Da Capo al Fine Part I
Within the space of a breath, Admiral Kathryn Janeway had been transported out of her shuttle and into the Borg Queen's lair.
Damn it, Kathryn, you got careless! She offered a throwaway thought in the direction of deity, luck, and whatever other forces might influence Voyager's fate, hoping that she'd given Captain Janeway enough time to execute her outrageously risky plan.
Turning her head, she glanced at her prison: a nest of snake-like conduits and circuitry wreathed in glowing green. The throbbing pulse of the hive mind enveloped her senses. She met the glistening black beetle eyes of the Queen across the room -- and wasn't nearly frightened enough. She'd expected that her oldest nemesis would employ this tactic, and for that reason alone her predicament felt like an anticlimax. Ah! The good old days when she could still surprise me, Janeway thought with a twinge of regret. Time for this old campaigner to surrender her post to a less jaded soldier -- a flash from her recent days on Voyager intruded -- like my younger self: That feisty redhead has a lot of fight left in her. And me...? I have enough fight for this round of combat and that's all I need. Too bad she wouldn't live long enough to see what Captain Janeway would do with her second chance. Unbidden, a memory from a primary school poetry lesson wafted to the fore of her consciousness:
"This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper."
Imprisoned in the throne room of a Borg cube, helpless to hold back her inevitable assimilation, Janeway found the poet's sentiment fitting. Acceptance of her fate flooded her.
"Very clever," the Queen said, her tone cutting. "Hiding right on my 'doorstep.'"
At least I knocked before I invited myself in.
The Queen turned toward a floating viewscreen filled with the image of Janeway's shuttle hanging near the Unicomplex's exterior. Any minute, the Borg would assimilate her ship and any chance she ever had of returning home would be lost.
She'd left the future assuming that the change in the timeline would erase her from existence. She couldn't fathom what being erased might feel like. Now facing death, she wished for a less passive end. The Klingons' aspiration to "die in glorious battle" suddenly made a hell of a lot more sense than it ever had before. At least she'd go down with her boots on, and if she succeeded, all the people who populated her future would cease to be; temporally speaking, there wouldn't be anything to miss or anyone to mourn her passing.
Janeway was working her way up to a good wallow until she glanced over at the Borg Queen, whose smug superiority raised her hackles more effectively than any being she'd ever known. She believes she has the upper hand, Janeway thought. Behind that deceptively indifferent facade she glories at the prospect of my demise. She's gloating. But she has no idea what's coming. I'm going to wipe that smirk off her face and I'll live long enough to enjoy it. She repressed the urge to cackle.
"Were you planning to attack us from inside the Unicomplex?" the Queen asked accusingly. Her melodious, soothing voice sliced through the mechanized whir and hum in the background.
Janeway recognized bait when she saw it, and she certainly wouldn't be goaded into biting on this offering. You hate that I've outmaneuvered you so far, that I've piqued your sense of superiority. She sensed that she'd stretched the Queen's patience: stretch a little further and Her Majesty might be provoked into acting rashly --
-- and that was exactly how Janeway wanted it. Make her stew a little longer, she thought, refusing to gratify the Queen with an answer. You want it? Come get it!
On cue, the Queen stalked across the deck plating, covering the distance between herself and Janeway in three long steps.
A metallic taste filled her mouth: adrenaline. Janeway's heart quickened; the cold prickle of sweat drizzled down her neck. This is it.
"Not feeling talkative?" Any pretense of humor gone, the Queen thrust her hand into Janeway's neck; assimilation tubules pierced her skin.
In agony, Janeway cried out -- groaned -- every fiber in her body howling in pained shock. She slowly collapsed onto the floor. Recollections of her previous assimilation stormed to the fore of her consciousness; unconscionable agony unleashed every terror and nightmare she'd ever survived. Waves of Borg technology rippled beneath her skin, tunneling through her tissues like greedy parasites.
The Queen's shadow enveloped Janeway. "You and I don't need words to understand each other."
Janeway heard the Queen's smile rather than saw it. Don't get cocky, Your Majesty. I'll still have the last laugh. Stubbornly, she hung on to the desire to witness the Queen's defeat, refusing to succumb to the invasion ravaging her body. Cell by cell, the nanoprobe cancer spread, searing away the messy "inadequacies" of individuality and rendering her a clean vessel to receive Borg "perfection." An implant sprouted through her skin as the technology devoured her from the inside.
