Chapter Seven

As Xander and Guinan walked through the corridors of the Enterprise, their final destination being Ten Forward although neither one was in any hurry to reach it, they conversed quietly with one another, in order to ensure that Xander's chaperone was unable to hear them.

It wasn't strictly necessary, as the chaperone in question was actually having trouble keeping up with them despite their seemingly relaxed gait, but Xander had learnt a long time ago not to take anything for granted. He also had something in place to safeguard against electronic eavesdropping, not believing that Worf, or Captain Picard, would not use that to their advantage.

"So, what did you learn from the drone?" Guinan asked, having been elsewhere while Xander had 'questioned' it. She knew that she would have been safe from it, but that didn't mean she wanted to be close to it.

"Absolutely nothing I hadn't already been told by his 'comrade'," Xander replied with a sigh. "I forgot one small detail when it came to the interrogation."

"Which was?" she asked.

"That Three of Eleven is a drone, and not a person," Xander replied.

"You already knew that," Guinan pointed out.

"Yeah," Xander replied, "but I forgot what that actually meant, which is mainly because since I severed its connection with the collective, it had begun to express emotions. Emotions were something that had been denied it since its assimilation, which was the reason I'd been able to scare it in the first place. However, despite it acting more like the person it had been before, it is not in reality a sentient being; it is a biological computer and its programming is still active. All it knew was what it needed to complete its task; nothing more, nothing less."

"That's unfortunate but not entirely surprising," Guinan commented.

"Yeah, I know," Xander agreed, "but it would have been nice if things had been easy, just this once. Anyway, it kept up its 'you will come with us, resistance is futile' rhetoric, which I was a little worried about-"

"Why would you be worried, there's no way they could actually take you if you did not wish it," Guinan said, interrupting him.

"That's not what I was worried about," Xander told her, knowing full well that a single, or even a group of drones would be no trouble for him. "Picard and the others have just started to, if not trust me, then at least tolerate me again; the last thing I need is for them to find out I was linked in any way with their creation."

"I can see why that would be a problem for you," Guinan said dryly.

Guinan would admit that she still found it a little uncomfortable at times to be around Xander given his link, however tenuous, with the race that had wiped out her own. She knew that they had been created to kill him, and would not have allowed them to come to be had he the knowledge and opportunity to change things, but if not for him and his friends, they would not exist and her home planet would.

However, Xander himself had lessened her discomfort, although she doubted that he was aware he was doing it; he seemed to have this air about him that made it difficult not to like him, at least from what she had seen and experienced, and she knew that prolonged exposure to him would soon soften Jean-Luc's opinion of him, and through him his command crew.

However, Guinan feared that may not be for some time; Jean-Luc was very capable of locking away the emotional part of himself in times of crisis, a trait that was pretty much essential for a starship Captain, but it meant that until the current crisis was over, he would not be amenable to granting Xander the time required for such a thing to take place. That was not good, as while Xander had shown remarkable patience given the reception and reaction his reason for being onboard had engendered in the crew, she could tell that it was not without limit, and that limit was within easy reach.

"Well, I would find my job a little bit hard to do if I had the whole Federation out for my blood," Xander said in a similar tone, unaware of Guinan's thoughts. "I know it will come out eventually, as these things generally do, but I'm hoping that by the time it does come out, what I've accomplished will outweigh the shock."

"We can but hope," Guinan agreed, coming out of her reverie.

"Yeah, but that time is not now, and having Three of Eleven sprout that he was here for me specifically would lead them to ask questions I'd rather not answer at the moment. Anyway," Xander continued, "once we realised that Three of Eleven had nothing to give, I suggested that they take it apart."

"I take it that your suggestion wasn't received very well," Guinan stated as she saw the look on his face.

"They took it about as well as can be expected from a large, relatively peaceful organisation," Xander replied. "They do seem to be good at the whole war thing, but they never really get into it, never really like it, which is no bad thing in many respects. The problem is that they need to realise that, especially in cases like Three of Eleven, whatever they might do to it now pales in comparison to what has already been done, and 'death' would quite probably be the kindest thing they could give it. That they might gain vital tactical information is simply the icing on the cake."

