Author's Note: This story is dedicated to the memory fellow writer and friend, Susan Carhart, known on Fan Fiction Net as Arsinoe de Blassenvfille. Susan died on April 25, 2016 and will be missed by all who knew her and her writing.
=/\= =/\= =/\=
Marika Wilkarah sighed quietly as she stepped from the regeneration alcove aboard Voyager. She was alone in Cargo Bay 2, as Seven of Nine had left for her duty shift some time ago.
She'd been aboard Voyager for nearly two weeks now, the ship having the left the Markonian Outpost Space Station the week before.
The former drone had spent much of the time so far aboard Voyager simply observing the familiar ship routines, little different from her previous life aboard Excalibur. The mundane activities of ship life had been comforting to her, and she'd even been allowed to assist in some minor tasks aboard the ship.
Marika had also made liberal use of the holodeck, using a favorite program of the Bajoran crew members, which included a Bajoran village, complete with a temple and holographic vedeks. She'd joined two of Voyager's Bajoran crewmembers in the program each night for prayers, which had proven to be another source of comfort, which had become increasingly necessary as the days past and she began having doubts about the decision that Seven of Nine and the Doctor had made for her.
In addition to wandering the ship by day and attending services at the holographic temple in the evenings, she'd spent the time just before regenerating writing farewell letters, to her husband and family on Bajor, not knowing when or even if the letters would ever reach their intended recipients. Both Seven of Nine and Captain Janeway had assured her that the letters would be saved and delivered as soon as Voyager was able to return to the Alpha Quadrant, though Marika was doubtful that her husband and, especially her parents, would still be alive when that day came, if it came.
Today, she would complete the formal statement for Captain Janeway, as part of her de-briefing about her assimilation aboard Excalibur and her eight years living as a Borg drone. She knew that along with information Seven of Nine had been able to provide, it would add to the Federation's understanding of the Borg and, in particular, enhance Voyager's ability to deal with them in future encounters. As an Auxiliary Processor, her duties in their Unimatrix had differed from Seven of Nine's as a Tertiary Adjunct, so she'd be able to add details that differed from those of Seven's recollections. She had been working on the statement for several days, as she recalled more details to add to the report.
Marika worked on the report in Cargo Bay 2, intending to go next to the Mess Hall shortly for breakfast. After eating, she would visit the Bajoran holodeck program alone, wanting to seek advice from the vedek about her growing unease. It did not bother her that the vedek was only a hologram, as the other Bajoran had assured her that he'd been programmed with all the currently received wisdom from the Prophets, so she knew he'd be able to help her just as much with her spiritual concerns as the Doctor could help with her medical needs.
As she finished up with the report and was getting ready to leave, the doors to Cargo Bay 2 hissed open to admit Seven of Nine.
"Is that the report for the captain?" Seven asked, indicating the data pad still in Marika's hand.
"Yes, I just finished with it."
"May I read it?"
"Of course," the other ex-drone said, handing over the pad. Moving to leave, she added, "Please excuse me, but I need to have breakfast now and I have other things to do after that."
"Understood," Seven replied. "Perhaps we can talk about your report later if I have any questions."
"That would be acceptable."
=/\= =/\= =/\=
After finishing breakfast, served personally by Neelix, Marika headed directly to the holodeck.
As she entered the temple, the vedek was in the doorway to greet her, as if he'd anticipated her arrival.
"Welcome, Marika Wilkarah," Vedek Kalani said. Grasping her ear, he observed, "Your pagh is troubled."
"Yes, that's why I came to see you earlier than normal today," she told him. "I was hoping to speak to you privately without the others here."
"We are alone," he assured her, leading her inside, where they seated themselves near a bank of candles. "Now, how may I help you."
"I was assimilated by the Borg, when I was serving about the Federation ship, Excalibur, and I spent eight years as a Borg drone," she began. "During my time as a drone there was an accident when the sphere I was traveling on crashed landed on a planet and my link to the Collective was severed, along with those of the other three survivors of the crash."
The vedek did not comment, other than to encourage her to continue with her story.
"We set up a beacon, so that our cube would come to rescue us," she went on. "But all of us began recalling memories of our past lives before assimilation as time went by. All but one of us wanted to evade being re-assimilated, so we destroyed the beacon and went to hide so we'd not be easily found when the cube arrived to get us."
Sighing loudly, she continued, "But one of us, who'd been a small child when assimilated and had no real life to return to, chased us down and injected us with more nanoprobes in order to quash our re-emerging individual identities, so we'd comply with re-assimilation."
