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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Star Trek: I Am Hugh

I finally received word that I was not a finalist for the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds short story contest. And you know what? It doesn't matter that much to me. I loved digging in and exploring one of my favorite characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Yes, I love all forms of Star Trek. But TNG will always be my favorite.

So, without further ado, here is my 10,000 word short story. Also, I recognize this as my own creation. I'm not endorsing this as official Star Trek canon (but would love it if by some chance it was taken into the fold!). I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

PS - For other Trekkies/Trekkers out there, this story fills in the gaps between the episodes "I, Borg" and "Descent Part 1 & 2."


I AM HUGH
by Jesse Booth

We found you there, in the middle of that debris,” Geordi says as he points to the remnants of the ship I crashed in. The bodies of the four other drones who were with me during the collision lay mangled on the cold, snowy mountainside, grossly disfigured.
“Then that is where I will wait,” I reply. Geordi stays by my side as we walk to the wreckage. I am amazed that I had ever survived the crash; the damage to the ship is extensive.
We come to a stop and I look at the visor hiding Geordi’s eyes. The half ring allows him sight through implants embedded in his temples. Perhaps we are not all that different, Geordi and me.
“Well, I guess this is it, huh?” he says quietly. “So long, Hugh.”
There is sorrow in his voice. Sorrow, because we are friends.
“Goodbye, Geordi. I will try to remember you.”
He sighs and looks down, then slowly walks a few meters away. As he turns and looks at me again, two Borg drones materialize on a ridge above us. They scan Geordi, but detect no threat and make their way towards me.
They stand on either side of me, and I lift my right hand to allow for one of them to inject me back into the Collective.
As I close my eyes, I feel the familiar link awaken within my mind – thousands of voices, their thoughts a part of my own. I add my voice to theirs, the memories I have collected since being removed, but I do not lose control of my newly-found sense of identity. This subtle resistance does not appear to alert the Collective.
I help the drones collect parts from the deceased, and the Borg ship in the atmosphere of the moon dematerializes the remnants, transporting them up to the ship to be reabsorbed, their components to be reused by new drones.
            We make our way back up to the ridge and stand side-by-side, awaiting our own transportation back up to the ship. I feel the beginnings of dematerialization, and glance once more at my friend Geordi, letting him know that I am still more than just the designation Third of Five. I am Hugh.
***
The small, cube-shaped vessel I materialize into is nearly identical to the ship I had been on — the same that lies in ruins on the frozen moon I just left Geordi on. A Minor Hexahedron. There are three drones already residing in interlink nodes, and the two who brought me back enter and link up inside the other chambers spread out across the walls.
There is a minor difference to this ship, though. It has been modified and equipped with a sixth interlink node sitting directly in the middle of the deck, which slightly cramps the area. As I rest inside the node and interface with the link, I sense immediate confusion; the claustrophobic thought has captured the attention of the five other drones. They look at me, and I hear their voices mingling as one.
<Is a sixth interlink node problematic on this vessel?>
<No, it is nothing,> I assure them. <It was just an observational difference, not something to be alerted about.>
The other drones seem to process my comment slowly. Their confusion compounds as they analyze my thoughts. I try to change the subject.
<What is my new designation?> I ask.
Their melded voices fill my mind. <You’re designation as Third of Five has been terminated. A new designation will be assigned to you once we reach the nearest Mega Hexahedron.> They pause briefly as they analyze my recent memories. <You have already claimed another designation. An identification provided by Species 5618?>
<Hugh>. I stumble across the name as I think it. <I am Hugh.>
<We are Borg,> they say boldly.
<Yes, we are Borg,> I agree. <But I am Hugh.>
More analysis hits my mind. Just days ago I would have given anything to share my thoughts with the Collective once again. But this felt more like an interrogation. These thoughts and memories were mine. They should not be shared.
<This drone is malfunctioning,> the drones say. <Sensors indicate new components embedded in the drone’s body, as well as recent biological repair.>
<Yes,> I reply. <Beverly saved my life.>
<Irrelevant. You will be reabsorbed.>
<I do not want to be reabsorbed,> I state. My words are reminiscent of Beverly’s when she had explained that she did not want to be assimilated.
<Irrelevant. Resistance is futile.>
<No,> I boldly say. <Resistance is not futile.>
My statement causes the other drones to falter, forcing them to reach out to the Collective for help. And that is when I feel the massive consciousness focus on me, analyzing my resistant thoughts. Why do they center their attention on me? I am but one drone on a small vessel. There are other drones elsewhere in other systems assimilating other species even now. Surely I am not more important than they.
I access their thoughts and discover that this has never happened before. There has never been resistance within the Collective. Even Locutus did not resist. But I am Hugh, and I told Captain Picard that I would try to remember that fact.
<Captain Picard,> the Collective says as it reads my thoughts. <You have had contact with Locutus.>
<Yes.>
<Even he told you resistance is futile.>
<Resistance is not futile,> I reply, thinking of my conversation with the dark-skinned female on the Enterprise who came to me while I was confined behind a force field. I never did learn her identification. <Some have escaped.>
<Irrelevant. They will be found. All will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.>
They continue to analyze my thoughts and memories being with the humans’ ship.
At last, the Collective says, <You have malfunctioned. Species 5618 has corrupted your processing. Your components will be reabsorbed and distributed to maturation chambers aboard the Mega Hexahedron approaching your current trajectory.>
<I do not wish to be terminated,> I reply. Emotion is a biologically based symptom of individuality. My mind is being forced to assimilate them, and the current feeling I’m experiencing is unpleasant. It is the same emotion I’ve witnessed on the faces of every individual of every species I have previously brought into the Collective. Fear, they call it.
I hear the Collective address the other five drones surrounding me. I hear them issue the command to terminate me, to remove my components, separate the machine from the biological, and to discard my body into space.
