this article was thought of and created by StarSword
|"Brother on Brother, Daughter on Mother"|
|Written for ULC 27 on the Star Trek Online forum|
10 September 2016
Benthan Sector, Delta Quadrant. 4 January 2411 Earth Standard.
"Park, port one-three-zero, fifteen degree down! Tess!"
"Locked and firing!" My blue friend hammers her trigger pad as Park yaws left and depresses the bow, and streams of light lance out from the dorsal and ventral phasers and finally batter down the Borg cube's shields as the Benthan cruiser 150 klicks to starboard adds its fire.
"Firing, fore tube!" A volley of purple-glowing thunderbolts shriek from below the saucer and the cube's transwarp drive detonates in a green fireball as we bank away.
"Bridge, Ordnance," the basso voice of Chief Culyn announces over speakers. "Be advised, we are down to ten, repeat one-zero, neutronic torpedoes. After that you're stuck with quantums. Over."
Tess responds, "Don't worry, Chief, I've kept count. We'll have enough."
"Janacek, you still with me?" I radio.
"I'm on your five o'clock low, Commodore!" the lieutenant commander on the Brandenburg answers in an inset on the viewscreen as we vector for the next target. Once again it hits me, the brown-skinned human's young, too young. I was four years older than her when I got my first command.
Phekk, I've got no room to complain: I know how fast I went from O-2 to O-6, and we lost so many trained officers in the Iconian War I'll take all the help I can get. I'd rather not have given her another promotion but Commander T'Kel's Laikan got caught between three probes on the way in, never stood a chance.
"Form up your Defiant wing and prepare to—"
"Captain!" Master Chief Wiggin interrupts. "I'm picking up a disruption in subspace. Looks like a transwarp conduit, about to open its aperture into realspace."
"Esplin," I say through gritted teeth, turning to the newly minted JG at comms, "I thought you said that particle… thing of yours would block out any calls for reinforcements!"
"It did, ma'am," Wiggin quickly moves to defend the blueshirt. "This transwarp conduit is brand new: it's not opening, it's being built."
Wait, the Queen shouldn't need to build any new conduits to one of her own bases, which means—oh, phekk. I key the comm. "All units, all units, this is Commodore Kanril. Take evasive action!"
An enormous green glow blooms into existence from the black as our small force of Starfleet, Benthan, and Vaadwaur ships scatters. Behind us two cubes and a smattering of spheres burst from the new portal and immediately open fire on the other Borg ships.
"Please tell me they're with your Cooperative, Kanril," Commander Darva transmits from the VSW Revenge.
"Not likely," I answer.
The comms echo with a single voice repeated infinite times, deep, but definitely feminine. "Surrender your vessels. Your cultural and biological distinctiveness are immaterial. You will be assimilated into the whole and perfected. I am the Borg. Resistance is futile."
"So One of One did make it out," Biri remarks.
"Sounds like," I agree. "Good diversion, though. All units, form up and head for the objective, don't let anything stop you. Connor, Gantumur, get your squads to the transporters. Full impulse, Lieutenant."
"Ma'am!" Stars wheel on the viewscreen and I have a brief sight of a tactical cube engaging One of One's ships. Then a dirty brown planet with too few spots of blue and a huge splotch of dark gray swings into view. It's amazing the planets the Borg will go for sometimes: to hear Biri tell it, this place is a proto-garden world where anaerobes have only halfway finished oxidizing the atmosphere. Next to impossible for there to be any native intelligent life.
I spare a glance for the plot. One of One's ships have outflanked the tactical cube, and naturally the Queen still somehow hasn't learned how to split fire between multiple targets. Two spheres fire off a firestorm of superheated plasma from more weapons ports than any Borg ship should have, tearing through the cube's shields in seconds. Kinetic warheads follow, and the cube shatters. "Prophets, that AI is good."
"And that's bad," Tess murmurs.
"Esplin, request additional ships from the DJC. Recommend they send Hugh or Six of Fifteen, fight wraith with wraith."
A probe appears ahead of us but Tess and the tacscorts blast it out of the way in short order, leaving it a flaming wreck far behind as we close with the planet. "Begin orbital insertion."
"Geosynchronous in thirty seconds, ma'am," Park confirms as we swing to starboard and bank, "leveling" the ship relative to the planet.
