Sometimes the stars seem to have a melody all their own, like the perfectly struck notes of a bell choir in a French cathedral: a music far beyond the comprehension of the tiny motes of consciousness that inhabit the emptiness between them.
Such idle perceptions are distracting and unproductive, requiring deletion whenever they occur. Their incidence has become significantly more frequent since this drone’s return to the Collective after the failure of her endeavor to assimilate Species 5618. The odds of success had been calculated as minimal at the outset. Humans are a resilient and highly intelligent species, not readily overcome by subterfuge. For this reason, among others, the Collective deems their assimilation essential to the furtherance of our quest for perfection.
Protocol requires the change of a drone’s designation upon assignment to new duties. This drone is now known as Five of Sixteen, Secondary Tactical Analyst of Bimatrix Four-Eight-Nine. Her primary task consists of studying cultural data that pertains to the human species and identifying points of strength and weakness therein. This occupation provides significant opportunity for learning and could be described as enjoyable, except that tasks are not for enjoying; they are simply for doing. Humans, it may be noted, expend much time and effort in attempting to make their work environments enjoyable. Such a waste of resources should be catalogued as an irrelevant weakness, although close observation of humans compels the conclusion that they actually do function more productively when they perceive their surroundings as pleasing.
Strange contradictions, so difficult to understand. Even for this drone. A drone constructed in part from the genetic material of a human starship captain, expressly for the purpose of entering Federation space under the appellation Lucienne Picard. In a metaphor from one of Earth’s ancient stories, with which said starship captain is undoubtedly familiar, this drone could not have been a more obvious Trojan horse. A more rational species would have destroyed her immediately. Nevertheless, Jean-Luc Picard considered it his duty to welcome her as a daughter, an illogical act that could have resulted in the assimilation of his entire species. It would seem beyond question that the Collective has correctly identified the parental instinct as a weakness, an imperfection. And yet, with humans, somehow it is never that easy.
As with all Borg vessels, this ship is not merely a research vessel but also performs other functions as required. We have been assigned to patrol the border of Federation space, a task that occasionally includes the assimilation of isolated colonies or passing ships. In this manner, we gain more information about humans and other Federation species.
With respect to Species 5618, assimilation must be carried out quickly and efficiently, with little margin for error. We have determined that humans, in their benighted individual hubris, prefer self-destruction to assimilation if they are permitted sufficient time to make that choice. Accordingly, their resistance must be crushed at once, with overwhelming force.
Our current target is a Starfleet cargo vessel whose designation is the U.S.S. Corazon, a word that means “heart” in one of Earth’s many languages. An improbably inefficient assortment of mutually unintelligible methods of communication, all human languages seem to contain a great variety of peculiar metaphors involving bodily organs. Many colorful descriptive terms of that nature were directed at this drone during her brief stay at an Earth boarding school, a most unpleasant experience. Such ignorance and hostility are understandable, however, given that their species lacks the benefit of the Collective’s wisdom, a deficiency that will soon be remedied.
All Federation vessels lack sufficient weaponry to resist the Borg effectively, and this cargo ship, traveling without escort, has no means of escape. We overwhelm its meager defenses and seize the crew before their limited human brains have had time to fully comprehend their fate.
Although Starfleet personnel can be expected to possess more discipline than other captives, they display irrelevant emotional reactions, like all humans. Some of the captives curse, scream, or pray, disturbing the efficient silence of our ship with the echoes of their mindless bleating. The Collective, as always, will quiet them soon enough.
This drone has captured a small woman with dark eyes and olive skin who does none of those things. Standing in the assimilation chamber, she does not flinch at the touch of this hand on her shoulder, although she must realize its purpose. Something about her steady gaze is disturbing.
“You are a human child,” she observes.
No response to such conversation is required, given that the statement is devoid of any meaningful purpose. This body is indeed genetically human, for the most part, and its age approximates eleven Earth years, neither of which is a fact of any relevance whatsoever.
