Title: To Perish in that Howling Infinite Author: Jemima Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Series: VOY Part: 12/19 Rating: PG Codes: N, P, C, AU Summary: Sometimes, when you go whaling, the whale wins. An AU based on the episode "Dark Frontier" and the novel "Moby Dick". Disclaimer: I took these characters from an alternate universe without copyright laws. Mwhahahaha!
"Ensign Kim," Neelix greeted his last customer of the evening in his usual chipper Talaxian way, "you're looking tired tonight."
"I just spent five hours sifting through the wreckage of that Borg ship," Harry explained.
"Did we really blow up a Borg cube?"
"Yes, Neelix. I'll have some of those leola french-fries, please."
"Do you think that was a good idea? Won't the Borg be annoyed?" the cook asked nervously.
"Captain Janeway wants a transwarp coil," Harry answered, taking the plate Neelix handed him. What the Captain wants, she gets.
"Did we get one, then?" Neelix knew a transwarp coil could bring Voyager years closer to home, and years farther from Talax, and Kes.
"Not exactly. Seven and B'Elanna say the ship's coil is beyond repair. We did get some telemetry, though. We can track down more Borg ships now."
"Ah," Neelix said, not at all comforted by the idea.
"I like to think of it as whaling," Harry added.
"Humans used to hunt whales - huge aquatic animals that could sink a sailing ship. Their oil was used for lighting in the days before electricity. It was extremely valuable, but getting it was a risky enterprise."
"I see. So the transwarp coils are like..." Neelix's voice trailed off.
That was the last conversation Neelix ever had with Harry Kim. The last time he spoke to Seven of Nine, they discussed her parents and their unique Borg studies. He served Mr. Tuvok an impressive imitation of plomeek soup, for which the Vulcan expressed his final 'thank you', and he brought the Captain freshly replicated coffee the very morning of her fateful whaling cruise.
They never came back. Neelix didn't ask Chakotay or Paris what had happened on the bridge that day - they looked too shell-shocked - but Samantha Wildman told him more than he wanted to know. Apparently the Borg had contacted Seven of Nine before the away mission had begun. Perhaps they had lured Voyager's drone into a trap, or perhaps they had induced Seven to lead Janeway, Tuvok and Harry Kim into the Borg's trap - no one was sure.
Either way, the damaged Borg vessel turned out to be not nearly so damaged as Voyager's crew had believed. It had gone to transwarp with the four crewmembers still aboard - they were long assimilated by now.
The mood was solemn in the mess hall, and the morale officer had no consolation to offer the crew for such a loss. Neelix asked Chakotay about holding a memorial service, but the Commander turned away without answering. Something in his eyes filled the Talaxian with a sense of foreboding.
It seemed like business as usual at the new Captain's first staff meeting, but for the shell-shocked look of the senior officers, old and new. Ayala had replaced Tuvok as head of security, and Nicoletti was the new Ops officer. Paris, Chakotay announced, had agreed to be his first officer. Only Neelix, Torres and the EMH retained their former roles.
The main topic of discussion was the feasibility of separating their lost crewmen from the Borg Collective. Without a transwarp coil, it could take them years just to reach Borg space proper, and there was no telling whether the 'damaged' Borg cube had returned there or headed for parts unknown.
"We'd all like to get them back," Torres said, "but we have no way of tracing them now that they're drones."
Nicoletti wanted to continue homeward. "Janeway wouldn't have wanted us to turn around," she said. "We shouldn't throw away the 35,000 light years of progress we've made so far."
Neelix kept silent, but he was on Sue's side. He considered the others: Torres and Ayala would follow Chakotay into hell itself, and the EMH's opinion didn't count for much outside of sickbay. It was all riding on Tom, Neelix concluded.
The helmsman said softly, "*She* would not have left *us* in the hands of the Borg." Tom's eyes were fixed on the Captain as he said it, and it was he who spoke next.
"We're still 40,000 light-years from home," Chakotay said, in a quiet, forceful tone Torres and Ayala remembered well. "We could spend the next 40 years trekking across the Delta Quadrant, or we could do something significant, something to help all sentient life in the galaxy, right here."
"What?" Neelix asked.
"We could eliminate the Borg."
"You're talking about genocide!" the EMH objected.
"The Borg are not a genus - they're a league of parasites who enslave members of real species," Chakotay replied, his eyes flashing. Ayala and Torres nodded in agreement. Even Sue Nicoletti seemed swayed by his tone, if not his argument.
Chakotay's glance flowed over them all, barely lighting on Neelix and the EMH, but sparking answering fires in Torres and Ayala. Ayala was still the Captain's man. Neelix was just tagging along on Voyager, so he wasn't surprised if his opinion counted as little with the new Captain as the hologram's did.
