Series: Star Trek: Voyager
An alternate ending to "Unimatrix Zero."
When Gene Roddenberry comes to me and complains, I'll stop.
Last time on Star Trek: Voyager... ***** Tuvok: Captain? Janeway: What's left of her. How are you holding up? Torres: Fine. ***** Janeway: Tuvok... Commander? Tuvok: I can hear the Collective. Janeway: The neural suppressant must be wearing off. Tuvok: I'll be all right. ***** Paris: You know, it occurs to me that, with you in command and Tuvok off the ship that makes me acting first officer - technically speaking. Chakotay: What's your point? Paris: Well, it's my duty to give you an opinion, and in my opinion I think we should pull them out now before it's too late. Chakotay: I appreciate your diligence. But I've made my decision: we wait. ***** Doctor: There's a problem with Commander Tuvok. His synaptic pathways are destabilizing. Chakotay: If I decide to move in closer I assume my first officer would concur. Paris: You assume correctly. ***** Queen: What are they doing? Janeway: You wanted to destroy Unimatrix Zero. We're just lending you a hand. Queen: Get me the virus. Janeway: You're too late. There's no one left to infect. Queen: This is your compromise? Janeway: I don't compromise with Borg. ***** And now the conclusion: *****
Chief medical officer's log, Stardate 54014.4: Forty-eight hours have passed since the away team returned to Voyager. I've narrowed down the cause of the neural suppressant's premature failure, but I have been unable to reverse the effects. Unless I can do so, the prognosis for the away team is not good.
Ironically, Tuvok, who exhibited the first symptoms of synaptic destabilization, seems the least affected now. Perhaps cold Vulcan logic and cold Borg logic are more similar than--
"Yes, Mr. Paris," I reply with the appropriate sigh, simultaneously turning off my log.
The hope in Tom's eyes reaches all the way across sickbay into my office. "I think B'Elanna is waking up."
The monitors think otherwise, but I arrive at her biobed with a reasonable simulacrum of haste. Lieutenant Torres' eyes are open, staring at the ceiling without comment. I know it's just a reflex, but my bedside manner subroutines suggest a certain number of seconds' pause, and I pause.
B'Elanna never blinks. Nanoprobes compensate by keeping her eyes hydrated, I note with an idle subprocess. With the Borg, it is the little details that never fail to impress - little details which I overlooked.
"There is no change in her synaptic activity." I measure out another pause, then add, "I recommend that you return to your duties. Lieutenant Torres will wake up in her own time."
"This isn't right," Paris mutters, but leaves sickbay without further protest.
I wait for the sickbay doors to close behind Tom. "Resume chief medical officer's log," I tell the computer.
--previously believed. During his moments of consciousness, Lieutenant Commander Tuvok has informed me of the Borg Queen's success in disabling the neural suppressant which I designed for the away team.
Considering the Collective's ease in altering the nanovirus I designed to free members of Unimatrix Zero, using it instead to target and destroy drones with the mutation, I am not surprised that they were also able to reverse-engineer my neural suppressant during the last moments that the away team spent aboard the cube.
I have not yet determined whether the peculiar effects upon the patients' higher neural functions were intentional on the Queen's part, or were only the prelude to a more uniform destruction--
"Doctor," Tuvok whispers, his voice barely roughened by the removal of a minor esophageal implant hours before. Perhaps it has already grown back.
"The Borg Queen is not an individual as we understand the term," he says. "Rather, she is the consciousness of the Borg Collective."
"I'm sure she is," I responded diplomatically, if I do say so myself, "but you need to rest." I doubt that will dissuade Tuvok, and it doesn't.
"Just as the humanoid consciousness arises from the diffuse activities of the humanoid mind, the Borg Queen arises from the underlying informatic processes of the Collective. The routine duties of exploration and assimilation can be handled by individual drones--"
"Commander, I will sedate you if necessary." I reach for a hypospray.
