The Borg Cube didn’t drop out of warp until the last moment, re-entering normal space less than five kilometres of the Enterprise’s bow. It loomed massive and dangerous on the viewscreen.
Riker stood and approached Ops. “Data, is that the same ship we faced at J-25?”
Data quickly checked his readouts. “Uncertain, Commander,” he said. “But the dimensions are precisely the same.”
“Captain, you are being hailed,” said Worf.
Picard turned. “I am?”
Worf looked up from his console. “Yes, captain. By name.”
Picard stood. “On screen,” he ordered, moving defiantly to the front of the bridge.
The screen flicked away from the ominous Cubeship, replaced with the vessel’s interior, an infinitely deep abyss that seemed to radiate out of a blinding light.
Picard spoke. “I am Captain Jean-Luc…”
The Borg spoke over the top of him, a voice that was twisted and turned over to fold into itself, a million voices speaking as one. “Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the Starship Enterprise, registry NCC-1701-D, you will lower your shields and prepare to transport yourself aboard our vessel. If you do not cooperate, we will destroy your ship.”
Picard ignored the demand. “You have committed acts of aggression against the United Federation of Planets! If you do not withdraw immediately…”
“You will surrender yourself or we will destroy your ship,” the Borg interrupted. “Your defensive capabilities are unable to withstand…”
Picard turned, drawing a hand across his throat, and Worf closed the channel. Discussion was useless.
Riker and Shelby were on their feet, approaching him.
“What the hell do they want with you?” asked Riker.
“I thought they weren’t interested in Human life forms,” said Shelby. “Only our technology.”
Picard regarded them both. “Their priorities seem to have changed.” He looked back to Worf. “Open.” Worf nodded, and Picard turned back to the viewscreen. “We have developed new defense capabilities since our last meeting, and we are prepared to use them if you do not withdraw from Federation space.”
The comline opened, and Geordi’s voice came through. “Shields are being probed. I’m modulating nutation.”
And the Borg’s tractor beam lashed out, washing over the Enterprise’s deflectors. The starship’s shields held, pushing the beam away.
“Sir, the Borg are attempting to lock onto us with their tractor beam.”
That was Worf, and Picard nodded in acknowledgement. “Load torpedo bays, arm phasers, lock coordinates on the source of the tractor beam.”
“Status of shields?” Riker was stepping forwards towards Data.
Data responded. “Holding sir.”
“The nutation modulation has them confused,” said Shelby. She sounded encouraged.
Riker spoke, and his tone was more cautious. “They have the ability to analyse and adapt, Commander.”
And then the ship rocked, the deck dropping out from underneath them so violently that several crew members were left airborne. They crashed to the floor, crying out as their bones broke. Alarms blared loudly and warnings flashed on screens. The lights dimmed briefly as power fluctuated.
La Forge’s voice came over the comline again, tighter and tenser than before. “Shield modulation has failed! They’ve locked on!”
“Shields are being drained,” confirmed Worf. “Ninety percent… Eighty…”
“Trying to recalibrate shield nutation,” La Forge’s voice said over the com. But then the ship rocked again, even more violently. “Damn!”
“Shields have failed!” called Worf
“Fire all weapons!” ordered Picard, and the Enterprise let fly. The massive arsenal of the starship barraged the Borg Cube; phaser beams smashing into the hull and wave after wave of torpedos crashing into the Cube’s sides. But, incredibly, the Cube was able to withstand the assault, deflect it, and the tractor beam held the Enterprise in an unbreakable grip.
“Their subspace field is intact,” reported La Forge. “The new phaser frequencies had no impact!”
Riker called, “Reverse engines!”
“Full reverse!” acknowledged La Forge, but the Enterprise remained held. “We’re not moving.”
“Fire at will,” ordered Picard, but Worf needed no command. Under his touch, the Enterprise was spewing every weapon it had, assaulting the Cube with her full power.
“Still no damage to the Borg vessel,” reported Data.
And then the Borg let loose with their weapons: a blinding, razor sharp beam of light, as bright and as hard as a diamond, which sliced directly into the Enterprise’s engineering hull! With a deafening crack of thunder, the Enterprise’s hull was split wide, spilling atmosphere and tumbling crewmembers out into the void.