"Yes, sometimes there are things worse than death," Guinan agreed, "but most of the time only those that have personal experience with those things can comprehend it."

"I don't blame them for thinking that way, at least not the Enterprise crew," Xander stated, "especially as they have an android as third in command, but if they don't start looking at things from a strategic perspective more often, they're going to get their assess kicked one day, and they might not survive to learn from their mistakes."

A frown marred Guinan's face. "I just realised something; when our little follower tells Lieutenant Worf or Captain Picard that we were talking, they're going to use the computer to find out."

"I'd like to see them try," Xander replied with a smirk.

"Why?" Guinan asked, a little smile on her face as she noted the slightly mischievous tone in his voice.

"Because all they'll hear is us discussing what we should do on our first date," he told her with a smile.


"Calm down, Guinan, I was joking," Xander said calmly before Guinan could build up any head of steam. "You're one of the only friends I have at the moment, the first I've made in 400 years if you think in linear terms, and I'm going to go out of my way not to muck that up."

"Alright," Guinan said after a moment, "so what will they hear?"

"All they'll hear us talking about is what you know about The Borg, and you reiterating the point that they need to get as far away from them as possible," Xander replied.

"Isn't that what we're doing?" Guinan asked. "Getting away from them?"

"It would be, but I have a feeling that, until Lieutenant Worf is back to his old paranoid self, I doubt that they will just turn tail and run," Xander replied.

"Is there anything you can do?" Guinan asked.

"Possibly, but I'm unsure as to whether I should," Xander replied with a small shrug.

"Why ever not?" Guinan hissed.

"Believe me, it has nothing to do with me not wanting to help," Xander stated, "but Q has set limitations not only on what I can do, but also when I can do it. He didn't exactly give me a step-by-step guide to what I can and cannot do in a given situation."

"Why not?"

"Because if he knew when I would and wouldn't need to do something, there would be no need for me at all," he replied.

Guinan had little option but to nod in agreement of that, as Q would not have gone to the trouble of choosing an emissary if he could do things differently. "I can understand that, but why not do something this time?"

"I might not know the specifics, but I do know that he's not going to be happy with me if I keep saving people that the Federation cannot save by themselves. Like I said to Picard, I'm not here to hold their hand, and while sometimes that might make me look a little heartless, it is no more heartless than allowing a child to ride a bike unaided knowing they'll probably fall over a few times."

"It would probably be best to use a different analogy to explain it to the others," Guinan said with a small smile, knowing how that would go across with Jean-Luc, "but you are correct. However, while you might not be able to help him directly, it might be an idea to at least go and see if you could nudge them in the right direction."

"Oh, I was going to do that anyway, I just needed to get my point on the record," Xander said with a cheeky grin, having dropped the spell disguising their true discussion matter.

"How is he doing, Doctor?" Picard asked as he stepped beside Doctor Crusher, who was checking the vitals of Lieutenant Worf.

The Captain had been told of the greying skin and the metal protrusions that had appeared shortly after they had transported back from the Borg vessel, so had thought himself prepared for what he would see.

He was wrong.

The discoloured skin had spread; it now covered Worf's neck, shoulder and upper torso. There were several of the metallic attachments now; connected in such a way to make it look almost like circuitry one would see in a machine. Picard knew that if things continued as they were, he would lose his Security Chief to the Borg.

"Not well," Doctor Crusher replied as she prepared a hypospray and injected it into Worf's neck. "I'm doing everything I can, but all I've managed to do is slow down whatever is happening, not stop it or reverse it." She then moved away from the sickbed and walked over to a computer panel where a display of what was happening to Worf's body at the microscopic level was shown. "I have never seen anything like that, and while I may well find a way to counteract the effects, I fear that it won't be in time."

