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5


She had been running for hours and there was no end in sight. The maze was infinite.

She had no idea where she was running to, all she knew with absolute certainty was that she could never stop.

Stopping meant a fate far worse than death.

And so she went on, running at full speed, only ever slowing down marginally to turn into yet another dark and narrow corridor, indistinguishable from the one she had left behind.

A million eyes were watching her, belonging to countless drones that stood like statues in their alcoves, lining the never-ending corridors, only their eyes following her, waiting. Waiting for her to stop, knowing that she would have to eventually. That she couldn’t run forever.

And then there were the voices.

The voices were the worst part.

She didn’t hear them with her ears, they penetrated deep into her soul.

So many voices, all speaking in unison.

All speaking to her.

She couldn’t understand what they were saying but they never stopped talking.

And she never stopped running.

“Taz.”

That voice was new.

It was coming from behind her.

She turned her head without slowing down.

There was nothing there but the endless corridor.

“Taz.”

This time from right ahead.

She whipped around again.

The corridor was gone.

In its stead, a wide, gaping chasm lay before her, leading into dark nothingness.

For the first time in what seemed like forever, she tried to stop.

But she was too fast and she knew she was going to go over.

“I’ve got you, Taz.”

Something strong reached out for her just as she was about to tumble into the chasm, bringing her to a standstill at the very edge of the void.

She was spun around and she immediately recognized the face.

“Captain.”

Michael Owens smiled at her. “I’ve got you, Taz. You’re safe now.”

He was holding her with one arm. And he was surprisingly strong even while she still teetered on the brink, unable to quite find her balance, frozen in place.

“I’ve got you,” he said again.

“I’ve been trying to get away from them,” she said, barely able to catch her breath.

“I know, Taz, I know. But you don’t have to run anymore. I’ve got you now.”

But even as he spoke, his face was beginning to drain of color and mechanical parts were breaking open his skin, spreading like a cancer and disfiguring him. His left eye was pushed out of its socket to be replaced by an artificial sensor. Tubes and cables grew out of his skull, snaking and coiling themselves in search of connectors as his hair disintegrated. His uniform shredded to give way to dark metallic parts on his chest, arms, and legs.

“You cannot run from us, Taz,” he said, his voice now distorted and robotic as his smile turned into something evil and sinister. “We’ve got you now.”

“No,” she screamed, trying to free herself from his grip but it was relentlessly strong.

He raised another transformed arm and she watched in horror as narrow tubes sprang forth from his hand as he reached toward her neck.

“We will add your biological features to our own.”

She pulled away with all her strength, no longer caring about the chasm behind her. Anything would have been better than this.

She yanked and clawed at the arm holding her in place with all the strength she had.

Just as she could feel the tubes making contact with her skin, his forearm broke off as if it was brittle bone.

And she fell.

“Resistance is futile,” she heard him say above him, his eyes following her all the way, his cybernetic face refusing to vanish into the distance even as she tumbled into nothingness.

Then the void finally claimed her.

The fall didn’t end.

Not for a long time.

It was the landing that woke her.

She felt the jolt and her eyes raced open to see the familiar ceiling of her quarters.

“Goddsdamnit,” she moaned from the pain in her back. She had fallen off her bed and was covered in sweat.

She needed a few deep breaths before she pulled herself back onto the bed.

It had been the third dream she’d had since she had tried to sleep and the first one where she had found herself on the floor.

“Computer, time.”

“The time is oh-three-hundred hours and twelve minutes.”

It had been less than an hour since her last Borg-inspired nightmare, that one following a very similar theme. Her trying to get away from the drones only to be eventually caught by the one that had called itself Tyrantus.

Three nightmares in one night, that was a new record even for her. She hadn’t had such a bad night’s sleep even during her worst Syndicate-Y induced night terrors when she had so desperately tried to kick her drug habit for good.