Chakotay's wandering eye stopped at Tom Paris. The helmsman stared back, as if some silent conversation were passing between them. Would he join the hunt, or at least voice no protest? Neelix, Sue and the Doctor hung on his unspoken words, until Tom looked down at the conference-room table.
At that sign, the Captain launched into the details of tracking the Borg: shield modifications, bio-dampeners, scanning Borg cubes for Human and Vulcan drones, viruses, phasers and the like. Only Neelix heard Tom murmur lowly, "God keep me!--keep us all!"
By dinnertime, the whole crew was abuzz with their new mission. Some of those who passed through Neelix's mess line believed Voyager was on a mission of mercy to retrieve Janeway and company, while others already burned with a fire Neelix had seen just that morning in Chakotay's eyes.
Tom Paris came in beside B'Elanna Torres, who was fairly humming with destructive energy. She grabbed a plateful of food and hurried off to discuss shield frequencies with Vorik, leaving her boyfriend alone at the head of the mess line.
"So, Tom, how does it feel to be the new first officer?" Neelix asked him as he handed him the dinner special.
" 'The chief mate of the Pequod was Starbuck, a native of Nantucket, and a Quaker by descent'," Tom answered cryptically.
"Starbuck?" the cook asked, mystified as usual.
"He's a character from an old Earth story, Neelix - 'Moby Dick'. You might want to look it up."
"I'll do that, thanks."
Voyager reversed course, heading for Borg space. Neelix wondered what exactly their new Captain had in mind. The Borg tactical information had covered only thirty light-years. Chakotay seemed to be following his nose after that. Whenever they met another ship or ran across an inhabited planet, he would ask, "Have you seen the Borg Collective?"
Neelix heard the same story time and again: the aliens would warn Chakotay away from some Borg-rich area of space, and, as soon as Sue had closed the communications channel, the Captain would order Tom to head straight into it.
So far they'd picked off a couple of tiny tactical spheres. The Captain seemed to be waiting for something, though it wasn't the approval of the crew. They were on his side already. The battle against the Borg renewed all the guerrilla passion and patience the Maquis had once directed against the Cardassian Empire. Their old cause hopelessly lost, they took up the new one with a vengeance.
The Starfleet crew, on the other hand, remembered Wolf 359 vividly. Some had been there, many had been in Starfleet at the time, and even the youngest remembered the carnage of 2366, only ten years before. Some, having doubts about Chakotay or reluctant to battle the Borg in person, hoped to restore Janeway to the big chair quickly. Most, however, were happily engrossed in strategy and defensive preparations.
Neelix handed the ladle over to Naomi so he could talk to Tom for a few minutes. He wandered over to the first officer's corner table and asked, "Is this seat taken?"
Neelix sat down. "I've been reading Moby Dick, and I don't think Hawthorne really approved of Captain Ahab's--"
"Oh, right, Melville. There are all sorts of good stories in the database from those days. Anyway, I was saying I didn't think Captain Ahab's quest was supposed to be a good idea."
"That's putting it mildly, Neelix."
"Then why are we hunting the Borg?"
" 'The crew, man, the crew! Are they not one and all with Ahab, in this matter of the whale?' "
"I suppose you're right, Starbuck," Neelix agreed.
Neelix was one with the crew; he argued methodology and tactics with the vibrant crowds in his mess hall, and the more elaborate the plots they plotted against the Borg, the more enthusiastic he became, because of the dread in his soul. A strange Talaxian passion was in him, a fighting rage like that he had experienced in the Talaxian Defense Forces - except, of course, that he had never actually served in the TDF. It had all been a lie, and under his enthusiasm for Borg-hunting lay that dark pit of guilt and self-doubt.
Yet on the surface, Chakotay's quenchless feud seemed his. When Neelix found himself summoned to the ready room two months after the decision to make war on the Collective, he faced the new Ahab steadily, ready to do whatever his Captain asked.
Still he quailed when he heard Chakotay's request - not out of fear for himself, but for the Borg. Until that hour, Voyager's quest against the Collective had seemed to Neelix a quixotic tale that must end, sooner or later, in the crew's wholesale assimilation - a dreadful, but not an unusual, eventuality. Now, however, the Talaxian feared that the Captain could very well turn out to be a match for the Collective in cunning, organization and icy determination. 'Revenge is a dish best served cold,' B'Elanna had said only yesterday over lunch, when a crewman from exobiology suggested that the Quest was proceeding too slowly.
