He had been going positively crazy the last few days. Why am I seeing blood
on my hands all the time? Though he would not admit it, Will knew why.
The same nightmare came every night. Will Riker was on the Borg cube, aimlessly walking around, hearing the collective murmuring in his mind. There was a constant buzzing noise in the air that annoyed him. Stop, he said to himself, Stop this madness. But the voices never ceased. It seemed the closer he came to reaching the center, the louder the voices became.
He turned a corner... And there she was. Deanna. Except it wasn't Deanna. No, it couldn't be. She was...Borg? Her eyes were glazed, her skin pale and distorted with various Borg mechanical devices. Will stood three feet away from her.
"Deanna?" he barely managed to say. She looked beyond him, and spoke words of terror. Words that Locutus-Picard's Borg form-had used.
Her voice had even taken on a sort of mechanical tone. Terrified, he thought to back away. This can't be happening, his mind screamed. But his loyalty to Deanna directed his heart over anything else. "I can't leave you."
He started to walk toward her...and then she spoke, not as a Borg, but from inside, as the woman he loved. "Imzadi," she said, aloud and through his thoughts, "Don't let them take me. I don't want to live like this."
He was torn. Then she reached out and handed him a knife. Without thinking, Will took it. "Don't let them take me, Imzadi," she asked again. And immediately, before his rational thought could influence him whatsoever, he plunged the knife into her heart, as if he were in some sort of a trance. She fell forward, and Will caught her in his arms, preventing her from hitting the floor.
"Imzadi..." was her only response.
Horrified, he held her, "Oh my God, what have I done?" Her eyes were closed, her body limp and lifeless. Deanna was dead. Will looked at his hands. Her blood covered them, they were soaking. He killed her. He killed her, not the Borg form that had taken her body. With utter terror and disbelief, Will Riker screamed. "NO!"
In a cold sweat, heart pounding, chest heaving, Will awoke in his quarters. He threw back the covers and got out of bed. There was no point in trying to go back to sleep. Riker knew that if did, the nightmare would only return to haunt him. I've got to stop this, he thought. He went to the sink and splashed water on his face. Will looked up into the mirrior and saw his sleep-deprived reflection. The circles under his eyes were dark and evident upon his face. He closed his eyes and tried not to remember when things had gotten so crazy.
They had just received a personal message from Picard-Or actually, Locutus of Borg. The level of emotions raging on the bridge was peak. Especially in the First Officer. Deanna Troi stood nearby, and shuddered slightly as she felt his anger rising. It scared her more than anything. She also sensed a tinge of guilt. He was always the first to call the shots on Picard's safety, and now that he was gone, Will felt at fault. "Will," she said sternly, but in a manner that was meant to be comforting. She tried to reach out to him, but he resisted.
"Not now, Deanna," he returned, in a voice that told her he didn't want to be bothered. But Deanna didn't back down. She needed to make sure Will was emotionally fit enough prior to facing the enemy.
"Commander," she addressed him formally, "I need to speak with you privately."
He turned and saw the serious look on her face. We need to talk now, Deanna sent in his head.
With a huff of irritation, he strode over to ready room and said, "You have the bridge, Data," as he walked in. Deanna came in behind him. "What is it?" Will asked impatiently.
"Stop it." She said in defiance. "You know very well what this is all about."
"No, I don't. Would you mind elaborating, Counselor?" She didn't care for the tone she was getting from him. "Don't be a smart ass, Will Riker. I know what's going through your head, and if you don't take control of it, your judgement will be screwed to hell." Normally, her language would have surprised him, but in his current mood, he didn't even think anything of it.
"Deanna, you know as well as I do that if we don't get the captain back, we don't have a chance against those bastards. We might as well give up the damn ship!" That doesn't sound like the superior first officer I know, she thought.
In a calm voice, she merely said, "Will, listen to me. This is no time to panic."
"I'm not panicking," he insisted. "I'm just at a lost as to what to do. Do you know how hard that is for me to except? Me? The goddamn first officer of this ship?! I'm supposed to know how to handle this, and I don't."
Deanna offered him some comfort with her words. "Nobody's perfect, Imzadi. Besides, this is a new enemy. We need to come up with a totally new strategy."