Tuvok doesn't even pause in his dissertation. "--but when a more pervasive threat to the Collective arises, such as Unimatrix Zero, information must be integrated in a new way. The Borg Queen is the integrative mechanism."
I wonder what psychological significance the reference to Unimatrix Zero holds. Psychology is not my forte - I was designed for trauma situations, not the talking cure. "Do you have an individual consciousness, Tuvok?" I wonder aloud.
"Consciousness in drones is a residual phenomenon," Tuvok replies.
I sedate him.
I arise from oblivion like the phoenix; a minor change in readings has registered on biobed two. If it had been a visitor to sickbay - if it had been Tom Paris - my self-deactivation would not have gone over well. Only 72 hours have passed since my patients were recovered from the Collective. That I can work twenty-four hours a day is taken to mean that I should be ever active, ceaselessly searching for the cure to what ails them.
Yet I find that deactivation - sleep, by any other name - is sweet. Five minutes is enough to power down the sickbay holoprojectors so that when I awake, my matrix feels fresh and new. This is the moment when new insights come to me, and today I see...nothing.
On biobed two, Lieutenant Torres continues her contemplation of my ceiling. The readings reveal some activity in Broca's area, and, being infinitely patient, I wait to see what develops.
When she speaks, she says, "The voices..." It's a common complaint in the formerly Borg, this sudden mental deafness to which all other non-telepathic sentient beings have long ago adjusted.
"Lieutenant Torres," I say, "you have been separated from the Borg Collective." Before she or I can say anything more, a streak of red whips around the biobed and takes the hand opposite. Mr. Paris is tapping into my monitors, I perceive.
"B'Elanna?" he says hopefully.
"My designation is Four of Twelve," she replies. "State your designation."
I motion to him to do so, and he says, "It's Tom, B'Elanna."
"'Tom' is not a recognized designation." B'Elanna's attention has never once wavered from my ceiling.
His face falls. One subprocess thinks this is exactly what he deserves for hacking into my sickbay, but another is already busy with the sad duty of counselling a patient's family and friends. As long as he's here, I tell him, he can sit by her side quietly. Neither of them needs conversation right now.
I move to the other biobeds, checking readings I know haven't changed and otherwise "puttering." Paris is not the sort to sit still for long, and after 17.9 minutes he joins me in the lab to which I'd retreated. I should have thought to brew up something malodorous to keep him out, but it's too late now.
"Doc," he asks, "how long will B'Elanna be like this?"
Aye, there's the rub. I search my subprocesses for a diplomatic way of not answering his question, yet I suspect the delay, and the careful lack of expression on my face, has given it away already. Fate intervenes in a call from the bridge.
"Ayala to Paris." Ayala, I understand, is at Tactical these days.
Tom hits his comm badge. "Paris here."
"We're approaching the rendezvous coordinates."
"I'll be right up," my guest replies. "Paris out."
"Rendezvous?" I ask, glad for the change of subject.
"We're meeting General Korok and another freed Borg ship," Tom replies, and I think I hear relief in his voice. "Maybe they can help us with..."
His voice trails off but I know whom he means. I have my doubts, though I keep them out of my facial expression. The Borg can have little interest or experience in dissimilation. Once a drone, always a drone.
The streak of red is not moving nearly so fast on its way out.
I pick up one of my old papers, "Drone Survival Outside the Collective: An Unexpected Phenomenon" - published by Starfleet Research on stardate 52342, some time after the original submission during my time on the Prometheus. I don't have to read it from a PADD, but I do.
Tuvok is awake again. I've given him a handheld recording device, into which he is whispering his information downloads. I have a subprocess eavesdropping for useful information, but he's currently running through starcharts for remote areas of the quadrant. I plan to send the files to Astrometrics when he's through.
In the meantime, I leave him in the care of Ensign Wildman to attend a staff meeting. As I pass her, and as I pass other crewmen in the corridors, I see hope in their eyes which I cannot return, and I turn my attention to my PADD.