"Tess, drop ventral shields." I hit the intercom. "Assault unit, MACO 131, you are clear for immediate deployment. May the Prophets walk with you."
"Confirm, ma'am, see you on the other side."
Gaarra reports, "Transport commencing. Transport complete."
"Ventral shields back up," Tess adds.
I nod in acknowledgement. "Wiggin, maintain sensor lock. We get even a peep that the Queen or One of One is headed our way, scrub the op and bail."
It's all up to the gropos now.
I hate this part.
Planet Delta-86017114-3, 35° 54' 17.684" x -79° 2' 48.888".
I love this part.
The face-to-face asskicking part, not the being in Borg hell. The latter brings back bad memories. The former is why I went for MACO instead of regular Starfleet Security.
The racket of my heavy-weapons man's Omega Force-modified M2 Browning is incredible but I can immediately see why they brought back a nearly 500-year-old weapon: it puts huge holes in Borg.
"Watch out, Connor," Aly Gantumur sends to my helmet over the noise of Luiz raking a cluster of drones with the big fifty-cal, "I'm picking up one of those assimilated Gorn headed for our position!"
"Time to break out the big guns, then," I mutter, kicking open a crate and grabbing a gray tube, hefting it to my shoulder. They've upgraded the FGM-385 Pilum since I was assimilated but the basic idea hasn't changed: aim, fire, forget. "Missile away!" I feel the slight kick of the launch charge and my visor automatically darkens ahead of the firing of the main fusion thruster.
Kallio leans out from behind cover with perfect timing, a split-second after the anti-tank missile streaks past his position. The hulking form of the Borg superheavy combat drone is staggered by the explosion, but a DU frag round brings it to the ground, the left knee destroyed.
"I've got this bastard. Kallio, move back to cover Gantumur."
The assimilated Gorn's still trying to move for us, the chest a burned wreck thanks to the missile launcher, one arm gone with half the head and the crippled leg leaving the creature in a half-crawl. Poor bastard. I slap the replicator on the FGM-385 to make sure it's reloaded, aim, and fire again. This time the Borg collapses in burned fragments. Sorry, buddy. Better this way.
"That one's Gorn," Kallio cracks, to a collective groan over the comm.
I lay the missile launcher back into the crate, unsling my Brown Recluse, and start firing off three-round bursts. "Lamont, you think they're thinning?"
"We should be so lucky."
"Connor, I don't need your sniper, are you sure you have enough support?" Gantumur's voice isn't worried, exactly, more common-sense stress in the tone.
"I'm good, I've got Luiz, a machine gun, and a missile launcher." Case in point, that machine gun Luiz is now carrying slung at his hip mows down another row of drones that emerge from a side passage, marching towards our little patch of ground in Borg hell. "What I'm more worried about is what the hell the Borg were doing here to set off the science guys like they did and attract that super-AI or whatever the fuck it is!"
"We'll find out soon enough," the Welshwoman notes. "Hohenzollern, watch the flank! We've got the LZ, Connor; move out!"
Another wave materializes, closer this time. "Gantumur, they're getting through our dampeners!"
"Shite. Roger that." The Borg has a nearly infinite supply of drones, meat puppets for its AI. If a few of them get decohered by transporter dampeners, so what? It can afford the casualties to pierce our scramblers by trial and error—and we only have the one tech with us, since I left K'tar keeping the Borg off of the LZ.
"Belka, keep the boltheads away from us!"
"Working on it, sir!" the new meat, Belka Saris, agrees, spraying rounds from her submachine gun down a side passage as we rush into the installation.
"Luiz, back up," I order. The big man starts a defiant response, but I shake my head. "Don't argue, fall back towards Lamont and K'tar. I'll…"
Three Borg heavy combat drones, Talaxian-based by the looks of them, beam in around me. SHIT...
My arms are pinned in less than half a second. I can tear out, but there's the third drone with its arm already raised and tubules out. Not like this, not like…
Wait. I'm supposed to be immune to nanoprobes, right? Not like I've ever tested it, but…
Assimilation tubules breach my neck armor. My neck seizes up almost instantly, but I don't hear a damn thing. If that crazy doctor was right, I'm still me, if not… I'll take these bastards with me.
I yank my right arm from the first drone's grasp, hauling myself around to pound the one that just stabbed me in the face. It crumples backwards, face concave and implants sparking.
Still no voices.
