Captain Jean-Luc Picard glanced at Councillor Troi as the turbolift swept them to the bridge.

"How did they get this far in Federation territory without us knowing about it?"

Troi consulted her PADD, Riker having transferred the latest finds to her. "They didn't attack any ships on route, or any colonies. In fact, they avoided all outposts and listening stations until a few hours ago."

Picard smoothed down his uniform. "And why didn't I ..."

[intercept their signals hear them feel them sense them think their thoughts]

"... like before?"

Troi shrugged. "They adapted? Changed their security codes? Since your ... sensitivity proved instrumental to their defeat, they obviously took steps to eliminate your advantage."

"They didn't before. Neither did they change their tactics like this."

The lift stopped and opened to the Bridge.

The Borg Cube was dead ahead, a dead lump of technology in the void of space.

Picard marched towards his chair. "Report!"

Lt. Cmdr. Data didn't bother to turn away from his console. "They have not hailed us, or made any hostile moves. And on intercepting Borg signal traffic, I have detected at least four extra levels of encryption."

"Has Starfleet ..."

"Captain, we are being hailed."

Picard steeled himself, then stood. "On screen."

The interior was that of a Borg ship.

However, the chair in the centre of the room was new.

Data identified the black suit that the man on the screen was wearing was cut to the style of the late twentieth/early twenty-first century Earth. There was also a silver-coloured device in his ear which was logged as a 'Bluetooth attachment' for cellular telephones.

The sandy-haired man was leaning back in the chair, both legs reclining on a railing.

He waved hello with a grin that could be charitably called 'cheeky', and produced a sheet of paper, reading from it.

"We - or they - are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. Resistance ..." this was accompanied by a rolling of eyeballs "... is futile. Oh well, can't beat the classics I suppose. They will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to their own. Your culture will adapt to service ..." he looked up and flashed a smile "... me."

"I am Captain ..."

"I know." The man reached off screen, producing some more sheets of paper, waving them to the camera. "I'll say one thing, their files? Very comprehensive."

"Do you speak for the Borg?"

"Well ..." The man scrunched up his face while shrugging. "... one should speak for your employees, lackeys, contract labourers, henchmen ... yeah."

Picard was looking, but couldn't find any evidence of any assimilation or infection on this man, and yet ...

The man's eyes widened. "Oh" He placed his hand on his forehead. "Oooooh!" He then looked at the screen with renewed interest. More specifically, Troi, with an expression that made Riker want to commit homicide. "You scanned me, didn't you? Telepathic probe, and we barely know each other. Oh, you saucy minx."

"You ... are you saying you control the Borg?"

"Come on ... are you saying I alone hacked the brain power of trillions of lifeforms slaved to an instantaneous galaxy-wide root command network?" He gave an expression that conveyed modesty as effectively as Picard could breathe in hard vacuum. "Weekend work. Bit of DIY."

Picard glanced at Troi before looking back. "And what are your intentions?"

"Well ... I've got plans, you see, for the Borg. And I don't want a commune of interstellar socialist propagandists sticking their fat noses in, understand?"

"You wish to seek a truce?"

"Actually ..." He waved to someone off screen.

A series of beeps simultaneously blared from the surrounding control banks.

"Captain! We have multiple energy signatures surrounding us ..."

Picard glanced at another monitor, as something shimmered into view.

Another Cube.

Multiple Cubes, decloaking, surrounding the Enterprise.

The man's face twisted into a 'whoops' expression. "And they said it'd be hard. But seriously ..." he leaned into the camera "... these guys were defeated multiple times by a Frenchman and a woman who talks out of her nose."

The Red Alert siren was blaring, but Picard could only stare at this man.

"Who are you?"

"Me? Oh, I could go into a lengthy explanation of my name, my origins, my life and how I came to be in this particular neck of the multiverse ... but there's only nine words you need to know, Captain ..."

The man smiled, his expression purely demonic.

"... I am the Master ... and The Borg obey me."