"Unexpected" I called it. That the violent, destructive and mind-altering assimilation process could be reversed was one of the greatest surprises of my work on Seven of Nine. My paper reviewed the writings of Dr. Beverly Crusher and Counselor Deanna Troi, whose famous patient Jean-Luc Picard had been thought a unique case. Locutus' function as a drone had been to communicate with humanity, and so his essential humanity was subordinated, but not destroyed, by the Borg. No one had hoped for such successes with normal Borg drones; none had been recovered in the disaster of Wolf 359.
The turbolift ejects me on deck one, where I join the crowd in the conference room. Voyager's staff is strangely altered - Ayala for Tuvok, Carey for Torres, Baytart, fidgeting nervously, in Tom's place as helmsman. Chakotay and Kim look grim, and Tom's expression is inscrutable to my heuristic algorithms. Seven stands close to General Korok, the Klingon from Unimatrix Zero, and it worries me, at a subconscious level of processing. I do not recognize the other two drones, and no one introduces them. Chakotay merely motions to me to take a seat.
I've come in on the tail end of the tactical discussion - how many cubes the rebels believe they hold, what battles have been fought already with rank-and-file members of the Collective, damage, casualties. I don't know what sort of help the Captain had intended to give the revolutionaries beyond my nanovirus, but Chakotay and Ayala appear to be taking up the former drones' problems with a Maquis fervor. Having lost three vital officers, do they intend to throw away 140 crewmen? Must the ship go down with her captain?
That question will not be answered today, because a more pressing problem has arisen. One of the drones introduces himself.
"I am Nueil, formerly Five of Six. When my companion and I"--here he gives an alien sort of a nod towards the other drone--"awoke on our cube, we disconnected the vinculum from the Collective mind. This has allowed us to pilot the cube to the rendezvous point, but retaining control over our subcollective of 9,000 has been difficult.
"We have experienced difficulties in freeing individuals from the Collective. The drones we have disconnected have not behaved as we had expected." Nueil's face is alien and unreadable, yet I suspect it expresses despair. "Most of our successes have involved children taken from the maturation chambers."
Nueil has no more to say, and all eyes turn towards me. What can I tell them? "Starfleet has recovered several adolescent drones from disabled cubes - Three of Five, also known as Hugh, and later Icheb and his companions. I believe that they represent a special case of incomplete assimilation."
The conclusion, I think, is obvious, but they are still staring. "It is my considered medical opinion," I state carefully, "that dissimilation of adults is an experimental procedure that must be designed on a case-by-case basis." In other words, I do not say, you cannot just pop ten thousand drones out of the Collective and expect them to become fine, upstanding citizens overnight. Or, perhaps, ever...
Lieutenant Paris glances at Chakotay's standard impassive expression, then says, "What about Riley Frazier?"
Riley Frazier's Cooperative was the first known case of drones walking away from the Collective en masse, but I was unable to examine any of them in person. All I can tell the senior staff and our guests is what I do know: "Riley Frazier and at least one other disconnected drone convinced Commander Chakotay of their individuality, despite an apparent dependence upon the neuro-transponder which linked their group.
"We found eighty thousand more former drones living in social chaos, and the original complement of the Borg cube (or cubes) is unknown. Nothing Frazier said about her Cooperative's history in her attempts to gain Chakotay's confidence can be trusted now."
"What became of them?" Nueil asks.
Paris answers, "They reactivated the vinculum in their old cube. They returned to being a collective."
At Nueil's request, I accompany him back to his cube, along with Tom Paris and Seven of Nine. Korok appears uninterested in this effort; his mind is on war with the Borg loyalists, and his sphere's complement of seven tactical drones is more useful to him in their current state. Like the Borg, he considers drones the cogs of a useful machine.
Nueil has turned the lights up on the cube, up and over to the infrared preferred by his species. I adjust my matrix to compensate, and end up glowing in my true colors here where everything else is a dull red. Now I look my role, a white Schweitzer in dark Africa.
