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The Queen of Air and Darkness

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1. On the cold hill's side

Deanna Troi dreamed. The events of the previous day unrolling:

Captain, I do not wish to file a formal protest against your decision to violate our orders. I only want to ask: how much of this course of action is because you truly feel this is the right thing to do, and how much of it is because you are consumed with rage against the Borg?

Counselor, your concerns are noted. You are dismissed.

And then she seemed to be on a high mountain, sitting on a rock overlooking a vast plain where an army of ants labored on unknowable missions, intricately drawn lines in shifting shapes. She gradually became aware of a presence beside her: a woman, humanoid and synthetic, wires and skin.

The woman said, gesturing at the tiny specks below, "Are they not beautiful? Is the complexity of this life not wonderful?"

"You have drawn me here," Deanna said slowly, beginning to realize the dream was not now quite a dream. "For what purpose? Who are you?"

"I am the beginning. The end. I am the one who is many. I am the Borg."

A Borg, but not like the ones Deanna had known, not like Picard-who-was-Locutus, with the frightening blankness she had received from him. From this entity Deanna was receiving all kinds of impressions she did not understand: (emotion), (power), (authority). A Queen, Deanna thought. A Borg Queen.

"You may call me that, if you wish," the Queen said. She sounded amused. "I am not a Queen in the way you think of these things -- ants? bees? -- but that will do."

Starlight soft on her metal skin as she soars through space, coolant thrumming through her veins. She is the ship. She is the Queen. She is Borg. They are Borg. They are the ship. They are the Queen.

Deanna frowned. "Why are you here? What do you want?"

"I want you. Deanna Troi."

Deanna said flatly, "No. I reject you."

The Queen rose, circled her. "Do you? And yet we are not so different, you and I. Let me show you --"

The dancers weave through each other. Perfectly choreographed, perfectly synchronized: no center to the dance; each dancer linked to the one in front, the one behind; all moving in graceful perfection, in complex hierarchical patterns, circles within circles within spirals. Their feet drum together in a hypnotic beat. The Queen is in the dance, a nexus of dancers whirling around her; but is not the center of the dance, does not control the dance; is part of the dance, is dictated by the dance, is the dance. The dance, the dance is all.

Deanna found that in the hypnotic beat of the dancing (only an image, it isn't real, it isn't real) she had without realizing it risen and taken a step towards the Queen. The Queen raised her hand and pressed it to Deanna's cheek. Deanna trembled at her touch.

Red alert: all hands to stations: Tactical. Navigation. Engineering. Each one part of the greater whole, each one part of the entity that is the ship, defending the ship. (Each ship: part of a greater whole, a greater strategy, thrusting here, feinting there.) Each person thinking not of herself, of himself, but of the greater mission: not the individual, but the whole. All welded together into a greater purpose, all part of something greater than themselves --

"It's not like that at all!" Deanna protested, stepping back from the Queen, breaking their contact.

The Queen smiled. "Isn't it? When are you most alive?" she inquired. "Is it not in these times when you have subsumed yourself to the whole? When you and the whole are the same entity? This is what we offer, Deanna. Life."

Deanna shook her head. "I am still an individual. Individuality is important."

"Individuality," the Queen said, tasting the word. "Ah, Deanna, what has individuality ever brought you but pain and heartbreak? To know that you are separate from the ones you love? That they will never, ever understand you? That you will never understand them? That they love an image of you, not you as you really are? If only you knew what we know." The Queen leaned forward and kissed her. And Troi was engulfed:

The Queen picked through Locutus' memories: bent, investigated, drew near to observe these more closely, flung those away. [The pressure of many minds behind. The imperative to find, to assimilate, to enclose.] Dr. Crusher, just coming off of night shift: oh! beautiful, her occasional ascerbic note. [The collective hunger: humans, their drive to succeed, to conquer, ah!] An Andorian, a guest on the Enterprise, stirring in sleep; passed over, fit only for technological assimilation. [The hive mind turns away. Andorian passiveness, caution. Unexciting, discarded.] Finding Deanna Troi - ! [!] --

Deanna Troi is beautiful. [Ah! the beauty of Humans! Ah! the loveliness of Betazoids!] Her body is arousing: the flash of her eyes, the line of her neck, the curve of her breasts. [Desired, desired: biological distinctiveness-ability-to-crossbreed.] Her mind is alluring, the way it can hold on to another mind, the way it can draw out emotions and analyze them. [Seductive: adding to the telepathic capability of the collective.]