At that moment, the sickbay doors opened and Xander and Guinan walked in. Spotting Captain Picard and Doctor Crusher, they moved towards them, although while Guinan moved to stand alongside them, Xander stopped a pace or two away. He knew he was seen as an outsider, something that he needed to work on with the Captain and his command staff, and knew that the best way to start that was by not presuming that he was welcome to join in conversations without an invitation.

Guinan, however, had no such problem. "Captain, Beverley," she greeted with her familiar serene smile.

"Guinan," Picard said in slight surprise, as Beverley simply smiled in return, "is everything alright?"

"Of course, Captain," she assured him when she could note a hint of concern, "but Xander and I decided to come along and see whether there was anything he could do to assist Beverley in Worf's treatment."

Both the Captain and Doctor Crusher turned to where Guinan had indicated with a small nod of her head, and saw Xander standing there in a close approximation to parade rest.

"Do you have a medical background, Mr. Harris?" Doctor Crusher asked.

"Please, Doctor, call me Xander, or Alexander if you must," Xander replied, doing his best to modulate his voice to filter out his growing annoyance at constantly being reminded of his father. "I don't have any official medical training, although I have found that my triage skills have come in handy once or twice. However, I do not believe that medical training is necessarily required here, or at least, not entirely."

"And why is that?" she asked, and Xander could tell that she had taken his comment as a slight against her.

"From what we have seen, The Borg are a mixture of man and machine, and what is happening here to the Lieutenant seems to confirm that, not to mention what you can see on the screen over there," he stated indicating the screen the Captain and Doctor Crusher had been looking at, which showed microscopic robots attacking the cells in Lieutenant Worf's body. "What is required is to take one of them out of the equation, and the safer of the two options would be the technological part."

"And how would you suggest we do that?" Captain Picard asked.

"Well, I'm not very familiar with the technology you have available, but I know that an electromagnetic pulse can short out electronics, as long as they're not shielded of course. I doubt something like that would work on a fully assimilated drone, but it might be more successful here, when the process is not complete. A direct electrical surge would probably be more effective, but obviously more dangerous."

"Is there nothing you can do directly?" Doctor Crusher asked.

Xander shook his head. "Unfortunately not."

"I must say I find that hard to believe," the Captain stated, his tone not quite accusatory.

Captain Picard had to keep from taking a step back by sheer force of will as Xander turned his attention to him; there was an anger there in his eye that he had rarely seen, and the space around the young man actually seemed to darken slightly. "You know what? I've had it about up to here," Xander snapped, his hand at eye level, "with this bullshit."

"Xander-" Guinan began, only to be cut off.

"No, Guinan, this needs to be said," Xander told her before he turned his attention to the Captain once more. "You have made it quite clear on more than one occasion that you do not want me to just lead you by the nose through the dangers that are out there, and yet you continue to condemn me whenever I do not bend over backwards to assist you," Xander stated, his voice like steel. He nodded over at the security personnel that had been his 'chaperone', who was nervously fingering his hand phaser. "I have been treated like some common criminal when I have done nothing but offer my help. When I explained to you the reason why I was here, you refused my help point blank, and yet you expect me to solve all of your problems for you."

"There is a man's life at stake here!" Doctor Crusher exclaimed.

"I am aware of that, Doctor," Xander snapped, "but in times of crisis there's always someone's life at stake; this situation is no different, or any more special because of Lt. Worf's situation."

"How can you be so callous?" Doctor Crusher asked incredulously.

"I am here to do a job, and with any job there are rules I must follow," Xander explained, deliberately using a tone one would use when explaining things to a child. "You yourself must have had to decide on occasion who to treat, who to leave to their fate, and before you try to tell me that's different," he went one holding up his hand to interrupt her, "we both know that it isn't."

"You still haven't explained why you won't help save his life," Beverley said, keeping her anger in check as she accepted his point was valid.

"I am here to offer guidance, I am here to prepare you for the journey you have taken, but I am not here to do everything for you. That means that you get to discover things for yourself, but it also means there will be times when you will have to fend for yourselves after I have given you all the guidance and preparation I can. This is the reason why Q has made it quite clear what I can and cannot do; so that I don't just keep pulling your collective asses out of the fire. I have done everything I can to help Lieutenant Worf; the rest is up to you."

