Author's note: This is Oparu's fault, for the record. Blame her...and then read her fanfiction. It's good stuff. Characters are not mine, no infringement intended, etc. Rated for dark themes and language, not for actual content. Cheshire and Froot read through parts of it, because they're awesome creatures, but all mistakes are mine.
Symphony of Infinities
She is many. She is one. She is every queen that has ever come before her and she is every queen that ever shall. She is Borg, and the Borg are perfection. She is perfection.
She listens to her children; she lives through them. Her perfect children. She loves them, every one. They are her hands, her eyes and ears. Though she possesses her own organic appendages, she sees with the eyes of many. Thousands. Billions. Infinite thoughts are available to her, a constant stream of consciousness, an eternity of ideas, perceptions, truths. It is a song that shames the so-called symphonies of lesser life forms, music of such infinite, cohesive complexity that her superior senses vibrate with ecstasy to hear it.
There are moments of discord, of distinct disharmony. New assimilations, the dying vestiges of individual desires and base ideals. In the beginning of her formation, her creation as Queen, she determined to ignore these blips of chaos, to turn a blind ear to the ripples in her vast and perfect pond. Early on they had disgusted her, creased her brow into small frowns of displeasure. The ripples are far-reaching. They are one. She is one. The dying individuality fighting to maintain itself makes her joined children uneasy as the ripple perpetuates throughout the collective consciousness. In the beginning, she sensed this discomfort in her perfect collective, and so she ignored the ripples, thinking to soothe her children with her lack of regard for them. They are irrelevant, she had coolly reminded them, turning her antenna to the frequency of scout ships and toward planning new objectives.
That was early on.
She is perfect, but she adds to her perfection. She adapts. She learns. Early, she did not appreciate these jarring ripples for the enlightening gifts they can offer. No longer does she spurn these precious offerings. A fragment of unique thought. A fresh infusion of vigor. Fear. Loathing. All ideas old hat to her, to the Borg, useless to keep, yet flavors she now admits can be tantalizing to recall so vividly before they are purged as the useless and extraneous memories that they are.
A flash of a face, of a vibrant, ebony-lipped smile. The scent of some juicy summer-ripe melon, the tang of flavor exploding across an organic tongue. The feel of silk on ridged skin, the burn of lust in organic loins. The Queen appreciates these aberrations as she matures, as her collective grows. She has learned to embrace them rather than to ignore them, to welcome the last gifts of the consumed. When she appreciates them, opens her mind to accept these ripples as their owners are forced to bend to the collective will, her children are less ill at ease.
One such ripple is echoing through them now. Many consciousnesses are being devoured, emptied into the collective, making them stronger. She closes her organic eyes, sees with the eyes of many, hears with the ears of all. Her features a manifestation of rapture, she drinks in the new life offered up to them, fighting, kicking and screaming as it comes. "They will learn," she assures her children, urging them on in their efforts. "They will add to our perfection."
Her children answer her as they always do. We are the Borg. Your biological and technical distinctiveness will be added to our own. They do not speak to the creatures they are elevating, honoring with their tubules; they speak to her, and she smiles a smile of approval, of love they all feel. "Embrace their last moments," she tells them gently. "Their chaos will still when they are one with us. They don't know what they are fighting, but we will show them."
We are the Borg. You will be assimilated, her children chant to her in return, and her smile widens by one perfect degree as she rides the small wave the new ripple has become by the time it reaches her. She gives herself to the onslaught.
Curses swirl in the air around her, the irrational fear is locust-thick, and hatred…there is that, too. A savory dish, hatred. Potent yet no less irrelevant. She devours it, feasts on faces of loved ones, the clinging to falsely-perceived freedoms that wink out as dying stars. Like the stars, the sources of those emanations are being reborn into something greater, something more powerful than they had been before. "They will see," she murmurs soothingly.
They always see, once the hive consumes them.
One echo is louder than the others, his will to remain imperfect strongest. Once, she ignored the loudest echoes most strongly, but no more. Now she honors them above the others, and she hones in on that disharmony, suckling the last free thoughts from her most adamant dissenter like an infant at her bionic breasts. The loudest become her best tactical drones, she has found.