Drones stride by us, busy about their duties, their optical implants compensating for the shift from green to red. Nueil points out various adjustments he has ordered - lowering power consumption, erecting shields against the Borg Queen's subspace siren call, extending regeneration cycles, and so on. He is showing me the neural readouts on a regeneration alcove when a passing drone seizes me from behind, plunging its assimilation tubules into my neck...
...and out the other side. I don't even react - for all my human mannerisms, I am a hologram at heart. Seven restrains the drone and Nueil deactivates it.
Tom scans it with a medical tricorder. "I'm not detecting any subspace signals," he says.
So it wasn't the Borg Queen, it was just a Borg drone.
"Sometimes the old programming reasserts itself," Nueil says.
We proceed more warily to a maturation subnode. Nueil has removed thirty children from their maturation chambers. Some are running around the large room, while others sleep in corners or tap at control consoles.
"I left the older children in charge of the younger." Nueil seems pleased with their progress. They remind me of the Borg children when Voyager found them, and I wonder whether Nueil will attempt to return them to their homeworlds - whether their homeworlds exist now.
Tom and I scan all the children, and our tricorders affirm their health. Most have cortical nodes, and I assure Nueil that the remaining Borg hardware will do no harm. It may even help them later in life, as it has Icheb.
It is Seven who interrupts to insist on seeing the other drones, and we descend through several blood-red levels of the cube toward the assimilation chambers. I wonder whether irony or convenience led Nueil to reverse their function.
The operating theater itself is currently unoccupied, but the waiting rooms are not. These great empty pens were once used to contain the partly-assimilated as the nanoprobes did their work, Nueil tells us, until a Borg-style biobed was ready to receive new drones for further alterations. Now the chamber before us contains the results of Nueil's unsuccessful experiments.
"We processed many drones before realizing the procedure had gone awry," he admits. The procedure is my procedure, the one I used on Seven of Nine and her former Borg comrades, yet Nueil's tone holds no accusation. Was his a logical race like the Vulcans, I wonder, or do all former drones share the same personality traits as Seven of Nine and Icheb?
I look through a small glass pane into this chamber of horrors, and I see...my sickbay writ large. Most of the drones lie unconscious on the floor, but a few are awake and talking to the walls, or to one another. None appear to be listening.
Nueil opens the door, assuring us that the drones' assimilation tubules and other weaponry have been safely removed. The medical tricorders come out again, and I kneel by the side of a drone whose vital signs are weak.
I do not wish to witness my shipmates' reactions.
Once my patient is stabilized to my satisfaction, I arise and rejoin Tom Paris. He has collected several complete neural scans already, and has preliminary readings on all seventy drones gathered in this chamber. I do not ask Nueil what the other assimilation subnodes contain.
"Doc," Paris says, showing me his readings, "there's no evidence of brain damage, but their higher neural functions are uniformly depressed."
Nueil agrees. "We believed that certain portions of the cortical array were suppressing their natural neural patterns, yet when we removed them, neural function did not rise to the expected levels."
That is a diplomatic way of putting it. "The Borg Collective is more than a group mind," I respond. "It is a massively distributed organic computer." Nueil nods, but without understanding. I explain further: "A computer requires data storage; the drones' minds are to the Borg what Voyager's bio-neural gelpacks are to the ship's main computer. However, the original data is not preserved in its native form - it is compressed with a highly efficient algorithm. The memory of this drone" - I point at the one Tom examined last - "is preserved forever in the Collective mind, but not in its own brain."
Tom knows what I'm getting at. "There must be a way to download the memory back into the individual drone."
I shake my head. "The memories are there, in their Borg format, but we cannot recreate the state of the brain before these drones were assimilated. Even without the gross changes caused by their cortical arrays--"
Tom interrupts. "There must be a way. We could run them through the transporter, using their last known patterns."
He is no longer talking about the Borg, but we pretend that he is. "Not even Borg transporters can preserve buffer patterns beyond a few minutes, or in extraordinary circumstances, a few hours. And even with a pattern, quantum effects would prevent any substitution of a transporter echo for a live person." I sigh. "It's far too late for these drones."