Luiz's fifty-cal roars and the first drone vanishes in a hail of sparks and bits of metal. I flip the second drone over, rip my arm from its grasp, and stamp straight through its chest, then pull out my pistol and shoot it three times in the face. Gone. Still no voices. Pain in the neck, like acid, but no loss of mobility, no creeping voice or spreading paralysis.
"Kuna te nim!" I hear Gantumur yell something that sounds like profanity, then I hear the shriek of an anti-materiel phaser and something bounces off the side of my helmet. I look around in time to see the smoking remains of another tactical drone stumble to the ground behind Luiz.
"Sorry the delay, sir," her sniper, K'lak, comments in a near-emotionless voice. Sounds weird coming from a Klingon.
"No apologies necessary," I reply. Still no voices, and my onboard hypo hits me with heavy painkillers with seven blinks at my HUD. "I'm, uh, I'm OK. No voices, Borg must not have breached the armor." It's bullshit, but my armor's health-monitoring systems suffered a convenient "failure" earlier, so nobody can call me on it. Or at least nobody should be able to. Lucky thing I was out of K'lak's sight. "Luiz, let's move before they get back."
"Maybe next time you keep me around, sir?" Kallio snarks over coms. "You went to the effort of getting a Finn, after all."
"Noted. Overconfident of me, stupid stunt. Chew me out later."
I can practically hear the little bastard shake his head. "Crazy helvetin Americans. Probably never left the province before you went to the Academy."
I ignore the comedian with some effort. "Side note, Gantumur, what the fuck was it you just said?"
"Mph, not fit for polite company. Me mum's Kurdish. Hey, watch the flank, damn it!"
"You're talking to a woman who got written up three times at the Academy for cussing too much," I note, grabbing the weapons crate one-handed and slinging it over my back. "Though I suppose we have junior officers on the line…"
"Think of the ensigns, aye?"
"Sure. Move up, move up!" I let the weapons crate drag now, better not to do obviously inhuman shit, not until we know this new petty officer they added to my team is trustworthy. She's Bajoran like the captain, but that's not much of a guarantee, and Gantumur herself isn't aware of my existence as a walking war crime.
Luiz fires off another volley. "Bolthead puta AI is fucking persistent."
"Keep moving, almost there. Belka, stay with me, as in right fucking beside me."
"Yessir." She moves up. At least she's not too green.
"Lamont, you good?"
"Watching both sides, we're good."
"Good man. We'll try to make some noise. Vinculum shouldn't be much further." Goddamn it I want to just charge ahead, use the bullshit levels of strength that I got injected with, avoid risking good men to a fate worse than death like this, but that means life in prison as soon as someone calls Command and none of the boys would let that happen. Assholes. Probably they like having someone around to tank Borg drones, too. That reasoning I can understand, at least.
"Belka, keep that damn jammer up," Luiz snarls as another group of Borg materializes, one decohering into slime but the other four marching forwards into Luiz's machine-gun fire.
"They're not exactly making this easy!"
"Almost there, keep it together…" I reach the corner and peer around. "Bingo. I read six tac drones, four heavy tac, and a superheavy infantry unit." Missile time again. "Luiz, keep an eye out, I'm gonna clear the way."
The Borg's tactics are remarkably simplistic. Scratch that, they're fucking infantile. The drones march forwards in unison, the AI supremely confident in its trillions of bodies. Fucking expendable. Fuck that fucking AI.
The Pilum, as expected, blows one of the heavy tac drones and four of the lighter models apart, but the rest of the formation spreads out. The tricky thing about the Borg is that it's capable of adapting within certain parameters—it's constrained, not outright stupid.
"Luiz, could use that machine gun."
More drones beam in ahead, forming a cyborg wall between us and the target. Luiz heaves his Browning up to my left, taking aim and bracing his back against a pillar.
"Roger that, LT."
That gun's fucking loud, but it works like a charm. Dunno why I ever doubted it, really.
"LT, you know that thing has a frag setting, right?"
The fuck? I check the missile launcher. Well, hot damn. They updated this sonofabitch in the years I was out. Fuck, I need to read my back issues of Jane's. And how will I explain that to the subscription department—"oh, hi, I was dead for four years, legally speaking, now I'm back"? Nah…
Oh, wait, the ship probably has them in the library. Never mind.
"Thanks," I chuckle. "Heh, this is gonna be good."