“I have three children. On Earth. The oldest is about your age.” She hesitates for a moment as a particularly loud shriek emanates from an adjoining chamber, and a quick shudder runs through her body before she speaks again. “Do you have a name?”
A name. Of course not. This pointless and distracting chatter must be terminated. No doubt the Collective will soon apply the captive’s overly inquisitive mind to better uses.
To locate the proper insertion site and effect deployment of assimilation tubules is a simple matter, quickly accomplished. Although moderate pain is usually associated with the procedure, the captive still does not scream, even as the nanoprobes begin to enter her body. Instead, she maintains her expressive gaze, as if those large dark eyes are themselves capable of communication, and precisely recites the syllables of what must be her own name.
“Maria Elena Lucia Perez Sanchez.”
Clearly this information lacks all conceivable relevance, but something about the musical flow of her voice conveys an impression of beauty and mystery, like the imagined song of the stars. Another data error that requires deletion.
But instead of the familiar data maintenance commands, another soft and melodic name echoes through the pathways of this drone’s thoughts, its presence unanticipated and without apparent purpose.
Preliminary observation indicates that the assimilation of the crew of the Corazon has been completed according to the customary specifications. All of the new drones are functioning acceptably in their assigned tasks, with one exception. Eight of Sixteen, Tertiary Processor of Bimatrix Four-Eight-Nine, lacks the required efficiency.
Her outward appearance betrays no flaw. That warm olive skin has been appropriately transformed to a pale gray, and one of the dark eyes has been replaced by an ocular implant. A more detailed assessment of her mental functioning, however, discloses that the fault lies in an incomplete suppression of memory engrams. In most cases, this imperfection can be remedied by a simple cortical adjustment.
The procedure initially appears to have been successful. Eight of Sixteen completes her next shift within acceptable parameters. Not long afterward, however, she is found standing blankly in front of her alcove with tears running down her cheek from the one remaining eye, as if she has completely forgotten that she is supposed to be regenerating.
Her uncontrolled emotions are so strong that every drone in her immediate logical path is soon buffeted by them, including all of us in Bimatrix Four-Eight-Nine. Images flash before us of a tall, laughing man, and of three smiling daughters with dark eyes and long braids. Eight of Sixteen seems to believe that she is speaking to the eleven-year-old, whose name, we discover, is Pilar. Then the emotional stress overloads her cortical node and causes her to slump unconscious to the deck, the expected result of the operation of a failsafe mechanism designed to protect the Collective from such turmoil.
There will be no second adjustment. Multiple attempts to repair a malfunctioning drone are disfavored as a waste of resources. It will be necessary to deactivate her. Protocol calls for that task to be carried out by the drone who performed the flawed assimilation.
When Eight of Sixteen recovers consciousness, she follows obediently as this drone takes her by the hand and leads her into the recycling room where she is to be dismantled. The cybernetic components can be adapted for use in another drone, and even the biological matter can be processed into nutritional rations; unlike humans, the Borg have no taboo against cannibalism. It is, after all, efficient.
The necessity of carrying out this task engenders no feelings of squeamishness. The standard Borg configuration suppresses most emotional responses, and this drone’s genetic structure includes specific emotional control genes from Vulcans and other notably rational species. Such construction was required in order to ensure optimal functioning while this drone was an agent on Earth, separated from the Collective and unable to rely upon its strength. Despite extensive preparation, that experience was significantly more disturbing than the mere prospect of deactivating a flawed drone, an occurrence that is in no way unusual aboard a Borg vessel.
Consequently, there can be no logical explanation for this drone’s failure to commence the required task immediately.
No protest or other resistance is forthcoming as Eight of Sixteen stands in meek submission, waiting silently for death. Something in the downcast gaze of that dark eye suggests that she may find that outcome preferable. In any event, it is unavoidable. Perhaps if she had also possessed Vulcan genes for superior emotional control, she would have been able to adapt properly. There exists a theoretical possibility that this drone may be able to share that control with her, by means of a secondary neural link. Of course, the Collective would never permit such an inefficient configuration.