The computer issued warnings of the hull breach, and Worf spoke over the top of them. “They are cutting into the hull, engineering section!”
“Geordi!” called Riker. “Evacuate Engineering!”
Far below, Geordi had already sounded the alert at the first impact. “Computer!” he called. “Evacuation sequence!”
The computer toned in acknowledgement. “Redirecting Engineering control to bridge. Sealing doors to core chamber.” The massive isolation door between the warp core and the rest of Engineering began rumbling down. Consoles were exploding, plasma conduits rupturing. Geordi could smell the acrid stench of coolant filling the air. “Warning. Inner hull failing. Decompression danger, deck thirty six, section four. Sealing Main Engineering.”
Geordi called out, urging his crew to evacuate. “Let’s go, come on, move it, people! Let’s move it! Come on! Go! GO! GO!”
There was a flood of people as those who could still walk ran out, and many of those who couldn’t walk were being carried. The last of the crew ran out, ducking under the descending door. Geordi took a split second to glance around, to make sure there was no one left behind. The roar of the Borg ship’s cutting beam was already deafening. In only a few seconds it would slice open this chamber. La Forge could see several figures, limp at their consoles, sprawled on the floor. Some of them still moved weakly. While every fiber of his being was urging him to help them, he knew that if he didn’t leave now, he’d be sealed in. He couldn’t help these people.
Cursing, La Forge turned and ran for the door. It was already less than a meter from the floor, and he ducked, dropping to the floor and rolling underneath. His shoulder thudded into the door as it descended on top of him and he could feel a sudden rush of air blowing back past him – the core chamber had been breached! – but then he was out, and the door was rumbling into position, sealed tightly against the floor. Through the translucent panels in the door, he could see the flashes as the Borg cutting beam split power conduits. It was only by a miracle that it missed the warp core itself.
The situation on the bridge was little better. The aft stations had lost power after a plasma conduit blew out, killing one of the crew members stationed there and leaving two others with second degree burns. One of the emergency medical personnel sent from sickbay had sprained his ankle and broken his arm when the turbolift lurched. Phasers were losing power, and the computer processor to the aft torpedo launcher was offline.
Shelby rushed forwards, struck by a sudden idea. “Data,” she said, “fluctuate phaser resonance frequencies. Random settings, keep them changing, don’t give them time to adapt.”
Data’s hands flew over his console, faster than Shelby’s eyes could see. And finally, as the phaser frequencies changed continuously, as the colours of the beams shifted throughout the entire spectrum, the Borg reached a point where they were unable to adapt, and the tractor beam finally flickered off. The Enterprise slid away, rocking with the release.
“Tractor beam has been released!” called Worf.
And then Picard took a chance as an idea occurred to him. “Warp nine! Course one five one, mark three three zero! Engage!”
The Enterprise turned and ran.
Word adjusted the viewscreen to show the Borg Cube that was only seconds behind them. “They are in pursuit, captain.”
“Maintain course.” There was a somewhat confident tone in Picard’s voice.
The turbolift doors hissed open, and La Forge emerged onto the bridge. Picard looked back.
“Damage report, Geordi?” asked Riker.
“Hull rupture in Main Engineering,” La Forge said, breathless. “Damage is pretty heavy. We lost a lot of good people down there.”
Data confirmed. “Eleven dead, eight more unaccounted for.”
La Forge moved to the engineering station. It flickered unsteadily before brightening. “They didn’t get to the core, I can control functions from here.”
“Repair teams to Engineering,” ordered Riker. “Seal hull breach.”
“We’re approaching the Paulson Nebula,” reported Wesley, and attention turned back to the viewscreen. It flicked back to a forward view, and the screen was filled with violent swirls of orange and purple, like a tin of paint that hadn’t been properly mixed. Electrostatic discharges lit up the nebula from the inside.
“Drop to impulse,” ordered Picard. “Take us in, Ensign.”
The Enterprise plunged into the nebula. Loose rock and debris hit the unshielded hull. Wesley ducked the Enterprise around the larger fragments, but the sound of the clumps hitting the hull grew louder. Picard stepped forwards to stand next to Wesley. The young man looked up at him. “The field’s getting too dense, sir,” he said.
“Steady,” Picard ordered. He turned to Ops. “Analysis of the nebula cloud, Mister Data?”