Luiz is getting a drink on me later. That frag setting is intensely satisfying, blowing away the rest of the formation in one shot. "Alright, gimme time to reload." Yoyodyne Division engineering isn't great at the best of times (hello, nonfunctional gun replicator that got me assimilated!), and I don't want to be caught by surprise. Fortunately, it works this time. "Alright, let's move! Belka, the charge!"
"Got it right here!"
We double-time it to the vinculum, Luiz downing a couple of drones as they beam in. "I think they're running out," he says disbelievingly.
My comm crackles. "Connor, Kanril. Hurry up down there, One of One's winning!"
"There's your answer," I mutter. "Belka, you're up."
She runs up and starts feeling up the vinculum as we spread out to cover her; Luiz pulls a stack of landmines out of his pack and starts throwing them back the way we came like frisbees. "Come on, where are you—Aha!" She reaches into her belt and plugs something in.
"How long do you need?" I may be immune to the Borg, but I don't want to spend any longer than absolutely necessary in this shithole. I can feel the memories welling up—frozen in place as my hand is removed, being slowly stripped of my hardsuit by an unfeeling AI—and sit on them. Stay focused, Rachel. You've got a hero-worshipping nephew to get back to.
"I'm past what passes for security with this thing and I'm starting the dump. Come on, come on! Oh, wraithspawn."
"¿Qué pasa?" Luiz doesn't quite hide his worry at being stuck in this place with the Borg all around us.
"Nothing, sir. Well, not nothing: I triggered some kind of defense program but I killed the process before it did anything."
Something about that rubs me the wrong way, the tone maybe? Part of the downside of superhuman senses, I can pick up a lot of little inflections in people's voices but I can't interpret them. A nearsighted housewife in the body of Jane Bond. Or something like that.
"Good work. Finish it up and we're out of here. Luiz, start on the charge."
"Connor, we're holding the LZ, but the firefight's moving into orbit," Gantumur says, even tenser now. "Hohenzollern, I said watch the bloody flank!"
Poor Hohenzollern's new, hasn't even been through SERE yet. She's some German royalty, 8th or 9th in line to the throne, and barely old enough to fuck legally. Like what seems like half the crew now, she was sent out into space to be a warm body filling a role after the decimation of the Iconian War. Poor girl should be studying, or chasing boys or girls at some fancy ball or whatever the fuck it is the Kaiser's cousins are supposed to do.
I snap off another burst, felling another drone scout. "Belka?"
"Just twenty more seconds, I swear—aah!" The tech flies backwards as a burst of light signals some sort of shock pulse from the device. She lands flat on her ass, armor sparking. Fuck!
Luiz bellows "Man down! Man down!" as he rushes over to her.
"Gah, ye'phekk maktal kosst amojan, I'm fine, just got a little fried. Lieutenant?"
Huh, I recognize that phrase. The Captain's favorite curse. "How do I finish this?" I sling my rifle over my back and move to the vinculum.
"Get my PADD, hit the red key twice, then the green key, then blue, wait for the bar to fill, then unplug it and call for evac."
"Ok…" I hit the red key once, twice, then green, then blue. As promised, a progress bar starts up, moving far slower than I'd like it to. "Ten percent...twenty…"
Luiz guns down three more drones. "They're coming back!" There's a thunderclap as one of his mines goes off.
"I fucking noticed! Thirty-five percent... forty-five… set the charge if it isn't set already. Cap, it's Connor, get ready to yank us!"
"Copy that!" Captain Kanril answers. "The Cooperative just arrived and engaged One of One's lead cube, you've got time!"
"Sixty percent… fucking come on already…"
"LT, I've got Belka. We can leave the Pilum."
"I can bring it, we might need the backup. Eighty percent… fucking fuck, hurry the fuck up!"
I hear somebody laughing on the comm. "What was that about ensigns and their tender ears?" Gantumur remarks.
"I'll put a credit in my nephew's swear jar." In response to Lamont's questioning grunt over coms, "I made a reference to, uh, taking care of myself, while at a family dinner. Mom was asking why I don't have a steady date yet. Amy was pissed, let me—ha! Done! Let's move!" I stow the PADD and reach for the missile launcher.
Luiz hauls Belka up, half-lifting her off the ground by leaning her on his shoulder, and she's not a small woman. "Ready."
I grab the Pilum and palm the activation panel on the quantum warhead with my other hand. "Let's move it!"
