(Author’s note: This story was written before I got involved in disability rights advocacy, and I didn’t intend any political message in Carolyn’s dislike for being pitied as a “cripple,” etc. It’s just how I saw the character while I was writing.)
I have everything that I need to survive.
And sometimes I think it’s beautiful here, the solitude, the bright sand, the silent horizon. An entire world to myself, with nothing to do but sit in the sun as long as I please. Three suns, to be exact. The constant daylight feels warm and reassuring. I have to admit it’s not the worst planet I could have stranded myself on. As long as the daylight lasts.
They’ve been in hibernation for more than two decades now, the creatures that only come out in the dark. The bleached bones of their prey, scattered throughout the desert, are the only evidence of their presence. No doubt the official records say that my bones are there, too. I expect there must be a headstone for me somewhere. Carolyn Fry, missing and presumed eaten. Rest in peace.
But I survived the raptors’ attack, minus the better part of an arm, a leg, and the right half of my face. I have no idea why I didn’t die. Just too damned stubborn, I guess. My ship was long gone by the time I managed to crawl back to where it had been. Can’t blame anyone for leaving me behind for dead; it just means they weren’t stupid.
After a while I improvised a clumsy pair of crutches and was able to hobble around a bit. The rain stopped when the eclipse ended, but water still flowed from the pump that the previous residents had so thoughtfully installed before they all ended up as raptor chow. There was even some dried food, although it was godawful stale and looked like rats had been at it. But when you’re half dead, you can’t be too picky.
One plus, I had the solar-powered sand cat to drive; it was in good condition, and after some exploring, I found the former residents’ garden. The automatic irrigation system still worked, with no evident problems. A lush artificial oasis appeared as a bright green dot surrounded by sand dunes in all directions.
I never learned the proper scientific classification for the crop planted there, other than to say it’s some sort of genetically engineered tuber containing all known nutrients required by the human body. It’s commonly known as space yams, a staple of most colonists’ diets. Tastes like a combination of every health food you’ve ever tried to choke down. After a while you can get used to it, sort of.
By now, I’ve had plenty of time to get used to it.
Sometimes I can forget that I ever had another life, that there are other worlds beyond that desolate horizon. Then my one remaining eye catches a glimpse of my reflection in an unkind piece of metal. The right side of my face is a solid mass of scar, and the left side bristles with a shock of pure white hair, although I’m not much past forty. What normal skin I have left is weathered and deeply lined. I could play the hag at Halloween without a mask, no problem.
But there’s not so much as one other person here to see what’s become of me, so I suppose it doesn’t really matter. I’m like the tree that fell in the forest with no one around to hear the crash.
Every once in a while, I fantasize about what it would be like to be rescued. I’d be a celebrity of sorts, with my story in all the headlines: Crippled castaway, appropriately grateful for new bionic limbs, restored to life as a productive citizen. An inspiring example of courage and perseverance for all to admire, a role model for the ages . . .
Oh, fuck it. Just leave me here.
Next to the garden, I’ve put together a crude but functional still where I brew yam whiskey. It tastes as bad as it sounds, but then, I never planned on drinking it for the taste.
As I said, I have everything that I need to survive.
While I’m sitting in the garden with a flask of the stuff, feeling somewhere between pleasantly buzzed and flat-out drunk, I look up and see the trail of the descending starship. At first I dismiss it as a meteor or some sort of hallucination, until it lands right next to my garden and two people get out of it.
The first is a young male officer in uniform, who can’t quite control his revulsion when he gets a good look at me. The other is a woman dressed in a tight-fitting bodysuit through which her oversized breasts seem poised to burst. I take the metal implants on her face for some sort of weird jewelry, until I notice her cybernetic left hand.
I close my flask of whiskey, grab my crutches, and struggle to my feet.
The cyborg, or whatever she is, gives me a calm glance that holds neither pity nor disgust. I get the impression that she sees me as nothing more than a problem to be solved.
“Welcome to Paradise,” I tell my unexpected visitors, with as much cheer as I can muster. “Have a drink.”
The officer doesn’t answer, from which I assume he’s not bold enough to sample my rotgut. Smart man.