“Eighty two percent dilithium hydroxyls,” Data said. “Magnesium, chromium…” He looked up. “It should provide an effective screen against their sensors, sir.”
“Mister La Forge, prepare to reverse engines,” Picard said. “Full stop.”
The Enterprise moved into the spiral cloud of the nebula, the gases covering the wounded starship like a cloak. The Cube slowed, coming to a halt just outside the boundary of the nebula. They couldn’t enter. If they did, the gas would blind them, leaving the Enterprise free to escape. But the Borg’s sensors couldn’t penetrate the cloud either. All they could do was wait outside to catch the Enterprise when she emerged.
Worf carefully watched the tactical sensors. There was no sign of the compression wave that would indicate the Cube entering the nebula. And as the sensor resolution fell, he detected the tell-tale polarisation of a sensor scan. “The Borg ship is continuing scans,” he said. “Attempting to locate us.”
“Good,” said Picard. “As long as they’re looking for us, they can’t hurt anyone else.”
“Shut down all active sensors,” said Riker. “Passive scanners only. Deflectors to minimum emissions.”
Wesley looked up at Picard, his expression concerned. “We’ll maintain position,” Picard said. He turned back to look at Riker and Shelby. “Until we have a better idea.”
For several hours now, the Enterprise had remained in the nebula. The crew were, of course, anxious and scared. They would have to face the Borg again. But remaining hidden gave them a chance to dress their wounds, mourn their dead and plan their next move. But what was that move to be? They couldn’t attack the Cube – their first confrontation had shown that they simply had no way of inflicting any serious damage. It had taken all they had simply to disable a tractor beam emitter! Picard was under no illusions. The Enterprise, as she was, could not withstand another encounter with the Cube. He’d discussed the situation with Riker, and Riker agreed that their first priority was to develop some kind of plan, a tactic that they could use in their next encounter. But the reports from Engineering weren’t promising. Only one of the ideas that they’d developed had been able to do any damage to the Cube, and even that had barely worked. Riker promised that he’d give the team six hours to come up with something, and then report to him. In the meantime, he insisted Picard get some rest. In any confrontation, they’d need Picard more than anyone else. Picard relented and retired to the ready room. Despite his need to act, to do something, he understood Riker’s point. Picard would rest, Riker would be briefed by the engineering team, and then Riker would inform Picard of their position.
And so, six hours after the Enterprise entered the Paulson nebula, Riker sat in the observation lounge as the engineering team briefed Riker on their efforts. They’d concentrated on an analysis of the Cube during the first attack. Shelby had brought up a visual record of the attack, showing the Borg’s power output plotted against the phaser frequencies used by the Enterprise.
“Time index five one four,” Shelby said. “Data started to fluctuate phaser resonance frequencies. The Borg’s beam breaks contact… Freeze picture.” The picture froze just as the tractor beam emitter on the side of the Cube exploded. “Take a closer look, Commander.” Shelby tapped the controls, replaying the same visual log, but at half speed. “Mister La Forge?”
Geordi stepped forwards, indicating the graph on the bottom of the screen. “There’s a two percent drop in power, just for an instant, but it is system wide. The phaser frequency spread was in a high, narrow band.”
“Conceivably,” remarked Data, “the ship’s power distribution nodes are vulnerable to those frequencies.”
La Forge nodded. “If we can generate a concentrated burst of power with that same frequency distribution… I’m talking a lot more than anything our phasers or photon torpedos could provide…”
“How do we do that?” Riker asked.
For a moment there was silence. “The main deflector dish,” said Wesley.
“It’s the only component of the Enterprise designed to channel that much power at controlled frequencies,” Geordi agreed.
“Unfortunately,” sighed Shelby, “there is one slight detail.” Everyone looked at her. “In the process, the blast completely destroys the Enterprise as well.”
Riker looked at Geordi, who nodded grimly. The Enterprise would have to fire the weapon from so close that the exploding Cube would tear the starship apart as well. And if they tried moving back, then the weapon’s energy would dissipate, and it wouldn’t provide the destructive force needed.
Riker asked, “If we could get further away, increase the deflector’s range?”
Shelby thought for a moment, then nodded. “It could work,” she said. “In the meantime, we should retune all phasers – including the hand units – to the same frequency.”
Riker nodded. “Proceed,” he said. “I’ll inform the captain.”