"Energizing!" Transporter Chief Korbuhlo says, half into the channel, half out loud as Transporter Room One materializes around me. The Bolian waits a moment, then: "Bridge, Transporters, I've got them!" Then he looks at me and grins. "Hah, I've never beamed twenty people from two targets onto one pad before!"
Kallio ignores him, racing for the intercom as the rumble of the main impulse engines shakes the floor. "Medical team to Transporter One!"
I turn to Gantumur. Her blonde hair's slicked to her head with sweat as she pulls off her helmet, and she's breathing heavily. I shuck my own helmet, and grin. "Nice work, thanks for the sniper to cover Luiz's big ass."
"No problem—" Then her eyes widen. "Oh, shite, your neck…"
I clap a hand to my neck. Something's running down it—I pull up my hand. Corroded grey-and-green slime mixed with blood is leaking from my neck. I grimace, racking my brains for an excuse.
"Must be lubricant fluid or something." The holes will heal soon enough, the pain in my neck's almost gone, but I need to cover my ass fast. "A Borg tried to get me, but he didn't get through my armor. Probably punched a line."
Gantumur looks a little suspicious. "You look like you've got a couple of holes on your—"
"Yeah, I felt that. Splinters from the gorget plate, I guess. I know a guy who got killed by his own suit's fragments once." More bullshit, hopefully she can't see through it.
"Fine, you don't want to tell me the truth, I won't push it, long as the Captain knows."
Ah, shit, now I've got her suspicious. And Aly's a good drinking buddy at the bar, too. "She does." That part's true, at least. "She and I are on the same page." I keep my hand on my neck anyway as the skin starts to close over. "Fuck, where are the medics?"
"Here," that blonde Betazoid corpsman, Watkins, answers, coming in with the crisis-response team. "Who's hurt?"
"Belka, over there. My boys and I are good."
Belka grits her teeth. "Electric shock up my forearm, feels like the fingers are burned. OW!" she exclaims as Watkin unsnaps her gauntlet and slides it off.
"Yep. Not so bad, second-degree electrical burns. Your armor stopped most of it but we need to get you to sickbay. Stretcher!"
Captain's Ready Room.
"We're… clear of the Borg, right, Captain?"
I lower the PADD I'm composing my mission report on and look up at Lieutenant Rachel Connor, who has a pressure bandage on one side of her neck. I nod, then amend it: "So the Vaads said, anyway. According to Darva they physically can't follow us through Underspace."
"In case you're nervous, I didn't include anything in my report about having an assimilation-proof team leader," I add in a sardonic tone. She glances up at me to see my lopsided grin. "That was a joke, Lieutenant, cheer up."
"I… wasn't actually sure I was assimilation-proof, ma'am. The doc who made me was a fucking moron, sixteen million-credit DNA or not." She scratches at the neck bandage. "Also the rest of the team wasn't cooked up in a lab with the body of a disconnected drone by a couple of hacks working for Section 31."
I wince, and change the subject. "How's Petty Officer Belka?"
"Her hand got burned. Won't heal the way I do, but frankly I think that's a blessing."
"Well, your bomb went off, good job on that." Tess wasn't sure what to make of having Chief Culyn cannibalize a quantum torpedo for an eighty megaton demo charge.
"Thank you, ma'am."
The door chimes. "Captain, Master Chief Kinlo to see you," Tess announces from the bridge.
The white-haired Klingon strides in and throws another PADD onto my desk, then rounds on Connor. "Respectfully, sir, what are you trying to pull? That data dump is a joke."
"What the fuck are you talking about? Did Belka screw up? She's the one who did the hack, all I did was press the button to download it all."
"Well, she sabotaged us, Lieutenant. We got enough strategic information to clear the Borg out of Benthan space twice over, but all the scientific data from that installation, it's been erased, and she made a damn good stab at making it look like it wasn't there to begin with."
"The fuck?" Connor looks pissed now. "That's why she sounded funny! She knew that I know as much about hacking as I know about modern art, and she convinced me to leave K'tar behind! That lying bitch!" Connor's hands flex; doubtless she's thinking of wringing Belka's neck. "If she's Section 31, I volunteer to deal with her, Captain."
"Kinlo, did you—" I begin.
"I went to Lieutenant Korekh first, had him post a guard in sickbay just in case, but last I checked she was sleeping off Dr. Wirrpanda's drugs."