The cyborg begins to speak in a businesslike tone. “We’re carrying six hundred twenty-eight refugees who are in search of a new home. The terms of the resettlement protocol require that we obtain the consent of existing colonists before establishing residence on an inhabited planet. Although you are only one individual, your consent is nevertheless required.”
When the question that she’s asking finally filters through my brain, I’m left wondering which is crazier: that anyone would want to settle on a world with a landscape of sand and skeletons, or that they’d be asking my permission to do it. I conclude that I’ve got to be hallucinating after all. Nothing this crazy could happen in real life.
I’m about ready to tell these figments of my whiskey-soaked imagination to get back in their ship and fly off to Neverland. Second star to the right, and straight on till morning, if I remember the directions correctly.
But somehow I hear my voice answering instead, “What the hell. It’s a big planet.”
The cybernetic colonists file out of their ship in almost total silence, a diverse assortment of metal-bedecked aliens from all over the galaxy. Most of them belong to species I’ve never seen before. They take in my presence as if I’m just another feature of the landscape, with no emotional reaction at all. The somber children show no signs of fear at my forbidding appearance.
Might turn out to be good neighbors after all, I think, as the officer turns to speak to me again. It’s obvious he’d rather be elsewhere.
“If you’re in need of transport, I can take you to a nearby starbase.” He hesitates before adding, “There will be medical facilities available for your needs.”
Does he mean artificial limbs or alcohol rehab, I find myself wondering. Some goddamn rescue. I can just visualize the disgust of his entire crew at the revolting appearance of the crippled hag who reeks like a spaceport drunk. Frankly, I think I’d prefer to live with the cyborgs.
“No thanks,” I snarl.
To judge by how quickly he turns to depart, I’m sure he’s very relieved to hear it.
I deliberately face away from the starship when it lifts off, choosing instead to watch my new neighbors as they begin the construction of their settlement. One thing is for sure, they don’t waste any time. Even the smallest children are hard at work.
Climbing into the sand cat, I get a much better view of the scene. I drive slowly around the perimeter until I find the female, apparently of human origin, who spoke to me earlier. From all appearances, she’s the group’s leader.
She glances at me and speaks in a flat tone that seems to hold a trace of irritation at being interrupted. “Do you require assistance?”
I make the assumption that this brusqueness is normal cyborg behavior, given that none of her group has shown any interest in conversation.
“Just thought I should introduce myself, since it looks like we’re going to be neighbors. I’m Carolyn Fry.”
She returns an incremental nod as if she’s decided to indulge my peculiar human greeting customs. “Seven of Nine.”
To ask why she’s called by a number instead of a name probably wouldn’t be tactful, I decide. I sit and watch, musing over the possibilities. A soldier’s serial number? A colonist’s identification number? Maybe it’s a model number. I can just picture an alien assembly line turning out identical blonde cyborgs with huge hooters. Maybe there’s a few billion just like her out there somewhere . . .
Nah. Not even in that punk officer’s wet dreams.
As the settlement takes shape, it becomes apparent that there’s going to be only one large square building. No individual cottages, nothing like that. In fact, these colonists don’t even have separate apartments in their compound, and I see nothing that resembles a recreation area. Couldn’t make the mistake of thinking that anything fun went on here.
The echoing clatter from my crutches seems strangely loud in these otherwise quiet corridors. At first I wonder if my uninvited entry into the building will bother anyone, but then I decide there’s no need to worry. No one has even noticed I’m here.
Although there are about fifty people in the corridor with me, they’re all standing silently in alcoves along the wall, with their eyes closed. They look strangely peaceful as they sleep, like two rows of silver-winged Christmas angels on store shelves. Wish I could sleep like that, with no nightmares about being torn apart and eaten alive.
One of the colonists, a boy of about fourteen, opens his eyes and calmly steps out of his alcove as if there’s nothing at all unusual about it. None of his nearby companions has moved at all; I can barely see their breathing.
I reach for the flask that’s hanging from a strap around my shoulder and take a deep gulp of yam whiskey, which for some reason doesn’t seem to taste as bad as usual.
The boy looks at me and declares, “Consuming an alcoholic beverage will result in suboptimal mental and physical functioning.”
I take another swig before closing the flask again. “Yeah, no fake.”