Riker turned away from her, and went to face the window. He ran a hand through his dark hair, and then shook his head. "I can't let him down. This entire crew is expecting him to come back. What if I can't bring him back?"
She came to him and wrapped her arms around him from behind, resting her head on his back. "I know you're scared, Will. But you aren't responsible for what happened. I know you value the captain's safety, but you can't take it solely on yourself. It isn't healthy. It won't do you or anyone else any good. We have to except the possibility that the captain may not return, or if so, he may not come back as the man we know."
"I know," he said solemly, "I know, Deanna, but I don't like it." They stood for a few moments, in silence. Then Will spoke, "Deanna, promise me something." He turned to face her, "We're going to have to find a way to somehow transport onto that ship..." he paused for a moment, and then, "If anything should happen..."
Deanna started to look away, but Will caught her chin, and made her meet his eyes, "No, listen. You need to hear this. If anything should happen to me...If one of those things should get ahold of me... Deanna, I..." He waited. He knew he was asking a lot of her. "I need you to do this for me. I want you to promise me that you won't let them make me one of them. Even if it means ending my life."
She started to cry, not wanting to comprehend the words he was speaking. "Deanna," he said, softly, watching her tears, "You know I would rather die than have to live as one of them."
She couldn't. Her mind said, No. She didn't want to go down that road. Looking into his eyes, she thought to him, Imzadi, don't make me answer that.
"Please, Imzadi," Will pleaded, "I need to know. Before I leave."
Reluctantly, Deanna bowed her head and replied, "All right. I promise."
"Look at me." She brought her head up up to meet his gaze, the pain and heartache she felt reflecting in her eyes. "You have my word...and my heart, as always."
He bent and kissed her gently. "And you, mine. I love you, Deanna." Between her tears, she whispered to him, I love you, my Imzadi. After a few minutes longer, the two left the ready room with a renewed sense of courage and inspiration in order to face the Borg.
On board the Borg cube...
Riker knew he had to get the captain, and try to stay alive at the same time. And the amount of danger they would have to face didn't comfort him any, either. "Worf. I know saying this may not help, but try to be calm. Don't let them suspect that anything is wrong. Once they sense something is up, we're all gonna get it."
"Right, Commander," he agreed. One by one, the mechanical drones filed passed them, stoic and obviously conformed in their ways. Just looking at one of them-the pale, metal-bound soldiers-one could tell they really cold-blooded killers beneath the indestructable uniform that held them. Riker scowled at each and every one of them that went by him. Bastards. Poor bastards.
The trio turned a corner, and realized they were coming closer to the hive's center. The drones were fewer now. The collective's incessant humming was even a little quieter than what it was when they first arrived. The apprehension was unnerving. Nonetheless, the troop kept walking.
Worf spoke up in the eerie silence. "Commader," his baratone voice was controlled, "I'm picking up an unfamiliar presence ahead. It's Borg. But it's also 50% human."
The first officer figured it either had to be Picard...or something they'd never seen before. "All right. Let's go. Waiting here is only hindering the inevitable."
Meanwhile, back on the ship, Deanna Troi had taken control of the bridge. Tensions were running high among the crew, along with her own, but she kept her mind clear. She had to, for both her sake, and the sake of the crew. In the back of her thoughts, Deanna seriously hoped she wouldn't have to fulfill her promise once-and if-they returned. "Commander," an ensign jarred her thoughts, "We've received notice that the away team has reached the center of the cube." She took a deep breath and took a second to collect herself.
After a moment, she said, "Thank you ensign." She got up from the command chair and made her way to the turbolift. "Data, you have the bridge. I'm going to have a word with Dr. Crusher. Keep me informed."
Beverly Crusher tried to keep busy in her section of the ship. With both the captain and the away team still gone, she would have to stay alert, should they return on a moment's notice. As much as she didn't want to admit it, though, she wasn't looking forward to the possibility of all of them coming home looking like Borg drones. God, that's the last thing I need. Her thoughts were interrupted when the counselor walked in the door.
"Deanna," Beverly said, surprised, "What are you doing here? I thought you were needed on the bridge?"