The PADD stylus in my hand snaps with a sharp crack. I throw the fragments in the general direction of the replicator and reach into my desk for my sheathed bayonet, snap it to my belt. "Connor, with me! Master Chief, return to your station; I'll take care of this."
We storm past a startled Tess and into the turbolift. "What the fuck do you think's going on, Captain?"
"I don't know, but Belka's going to tell us. Something's funny, though."
"You're telling me?"
I turn and tip my head down to look Connor in the eye as the turbolift car stops; for all of her muscle and augmented strength, I'm still easily a whole head taller than her. "She deleted the research data but not the information on ship deployment."
Her eyes widen in understanding. "So she's a mole? Foreign, you think, ma'am?"
"That doesn't fit, either. They want us to kill the Borg but not learn about them? Why the phekk would a foreign state want that?"
The MACO shrugs. "Either way, I can smell lies. Technically I can hear them, too, but I'm not as good with that." She taps her nose. "Part of the package. We'll narrow it down eventually." Then she gasps. "Wait. What was it the science guys said? Something about tachyon readings? And why did the new super-AI show up in the middle of the fight? She was targeting the Queen's Borg exclusively, didn't hit us once."
"Not until Hugh and Justicar Morlen intercepted her, anyway," I agree as we reach sickbay. "I'll call you in if I need you."
We stride into sickbay past K'lak and McMillan. I nod my acknowledgement. Connor stops to thank K'lak for shooting something but I keep going, stopping only when I see Gaarra. "Gaarra, what are you doing down here?"
"Checking on one of my lieutenants. What are you doing down here, El?"
"Belka Saris. Come on, I need somebody to look intimidating who can't snap her neck with a pinky." Connor's got good self-control, has to, to be a MACO, but better safe than sorry.
"Can do!" he faux-cheerfully remarks, following me as I stomp up to Warragul, who recoils at my expression. "Where is she?" He wordlessly points into one of the rooms. "Thank you."
I throw back the curtain as the reddish-blonde petty officer jerks awake, a look of alarm in her green eyes as I recall what I know about her, or I suppose what Starfleet thinks they know about her. Age 28, born in Christopher's Landing on Titan, granddaughter of refugees from the Occupation, started as a systems engineer but then went through MACO training at the base on Hellguard near the Romulan border. "Captain Kanril, what can I—"
"Petty Officer Belka Saris, when did you last review the Starfleet Code of Military Justice? Recall for me Articles 92 and 106, if you please."
She recoils. "Article 106? You're accusing me of espionage, ma'am?!"
Now that's odd. I've never met her before but I didn't have to tell her not to call me 'sir'. "Why shouldn't I? You deliberately erased data you were ordered to retrieve while making it look like there wasn't any."
"I did nothing of the sort!"
"Don't think of me as an idiot—"
"Believe me, I don't, ma'am."
"—because between you and Command Master Chief Kinlo, I'm going to go with the one who kept the systems engineer rating her whole career. Now, can we dispense with the chickenshit? Do I need to bring Lieutenant Connor in here?"
She groans. "No, you don't need the living lie detector."
"The what?" Gaarra exclaims. "You know about—"
"I kind of have to. She saved my life. Six times. Including once when she smelled a guy lying when he was about to shoot me and tore his arm off before he could pull the trigger."
"Wh—Connor—you—" I close my mouth and try to marshal my thoughts. "Petty Officer Belka, what in the Prophets' unknowable names are you talking about?"
She sighs. "My name isn't Belka, Captain."
"I kind of figured that out already; who are you and who do you work for?"
"Belka" holds up a hand. "Understand, what I'm about to tell you is classified above top secret. You are not to disclose this to anyone, especially Lieutenant Connor, under penalty of court martial. Close the curtain."
"Fine," I snap, throwing the curtain across; I expected that. "Who. The phekk. Are. You?"
"I'm Commander Reshek Taryn, Starfleet Intelligence Special Operations Section Eight."
"Reshek?" I look at my husband. "Gaarra, I didn't know you had any other relatives in the service."
"Neither did he, ma'am."
I look back over to the spook and raise an eyebrow in confusion. "What?"
"Captain Kanril, I'm your daughter."
That sound you just heard was me trying to pick my jaw up off the floor.
"And I'm honestly not surprised you caught me out, Captain," she continues. "I never could hide anything from you."