We walk through the corridor together, surrounded by rows of silent figures, the boy’s precise strides contrasting with my awkward motions.
“That body lacks sufficient capacity for many tasks,” he observes. “It would be advisable to repair the damaged sections.”
Now we’ve left behind the alcoves and step into what seems to be a control room of some sort, crowded with alien machinery I can’t identify. A quiet electrical humming comes from somewhere on my right. I feel very much alone.
“Meaning what — you want to turn me into a cyborg, too?”
“Borg,” he corrects me, still without a trace of emotion.
“It would be a more efficient configuration,” he replies earnestly.
The light in this building has an unmistakably greenish tinge, as if I’m looking up from the depths of an ocean. All at once I start to feel like I’m about to drown. I turn to leave the room, stumbling into the corridor with my damned crutches clanging against the floor. In the midst of hundreds of cybernetic aliens, I’m the one who’s a monster.
Because there’s no need for me to approach the Borg compound again, I don’t. A simple enough solution. I remind myself that nothing about my life has changed; I still have everything that I need to survive. The planet’s three suns continue to dance across the bright horizon in their familiar pattern, casting the same shadows they always have.
This is my world. Mine.
And damned if I want it.
To improve my frame of mind, I decide to take a bath. Admittedly, this isn’t an activity in which I’ve often engaged since I came to this place. The plumbing for the former residents’ showers doesn’t work, so it’s a matter of taking water from the pump and putting it into a metal crate, where the water warms up nicely in the sunlight.
I still have a few bars of soap among my supplies, which goes to show how few baths I’ve taken. Stripping off my grimy clothes, I get into the makeshift tub and begin to scrub the ingrained dirt from my skin. It takes a while. I’ve just about finished my bath when I look up and see two Borg children watching me. One of them is the boy I met inside the compound.
Given that the other child is female and neither of them is being furtive about it, I conclude that they must have some other intent besides peeping. Anyway, no kid in his right mind would be interested in peeping at what’s left of me. Not when he could go stare at Seven of Nine instead.
I climb out of the crate and put on my clothes. They’re about a half-century old and belonged to a former settler, but at least they’re clean. I imagine that I now look reasonably presentable, except for the tangled wet hair slapping against the left side of my face.
The children continue to watch me intently, as if they’re measuring my dimensions for a construction project.
“We’re ready to begin fabricating cybernetic components for use in your assimilation,” the little girl informs me. She’s probably nine or ten years old, with an oddly shaped nose and jaw that indicate alien origins. There’s a large metallic implant beside her left ear.
For a moment, I consider offering her several dolls that I found among the former residents’ belongings, but something gives me the distinct impression that she wouldn’t have the first clue what to do with them.
I sit in a wicker chair made from dried yam stems as I glance from one child to the other. “If you two really want to improve my configuration, you could give me a haircut.”
Although I’m expecting them to wander away in search of scissors or razor, the boy just walks toward me and extrudes some sharp implement from his right hand. He begins trimming my hair, all without a word, while I sit there wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into.
“Do you have names?”
The boy answers without a pause. “Quintus.”
I remember fragments of long-ago Latin. More numbers.
“My name is Miriani,” the girl says. “That’s what Seven of Nine told me when she accessed my assimilation profile, but I don’t remember ever being called by that name.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Quintus snaps, his voice now showing a shade of annoyance as he finishes the barbering job.
I lift my hand and touch my hair. Not exactly a modish style, but it’s neat and even.
The children stare at me as if they’ve never heard the word.
“You will need to return to the Borg settlement for your assimilation,” Miriani nags me. “These outdated structures lack adequate facilities.”
“What a wonderful idea,” I tell her sarcastically. “I’ll be there just as soon as I finish my nap.”
And I close my one eye and wait for them to go away.
The sunlight feels warm against my face, and the chair is comfortable. With the Borg children gone, it’s completely quiet, except for some insect resembling a cricket. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bird chirp around here. There probably aren’t any birds on this planet, unless you count the raptors.
I drift off to sleep, wondering if I really remember birds or if they exist only in my imagination.
After a while, someone’s footsteps in the sand wake me. I open my eye and see Seven of Nine glaring at me with unexpected ire, looking like an interplanetary police officer who’s just apprehended the galaxy’s most wanted criminal.