She glanced toward her nightstand where she found the sleep aid Elijah had prescribed her when he had helped her get through the worst of her withdrawal symptoms. She had taken more than the recommended dose and it had still done nothing for her.

She picked up the padd next to it to find out if there had been any updates since her unsuccessful attempts to find some sleep.

It had been six hours since the away team had returned from the Outlander station with some intel on the likely name of the ship that the captain and the other had taken to escape the station after they had been ambushed by security forces.

Using painstakingly pieced together sensor data of recent starship traffic in the system, together with database entries obtained from the station’s computer, they had been able to identify nine ships that had left the station in the relevant timeframe. Four of which had been large ore freighters and four had matched the description of the ship they were after.

They had wasted another hour tracking down one of the ships only to realize that it was a dead end. The last report she had seen before she had tried sleep was that they had managed to obtain intel on a ship that may or may not have been the one they were after. But it already had a significant head start, it’d be hours before they’d catch up with it.

She found that nothing had changed according to the logs.

She briefly considered trying to give sleep one more chance, she still felt exhausted, but then quickly decided against it. Three vividly disturbing nightmares in a row were her limit.

She got up, got dressed, and left her quarters.

Under any other circumstances she would have made her way directly to the bridge, but considering that Xylion had come fairly close to confining her to quarters after she had offered a few more suggestions the last time she had been up there, she made her way toward sickbay instead.

She was grateful to find it fairly empty and most importantly, entirely lacking the presence of a certain, curmudgeonly chief medical officer. Instead, things were being looked after by Nurse Leila Adams during the quiet night shift.

“Ensign,” she said upon seeing the young woman, “I’ve heard you did an excellent job on that away mission to the Outlander station. Sounds to me as if there might be more landing parties in your future.”

She shook her head. “If away missions are usually like that, I may have to reconsider volunteering for them again.”

Tazla knew that the mission hadn’t exactly gone without a hitch and that Adams had likely seen far more action than she’d expected. “Ninety percent of away missions are fairly routine, often even downright tedious,” she said. “It’s the remaining ten percent you have to watch out for. The ones that could get you killed without a moment’s notice.”

The nurse cringed and Tazla realized that perhaps she had been a little too honest on the subject. Then again, she didn’t believe in mollycoddling her officers either. “In Starfleet you never know what you’re going to get. That’s the reason we’re out here. But not everyone is cut out for that. There is no shame in preferring to stay on the ship,” she added.

“Well, that’s not always the safest option either,” she said after a moment’s worth of consideration. “Then again, if I were looking for safe, I could have stayed on Alpha Centauri.”

Tazla responded to her smile in kind.

“I take it you didn’t come to sickbay at zero dark thirty just to catch up with me. Is there something I can help you with?”

Tazla did another quick scan of the room, ensuring it was empty except for a single medtech working on a workstation in a far corner before she regarded the nurse again. “Just a bit of trouble sleeping. I was hoping you could give me something without the need to wake up the boss.”

She smiled again and nodded. “Sure, give me a tic,” she said and then retrieved a hypo-spray from a medical drawer, checked and amended the charge, and then returned. “A couple ccs of improvoline should knock you right out.”

But Tazla raised her hand. “Actually, I’ve already tried that. You’ve got anything a bit stronger.”

Adams considered her curiously. “Stronger?”

“I’ve got somewhat of a history of being an insomniac. I suppose I’ve built up a tolerance to the usual stuff,” she said and tried on a disarming smile.

It didn’t seem to reassure the other woman at all. “Please wait here, sir.”

Adams left the main ward and Tazla was gripped by the sudden urge to flee.

It was too late.

Not thirty seconds after the nurse had left, Elijah Katanga emerged from his office, followed by Adams.

She uttered a heavy sigh while Katanga thanked Adams and let her go on her way before making her way over to her.

“Your nurse ratted me out. I’m not sure how well that’s going to play on her next performance evaluation,” Taz said with annoyance she was unable to mask.

