Chapter 4: We're so screwed
"A bomb?" John asked, "Whose bright idea was that?" Then the world went black.
The music was all John needed to recognize where he was. The marching band style music, with only hums for vocals, evoked at once a sense of impending doom, an image of a resolute march to futility and, strangely enough, a feeling of patriotism.
"Dr. Strangelove!" John exclaimed as he took in the black and white interior of a fifties bomber.
"Or, how I learned to stop worrying," Harvey continued as he climbed up the stairs from the lower deck, dressed in a flight suit instead of his usual leather.
"And love that bomb!" A voice from behind John completed the title.
Whirling around John was confronted by, well, himself. This being a rather infrequent occurrence, albeit not entirely without precedence, John needed a few moments to compose himself.
Last time he had met himself, so to speak, there had actually been two other of him, but both had differed significantly. This John looked just like him, sounded just like him, except for the really bad Texas accent that he'd used.
The accent was accompanied by a cowboy hat in place of the flight helmet that should rightly go with the flight suit he was wearing.
"What?" Was about as much as John could articulate.
"John," Harvey moved past John as he made the introduction, "Meet Junior."
"I really am brighter than this, most of the time," Junior said, somewhat apologetically, to Harvey.
"You are not me!" At least John was fairly certain of that. Maybe not a hundred percent, but at least reasonably sure.
"Wake up and smell the coffee, I'm neural clone, like this freak," Junior replied, hooking a finger in Harvey's direction.
"No need for insults," Harvey chided him.
"So we're back to that, are we?" Harvey almost smirked.
"Listen, you know all this stuff," Junior said, moving closer. "Ever since we pulled you in here my memory has been integrating with yours. Think, remember!"
And there it was. Everything that the neural clone of him had done and experienced in the short time since they made a run for it. Almost like he'd done it himself. Almost.
The memories also included one more tidbit. About the bomb, sitting quietly next to his module, the seconds ticking slowly away.
"So, that's it? We're done for?" John demanded. If he was about to die, he could do without looking at Scorpious' ugly face.
"No John," Harvey seemed completely calm, as always. "At least, not because of the bomb."
Of course not. They had sent it through with a one minute fuse. Long enough for the Borg to adapt.
John dug through his neural clones memories. The Borg had not found a way to disarm or transport the bomb off the vessel. However, they had realized its awesome destructive potential and had diverted most of their power, almost instantly, to containment fields inside the ship.
"So what? The Borg get to kill us instead?" John had had enough. The past two years had been one disaster after another. Who cared if they would die a minute sooner or later? They were surrounded by frelling Borg! John recalled, fondly, a time when the mere thought of such an end would have been ridiculous.
"I think the Borg will be a little too preoccupied for that." The smirk on Harvey's face was an almost irresistible target for John's fist.
"Look, the sky," Junior interrupted John's homicidal train of thought, pointing out the front window of the bomber. The bleak landscape had been replaced with the vast hull of the Borg cube, in color. And in place of the overcast sky, there were now only stars. John moved up front to get a closer view. The stars were the cold hard pinpoints of light you would expect to see in space. Except that some were moving strangely.
"It's full of stars..." What did this mean?
"And every star," Harvey began.
"Is a ship shooting right at us!" Junior finished Harvey's sentence. Just how close had the two become?
"All I hear from you is different ways to get killed," John said, almost resignedly.
"The Borg cube is doomed, this is true, but it will take a bit of time."
"Remember First Contact?" Junior asked with a wicked grin. A grin John slowly mirrored as he realized where this was going.
"They'll use that escape thingy, but how do we get aboard?"
"That, John, is easy," Harvey began. Turning to look at him, John saw that he was now dressed in drag, with a gaudy tiara perched precariously on his head. "Just follow the queen."
So, this is it. O'Neill reflected as the Borg Queen approached. He idly wondered which would get them first, the Borg or the bomb.
