Thursday, September 07, 2006

My ST:TNG Novel Drone - Chapter Two

Drone: Chapter Two
by Paul Darcy

Julie-Anne's parents activated the door to their quarters. All was quiet inside and the lights were dimmed as they had left them upon going out. The door to Julie-Anne's bedroom was closed.

Mr. Lasalle approached and opened it to see the sleeping figure of Julie-Anne on the bed while Julie-Anne's mother began removing her jewelry in the other room. He looked around in the shadows and noticed that she had cleaned her room as instructed. He was mildly surprised and elated. He thought Julie-Anne would be too tired after the game to do as he had instructed, but she must have found enough energy to clean up her clothes. Perhaps she did listen to him once in a while. He had been led to believe that when children reach double digits in age they are supposed to enter the age of rebelliousness and he feared Julie-Anne was headed in that direction.

During their routine sessions with councillor Troi, she had assured them that most children go through a phase where they don't listen to their parents and need to feel independent by doing only what they want. But if this clean room was any indication of her behaviour maybe they wouldn't have trouble from her after all. Troi did say most, not all. He pulled the blankets up to Julie-Anne's chin and kissed her forehead.

Mr. Lasalle returned to the main room and removed the cufflinks given to him from his wife on their tenth anniversary. He reached down to the table to put them away and found the box he kept them in missing. "Dear, have you seen my cufflinks box?" He asked his wife looking around the room for other obvious spots where he might have left it.

"No, I thought you left it on the table? Is Julie-Anne asleep?" She said sleepily. It was late and she had an early shift tomorrow.

"Yes, she is asleep, and she cleaned her entire room. I could hardly recognize it." He still mulled about looking for the missing box.

"Really. I told you she would. She may have a mind of her own but she does what she is told, most of the time. Maybe you left it in our bedroom." She added when she noticed he still hadn't found the box.

"No, its not in here." Came his distracted voice from their bedroom. "That is strange. Where could it have gone?"

"I found it." Mrs. Lasalle replied opening a storage drawer. She took it and held it out to her returning husband. "It was in the drawer with my jewelry box. That's funny. You must be getting old not remembering where you put it." She joked and received a pat on the behind and a warm hug form her husband.

"Very funny indeed. I'm not that old yet, but I'll have the doctor run a full scan on me tomorrow if you like, just in case." He put the cufflinks away in the box and took them into the bedroom. Mrs. Lasalle followed smiling, pushing the whole incident from her tired mind.

* * *

Riker and Deanna had planned to have a late dinner together at the end of their shifts, but that wasn't likely to happen now. The mood on the bridge had changed. Data, sitting at science station one, was rapidly absorbing and compiling information as fast as the computer could supply it to him for the briefing in thirty minutes.

Troi looked over at Riker in the wake of the silence left by the captain's departure. "Commander, I believe this could be very unsettling for the captain just now. He has been though a lot lately. The Borg are a force I'm not sure he is ready to deal with again so soon."

Riker frowned over a Deanna. "I'm not convinced anybody is ready for the Borg again this soon. Me included, if it really is the Borg and I can't think why not. Starfleet hasn't had near enough time yet. We would need another six months at the least just to replace the crews and ships lost at Wolf 359. As, for the captain. Starfleet believes he's ready so don't worry Deanna, the captain will be fine, as long as we look out for him a little." Deanna produced a weak smile at that, "Perhaps you are right Will, let’s wait until after the briefing before we pass judgement."

* * *

Picard hesitated inside the turbo lift a moment, then gave a verbal order. " Deck ten." The turbo lift shot off at it's usual quick pace and Picard found himself rubbing his hands together for no apparent reason. He found it hard to believe the Borg could have returned to Federation space so soon. Perhaps their ability to be a linked unit extended to all Borg everywhere, not just those sharing a ship. How would he deal with them this time if they could be dealt with at all. No, he was jumping to conclusions. They had no definite proof that it was the Borg. Picard rubbed his hand over his face just before the turbo lift doors opened to admit him to deck ten. He followed the corridor for several paces and stopped before the large, double, wood simulated doors to ten forward. He knew he would come here even before he was fully conscience of the decision. He moved forward and the doors moved aside to admit him to the lounge.

Inside were several off duty personnel sharing a drink, completely unaware of the danger before them for the moment. Word had a way of leaking out very quickly. Then again, the captain thought, the crew were always facing danger, hardly new to them now after three and a half years in space aboard the Enterprise. He walked over to the bar and sat down on a stool. Guinan was serving drinks to a couple of lieutenants. When she had finished she came promptly over.

"What can I do for you, captain?" Guinan asked in her usual tone. The captain looked up at her, grateful to have somebody to talk to, someone he didn't have to act as a superior to all the time, somebody with a wealth of wisdom he was hoping she would share with him.

"Guinan, I believe the proper question should be, what can I get you, isn't it? " the captain looked all too unconvincingly like all he really wanted was a drink.