“Her loyalties are right where they belong. To the crew’s health and well-being and to me. Her next evaluation better reflect that,” he said sternly.

“I just need something to help me sleep, Eli. Don’t make this a federal case.”

“You were just abducted and assimilated by the Borg and improvoline doesn’t seem to make a difference. That’s pretty potent stuff, Dez. I think we better have a look at you. And don’t start giving me any guff on this,” he said as he led her to the biobed with a heavy-duty medical scanner attached to it.

“I wasn’t assimilated,” she protested but followed him where he wanted her to go. “I’m just having a few bad dreams. Considering the circumstances, that’s hardly surprising.”

“Last I checked, you don’t have a medical license anymore and even if you did,” he said as he beckoned her to lay down on the bed so that he could secure the scanner over her torso, “I would have serious reservations about allowing you to self-diagnose your condition.”

“Hey, I was a pretty good doctor.”

“Thing about pretty good doctors,” he said, activating the scanner, “they tend to have blinders on when it comes to their own health.”

Taz noted that he had brought a padd that he had placed on the table next to her bed. Curious as to his nighttime reading, she picked it up. Her eyes widened slightly when she realized the subject matter. “Picard?”

He nodded, reviewing the sensor data. “I’ve been reading up on medical reports concerning people who were altered by the Borg and survived. “There aren’t many cases to choose from.”

“That’s what I love about you, Eli. You really know how to reassure your patients.”

“Relax. You said it yourself, you weren’t assimilated. At least not fully. Still, there are some parallels with Picard that are interesting and worth studying.”

She replaced the padd. “Well, at least I’m in highly esteemed company.”

“There is nothing obvious I can see here. Elevated heart rate and increased blood pressure but that isn’t uncommon among a person suffering from night terrors.”

“As I said.”

“Let me carry out a subatomic spectral scan,” he said, already punching in the commands. “What did you see?”

“Pardon?”

“In your nightmares.”

She leaned back, staring up at the ceiling. “Nothing surprising really. A lot of running, trying to get away from the Borg. Avoiding getting assimilated. Owens.”

He stopped and glanced at her. “You had nightmares about the Captain? Feels like that’s a whole counseling session on its own.”

She actually snickered at that. “Maybe. But it wasn’t a coincidence. The Borg drone that interrogated me on their ship had his face. I suppose, in this universe, Michael Owens must have been assimilated by the Borg at some point.”

“I don’t think I much care for this universe. Curious,” he said and began to study his console closer.

“What is it?”

“I’m not sure why I didn’t detect this sooner.”

His ambiguousness was driving her nuts and she lifted the sensor hood and stood to join him by the console. “What is that?” she asked with an increasingly bad feeling. It resembled a Borg nanoprobe. “I thought you had removed all of these from my system.”

He nodded. “So did I. I think these were designed to disguise themselves, appearing as nothing more than harmless amino acids until they had a chance to multiply. But they appear benign. Or at the very least, they don’t seem interested in assimilating other cells.”

“That’s good. But if that’s not what they’re up to, what is their purpose?”

He glanced at her with an empty look. “I have no idea.”
“Tyrantus, the Borg with Owens’ face, he told me that assimilating Trill can be a difficult process. That it is not always successful. Perhaps they just can’t handle my physiology.”

He shook his head. “I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. These nanites have none of the attributes required to attack cells. In fact, the only thing I can see here,” he said, activating a few more controls to allow the probes to enlarge on the screen to reveal tiny little spikes attached to them, “are these things.”

“Are those transmitters?”

“I think so.”
That bad feeling in her stomach was rapidly spreading to the rest of her body. “Star to bridge.”

“This is Lieutenant Commander Xylion. Sir, must I remind you that you are still off-duty and assigned to medical rest?”

She rolled her eyes. “You certainly do not, Commander. I’m here with the good doctor in sickbay and I’m sure he’d be happy to register your complaint. But first, I think we have a new problem to contend with. And this is a big one.”


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