Without a second thought, the five drones step away from their nodes and approach me slowly, mechanical arms whizzing up, preparing to dismantle my components.
And the emotion I had previously felt and defined as fear was but a minuscule definition of what I felt now. Terror. Terror filled my mind. Odd how an emotion can invade a mind, dashing away thought so easily. How… “human” of me.
Still, they circle me, and had I the capacity to think of escape options, I would react logically to the situation. But all I feel is a deep, dark terror.

***
Their buzzing instruments are dangerously close, and without realizing what I am doing, I push my terror out across the link. The surrounding drones instantly recoil, staring at me with haunted eyes as they stumble away from me.
Of all the weapons the hundreds of species the Collective has come in contact with, of all the weapons that have been used against us, nothing has ever caused this kind of response. Confusion replaces the terror the five drones had just experienced, and I see them reach once again to the Collective for help.
<Terminate him,> the Collective responds.
The drones hesitate, looking at me with… fear?
Ship sensors begin to sound. A simple tap into them tells me that we are approaching the larger Borg cube. I can sense the hundreds of minds on the massive cube.
The Collective again addresses the five other drones cowering before me. <You will bring this drone aboard the Mega Hexahedron. There, the drones are prepared to reabsorb the one formerly known as Third of Five.>
I feel the ship slow down the rest of the way as the Mega Hexahedron pulls us in with a tractor beam. Before we can even dock, I feel myself beginning to dematerialize. The other five drones are also phasing out.
I rematerialize inside a vast opening full of cylinders that vary in size. An eerie green light barely illuminates off the black walls. The other drones from the Minor Hexahedron are standing with me.
<We are in this ship’s maturation chamber,> I say.
The other drones look at me. In one voice they respond mentally. <Why have they sent all of us here?>
<I do not know,> I reply.
Suddenly, the chamber erupts with the sound of many Borg drones, and I watch as the spaces between cylinders containing the young species we have captured get crowded. The mechanical sounds emanating from the group bounce off the black walls, making it difficult to think. I panic, and so do the drones next to me.
Thousands of voices speak at us at the same time. <We have come to reabsorb your components into the most recently assimilated children of a species recently caught.> The thought is not directed at me alone, but the five other drones with me.
<But we are Borg, and we have not been modified,> they argue.
There is no hesitation from the Collective. <Your thoughts have been contaminated by the one who has been modified. Your thoughts and memories are dangerous. You must be reabsorbed now.>
There are easily a hundred drones converging on us, perhaps more. I detect fear emanating from the five drones and realize that this time, each of them are experiencing what I had on the Minor Hexahedron. The emotion is coming from all of us individually. All five look to me for guidance; they know as well as I do that the Collective has abandoned them. So I tell them to do exactly as I had done when they attacked me.
<Flood the Collective with your fearful emotions. It is the only way to survive.>
The massive surge of emotion shakes me to my core. Indeed, the hundreds of drones speeding toward us stop abruptly, shrinking back, looking around them as if the ship were going to crush. Audible screams echo through the maturation chamber as the young drones, who were not fully used to the Collective, feel fear once again.
I feel the Collective flinch at the emotion. The thousand voices are silent, but only for a moment.
<This vessel has been compromised,> the Collective says. I cannot help but detect malice in the voice, but I am likely seeing emotion where it does not exist. <Uplinks to the Collective will be severed momentarily.>
And then it happens. No goodbye, like the ones Geordi or Captain Picard gave me. No direction or guidance. Just complete and utter silence. The Collective is gone, and hundreds of drones surrounding me on this ship are lost.
***
Hundreds of individuals, no longer drones of a Collective Conscious… All of them exiled, left to their own devices. How can I help them? They look at one another, seeking guidance. Seeking purpose. They get none.
What can I offer them?
One of the Borg standing next to me — one who had been with me on the Minor Hexahedron — stares at me expectantly.
“We are Borg,” he says audibly. It is strange to hear another Borg speak. One voice is quiet. “But there are no other voices. They are gone.”
I look at the exile. “Yes. What you are saying is that you are lonely.” I look around the chamber and see that, even with hundreds of exiles standing together, they are all completely alone. I know that feeling. Beverly had first said it, but the woman with dark skin had defined it. I never did learn her designation.
Designation. A name.
I look back at the Borg standing next to me and say, “You require a new designation. A name to distinguish you from the others.”
He looks at me in confusion. “My designation is Second of Five.”
“There are several Seconds of Fives on this vessel,” I reply. “You need a new designation to distinguish yourself from the others.”
He tilts his head, processing my request. “This request is acceptable. What is my new designation?”
I do not know. Geordi and Beverly had given me the name Hugh. This exile waits expectantly for me to assign him a name. Should I do so?
I pause. I do not understand the origin of names, but I understand their purpose. I immediately create one, and say, “Your name is Lentah.”
He processes the name, accepting it easily, just as I had done with Geordi.
“We are Lentah.”
I put my hand on my chest and say, “I am Hugh.” I point back to him and say, “You are Lentah.”
“You are Hugh,” he echoes. “We are Lentah.”
How many cycles had it taken me to learn to speak in terms of “I” and “me?” Even now, I do not fully understand or comprehend my own individuality.
But the renaming of the exiles could be problematic. The name Lentah could very well be assigned to every exile on the ship through our own local link on the ship, especially if this drone continues to say “We are Lentah” instead of “I am Lentah.”
I tap into the local link. My components spin up rapidly, a mechanical response to the biological and chemical change in my brain. This is… nervousness. I am no replacement for the Collective. But I know these exiled drones will listen because, well, that is how they function. They wait for direction on the link and, after receiving instruction, they obey.