"I see," the Vedek said. "That must have been traumatic for you."
"It wasn't traumatic at the time, and we adapted satisfactorily to being re-assimilated," she told him. "But, just a few months ago, two of the survivors and I were severed from the Collective again, this time permanently. This time, however, we discovered that our three minds were still linked together, though no longer with that of the larger Collective."
She paused again, as memories began to wash over her. Taking a deep breath, she took up her story again. "We went to a planet where most of our implants were removed. But they didn't do a very good job of it and, most importantly, they weren't able to sever our tri-way link. They weren't able to explain why we had this continuing link, as Borg who are permanently severed from the Collective normally resume having a single, individual mind. And all three of us, at the time, had the same gap in our memory, from the time we ran to hide in the woods to when we woke up on the cube, fully re-assimilated. We believed the key to our problem would be found in discovering what had happened in that time gap, which we later found to have been when the fourth survivor had injected us with the nanoprobes."
The vedek patted her hand, encouraging, as well as comforting her, but did not otherwise speak.
"We finally traced the fourth survivor of the crash, whom we learned had also been permanently severed from the Collective and was now living aboard Voyager," she explained. "We were able to come aboard Voyager when the ship put in at a space station. To make a long story short, Seven of Nine, the fourth survivor, who had the same memory gap, agreed to enter into a temporary link with us using Voyager's regeneration alcoves, with the assistance of the ship's doctor, to attempt to retrieve the memory."
Sighing again, she said, "The memory retrieval was successful, but so traumatic to the three of us that our minds overloaded and we lost consciousness. We were taken to sickbay, where the doctor determined that if we were awakened, our only chance of a normal lifespan, was to return to the Borg and be re-assimilated. If we were awakened, and left as we were, individuality still intact, we'd live for only another month or so. The Doctor and Seven of Nine decided that we would rather live only a month as individuals, rather than a lifetime as a drone; that mere survival was insufficient."
Looking intently into the Vedek's eyes, she concluded, "When I was first awakened, I agreed with their decision but, as the days have passed, I've become more uncomfortable with the decision that was made for me. I think it was a mistake to recover that memory and that the three of us would have adapted to being our own small collective. It wasn't what we'd expected when we left the Collective for the last time, but we all got along well together and, if we'd given it a chance, we could have made a satisfactory married trio."
After a long pause, she added, "And I'm not ready to return to the Prophets yet. I have realized that I've not accepted my impending death. I've increasingly come to believe that I'd rather return to the Borg where, at least, I could live with the chance of one day maybe being de-assimilated again, this time properly."
"Ah, I understand your dilemma now," the Vedek said, "It is like the old proverb states, 'Where there is life, there is hope'."
"Yes, exactly," Marika affirmed.
"I wouldn't make any snap decisions if I were you," he told her. "Seek the Prophets' wisdom. They won't steer you wrong."
"Yes, that's what I've been doing each night when attending services here," she affirmed. "And I find I'm being led to return to the Borg."
"It may be what the Prophets will for you," he said carefully.
"I will also consult with the Doctor to see if I will even be completely restored once being re-assimilated; if it will be possible for me to be normally de-assimilated again at some point in the future," she told him. "If that would not be possible, then the decision has already been made for me and there would be no point in returning to the Collective."
"That would be wise."
"And I'll eventually have to talk with Seven of Nine and Captain Janeway, if the Doctor tells me that future successful de-assimilation would be possible. I hope they will not refuse to assist me when that time comes."
"Seek the Prophets," he reiterated. "They will guide you."
=/\= =/\= =/\=
After leaving the holodeck, Marika headed directly to sickbay where, fortunately, she found the Doctor alone.
"How can I help you?" the EMH said when he saw her. "Are you having any discomfort?"
"No, not for the moment, at least," she replied. "I just need to ask you a few questions."
Indicating a chair in his office, he said, "Please, have a seat."
"To get right to the point, in the time I've been aboard Voyager, I've come to realize that I don't want to die," she began, after she'd seated herself and had his full attention. "I now wish to be returned to the Borg, as I believe that while I survive, there is always a chance that another solution would be devised in the future, should I be able to leave the Collective again."
"I...see," the Doctor said, frowning. "It was my original recommendation that the three of you be returned to the Borg, but Seven of Nina convinced me that mere survival wasn't sufficient."
"I don't blame you or Seven of Nine," she assured him. "At first, when you revived me, I believed that, too." Taking a deep breath, she continued, "But what I need to know from you now is whether being re-assimilated would completely repair the damage I've sustained, thus making me eligible for a normal de-assimilation, if I should be severed from the Collective again at some future date?"