A yearning, a powerless, raging need swarms over her, the heat behind it both warming and bracing. Next will come the object responsible for this dying emotion, undoubtedly…and now it comes. A single humanoid face, an image, the fading sound of husky laughter: a memory. A woman. The Queen smiles indulgently at her newest child to be. How predictable he is. How insistent on his imperfect goddess, whoever she had been. She will be his goddess now, his mother, his daughter, his lover, he will need no other –
But this particular face. The features. The sound. So distinctive are these images that they smack into her awareness like a steel cube through dangling humanoid flesh. Recognition spikes, snatches all enjoyment out of her ripple surfing. She knows that face. Framed by red humanoid hair, accompanied by mocking blue-eyed laughter, red shoulders brushing black cloth and a smirk of false superiority, entitlement that is unmistakable, she knows that face. Her organic eyes snap open.
"STOP," she commands.
The ripple quivers, halts, her command a trident fork in the mighty river of motion. All movement ceases, all thought in the entire collective grinding to an infinitesimally tiny halt. In the time it takes her to tune her senses to the grid where that thought originated, where that face, that smirk came flowing into her awareness, she has the sphere responsible on her tactical screens. Her legs stretch with deceptive languor as she stalks to the illuminated vessel, studies its signature. Its location. Spatial Grid 437. Sphere 9174, her children tell her. She looks deeper, penetrating the hull, finds the drone assimilating the origination point of the memories. He stands frozen in his movements, his assimilation tubules suspended in the soldier's neck as he awaits further instruction. She identifies the drone, her child. Eleven of Twelve, sub-junction of unimatrix four three seven.
"Give me your eyes, Eleven of Twelve," she commands softly. "Show me what you see."
Eleven obeys instantly, helping her tune her perceptions to the narrow band of what his organic and bionic eyes observe. The Queen cocks her head, gazing down on the dark, cursing figure strapped to the assimilation table. Species 5319. Devore. A species as primitive and foolish as any other. In many ways, the opposite of the Borg. They seek limited contact with what lies beyond their borders. What this one was doing so far outside of them she has not yet learned. She will. Very soon, she will know all.
He is a fighter. The will of a fighter is that much sweeter to subdue. She stares at him, and there is no mistaking the face that she caught in the first flash of his consciousness, the cutting laughter that she heard, nor the triumph radiating from those piercing blue-grey eyes. Tuvok's lingering memory, so recently abandoned when he escaped her collective, is accessed for previously irrelevant contact with this man's species. One incident. Hidden telepaths. A game of intrigue played out between two commanders of opposing factions, Janeway and a Devore inspector. Janeway was of course victorious.
Her lip curls. Of course.
Could this be that very Devore commander who had sparred with Janeway? By his memories, his focus upon her image, it seems so. What a delightful, very rare gift.
She wants to see it from his eyes. She wants to feel it from the memory of his fingertips. Had he touched her? How close had he stood? Had he smelled the organic scent of her, imperfect and distinctive? She will always regret that she had not had Janeway transwarped to her location to experience those things for herself. The one time that Janeway had physically stood before her, a shield had separated them, one Janeway's unassimilated body could not cross. That was when Janeway had stolen her child from her, Seven of Nine. She should have deactivated Seven of Nine before the captain had the chance to reclaim her, but then…it had never occurred to her that Seven would actually prefer humanity, having experienced all of the perfection the Borg had to offer her.
If she is honest, and she always is, deep, visceral parts of her have appreciated the grand nuisance that is Janeway. True challenge is something the Queen encounters so very little of. Janeway makes her question her perfection. It's infuriating – and it is invigorating. She misses it when it is gone.
The single taste of what lies beneath the enraged, terrified humanoid in front of Eleven of Twelve hints that perhaps she is not alone in this perverse appreciation. She studies Eleven's tubules, still extended from his right arm. She could know all in seconds, milk every last detail from the restrained humanoid's memory. Share his hunger for that which has eluded them both.
That would be too easy, too swift, too…efficient, somehow. This is a rare find and it is one she intends to savor. The notion that Janeway would be darkly amused by such an illogical thought from her adversary annoys her. "Janeway is irrelevant," she reminds her children, who are always listening.
With Eleven's arm, she strokes the ridged brow of the restrained subject, drawing a spiteful hiss from the object of her profound curiosity. A twist of his metal-covered neck, a feral attempt to snap at her with white, bared teeth, and she smiles. There is little warmth in the gesture. Her glassy eyes are hard obsidian. "Bring him to me."