Through pain-induced delirium, she had a vague notion of the Queen circling her like a predator closing in on wounded prey. I will not give in became Janeway's mantra as enduring her moment-to-moment struggle became progressively more excruciating. Denying the Queen the satisfaction of hearing her screams became paramount; she sought strength by clinging to that part of her mind that remained her own. There, she searched for the calm rationality of her scientist self to shore up her will.
Once a cadet had asked what assimilation felt like and Janeway had compared it to an army of billions of nano-sized rotors pillaging and plundering through subcellular passageways. Now she knew that description was wrong. What she felt had more in common with the glacial burn of a neutron star's liquid hydrogen core coursing through her veins. The cold scorching torment ebbed gradually into numbness. Whether by her own endorphins inducing a narcotic-like haze or by her nervous system surrendering and being overrun entirely by the invaders Janeway didn't care: she only knew that whatever scrap of her identity that had thus far eluded conquest was drifting away, disassociating from the drone body being built from her flesh.
Ghostly whispers encroached on her thoughts -- the end must be near. Let go, Kathryn. Your time has come. The end is here.
In weak protest, she thought, Not yet! Not yet! Voyager isn't safe!
Though Janeway couldn't comprehend what was being said, she was aware of the voice of the collective filling the Queen's chamber as they acted, presumably on the Queen's orders, to stop Voyager.
The metallic monotone echoed " -- redirect vessels to intercept."
Abruptly, a high-pitched whine sliced through the voices; the Queen staggered, Janeway winced. But as the whine died away, the metallic monotone gave way to cacophonous jumble.
" -- corridor nine...Voyager...U.S.S....zero nine...transwarp...intercept...unable to comply.."
Janeway, at last, felt satisfaction.
A console sparked. Lights flickered, dimmed. The whine erupted over the miasma, provoking visceral misery from the Queen, who, reeling from pain, grasped her head and covered her ears. Overcome, she gasped, stumbled forward, and braced herself on a metal beam.
Janeway locked gazes with the Queen. "Must be...something you assimilated..." she rasped, managing a half-smile. For a moment, the sweet satisfaction of leveling her enemy trumped her suffering.
"What have you done?" the Queen demanded.
"I thought we didn't need words to understand each other."
A shower of sparks burst from a console; the Queen shuddered. "You've infected us...with a neurolytic pathogen."
"Just enough to bring chaos to order."
The Queen breathed in sharply.
The Queen's obvious panic permitted Janeway to loosen her ironclad control just enough to allow a little pressure release; her shoulders slackened, her limbs relaxed. The nanoprobes flooding her systems spilled over the levies she'd erected to protect what was left of her self.
This is the way the world ends, not with a bang...
Though her vision blurred, Janeway forced her gaze up to the floating viewscreen and watched Voyager soar through the corridor of the transwarp conduit. A spread of transphasic torpedoes streaked out behind her like little shooting stars. The fiery explosions began.
No. Janeway smiled to herself. It'll end with a bang.
"Voyager will be destroyed," the Queen stated.
You're not going to get to me now, you megalomaniacal bitch. "They're ahead of the shock wave. They'll survive...Captain Janeway and I made sure of that." Inhale...Crippling fatigue overtook her; Janeway fought the impulse to succumb. Instead, she reached up and, with the last of her strength, pulled herself up so she stood eye-to-eye with the Queen. "It's you...who underestimated us."
The Queen's body, overcome with tremors, quaked. Threads of energy crackled over her malfunctioning cybernetic limbs. Angrily, she yanked the offending arm out of its organic socket and tossed it to the ground.
It's only a matter of time now, Janeway thought. We won. How long before the cascading explosions triggered by Voyager finally destroyed the complex where she was housed was unknown to her -- and she didn't care. At last, I've received absolution for all of it...Seven's death, Chakotay's broken heart, Tuvok's insanity...Bleary-eyed, she looked ahead. The view shimmered and shifted as if filtered through a warped lens. Janeway pressed her eyelids together, opened them, and felt her world shift woozily. Her head rolled back. A tightness around her neck -- like a vise -- s...