With that, Xander turned on the spot and strode out of the sickbay, his chaperone following quickly behind. There was a thick silence that permeated the sickbay for several moments, before Guinan spoke up.

"He is right, you realise."

"Guinan?" Picard said, surprised by her comment.

"How many times have Starfleet had to stand by and watch as civilisations have been at the brink of destruction, because to do anything would be a direct breach of the Prime Directive?" she asked him, but continued on before he could rally an answer. "How many times have you had people act towards you just as you have towards Xander, and felt anger at both your own inability to act, and their unwillingness to understand?"

"These are-"

"Not different situations at all, you are simply unwilling to see that," Guinan interrupted calmly, knowing that to lose her calm would only exacerbate the situation. "Lt. Worf is not only a man under your command; he is also your friend. Because of that, you are not seeing things in the same light as if he were a complete stranger. That is another trait of humanity that is both a strength and a weakness; at the moment, I believe it to be more the latter. Xander has given you all the information he can to help Worf, Captain; I suggest that you act on it before it is too late."

After nodding goodbye, Guinan also left the sickbay in search of Xander, hoping that his anger had dissipated.

Doctor Crusher and the Captain looked at the door for a few moments, before Picard touched his comm. badge. "Picard to Engineering."

"Engineering here, Captain," La Forge answered.

"Geordie, how far have you gotten with understanding Borg's technology?" he asked.

"We have examined the drone that Alexander... disabled, Captain," Geordie replied, still stumbling slightly over how to describe what Xander had done. After examining the drone he could see that it was as much technology as it was organic, perhaps even more so, but as his best friend wasn't organic at all it was difficult to be subjective. "We have run a battery of diagnostics on its systems, and have come some way to understanding how they work, but we are a long way away from being able to construct a workable defence against them."

"Would an electromagnet pulse have any effect?"

"EMP?" Geordie said, his tone one of surprise. "Captain, such a thing has been deemed obsolete as a weapon for over a century; their shields would easily be able to stop-"

"I don't mean the ship," Picard said, interrupting him, "I mean the drones; would it disable the drones? Would it stop what was happening to Lt. Worf?"

There was a pause, and then when Geordie answered there was a note of hope in his voice that hadn't been there before. "If they themselves weren't shielded, then yes, a large enough EMP should disable them."

"How dangerous would it be to Lt. Worf?" Picard asked turning to Doctor Crusher.

"Klingon physiology means that they can take far more physical pain than many other species, and they have biological redundancies in place that give them a greater chance of survival when injured, but in his weakened state I cannot give any clear estimate over how damaging it would be to his systems," Beverly warned.

"At this point, can you think of a better alternative?" the Captain asked. When no answer was forthcoming, he continued. "Geordie, work with Doctor Crusher on devising the best way of administering the EMP. Try not to destroy the Sickbay in the process," he added as an aside, trying for a little levity.

"Aye, Captain," Geordie replied.

"You have not helped your cause, you know," Guinan stated softly as she found Xander staring out into space in Ten Forward, a glass of synthahol in his hands.

His ever present shadow was standing in the opposite corner, looking uncertainly at Xander, not quite knowing what to do. Guinan didn't blame him; Xander's whole posture screamed that he was a powder keg just waiting to be lit. That the ensign didn't feel like being the one to light it simply meant that he was smart enough to realise he would not fare well.

"I know," Xander sighed, letting a lot of his anger dissipate upon hearing Guinan's calming tones. "I'm starting to see why Q lost his temper; for a crew tasked with seeking out new planets and new civilisations, they're very close-minded. They also have a lot of double standards."

"The reasons surrounding their animosity towards Q has far more to do with him than it does them," Guinan stated with conviction. "Also, you are not seeing them in the best light, which again is more down to Q than anyone else."