Shelby stepped forwards. “There’s one other recommendation I’d like to make, Commander.” Riker looked at her. “Separate the saucer section. Assign a skeleton crew to create a diversion.”
Riker shook his head. “We may need the power from the saucer’s impulse engine.” He saw Geordi nod. If the deflector weapon was going to work, they’d need every scrap of energy they could get.
Shelby pressed her point. “But if we give them more than one target to worry about…”
Riker fixed her with a solid stare. “No,” he said. “It’s too great a risk.”
But Shelby refused to back down. “I’d like the captain to make that determination, sir.” Her eyes were narrowed.
Riker refused to let her anger him. “I bring all the alternatives to the captain’s attention,” he said. He looked around at all of them. “That’ll be all.”
The team filed out of the observation lounge, but Geordi hung back for a moment. Stopping beside Riker, he said, “I’ll need to install higher capacity power transfers to the deflector dish, Commander.”
La Forge thought for a moment. “Better part of a day.”
Riker nodded, then noticed the way Geordi was looking at him. He realised that La Forge, courtesy of his visor, could see how his body changed when Shelby confronted him, how he bristled. Riker smiled. “She does get up a full head of steam, doesn’t she?”
“Yes sir,” said La Forge. “She’s a… formidable presence to say the least, but I’m convinced she can help us here, Commander.”
“I am too, Geordi,” Riker said. He patted La Forge on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. I can handle Shelby.”
After La Forge left, Riker went over the damage and repair reports. He couldn’t recall any situation where the Enterprise had suffered so much damage in so short a time. However, the crew was working well. The hull breach in Engineering had been sealed, and the damage was repaired. The aft torpedo launcher was back online, and phasers were back at full capacity. He permitted himself a smile. It was a good crew.
He deactivated the padd, then stood. He was sure Picard would be pleased. Most of the damage repaired, and a plan for a weapon that could inflict a huge amount of damage to the Borg. He walked out, heading across the bridge to the door to the ready room. Picard called him in when he pressed the chime, and Riker entered.
Shelby was already there.
“Come in, Number One,” Picard said amiably. “Commander Shelby was just telling me of your… concerns about her plan.”
Riker stepped forwards. “I’m sorry she troubled you,” he said tightly. “I already informed her…”
“Yes, I entirely agree with you, Number One,” said Picard, cutting him off. “It’s not the time. But,” his expression became softer, “the time may come when we will be required to take greater risks. I’d like you to consider her plan as a… fall-back position, make the necessary preparations.”
Riker nodded tersely. “Very good, sir.”
Shelby stood, walked past Riker and out onto the bridge. Riker turned and followed her as she walked to the turbolift to the battle bridge and stepped inside.
As soon as it started moving, Riker said, “Halt.” His voice was quiet, but the anger in it was unmistakable. He looked at her, his eyes narrow and cold. “You and I need to talk, Commander.”
Shelby turned to face him, defiant. “You never order ordered me not to discuss this with the captain.”
“You disagree with me, fine,” Riker growled. “You want to take it to the captain, fine. Through me. You do an end run around me again, I’ll snap you back so hard you’ll think you’re a first year cadet again.”
Shelby meet his eyes, still impudent. “May I speak frankly?” Her tone left no doubt that she was going to speak her mind, no matter what Riker said.
Riker smiled with poisonous sweetness. “By all means.”
“You’re in my way.”
“Really?” Riker asked. He loaded his voice with dripping sarcasm. Damn, there was something about her that just seemed to bring out the worst in Riker, provoked such anger in him. “How terrible for you.”
Shelby continued, almost as if she delighted in provoking him. “All you know how to do is play it safe. I guess that’s why someone like you sits in the shadow of a great man for as long as you have, passing up one command after another.” She turned away from him. “Proceed,” she said to the com, and the lift resumed its journey.
Riker didn’t turn away. “When it comes to this ship and this crew,” he said quietly, dangerously, “you’re damned right I’ll play it safe.”
And then Shelby smiled insubordinately. “If you can’t make the big decisions,” she said, “I suggest you make room for someone who can.”
The door opened onto the battle bridge, and Shelby stepped out, leaving Riker in the lift fuming.
Last edited by Tiberius
on Sun May 27, 2012 3:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.