We are the Borg, they agree.
The buzzing won't fade. If anything, it grows more insistent.
The last hours have been smoke-filled fury and terror. It has been hours since he admitted to losing his ship to the sphere that had appeared from nowhere. In that short span, he has seen more horrendous butchery, more terror-inspiring, unconcerned cruelty than he has been responsible for over his entire career – and that is saying something. He has watched his proud, sleek ship reduced to crippled rubble faster than he could seem to blink. He has choked on leaking plasma exhaust from cut fuel lines, has observed in horror as every single weapon his people possessed failed to drop the endless invasion of automatons appearing on his broken decks. He has watched his men corralled together like cattle, has transported with them against their will into a hall of tritanium horrors. He has fought, threatened, bargained, cajoled, promised and damned the soulless creatures who seized him, and he has watched seasoned warriors subdued and injected with the insidious nanoprobes, has watched those men erupt into the very mindless robots who had captured them. He has watched it all helplessly, a sensation he is not accustomed to, and through his fury and his fear, he has almost become resigned to his own fate as he is finally grasped, restrained to the metal table where he'd just watched them assimilate Prax. They had sawed off his screaming lieutenant's arm while Kashyk stood and watched, and then they had replaced it with a crude metal stump with scissors in place of fingers before lifting him and sending him on his way. Whatever that way had become.
The man who had been Prax had bumped into his former master, and when their eyes met, Kashyk knew that all was lost. There was nothing in Prax's eyes but a vapid stare. He hadn't recognized him. He hadn't even acknowledged him.
Then his turn had come, and Kashyk had hurled out his useless curses to the ethos as the metal tubules had snapped into his neck a second time and he knew the tiny machines that would start to convert him at a cellular level into something with no power, no glory, no will were marching into his bloodstream. Through all of it, his last thoughts were of her. Of the one responsible for his ultimate demise. He'd acknowledged with bitter fury that he had only left the safety of Imperial borders to chase down nebulous reports of a sighting that could have fit her description…it was her fault, all of it. It had always been her fault – then the drone had moved to touch him, almost as if to caress him, and he had snapped with every last vestige of strength he had, thinking to gouge out some of that pasty, disgusting organic flesh and to leave his mark upon at least one of the unnatural creatures subduing him so easily.
And then it had all stopped suddenly. He had been released, lifted from the table, his thoughts still his own, and he had promptly turned his head and wretched out his stark relief.
Which they will pay for. Many times.
He has been transported at least twice. Frog-marched through mazes of cold circuitry, ominous metal machines fitted together to form space-faring archways of doom. All of it under pulsating green light. Walking waxes more difficult with every step. Sharp pains pull at his insides. When he glances down at his hands, they are still gloved, but grave irritation beneath the back of his left hand makes him want to rip at the leather, to uncover the source of the insistent burn. His cheek burns with that same pain. They'd attached something metal to his face when he wasn't looking. They will burn. They will all burn, every last pathetic, nameless drone and starting with the two who'd stuck those vile and filthy tubes into his neck when he'd resisted their relocation, all the while demanding explanations that never come. He will personally destroy the ones who have ushered him silently, balefully through a never-ending web of black and silver and green.
The buzzing is awful. It feels like a telepathic attack. He is trained to resist them, at any cost, but this attack does not lessen, never slows. If anything, the longer they march him through twisting green damned corridors, the worse the press of outside noise grows against his skull.
They come upon a large arch. A tingling shocks his aching body as his silent escort marches him through some invisible shielding he doesn't see the point of, if one can simply walk right through it. And then they are somewhere, finally, he knows it from the very atmosphere of the room, not to mention its unique layout. It boasts less severe lines along the architecture, curved display panels, floor panels of star chart grids inset in otherwise transparent alloys. At the center of the chamber, a curved metal casing curls around a conspicuous pole leading up to…he isn't certain where it leads. All of it rests under a high, high ceiling – and then a woman is stepping out from behind an alcove to stand before him. No. Not a woman. Not really.