She gave an appologetic look,"I'm sorry, Bev, but I really need to talk to you about something."
It was rare that Deanna saw her about things like this, so she knew it had to be serious. "Let's go in my office." Beverly sat down and motioned for the counselor to do the same. The doctor didn't bother with the small talk and got right to the point, "What's on your mind, Deanna?"
She sighed heavily and began, "Well, to be honest, there isn't anything that isn't on my mind. The Borg, our missing captain, the away team..."
"But above all, Will, right?"
You didn't have to be a genius to figure out the nature of why Deanna was so upset. It was obvious in her face, her posture, everything. Deanna didn't bother being self-conscious at the deduction. She met Beverly's eyes, and said, frankly, "Unfortunately, yes."
She waited for awhile, then relayed her his request, "Beverly, to be quite frank, Will has asked that I give you permission to end his life, should he return to the ship as a Borg."
The chief medical officer's eyes went wide in disbelief, "What? Deanna, what did you tell him?"
She sat calm and composed. "I promised him that I would do what he asked if and only if the situation should arise." Again, Beverly couldn't believe what she was hearing, "You said WHAT?! You know that sort of request isn't something I can easily grant, Deanna. It would be murder!"
"No it's not, Beverly. In emergency situations, such a request may be granted if permission is given from the patient. I believe being assimilated by the Borg would qualify as an emergency situation, and I do have the right to speak on Will's behalf."
The doctor held her head in her hands, "Okay, okay." She took a deep breath, and then exhaled, "You're right. But it's not going to be easy for me..."
Now Deanna couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Not easy for you? How do you think I feel Beverly?! My best friend-no, the man I love more than anything in this world-has asked me to let you end his life should harm come to him on that ship. Do you honestly think this is easy for me? Coming to you and telling you this was difficult enough. What do you think I'm going to be like if it really happens?"
She was beyond the point of being distraught, and Beverly obviously wasn't helping any. The doctor immediately tried to reach out to her friend, "Deanna, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell at you. I know I wouldn't be any better if Jean-Luc asked me the same thing."
The counselor had tears in her eyes, but did not weep, "Then you understand?"
"Of course." She sighed regretfully and looked at her friend eye-to-eye, "I will do what I have to, if it should come to that. But only then."
Deanna got up and embraced the doctor, "Thank you, Beverly," she whispered, "This means a lot to me."
"I know, Dee," Bev said sympathetically, "I know."
"Counselor." Data's voice came over the comm, "I have been summoned to assist the commander and Worf on the cube. Do I have your permission?"
Deanna looked to Beverly, and she shook her head in agreement. "Go ahead Data, but be careful."
"Yes, Counselor. Shall I give the commander your regards?"
Beverly giggled to herself, and Deanna herself couldn't help but smile. "Yes. Please do Data."
So the battle had begun. "Commander Riker! Look out behind you!" Worf managed to get Will's attention in a split second, before the first officer could be mauled by the drone attempting to assimilate him. There was something clouding his judgement, the Klingon realized. Deanna Troi was that something that immediately came to mind. He couldn't blame the man though. His worry was honorable. Not good for combat, but honorable nonetheless. Worf blasted the drone in the chest.
"We must hurry, Commander," Data warned, "They are already starting to adapt."
"Right," Riker said, "Let's go, everybody."
The commander and his team marched through another set of Borg as they came to the hive's center. "Data, get cracking on that code so we can get what we need and get the hell out of here." "Aye, Sir." Will had discovered that in order to retrieve their assimilated captain, they'd have to get him to cooperate first. Picard wasn't going to leave willingly as Locutus.
A microchip containing nanites that would scramble Picard's current programming would give them the control they needed over the drone. Will took a glance at Worf. He was standing guard, and began to count aloud, "10...9...8..." Data's fingers flew over the padd incomprehensively, "...7...6...5..." A tiny chip popped up from the console, "4...3...2..." From out of nowhere, a green beam of light traveled straight past Will's eyes. Shit, that was close. "Data! Let's move!!"
The android grabbed the chip, and in a vain attempt, passed a maximum phaser blast into the on-coming Borg drones. "Riker to Enterprise!! Two to beam up!!"