"I know you still don't fully trust the reasons I'm here, and I don't blame you given what we've both learned the past couple of days," Xander stated, and was grateful when Guinan didn't make to contradict him. If there was one thing he hated, it was being blatantly lied to. "I know that you will never trust Q, and I don't blame you for that given your history, and he was quite candid with me as to your history, but in this he is quite sincere; if he weren't, he would have continued on without me."

"You're right, I will never trust Q, but I am coming to trust you," Guinan said softly. "I know that you believe in the task you have been given, and will do whatever you can to complete it, but you need to remember one thing, and that is if Q decides that you are not working fast enough, or simply becomes bored, he will take away your powers, he will send you off to the farthest corner of the galaxy, or he will simply end your existence."

"Yeah, I pretty much worked that out not long after I first met him," Xander said with a shrug.

"Then why did you agree to work for him?" Guinan asked incredulously.

"Because despite all that you have said, he still told me the truth," Xander replied. "I need to know that I have truly made a difference before I can accept my final resting place, and this is my best and only shot at doing it.

"Humanity has come so far in the past 400 years, and yet at the same time has come nowhere at all. They have managed to unite under a single banner, and have used their combined wisdom to travel beyond the stars. They have stopped seeing violence as the first solution to a problem, and fully appreciate intelligence and innovation, instead of ridiculing them like they did back in my day. They have made more friends than enemies, and are part of something far greater than anyone on Earth in my time could ever have imagined occurring; the Federation."

"They have indeed come a long way from when I first met them," Guinan agreed, "although even then there were examples of what they could become."

"However," Xander went on, his voice darkening slightly, "they are surprisingly short-sighted as to their own shortcomings, almost to the point of arrogance. They are fully prepared to violate the most sacred right that a person can have, the privacy within one's own mind, and do so not just in extreme circumstances, but as a matter of course. They're so certain that they will be able to cope with whatever they might face, even when evidence to the contrary is shoved in front of them, that I'm not sure Q wasn't right in doing what he did."

"How can you possibly say that?" Guinan asked in shock.

"Let's face it Guinan, while humanity have accomplished great things in the past four centuries, they have also had a lot of luck," Xander stated, having managed to read up on a lot of background information on both Earth and the Federation. "Had they met any other race instead of the Vulcans when they took their first warp journey, like the Klingons or the Centauri, they could well have become an occupied world before ever having travelled to another one. They have made friends with some of the most technologically advanced and influential races in the quadrant, and therefore have not had to stand alone against some of the enemies they have faced."

"I must say that you are overstating things a little," Guinan said, "but I can understand what you are saying. I cannot, however, understand how you can believe that having Q send us directly in the path of the Borg was a good idea."

"Despite what you might think, Guinan, Q doesn't want humanity to die," Xander stated softly, ignoring Guinan's snort to indicate she felt differently. "Alright, name me one time where Q, any Q, has been the main cause for any race to die."

Guinan went to reply immediately, but after a few moments found that she couldn't. As she thought more on Xander's question, she realised that while the Q Continuum have caused fear and misery wherever they have gone, they have not arbitrarily wiped out entire races, or engineered things so that they would perish. That wasn't to say that they hadn't killed, she had seen firsthand what they could do, but never on such a grand scale.

"Don't think I'm trying to make Q sound better than he is, because I'm not," Xander went on when he realised Guinan wasn't going to answer. "He is the epitome of arrogance, has no real social skills that I can see and does not always think of the consequences to his actions, at least not to those his actions truly affect."

"And those are his good qualities," Guinan indicated wryly.

Xander laughed, happy that she was able to make such a comment; it meant that she was actually listening to what he was trying to say. "Q would be the first to agree that he was not a good guy; he could not, however, be considered evil. He sees what he believes needs to be done, and goes about them the way he believes is best. In many ways he is not that dissimilar to humanity, especially in that respect; the only difference between them is that he has the power to do things we could not even fathom."

"What are you trying to get at?" Guinan asked.

