, break your link!” shouted Doc as Tusa thrashed on the biobed, his fists slamming against the inside of the clamshell, trying to get out. “Captain, I need a hypospray, 30 milligrams of delactovine!”
“His cortical node is shutting down,” said Seven. “He is going into neural shock!”
“He’s not the only one,” snapped the Doctor. “Stablise his motor cortex! Captain, I need that hypospray!”
Tusa’s body slumped to the bed with an audible thump.
“Thank you, Seven!”
Seven did not respond; she was controlling her features with a visible effort. Captain Janeway hadn’t moved at all, her face drained of blood as she stared at the now comatose patient.
“I’m sorry,” said the Doctor, reminding himself that both these women had undergone Borg assimilation. “I would have preferred to have anaesthetised him earlier, but he insisted on remaining conscious. I think we’ll find the problem lies in the cortical inhibitor . . . Captain?”
Janeway looked up, startled. “What?”
“The cortical inhibitor. I sent you a report, remember?” Janeway stared back at him, as if what Doc said wasn’t even registering. “It’s a rather nasty upgrade the Borg incorporated into Icheb’s cortical node, the one we later put into Seven. When connected to a cube’s vinculum it regulates emotional response, but when it detects a high level of emotional stimulation it shuts down the__”
“Inform me when you’ve finished, Doctor,” said Janeway, her voice a mere whisper. She turned abruptly and walked out the door.
The Doctor raised his eyebrows, then shrugged. “Very well. Let’s take things one step at a time. Seven, try accessing his interlink node again. We’ll start by taking the inhibitor off-line.”
* * * * * *
The photograph had been taken in haste before they shipped out, the entire crew of the Al-Batani gathered in the shuttle bay. She was sitting on top of a Class Two shuttle with Tuvok and a Bolian - Feser or Heser, Janeway couldn’t recall his name. The Bolian was holding two fingers up behind Tuvok’s head, like a pair of blue rabbit ears.
‘I was younger then, and a lot better looking,’ Janeway thought. The burden of later years still hadn’t carved their mark behind her eyes.
The door chimed. Janeway switched off the image before saying, “Come in.”
Molos slid through the ready room doors in a single movement, coming to rest in front of the table. “I have communicated with my government.”
There was a long silence then. Janeway was unsure if the Tykas-Ci was sending her a message or just waiting for her to speak.
“And their response?” she asked when the pause became too long.
“You will not leave with the drone in your custody.”
“And if Curat asks for asylum on board Voyager?”
“You will not leave with the drone in your custody.”
Janeway took a deep breath, then switched on the computer again, swiveling the viewscreen around so Molos could see it. “This photograph was taken when I was a lieutenant. The Federation had just come into conflict with a race known as the Cardassians. Curat’s species, as it happens. In less than a year, one third of the people shown here were dead. The rest of us were captured, held in brutal conditions. Many of those also died - from disease, torture, summary execution, suicide.”
“We’d all been imbued with Starfleet principles: the inalienable rights of species, the basic respect for life that can be found in all sentient beings. I suppose, subconsciously, we believed everyone thought that way. We discovered otherwise.”
Molos extended a tentacle towards the image, before withdrawing it on sensing the photograph’s inert nature. How could it not have any resonance to him, Janeway thought, when it seemed so choked full of bitter memories to her?
“After the war I had to sit down with Cardassian diplomats and traders and starship captains, as if nothing had happened. And I did. There were members of this crew who refused to - I won’t bother you with the politics involved. There were times I envied them . . .” Janeway’s voice trailed off for a moment, then she straightened her shoulders. “The point was I accepted that the war was over. I wasn’t - I’m not - going to spend the rest of my life fighting it.”
Molos did not respond, his alien visage making it impossible to read his thoughts. Janeway wondered if she was really putting in the effort to be convincing. Her words sounded hollow to her, as if she was just going through the motions. “Curat is no longer a member of the Borg Collective. He is no longer your enemy, Ci-Molos. His death would be meaningless. It would change nothing.”
The Tykas shifted on his motive roots. “Have you had a chance yet to see the Godstamps the Borg left on our world, Captain?”
“I’ve seen them on other planets.”