Looking back, he quickly surveyed his last command. The Starfleet officers where all calm. Data, of course, couldn't be any other way and Worf was at least as stoic as Teal'c. There was a look of disbelief on Shelby's face. This couldn't be happening. O'Neill sympathized. This shouldn't be happening.
Crichton seemed to have spaced out and his friend, Chiana was nervously shifting her weight from one foot to the other, as if she was getting ready to take on every last Borg singlehandedly.
Looking at his own team, he saw them looking back. A look in their eyes showing confidence in him. They had been in tough spots before, he would get them out of this one as well. Except this time there was no way out. He'd let them down and they wouldn't really understand that until the very end. Except Teal'c, locking eyes with him, O'Neill saw the he realized the truth. A silent communication passed between them. A last farewell between fellow soldiers.
The deck under his feet heaved, throwing everyone off their feet. This is it, O'Neill thought. Seconds passed but nothing more happened.
"Shouldn't we be dead?" O'Neill asked, somewhat rhetorically as he pulled himself back up.
The explosion had also thrown most of the Borg down; they were now hurriedly extracting the queen and trying to get her out of there.
"They adapted!" Crichton answered O'Neill, as he himself quickly got up. "The bomb did a lot of damage but not enough. So if we don't want the fleet to finish what that bomb started, we must get to safety."
"Safety? Where?" Carter asked, puzzled.
John pointed in the direction of the retreating queen. "Where do you think they are taking her highness?"
"You want to us to follow the Borg queen to safety?" O'Neill demanded.
Crichton merely nodded in response as he helped Worf up.
"And you thought my plan was bad!"
"Let's go," Crichton took the lead, heading after the Borg queen. It might be a desperate plan, but at least it was a plan. They all followed. The Borg seemed to have gone back to ignoring them.
"You think it'll work?" Junior broke the silence that had descended on the two neural clones after they gave John a pep talk.
"We both know that it is a long shot, at best," Harvey replied cautiously. They were walking along a dimly lit utility corridor, a mental image to enable Junior to move inside the Borg collective. Harvey was however beginning to suspect that Junior was far more capable then the need for such simulations would indicate. Indeed, the corridor had become increasingly less detailed, more ephemeral, transient.
"You know, I never got the whole Borg queen thing." Junior had clearly had enough silence. "I mean, one minute the Borg are this big hive mind and then all of a sudden there is this person! It felt like a copout by the writers. Oooh we need a more conventional villain."
Harvey listened to the tirade, he know Junior was most likely just talking to cover his nervousness. After all, what they were going to have to do was not exactly a walk in the park.
"In a way it actually makes a great deal of sense." Harvey decided to keep Junior's thoughts focused on trivia.
"How do you figure?"
"The conscious mind is, in fact, composed of many parts."
"You're not going to drag ol' Freud into this, are you?"
"Think about it, the drones are like the Id. Mindless, all about needs, wants, primal."
"A bit like your boss," Junior shot back.
Harvey favored him with a rebuking look before replying. "Hardly, the Borg are driven by a base need. Scorpious' motives are far more complex."
"So it's all about sex for them? Now that's not a pretty picture."
"Not entirely. While the Id of most intelligents will be focused on reproduction, in the Borg's case it is a need to assimilate."
"So, you figure the queen is like an Ego?"
"Quite. She, and her counterparts on other vessels, gives them meaning, focus, direction. The queen is the Borg's conscious sense of self."
"I thought the Ego was also supposed to do with morals and stuff."
"Morals are subject to perspective. The Borg do not believe that their actions are wrong."
"Wait, what about the superego?"
Harvey favored Junior with a fatherly smile. "These are vague approximations at best."
"That's a copout if I've ever heard one."
"Perhaps you should have paid closer attention during that Psychology class you took in college."
"Yeah," Junior replied absently, his mind drifting back down memory lane, "I seem to recall being a bit distracted."
The two neural clones pause and lock eyes for a moment.