“The children say that you wish to be assimilated. I cannot permit that to happen. You do not understand what it is to be Borg.”
“Keep your hair on, sweetie,” I tell her, my gaze lingering on those neatly pinned tresses that wouldn’t dare to budge without permission. Everything about her body screams of perfect control. I shove my unspoken thoughts back into the depths of my subconscious mind. “I never told them I wanted to do anything.”
Seven’s expression doesn’t look quite as perturbed now, but her voice still carries more than a hint of accusation as she says, “They were constructing a cybernetic leg for you, until I told them to stop.”
I feel slighted by her attitude. Not that I had any particular desire to become a cyborg, but she doesn’t need to behave as if I’m unworthy of the privilege. It’s like she thinks I’m the only inhabitant of Raptors’ Planet who doesn’t qualify for membership in the Sand and Skeletons Country Club.
“I wouldn’t mind being able to walk again,” I tell her, just to find out what kind of answer I’ll get.
“You don’t understand what it means to be Borg,” she repeats.
“Yeah, well,” I retort, “maybe it’s about time you explained it to me.”
She stands impassive and motionless as if she’s awaiting her own execution. Faint shadows pass across her face while one sun sets and another rises, and then she tells me about the Collective.
“Oh, fuck,” I mutter, that being the first response that comes to mind.
Seven’s voice sounds brittle as a fine glass ornament when she answers, “I have never understood the human compulsion to convert bodily functions into curses.”
“Salty language is an old sailors’ tradition. I used to be a space pilot. Not a particularly good one, though, or I wouldn’t have wound up stranded here.” I remind myself that Seven has no interest in my less than noteworthy past. Wish I could manage to forget all about it, too.
I reach automatically for the flask hanging from my shoulder before I realize it’s not there. Must be somewhere on the ground under the heap of dirty clothes. Yeah, that figures.
“You had the option of going to the starbase to obtain replacement limbs. The medical facilities there are adequate for that purpose. Why did you choose to remain?”
Damn, a cyborg interrogation. Like Seven of Nine really cares. I know that I ought to make up something to tell her, but instead I hear my voice speaking the pathetic truth.
“Because of the way you looked at me.”
She doesn’t reply, and I realize she’s probably interpreted my answer as some sort of sexual come-on. Hoo boy, that’s a laugh. As if I can even remember what sex feels like. Well, I ought to be laughing, but for some reason I feel more as if I’m about to cry.
“You weren’t disgusted,” I try to explain.
Her pale eyes gaze at me with the same calm appraisal as before, and she answers, “Disgust would have served no worthwhile purpose.”
So that’s all there was to it. Yeah, she’d probably have looked at me the same way if I’d been a heap of steaming raptor dung that needed to be shoveled. Why the hell am I still here?
The light seems brighter than it ought to be, and there’s a hot prickling behind my eye. Carolyn, you are not going to cry, I silently command myself. There’s no sense in that. Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed, damn it . . .
Then I realize she’s speaking again.
“I consider your fortitude most admirable. Your ability to survive alone for so many years merits respect. I would not have been able to endure it.”
I blink the tears out of my eye and manage to focus again, only to see that she’s already turning away.
For a change, my recent dreams haven’t been about raptors. Instead, they’re inhabited by the cool, sculpted perfection of a certain blonde cyborg. Okay, so maybe I haven’t completely forgotten what sex feels like.
By space pilots’ standards, I never was very experienced in that department. My past romantic partners included two men, two women, and a handsome alien of indeterminate gender whose anatomy I never could quite figure out. Might say a cyborg would fit in pretty well with that little menagerie.
Just because Seven of Nine admires your survival instinct doesn’t mean she has any romantic feelings toward you, I remind my idiot self, which has now started wondering what sort of past love interests she’s had. Or if she’s had any. Oh, shut up already. Just in case you haven’t noticed, fool, she’s not exactly the romantic type.
And even if she were, Seven certainly wouldn’t be interested in a pathetic cripple who’s had nothing better to do for the past two decades than drink the galaxy’s vilest hooch and sit around feeling sorry for herself.
Although maybe if I were Borg . . .
