Disclaimer: As always, nothing here is intended to infringe upon the time honored right of big, important companies to make millions of dollars off of a single franchise. Heck, I'd do the same thing if I could.
In the Face of Overwhelming Odds
I'm walking, alone, when I realize that my hand is shaking. It's not particularly noticeable, not that there's anyone here to see, but I reflexively tighten my grip on the battered equipment case I hold, desperate to hide my weakness from any prying eyes. I know that, even though no soul violates my field of vision, my every move is watched, every expression noticed, and every failure on my part put under scrutiny for later exploitation.
Distractedly I finger my gold-on-silver communicator badge with my free hand; I think this is how they manage to track my every move but I can't be sure. My analytical mind, steeped in horror, attempts to frantically divert its trains of thought by wondering why I was trembling.
Hunger? A possibility.
Exhaustion? Undoubtedly. Sleep-enticing silence is at work.
Pain? Perhaps a little. I never did end up seeing the Doctor.
Fear? Yes. Undeniably, yes.
As my empty footsteps ring through the corridor a distinctly sick feeling washes over me again. The knowledge of the cause of my affliction bothers me, but I know it is not the reason for the sudden, twisting, self-loathing manifestation I feel. I've been thinking about the fate of my friends again, without even knowing it. I really must stop doing that.
I'm trying to help them, I reassure myself, but I'm only one Ensign. I can only do so much at a time while my every move is scrutinized for a mere excuse for violence. I am working, and succeeding, but time is what I need. Time is what I don't have.
"Ensign, report to the battle room." Like an intruder in a graveyard, the voice should startle me, but my muddled, bleak mind simply acknowledges the command with a servant's humility as I trudge toward one of the few functioning turbolifts. There is no doubt that the order is directed at me since I am the only Ensign the Hirogen have deemed worthy for the onslaught of comrade-killing work they send my way.
Please, God, I beg as I finally reach the turbolift, don't let me see any more. On several previous occasions, whether by intentional malice or not, I have walked stoically into a turbolift or corridor only to leave with barely contained revulsion. Last time it was Seven's body, in a fireman's carry, being hauled to sickbay like nothing more than a replaceable prop. The red of her blood colored her hair an almost strawberry color, and I found myself staring more at that then attempting to recognize the battle simulation she was embroiled in by her Joan-of-Arc reminiscent uniform. I suppose that, even after seeing her be wounded before, I still found it morbidly fascinating to see her so vulnerable.
I vowed then, as I did when I repeated the pledge I made at my Starfleet graduation, to save her, and the rest of the crew, from the hells that they found themselves in. There was no doubt in my mind, as there is not now, that I would be able to accomplish my objective. The difference is this. Before I asked myself how long it would take to free everyone from the holodeck programs. Now I think in terms of how many people, whom I love, can die in the time that I take to construct and implement a plan.
Despite my thoughts, I lift my head high as I enter the Hirogen-infested bridge. They glare at me, and rather then back down, I meet their stares with a steady gaze of my own. I will not let them see me fall, and I will not let them see how fragile I truly am because of everything that they have taken away from me. I wouldn't give them the pleasure.
If walking across the command deck to the Captain's ready room, newly christened the battle room, is intimidating, entering the confines of the darkened, battle-hardened room is nearly impossible. I repress my urge to look away as the Hirogen Commander studies me before posing his question.
"What do you know about a conflict known as World War II?"
I can only hope that he does not see my face pale under the engineering grime I have managed to accumulate in the past few weeks. It is worthless to pretend that I know nothing; I've tried that tactic before and it only awarded me a swift 'convincing' that it would be prudent to say otherwise. They've seen my service record and know exactly what I'm capable of.
"It was the second War to End All Wars. Around 60 million people died, including civilians. The most destructive bomb known to mankind at that time was unleashed upon a civilian population and only the Third World War surpassed it in the scope of destruction and death." There was no point in expounding on WWIII, they had already recreated it three weeks ago.
"I see that several existing holodeck programs deal with this subject. You will organize and consolidate these programs into one that my hunters can use," the Commander orders.
"Sir," I protest, "The repairs to the engines and basic life support are taking up all of the time I have. Do you want me to brief someone else on what to do to work on this?"
He looks at me, the ever-present anger in his stature tempered by ideology boring down on my question. "No. You will have to find time for both. Dismissed."
With the last word he stands, accentuating the fact that he is a good foot taller then I am and built along much heftier lines. The fleeting thought of more work almost tears a groan from my throat, but I manage to contain it. I understand that I will now be working 20-hour days, at least, on less-then emergency rations, independent of any physical problems that I might incur while working on the never-ending problems in engineering with the tiny group I've been given to help me and with no safety protocols online. The memory of the last bulkhead that exploded when a phaser-torch touched the inactive, but still full, plasma line while expanding the holodeck reminds me that I really should get to the Doctor.
Showing my distaste, and uncaring of the wrath that it might precipit-ate, I walk brusquely from the room. I glance at my station, now conspicuous-ly empty, and watch the holodeck recreations on one of the video screens. In one Tom is running with a terrified look on his face from something that is not within the range of my meager surveillance. My eyes sharpen to slits as I remember the program running. It's the Borg occupation of Rachis, a civilian outpost that put up one of the best defenses against the Borg in a long time with the development of gravitational-directed weapons. They lasted three whole days before being overrun.
I can only imagine what is running through Tom's mind: that he's been abandoned, that there there's no hope for his colony, that he can't fight being turned into a drone. The desperation on his face as he falls makes me want to call out. To tell him it's all not real, and that I'm trying to save him with every fiber of my being. I am going to give him, and everyone else, every edge I can think of in my next holodeck program.
The Borg descend on my best friend's prone form and I see him buck once as they begin to assimilate him. Shamefully, I turn my head aside and hide behind the closing doors of the turbolift. My only consolation is that the Doctor assures me that when, not if but when, we remove the neural interfaces from the crew no one will remember what happened to them. They will not remember the hellish weeks of Voyager's occupation.
I will make sure that time comes soon, no matter the sacrifice on my part. I don't care what happens to me.
I remember it all.
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