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Cracking the Borg Puzzle Box

Posted on Mon Feb 10, 2020 @ 10:56pm by Commodore Michael Aravan & Lieutenant Commander Kelani Tetanal & Lieutenant Commander Alex Rho & Lieutenant Kyra Silvan Daughter of House Kilrah & Master Chief Petty Officer Thomas Barnes

Mission: The Nanjing
Location: Science
Timeline: MD 1 || 1400 Hours

Once safely aboard the Triumphant, Kelani hurried to the Science Lab and gathered all her personnel for a briefing. Once they were all present, she began to speak:

“As you know, I was part of an Away mission to the Borg cube. We have discovered two items—a glowing box and we also brought back the skeletal remains of the last living Borg aboard—she died in our presence and swiftly disintegrated to her skeleton. These—for lack of a better term—artifacts are to be studied intensely, but they are to be kept in stasis as much as possible and protective gear is to be worn while studying them. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES are either of them to be touched without protection. Any questions?”

The others remained silent.

“Very well,” Kelani said after waiting for any response. “Prepare the lab and your protective gear.”

Since his return to the Triumphant, Tom had first visited Engineering to check on the repairs to the ship. The mighty vessel had suffered severe damage since entering and exiting the Badlands, and she continued to amaze Tom how much punishment she could endure. Repairs were coming along nicely, so Tom left those in his team's capable hands.

As he changed out of his EVA gear into his regular uniform, word came from both the Commodore and the Science Lab. The box and corpse were to be examined and both Engineering and Intel were going to be tapped for that process. At Science's request, Tom changed into a protective suit and arrived at the science lab.

"How's it looking so far?" he asked Commander Tetanal once he spotted her.

Kyra, protective suit on, entered the science lab. Seeing her boss already there she just stood by watching and listening.

“So far, all is well, “. Kelani replied to Tom, even as she inclined her head in acknowledgement of Kyra’s presence. “I have briefed my staff and they are preparing Lab 1 now, as well as the protective suits needed.”

Tom paused, wondering if he and his Assistant Chief were underdressed. "Protective suits?" he repeated to Tetanal, gesturing to the protective suits he and Kyra already wore. "Something more protective than these?"

Kelani looked at the suits both Tom and Kyra wore and smiled reassuringly, saying, “Those are quite acceptable, Chief. It might be wise to include some facial protection, but otherwise you are quite ready.”

Alex walked in and immediately took note of the suit-clad scientists. "I must have missed the memo," he joked. And apparently the briefing... he thought to himself. "Is there a room where I can suit-up real fast?"

"Just point me to the face masks and let's get this started," Tom observed. "That corpse started decaying the moment it was exposed, and the stasis chamber will only do so much." He was itching to take a closer look at that box as well.

Kelani smiled again and pointed to her left, “There are some in the center locker. I will return in a moment.” She stepped into her office, reappearing shortly clad in protective gear. She gestured toward Lab 1, saying, “Shall we?”

Alex looked at the center locker and guessed that if the face masks were in there, full suits might be as well. Nope, no full suits in there. He began rifling through the other lockers, but to no avail. The scientist had come out of her office wearing one...maybe there was a storage area in there for emergencies. He blew off that idea and went back to the lockers where Tom had found the face mask. "Well what do you know...it's still in it's original packaging. No wonder I couldn't find it." He ripped it opened and put it on.

Kelani smiled at Alex’s remark, then sobered, saying, “Come. We must begin.” She led the way into the lab and waited until everyone was present and able to see all that would be done.

“I believe a spectral analysis would be the logical first step....”. she said quietly.

Kyra moved slightly closer to the science officer to get a better look. What this box held actually piqued her curosity and that curosity was a good thing to have when you are an engineer. How do you think a good deal of knowledge is learned......by being curious!