“Yes, so have I. Great holes where mighty cities once stood. Gleaming spires, tall buildings of stone and metal, parks of lush greenery, monuments to heroes past, all swept away. Those who survive make fine speeches about building anew, not letting the despair of the present crush the hopes of future. You were once a scientist, I am told.”
“I still am, when I can find the time.”
“Did you find the time to research our species, Captain? I’m sure you did. No doubt you were fascinated when you read about habitat/resident symbiosis, psychonomic-guided evolution, direct terminal gene transfer. But if only you could have experienced our cities, Captain, even with the limitations of your alien senses. They were the largest living creatures known to exist. Roots that sunk miles into the earth, drawing power from the heat of its core. Great Trees rising to the clouds, teeming with millions of lifeforms, from the proudest Tykas-Ci to the lowliest sanitary symbiont, each one singing out its unique identity. To this the city would add all the billions of songs it had gathered over the years. Love stories more joyous than the triumphs of kings, acts of heroism by small beings that would be forgotten by the history of any other species. You could smell long extinct flowers, feel the shock of seeing the first aliens, taste the salt of foreign oceans, or a dish cooked a thousand years before. The songs would meld and merge, not like the discordant noise of your own dead-walled dwellings, but into a new, unique life-song. Even jaded Outworlders would join in the chorus, not understanding what it meant, only that they had been touched by something wonderful, something that was far greater than themselves.”
It was then that Molos lifted himself up on his roots, deepened his vocal cavity, and let loose not his life-song but an agonizing howl like Janeway had never heard, not even in all those dark nights during the Cardassian Border Conflict.
The doors hissed open, Tuvok standing in the entrance. Janeway gave a slight shake of her head. The security chief nodded once and stepped back outside.
“Tykas cities shape the evolution of those living within them,” continued Molos, as if there’d been no interruption. “An interesting symbiosis, but flawed in one crucial aspect. Our species must change in order to survive without our cities, but we cannot do so in a single generation without the city’s Overmind to guide our evolution. So we will die.”
“Our genetic resequencing technology could__”
“We will not accept the dead science of Outworlders, any more than you would seek to prolong your life through the use of Borg implants. So we will die.”
Janeway said nothing, knowing any words would be inadequate.
“We will taste the blood and salt of the drone to quench our rage. You will not deny us this. Revenge is all that we have left.”
* * * * * *
She’d been caught open-mouthed, wide eyed, a spray of pollen surrounding her like a golden halo. The artist had emphasised her surprise, the momentary child-like appearance, softening cybergraft scars and the jagged edges of facial implants. The background was a stark contrast; a red giant sun leaking crimson fire into menacing storm clouds, the ocean like endless waves of blood.
“The Doctor calls it ‘Ceremony of Innocence’.”
Tusa started, turned to find Seven of Nine standing behind him. He hadn’t heard the door open. “The Federation programs its medical holograms to paint?”
“The Doctor’s heuristic matrix is self-learning. He taught himself.” Seven’s gaze moved over the Cardassian’s shoulder, taking in the picture on the wall of the Doctor’s office. Her brow crinkled in annoyance. The incident it portrayed had taken place on an away mission six months ago, while she was gathering plant samples. A flower had burst open at her touch, showering the air with pollen. For a moment Seven had been captivated by beauty instead of biology. Unfortunately the Doctor had been there to witness her lapse, immortalising it forever in this painting. Seven had never forgiven him.
“I believe I owe you . . . an apology,” said the Borg. “My actions earlier were ill-considered.”
“No no,” said Tusa quickly. “I just . . . I’m sorry, it brought back some bad memories. You were only trying to help. It was my fault.”
“In that case, I await your apology.”
Tusa looked at her in confusion, until he saw the amusement in the human female’s eyes – it was surprising how expressive they were.
He snapped to attention with mock gravity. “Archon Seven of Nine, I confess my error and beseech the understanding and correction of the Court.”
“Granted. You will require nutritional supplement. I am here to escort you to the messhall.”
“The mess? Aren’t I being taken to your detention area?”
“That depends on you.”
Tusa nodded slowly, as if in comprehension.
“What do you think of this painting?” he asked suddenly.