I slam a tight mental lid on that thought before it can crawl out into the light of day, and then I look around for something productive with which I can distract myself. Well, a good housecleaning would certainly be an improvement. I pick up a broom that hasn’t seen any action in eons and proceed to sweep out a massive accumulation of sand, yam rinds, and assorted debris, picturing myself all the while as an archaeologist on a dig at the site of a primitive village. I start wondering what future explorers will think upon finding what’s left after I die.
And just then, I hear something under the floor that sounds like talons scraping against rock.
Of course, I’ve closed off the cellar entrance where the raptors came up from their underground caverns forty-four years ago and ate the former settlers. Several thick metal plates now cover the cellar with its dry heap of human bones. Took me quite some time to weld everything into place, given my physical limitations, but time is one thing I haven’t lacked.
I begin to wonder if the Borg have any idea of what’s going to happen when the eclipse begins.
The clawing noise comes from under the floor again, this time much louder, and with a metallic resonance that makes it plain the raptors have already started attacking my makeshift barrier. Absurdly, I find that I’m reminded of Captain Hook’s crocodile, always coming back to try for another bite.
As I hurry outside and pull myself up into the driver’s seat of the sand cat, I kid myself that I’m bravely venturing forth into danger to warn my Borg neighbors. Of course, the truth is that I couldn’t have stayed in there for one more second without being overtaken by mindless screaming panic. I’m some kind of hero, all right. Not.
I keep casting apprehensive glances toward the sky as the sand cat rumbles slowly toward the Borg colony. If the eclipse overtakes me before I can get there, the solar-powered engine will simply stop, leaving me stranded in the pitch black desert and soon to be dead meat, quite literally. Over the engine’s noise, I imagine that I hear a distant screeching from beyond a dune to my left.
Cresting a rise, I see the Borg settlement beneath me, still as neat and orderly as ever. Several colonists are walking around the outside of the structure, placing cylindrical electronic devices in the sand at approximately fifty-meter intervals.
Quintus is among them, but Seven of Nine is nowhere to be seen. Safely indoors, I hope. I drive toward Quintus’ position, park the sand cat, and climb down. The sky has definitely grown much darker.
“What are those things you’ve got?”
“Portable shield generators,” the boy explains. “They will repel the predators that are emerging from hibernation.”
I stare dubiously at the small devices, wondering if the Borg know just how powerful the raptors are. Not that there’s any time to make improvements to the settlement’s defenses. The daylight has almost completely faded, and I can see a rising swarm of raptors as a dark smudge on the horizon, just below where the sun had been.
Quintus sets two more shield generators with no apparent concern before announcing calmly, “We must go inside now.” He takes my arm to steady me, like a cybernetic Boy Scout doing his good deed for the day.
By the time we reach the nearest entrance to the compound, it’s completely dark out here. There’s a sudden high-voltage humming as the shields crackle to life. I can still hear the distant screeching of the raptors.
“The replicator can provide nutrition if you require it,” Quintus offers, as we step into the building. For once, I don’t mind the greenish hue of the light. He leads me toward what looks like some sort of dispenser set into one wall and explains briefly, “The replicator is voice-activated. State your nutritional requirements.”
Okay, maybe I’m dense, but this is the first it’s occurred to me that I no longer have to eat yams. I can barely remember what real food tastes like.
“One hot fudge sundae with plenty of chocolate sprinkles,” I venture.
“No matching data found. Enter molecular structure of desired item,” the replicator answers unhelpfully, reminding me of just why I always hated computers.
I stare at the damned thing and wonder what good it is anyway. Quintus waits just long enough to observe that I haven’t got a clue how to describe the molecular structure of chocolate before he orders for me, telling the machine to dispense a nutritional ration calibrated for the normal metabolic needs of a mature female of Species 5618.
A small bowl of something that vaguely resembles shredded wheat appears at once. I try a piece, discovering that it tastes almost like unsweetened granola. After twenty-two years of eating nothing but space yams, I’m not about to complain.
Having taken care of my immediate needs, Quintus walks away without a word of explanation, presumably because he has something else to do. I’m not surprised. That’s one thing for sure, the Borg always have something else to do.
I find myself alone again, standing next to the replicator with my bowl of shredded whatever. Of course, there’s not a chair or a table to be seen. I sit down on the nearest piece of machinery that’s the right height, figuring no one’s likely to object.