The protective suit made it rather difficult for Tom to operate his tricorder. His gloves fingers kept missing the buttons he needed to press until he ultimately gave up and closed it. He paused for a moment, thinking he’d heard the Science Chief say something, but it wasn’t loud enough to be heard. Seeing the small, strange box again, Tom found himself wondering why it wasn’t placed behind a forcefield and the lab’s holographic projectors utilized to create a facsimile that they could poke without the need for protection suits. Oh, well. To each their own, he thought.

“All right then,” Tom said approaching the cube and standing on the side opposite his Assistant Chief. “Computer, run a level two spectral analysis on this artifact, designated as Alpha Three.”

The computer began the analysis before giving a report of the materials comprising the box. "Unable to penetrate inner layer," it responded after a minute. "Interface required."

"Interface?" Tom repeated, his tone both curious and frustrated. "What type of interface?"

"Neural interface required," the computer elaborated, meaning they would have to make one similar to the Borg or something very like what they used.

Tom frowned. "I don't suppose our Borg friend is able to talk to this cube, is it?" he asked aloud, even though he knew it was a ridiculous request. The Borg corpse they brought back was quite dead, and they awaited an autopsy to determine what exactly caused its demise.

A thought suddenly occurred to him. "Oh, she'll love this," he muttered softly. He then spoke at a normal volume, "We have a Lagashi engineer aboard. Perhaps her and her cybernetic implants could be effective here. Thoughts?"

“I would strongly advise against it,” Kelani said gravely. “Remember the Borg drone? The same thing could happen to our engineer. The risk is too great.”

"Multitronic engrammatic interpreter," said Alex. "It encodes and decodes signals from the neural pathways of the brain. If the box requires a neural interface, maybe we could rig something up between it and the decoder?"

“That seems to me to be a much more prudent solution,” Kelani replied, continuing, “I have no wish to risk anyone aboard where this box is concerned.”

"That works for me," Tom chimed in. He was all for not having to volunteer an unwilling crewmember and risk their life in the name of an investigation. "But who will wear the device? One of us? I don't mind being the guinea pig if necessary."

Without hesitation Kyra spoke, "I'll do it. I will wear the device", she said. "It wouldn't be the first time I volunteered to be hooked up to some device."

Tom looked to the Ullian Second Officer. "Commander Rho, what do you recommend?"

"With this device, the user has to raise his blood pressure when he's ready to exit. It sends a signal to the device to pull him out," said Alex. "That's not something that's easy to communicate to those on the outside. Not to mention you'll die if the cube decides to shut itself off while you're still connected. Not happening on my watch; which is why I suggested rigging something up between the device and the decoder before we put it on the cube. Maybe a modification of it and a monitor...voila holographic projection of the cube's 'mind.'" He looked to the two engineers in the room. "How about it, Master Chief? You two up for a challenge?"

“We still have to hook it up to a living person,” Tom pointed out. “We can adapt whatever piece we attach to the cube, but you still need a proper mind to go in there.”

"You have a point there. But still...." Alex trailed off. He wasn't too keen on any one of them interfacing with the thing. If they had to, they had to. But in a last ditch effort for an alternative, "Could we...reactivate...the Drone's mind and connect it to the device? I could then read the biological part and take stroll through the cube."

Tom nodded. "It's a sound theory. The drone mind requires an active brain to function at full capacity, but maybe we could use a hologram personality matrix to operate the drone. It would be slow, but at least there's no danger to life."

"Moving slow might not be a bad idea," said Alex. "If something amiss were to start popping up, we could have a few extra seconds to react accordingly."

"It is a wise precaution indeed. But if the drone doesn't work, maybe a robotic mind or something on that order would work? It does not have to be so sophisticated as a positronic brain but something similar," Kyra said cautiously.

"There's just one problem," Tom said after looking around the room. "We're short a corpse of a certain Borg drone. Would it be possible to obtain it?"

While Tom spoke and the others dickered around ideas with each other, tubules slid out of a corner of the box and pierced his protective suit. It sent out nanoprobes seeking an interface, then stopped when it reached the Master Chief's brain. Instead of assimilating him, it began to establish a link with him.

