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The resemblance was uncanny.

Although the entire right side of his face, including his right eye, was covered with mechanical parts, there was no doubt in Tazla’s mind that she was looking at a version of Michael Owens. The mouth, the shape of his nose, the one visible eye as well as that prominent chin, all belonged to the man she had called captain for the last two years.

She had, of course, encountered an alternate version of Owens before, and although that had been a rather unpleasant experience at the time, it paled in comparison to him as a Borg drone. In fact, this encounter may have been even more disturbing than meeting her own, misguided double in another universe.

It also didn’t escape her notice that this drone had identified itself by name and as far as she knew, there had only ever been one Borg still part of the Collective with a name.

“Your biological responses indicate agitation and astonishment,” said the Michael Owens drone as he stepped closer to where she was still restrained upright against the metallic surface. “Are you surprised at encountering us?”

“I’ve been captured by the Borg,” she said angrily as she furtively tried to test her bonds again. “What kind of response were you expecting? Gratitude?”

Tyrantus stepped up to her until she was forced to stare right into his pale, assimilated face, making it difficult for her to suppress a shudder. “Your presence, as well as that of your vessel, are an unexplained variable.”

“I get that a lot.”

The drone continued to look back at her, its one biological eye making contact with hers, while the other eye socket trained a powerful green light beam into her face that made her turn her head away.

“You are the commanding officer of your vessel.”

She just nodded to this.

She was thankful when he finally stepped away from her again but only until she realized that the platform she was strapped to was moving with him, forcing her to keep facing him even while he walked around her. “Your vessel is crewed by races who are not known to possess the level of technology it has exhibited.”

“I suppose you don’t know everything then, do you?”

He continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “Although the nature of your vessel and its point of origin warrants further inquiry, our primary mission is to locate any and all occurrences of Particle 010 in this sector.”

“Never heard of it,” she said truthfully.

Tyrantus stopped and mercifully so did the platform. A holographic image appeared out of nowhere just behind his left shoulder. It displayed an animation of thousands of tiny particles working together in a mesmerizing effort to create a large, glowing ball of pure energy.

Taz recognized it instantly.

“Your biological responses indicate that you are familiar with Particle 010.”

She cursed herself for her unconscious reaction to the image. Back in her days working in intelligence, a faux pas such as this could have cost her her life. Now, it could lead to far worse.

“I may have seen it before,” she said, trying to sound indifferent about it. “Tell you what, you get me out of this contraption and return me to my ship and I’ll tell you what you want to know.”

“That is unacceptable,” he said and then began to move again, this time in the opposite direction, and once more the platform moved with him. This back and forth was starting to give her a headache. “Traces of Particle 010 have been detected within the Amargosa Diaspora and the Borg have expended significant resources in attempting to locate it. It has become our primary directive. Resisting the Borg--“

“I know, I know. It’s futile,” she said. “But then again, I recognize an interrogation when I see one. You could have just assimilated me and yet here we are having a good old-fashioned chit-chat instead. Quite telling.”

He stopped again to look right at her. “Assimilating Species 5614 has caused complications in the past, including a total and irrevocable loss of all synaptic functions in the hippocampus that contains long-term memory functions.”

“Borg and Trill don’t mix well? I guess today is my lucky day.”

He continued and she had no choice but to follow along again. “If you believe your failure to comply will spare you assimilation, you are mistaken. Although assimilation is not our preferred option, if you continue to remain uncooperative, we shall be forced to initiate the procedure.”

“And risk losing everything I know about your precious particle?” she said even as images of those failed Borg drones she had seen earlier came back to the forefront of her mind.

The representation of the molecules that had been following Tyrantus was replaced by one of Eagle, sitting in space within close distance to the Borg sphere. “Initial scans of your vessel indicate five-hundred seventy-four individual sentient lifeforms, most of which can be assimilated with a minimal risk to their long-term memory functions.”

“I so hate to disappoint, but I am the only person on board my ship with any knowledge of this particle whatsoever,” she said.

They stopped again to allow Tyrantus to look right into her eyes.

“What do my biological responses tell you about that statement?” she said as she defiantly maintained eye contact with him. She had never been more thankful for the seemingly bizarre and arbitrary Omega Directive Starfleet had imposed on all of its personnel. It had ensured that only those of captain’s rank or above even knew of that powerful molecule’s existence. Since she had briefly been a captain herself, she had been read into it at the time, but this was not the case for the rest of Eagle’s crew.

Apparently realizing that she was speaking the truth, he started moving again, once more changing direction and once more she followed right along. The image of Eagle remained pinned behind him as he walked. “You are a sentient biological being. Sentient biological beings are known to have emotional weaknesses.”

“You’ll find that I’m one of the tougher ones.”

“I am curious to learn how long you will maintain this defiance. Will you continue to remain uncooperative as drones assimilate your crew? You will be made to watch as every single person on your vessels will be changed into Borg. We will commence with the crew on your command level and then continue deck by deck until you decide to volunteer the information we require.”