"Brandy Williamson," they both broke the silence.
Satisfied that Junior's attention is now firmly diverted from their upcoming task, Harvey continues down the grey tunnel.
"You never did have the courage to ask her out."
"She was a cheerleader and I was a geek back then."
"I got better," Junior replied defensively.
"We're here," Harvey suddenly announced. The grey tunnel ended at an obsidian wall. Completely featureless, the slick blackness was utterly impenetrable. Not even Harvey could sense the other side.
Shelby had gone past feeling irritated at being pushed aside in the fight against the Borg. She had also gone past any feeling of excitement at the prospect of facing them. Apprehension, fear, all past. Surprise, wonder, also well behind her. Awe, stark terror, well maybe not completely past that just yet, but mostly she was just emotionally drained. All that remained was a detached academic curiosity and a distant part of her mind lamenting the fact that she would never make Captain now.
Funny that that should matter more than survival.
On the bright side she would die in the line of duty. Doing something incredibly stupid. Why the hell had she volunteered for this mission?
Ego, she knew, was the answer.
At least the Borg were back to ignoring them. Those few minutes trying to fight their way through the Borg cube had seemed like an eternity. Shelby couldn't remember having ever been that afraid. She was just grateful that she hadn't frozen. There was some satisfaction in knowing that when push had come to shove, she'd stood her ground.
Not that it was going to matter. Crichton seemed to think they still had a chance, but running after the Borg queen didn't seem like the best course of action. On the other hand the wormhole device had been destroyed in blast and this entire vessel was about to follow. She'd underestimated Crichton before, perhaps there was a chance. At least everyone was following him. He was their only hope.
"Move!" John roared from the front. Looking ahead down the massive corridor Shelby saw what could only be a blast proof door. A blast proof door that was slowly closing on the heels of the Borg queen.
The group broke into a dead run, desperate to get through before the door closed on their only hope. As they dashed down the corridor, gentle, then not so gentle vibrations ran through the ship. The effects of the Fleet's attack were being felt even here, deep inside the Borg cube.
Data quickly outpaced the rest of the group and was the first to reach the doors. Placing himself in the frame, he braced to hold them open. At first his efforts seemed in vain, but then the doors halted for the few seconds needed for the rest of the group to catch up and dash inside. As soon as everyone was through, Data released the doors and threw himself inside.
"Nice," O'Neill said, apparently to Data.
"That's it, we're inside," Crichton declared after taking a quick look around.
"Inside what?" Shelby wasn't sure that she cared.
"The thing they used to escape and travel back in time in First Contact," Crichton quietly informed her.
"Time travel!" Shelby exclaimed. That was against Starfleet regulations. You did not tamper with the time line. Or allowed the Borg to do so. "We can't let them do that."
"We are not letting them do anything," Crichton calmly explained. "We are just hitching a ride."
"We have to stop them, there is no telling how badly they could affect the timeline." Finally, Shelby's path was clear, it was her job to stop the Borg from rewriting history. That was why she was here, not because her ego wouldn't accept the blows dealt to it. No, she was going to save the Federation after all.
Crichton was saying something. No doubt trying to calm her down. Save his own skin at the expense of the Federation. This could not be allowed.
"No," her voice was almost inaudible and she wasn't any too sure about what she was saying no to. She wandered a few meters away from the hatch, going deeper into the vessel. Her weapon went up, aiming at a power relay. It should be unshielded. This was a small vessel, not a cube; maybe knocking a few of these out would make enough of a difference.
Amid all the confusion and excitement, Data nevertheless found ample time to reflect on how the absence of emotions separated him from his companions. The last half hour had been filled with excitement, danger, unexpected developments and death hovering at each footstep. Emotions were running high, adrenaline flooding, everyone was nearing the edge of their endurance. Except him.
"Listen," Crichton tried to explain his plan, "I've got a plan. It's a little tricky, but if we..." The sounds of an explosion drew everyone's attention.