I’ve finished most of my ration when Seven of Nine turns a corner and walks toward me. Feeling almost like a child caught in some misdeed, I mentally debate whether I ought to get off this machine, whatever the heck it is.
Seven looks at my improvised picnic bench for a moment and then informs me, “There is a larger replicator located at Junction Zero-Eight. You may use it to obtain a chair or other items necessary for your comfort.”
Picturing her as a uniformed clerk at a hotel’s front desk almost makes me laugh out loud. Welcome to Hotel Borg, of the Sand and Skeletons Country Club and Interstellar Resort. Oh yeah, I ought to send a few e-postcards to the folks back home, complete with digital images of the lovely landscape.
And then I realize that, in all sober truth, I should try to use the settlement’s communications equipment to let my parents know that I’m still alive. Even though they were major assholes when I was younger, which was one of the reasons why I chose a career in space, I can’t just leave them believing I’m dead.
“Would it be all right for me to send a message to my family? They live on a colony world called Concordance, at the edge of the Badlands.”
“That is impossible,” Seven replies at once.
Looks like this hotel doesn’t get four stars, I find myself thinking. Well, perhaps the shield around the compound is preventing outside communication at the moment.
“When the eclipse is over?” I ask.
“Concordance was one of the colonies destroyed by the Cardassians during the Dominion War. There were no survivors. The planet is currently uninhabited.”
She sounds as if she’s reading from a data file. This can’t be right. All I can think is that I must not have heard her correctly.
“No. That couldn’t have happened. It doesn’t make any sense. Concordance was always politically neutral and on good terms with Cardassia.” I can hear my voice rising to a high, frantic pitch, but for some reason I don’t seem to be able to control it.
“Several neutral planets were attacked because they were believed to be harboring terrorist groups.” Seven belatedly realizes that I’m not in fact asking for a logical explanation and adds, in what seems to be a clumsy attempt at comfort, “War seldom makes sense.”
It’s been almost twenty-five years since I last visited, I tell myself. If the Borg settlers hadn’t chosen this godforsaken planet, I would never have been able to see my parents again, anyway. They were part of a life that I lost long ago. Nothing has changed. I still have everything . . .
But somehow I can’t manage to convince myself of that any more.
An entire world. Wiped out. Just like that.
At first, when I begin speaking to Seven again, I don’t know what I’m going to say. Then the words seem to come through my lips of their own volition, and when I hear the echoes returning from stark silent corners of my mind, they feel solid, inevitable.
“I want to be assimilated.”
The raptors’ shrieks can be heard faintly through the thick walls of the compound. Every now and again there’s a sharp crackle as one of them hits the shields. I don’t know how much time has passed. Seven of Nine is still standing beside the replicator demanding answers from me. Crazy as it is, I feel safe with her. That’s what it all comes down to, in the end. I feel safe here. No matter what she asks, I can’t give a better answer than that.
“We no longer have a collective identity. If you are seeking self-obliteration, you will have to find a more effective method of suicide.”
No one can ever accuse Seven of not speaking plainly, that’s for sure. She stands in front of me radiating severity and disapproval, still not even close to understanding me. I lick my dry lips and try to explain myself again.
“I want to be a part of this community. I want what you have. Strength, certainty, belonging. I’ve somehow been able to survive here, alone, for twenty-two years. But survival . . .”
Now she nods as if I’ve finally managed to say something she can understand, and she breaks across my meandering explanation with one crisp sentence. “Survival is insufficient.”
Something in her tone, as well as her gaze as it briefly changes focus, gives me the impression that she’s remembering another conversation from long ago.
“Yes. That’s it exactly. I told myself, all these years, that I had everything I needed. Now it doesn’t seem that way.”
“You do not need to be Borg to live among us.”
“I understand that,” I say, as a particularly loud screech comes from overhead and the answering crackle of the shields reverberates through the solidity of the metal walls. “But I want to be.”
“Your metabolism will change,” she tells me. “You will no longer be able to drink that alcoholic substance you brew.”
At that, I have to laugh. “If you only knew how dreadful it tastes.”