“It is visually appealing,” replied Seven, turning to leave.
Tusa gave a wry smile. “I wouldn’t know. Cardassians have poor colour distinction compared to humans. Now tell me what you really think.”
Seven stopped, took a deep breath. “The Doctor’s view of me is over-protective, verging on patronising. It implies that I am in need of protection from a hostile and threatening universe.”
The Borg raised an eyebrow.
“That’s what I thought.”
Seven’s smile was brief, a fleeting sprite across her face, but for a moment Tusa glimpsed what had so captivated the Doctor six months before.
* * * * * *
“Captain’s log, personal.”
“There are times when I feel I’ll never leave the war behind. I went though all the counseling, the programs, the holotherapy. But even now, years later, all it takes is a sound, a gesture, a raised voice at a certain pitch and I’m back in that Cardassian prison camp.”
“Can two people become lovers without making love? He could barely touch me through the razor mesh, just enough to form the mind meld. Our one furtive, desperate comforting in the midst of hell. I could sense his rage beneath, clamped beneath that pressure seal of Vulcan discipline, trapped like I was. We embraced in our dreams, and screamed our fury in each other’s nightmares. That was their true crime - what was once inconceivable had now become a part of us. Our innocence drowned forever in the blood-dimmed tide of hate.”
“So what should I do about Tusa Curat, former soldier of the Cardassian Militia? When we first arrived in the Delta Quadrant I was a by-the-book Starfleet captain. When I formed the alliance with the Borg I told myself I was adapting to circumstances. After the incident with Arturis I feared I was playing God. After meeting Captain Ransom I knew I was.”
“Now I no longer fool myself.”
* * * * * *
“When I was a boy,” said Tusa. “My father employed a Bajoran housekeeper, Nya she was called. Nya had to cook Cardassian dishes of course, but when my father was away she’d make this wonderful hasperat.” He probed warily at the kami vine in front of him. It consisted of concentric fibrous layers, which had to be unwrapped in order to expose seeds hard enough to break a tooth. “The thing is, I miss it. Strange what one misses.” Tusa had changed into a padded jumpsuit, complaining that the ship was too cold and his dermaplastic garment made him look like a D’abo girl.
“I have found nutritional intake an interesting experience,” said Seven. “Though in some cases one I would rather have avoided.”
“Yes, what IS this?”
“I believe Crewman Chell calls it his ‘Supernova Salad Surprise’.”
“You can say that again. I heard Federation food was bad, but I didn’t think it was this bad.” Tusa looked across the messhall. “Don’t suppose that Bajoran over there would know how to make hasperat, do you?”
“Not a good idea. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re rather starved for company.”
Seven of Nine swiveled in her seat. From across the room, B’Elanna Torres and Ensign Tabor watched them, their expressions hostile. She turned back to the Cardassian ex-drone. “Come with me.”
Without waiting for Tusa to follow, Seven got up and strode over to B’Elanna. The half-Klingon engineer was pulling apart her vine with her fingers, pieces of greenery scattered like shrapnel across the table.
“May we sit here?”
“Who’s ‘we’?” snapped B’Elanna, looking past her.
“This table’s full,” said Tabor, putting his feet up on the seat opposite.
“Let it go, Seven.” Tusa appeared at Seven’s shoulder, bearing a plate of salad like a peace offering. “There’s plenty of seats to go around . . . especially after we came in.”
“I hear Janeway’s going to hand you over to the Tykas,” sneered the Bajoran ensign. “Those walking plants will chop you up for fertiliser.”
“The much-vaunted Federation compassion at work,” muttered Tusa, pulling at Seven’s shoulder. She shrugged him off.
“One of your doctors experimented on my grandfather with nadion radiation,” said Tabor. “It took him six days to die. You proud of that, Cardassian?”
Tusa dropped his plate on the table with a crash. “My unit spent a week pulling dead children out of the Haru Outpost. You proud of that, Bajoran?”
Tabor tried to jump to his feet, only to be restrained by powerful hands pressing down on his shoulders. “Give it a rest Tabor,” said Chakotay. “That’s an order. Seven, the captain wants a word.”
“I have not finished my nutritional intake,” replied Seven icily. She deliberately sat down opposite B’Elanna.