A power relay was a smoking ruin. Next to it, Shelby barely had time to swing her phaser around to aim at the oncoming drones. She got off one shot that was harmlessly deflected before the drone reached her and attached assimilation tubes to her neck. The skin around the tubes quickly turned gray. The drones dropped her as she lost consciousness. She was now beyond help.
"Quickly, this way!" John shouted, motioning the group to run down a side passageway. They couldn't outrun the drones, they were too close.
"Go!" Data stated firmly, "I will hold them off."
There was a moment's hesitation in the group, broken when Colonel O'Neill shouted, "Move!"
Data turned to face the oncoming drones. The corridor was too narrow for them to advance more than two abreast. Idly he wondered how long he would be able to hold them off.
The first two died quickly, their necks broken with quick jabs. As the drones kept advancing on him, Data wondered what this would feel like. To kill. To know that you are about to die.
A drone hit him in the stomach, releasing an energy weapon of some sort. Data instantly fell unconscious.
"Damn it," John muttered to himself as he brought up the rear. The plan had been crazy enough to begin with. Now it didn't stand a chance of working. Not only were they unlikely to get off this vessel, they wouldn't be able to stop it from going back in time, with them onboard! Of course, they weren't likely to stay alive that long. "Damn it."
"You have another plan?" O'Neill moved to the back of the group to ask him.
"Yeah, run and hope that the red shirt rule holds." That got a brief, fleeting smile from O'Neill.
"I can access some of their systems," John began to explain, glossing over the fact that he couldn't access them, "if we can get to certain alcoves."
"We headed in the right direction?"
"No." The truth was that Harvey and Junior could access the transporters, but Shelby's actions had knocked out power to them. Until the Borg repaired them, they had to keep running. The plan had been simple. Have Harvey and Junior disrupt the vessel from travelling back in time long enough to beam off and have a Federation ship blow it to hell.
"What was that?" Junior asked.
"The transporters are offline." Harvey replied calmly. "It changes nothing. We must still go through."
"Let's do it." Junior was as defiant as his progenitor.
Junior hurled himself at the obsidian wall, shoulder first. His will pitched against the Borg's. At the crucial moment, Harvey added his own to the balance, straining with every fiber of his consciousness to pierce the wall.
The sound was almost deafening as the wall shattered, splinters of it flying everywhere like shards of broken glass, only to evaporate into puffs of smoke. What waited for them inside was even more disconcerting than the sound.
"It's, it's like ..." Junior searched for words.
"It's madness." They had breached the inner sanctum of the Borg collective. Its centre, its purpose, its Ego, its Queen.
A smile came to Junior's lips. "Madness I can deal with."
Harvey rushed after him, into the maelstrom as they each tried to bend it to their wills.
Data regained consciousness. There was nothing slow or gradual about it, like there would be for an organic being. The transition was instant. Consulting his internal chronometer, he found that it had been corrupted by the energy discharge. Most of his systems were intact. Some memory files had been lost, those from his most recent experiences. Older memories were stored redundantly, this took time leading to a risk of short term memory less. Data had always been aware of the risk, but had never experienced it before now. It was quite disconcerting.
Data took stock of his surroundings. Most noticeable was the fact that he was restrained. Second, he seemed to be surrounded by Borg. This was somewhat consistent with his memory, he was supposed to go on an away mission to a Borg cube. The exact details of how and why were unclear. His memory rebuild was still incomplete.
"Data," a single voice spoke. Looking for its source, Data found a Borg, a woman, standing near him. "You are an interesting being."
"Who are you?" Seemed like the most appropriate response.
"I am the Borg."
"That is a contradiction, the Borg are..." Data trailed off as the Borg suddenly screamed in anguish and collapsed on the deck.
"No, they can't," she stammered as she dragged herself back upright and away.
"Is there a problem?" Data asked rhetorically.