"Wait," Gaarra interrupts, "go back to the part… where you're our daughter?"
She nods. "I was—will be born in 2421."
"You're a time traveler?"
"Well, I'd kind of have to be, Mother, since I'm actually a little older than you are right now: I'm 33."
I just stare at her. Finally: "This is a joke, right?"
She points out into the corridor. "Mother, go borrow a medical tricorder from Dr. Wirrpanda, one I can't have messed with. Set it to scan my DNA and have the computer run a comparison with yours and Father's."
I decide to humor "Taryn" and pick up the device. Takes two tries, I haven't used a medical tricorder since my last first aid course, but finally I get the results. "Prophets. Gaarra, look at this."
There's no mistake. She's half me, half him.
I just sit there staring at her for a moment, but then I start to see it. She's got Gaarra's long nose, my jawline. Her hair's lighter than mine, more of a dark eichenberry blonde than my deep red, but those green eyes, they're definitely from the Kanril side.
Taryn. That actually makes sense. It was always what I said I was going to name my daughter if I had one, the old Kendran word for the species of hardwood that makes up most of the remaining primeval forests in the Kendra Valley. It was my great-grandmother's name.
"Okay, so you're our kid," Gaarra says uncertainly. "What are you doing on our ship a decade before you were born?"
"Section 8 is Starfleet temporal intelligence."
"Timecops?" he queries. "Like the Department of Temporal Investigations?"
She grins humorlessly. "DTI are timecops. We're more like a temporal SWAT team."
"And you're here to swat what?"
"One of One's attempt to gain the Borg Queen's time travel technology. The technology the Queen acquired from another version of the Na'Kuhl."
"Who?" I ask.
"Actually, I think I've heard of them," Gaarra remarks. "Tzenketh Sector, right? Isolationists?"
"In this timeline. There's another branch that—" She winces. "Rrg, that timeline was a cesspool of nonsense, so many incursions in a multifactional temporal war, in an already shaky timeline, it became spatiotemporally unstable and wiped itself out altogether when two incursions collided. It's hard to explain; it involved Abner Bowman and Enterprise NX-01."
"Who?" I ask again.
"Abner Bowman. He was the captain of the United Earth Starship Enterprise, you may have heard of it."
"I thought that was Chen Hwai."
"Captain Hwai's what was supposed to happen, but there was another version where—" She squeezes her eyes shut and presses a hand to her face. "Okay, let me start over; that's a whole 'nother story altogether. Prophets." She straightens in the bed and grabs the water glass off the nightstand and takes a sip. "Okay, look. People think of time like it's a strict progression of cause to effect, but that's a really poor analogy. It's more like—"
"What, a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff?" I raise an eyebrow. "Are you seriously going to quote Doctor Who at me?" Gaarra gives me a look. "What?"
Taryn chuckles. "Well, it would fit you, wouldn't it, Mother? But no, no, time… It's kind of like a rope. Of infinite length."
"A rope?" That is genuinely one I've never heard of before.
"It's still not a perfect analogy but… Look, the rope fibers are probabilities, chances that particular versions of events will occur. Usually they're so similar the difference is imperceptible, and time has an… inertia to it that tends to true up whatever small differences do occur so that nobody without temporal senses can usually tell. Even most actual time travel is deterministic—go back, you've already been back, within that particular strand, like the whale probe incident in 2286. But the rope can also be damaged."
"Which is the reason for the Temporal Prime Directive," Gaarra surmises.
"Exactly. Classic example: the mirror universe. It started as a similar timeline, albeit one where Earth's Western Roman Empire took a little longer than usual to fall—Flavius Aetius overthrew Emperor Valentinian after the Catalaunian Plains and beat the Vandals in 455—and then the Nazis, Trumpers, Optimum, and the Krasnov junta were a little more successful." She holds up two fingers close together. "Just a little bit, it doesn't take much. But then import Borg from the future and—"
"The rope, what, frayed?"
"Exactly. Or take that mess with Ne—sorry, rambling again." She coughs. "Point is, the rope doesn't fray by itself. Major temporal incursions literally damage time, so our job is to intervene to stop frays where possible. You wouldn't believe the damage One of One could do with time travel; it's incalculable. She started as a medical AI, she wants to 'heal' all life," she explains with air quotes.
"Past, present, and future?" I guess.