It was proceeding too quickly for Neelix's taste - Chakotay requested the services of Voyager's Ambassador for negotiations with...the Hirogen. A race of hunters spread across twenty thousand light-years, experts at tracking, maiming, and killing. Captain Janeway had pacified them temporarily with a gift of holodeck technology. Captain Chakotay intended to wake them up, inviting them to join Voyager in the greatest Hunt ever conceived in the Delta Quadrant - or any quadrant, for that matter.
Neelix had agreed before any of the implications had a chance to sink in. He attempted to protest after the fact, reminding Chakotay that the Hirogen would slice and dice Janeway, Tuvok, Kim and Seven as readily as they would any other Borg drones.
It was no use arguing, though. The Captain explained that Hirogen hunters would respect Voyager's prior claim to certain 'prey', namely their lost crewmates, and would not attack a ship containing fellow hunters' prey. Neelix would be responsible for arranging just such details with the Hirogen.
Fellow hunters. Brothers-in-arms. Neelix tried not to think about it too much. Cooking lunch was so much simpler than debating genocide with Captain Ahab, and more likely to do someone some good.
The first meeting with the Hirogen went off without a hitch, but it was all a blur to Neelix. He was put in mind of certain shady negotiations of his scavenger past, where both sides were trying to hide something from the other or from themselves or, most often, from both.
Afterwards, word of the Great Hunt spread quickly among Voyager's new allies. At Chakotay's encouragement, the Hirogen even offered their prey species the opportunity to become hunters of the Borg, and not all declined. Neelix was impressed at just how quickly the Hirogen organized a massive fleet. As Ambassador, he was privy to strategy sessions, but all he got out of them was a sense of the vastness of Borg space, through which those allied against the Collective darted about like a swarm of tiny insects.
Insects with a sting. A month later the Hirogen came into contact with several hundred of Arturis' people, also known as Species 116. They were still resisting the Collective despite the tragic loss of their homeworld. Although they were as bitter as Arturis himself, in their minds Voyager's current anti-Borg efforts made up for any past offenses. Arturis' people augmented Hirogen and Starfleet technology with their own advanced science; soon the Alliance, as it was now called, had won its first major victory against the Borg at Unimatrix Zero Five.
Amidst the wreckage of cubes and planets, Voyager ran alongside the Geno, one of the few ships left to Species 116. Chakotay went aboard to discuss tactics with its captain, Velonis, while some of Velonis' crew visited Voyager. Most of the guests were engineers, who made their way directly to the shuttlebay to install more anti-Borg technology in the shuttles. Every ship, no matter how small, was needed in the war effort, so even Neelix's old clunker, Baxial, was fitted out with special shielding and the new disruptor technology that had won the battle of Unimatrix Zero Five for the Alliance.
The neutron disruptor was a dangerous weapon even to the wielder. Just three or four ships could create a disruption field large enough to shatter a small moon. One small ship like Neelix's could do in a tactical sphere single-handedly. The Hirogen were ecstatic. There was, however, a down side to the alien technology: a ship firing the new weapon could be shattered along with its target, if anything happened to block the disruption beam at work.
Neelix had little time to listen to the engineers' lectures; he was needed to scavenge the wreck of Unimatrix Zero Five for parts and materials. As he steered his old, familiar freighter among the flotsam, he wondered what made humanoids fear the Borg. Was it really so bad to be Borg, to have a trillion friends and not a single moral qualm?
The Talaxian thought assimilation would be a relief to Tom Paris, for one; the helmsman was growing thin and drawn with the moral quandaries of Voyager's quest to exterminate the Borg. Not that he said much about it to the morale officer - no one spoke much about their doubts under Captain Chakotay. Then again, they hadn't said much under Janeway, either. It must be a human thing, Neelix concluded.
And what was it about the mere specter of assimilation that made humanoids fear it more than outright death? Perhaps it was the uncertainty itself. Who knew what it felt like to be a Borg, until the nanoprobes hit their bloodstream? Maybe the Collective mind symbolized something even more frightening, something even Melville might have spoken of: 'Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way?'
A hail from the Hirogen shook him out of his reverie, and, hearing their news, Neelix sped back to Voyager. The chase would soon be afoot - a Hirogen scout ship had found Voyager's prey just a few light-years away.
A ship's night passed as Voyager and the main body of the Alliance fleet made their way towards the last known location of drones Janeway, Tuvok, Kim and Seven, aboard a massive cube. Would they find them, or would the cube go to transwarp before Voyager arrived? When the artificial dawn came, Neelix served a fell and bright-eyed crew what might be their last breakfast; long range sensors had detected not only the prey cube, but a fleet of Borg ships greater than yesterday's defeated Unimatrix. Nor did the Alliance have the advantage of surprise now that the Collective had seen their new weapon in action.
