Skhalver 3 was a planet hidden away near the Klingon Empire in the Beta Quadrant. It was only recently discovered by pure chance when a Federation ship became stranded in its vicinity. A team of newly graduated officers have been sent to the planet to observe Skhalver’s pre-warp civilisation in secret.
‘Oh look there’s Penny and her mother’ Ensign Amara gasped.
‘You’re giving them names now?’ Timothy scoffed.
‘It’s important in xenobiological studies to identify the individuals, Tim!’
‘Yeah, or maybe you just think Penny is cute.’
‘Well, yes, she does happen to be very sweet. We have yet to determine how long they live for but I would say she’s the equivalent of three years old, supposing they live as long as Betazoids.’ Then she quickly added ‘or, you know, humans.’ Having spent almost all her life on Betazed, Amara was still not used to including more than one species in her conversations, which Tim had observed had led to some awkward moments back at the academy.
The Skhalverans were a charming race, they were bipedal and intelligent and resembled terrestrial deer. They evoked imagery of woodland spirits found in the ancient folklore of various worlds. Though they seemed beautiful and peaceful, it was uncertain how they would respond to outsiders. Not that the crew could ever make contact due to the Prime Directive.
‘Alright’ Timothy stood up. ‘There shouldn’t be any lag between the controls and the drone now. Give it a test.’
Amara did so and seemed satisfied, ‘thanks Timothy, you’re brilliant.’
‘Just doing my job.’
Timothy was about to make his way back to his station when another ensign called to him, ‘Blake, if you’re free, could you have a look at my tricorder, please?’
‘No, this is the medical tricorder this time’.
The observation team was small, as was typical for away missions for new graduates, so Timothy was the only engineer on the crew. The advantage of these smaller groups was that it forced the ensigns to take on larger responsibilities instead of expecting someone else to pick up their slack. Timothy liked being productive, it was sitting around doing nothing that he hated. That’s why he gravitated towards engineering, there was always something to be done even if it was just maintenance and repairs. It’s an interest he had held for most of his life, the few times Geordi showed him through the Jefferies tubes as a child had seemed so adventurous, there was a whole hidden world within the Enterprise. And as he took apart various toys, devices and machines, he realised everything held secrets for him to discover, things to take apart and put back together again.
The disadvantage of a smaller crew was that it was easy to neglect some of one’s duties. Timothy was focused on taking apart the medical tricorder when a proximity alarm sounded from the computer at his station. He dropped what he was doing and raced over.
Timothy looked at the readout and frowned, he looked up and realised all eyes were on him, he turned to his superior officer, ‘Lieutenant Takayama, are there any ships expected to be in this area at this time?’
‘No, Ensign Blake, what have you found?’ The lieutenant left her station to observe Tim’s monitor.
‘Unable to get a clear reading, whatever it is, on its current trajectory there is a 70% chance of contact.’
‘You mean collision?’
‘No, sir, I don’t believe it to be space debris, it’s moving too fast for that. Hold on, the scanners have determined the form...Sir, it is a cube. An enormous cube.’
Tim turned in time to watch the colour drain from Takayama’s face.
Regaining her composure she hit her communication badge.
‘Takayama to Enterprise.’
‘Takayama to Enterprise, do you read me?’
‘Blake, what’s happening with the signal?’
Tim turned back to the monitor, ‘nothing seems to be able to escape beyond the...cube, sir.’
He knew perfectly well what this unidentified object was, but putting it into words felt forbidden, as if it would summon them like some kind of urban legend.
‘Is there something wrong, Lieutenant?’ Amara was nearest to their station, a hint of worry at the edge of her voice.
‘Everything is fine, Ensign. Just a communications glitch.’ Takayama tried to reassure the new recruit.
‘No, the object, the cube. It’s the Borg isn’t it?’ Panic visibly swept through the outpost.
‘Ensign, I would ask you not to jump to conclusions and spread misinformation or you will be reprimanded. All we know right now is that there is some object likely heading towards Skhalver, our sensors and communications are disrupted. We can’t make any judgments with what we have just yet.’
‘But, sir, what do we do if it is the Borg?’ Amara’s eyes had become glassy.
‘Then we will handle it as Starfleet has always handled it.’
An eerie silence fell over the observation centre, all eyes out towards the sky, Tim paid no notice. ‘We will have visual in 3...2...1…’
There above them was at first a ghostly white shape, looking like some strange moon visible during the daytime. It continued its impossibly smooth, soundless descent as it penetrated the atmosphere and came to a stop mere kilometres above the capital city of Skhalver.