Data started to protest, "Commander Riker..."
But Will was ahead of him, "I'm going to bring him back, Data. Be ready to beam me out of here on my cue." Without any further comments, Data responded with a prompt, "Aye, Sir," and handed him the chip. And in seconds, the trio shimmered away off the cube...
"Sir," a male ensign said in alarm, "I'm...picking up a strange signal from the Borg."
Doctor Beverly Crusher's mind started to buzz. No. Please tell me they made it back okay. I don't want to have to face Deanna with bad news. "What is it?" she urged him, "Where's the away team?"
"They just made it on board, doctor..." his fingers tapped across the console momentarily, "...just a second, Sir." A moment of silence turned into a minute. He finally responded, "Sir!" he said in excitement, "the captain has just been transported back onto the Enterprise!"
The doctor let out a deep sigh of relief, "Thank God." And for a moment, the ensign was smiling, but then his countenance changed suddenly. The ensign was silent, and then began, "Doctor...I'm afraid someone has been beamed off the ship."
"What?" she said in shock, "How can that-?"
"It's from the cube...they engaged a lock on us when the team came back."
"Who?" Beverly asked. "Counselor Troi." All color in her face went into her shoes. Crusher's eyes went wide, and her jaw fell open. "Oh no..." was all she could whisper.
Meanwhile, in the transporter room, Will Riker experienced a more terrifying reaction. He could hear Deanna's cries in his mind, Help me, Imzadi! Help me! The images from his dream came flooding back with an astounding reality. His mind's eye could see her being restained to a metal table...a Borg approached...a laser began piercing her skin...Deanna screamed...and then so did he,
It was cold and dark. Deanna could feel nothing, physically nor mentally. After the Borg had taken her, restrained her and began to assimilate her individual form, she had gone into a deep trance-like state. They can take my body, but never my mind. As the workers started to transfix a neural modulator to Deanna's thought processors, they were interrupted.
"Wait." a female voice echoed throughout the room. "I wish to examine this specimen."
With a simple gesture, the drones withdrew from the victim and went about their prior business. Very slowly, very deliberately, the Borg Queen made her way around the table, capturing a full view of the woman there. Her eyes took in every view of the woman on the table, to every angle and every degree. She cocked her head from side to side as her neural unit gathered the information her visual senses were picking up. She looked like an animal sizing up its prey.
"Deanna Troi. Commander. Counselor of the starship Enterpise. You are irrelevant." Deanna said nothing. "You deal with the emotions of other people. Such a waste," the Queen said in disgust. "Your life evolves around emotions, feelings. These things are irrelevant to the Collective...as I'm sure you are already aware. We also know you are part telepath."
Again, she circled the metal slab, her eyes never leaving Deanna's own. "Tell me," she spoke rather softly, "tell me about this...infatuation...you have with First Officer, William Thomas Riker. You are emotionally attached to him, no doubt. Why is he of such interest to you?" Troi was silent in resistance. "No matter. Like you, he and the others of your ship will be made one of us sooner or later."
Oh God, Deanna thought.
"We shall give them the greatest gift of all..." the female Borg paused, "Not love, but something of much more importance-Perfection. The chance to become apart of a bigger, better purpose."
Before she knew it, tears began to fill Deanna's eyes. The pain, anger, and frustration was too much. They gradually spilled over onto her cheeks and burned bitterly. The Queen stepped away and motioned for the drones to return to their work. In her last attempt to reach him, Deanna sent with all her heart, Please, Imzadi, if you can hear me, please help me...
As the workers continued to place the necessary nodes into Deanna's skin, she remembered what Will had asked of her earlier, Don't let me live as one of them. She had to try one more time, Imzadi...Don't let them have me...please...I don't want to spend enternity like this... Her mind was starting to slow-there was a buzz in her ears. Deanna knew there was only one thing left to do. She told him, Death is the only alternative... And as the last of her independent thoughts escaped Deanna Troi's mind, the neural implant was placed into her brain. The individual known as Counselor/Commander/friend/Imzadi was no more.
Commander Riker screamed from across the turbolift, "GET A LOCK ON HER NOW!!"
The ensign's fingers flew once again at the console, "Sir, I...I've got her!"