The smooth surface beneath me feels cold and hard, more like a machine shop’s workbench than an operating room table. Bright lights, still with that weirdly green hue, stare down at me. Seven has told me, in a tone almost apologetic, that this compound was not designed to contain a properly configured assimilation chamber. But I’ve gotten the definite idea that the original version didn’t go in much for comfort, either.
I take a look at the impressive assortment of parts she’s laid out on another table nearby. The artificial leg and arm are recognizable, and there’s something else that looks like a visual device. As for the rest of the stuff, I don’t have the first clue.
Seven follows my gaze and informs me, “Most of them are control modules.” There’s a faint smile on her lips, as if she’s just waiting for me to back down, to decide that my life isn’t missing much after all.
Last chance to come to your senses, Carolyn, I tell myself. To get down from this table, pick up the crutches, and hobble out of the room with nothing changed, as usual. The ship that brought the colonists is bound to return eventually, or perhaps another ship will come instead. I can leave this planet, get bionic limbs and plastic surgery, and start a new life. No reason why not. I can have plenty of fun, just as if the destruction of Concordance never happened. My parents were getting old enough so that they might have died of natural causes beforehand. I don’t even have to think about that war, about its consequences, about any of the unpleasant attributes of what we pretend to call civilization.
The green-hued lights go on staring at me as if they know better.
With an effort, I drop my gaze from their hypnotic brightness and look toward Seven again, trying to match my voice to the calm stability of her tone. “Proceed.”
Her expression seems to hold a hint of approval, but it’s hard to tell. She places her left hand, the cybernetic one, over my throat and feels for the large blood vessels there. “The first step in the procedure is the injection of nanoprobes into the bloodstream,” she says.
And then, without any further warning, she suddenly jabs me with some sort of tubes that shoot out from her hand like the beast’s tentacles in some godawful alien monster movie. Damn, that hurts, and it’s all I can do not to yelp. With all of their wonderful technical advances, you’d think the Borg would have figured out how to use a fucking hypospray.
Well, it beats being eaten alive by the goddamn raptors, though. Without conscious intent, I glance down at what’s left of my arm. There’s a metallic sheen appearing across the stump, and I can feel a weird prickly sensation where the forearm ought to be. My leg is in similar shape.
Can’t be growing back, is my first thought. Not when the replacement limbs are right there on the table. I’d been expecting a more normal form of surgery: go to sleep and wake up with a few bright, shiny new parts. Evidently it’s a bit more complicated than that.
I raise the arm a few centimeters and stare at it, trying to figure out what in God’s name it’s doing.
Seven doesn’t deign to provide an explanation. Her hands move precisely across the scarred part of my head. I can feel pressure as she cuts into it, but there’s no pain. I begin to wonder if her injection included a conventional painkiller or if the nanoprobes have actually changed something inside my brain.
After she calmly removes a large, oozing section of my skull and proceeds to insert one of those control modules where it had been, I wonder if I really want to know.
Better than the raptors, I tell myself again, but that’s starting to become debatable. Concluding that Seven of Nine is not the type to razz me for squeamishness, I close my eye and try, without much success, to pretend that I’m at a beauty salon getting my hair done.
She works on my head for a long time, mainly in the area where my right eye had been. Presumably she’s installing the artificial eye, but I can’t see a damn thing out of it, and I’m not about to open the real one and look.
There’s a deep, tingling ache along the nonexistent length of my missing arm and leg. Seven eventually turns her attention to installing the replacement limbs, and I can hear metallic clicks and clacks as various components fit smoothly together. Must be, the nanoprobes formed some sort of biomechanical interface for the cybernetic parts. Neat trick, that.
I make an experimental attempt to flex my new fingers, but nothing happens. The cybernetic arm just lies there like the dead metal that it is, while Seven implants more control modules in a few places along my torso without bothering to explain what they’re for.
After what seems like several eternities, she finally declares, “The installation phase is complete. You will now lose consciousness briefly as your systems are initialized.”
At first I have no idea what she could possibly mean, but then I realize she intends to reboot me, just like a computer. Holy shit.
My thoughts, which by now are decidedly less than pleasant, are interrupted in mid-curse as it abruptly happens.
Fleeting images that seem to contain all of the known universe pass across my consciousness for an instant and are gone again. A microsecond later I’m fully awake, without transition.