“I have,” said B’Elanna. She grabbed her plate and stomped off to the recycler. Tabor followed, leaving his half-eaten meal behind. Seven glared after them.
Tusa leaned over and scooped up some of Tabor’s food with his fingers. He tasted it, nodding in approval. “Now that’s good hasperat!”
* * * * * *
There was an awkwardness now about these private conversations with the captain. Once Seven had enjoyed the philosophical debates, the verbal sparring, the inevitable compromise. But that was before she’d started her relationship with Commander Chakotay. Now, whenever the captain saw her, something flickered behind those grey eyes. Was it anger over her presumption? Or apprehension that Janeway was becoming irrelevant in her life; that she was moving on without her?
‘We both loved you, Captain,’Seven thought. ‘But you refused to return our love. So we sought out each other. It was only logical.’
The Borg imagined she saw that same look now in Janeway’s eyes as she entered her ready room. There was a gaunt appearance to the captain, her face more tired than Seven could ever remember, her voice colder than she had ever known.
“I wouldn’t get too friendly with Mr Curat,” Janeway said without preamble. “He won’t be on this ship for very long.”
Seven raised an eyebrow. “Explain.”
“Ci-Molos has insisted that Curat be handed over to the Tykas authorities.”
“They will kill him,” Seven said bluntly.
“We don’t know that.”
“Commander Chakotay believes otherwise. You must not comply.”
“According to their laws, Curat is already their prisoner. And we’re in their space.”
“And Curat is on board Voyager.”
“That is not our concern.”
Seven could not believe she was hearing this. “It WAS our concern when you risked our lives rather than hand over a member of Species 8472 to the Hirogen.”
“That was different.”
“How?” Seven shot back.
There was a pause as Janeway deliberated, no doubt trying to think up some moral or Starfleet justification for a decision she’d already made. Seven was very familiar with the captain’s mental processes by now.
“Seven, you know nothing about the Cardassians, what they are capable of.”
“You are more than familiar with what I, as a Borg drone, am capable of. If you need reminding I suggest you beam down to the Tykas-Ke Godstamp.”
Janeway slammed down the viewscreen on her deskcomputer. “You were not responsible for your actions while you were linked to the hive mind! Tusa Curat is a free individual, a member of the most barbaric military regime in the Alpha Quadrant!”
“What he did in the past is irrelevant.”
“Not to me! I don’t want you near him, I don’t want you fraternising with him in any way!”
“I will NOT comply.”
Janeway’s head lowered along with her voice. “I’m giving you a direct order, Seven. Don’t make me confine you to quarters.”
“My quarters,” the Borg replied, showing a faint but definite smirk, “are where Tusa Curat is regenerating.”
It was then that Seven was finally able to identify the look in Janeway’s eyes.
* * * * * *
Research was second nature to Seven of Nine, an almost automatic response to any situation that she didn’t understand. She accessed the Federation protocols on asylum, immersed herself in case law, the Prime Directive as it applied to alien fugitives, Janeway’s report on the incident with Q four years ago.
Sometime during the night, two Tykas-Va took up position off their bow. Seven ceased her activities long enough to download Tuvok’s threat analysis, then dismissed them as irrelevant. If the worst happened, Voyager could simply outrun the decaying bioships.
She changed her search parameters, seeking to comprehend the reasons for the captain’s reluctance to assist Tusa Curat.
CARDASSIAN MILITARY > BORDER CONFLICT 2362-66 > ATROCITIES
ATROCITIES AGAINST NON-COMBATANTS & PRISONERS OF WAR > USE OF TORTURE IN INTERROGATION > MASSACRE OF CIVILIANS SETLICK III > STARVATION BLOCKADE KONO COLONY > ATROCITIES AGAINST INTERNEES AT PROCESSING STATION 89/5 > TERRAFORMING AS A TOOL OF WAR (PROJECT TYROS) > WAR CRIMES INDEX > CARDASSIAN CENTRAL COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY: SETLICK III MASSACRE, DEMOGRAPHIC ENGINEERING (ATROCITY AS A WEAPON OF SPECISM), PROCESSING STATION 89/5 - “A WOUND ON STARFLEET’S SOUL THAT WILL NEVER HEAL”, EXECUTION OF CEGA ALPHA AWAY TEAM - “AN INCIDENT OF NO MAJOR CONSEQUENCE”, HYLAX POISONING OF PLANET TYROS – “NOT A MICROBE THAT IS NOT CARDASSIAN”.