Tazla felt her mouth go dry. How far was she willing to go to protect the location of the Ring that she was now fairly certain was being powered by the very energy source the Borg were after? The notion that the massive structure could wipe out another universe was frightening enough, but what would happen if the Borg would get their hands on it. An endless multiverse, all of it made up of an infinite army of Borg. Their single-minded mission and purpose would ensure that they would spread across all realities, like an unstoppable disease, in a never-ending mission to assimilate it all.

As she pondered these gloomy thoughts, her eyes were drawn back to the image of Eagle, sitting calmly in space, and she realized the flaw in his entire argument.

She couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

“The thought of watching your crew assimilated amuses you?”

“No. It’s just that I hadn’t realized before now that the Borg could bluff. It must be because you are not quite like other Borg, are you?”

He stopped again. This time her platform tilted up a little further, putting more pressure on her wrist and ankle restraints that were keeping her from toppling over.

He didn’t speak, just stared at her and so she took the initiative. “You were going after our computer core because you figured that it would contain the information you needed. When we shut it down your only other resource was to get to the crew but you were unable to penetrate our shields so you did the only thing you could, which was to capture one single person. Since we figured out how you did this you won’t get another chance. So for all your threats, the truth is, all you have is me and that’s all you ever going to get.”

“You truly believe your ship will be able to withstand us indefinitely? Additional Borg vessels have already been dispatched to this position. How long do you think your shields would hold out against a fleet of Borg cubes?”

“Doesn’t matter. My crew knows what is at stake. They’d rather blow up the ship than give you what you want.”

Her platform began to move again, faster than before and making her head spin while Tyrantus didn’t bother to follow suit this time. The suddenness of the movement felt as if it had come out of anger. “Looks like I’m not the only one around here with emotional weaknesses.”

A bright light shone into her face again and she could do little more than turn her head slightly. Then she felt something else.

A couple of pointy, needle-like devices were beginning to push into the sides of her neck and Tazla found it difficult to control her heart starting to pound in her chest, fully aware of what this meant.

“Are you certain you wish to risk what I know about Particle 010?” she said loudly even if she could no longer see Tyrantus or guess where he stood after the dizziness they had induced. “After all, I could have all the answers you’re looking for. I may be the best chance you ever going to have to fulfill your primary objective.”

The needles stopped but they were already pushing against her skin.

“You have given us no other option,” he said, and she could have sworn she was hearing resentment in his mechanically-modulated voice.

“It’s amazing how much you remind me of somebody else I know. Granted, he would not have strapped me to a table and threatened me with assimilation, but he too gets infuriatingly stubborn at times. You may have heard of him.”

The needles continued until they broke her skin, causing her to gasp in pain. “His name is Michael Owens and you look a lot like him.”

The needles stopped and pulled away.

The light dimmed and Tyrantus stepped back in front of her. “How do you know that name?”

“He’s a friend of mine,” she said.

“Your attempts at deception are predictable.”

“Oh yeah? Then what does your lie detector tell you?”

“Your biological responses are aggravated.”

“Because you’re trying to assimilate me,” she shot back angrily. “But I know Michael Owens. Son of Jonathan Owens. Brother of Matthew Owens. Born in North America on Earth.”

Tyrantus leaned in closer until he was just inches from her face. “Michael Owens is dead.”

“No, he’s not. And looking at you, I’m not so sure you believe that either.”

“You are wrong and your attempts at trying to deceive us will fail.”

“The Borg assimilated Michael Owens, didn’t they? And for whatever reason, they kept some of his individuality. I’m assuming to better fight humans and other biological races. Perhaps to act as some sort of twisted Borg spokesperson. That makes you very different from other Borg. After all, drones aren’t known to show signs of identity whereas you have a name and an identity that separates you from other drones. All that tells me is that Michael Owens remains a part of you. The only decent part.”

“We do not know how you learned about Michael Owens but it does not matter. We will not be distracted from our primary objective. You will be assimilated and serve the Borg. All your distinctiveness will be added to our own. If your cerebral functions survive the transition, everything you know will become known to the Borg.”

“That’s a big--“ she didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence as those needles stabbed her neck at the same time, and so forcefully, she screamed out in pain. It was nothing compared to what came next.

She had miscalculated, or not been convincing enough to try and argue with Tyrantus, regardless, he had opted for her assimilation and she immediately understood that her worst nightmares were about to be rendered meaningless by the horrors the Borg would force upon her.

Already she could feel something alien and terrifying being pumped into her neck and her bloodstream. Her rational mind told her that these were Borg nanobots, millions upon millions of subatomic machines that would alter her body and mind from within. It felt as if she was being injected with tiny ants made out of pure hot lava, the way it was burning her up from the inside.

In the meantime, her wrists and ankles were turning blood red as she strained against her metal bonds with enough force to cut deep into her skin.

Her senses were beginning to shut down, with her vision starting to fade and her hearing shutting down, she was spared the sound of the most agonizing scream she would have ever heard, originating from her own throat.

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