"Ow!" Tom shouted, feeling the dual pricks in his arm. He tried to pull away, but his arm had seized, locked in position while two tubules pulsed... something inside of him. Small as they were, he felt the nanoprobes burrow into his bloodstream and find their way north. The pain was intense, but he was soon hit with a wave of relief.

And then came the flood. Tom gasped, staggering backward. His mind was flooded with all sorts of stimuli, many voices. It was beyond overwhelming.

“Chief!” Kelani shouted, then slammed her hand against her commbadge, “Medical Emergency in the Science Lab!”

Closing her comm, she activated the scanning equipment in the lab to determine what was happening.

Tom couldn't process anything due to the massive overload his mind was experiencing. So much data and visual representation of algorithms and programming whizzed across his vision, which was expanding to include everything around the box. He could see himself from the perspective of the table, and see out of his own eyes as well. His vision of Rho, Silvan, and Tetanal also changed to show vital statistics of all three of them, as well as facts retrieved from Tom's own memories.

More of his limbs seized to keep him from falling, but the influx of information began to slow down. His eyes slowly staggered to look at Rho. Panic had been removed from the engineer's face; only resolve remained. Tom didn't plead for help, instead a voice whispered from his mind to Rho's, I'm... I'm okay... I... think.

I'm glad to hear that, Alex responded. Can you tell me what's happening in there?

Coordinate unfamiliar to any Stellar Cartography person regardless of experience filled Tom's mind as well as alien equations of Engineering that would advance Starfleet several decades. Then a transwarp conduit filled his vision before coordinates from the Alpha Quadrant translated from the alien and advanced formulas.

A minute, an hour, or a week later, a scene from outside of the Cube filled the screen of his mind's eye. It was a freighter. Identified as Cardassian and the species number, their statistical ability to be defeated and other information. A tractor beam issued from the Cube and locked onto the freighter which didn't put up a fight as it was drawn into the Borg vessel.

The scene switched to inside the Cube where cutting beams and Borg drones began to work on getting into the Cardassian freighter. Again, there was no resistance, but something strange was happening. Something foreign to the Borg, a new experience and one that the first Drone reports were frantically relaying was deadly to the Borg. The cutting beams weren't effective at all, or so it seemed.

The image in his mind jumped and he saw the freighter dissolve in the bay where the Borg had put it, and then a swarm of something came from the freighter. No, the swarm was the freighter. Reports from Drones relayed broken messages of failed assimilation, gibberish and an actual cry for help that was cut off.

The scene flickered again, then nothing. The nanoprobes that had entered his body, blood and mind flickered off and the tubules in his arm disconnected and fell limp by the box, which slowly ceased to glow.

Immediately, Tom collapsed. The voices may have left him, but the information remained. He was overwhelmed, gasping for air in the clean room environment. There was no strength in his muscles, and for now, he just focused on breathing, which only came out as heaving gasps.

The redheaded hologram that had tried to have him neutered appeared. "What's the nature...oh. Oh." She looked at Tom. "You again. Well, what's the problem this time?" She moved over to him and the internal sensors scanned him and fed the information to her. "Odd. The scan reveals you have dormant Borg nanoprobes in your system. Looks like they'll be flushed out the next time you use the fresher. Come to Sickbay and we'll get you feeling like new."

A fresher would not be enough to cleanse what the cube had done to him. Tom's mind felt strange. For several moments, his psyche and thoughts had been violated by an unknown force, and now that that force was gone, he felt different, strangely alone. The sensation was unlike anything he'd ever experienced, and Tom found a part of himself wanting more of it.

"I..." Tom murmured between heaves. "I saw..." He tried to calm down, and while it was slowly working to lower his blood pressure and relax, the process was nowhere near as short as he could have hoped for.

"Saw..what?" The EMH asked as she stepped forward to support him and glared at the others. "Can someone get a stretcher in here, please?"