She's more machinery than organic components. Half beautiful, half repulsive, half so very many terrifying things. The buzzing explodes in his head, staggering him, yet he cannot look away from her. Her eyes shine with some unholy hematite gloss, her pasty flesh fading into mottled skin along her high, machine-sprouting cranial dome. Metal clamps pull and furrow the sickly pale flesh of her chest. Yet unlike the drones he has observed thus far, below all this unnatural formation, she has shape. A woman's shape, the outline all sex and sleek and coiled power. When his stinging eyes take in her complete form, her stance, the look in her unnatural eyes, it strikes him, absurdly, that there is perhaps only one other woman in the galaxy who he has responded to with such a myriad of physical gut reactions.
He hates them both. Will burn them both, if he should manage to escape this day with his life.
"What are you?" he demands of this creature, the snarl sounding positively polite to his own ringing ears. His head will not stop aching, the buzzing, a million voices, more, increasingly clamoring inside of his brain. He barely hears her response, his eyes fixated on lips still red beneath the overlying pallor of her flesh.
"I am the Borg," she says. It rings louder than it should.
"I?" Are they toying with him now?
The Queen smiles. "I am the Borg," she repeats, as though speaking with some dim, halfwit child.
And she is the Queen – it dawns upon him slowly. He read Janeway's database. He knows who this is. What this is. The buzzing is increasing. His hand twitches faintly, wanting to come up to his increasingly aching head. He does not at all feel well. Voices are whispering in his ears, but he can make out no words.
"You," he licks his lips, struggling for some of his infamous bravado, his unshakable cool, "you brought me here to negotiate."
Though icy, her laughter scalds. "No."
"Do you know who I am?" he demands, shaking his arms free of his ever-silent escort with a forward step. Four additional drones appear from – the walls, the floors, he doesn't bloody know where they ever come from – and their unified malice is palpable. Wisely, he stops moving in time for her infuriating reply.
"Who you were is irrelevant. You will be assimilated."
"No," he hisses, his shaky phoenix of hope once again bursting into flames of futility. Despair.
"Yes," she promises, and her threat this time sounds to the toneless tune of millions of voices in his head.
It's only now that he realizes the nanoprobes already injected into his bloodstream have been slowly assimilating him all this time he thought he'd been spared.
She's a mechanical bitch, the ultimate gaharay threat, and if they ever let him near enough, he will personally peel the organic flesh from her freakishly pale face. In this instant, bathing in impotent anger, it reminds him too much of another pale face…though they are really nothing alike.
To quiet those ever-creeping, entirely unwelcome thoughts, he snaps out, "Then why didn't you let them finish before? Why drag me here? Why waste the time, the transport?"
She stalks to him, and the old gods helps him. In spite of his silent vow, his gaze draws to the movement of her supple hips and thighs, all encased in leather, and he finds himself fleetingly wondering whether there is woman or machine beneath the black covering her from chest to toe. She does not move with the jerky, stunted mechanical movements of all the others; she moves like a woman. More, like a woman who knows her seductive capability, freak that she may be…but then she's too close, stretching a black-clad hand to his face. He snarls, intending to snap at her, too, and her smile returns. It mocks him. A tilt of her domed head and he is seized between the same two steel drones with strength to rival ten of him at his most irate and he has lost his chance to wipe that smirk from her face. Her fingers flex in their casing, not unlike his own would, were he reaching for another trembling prisoner. Black fingertips graze along the line of his cheek, which twitches furiously at her presumption. Her touch scorches like death. Like failure. If he could, he would recoil, but the drones hold him immobile.
Her arm withdraws. "We share an…interest," she finally deigns to reply, those so calm tones wreaking havoc with already-shot nerves.
This time he laughs, and this time, it's his throat that burns. "And what interest would that be?"
It changes everything, that single word.
"How…" He swallows. His throat has an odd stickiness to it. "How do you…?"
The Queen smiles. We are the Borg, sounds in his head. He looks wildly around, but no drone has spoken. No drone…and every drone. They are inside of him, they are in his mind.
"I can give her to you," he tries, furiously blotting the rest out.
"Yes. You will." But not the way you think, Inspector.
He stiffens. His hand and face burn, and now, so does his brain. He tries to think straight. "You've assimilated her?" Somehow he can't imagine her falling to these soulless destroyers of individuality. Then again, he couldn't imagine himself falling to them either – and yet, he has. He knows this with increasing, dread-filled certainty as the seconds tick by and the voices are drumming increasingly clearly in his head.