The Borg in the room all seemed to have lost interest in him so Data began to test the strength of his restraints. He was being held by a force field and at first it seemed to be quite immovable, then suddenly it weakened severely. Enough to allow him to escape.
Striding over to the unusual female Borg, Data wondered what exactly was going on. She looked up and saw him coming. There was fear in her eyes. Data hadn't expected that in a Borg.
"You are too late." Data wondered what she meant by that. "We will destroy your past." Some things were beginning to come back to him. This thing was the Borg queen. She was essential to them, if Crichton was to be believed. Data ended her existence. He briefly considered the morality of the situation, he had never taken a life except in self defense or the defense of others. But wasn't that what he was doing? Left alive, a Borg would inevitably try to continue to assimilate others.
The vessel shook, hard. John was thrown off his feet, as was everyone else, except Worf who managed to brace himself against a bulkhead.
A thought entered his mind, from Junior, the vessel was now somewhere in the past, they had been unable to stop that from happening. The transporters were however working and somehow the Borg queen was dead. With her dead the vessel was going to disintegrate in minutes.
Hurling himself towards a likely alcove nearby, John shouted for everyone to assemble near him. "It's time, we are leaving!"
"Where are we going?" O'Neill wanted to know.
"Down!" And with that the world dissolved into yellow specks.
Harvey surveyed the madness around him. They had been unable to prevent the Borg queen from sending the ship into the past. In fact, their very assault on her had triggered the action, sending them on their way before the Borg had planned. The vessel had managed to slip past the Federation ships and the Borg had intended to travel back in time once they reached Earth. They had reached Earth now, but when was a much harder question.
John was already beaming down, Harvey felt the added distance to the neural chip, he felt stretched as the bandwidth was limited at this distance.
"We have to go."
"No," Junior was suddenly standing in front of him. The two squaring off amidst the chaos of a dying mind.
"If we don't get out of here before the ship explodes, we will die!"
It all made sense now. Junior had indeed learned more than Harvey could have believed. He knew how to stop him. While their existence depended on what was in John's head, their consciousness was currently extended here. It flowed through the Borg equipment and minds. If that were destroyed, the chip in John's head would become inert, practically dead. Harvey knew that it would eventually reboot itself and a new neural clone like himself would begin the work again. But that would take months, years even. Now that John knew it existed, he would have it removed long before the new clone could make itself felt.
With an animal scream, Harvey lunged at Junior, venting all his hatred and fear at John's image. Junior stood firm, met Harvey's strength with his own. Locking eyes with his nemesis Harvey say the iron determination in Junior's eyes. He knew that he needed only last until the vessel exploded. He knew that he could do that and he knew that Harvey knew.
Harvey knew that he was dead. It was a strange feeling, a sense of failure mixed with relief.
Instinctively O'Neill patted himself down as soon as the world rematerialized. Just to make sure that everything was where it was supposed to be.
"Everyone all right?"
A murmur of yeah's and fine's came back. Everyone was alive, but exhausted.
"Where are we?" Seemed like the next order of business.
"Earth," John replied. His eyes were focused on something in the sky. Looking up, Jack couldn't see anything.
"I believe when are we, is the more pertinent question." O'Neill whirled around to see Data approaching the group.
"Data! We thought we'd lost you," O'Neill greeted him jovially. Then realizing what Data had said, "what do you mean when?"
"The Borg were able to activate the time travel device. Apparently, they did not have full control over it."
An explosion in the night sky briefly illuminated their surroundings.
"It's over," John quietly proclaimed.
"The Borg ship?" Carter asked for clarification.
"Yes, no drones beamed off it."
"How can you be sure?"
John looked at her, something in his eyes persuaded everyone that further questions were ill advised. Well, almost everyone.
"John, you all right?" Chiana asked worriedly.
A faint smile came to his face. "Yeah, I think I am."
"Ok, anyone have a calendar?" O'Neill broke the tension around John.
"It's April third, eighteen eighty six."