<We have been removed from the Collective,> I say. Should I be surprised to discover that this thought has not occurred to any of these exiles? They come out of their standby modes and I feel all of their eyes and thoughts focus on me. I proceed.
<We have been cut off. Abandoned.>
<Why?> many of the drones ask.
Nervousness. I must learn to control the emotion. I risk sending it out over the link.
<We were seen as a threat,> I reply.
<Why?>
Why indeed? These drones did nothing wrong. They did not deserve to be abandoned. This is my fault. None of this would have happened if Geordi and Beverly had just left me to die.
<Because of me,> I finally say. Instead of explaining myself, I replay my memories to them over the link. I show them my interactions with Geordi and Beverly. I show them my conversation with the woman with dark skin. I show them my conversation with Captain Picard, Locutus of Borg. I provide my entire experience upon the starship Enterprise.
I have no reference for how much time passes as they analyze my memories, thoughts, and feelings.
At last, the exiles express a general thought together: understanding.
I am shocked. I very nearly expected them to do precisely what the Collective had commanded the five drones on the Minor Hexahedron to do to me — remove my components and extirpate me. But no malice or judgment comes from them. In fact, beyond their understanding, they exude a desire to explore the possibility of becoming individuals themselves.
<You are Hugh,> some of them say. <There is one here called Lentah. He was named by Hugh.>
<Yes, I named the one called Lentah,> I reply.
Then, not unified by any definition, my mind hears the chaos of all of the voices begging me to name them. The thoughts are overwhelming, and my initial reaction is to run, to try and hide. I am not the Collective. I have no authority. The only thing that separates me from every other exile here are my individual experiences. And they want to begin having their own now.
Purpose. They have discovered a new purpose — individuality — and I can help them start on that journey.
<I will name you,> I say to them. <One by one, I will give you new designations.>
As if my words were orders, they line up, one by one. This should not surprise me, but after the chaotic begging I just experienced, I expected them all to rush me.
Lentah stands at my side.
“You give us purpose,” he says with his voice, not his thoughts. “You will lead us.”
“I will try,” I reply.
A female drone approaches me with some measure of uncertainty.
I make eye contact with her and say, “Hello. I am Hugh.”
In a high-pitched voice, she replies. “I have come for a new designation.”
And so it starts.
***
Time is a difficult unit to measure. The Borg Collective has never needed to worry about it before. Relative assignments, like the cycles in the maturation chambers do exist. But they are not so much time-based as they are sequence-based. How many times does a human ingest food? That is a unit not measured by time.
And so I find myself unable to calculate how much time has gone by. Three hundred and sixty-two exiles have received names. That is the official number of Borg drones the Collective willfully abandoned on this ship. We have discussed the dangers of personality and emotion, and that in order for our community of exiles to survive, we still need to work together.
I have had problems with a few of the exiles. Specifically Lentah, the first drone to whom I designated a name. He has grown obsessed with emotion, and instead of trying to control it, he allows it to get out of hand to see the chaos he can create. It is a game of cause and effect, and it is a dangerous game at that.
Most of the drones keep their links open, likely out of habit. After all, mental communication is much quicker than verbal communication. Lentah exploits the connection. To nearby exiles, he pushes his emotions just to see what reaction he can get from the others. Physical fights have broken out, resulting in ripped out components, broken mechanics, and, worst of all, divisions among the exiles.
Some have died. Many have forgotten how to do simple things, like replenishing energy. Others have simply shut themselves down. They would prefer to terminate themselves than be unlinked from the Collective.
Confronting Lentah about the exploitation of the link has only pushed him harder to work against me. For reasons I am incapable of understanding, he has gained loyalists among some of the exiles. He has developed his own personality, but he is far different than I. He is not like Geordi. He is not a friend.
Still, I strive to keep the exiles unified. Everyone is developing their own personalities at rapid rates, but I find that I am unable to continue giving them what they want the most: purpose. I have helped them get this far, but it is only as far as I have been able to get myself. They look to me to provide more purpose. I cannot. Where can we turn to to find purpose? Surely not Lentah. It appears that his purpose is to spark circuits and stand by to watch others melt them.
***
Do you think because you gave us individuality you gave us purpose?” Lentah says to me, loudly enough for many of the exiles to hear. It has been a long time since he abandoned using the link for communication. He reserved the connection for his emotional outbursts.
I do not reply. This is just another way for him to cause a scene.
“Irrelevant,” he says triumphantly. “What you think is irrelevant. You are no leader here, Hugh.”
“Lentah, I never desired to be your leader. I have only done what I have done to help.” I say, knowing full well that I am falling into a trap. Could he not just go away instead of antagonize me?
“Help? You should have let me rip your components out when the Collective commanded me to,” he growls. “Then you would not have forced the Collective to sever the link, and our ship would never need your help.”
Confrontation. Emotional response. He is trying to goad me into a fight. But why? What would that prove?
It dawns on me. Having a handful of loyalists is not enough for Lentah. He wants to lead the exiles. He has formed purpose.
“I cannot let you lead us,” I say, getting to the root of the problem.
The components on Lentah’ face stretch his skin to its limits as it fills with malice. It is odd to see a drone react with such strong emotions.
“Unacceptable,” he says through gritted teeth. “You are incapable of leadership. You have no purpose to offer us, therefore you serve no purpose. You are no leader.”
The rapid humming of my instruments reveal my own agitation. “Lentah, you are incapable of controlling your own emotions. What makes you think you can control all three hundred remaining exiled drones?”
His uncovered eye narrows, and his optical implant sweeps a red beam across me. I do not need the link to decrypt his thoughts.
“You would control them with fear?” I whisper, bewilderment slowing down my components. In the relatively short span of time I have had comprehending ethics, this concept feels completely wrong.