One of the headings caught her immediate attention. Seven was intimately familiar with Janeway’s service record. There had been a reference to Processing Station 89/5. While a lieutenant Janeway had been held there for three months before being returned to the Federation in the post-war prisoner exchange.
REPORT INTO ALLEGED ATROCITIES COMMITTED AGAINST FEDERATION POW’S AND CIVILIAN INTERNEES AT PROCESSING STATION 89/5.
SUMMARY EXECUTION OF BAJORAN STARFLEET PERSONNEL > INTERROGATION/MURDER OF COMMADORE ANDREWS AND SUB-COMMANDER N’VEL > PSYCHOLOGICAL TORTURE OF STARFLEET AND CIVILIAN PRISONERS > SYSTEMATIC RAPE OF FEMALE STARFLEET OFFICERS AND CIVILIANS > RESPONSIBILITY OF GUL REMAN > RESPONSIBILITY OF CARDASSIAN CENTRAL COMMAND - “A WOUND ON STARFLEET’S SOUL THAT WILL NEVER HEAL” > WAR CRIMES INDEX - OFFICERS AND GUARDS KNOWN TO HAVE SERVED AT PROCESSING STATION 89/5.
The final listing told Seven all she needed to know.
* * * * * *
“Are you Cardassian?” asked Father, holding a plate of half-eaten hasperat.
He was afraid to answer, the spicy Bajoran food had burnt his tongue. He was afraid that if he opened his mouth to reply his father would see his reddened tongue.
Nya stood in the corner, eyes downcast as always when Father was around. Her left cheek was red; in a few days it would blacken and swell, standing apparent from the pale flesh.
“Answer me! Is your blood not Cardassian? Is your name not Cardassian?”
“My . . . name . . . ”
“Yes, your name. What is it?”
“My name is . . . Two of Five . . . ”
“WHAT?!” Father was leaning close now, his neck ridges taut in fury. “WHAT did you say?!”
And the young boy opened his mouth and screamed in terror, because he could no longer remember his name . . .
Consciousness came suddenly, a return to the uncomfortable chill of the cargo bay. The ship’s computer announced that his regeneration cycle was incomplete.
At first Tusa believed he’d woken as a result of his nightmare, but then he saw Seven of Nine standing by the alcove’s control pillar.
“You were a guard at Processing Station 89/5,” said Seven. Her voice was cold, like the cargo bay air.
Tusa stared at her, unable to connect with what she’d just said.
Seven shoved a padd in front of his face. It was a list of names and serial numbers taken from a quartermaster manifest; he recognised the issue indices. “Is this you?”
“IS THIS YOUR NAME?”
The Cardassian flinched as if he’d been struck. “My regiment was posted there. Look, I only carried out guard duties. I didn’t torture anyone, that was the Obsidian Or__”
“The prefect of the camp, Gul Reman, had orders from the Cardassian Central Command to inflict maximum psychological injury on Federation civilians living in the disputed regions,” said Seven, as if Tusa hadn’t spoken. “It was believed that the traumatised victims and their families would leave, making the Cardassian colonists the dominant majority after the inevitable peace treaty was signed. Demographic engineering, it was called.”
Tusa’s reptilian skin had taken on a grey pallor, as if all the blood had drained from the surface. Seven continued, laying out the facts like a prosecutor. “He also had orders to create ‘a wound on Starfleet’s soul that will never heal’. Reman had the members of his guard regiment carry out mass rapes of the female prisoners, especially the Starfleet personnel. The Cardassian Militia is a patriarchal system; they found the idea of being opposed by female soldiers insulting.”
Tusa felt as if his heart was forcing its way up through his throat, blocking all speech and breathing. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he choked out.
Seven’s thumb moved across the padd, clicking up another page. Tusa found himself looking at a photograph of a young human female in a blue Starfleet uniform, red hair tied up behind her head.