The Queen deepened the kiss, sliding her hand through Deanna's hair, making a sound low in her throat, drawing Deanna in.

And listen, Deanna: we see your frustrations with your mother. Your ways of fighting against her control. Your ways of contradicting those you love when you feel you must. Your sense of honor. Your sense of responsibility. Your sense of guilt. We see how you adapt. How you fight. How you complain. How you are enraged. How you generate ideas. How you persist. We see all this, both that of which you are proud and that of which you are ashamed, all from which another Human or Betazoid might draw back. The selfishness you try to keep hidden from your lovers. The snarling secret protectiveness you feel when someone encroaches on your territory. This too is your distinctiveness, and is beautiful, desirable, yearned for [wanting wanting human aggressiveness Betazoid unflinchingness human adaptability Betazoid telepathy human Betazoid selfishness], hungered [hungered] for --

"No," Deanna gasped, breaking away. "I will not be part of you. I will not turn against my people."

(Your people? the Queen thinks at her. A pale shadow of how you would be part of us.)

Deanna let out a breath, turned away. "Yes," she said, low, "cherished you then the hope I would forget my life, my very self? Renounce, for this, the memory of my duty, my friends, my family? That I would betray them, help you assimilate them?"

The Queen studied her. Finally she laughed. Her laugh was silver and sweet and cut Deanna to the bone. "We could have given you so much more," the Queen murmured. "Go, then, back to your friends and family, who can never totally understand you, who will never know nor accept who you really are. Go back to your lonely little existence, with all the fears and insecurities and heartbreak that come with being an individual. We offered you life, Deanna. Is it your fidelity that holds you back, or your fear to take what we offer?"

And Deanna awoke, sobbing as if her heart were broken.

2. Ma semblable, ma soeur!

Deanna Troi walks through the Enterprise. Occasionally people accost her, ask her questions, impinge on her with their emotions ((fear) (anticipation) (excitement)). She makes all the right responses, but her mind is elsewhere.

There is, at the best of times, a fundamental asymmetry between Troi and the rest of the crew. (Sorrow), she feels, and (apathy), and (joy), from the others. She knows, at least to a degree, what it is to be each member of the crew. But although her friends can, sometimes, read her body language and voice, they cannot experience what she knows, cannot share what she feels, except indirectly.

This is not usually a burden. She has friends, people she loves. She talks to them frequently. The life aboard a starship is such that many experiences are shared, and through her own abilities she draws comfort from her friends' support. ("Who needs rational when your toes curl up?" she remembers Beverly saying. (Frenzied attraction)(need)(yes), she remembers Beverly thinking, echoing her own feelings.) And that is enough.

But now the dream of the Queen stays with her. And present always, so that she cannot escape it, is the knowledge of how much she wants what has been offered, even now. Even now, although it is not quite as strong as in her dream, so much of her wants to take a shuttlecraft to go, go, go, to be one with the Queen, the starlight, the joy and the terror. How easy it would be, in a moment of weakness, a moment of isolation, to give in to this hunger.

She will not. She knows that. And yet the pressure remains in her head, until she thinks it will find a vent in some odd and idiosyncratic way: shouting at a superior officer, perhaps, or getting drunk on duty, something she would never do in the normal course of events.