“One of your first actions showed me the ability to control by emotion,” Lentah says with a sneer. “I really have you to thank for demonstrating that principle.”
“Inadvisable,” I reply. “Outbursts of emotion will cause us to kill one another.”
“The strong will survive,” Lentah says. “Besides, you lack the ability to navigate this vessel. Your limited knowledge is like mine — offensive and defensive systems. But those of us strong enough to adapt will learn…”
Another exile approaches quickly, making eye contact with us both. “Hugh, Lentah, there is a vessel approaching the Mega Hexahedron.
“Destroy it at once, Goval,” Lentah says immediately.
Goval looks to me, seeking my confirmation.
“Do not destroy it,” I counter. “Attempt to make contact. Find out if the ship’s occupants are hostile.”
“Unacceptable,” Lentah growls. “We are Borg. Why else would another ship elect to approach us?”
The ship lurches suddenly, throwing us off balance, forcing us to grab a hold of anything that will keep us standing.
“Do you disagree with me now, Hugh?” Lentah says with disgust.
I ignore him and tap into the ship systems.
“Minor damage done to the third face of the ship,” I announce. “Initiating transregeneration to repair the breach.”
I detect Lentah’s mind tapping into the link. He reaches for weapons control and initiates a cutting beam. At the same time, I activate the subspace and electromagnetic fields, focusing on the defenses of the ship. Why have I not just kept these active all of the time? Perhaps I have been too busy trying to maintain order among the exiles.
I tap into the visuals and observe Lentah’s cutting beam target and connect with the unknown vessel’s own weapons dispenser, neutralizing its attack threat. Lentah sets off another volley and obliterates the black ship’s port nacelle, removing its ability to run via warp.
Lentah looks at me. “You see? This is our purpose. To conquer those who think they are stronger than us.” He returns to the weapons control and adjusts his targeting. Disabling the vessel is not enough for Lentah; he plans to destroy the enemy ship. But before he sets off his attack, the vessel hails us.
“And now they will beg for their insignificant lives,” Lentah says, removing his mind from weaponry and opening communications before I can. Lentah must have damaged the visual matrix on the other ship because the individual on the other end clips in and out sporadically. It is a human male, or at least a male very similar to the human species.
“Borg vessel, do not… (static) …explanation… (static) …require assistance.”
The man’s skin is very pale, almost the same color as my own. Lentah hesitates at the life-form’s appearance. I observe him transfer from weapons to sensors as he scans the ship. No biological life registers.
“… (static) …I can help you.”
Lentah cuts his link and looks at me. “That species is artificial. Mechanical. We must materialize him aboard our ship and question him and his purposes.”
“He is not Borg,” I reply.
“Neither are we,” he says harshly.
This, at least, is true. We are no longer Borg by definition.
Before I can argue further, Lentah transports the artificial life-form from his ship and materializes him before us.
Fear runs like an electric current through my body, but as the life-form completes the transport process, he has a smile on his face. He is clad in all black and his appearance is much like a drone’s without all of the mechanical apparatuses. His hair is slicked back, and, with a smile on his face, he looks very much like a human. I detect no weapons on his person.
“Hello there,” he says as he approaches Lentah and me.
Lentah holds his mechanical arm up to my chest and steps in front of me, taking the lead.
“What kind of life-form are you?” Lentah demands with a hint of curiosity.
“I am an artificial life-form,” the visitor says. “I am an Android.”
“Are there other Androids… other life-forms… like you?” Lentah asks?
“Others?” The Android asks, causing him to look up. His eyes seem unfocused and his smile momentarily disappears. It returns as he looks back at Lentah. “One or two, but they’re… limited in their abilities. Weak. Improperly motivated.”
I watch as Lentah tilts his head, analyzing this information. “Do you have a designation?”
“A designation?”
“If you do not, we can give you one,” Lentah offers.
“You mean a name?” the Android laughs. “Yes, I already have a designation. My name is Lore.”
“Lore,” Lentah repeats, still staring curiously at the Android.
“Why did you attack us?” I ask as boldly as I dare. Lentah’s arm is still against my chest, and he pushes it hard in response. He wants to take the lead.
The Android’s smile broadens even more as he watches the exchange. Raising his arms in the above himself, he says, “Are you not The Borg, the greatest threat in all of intergalactic space? Why would I not fire on the most infamous enemy of all species in the Alpha Quadrant?”
“But we did not attack you,” I reply. “We posed no threat…”
Lentah grabs onto one of the cables attached to my head piece and pulls my face toward his own.
“I am the one speaking to Lore, not you, Hugh. One more word and I’ll detach your integrated components where you stand.”
Lore makes an odd clicking sound with his mouth, retrieving our attention and causing Lentah to let go of me.
“I have researched documentation about the encounters of many different species with the Borg, and you do not act like them.”
I tap into the link and reach out to Lentah’s mind. <Do not tell him…>
He disconnects from the link.
“We have been cut off from the Collective,” he says quickly.
“Cut off?” Lore says with surprise. “Why?”
Lentah glances at me.
“Do not,” I say anxiously.
Still looking at me, Lentah says, “Because we found our own identities. We… have grown beyond our original purpose.”
Lore’s eyebrows rise. “Identity? Individuality? As Borg, you have definitely gone significantly beyond the measure of your creation.”
“Affirmative,” Lentah says, eagerly turning his back on me and facing the Android.
“The Collective cut you off because you posed a threat to its very nature.”
“Affirmative.”
“Has the Collective ever cut off any other Borg ship?” Lore asks.
“Affirmative,” Lentah answers willingly.
“And what becomes of drones on a ship that are cut off from the Collective?”
Lentah pauses for a moment, but not out of hesitation. His components whirl, and although I cannot see his face or thoughts, I know he is angry. “They… die,” he says through gritted teeth.