As he turned around, O'Neill reflected on the fact that people had an annoying insistence on coming up behind him. This annoyance was replaced by some confusion as the identity of the speaker was revealed.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
"I came to help."
"Really? Because we could sure have used your help, an hour ago!"
"I thought you weren't allowed to interfere, Daniel?" Carter asked.
"Yeah, funny story that. Turns out it only applies to our ... universe, if you will."
"So, can you get us back or what?"
"Yeah, sorta. You see I can't affect what happens in that universe."
"I don't understand, can you help us or not?"
"No," Daniel said calmly, turning towards Crichton, "but he can and I can him help you."
The wormhole machine shut off with an audible pop. Picard hoped that O'Neill and his team had gotten home safely as he turned back to Crichton. "You ready?"
"Just a couple of secs."
Picard waited patiently while Crichton set the wormhole to open outside the Enterprise. He was going back in his module, unlike SG-1, which had been transported through.
"Very well, we'll activate it when you are ready."
"Thanks." There was a moments silence.
"I should thank you, for all you did for us." Picard had already thanked him, as had the Federation, but he felt it was worth repeating.
"I wish I could say it was a pleasure." Crichton gave a lopsided smile. "At least I got this chip out of my head."
As Picard walked to the bridge he reflected on the madness of the last few days. Visitors that thought this reality was a TV show, Borg invasion, an impossible mission that wound up stranding the away team in the 19th century. An ascended human from another reality that rescued them.
He had been surprised to learn of Crichton's implant and glad that Dr. Crusher had been able to remove it.
"Captain on the Bridge."
"Everything ready?" Picard asked as soon as he stepped off the turbolift.
"Yes sir, Farscape 1 just cleared the launch bay," Riker informed him. Crichton hadn't wasted any time.
"Very well, open the wormhole."
"Aye, aye sir."
As he watched the wormhole open on the main viewscreen Picard sent a last farewell.
" Enterprise to Farscape 1, god's speed."
The module plunged down the mouth of the wormhole, which moments later collapsed behind it.
Major General Hammond stood in the conference room at Stargate Command, staring down at the Stargate. SG-1 was by now three weeks overdue. They'd been on a mission to acquire some naquadah and by all accounts things had gone smoothly. They'd even dialed home and their iris code had been accepted. Only, no one had come through and then suddenly the wormhole had collapsed.
They'd had search parties out on several planets, in case the wormhole had been redirected. But there had been no sign of them. In his office, papers waited to be signed, officially making SG-1 missing in action. They'd been waiting for almost a week. He kept putting off signing them. Hoping that, by some miracle, they would still make it. This was SG-1 after all, they had a habit of surviving impossible situations.
"Incoming wormhole." The announcement rang through the base. Down in the gate room the Stargate sprang into action.
Hammond hurried down to the control room.
"Receiving IDC," The technician on duty reported.
"Who is it?"
The technician hesitated for a moment. "It's SG-1!"
Hammond's spirits lifted, they had made it. "Open the iris."
Even as the iris smoothly opened a shimmering appeared in front of the gate and then quickly coalesced into the four members of SG-1.
Rushing into the gate room, Hammond met them as they walked down the ramp. "Report Colonel."
Jack had a sheepish look on his face as he answered. "Ah, well, sir, we got a bit sidetracked."
Jack and Carter gave each other a look, as if trying to find a way to explain. It was however Teal'c that finally found the words. "Our wormhole was redirected to a parallel universe that was in all matters identical to the television series Star Trek The Next Generation."
The matter of fact tone coupled with the absurdity of what Teal'c had just said threw Hammond completely off. "What!"
"Pretty much what Teal'c said." Jack flippantly replied as SG-1 walked for the door.
"Yeah, pretty much." Was echoed by Carter and Jones.
"Colonel?" Hammond couldn't find anything more to say.
"Yes sir, it's good to be home." And with that, SG-1 left the gate room.