"No, I think if you had come in for a drink you would have asked for one straight off. I think I know you pretty well. You see, when you come in here and look at me first I know you want a drink, but when you come in here and look at the bar first I know you want to talk, unless I am mistaken." Guinan looked far from mistaken.

Picard looked uneasy for a moment before he spoke. He took a deep inhalation of breath rubbed his hand across his mouth and then began. "Guinan, I've asked you for information on this in the past, and I believe you told me all you know, but I would feel better knowing that were true."

In the brief pause Guinan says, "So, ask."

"Guinan what do you know of the Borg?" Picard looked a bit foolish. He probably had more information having been part of the collective, but he always valued her opinion on any matter. She had a way of seeing things he would sometimes not think of.

Guinan pretended to look surprised, "Well, they destroyed my world. They don't negotiate very well and they take what they want, apart from that there isn't much I can say. I can tell you they first appeared from the Striata Nebulae, though that may not be where they originated. My people tried everything they could think of for a peaceful solution, but there just wasn't one. I'm sorry I can't be of more help captain. Captain, have there been reports of another Borg ship?" Guinan asked coaxing the captain on.

The captain looked up at Guinan. "You are nothing if not perceptive, Guinan. It may be the Borg, I'll know more after the briefing in half an hour when we view the transmission from the Tecton. If it is the Borg, I'm not sure I'll know how to proceed."

"Proceeding isn't the hard part, it's proceeding in the right direction that is tricky. You'll do exactly what you have to. Everyone on board know's that. Everybody trusts you."

"But what if I'm wrong. The lives that were lost the last time."

"Were not your fault." Guinan cut in. "The Borg don't reason like we do. They just take what they want in any way they can. You know that. You made decisions last time and you'll make decisions this time too."

"I just hope they are the right ones. I’m not sure I can face them again, Guinan. Do you have any idea what they did to me? My entire soul was violated, my life's memories were stolen from me and used for destruction. The knowledge and memories stripped from me were the cause of so much death. I can't make that mistake again."

"All humans make mistakes. Its what defines them, makes them learn and grow. Some make more than others but that's part of what being human is all about. Anyway, you had no choice. The Borg give no options except the ones they dole out. You will do the right thing and we will all be behind you. I think it's time you ordered a drink, the usual."

"Yes, that would be fine. Thank you Guinan." Picard looked a little better and watched as Guinan moved over to the bar's replicator to order up his drink. She came back quickly and set it down in front of him, then started wiping the bar to let him know she was still available if he wanted to talk, or equally unavailable if he didn't.

The captain sat for a while and drank, then abruptly rose and exited ten forward. In a few brisk steps he was in the turbolift and on his way to his quarters for a sonic shower and a few minutes of relaxation before the briefing.

* * *

Data arrived at the observation lounge and proceeded to organize his presentation. He had been compiling information for this session for a solid eighteen minutes. He needed only twelve more to completely ready his presentation to be the most succinct and effective he could make it in the allotted time. Data connected the meeting rooms display systems to the ships computer so the pertinent information could be reviewed when needed during the briefing, then began to arrange a logical series of information steps that would reveal all available details.

As Data worked diligently, Riker, Worf and Geordie entered the room. Data quickly accessed his internal clock, ran a quick diagnostic of his sub-routines and confirmed that all his systems were functioning properly and in fact Riker, Worf and Geordie had arrived early. Seven minutes, twenty seven point six three seconds early to be exact. Nobody spoke, and the three proceeded to sit at the large oval table while Data continued his efforts. Shortly after, Beverly and Deanna came in and also and took there seats without comment. There was an uneasy tension in the room and each crew member looked at the other and exchanged reassuring smiles though none felt reassured.

Captain Picard arrived promptly on time and was the last to arrive. He looked refreshed and Troi felt that his initial tension seemed greatly reduced though he was understandably very concerned about this briefing. Picard sat at the head of the table and looked at Data who had now stood and was half facing the viewer and the assembly.

The captain looked around at his senior officers, then back to Data. He did not look forward to this at all. No briefing involving the loss of Starfleet personnel was ever pleasant, and the possibility of Borg involvement cast an even darker shadow on the whole incident. "Well, it appears as though we are all present. Mr. Data will you proceed."

Data nodded and began immediately. "As admiral Rhoulin already informed us, at o-eight hundred hours yesterday the USS Luffton received a heavily garbled distress call from the USS Tecton, a geological survey ship recently sent to study the newly formed Altronin asteroid field. The Luffton is an almost fully automated ore freighter with a crew compliment of three. It was flying a routine cargo run from the Brittana mines in the Drax system to the refineries on Tri Seti Six when it intercepted the distress call from the Tecton. It was the only Starfleet vessel to do so."

Data touched the control pad of the meeting room viewer and a star field appeared. A bright red line traced its way across the star field. "This was the registered flight path of the Luffton and here," a blue dot began to pulsate at one point along the red line, "is where the distress call was received."

"Where is the Romulan Neutral zone compared to this?" Riker wanted to see more pieces of the puzzle displayed. He wasn't yet convinced that the Romulans weren't somehow involved in this. Or maybe he was hoping only the Romulans were involved.