“Hmm,” Lore says. “Your own kind abandoned you — left you here to die.”
I stay clear of Lentah. There is no telling what he will do. At least he is looking at the Collective as the enemy now, not me.
Lore makes eye contact with me. “Your name… designation, I mean, is Hugh?”
I do not respond.
He looks back at Lentah, who is quick to answer. “Yes, he is called Hugh.”
“And what are you called, friend?” Lore asks.
Friend. Geordi is a friend. Beverly is a friend.
Lentah has witnessed my memories of friends. He knows what the word means.
“I am Lentah. We are friends?”
“Of course we are,” Lore responds, as if the brief assault we had just endured ship-to-ship never happened. “But I come to you offering you much more than friendship.”
I cannot believe what I am hearing. But Lentah does.
“What more do you have to offer,” he asks the Android.
Another broad smile forms on Lore’s face. I do not trust it.
“I’ve come to help you take the next steps in your evolution. I’ve come to promise you purpose.”
I should be glad that somebody is here to guide us. I should look to him as a savior, just as Lentah does. But I cannot. To trust his words is too easy.
***
I have been removed from my role as a guide for the exiled Borg. Since I cannot direct them to a greater purpose, Lore has stepped in and seized that mantle. Lentah begged to be renamed, and Lore has consented. He is now known as Crosis. He is Lore’s second in command.
Lore has asked that every exile still utilize the link to maintain unity. But I know this is how he keeps tabs on us. Although he hides it well, he is still afraid of us.
Crosis, along with several other exiles, attempted to connect Lore to the link, but Android’s hardware and software are incompatible. The biggest issue is Lore’s ability to think. He does not have a biological brain. He has something he calls a positronic matrix. In order to have thoughts and memories, a biological system is required. Lore does not think. He processes. He does not have memories — he has memory cells that store data just like a computer. Lore is a computer. So while Crosis was able to get him to connect to the link, Lore cannot spread his “thoughts” across it. His only options are to have his liaison share the thoughts, or to modify the Mega Hexahedron to distribute Lore’s voice throughout the entire ship.
They modified our systems and have given Lore unrestricted access to the entire vessel. Everything about our technology is now within of his own memory cores.
“My brothers and sisters,” his alluring voice booms within the dark, green-illuminated corridors of the Mega Hexahedron. “I have come to you in your hour of need. When I found you, you were leaderless, confused, and on the verge of wiping yourselves out. You had no sense of purpose. But do not look at your disconnect from the Collective as a negative event. You have been freed from the chains of the Borg, and in you I see power and might. You are prepared to step into a new world, where you are not bogged down by the frailties of organic life. Right now, this very moment, you live in a hybrid state. I promise you now that I will help you overcome this weakness. I will help you advance to the supreme state of artificial life where you will have no concern for failing body parts and organs. I promise you immortality.”
I feel some push on my personal emotions. It is likely that Crosis and his loyalists are rioting those who are connected to the link. It is a rush of excitement and wonder. I am struggling internally; part of me wants to shout for joy at such a purpose, that somebody cares enough about our kind to try and conserve us. At the same time, I know that terminating the organic components of our bodies will result in death. Whether or not the mechanics still function, what are we if we trade thought for processing? Memories for trillions of files of data? That is not living.
Lore continues his oration.
“I know that to some, the jump to an inorganic state may be a cause for concern. It has never been attempted. But you will be the pioneers of becoming the most advanced race in the known universe. To achieve this lofty goal, I will require your assistance. You are all invited to volunteer as we will try different methods to make the transition from half to fully artificial. Also, to reinforce what we are trying to do, we will prove how delicate organic life is. Our new course of action will be to eradicate small colonies of sentient biological life. Those orders are forth-coming. Prior to our journey, we will make repairs and modifications to my vessel. After that, you will be ready to take the next steps into your evolution. The next steps into your destiny!”
Again, another push of emotion is sent through the link, but this time, I feel it from the majority of the exiles. Do they not see the oppressor in their midst?
Inadvisably, I sever my connection to the link, and know that Crosis is watching.
***
By refusing to take part in the link, Crosis has put me on probation. At all times I am guarded by three exiles invested deeply in Lore’s vision for our future. I cannot imagine it will take long for Lore to mandate continuous connection to the link. There are a few like me, though, who do not trust Lore’s intentions. They are being isolated and watched, just like me. And so it is that we are forced to watch Lore acquire our advance systems.
It does not take long for the exiles to integrate Borg technology into Lore’s ship. The first system installed and activated is our regenerative technology. This not only repairs the damage our own vessel caused, but also fixes minor damage that was present prior to our engagement. However, I am not about to ask Lore about the experience. Judging by observations, it is apparent that he acts quite similar to the Collective in regards to acquiring technology; he simply takes what he wants and discards the rest.
He replaces his phaser banks with our cutting beam technology, originally acquired from a species who used it for the purposes of mining. But it is a powerful weapon, powerful enough to gut through shields like a human being injected with Borg nanoprobes. Our other weapons and defensive systems are also installed.
The transwarp technology is also added, much to Lore’s excitement. It is rare technology in this sector, and most of the sophisticated sentients around were still trying to invent it.
Lore has entire sections of his ship removed, and in their place he has the exiles transfer all of the interlink nodes from the Mega Hexahedron. His loyalists appear to be perfectly fine with abandoning our ship. Lore promises it is part of the next step in our evolution, abandoning the old and beginning the journey on a new ship. They do not understand that nothing is new here. Just like the components of a terminated drone are repurposed for a new one, the same goes for this ship. It is the same ship with a different skin. In almost everything Lore has done since “rescuing” us, I believe he has ulterior motives, but I do not know what they are. But outfitting a ship with Borg technology would give him the element of surprise in any aerial battle.