"I believe so," the Doctor affirmed. "Borg technology would complete re-write your synaptic functions, erasing the damage you suffered. You would be as good as new. But you'd have to stay with the Borg for at least a year before you'd be completely renewed and ready to try de-assimilation again."
"That's all I needed to know to make my decision," she told him. "Now, I have to inform Seven of Nine and the Captain, whom I think will oppose my decision. But, in the end, it's my life and my decision. I consulted with the vedek on the holodeck, and he sees no conflict with my faith and this decision."
"I will speak for you, if it becomes necessary," he promised.
"I appreciate that," she said, rising to leave. "i don't have a lot of time to plan this, so I'd best go speak to them right away."
"Oh, just one moment," the Doctor said. "I think I might be able to slightly adjust your DNA in such a manner that would allow you to compartmentalize your brain in such a fashion that you could reserve a part of your brain for your own private thoughts to retain your individuality, while most of your brain would be in the hive mind, as is typical of other drones. The private part should be undetectable to the Queen, as she'd still be able to read your other thoughts."
"I'd appreciate that," she said.
"I'll work on it when you're talking to Seven and the captain," he said, "I should have it ready by the time you're ready to leave."
=/\= =/\= =/\=
Marika found Seven of Nine working alone in Astrometrics.
"We need to talk," Marika said as soon as the doors had hissed closed behind her.
"What is it that you require?" Seven of Nine asked, continuing to do her work as she listened to the other ex-drone.
"I have changed my mind," she began. "I do not wish to die and, for now, I believe that survival is indeed sufficient."
"At first, I agreed with the choice that you and the Doctor made for us," she said. "But as time went by, I became more dissatisfied with this choice. I see it now as giving up."
"If I return to the Borg, then there is the chance that I could separate again from the Collective at some point in the future, and would be able to de-assimilate normally," she explained. "The Doctor has assured me that as long as I remain with the Collective for at least a year, that I will be completely renewed, and all the damage will be repaired. He's also working on altering my DNA, so that I can retain a small portion of my brain for private thoughts, so I can more easily take advantage of opportunities to leave the Collective at some later date."
"I briefly rejoined the Collective not too long ago," Seven told her. "It was not the same for me as before. I no longer had the stomach for assimilating people; I did not adapt well."
"Yes, I recall," Marika told her. "We were still part of the Collective at that time. But you were not totally re-assimilated; you were not returned to being a drone. The Queen allowed you to retain your individuality. I would certainly become a drone again, thus would more easily adapt."
"That is so, but I still believe that you would not sufficiently adapt, especially if the Doctor's plan to alter your DNA is successful."
"Perhaps so, but it's a chance I'm willing to take, she stated firmly. "You must remember that I was an Auxiliary Processor," she reminded the other woman. "I rarely was assigned to assimilation duty, but most often remained aboard the cube to maintaining our databases."
"That is so," Seven of Nine conceded. "But I still think it's inadvisable."
"It's my choice," Marika reminded her. "And a chance to leave the Collective some time in the future, however small, is better than dying now."
"You must tell the captain," Seven told her. "I will accompany you."
A short time later, after the two ex-drones had entered Kathryn Janeway's ready room and Marika had told her story, the captain was silent for a long moment as she considered the matter.
Finally, she said, "My gut instinct agrees with Seven that this is a bad idea. But the genetic modifications the Doctor has proposed does give you a bit of a greater chance to carry your plan off at some point in time, so I won't stand in your way. It's your life and your decision to make."
"Thank you, Captain," Marika said quietly. "At first I wanted my individuality back so badly that I was willing to do anything to get it back. But I've discovered that having isn't always what one expects when simply wanting."
"I will look for the nearest transwarp conduit, which would be the best place to wait for a cube to retrieve her," Seven told the captain.
"Make it so," Janeway said briskly. "Have one of the Equinox's shuttles prepared as well."
Turning to Marika, she said, "I wish you luck and hope we will meet again some day."
"As do I."
=/\= =/\= =/\=
Two days later, Marika Wilkarah left Voyager in the shuttle, at peace with the decision she'd made.
It didn't take long for a Borg cube to appear after she'd taken up a position near a transwarp conduit and sent a distress call.
As the cube emerged from the conduit, she immediately opened a channel to it.
"This is Three of Nine, Auxiliary Processor of Unimatrix 01. I am requesting re-assimilation into the Collective."
As the Borg tractor beam took hold of the shuttle, she took a deep breath and relaxed as much as she was able. She was ready for whatever the future would bring.