Who can counsel her? Beverly, or Will, would be kind, would listen, but in the end would be alarmed or disturbed by the alien yearning that flares within her. Jean-Luc, who fought the Borg every minute he was Locutus, would fathom it not at all. There is no one who can comprehend what the Queen has offered her, and by sharing, lessen the sharpness of the desire.

And then it comes to her: the one who will understand.

Troi does not like being around Guinan. She has nothing against Guinan herself (all right, there was that time when Ro Laren kept going to Guinan instead of to her, even though she was the official ship's counselor, not Guinan -- but no. That was a while ago, anyway. And not relevant. At all. No matter what the Queen said.) -- it is only that Guinan's stay in the Nexus has given her a pronounced and strange mental response: a doubling and tripling of the already-strong natural telepathic response of the El-Aurians, as if the thoughts of Guinan's mind have been placed between mirrors, reflecting forever, each reflection slightly different, slightly asynchronous. It gives Troi something of a headache.

As Troi nears Ten-Forward, the undercurrent in her head grows:

Troi walked into Ten Forward / Troi walks into Ten Forward / (Amata of Borg will walk into Ten Forward). (Guinan will look at her and shudder) -> Guinan looks at her and shudders -> Guinan looked at her and shuddered. Troi sank down at Guinan's feet, weeping / Troi opens her mouth to speak / (Amata of Borg will raise a laser cannon). (Guinan will cross her hands in a defensive sign, setting off an energy block) -> Guinan crosses her hands defensively and then lowers them -> Guinan started to cross her hands and instead extended them towards Troi at her feet.

Troi blinks, pinches her nose. The images waver, defocus, resolve into one image. She walks into Ten Forward. Guinan is already staring at her -- as if she had been aware of Troi before she walked in -- and shudders very slightly. But Troi can see. Troi opens her mouth to speak, as Guinan crosses her hands, as if to ward off a menace, and then lowers them.

Before Troi is able to say a word, Guinan says softly, "You have seen the Borg. You have seen the one they call a Queen." It is not a question.

Troi blows out her breath. "Yes." She hesitates, adjusting the way she senses Guinan, so that she is able to receive only a slightly defocused version of the dream-like, Listener gestalt of emotions and thoughts she would expect from a normal El-Aurian. Of course, Guinan's current emotions and thoughts are not particularly soothing:

(Listen: what has happened? (what has happened (what has happened)) O I alone have escaped to tell you! (Guinan's father: fond, desparing.) What, all my pretty chickens, and their dam, at one fell swoop? (Picard: reciting Human plays) Run (run (run)) to the ends of the universe, hide (hide (hide)))

Troi shakes her head, clearing it. "The Borg Queen... tried to tempt me into becoming Borg," she says. Aloud, it sounds silly.

"You are Deanna Troi, and not Amata of Borg," Guinan notes. "I must conclude she was not successful."

Troi nods, barely. "I want to ask you... How did a remnant of your people survive when you were assimilated?" Troi asks.

(I wish we (flee)), Troi reads, Guinan angry and afraid and worried, and hints of an emotion Troi cannot yet quite identify, under all the rest.

"Some of us were scattered in other parts of the galaxy at the time," Guinan answers. "That is how I escaped. As for others... they managed to find small shuttlecraft, stow away on other species' ships, run to other quadrants."

(Find a protector (find strength (find a Speaker to Listen to)) -- Humans will Speak: they will learn, adapt. That is their greatest advantage, I said to Q.)

Troi frowns. This does not answer her question, and Guinan knows it. Troi says slowly, "What most saved me from the Borg's seduction was my responsibility to -- my love of -- my friends, my crewmates, my family. And if they were gone, I don't know how I would have resisted. How did your people, scattered and alone, manage to hold out against the Borg Queen wanting you, your-- your biological diversity?"

Guinan grows very still, her face slack. Troi is astonished at last to recognize that the emotion Guinan is feeling, under the rage and fear and pain, is jealousy; and she knows finally that there will be no communion here. "They didn't want us," Guinan mutters.