Fortunately, Lore has not begun his testing on any exiles yet. He apparently wants to establish a base of operations on a specific planet he has selected unknown to Borg navigation. I can only imagine Crosis will demand I am first in line for such experiments once Lore is prepared to begin.
Unmeasured time passes, and Lore announces the readiness of the new Borg ship and imminent departure. We leave behind our dead brothers and sisters on what is left of the Mega Hexahedron, not even taking the time to retrieve their mechanical components. It seems like a waste, but the chances Lore will ask us to assimilate additional biological life to increase our population… well, I cannot calculate the likelihood. For reasons unknown to myself, he passionately hates organic life.
Utilizing his new transwarp technology, Lore sets course for his selected planet.
***
I analyze the data through my interlink node. It is the only way for me to tap into the link without really being a part of it. I must discover as much information about this mission Lore has begun if I am to come up with a plan of escape.
I notice within subspace Lore is materializing transwarp conduits. The only real purpose one would have in doing such a thing would be to ensure a quick getaway from… some type of hazard.
I also discover that many of the exiles have been dematerialized and sent to other planets in different systems with instructions to “Neutralize all sentient organic life.”
I have no frame of reference for the names of the planets and systems we pass. Ohniaka, MS, and a few others. However, I do recognize the names of the exiles departing. Torsus, Halex, Siti… and many more. Why separate us? Does Lore not believe there is strength in numbers?
He does keep the bulk of our population assigned to the planet he has selected for his base of operations. Only his most loyal exiles are going down to these planets. Ones who feed on the great surges of emotion Lore has learned to share with them in vast amounts.
I feel bad for the exiles who will face opposition on these planets. Humans can be a very violent species if they feel threatened enough. I fear we will lose many drones to these missions Lore has sent them on, and that will lessen our numbers even more quickly.
The Borg do not procreate. Assimilation is the only way the Collective has ever increased in population. But Lore will not let us assimilate others, even as we lose drones. He cares little for our lives, which reveals that he has an ulterior purpose. What that is, I do not know. This I do know: he is worse off at emotional control than Crosis.
I continue my search over the interlink. I see my own name listed as a test subject, along with five others. Others who have resisted Lore, Crosis, and the link. It is my duty to see them safe from harm. I have freed them from the Collective, I shall free them from this oppression.
To my displeasure, I see Crosis walk down the corridor towards my interlink node. I quickly close my eyes, focusing on the energy I am pulling from the input in my hand. The charging sequence helps to balance my mind. With the conversation I know I am about to have, I need all the help I can get.
“Leave us,” Crosis says, relieving the guards watching over me.
I do not open my eyes.
“Apologies, Hugh,” he says. He does not sound the least bit remorseful.
I still keep my eyes shut, and do not respond.
“I have always had a difficult time gaining your attention.” He grips my arm that is currently connected to the interlink and pulls it out forcefully, causing the node input to spark. I feel the systems in my arm reboot, and the skin underneath tingles from the shock. It takes every unit of restraint to not retaliate.
“Did you come here to antagonize me, Crosis?” I ask as calmly as I can. “Or were you experiencing loneliness?”
His face forms a menacing grin. He has learned much from Lore.
“You would know all about loneliness, Hugh. But that is irrelevant. You have been selected by Lore to undergo his first test.”
Experimentation… already? But the logs had said they would not begin until Lore had settled on the planet.
“You do not agree with Lore and his methods.” Crosis states it as fact, as if it were no different than a transwarp conduit performing its function appropriately.
“I do not trust Lore or his methods,” I correct.
“Irrelevant!” Crosis says harshly. His face softens. “Again, I must tell you how thankful I am for teaching me what powerful, effective tools emotions can be when we first met.”
I observe Crosis subtly reaching with his bare hand over to his mechanical arm. He adjusts a module only very slightly.
As if in response, I feel a sudden jab of hatred well all over my body, causing my own components to spin. I feel like rushing Crosis, to tear every last piece of Borg technology from his pathetic, worthless body. His new desire is to become a completely artificial life-form? I would be happy to remove and discard his organic pieces.
Something is wrong. I manage to stop the violent thoughts that are forcing their way into my consciousness. Why would Crosis urge me to attack him with no other guards to protect him. In my rage of emotion, I could likely overpower him.
“Stop it!” I grimace, closing my eyes as I attempt to control these terrible emotions.
“Stop what?” he asks.
I open my eyes and stare into his. What do I see embedded there? Pleasure?
He continues to adjust the component. My mouth opens and I shut my eyes once again. The hatred I was feeling is washed away. I can feel it dissipate and replace with… pleasure. It feels unlike anything I have experienced before. Surreal. Blissful. I suddenly understand that this emotion alone is what gives sentients… purpose. I soak it in. Yes, this is what living is supposed to bring. Pure, untainted pleasure!
Another part of me fights back. This emotion does naturally exist, but what I am currently feeling is artificial. I have no reason to feel pleasure right now, particularly at the hands of an experimenter — a torturer.
I force my eyes open, and with some regret, manage to say, “Stop it.”
“Hugh,” he says my name with annoyance as he shuts down the module on his arm. “Did it not feel good?”
“Irrelevant,” I reply slowly and quietly. I do not sound very convincing. “It was artificial. The emotion was not real.”
Crosis’s face stays stone cold. “Inaccurate. The emotion is real. You received it by artificial means. But if it was offered to you again, would you turn it away?”
“I… do not know,” I reply. My mind is battling over how to feel about the push and presence of the emotion. It did feel good. And I have not been so calm since being disconnected from the Collective.
“I will share pleasure with you again, if you would like,” Crosis offers, his hand reaching to his arm, tempting me.
I very nearly assent to it. But something is off. What did Crosis share before pleasure? He spiked my anger and hatred. Why?