"Cardassians!" Tom gasped, still fighting to breath. "Assimilation.... No one... there... dis...solved..."

Kyra was in pain as the whole thing had unfolded. Being half betazoid she felt Toms pain, fear, then wonder, as she fought to stay with what was happening to her boss. When he said, "Assimilation...No one...there...dis...solved", her mind snapped and she collapsed in a heap. Her mind had shut down completely. What ever it was that he saw or said, triggered her mind into shutting down.

As Tom gasped out his disjointed message, Kelani clutched her head as her Betazoid/Cairn heritage caused images to enter her mind. She reached out blindly, trying to speak, but no words would come. She slid to the floor, gasping.

Alex looked at the bodies on the floor and then to the EMH. "You might need more than one stretcher in here, Doctor. I'm going to try to communicate with the Master Chief. See if you can tell what happened to those two."

Tom finally managed to catch his breath. As his breathing slowed at last, he noticed that his limbs had turned to jelly, so he stopped trying to stand in order to let his muscles relax. “That was... wow...”

The Chief Engineer looked at Commander Rho and did his best to lock eyes with him. “I think we know what that thing is now... it’s a flight recorder. Ancient Earth aviation called it a black box. It just showed me what destroyed that cube, but none of it made any sense.”

"Did I miss something?" The EMH asked as Kyra and Kelani both went down, but Rho and Tom seemed fine. She went over to scan them. "It seems their neural pathways shutdown after being overwhelmed by external stimuli. Computer, beam the two directly to Sickbay," it ordered and a moment later, Kyra and Kelani were beamed out.

Tom reached up to Commander Rho with an outstretched hand, hoping the Ullian would help him up. "There's... so much stuff in my head. I need help figuring it out."

"I do believe so," Rho said to the Doctor. He then turned to Tom. "A flight data recorder...this is certainly an interesting find. One full of information." He reached down and grasped Tom's arm with his hand to help him stand. "Information that I'd be happy to help you sort through, Master Chief Barnes. Whenever you're physically ready, we can begin.

Tom took a few more calming breaths as he was helped to his feet. As soon as he was again erect, Tom grabbed onto the table that held the flight recorder to use it for support. "I don't know if I have that luxury. What I saw... I've never seen or felt anything like it. I think... I think we need to do this with the Commodore. Get the vital information out before whatever happened to that cube..." He looked up to meet Alex's eyes. "Before it happens to us."

Alex nodded. "We can do that. Just take a minute, lean against the table, do what you need to do catch your breath for a second." He then tapped his combadge. "Commander Rho to Commodore Aravan."

=^=Aravan here. What do you have for me, Commander?=^=

"We do, Commodore. The cube is a sort of storage device, a flight data recorder. Master Chief Barnes, however, is the one with the details as he was able to access it. His suggestion is that we need to get the vital information to you as soon as possible."

=^=I'm on the way. Aravan out.=^=

Alex nodded and looked at Tom. "Seems like you have a little more than a minute, rest. And don't worry about forgetting anything of what you saw. Retrieving memories is a specialty." He laughed a little. The irony of him possibly doing what his people did...what he ran away from.

Michael came into the lab a minute later, as he had stated. "What have you found?" he asked as he looked at Tom and Rho through the barrier where they were suited up and the apparently dormant cube.

Tom was still leaning against the table in the nearly vacant lab. "I just learned what it feels like to be an isolinear chip reader," he remarked.

"Could you elaborate, Master Chief?" the Commodore asked. "And where is Lieutenant's Silvan and Tetanal?"

Tom sighed, not in irritation at the response, but due to what this experience had done to his body. "It's... difficult to explain, Commodore." He looked at Commander Rho before continuing. "We ran a test to access the box, which revealed a neural interface was required. We then discussed different methods to mimic a neural interface..." Tom's voice trailed off as he tried to sort out how to say the part that came next. "And then... Well, the box made..." The Master Chief shrugged since the words still sounded strange in his head. "It made an interface of its own. In my head."