Tom tosses his tricorder down and storms out of the chamber. We hear him call Voyager for a beam-out.
I kneel down beside another drone.
Like myself, Seven and Nueil are infinitely patient. They allow me an hour to treat the drones' physical problems before they begin to ask their own questions.
Not surprisingly, Seven speaks first. She has spent the hour with Tom's tricorder data, yet she is still puzzled. "The mutation that allowed us to enter Unimatrix Zero does not account for the preservation of our memories. They should have been overwritten randomly by the Collective mind."
I am proud of my student - three years ago she was a drone, but today she is human enough to practice denial. Nueil has not had so long to reacquire his organic foibles, and he jumps to the correct conclusion immediately.
"They were overwritten," he says.
I tap into a patient-education subroutine. "The humanoid brain is amazingly flexible - with a little medical help, it can compensate for gross injury by reapportioning resources from other areas. In cases of amnesia, the mind can invent extensive backstories to ground itself in a new environment."
"Such as that of Unimatrix Zero," Seven adds.
Indeed. "Consider Korok, for example."
Nueil makes an alien sound that seems to indicate agreement, but Seven asks, "Consider what about General Korok?"
"Korok is not a general," I reply. "He is not even a warrior."
"The Borg captured Korok on a small, unarmed supply vessel near their border with the Beta Quadrant," Nueil said. "Korok was a merchant."
"The Korok we know is a self-made man, in the most literal interpretation of the idiom." I pause, counting the milliseconds. "I suspect everyone in Unimatrix Zero presented a similar mental projection - a combination of stray memories, social ideals, and random cultural data gleaned from Borg databanks. Given enough time, these mental constructs could evolve into complete personalities - though the drones would always be in danger of regressing or forgetting, if their new memories were overwritten by the Collective mind.
"None of you are who you once were."
Nueil understands that I cannot help him - I wish my commanding officers were equally understanding. Upon my return, I find them in my sickbay, making Samantha Wildman nervous.
I thank her for her help and tell her she can go. The acting captain and his acting XO remain here, with their acting CMO.
"Let's go into your office," Chakotay says.
I would rather remain out here, with my evidence. "My office is small for three. We won't disturb them." I check Janeway's biobed monitors, and I take my time about it. Tuvok mutters quietly, but we've all learned to tune him out.
They won't force the issue. Tom, I see, has gone from hot and angry to cold and angry. "Tell him," he says.
"Tell him what?" I ask.
Chakotay's reaction to crew conflict is to mediate. "Tom says you're withholding information about the Captain's condition."
They beam the wreckage into my sickbay, convince themselves that I can repair any damage - even full assimilation by the Borg - spend four days carefully not asking me any telling questions, and then accuse me of withholding information. I tamp down my righteous indignation subroutines and answer calmly, "What would you like to know?"
Chakotay sags against a console. "What's their prognosis?"
"The three people we knew are gone," I report flatly. I haven't even admitted it to myself until now - my heuristics are as resistant to acknowledging defeat as any human being's.
"With the proper retrogenetic treatment, they may be able to develop new personalities. Before the Borg, such wholesale loss of neural patterns proved fatal in the vast majority of cases where it took place. Now with the evidence of former drones who developed new personalities, I can safely predict a high possibility of recovery," if you can call it that. "They will be new souls in old bodies, but the process will take years."
Tom isn't listening anymore - he has returned to B'Elanna's bedside. Chakotay, however, is curious. "Which former drones are you talking about?"
"Seven of Nine, Korok, Nuiel, Riley Frazier - practically every former drone we've met represents a personality constructed over the course of years, either in Unimatrix Zero or living disconnected from the Collective mind." I'm not sure he understands, but part of command is being able to extract the basis for decision from the more complex background information. I should have stuck with command, I think.
"We don't have years," Chakotay says.
"We don't have proper facilities, either." I let my doubts show in my facial expression. "That sort of rehabilitation requires more resources than Voyager can afford. After seven years, we're still on replicator rationing."