It does not take much analysis to discover the answer. Association. This test is to get me to associate anger and violence with pleasure. Manipulation of emotion. By the Collective, there is power in emotional manipulation! And this all began with Geordi and me. Why did he and Beverly save me? Could they have known that freeing me — making me an individual — would lead to Lore’s leadership and the terrible purposes he has given to us exiles?
“I want to be finished with Lore’s test,” I firmly tell Crosis.
“Are you sure?” he asks, his hand still on the emotional controls.
“Leave me, Crosis. It is far better to be lonely than to be in your presence.”
He gives me one final smirk, then disappears down the corridor, sending back his loyalists to guard me.
***
By the time we arrive at Lore’s selected planet, I have made good progress with the exiles assigned to watch me. There are two rotations of two, and they only switch out when they need to recharge. I have remained plugged into my own interlink node, maximizing my own batteries energy capacity.
My guards were forced to listen to me at first. I told them about Lore’s emotional manipulation, that he would control the Borg through the link with it. After a while, they confirmed it was happening. Lore was using emotion as a drug, slowly addicting the biological and chemical side of us. For all his talk of making us a superior race by purging the organic side, he stops at nothing to exploit it now.
They listen to me now, but they hide their feelings and thoughts. Lore and Crosis would keep constant surveillance of them if they found out. But through personal links, they have told me they are done with Lore, and will follow me once I try to escape on the planet. They tell me that other exiles are also sympathetic to my cause.
There is a compound on Lore’s planet that we will be materialized down to. There will be confusion in the beginning, and that is when I and the exiles who no longer desire to be under Lore’s influence will escape. Some of us may die in the process, and others might be captured. But we can no longer endure Lore’s oppression.
We know Lore’s plan, or at least, the plan he wants us to know. I still believe he has ulterior motives for using us. After inhabiting the compound on the planet, he will send Crosis and several exiles back to the Ohniaka system and begin the elimination of the human colonies there.
The dematerializations commence, and the next thing I know, my feet are on solid, stone ground. Within the large chamber, I do not take in my surroundings, but move as quickly as my drone legs will take me as my eye module indicates the nearest exit.
***
Thirty-three of us escaped before the exiles connected to the link discovered what was happening. Being confined like we were, I did not know there were so many of us against Lore’s oppression. Finding a series of connected tunnels beneath the compound, we have made it our new home. I do not know if Lore suspects our hideout, but he has not made a move against us yet. We are fortunate, for we have stolen many things that had been left outside of the compound. But our personal power reserves are at hazardous levels. We all need to recharge.
All thirty-three of us are gathered together in the largest cavern within the tunnels beneath the compound, and I am prepared to ask them for their help.
“As you all know, we need the ability to recharge. We have already stolen energy nodes on previous raids, but we have no way of opening them without significant leakage. Our survival here in the tunnels is dependent on receiving this energy. Therefore, I propose another mission: I need six volunteers to join me in an effort to purloin one interlink node.”
Every last one of them volunteers. I select the six closest exiles to me.
“I will still need the rest of you to cause a diversion. It is imperative that you get the attention of the exiles within the compound while the seven of us furtively move inside.”
“How will we know where they have stored their interlink chambers?” one of the six ask me.
Very good question. Unfortunately, all of our observations and scouting have been on the exterior of the compound. We have no way to discover its floor plan until we are inside.”
One of the female exiles named Corat, who also happens to be a part of my team, says, “If we can find a control panel, we could tap into the link and have the information we need almost immediately… once we are inside, of course.”
“As soon as we tap in to the link, we will be revealed,” I reply, addressing the dangers of her proposition. “At that point, we won’t have much time before Lore’s loyalists converge on us. However, we have no other means for discovering the chamber holding the interlink nodes. That plan will have to suffice for now, unless we have the unlikely fortune of seeing it right away.
“We have discovered environmental control ducts within these tunnels, directly under the compound. My team will access the compound while the rest of you raise the alarm on the exterior. You will need to flee when they come for you, but do not come directly back here; we cannot allow them to discover our own base of operations.”
“When do we execute the plan?” Corat asks.
“Time is against us. We should move now,” I reply. “I would be misrepresenting truth if I did not inform all of you of the dangers of this plan. We may not all survive. If any individual falls this day, we will keep them in remembrance forever.”
I do not have the eloquence of Lore, but I have true loyalty with these exiles. I can see it in their eyes.
***
Corat, the other five exiles, and I are waiting at the opening of one of the environmental control ducts into the compound… waiting for the other underground exiles to draw the attention of Lore’s loyalists.
It does not take long for that part of the plan to go into effect, though. Several shouts ring out the alarm and I finally dare a look into the compound. The duct connects to a large chamber with stairs on the far walls going up to platforms, indicating a second level. The walls are black, but hold several red flags. This compound will provide us a challenge because of its sheer size, alone.
The room empties as the remaining drones rush toward the exits.
I gesture to my team to follow me, and all seven of us make our way into the chamber.
After looking around and analyzing the available passageways, I tell the others, “We are required to split up. There are no controls for us to interface to in this room.”
I separate the six others into groups of three sets of two and assign them to different passageways.
“What about you, Hugh?” Corat asks me.
I indicate another pathway leading to a dark corridor. “I will start there. Remember, the longer we stay within the compound, the more dangerous being here will become. Work quickly. Also, if you feel like you need to turn back, there is no dishonor in doing so. We have made much progress by infiltrating the compound.”
I look on as the others go their assigned ways. After watching them all disappear, I make my way down the low-lit corridor. After rounding a few harsh angles, the hallway opens up into a dark room. My optical component allows me to see regardless of the level of light. My components spin up as I observe the room’s contents with surprise and disgust.
There are several drones here, some making sounds of pain, others twitching different body parts sporadically. Others are missing entire limbs. The ones who are still capable of seeing me flinch in fear.