"In a manner of speaking. She's no longer with the collective, I'm afraid."
There is no reason that his next thought should dry his throat as swiftly as the appearance of the sphere on his viewscreen had. "Have you killed her?"
"Not yet. But she left her imprint here. Recently in fact. I'll share her with you."
He can't help that this notion appeals to him, however fleetingly. What would it be like to know her, to be so far inside of her? The idea calls to him, stirs those keening hungers that have gnawed his insides since the moment she set course out of his life forever. Deep inside of him, he has been chasing her ever since.
"Tell me about her," the Queen demands. It resonates inside of him, buzzes against his eardrums. Inside of his brain.
"Tell you what? If you've assimilated her," he tries to imagine her a drone, fails, and shoves it from his mind with a shudder of distaste, "you should be able to tell me more about her than I could ever tell you."
The Queen nods. He can feel her cutting approval, her clinical study of his person. His flesh crawls as if a thousand nanoprobes are marching the length of him, and probably they are, as she all but purrs, "You're right, Inspector. Talk is inefficient. You won't miss it. Why ask, when you will show me everything – and so very soon?"
He has little to say that. He'd thought for half a glorious moment to offer her his experiences with Janeway, to use it to somehow hold her off until he could make an escape, but that was a fool's dream, and this is the waking nightmare that is reality, and in it, she is going to take everything that he is. There's nothing he can offer her that she cannot simply take.
Is this what so many telepaths have felt, to find him standing over their hiding spots, drawing them into the cold light of truth at gunpoint? Fleetingly, he wonders…
"Do you like music, Inspector?"
"What?" he snarls, trying to focus.
Do you like music? Thousands of voices have asked it. Beads of sweat roil down his spine. Everything hurts, especially his head.
He swallows. It's hard. So is thinking. "She did," he replies then correct himself. "She does."
That smile. He hates it. It's all he sees even when she speaks. "I know," she tells him. The silence is no longer that per se. It's more like absence of speech. He still hears voices, and they are making his head pound furiously as she drones on seductively, "We have music here. It's like nothing you've ever experienced before. It's perfection. You'll see," she assures him. "You'll see very soon."
"Burn in seven hells," he tells her. Only he doesn't. Not verbally. She hears it anyway, and she only smiles. It changes nothing. Least of all her intentions.
There is no stopping the Borg Queen. There never was. There is nothing left for him now but to be taken, consumed, as he has consumed so many others. In an uncharacteristic burst of sentiment, it occurs to him that this may be akin to what the telepath girl must have felt the moment she realized his "kindness" had been her death. He blames Janeway for that too, and the burning rage exploding through his pounding chest is, as always, one part fury, two parts need. He has never been certain of whether he wanted to strangle the false superiority out of her or simply to fuck her senseless if he ever found her again–
"I understand," she tells him sympathetically.
He believes she does. They share that, at least. He almost laughs. They'll share everything, too soon. Kashyk blinks rapidly, his vision tunneling. The shock of her tubules descending into his bulging carotid artery stings, even as it draws the last of the fight out of him. Held still by her minions, there is nothing he can do to stop the inevitable now.
"I've tasted her, Inspector," the Queen's poison soft, soothing voice coaxes him to admire.
With the last of his strength, he grits back, "So have I." But not as deeply as she has. Never deeply enough. He can taste her now – he's always tasted her, he thinks.
The Queen smiles enigmatically, pityingly. Once again, the fingers of her free hand burn a dancing path along his brow ridge. "I know. Our thoughts are one."
So they are. In the last moments in which he has thoughts that originate from within himself, Kashyk sees his future, his past, and his end in the final truth of those awful words.
The Queen presses her lips to his, stealing more of his essence, and it's a cold kiss, a kiss of death. He can hardly feel his body any more, can barely even remember what he is fighting against when her ravenous tongue snakes into his graying, smoldering mouth. Everything he is, was, is dying, extinguished by the imposition of an overwhelming collective will.
Yet all he tastes is Janeway, coffee, failure and lust, even as the last of his identity is sucked from his body and the voices – the awful, terrifying voices – devour his essence with their never-ending song.
The worst part may just be that she is right. In a way, it's beautiful. Once the pain fades.