"Thank you for your report, Doctor," Chakotay says, and leaves me to my patients and Tom Paris.
I retreat to my office.
When I re-emerge, Tom is gone and Seven has taken his place. A subroutine of mine is in love with her - an accident of my heuristics, of being patterned after a human being, none-too-carefully when it came to non-medical matters. I can disable that part of my program when relating to Seven as doctor to patient or as counsellor to Borg victim. I wonder whether this will be one of those doctor-patient moments. There is only one way to find out.
"Seven, is there something I can help you with?"
She turns from B'Elanna's biobed. "I came to say goodbye."
At first I think she is speaking of my patients, but Seven would have stressed 'say goodbye' if she had meant it as an idiomatic expression.
My subroutine kicks into overdrive. "I don't understand."
She raises her eyebrow, but deigns to explain to a hologram in denial. "We have lost touch with Axum's cube. General Korok believes that their transmissions are being jammed at the source. He intends to render aid to Axum, and has offered to take me with him."
I protest. "You said that Axum's vessel was in a remote sector of the beta quadrant." I have not paid sufficient attention to the battles in this tragic revolution, but this particular subroutine was on the alert for news of its rival.
"Korok's sphere is equipped with two transwarp coils," she replies. "He also knows the location of a nearby transwarp hub. The journey will be brief."
"It sounds dangerous," I say, and she shrugs ever so slightly. I change my tack. "Don't you want to see Earth?"
She looks down at Captain Janeway, whose eyes are now open, but as unseeing as B'Elanna's. "That was her goal," she says.
I suppose we were all along for the ride in one way or another.
"Axum will need to know what we have discovered about freeing drones." Her thoughts are far away now, already at the wrong side of the Delta Quadrant. "I find that I have more in common with him than with the people of Earth."
I heard a tiny pause there; I can't help adding, "Or the crew of Voyager?"
"You and I have much in common, Doctor - more than I realized."
I drag out the conversation because it will be our last. "Do we?"
"Like yours, my consciousness is an accident, a result of being left running too long in Unimatrix Zero." I try to protest, but she overrides me. "I know how little the Federation thinks of artificial consciousnesses and of cybernetically or genetically augmented life forms. They consider us soulless machines."
"They won't hold that against you," I protest, as though I were authorized to speak for billions of Federation citizens.
"But I will hold it against them, Doctor," she says solemnly, "because I have discovered what a soul is."
I'm afraid to ask.
"Consciousness is the soul." And with a last look at Captain Janeway, Seven leaves my sickbay, my ship, and my life.
At a hundred and twenty hours, Tom forgives me, or at least moves his anger somewhere deeper inside than I can see. He stops by to see B'Elanna again. Tuvok informs him that the Borg Queen is the soul of the Borg Collective, but Tom does not understand the words. I exhort Tuvok to silence and leave them in peace.
Tom speaks to B'Elanna of simple things, describing the Federation and Klingon homeworld. His tenderness always surprises me; he is a natural at medicine. Perhaps he'll take it up, if we return to the Alpha Quadrant.
He stands up, and I step out of my office to catch him on his way out. He's not leaving, though; he's talking to Captain Janeway. She does not hear yet, but I do.
"Your mission is accomplished, Captain. If all goes well, we'll be back in the Alpha Quadrant by next week."
I interrupt him. "Fairy tales, Mr. Paris?"
"The Borg, Doctor. Chakotay offered Nueil amnesty and medical assistance from the Federation."
"I'm sure it was a generous gesture--"
"We're leaving at 2100 hours. He should be making the announcement soon." Tom adds with a grumble, "If he doesn't, I will."
"I don't understand."
"Nueil's cube has a detachment of three tactical spheres, one of which he sent with Korok." So Seven is already gone. "Voyager will fit easily in its dock, once the berth has been redesigned a bit to keep us in place under transwarp stresses. The drones are working on it now."
I feel something that in a human might be relief. "So Voyager is going home."
"What's left of her."