“Do you recognise her?”
Tusa shook his head.
“Her name is Kathryn Janeway, she would have been a science lieutenant at the time. Did you rape her?”
“There were many prisoners, I don’t remember their faces . . . ”
He didn’t see the blow coming, just an explosion of white-hot pain bursting inside his skull. Tusa was knocked back into the alcove, sprawling awkwardly in the confined space. Seven of Nine stood over him, her face pale. Tusa drew up his legs to protect himself from the kicks he knew from experience would follow. “We had to do it! They said it was our duty to Cardassia, we’d have been executed if we refused! You didn’t question things, you did what you were told! It wasn’t my fault!”
Seven reached down and grabbed Tusa by the collar, the cloth tearing from his weight as she picked him up and slammed him against the hard steel of the alcove. A lance of pain shot through the Cardassian as the energy transfer node smashed into his spine. He could hear a sizzling crackle in his mind, like an oiled pan left to burn on a hot stove. “And how many lives have you destroyed?” he screamed back at her. “I know you were on the cube that assimilated the Tykas biomass ten years ago! You think you’re any different from me, you hypocritical human bitch?!” The cargo bay was blurring, the crackle in his head rising to a great howl like the mourning cry of the Tykas-Ke. The last thing Tusa saw were the eyes of the woman before him.
“Nya?” he said, his voice faint. “Nya, I’m very cold.”
Then the blackness swallowed him up forever.
* * * * * *
“Tusa Curat was pronounced dead at 0721 hours this morning,” said the Doctor, his voice harsher than either programming or protocol dictated, but right now he didn’t give a damn. “Resuscitation was attempted for half an hour to no effect.”
All the EMH could see of Captain Janeway was her back; she was staring out the window of her ready room. Tuvok was doing an imitation of a potted plant in the corner. Neither of them made any acknowledgement that they’d heard him. Annoyed, the Doctor held out a padd.
“Apparently, for reasons as yet unknown, Curat’s emotional inhibitor activated, shutting down his cortical node. Naturally we didn’t have a viable replacement.”
“I thought you had deactivated Curat’s inhibitor,” said Tuvok.
The hologram turned to the Vulcan, his autonomic subroutines causing his face to tighten in line with his words. “I did, that’s what worries me. I’d like to do a full autopsy, to investigate the possibility that someone on this ship deliberately tampered with it.”
“Who had the knowledge to do that?” asked Janeway without turning round.
“Myself, Lieutenant Torres, Ensign Tabor, any member of our Borg research team . . . and Seven of Nine,” Doc added reluctantly. He didn’t want to think about the implications of his protégé being there when Curat went into his coma, but he couldn’t avoid it. The possibility that someone might have carried out the premeditated murder of one of his patients was a violation of everything he had been programmed to believe in. “Captain, I must insist that Commander Tuvok launch a full investigation of__”
“No.” Janeway turned away from the window, her face held rigid in its command mask. “Hand over the corpse to the Tykas. It’s their problem now. All of Curat’s implants and any personal items are also to be disposed of. And I want every surface on this ship that he came into contact with sterilised.”
“Captain!” Doc protested. “Seven or Icheb may need those implants in the future, and the Tykas no longer have the facilities to study Borg technology in any case!”
“You have your orders Doctor,” said Janeway in her This-is-not-up-for-debate tone.
The EMH tried one last time, even though he knew it was pointless. “Captain, I’ll be noting your refusal to investigate this matter in my medical log, to be taken up with Starfleet Command on our return to the Alpha Quadrant.”
“You can put it in your next holonovel for all I care,” replied Janeway coldly. “Dismissed.”
There was a long silence after the Doctor had left, then Tuvok spoke.
“If Seven of Nine is capable of murder, perhaps it would be wise for us to know. We do not want any unpleasant surprises.”
The captain didn’t respond. She was looking down at a picture on her computer’s viewscreen. Tuvok recognised it. The crew of the Al-Batani, taken on the eve of the Cardassian Border Conflict. He was sitting between Lieutenant Janeway and Crewman Feser on top of a shuttle. Feser was holding two fingers up behind his head.
“I’m no longer surprised at what people are capable of, Tuvok.”