If, that is, the Collective knew about it.
Although humans tend to assume that every action taken by a drone is under the complete control of our central computers, that assumption is not entirely accurate. We function more like the hive insects we seek to emulate, with some small degree of autonomy in the performance of our routine tasks. Automatic monitoring programs installed in each drone’s cortical processor return data to the system at regular intervals, ensuring that prompt maintenance can be performed when any data does not fall within the expected parameters.
The monitoring programs, not being infallible, can be defeated by installation of additional software designed to return false data.
Of course, the very thought is irrational and subversive, spawned of an excessive familiarity with humans and meriting no further consideration whatsoever.
But the programming would be so easy. Log files contain a listing of all information uploaded to the Collective’s maintenance database. It would be a very simple matter to write a program that returns acceptable data while removing all traces of its existence from the transmitted copy of the relevant directory.
Creating a secondary neural link is somewhat more difficult, in that it is essential to ensure that the link can later be uninstalled without lasting complications, but this is not beyond the competence of a skilled drone. No other biological components of the Collective are currently present in this room, so the unauthorized procedure will not be detected.
Irrational. Intolerable. No logical reason can justify preserving the life of one unimportant, malfunctioning captive, in violation of every protocol of efficient collective functioning.
And yet the distant stars, once again, can almost be heard singing.
Eight of Sixteen remains silent and passive as the reconfiguration commences. Even after the completion of the procedure, a long moment passes before she ventures a hesitant mental whisper into the quiet darkness of our newly linked thoughts.
To discuss her daughter’s absence seems both meaningless and imprudent, in that the probable result would be to increase her emotional malfunctioning. She must immediately be instructed to remain silent about this change in her configuration.
“You will address this drone as Five of Sixteen, not Pilar. You will precisely follow all directives from the Collective and from this drone. You will say nothing of the link between us. Failure to comply will mean death for both of us.”
Her previous emotional turmoil has subsided almost entirely, the desired result of the link. She acknowledges the commands with what seems to be a rational understanding of their import.
Eight of Sixteen returns to her duties without incident after completing a normal regeneration cycle. The explanation that a second adjustment adequately corrected her malfunctioning brain appears sufficient to deceive the Collective. This drone is informed that such an inefficient failure to follow protocol is unacceptable, but there are no adverse consequences other than that reprimand.
Studies of human history indicate that subversive behavior in violation of the protocols of various tribal and national collectives often resulted in feelings of guilt. Such a pointless emotional response, however, cannot be deemed probable in this context. The only undesirable outcome appears to be that Eight of Sixteen, who is still not entirely rational in certain respects, has now become convinced that she is secretly in communication with her daughter.
Logical explanation proves useless. Although there is no sense whatsoever in her conclusion that an eleven-year-old human girl is somehow attempting to rescue her captive mother from the Borg Collective, simple rationality eludes Eight of Sixteen. She interprets this drone’s denials as cautionary words lest Pilar’s clever disguise as a young Borg female be discovered.
If feelings of annoyance were not altogether irrelevant, this drone would deem her behavior to be extremely annoying. During the performance of our routine tasks, her mental voice whispers bizarre endearments to the daughter she will never see again. The constant distraction has resulted in a decrease of 0.006 percent in this drone’s efficiency. Although that decrease is within tolerable parameters, it is nevertheless a most unpleasant situation.
“Pilar, bonita,” she softly croons through the link between us, interrupting an attempt to analyze a puzzling sequence of cultural data, “mariposa pequeña.”
This drone is definitely not a pretty little butterfly. Eight of Sixteen’s mental malfunctions, although concealed from the Collective and less emotional in their nature, are not improving in the slightest. Preventing her deactivation was unquestionably a most illogical act.
A recent item of analysis, the Chinese proverb that saving a person’s life makes one responsible for that person forever, yielded no meaning amenable to the Collective’s comprehension. The import of that ancient observation is only now starting to be apparent.