"How exactly did it do that?" Michael asked, noting the disjointed speech pattern as if he couldn't put what happened in easy to understand words.

That one Tom could explain easily enough. He held up his sleeve, which was pristine save for two small holes the size of snakebites. "It, uh, found a way."

"It did at that," added Rho. "And the interface it made in his head left some memories. I can help Master Chief Barnes retrieve them, but he wanted you here when that happened."

"Master Chief?" Michael asked with a raised eyebrow.

"The... experience was intense," Tom admitted. He still didn't know how to describe it all. Despite the fact that a piece of him desperately wanted to relive it, Tom also knew that reliving it multiple times could cause damage to his own mind and soul. "What I did see was how the Borg cube was destroyed. Depending on how serious this is, I figured you hearing it firsthand would save time in the long run."

The Commodore waited to see if his Chief Engineer was going to continue, but when he didn't, an eyebrow raised. "Okay. What destroyed it?"

Tom nodded his head at Alex. "That's why I need his head. I was bombarded with so much, I only have flashes. What I can tell you right now is that there was a Cardassian transport. It... dissolved and the Borg began to dissolve as well."

Michael looked at Alex. "What can you tell me from what he saw?" he asked.

"I can do you one better than that, Commodore," said Alex. "I'll need a moment or two to retrieve all of the memories from the Master Chief's mind. And then I can enter your mind and allow you to see for yourself."

"Are you ready, Master Chef?" Michael asked Tom.

Tom nodded his head. "I'm ready for anything that gets me out of this protective suit quicker," he quipped.

Rho nodded. "I agree with that sentiment." He removed the headgear and proceeded to get out of the rest of the suit. "When you're settled, we'll begin. Just relax and try to recall the first thing it showed you."

Tom, still leaning against the table, moved so he could sit in a chair. If he was going to have to dig into his mind, then he was going to at least make sure he wasn't going to do anything, like fall, and break himself out of the recall. He inhaled a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. He did this once more in order to clear his head.

He remembered the stab from the Borg tubules, then the paralyzing effect. His mind was then filled with flashes of different things, equations, stars, charts, species, symbols. It was overwhelming, just as much as it was before. "Cardassian," he muttered, closing his eyes tighter and trying to filter out the noise. "I remember something... Cardassian..."

Alex entered Tom's mind. Good, we'll start with that. I'll help you sort them out as we go through, he thought to Tom. Be aware that I may find a memory that the box just put by as a flash, but I'll still...catalog...it. And I can help you recover any that may be fuzzy.

Tom made little effort to acknowledge the Intelligence Chief. After all, his attention was focused on the Cardassian freighter that the Borg had found. "Standard Cardassian freighter," he said calmly to the room. Then, almost robotically, he added, "Species Two-Zero-Zero-Zero. Known for ingenuity and resourcefulness. Scans indicate high concentration of dolamide, rhodinium. Directive: Assimilate."

The scene in Tom's mind flashed. The freighter was captured quickly, and its Borg scouts countered no resistance. "Freighter... abandoned," Tom whispered. "Assimilation proceeding." His mind then changed again, to that of a Borg Scout Drone. It traversed the corridor, looking for the raw dolamide cache. Its optical implant was detecting the precious metal, everywhere. It seemed to coat every bit of the bulkheads, and even covered the light fixtures. It was... abnormal.

Suddenly, the drone stumbled. It fell to its knees, and the drone gazed downward. Its legs had disappeared, somehow disassembled and disconnected. An unknown substance snaked up its exoskeleton. Parts of the drone melted away while others fell to the floor. "Alert!" called out Tom. "Alert!"

Alex had taken note of everything that Tom saw and experienced, particularly the dolamide cache on a Cardassian ship. The substance that snaked up the drone and dissolved it was scary...something that couldn't be assimilated and literally melt a Borg. But Cardassian's in here. What is it, Tom? What's the purpose of the alert? Alex looked around the memory, trying to find what, other than the melting drone, might have set off the alert and caused Tom to call it out.