Taryn nods. "Ordering out Section 8 is the option of last resort. Ideally we don't use time travel at all, it's too risky, but this was one of those times. DTI detected major temporal incursions in the past and far future, all stemming from this Borg expansion into Benthan space. So we had to infiltrate USS Bajor because there wasn't any other way to operate without phekking things up even worse, and I had to be the one to do it because my skill profile matched requirements the best." She grimaces. "The other option was Captain Connor, your Lieutenant Connor, and despite the camo skin she can't lie convincingly to save her life—I clean her out every time we play poker."
I snort at that. "Well, you got caught, so now what?"
"Well, now you order the lieutenant and the master chief to leave it alone and write a report for DTI, and I'm out of your hair the minute we dock at the Jenolan Sphere. 'Reassigned'," she adds, making air quotes again.
"Okay," I answer. "Here's a question. How do you know that by explaining all this to us you haven't frayed the rope yourself?"
"Oh, that." She chuckles. "Remember, Mother, the rope fibers are just probabilities. There's acceptable and unacceptable levels of risk. Acceptable level is, you and Father just do what comes naturally to you, let your future take care of itself and don't worry about me. Unacceptable? One of One." She shrugs. "Easy calculation, needs of the many and all that."
"All right, I'll buy that. So you're okay with this."
She grins. "Better than okay. Regs aside, this is the USS Bajor, the ship my mother, you, made famous. And I'm supposed to come and go without you ever knowing what you created? I know what the rules are for, but I don't have to like 'em."
And I crack up, I can't help it. She's definitely my daughter.
I try quizzing Taryn on my future but she refuses to reveal anything more than she already has, so Gaarra and I leave her in the bed in sickbay a few minutes later. Gaarra stops to talk to Warragul as I join Connor and the guards outside. "K'lak, McMillan, stand down. False alarm."
"Ma'am," the big Klingon grunts, and he and the redheaded human head off down the corridor.
Which leaves Connor standing there gaping at me. "Ma'am, what? Ten minutes ago you were—"
"That's classified, Connor," I interrupt matter-of-factly. "The research data was not erased, it was never there. Do we have an understanding between us?"
I hold up a hand. "Don't worry about it! Look, I'll throw you a bone: it turned out, Belka's mission didn't have anything to do with Section 31."
"What are you smiling about, ma'am?"
"Um, Connor, you've heard of 'classified', right?"
Connor shakes her head. "…Yes, ma'am. I trust you." She turns, presumably heading out to hit the bar, or maybe the gym. "Fucking spooks…" I hear her mutter. "Give me boltheads any day… next time I'll do the hacking myself, hafta learn the basics off K'tar…"
Gaarra steps into the hall behind me and puts his arm around me. I lean into him. "So we're going to have a daughter," the big man murmurs into my ear.
"Probably," I whisper back, turning my head to kiss the corner of his mouth. "Remember, time is a rope."
He laughs. "That has got to be the silliest metaphor I have ever heard in my life!" He returns my kiss with interest and we start walking towards the turbolift, holding hands. "How 'bout it, you wanna try making her?"
Grantham Memorial Hospital, Starfleet Headquarters, San'a, Greater Jordan. A possible November 2421.
"One more push, Admiral!" the bright green Fuima attending orders.
I half-roar, half-scream with effort and pain, and then I hear a new scream join mine. The masked Vulcan doctor between my legs pulls back and stands, a bloody towel in her hands. "It is a girl, Admiral Kanril. Congratulations."
"Lieutenant, I'm picking up a possible obstetric hemorrhage," one of the nurses says from the monitoring station.
I'm barely listening, exhausted from twelve hours of labor, as T'Fel washes my daughter, then wraps her in a blanket and lays her down in my arms, wrinkled and red in the face and perfect.
"She's gonna give her brothers nine kinds of hell when she gets bigger," Gaarra's holographic image says, leaning over us. "Prophets, I wish I could be there with you, El." His hand strokes my cheek, all cold pressure, no warmth, just an image and a force field, transmitted from the Bajor over subspace. Naturally he got sent out on a five-year exploration mission towards the Core, and only then I figured out I was pregnant again.
"Congratulations, Admiral," Tess chimes in from my right, sending her image from the USS Iconia. Captain's uniform looks good on her. "What are you going to call her?"
"Taryn," Gaarra and I answer her simultaneously, without looking up.