"I have had dealings with higher beings before I met with Q, both good and evil," Xander said, and ignored Guinan's sudden intake of breath and wide eyes. "I fought against a being known as the First Evil, who saw us as nothing but insects to step on, and felt powerless as it took my eye, my friends, and my family. I have seen those that called themselves the Powers That Be, recognised by everyone that should know as being on the side of good, sacrifice one, ten, a hundred, a thousand people in their cause."

Xander paused for a few moments, taking a sip of his drink to whet his whistle. "To me, the Powers were as evil as the First, because in my eyes they simply didn't care about us, only about winning. A friend of mine, herself a higher being at the time, finally made me realise that the Powers That Be's reasoning for what they do is above my comprehension, so I am only able to see them in terms that I can understand, which is why I deem those actions to be evil."

"And you believe that Q's actions are the same; that because we do not share the same level of understanding, we cannot truly see what he is trying to do?" Guinan asked.

"Basically," Xander replied with a shrug. "If I thought otherwise, I wouldn't be here. That I am here does give credence to my theory."

"Because if Q really was evil, he wouldn't care that his first attempt failed and would have just continued on regardless," Guinan stated, finally understanding where Xander was coming from.

She still wasn't sure that she agreed with Xander's assessment of Q, although she had seen moments when he truly looked like he cared about others, Quinn being the most notable example. She had also seen him act particularly cruel, and while she could appreciate that Xander's point about not fully understanding his intentions, she wasn't ready to actually agree with it.

However, one thing she did agree with was her instincts; the moment she first saw Xander, she believed that he was a good person, and had not come aboard the Enterprise out of any malicious intent. Now, after hearing him talk, and seeing what he'd done to help, she truly believed that Xander was here with noble intentions.

Captain Picard looked on as Geordie made the finishing touches to the primary biobed, which both he and Doctor Crusher believed was the best chance of ridding Worf of his current affliction. Beverley had posited that they might be able to boost the resuscitation capabilities of the bed, normally used when a patient's heart had stopped beating, to send a large enough electronic pulse into Worf's body to short out the nanotechnology that was making changes to his cellular structure and installing the metallic protrusions that had now appeared all over his body.

There was a risk involved in the procedure, as they did not fully know how the nanotechnology would react to the charge, but they both agreed that it was their best, and currently only chance at saving Worf's life. The Captain knew that the changes taking place in Worf's body did not necessarily kill per se; instead it would change him into another Borg drone. But as the computer log of Xander's interrogation of the drone currently held in the brig had shown, it was not a state that many would consider life, and most definitely not a Klingon like Worf.

Knowing that Alexander's advice had once again proven useful, Picard was beginning to admit, even though only to himself, that he might have been wrong in the way he had treated him thus far. True, the situation they found themselves in was one of Q's making, Alexander's current employer – if 'employer' was the correct word to use – but it was now clear to Picard that it was not Alexander's doing, as he had been as shocked by the events as anyone, and had done what he could to assist, when he could have just as easily departed and left them to their fate.

That was something else that Jean-Luc was beginning to admit, that Alexander had been helping them as much as he felt able, although that realisation was due to Guinan's counsel. Her comments about how he had been in similar situations to the one Alexander was currently in – where he had to explain to people that while he might have the capability and even the desire to help, he did not have the authority to – had struck home with him, as he expected was Guinan's intent.

He remembered how frustrated he had felt not being able to make them understand that it wasn't that he wouldn't help, but that Starfleet and Federation regulations meant that he couldn't help, and how angry it made him when they accused him of being heartless, or a liar; just as he had practically done to Alexander.

Perhaps, just as Riker had done, he had allowed his feeling towards Q colour his attitude towards Alexander, and he realised that the seemingly young man had done nothing to warrant it. The mark of a Starfleet officer was the ability to enter every situation as objectively as possible, but it appeared that he had not been very successful on this occasion.

He decided that when – he would not even think 'if' – they had gotten past the current crisis, he would need to speak with Alexander again, in a less formal setting than before, and allow him to properly state his case; he owed him nothing less.

"Captain," Geordie said, bringing Jean-Luc out of his thoughts, "we're ready."