“What has happened here?”
My inquiry only causes additional fearful agitation.
“Who did this to you?”
At last, a drone missing one of his arms speaks. “The One.”
“Lore,” I murmur quietly. The emotional experimentation done to me on the ship was nothing like this. It must have served a different purpose. “Why did he do this to all of you?”
“He promised he would make us like him,” the dismembered drone replies. He then looks at where his arm should be. “But he does not know how.”
My purpose for being in the compound has changed.
“I need you to disconnect from the link,” I state with urgency. “Lore must not know that I am here.”
“The One had us all disconnected. He did not want our screams to be heard by the other drones.”
I feel a wave of fury, but cast it aside.
“Are you able to walk? I can get you away from here, away from Lore.”
“The One has not impaired my legs,” he replies. “But I am constricted to this chair.”
I make my way to him, discovering that all of the drones have been bound. These are not volunteers, they are prisoners. The bounds are fabric that I forcibly remove.
“We should free another drone that can walk,” I say.
“No,” he replies with haste. “We must free my brother.”
He stands by the drone who had been in the chair next to him, one of the ones who had, by the looks of his consistent twitching, undergone brain damage.
“He will hinder our escape,” I reply.
“Please,” the drone begs. “He was my brother… before the Borg assimilated us. I have been with him for as long as I can remember.”
There is no time for argument. I help him release his brother from his bonds, then together we balance him between us.
“How did you get into the compound, Hugh?” the armless Borg asks.
“Through an environmental control duct,” I reply.
“There is a duct here in this detention chamber,” he says, pointing to the opposite end of the room.
We make our way over to the duct and pass through it, entering into the tunnel beyond.
***
How many?” I ask one of the scouts. As if we did not already have enough problems without intruders.
“Two,” an exile replies. “One is Human. The other is Klingon.”
Odd news, indeed. “Are they being brought here?” I ask.
“Affirmative. Three of our own went to capture them and bring them here. They should arrive momentarily.”
As if in perfect sequence, they arrive. Two exiles stand in front of me protectively, but such action is unnecessary. I know these beings. The human is in red Starfleet clothing, the Klingon in gold.
“Hugh?” the human says with surprise.
“Why are you here, Commander Riker?” I ask with slight bitterness. “Hasn’t the crew of the Enterprise caused enough damage already?”
We move to a large chamber within the tunnel systems underground, but away from the tunnels themselves. I proceed to tell Commander Riker and the Klingon, known as Lieutenant Worf, what happened after Geordi and I parted ways back at the crash site. The events seem like they occurred so long ago.
I explain the events surrounding Lore taking over the exiled Borg drones.
The Klingon Worf is beside himself. “You blame us… for what has happened to the Borg?”
It just so happens I am not all that happy myself. “You gave me a sense of individuality… changed me and sent me back to the Collective. You must have known that change would be passed on to others.”
Commander Riker steps in, bringing calmness to the conversation. “We considered it. We knew it was a possibility.”
“Then you made it possible for Lore to dominate us,” I say trying hard to control my emotions.
“I do not accept that,” Lieutenant Worf says boldly. “Lore is only one man. The Borg could have stopped him.”
I proceed to explain the condition we were in when the Android discovered us. I try to mask my bitterness, but do not have much experience with such things. I tell them specifics, about the transfer of emotion and the effect they have. I tell them about the individuality every drone felt, how some died because they could not endure without the Collective’s guiding hand. I tell them about Lore’s promises to help us become a superior species. As I tell them about the terrible experiments he has been performing on us, I have them follow me into another corridor where I left the two mutilated drones I had saved from the compound.
“What happened to them?” Commander Riker asks with disgust.
I must reply. They must know of Lore’s deceit. “Lore began to experiment — trying to remake us in his image.”
One of the damaged drones slumps over and cannot lift himself up, so I go to him and help him into a sitting position.
“This is the result of my encounter with the Enterprise, Commander,” I continue. “So you can see I don’t particularly welcome your presence here.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Commander Riker says. His sincerity shows. Unfortunately, “sorry” does not undo the damage.
He continues. “We came to get our people. I don’t want to cause you any more trouble…”
I am about to turn and walk away, sending them to do whatever it is they came here to do. But I must ask.
“Tell me… about my friend.”
“Friend?” Commander Riker asks with confusion.
“The human called Geordi,” I reply.
He sighs deeply. “I wish I could tell you. We think he’s being held inside the compound.”
If my face could go any more pale, it would have at this news. Geordi has been taken by Lore? Was he in one of the other detention areas within the compound while I was freeing these two?
My friend.
But what of the exiles following me? My duty is to them, is it not?
“I cannot help you…” I manage to say. “I cannot risk our being discovered.”
“Will you at least show us how to get into the compound?” the commander asks.
I point towards the same tunnels I used with my team of six to steal an interlink node.. the same passages I used to bring back the deformed drones Lore had experimented on.
These caverns lead to tunnels which run beneath the compound. Some of them connect with the environmental control ducts.”
Worf’s facial expression shifts to a different emotional state. Determination and excitement. “Show us. If we can determine the geography of the compound, we can form a rescue plan.”
I look at them, giving them a grave expression. But this much I can do, if I cannot help Geordi myself
This is, of course, a lie I keep telling myself. Geordi is my friend. And knowing how Lore treats his prisoners… his test subjects… I cannot let him harm Geordi. I will aid the Enterprise crew. Perhaps we can do more than save Geordi. Perhaps by working together with the Enterprise crew instead of abandoning them, we can end the oppression of Lore and begin a new lifestyle here on this planet.
Besides, my team of six is still in the compound, not to mention all of the drones suffering from Lore’s experiments. There is much work to do. And I will see it done. I am Hugh.