Data touched another control and a region of the star field was sectioned off in green indicating the Neutral zone. "As you can see, the Tecton's call originated from the Altronin asteroid field which is bordering the neutral zone, though still technically within Federation space."

There were no more immediate questions so Data loaded the distress call for playback. "Here is the audio and visual recording of the distress call, enhanced by Starfleet." Data sat down and touched the pad once more. The lights automatically dimmed for better viewing. This was the moment when some of their questions may be answered or perhaps just lead to many more. The message started and quickly consumed all of their attentions.

The garbled image of the Tecton's captain appeared, haggard and upset. The signal faded in and out but was clear enough to make out with concentration. "To all Federation vessels within range, this is captain Holesworth of the USS Tecton. We need assistance immediately. As we entered into the Altronin asteroid field we encountered another vessel, cube-like in shape, but motionless." A blast rocks the Tecton and the captain is jostled out of camera range. He gets back into view with small fires blazing on the bridge behind him and the red alert siren screaming. "This vessel approached but would not answer any of our hails. It is now firing on us, evasive manoeuvres are useless in the field, our shields are failing... "

The screen abruptly blacked out and Data rose and the lights came back up. "It appears as though the Tecton was fired upon by what the captain described as, a cube-like vessel." The playback brought back to all in the room the many recent memories of the Borg incursion.

Picard leaned forward and said. " Data, could you confirm the authenticity of the distress signal?"

"Yes, captain. It would appear to be genuine though I can not be absolutely positive due to the degradation of the signal." Data looked deep in thought.

"Data, any idea on why the signal was so weak and only reached the Luffton? That doesn't make much sense, it would take incredible interference to block a sub-space distress signal. Could there be enough residual radiation from the stars collapse to account for it?" Geordie was running all the possibilities he could think of through his mind that could block the signal.

Data answered. "The Altronin asteroid field is composed mostly of planetary remains, torn apart by the explosion of their large star. This phenomenon occurred three thousand and seventeen years ago. Initial Starfleet automated long distance surveys indicate this is a normal asteroid field, thought the Tecton’s mission was to conduct a thorough survey of the field. There are several forms of high level radiations which could account for the interference, however, none strong enough have ever been discovered to date in any asteroid field."

Worf piped up. "Romulans. They could be using their cloaking technology somehow to block the signal and create a false distress call."

"That is a possibility, however slim. The Tecton is recorded missing and not responding to subspace hails.” Data added.

Riker interjected. "As much as I want to believe it, this just doesn't sound like the work of the Romulans. They may block signals, but to attack a Federation ship without provocation? It sounds too much like the Borg. Who else would attack an unarmed research vessel? A cube-like vessel also? This can't be coincidence, could it?" Riker hated the possibility that it could be the Borg but felt it should be pursued.

Data cut back in with more information. "Commander, although the vessel is described as cube-like that does not immediately implicate the Borg. There are sixteen known species of interstellar races which employ what could be termed cube-like vessels. It also seems unlikely that a Borg vessel could have penetrated into Federation space from the Romulan border without bringing attention to itself much sooner."

Picard turned to Worf. "Mr. Worf, any indication of the Romulans building up along this area of the Neutral zone?"

"None, sir. All recent reports indicate the Romulans are maintaining regular patrols. There is also no indication that the Romulans have encountered a Borg vessel. I doubt they could hide the fact if that were true. That is why I think the Romulans are somehow behind this, though I don't know how, yet." Worf scowled, unable to vent his frustration in a true Klingon fashion.

Troi followed Worf's lead. "Could this be a trick of the Romulans then, and to what purpose?" She looked at Data who answered.

"I do not have enough information to conclude what or who caused this. It is also possible that we are dealing with new a race entirely." Data waited to field more questions.

Doctor Crusher asks, "Could there still be survivors from the Tecton. We can't be certain that it was destroyed. The ship’s crew may have escaped in pods." The doctor showed her usual concern.

"That is also a possibility doctor." Data concludes, "However, based on the facts we have, it is highly unlikely."

"Unlikely or not, doctor you are to arrange a medical team in case there are survivors. Data, how long before we reach the Altronin asteroid field?" Picard asked.

"We will reach the field in six point three hours."

Riker added one more comment. "The patrolling Romulan ships along the Neutral zone. Would they have been close enough to pick up the distress call, provided they aren't behind this entire incident?"

Worf answered. "The closest estimate of a Romulan vessel would make it near enough to have received the distress call from the neutral zone."

"So it would seem that even if this isn't something the Romulans have instigated they are most likely going to be involved anyway." Riker didn't like any of this at all. He looked over at the Captain trying to judge his reactions, but as always he was cool in appearance.

The captain fielded Riker's look. "I believe our questions will be answered in about six hours. Geordie just in case, will you review all available information on the Borg weapons and prepare our defences. Thank you Mr Data. If anyone has anything else." The captain looked around but nobody offered any more comments. "Very well then lets all get some rest, I believe we should get very busy soon."

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