The away team looked to their Lieutenant and she looked back at them, they were all children, all newly graduated cadets. They didn’t deserve this fate.
‘I don’t need to tell you that we are vastly outnumbered and outmatched. We can do nothing for the Skhalveran people. But I intend to get us all back to the Enterprise alive. They will be returning in eight hours, all we have to do is remain hidden here and wait. Blake, can we hide our signatures from their detection?’
‘Not with the current setup we have, but I think maybe if I…’ He looked around at the equipment at his disposal. ‘Yes, I can create a blindspot, it shouldn’t take too long.’
‘Excellent, Ensign, we are at your disposal.’
Within an hour the crew had assembled the shield generator, but it didn’t seem to be working, they couldn’t turn it on.
‘Blake, any ideas?’ Takayama’s voice was tense.
Tim’s expression fell, ‘yes, I was afraid of this. But I can fix it.’
And with that he walked straight towards the exit.
‘Ensign, where do you think you’re going?’ His superior officer called after him.
‘It won’t work unless I activate it from outside the blindspot.’
‘But--’ Takayama didn’t know how to argue.
‘It will only be for a moment, and then we will be safe. What else can we do?’
Takayama relented. ‘Go. Be quick.’
‘I know it’s hard, but try not to miss me too much while I’m gone,’ he said with a grin as the door slid closed.
The crew watched Timothy from the safety of the duckblind, no one said a word, each second seemed like an eternity. And then Amara screamed ‘TIM, RUN!’ But she knew the observation deck was entirely soundproof.
It seemed as if Timothy had realised he wasn’t alone anyway, he turned and gazed up at the sand dune as two figures descended towards him. They were the Borg, standing in stark contrast, black against the pale pink sand. And yet these Borg were unlike any witnessed by the Federation before. They were still pale of skin and clad in dark augmentations, but they seemed so much more advanced, sleek, intricate, even beautiful.
Timothy appeared frozen on the spot.
‘You will be assimilated.’ the two cyborgs spoke in unison.
Tim cried out in horror and tried to run.
‘Resistance is futile’ the Borg were indifferent to his reaction. They hit him with a beam weapon which instantly paralysed him, then they were all beamed aboard the alien craft together.
‘We should have done something!’ Marek the Andorian raged, kicking a box out of his way, ‘he was right there!’
‘Yes, and all that would have accomplished was making more casualties, Ensign.’ the Lieutenant said sternly. ‘Look out there, look at what the Borg are doing to this entire civilisation. What do you expect we can do about it?’
Marek cooled off a bit, ‘but he was one of us’, he said under his breath.
‘I know, and while I didn’t get much time to know Timothy, he seemed like a fine officer and-’
‘You talk as if he’s dead already’, Amara interjected.
Takayama’s expression darkened, ‘where he’s going there is no return. I’m so sorry.’
They could do nothing but remain hidden, waiting and watching the Skhalveran’s devastating first contact with an alien race. Some crew members couldn’t watch, while others could not look away. At the very least they could spare themselves the sound of screams by simply turning off the external microphones. No one seemed to know what to do with themselves, most just sat there. But when Amara lifted her gaze, she noticed the crew member next to her typing away on her data padd.
‘What are you doing?’ she croaked.
‘Writing a message to my parents. I know I can’t send it, but maybe they will find it here.’
‘No, the Enterprise will come. Don’t think like that.’
‘You should write one too, just in case.’
Amara seemed to deflate, she picked up her own data padd and began typing away, it was only now that she started to cry. The image of Captain Picard handing the data padd over to her grieving mother, it crushed her.
By the time the Enterprise was in orbit, the Borg had long since left without ever detecting the duckblind. The away team looked visibly shaken when they were beamed into the transporter room, and Data wore a similarly worried expression as he stood beside O’Brian, desperate to confirm that his son was okay. But when Takayama beamed aboard last, she confirmed his fears.
‘Your son was very brave, he sacrificed himself to save us all.’
It seemed to take Data longer than usual to process this information, there was nothing wrong with his positronics, he had heard what the Lieutenant had said and translated that audio into information in a fraction of a second. But he could execute no response for a few moments, and even then all he could muster was a single quiet ‘no’.
Gaining some control of himself once more, Data raced to the bridge and wasted no time relieving the officer manning his station. He began desperately scanning the area for any faint trace of the ion trail left by the Borg.