Despite the cheer of the crew, Neelix felt a cold dread in the pit of his stomach. Melville's antiquated ideas of predestination haunted the unfortunate Talaxian: 'The frenzies of the chase had by this time worked them bubblingly up, like old wine worked anew. Whatever pale fears and forebodings some of them might have felt before; these were not only now kept out of sight through the growing awe of Ahab, but they were broken up, and on all sides routed, as timid prairie hares that scatter before the bounding bison. The hand of Fate had snatched all their souls; and by the stirring perils of the previous day; the rack of the past night's suspense; the fixed, unfearing, blind, reckless way in which their wild craft went plunging towards its flying mark; by all these things, their hearts were bowled along.'
After breakfast, Neelix made his way to the bridge. He had taken over a spare mission ops station behind the Captain's chair, from which he coordinated communications between the various species comprising the Alliance fleet. He missed the days when he had been just the cook.
As they approached the Borg fleet, all eyes were glued to the viewscreen, except Sue's, which were on her short-range sensor readings. Neelix heard her gasp when Tom announced, "There she blows!" The tiniest toy Borg cube had appeared on the viewscreen, but it grew rapidly into a planet-sized, metallic menace, surrounded by countless more cubes and spheres of every size. Nicoletti verified that Janeway and the others were aboard this flag-cube of the Collective's fleet.
The plan was already laid. Shuttlecraft and automated disruptor-torpedoes burst forth from each Alliance ship. Neelix turned his ops station over to a crewman and manned Baxial, for he was the only one aboard Voyager qualified to pilot second-hand Talaxian junk freighters.
And so the cook turned his hand to war. Baxial was assigned to a Hirogen cruiser; in formation with two of its shuttlecraft, their disruptors could take out medium-sized cubes. They destroyed three of those, plus a tactical sphere, and were taking up the fatal tetrahedral formation once more when things began to go wrong. A tactical sphere rushed them, coming between the cruiser and its target cube, thereby cutting off the disruptor beam. The Hirogen cruiser and one shuttlecraft were destroyed by the backlash from the disruptor. The other shuttlecraft dove back into the fray elsewhere, leaving Neelix behind, his ship disabled by the fickle disruptor.
Baxial floated dead in space; Neelix watched the thick of the battle as it moved away from him. The Collective was slowly pushing the Alliance forces back. But wait! Starfleet and Hirogen shuttlecraft had surrounded the flag-cube and were slicing into it, Borg style, with disruptor beams. Chakotay was digging for the drones he sought.
Other cubes rushed to the melee, as did Voyager and her companions. Neelix felt ill as he realized that the Borg had discovered the trick of disrupting the disruptor beams. He had hoped they hadn't noticed the incident that had destroyed his escort and disabled Baxial itself, but of course they knew. They were one Collective mind. That mind would sacrifice a smaller cube, or fifty, to save the large one now under attack.
Neelix was never quite sure what happened next. The smaller Borg vessels did, indeed, sacrifice themselves to cut off the disruptor beams. As a result, several Starfleet and Hirogen shuttlecraft were blown up by the disruptor backlash. At that point, the flag-cube must have tried to escape to transwarp; a swirling maelstrom of light filled the heavens as the remaining disruptor beams interacted with the transwarp field. Neelix stared down a huge transwarp corridor from what did not seem to be a safe distance, and watched as the countless Borg vessels and Alliance ships were sucked into it, willy-nilly, like flotsam in a whirlpool.
The vortex began to close around the two fleets, 'then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.'
Neelix found himself alone in his disabled ship, the only one which had been far enough away to escape the mysterious funnel. He wondered whether the Alliance fleet hunted on at the other end of the transwarp corridor, but in his heart he believed both the Hunters and their prey were destroyed in a frightful transwarp accident caused by incompatible technologies.
"Just like Rynax," he thought darkly, remembering the Metreon cascade.
Neelix repaired Baxial and began hunting the lost hunters, but he found neither them nor the Borg. At first he spilled out his story eagerly to any who would listen: " 'And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.' " Wherever he went, he asked for news of the Hunt. He travelled a long time, until he began to hear legends of the Alliance and the destruction of two huge fleets, but in most of them he recognized his own first, shocked accounts of the battle. The stories had gone before him, for rumor travels faster than transwarp.
Eventually he settled down with a colony of Talaxian refugees. Theirs was a hardscrabble life, but he met a war widow among them whom he wouldn't leave. Sometimes, rare times, he would tell his new family stories of Voyager and the Alliance. They never understood why he began them all with the same line:
"Call me Ishmael."