Picard nodded in acknowledgment but said nothing; as CMO, Beverley had the final say when it came to medical matters, and he wasn't about to overstep his bounds. He and Beverley had been friends a long time, and he had the greatest respect for her as both a doctor and a person, and knew without a shadow of a doubt that Worf was in the most capable hands possible.

"Okay," Beverley began, "I need to warn you that when we start, Worf's body is going to go into spasm as the electrical charge flows through his system, and you might also see some of the implants in his body spark. It won't look pleasant and he may well scream in pain, despite being heavily sedated."

Both Geordie and Picard nodded their heads in acknowledgment of that, knowing that if she hadn't mentioned it, they may well have thought something was wrong. "The charge will last for five seconds, which both Geordi and I feel is required to ensure that all of the nanotechnology in his system is shorted out," she continued. "Any longer, and we run the risk of irreparable damage to his body; any shorter and we might not eradicate everything and this will all be for nothing."

As she had been talking, Doctor Crusher had been doing her own final checks on the system; she had absolute faith in Geordie, but she always double-checked every piece of equipment she was going to use before any medical procedure. Taking a deep, cleansing breath, she then pressed the button to initiate the electrical surge.

As she had warned, Worf's body immediately began to spasm, bowing so that only his shoulders and heels were making contact with the bed. Only the restraints were keeping him on the bed at all, and they could see that his face was contorted in an expression of sheer agony, one that no one in the room had ever seen on Worf's face before. Then after what felt like five hours, it was over and Worf's body flopped back down onto the bed.

"Well?" Picard asked immediately.

Doctor Crusher ignored him for a few moments as she and Geordie checked the results. "Preliminary tests indicate that we have shorted out all of the nanotechnology," she told him with a small smile of satisfaction. "We will need to continue monitoring his system for the next 24-36 hours to be certain, and we will still need to surgically extract all of the implants and flush his system to be certain all traces of the infection are gone, but I can tentatively say that Lt. Worf will be okay."

"That's excellent news, Doctor," Picard said with a nod.

"It's the first good news I've heard since Q showed up," Geordie commented.

Picard sent Geordie a look of reproach, but didn't voice his disapproval at hid Chief of Engineering's comment, because he secretly agreed.

"Commander," Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher began, his voice tinged with urgency, and a little panic. "Borg vessel has just come into scanning range, and is on an intercept course."

"Time," Riker asked immediately.

He had noted Wesley's panic, and under normal circumstances would not be happy that a Starfleet officer would display such an emotion, but as Wesley was only 15, he did not have the same life experience as most Starfleet officers that would allow him greater control over his emotions.

"Approximately 27 minutes at our current course and speed," Wesley replied.

"Have we found anything that would allow us to mask our warp signature?" Riker asked, already knowing the answer.

"No, Commander," Wesley replied, his voice sounding subdued.

He had seen the crew – who he still did not feel a part of even given is breveted rank – defeat the odds on more than one occasion, but there seemed to be something different about their current predicament, something that dented his usually unwavering belief that they would make it through okay.

He was young, younger than all but a few on the ship, and knew that to even be onboard the flagship of Starfleet was an opportunity many dreamed but few achieved. That he had actually been given a chance to show that he was worthy of being a part of Starfleet, to be given the chance to gain real-life experience was beyond his wildest imaginings, especially with the Captain's well known... aversion to children.

He had been in life and death situations more than once since coming aboard with his mother, and even when he'd been on Rubicon III sentenced to death, he'd believed that he would be okay. He might not have shown it, but he just knew that, as Worf would put it, it was not his day to die.

He wasn't so sure about this day.

"I could increase the range of the sensors; we would lose resolution but-"

"Belay that," Commander Riker stated, "even if you did find something, we wouldn't reach it before the Borg vessel reaches us. Change course to match their heading, maximum warp. Let's prolong our next encounter as long as possible."

"Aye, sir," Wesley stated.

"Bridge to Captain Picard," Riker said, tapping his Comm. Badge.

"Picard here," Picard's voice rang out in reply.

"They're back."