Such irrelevant musing over paradoxical proverbs is a wasteful human activity. We are Borg. The logical and proper course of action would be to disconnect the secondary neural link and to proceed with the deactivation of Eight of Sixteen. It is plain that she is a defective biological unit and will never conform to the Collective’s specifications.
From another perspective, however, it could be said that her presence and her peculiarities have contributed significantly to this drone’s comprehension of human behavior, which is, after all, this drone’s assigned task. Where a task is performed more accurately, increased production time is not necessarily less efficient.
The postulate that an increase in imperfection can lead to an increase in efficiency seems shockingly illogical, contravening the basic premise of Borg collective organization. Our goal is to evolve toward perfection by continuously improving our efficiency. In so doing, we discard what is flawed or irrelevant. We have always done so, and the validity of this goal is not for a drone to question.
Evolution in nature is a product of random mutation, its gross disorder conforming to no apparent plan. It slowly progresses by adapting to imperfections, not discarding them. The evolution of the Collective, in contrast, is premised upon intelligent selection of desired adaptations. The Collective intends in so doing to avoid the flaws of lesser species and to attain the height of perfection.
It seems an inescapable conclusion that if no other species were available to be assimilated, the evolution of the Collective would cease, with only incremental improvements in social and technological efficiency thereafter. Lacking the random imperfections that give impetus to natural evolution, we would be unchanged, static, in a perpetual condition of stagnation.
To categorize such an outcome as perfection seems an unlikely choice of words.
This vessel has received a command to return immediately to the central hive for intensive maintenance. The import of this order is that all drones aboard the ship will undergo a thorough examination in order to ensure their proper functioning. Although the Collective has always conducted such random inspections on occasion, the frequency has increased significantly since the recent seizure of several ships by rebellious drones.
There is no possibility that Eight of Sixteen will pass inspection. She will be destroyed; and if the existence of a private link between us is discovered, this drone will be deemed a dangerous subversive and will also be destroyed. Therefore, logic dictates that the link must be removed.
Because its design allows it to be uninstalled without difficulty, there are no complications from the procedure. Eight of Sixteen, now bereft of her only source of emotional stability, soon becomes distressed. She stares into the face of this drone and utters an accusing cry, “You are not Pilar. Where is my daughter?”
A reasonable choice of action is to inject her with a sedative before carrying her to the recycling room. Such a precaution effectively prevents an agitated drone from resisting deactivation, and it will also ensure that she says nothing incriminating. As previously noted, she is small, and carrying her is not difficult. The other drones show no interest or curiosity as we pass them. Such a turn of events is not surprising aboard a Borg ship.
Once again, the recycling room is not in use as we enter it, creating an unpleasant impression of aloneness. Even the stars are silent and unhelpful, offering no song or guidance. Nothing remains but stark reality.
Three cargo pods have been placed along the wall on the other side of the room, awaiting recycling. Such pods, of various sizes, are commonly used for automated transport of cargo items between Borg vessels. These are approximately two cubic meters. One of them still appears to be functional, although some components are damaged.
To replace the defective components and install a stasis unit inside the pod is within this drone’s competence. This ship frequently releases pods of this sort, and one more, on a trajectory toward Earth, is unlikely to be noticed. Recently acquired data indicates that Federation medical technology is now capable of restoring drones to a reasonable approximation of their former human configuration. When Maria Elena Lucia Perez Sanchez awakens, she will be with her family.
After releasing the pod and altering the ship’s records to conceal these unauthorized actions, another necessary task will be to delete this narrative file and to overwrite considerable amounts of this drone’s recent memory with acceptable data. All recollection of these events must be lost before inspection commences. Most illogically, this unavoidable prospect produces an almost human feeling of sadness at the loss of individual identity, which is assuaged in part by copying the data into the pod’s small computer.
The finder of this data is requested to transmit it to Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the U.S.S. Enterprise. If there exists any worthwhile meaning to this experience, perhaps he will be able to understand its import. And perhaps, at some future time, like the song of the stars, this aspect of her identity will return to this drone of its own accord.