"Death!" Tom gasped, watching the Cardassian freighter start to both melt and dissolve before his very eyes. The various drones and Borg technology around it began to disappear at well. Thousands of minds now echoed within Tom's. Who would have thought the Borg felt pain. Perhaps not the Borg, but the thousands it so mercilessly assimilated into its Collective. As sudden as it began, it was all over. Tom suddenly opened his eyes. He looked at Alex, gave him a reassuring nod, and then to the Commodore. "A Cardassian freighter," he said slowly, his chest still heaving after multiple short breaths. "The Borg tried to assimilate a Cardassian freighter carrying a load of dolamide. But, it... it wasn't Cardassian at all. It was... something posing as it. Almost like it was baiting the cube."

"A Cardassian freighter carrying dolemite willingly let itself be bait of some kind against a Borg cube?" Michael asked as he wasn't a telepath and didn't see what Tom and Rho had. He looked at the Intel Chief. "What was it, Commander?"

"Well, that's hard to figure out," said Alex. "The dolamide was everywhere; bulkheads, light fixtures...everywhere. Then the Drones sent to initially assimilate it reported a failed assimilation. The Cardassian freighter dissolved in the bay and turned into a swarm of something. One of the Drones watched as the swarm disassembled it's legs and melted parts of it away. That's when the alert went out. I can't recall ever hearing or reading about any situation like this."

"I have a theory," a tired Tom said. "It was something that was posing as a Cardassian freighter. I have no idea what... but it eviscerated the Borg cube with ease. Since we don't assimilate people, we should be fine, but we should definitely keep both eyes open in the Badlands."

"Are you certain that we should be fine?" Michael asked Tom, not stating the obvious that watching The Badlands was required at all times. Just once, the Commodore would like to see normal space instead of space tornadoes made of plasma out of the viewporters.

Tom sighed. "Whatever it was directly engaged the Borg, but only after it was provoked. At least, that's what I'm assuming. As long as there's no one for us to provoke, or to be provoked by..."

"And whatever it is can disguise itself as...anything?" Michael looked at Rho. "Commander, can you mentally show me the images that the Master Chief experienced?"

Alex turned to face the Commodore. "Of course. Whenever you're ready, I can show you the memories."

"Ready," Michael said as he took a seat and waited for the Intel Chief to do his thing.

Alex concentrated on the Commodore's mind for a few seconds. Alright, here they come. He then proceeded to share the memories and images that Master Chief Barnes had seen from the box.

Michael thought he was prepared after being told what the Master Chief had experienced, but the actual experience - or the memory of one - was something else. He thought he was the Borg Drone for a moment, then he tried to study what seemed to be a Cardassian freighter before it dissolved, but everything was happening so fast. "Can...can you slow down the memory of the freighter dissolving, or whatever it did?" he asked.

"I can try," said Rho. He brought the memory of the freighter back and tried to slow it down. It wasn't an easy task, but he managed to bring the speed down a little.

The Commodore looked at the memory being projected to him by the Ulian again and tried to make sense of it. "Are we sure that the Borg don't...hallucinate...or maybe it was a virus that made it appear that way? Ships don't just dissolve into clouds and wipe out a Borg cube. Some secret weapon?"

"If it is," Tom chimed in, "what was it doing in the Badlands? We still don't know why the Borg cube chose the Badlands as a destination. It certainly can't be the freighter, especially since there's several rich deposits of dolamide outside the Badlands near the transwarp conduit's aperture."

"Regardless of what happened," Michael said as he came to his feet. "It's time for another briefing. I hope Security and Tactical have worked something out. Are you up for this, Master Chief?"

Tom nodded his head, albeit slowly. With a destroyed Borg cube and more questions than answers, he knew he wouldn't have time to get back to full strength. His place was at his post, just like the rest of the senior staff. "Of course, Commodore."

"Then let's go," the Commodore said as he turned to go remove his suit and headed back to the bridge.

 

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