‘Commander, care to inform me of what you’re doing?’ Picard’s voice resonated behind him.
‘They’ve taken Timothy’ was all Data said, not looking away from the monitor.
‘There, hah, got you!’ Data cried. ‘We can be there in three hours at warp 9.’
‘Data!’ Picard shouted.
At this the android jumped and turned to see the captain out of his chair and adjusting his jacket. ‘Observation lounge. Now.’
The senior crewmembers quickly assembled, Riker, Troi, Geordi, Crusher, Data, and Picard at the head of the conference table.
‘We’re wasting time!’ Data pleaded.
‘Commander, I understand how difficult this must be for you. It would be trying even for a parent who has had emotions his entire life. But you are an officer of Starfleet and I expect you to behave like one.’ Picard’s tone was equal parts sympathetic and stern.
Data hung his head.
‘Now, I agree that time is of the essence, but we must be strategic in our approach, there is no sense jeopardising any more lives.’
‘There may still be time before he is assimilated’ Crusher offered.
‘Hmm, yes, especially having taken so many people at once’ Picard was always disturbed at how easily the knowledge acquired during his time as Locutus returned to him. He knew exactly how they thought, how they operated. His sympathies were truly with Timothy, the boy had already suffered more trauma in two decades than most do in a lifetime. He knew that one did not simply escape the Borg, they haunted you, got inside you, down to your core, perhaps forever.
‘And the process of assimilation is reversible’, Crusher continued.
‘Yes, but let us hope it doesn’t come to that’
At that moment, Lieutenant Takayama entered the room ‘you wanted to see me, sir?’
‘Yes, lieutenant, take a seat.’ Picard gestured to the end of the table. ‘Would you be able to explain just what exactly happened on Skhalver?’
The lieutenant recounted the events that had transpired that day as efficiently but in as much detail as she could recall.
‘What was he doing outside of the duckblind?’ Geordi asked once Takayama had concluded her story.
‘He said the shield couldn’t be activated from within the perimeter of the conduits.’
La Forge nodded but said nothing.
‘Something amiss, La Forge?’ Picard asked.
‘No, sir, just checking. He did what he could with what he had available to work with.’
‘You said these Borg were killing people who resisted?’ Data finally looked up from the table.
Picard quickly picked up on Data’s thread, ‘Data, Lore was dismantled. And besides, this was a standard Borg cube.’
‘I know, sir, but something about this isn’t right. The odds of Timothy encountering the Borg are extremely remote. It may be a coincidence, but...call it intuition, something about this seems targeted.’
‘Data’ Riker spoke up ‘it’s not that I don’t believe you, but that’s not an uncommon feeling to have in a situation like this.’
A flicker of frustration crossed Data’s face, ‘regardless, I believe it is worth contacting the Starfleet Archives to see if Lore is still there. We stand to lose nothing by doing so.’
‘Very well, make it so,’ Picard agreed. ‘In the meantime, hail all Federation ships in the area. If we are to approach the Borg, we will need as much support as possible.’
Once the meeting had adjourned, Data and Geordi entered the turbolift together and headed back to Engineering.
As soon as the doors were closed Geordi said ‘there was absolutely no reason for Timothy to have been outside the perimeter, you do know that, right?’
‘Yes, I am aware,’ Data said quietly, staring ahead at the door.
‘So he did it on purpose? Why? If anything he risked drawing attention to the rest of the away team.’
‘I do not know.’
Geordi didn’t buy that for a second, ‘you used to have the perfect poker face. Now, not so much.’
The turbolift doors opened, there were too many people around, so Geordi pulled Data into his office.
‘Be honest with me, I’m right aren’t I? Something is up. ’
Data looked away and didn’t respond, so Geordi continued. ‘He wanted to be taken by the Borg. That’s the only explanation that makes sense to me. Why else would anyone do that?’
‘No. He could not be that desperate. He would not throw his entire life and identity away like that.’
‘Suppose Lore is active. What if he is involved? Do you think Lore could convince Timothy to assimilate?’
‘My brother would want revenge against me, and I cannot think of anything that could hurt me more than this.’
‘But we’re jumping to conclusions. What we need right now is more information, we need to know if anything suspicious happened leading up to this incident.’
‘Well, there seemed to be some conflict between Timothy and T’ara recently.’
‘His girlfriend? Okay, good start, let’s go.’