"Send Deanna straight to sickbay!"
"Already done, Commander." He looked to the first officer, , "She's home, sir."
But Will didn't even spare the young man a nod. He headed straight to sickbay, more scared than hell of what he might find there. Beverly Crusher had anticipated to see the lovely face of her friend, Deanna, as she shimmered back aboard, but had no such luck. Oh my God. She was shocked to discover that her worst fears had been confirmed.
Deanna had indeed, been transformed into a drone. It was already too late. Nurse Ogawa had a protective force field around the body as it thrashed about in resistance. Alyssa turned to the doctor, "What are we going to do?"
Beverly shook her head, "There's not much we can do. We can try to give her a sedative, but she'll adapt quickly." At that moment, Will Riker came in. He looked directly to Beverly, "How is she-?" and then to the body on the biobed, "Oh God...No...Deanna..."
He approached her, "My God, what have they done?!"
"I'm going to try something stronger," Beverly administered a hypo through the side panel. Gradually, the drone became still. Will came closer, "Remove the force field."
"Will-" Beverly started to protest.
"Just do it Beverly. Please." The field disappeared. He gazed upon the white-faced, mechanically costumed figure before him. He took her hand and held it to his face. So cold. It wasn't Deanna. "Imzadi, I'm so sorry... I'm so..." Will began to sob. Sorry would never make up for this. Not ever. She was gone. Maybe still alive, but only in his mind. She would never be Deanna ever again, no matter how much he wanted to believe that she was still here. Still alive with him. Will shut his eyes in pain, and remembered her last thoughts to him, Death is the only alternative.
He had to do what she asked. He would do that much for her. Fulfill her last request.
A different Riker faced Beverly Crusher. As she had never seen him, so weak and vulnerable. His eyes were red, tears were on his cheeks. "Beverly..." Will inhaled, and then let it out, "I have to let you do for her, what she said she would have done for me."
Now it was she who shed tears, His words seemed forced as he said, "Ending her life is the only way out."
Beverly stood close by at the side console of the biobed, waiting for Will's okay to administer the poison that would end Deanna's life forever. He kneeled next to her, crying and whispering to her the last words she would ever hear from him-as a Borg.
"Imzadi...my beloved...I-I should have been the one over there..." Will wiped his eyes and then shook his head, "No. No more regrets. The damage is done, right?"
He almost expected an answer from her. She, the counselor who always seemed to have all the answers to the troubles of his life. He took her hand and looked her over once more, white and bounded in metal. Even as a Borg she was beautiful. "I love you, Imzadi. Now and forever...even if I can't be with you..."
Riker cried even harder. "I'm doing this for you...I know it's what you wanted..."
He was finding it harder to speak. Words seemed to be pushed from his mouth by some unknown force. His heart was empty and his body was numb. Such were the effects of losing one's Imzadi. What was once a precious gift, was now a curse and consequence.
"No matter what, I will always love you..."
He bent over her body and let his mouth just hover over hers. No breath came from her, nor would there ever be again. Will delicately kissed her lips, and then whispered to her, "From this life to the next, Imzadi." As he held onto her hand, he gave the doctor a nod. "Go ahead, Beverly."
Reluctantly, the chief medical officer confirmed the injection of the chemical throughout Deanna Troi's body. It would be a silent, but quick death. But to Will Riker, Deanna Troi was already dead 20 minutes ago. 2 more minutes passed, and then the doctor annouced, "She's dead," tears falling from her eyes.
By the time it was over, Will's eyes hurt, but that pain was nothing compared to what he feel in his soul. He stroked her hand and continued to cry. "Beverly."
She was surprised that through his current emotional state he was able to sound absolutely uneffected. "Yes, Will?" "I want to hold her...just...just let me hold her one last time..."
It was a request Beverly could not refuse. "Go ahead."
And she watched as he gathered Deanna's drone body in his arms and gently rocked her back and forth on the bed. It was eerie and mournful at the same time. Will seemed to be silent. But Beverly had noticed his lips moving. She couldn't hear him say in the smallest whisper, "Take me with you...take me with you...take me with you..." over and over again. From that moment, he knew the pain, and the nightmare, would never end.