Me. Carolyn Fry. Borg.
The cybernetic limbs move easily in response to my commands, which I notice are in the form of binary data streams. Somehow, that seems entirely normal. The sensors embedded along their length are returning pressure and temperature data. I observe that there’s a variance of 0.003 degrees in the temperature of the table between my knee and my foot.
I sit up, experiencing approximately 3.8 seconds of dizziness in the process, and raise both hands to my head. My scalp is sleek and hairless, the bristling white tangles gone forever. It merges smoothly into the metallic plating that now covers much of the right side of my head.
My face feels smooth and unwrinkled as well, with the skin restored to its youthful texture. I glance toward Seven and feel a peculiar sense of dislocation or bifurcation, as if I’m looking at myself through her eyes. I’m suddenly aware that she is, to some extent, inside my mind.
“A temporary configuration during the period of your initial adjustment,” Seven explains briefly. “Your interlink frequency has been adjusted to permit monitoring of vital data.”
I figure that I can live with that, especially if Seven is the one doing the monitoring. Looking down at my new limbs, still in awe at what I’ve become, I lift myself to one knee and stand up on the table. For the first time in twenty-two years, I’m standing easily and normally, with my balance more perfect than ever.
I realize that my face has sprouted a great huge shit-eating grin that’s surely never been seen before on a Borg. Still grinning like a madwoman, I tell Seven, “Monitor this.”
And I execute a flawless back handspring off the table and follow it up with cartwheels all along the corridor, whooping in unrestrained delight, all the while as completely butt-naked as the day I was born. My voice carries through the otherwise silent building like a promise of redemption.
Seven gazes after me without a word.
The first pale light of dawn graces the horizon. The raptors are silent now, having returned to hibernation. I’m standing outside the compound with Seven of Nine, watching the dawn as we both enjoy chocolate ice cream cones with extra sprinkles. One of my first acts after finding myself an instant computer whiz, naturally, was to make a few additions to the replicator database. Fuck health food. Most of my fellow colonists haven’t yet taken advantage of the new choices, although I did see Miriani wandering by with some pink cotton candy a few minutes ago.
And fuck worn-out old salvaged clothes, too. I’m now wearing a black leather miniskirt, stiletto-heeled sandals, and a halter top that barely contains my gigantic boobs. Yeah, they’re new, too. When you have billions of nanoprobes circulating in your blood, it’s no great trick to program them to add a little more breast tissue. Or a lot. At first I expected Seven to disapprove, but she hasn’t said a thing about it.
She’s no longer inside my mind, but that can be changed. I deliberately adjust my interlink frequency to its previous setting, the one Seven used to monitor my condition, and mentally dare her to start telling me how inefficient my new configuration has become. Of course, she doesn’t say anything in return.
I finish eating my ice cream cone and slowly lick a chocolate sprinkle from the hard, gleaming surface of my cybernetic index finger. Then I glance toward Seven and think: If I were to move this artificial hand up under what little there is of my skirt, sliding two of these cool, smooth fingers deep inside my wet pussy, would you feel it . . .
She still doesn’t answer, but her sudden intake of breath lets me know that I’ve had some effect on her. And there’s no doubt I’d like to have more.
I wonder what to say next and finally settle on the obvious. “Have you ever been with a woman before?”
“No.” She’s still looking at the horizon, not at me, as she adds softly, “But I once wanted to.”
I begin to feel absurdly protective of this formidable ex-drone. “Yeah, I’ve had a few of those, too. Or not had them, you might say. Of both genders.”
Seven doesn’t resist as I reach toward her, but I can hear an echo of her thoughts as I touch her. Another name, so faint that I almost think I’ve imagined it.
The daylight breaks, casting harsh shadows before it.
And I hold her and give her what comfort I can.
It’s a bright and sunny day in Paradise, as always. The horizon shimmers crisply in the distance. The landscape around here has been much improved since all the skeletons within a 200-kilometer radius were turned into fertilizer for new plantings.
I’m sitting in a comfortable chair beside the sparkling waters of a pool, recently built where the yam garden used to be. Next best thing to a beach. A vine with masses of red flowers resembling bougainvillea has spread across the courtyard; it’s got a wonderful fragrance. Actually, it’s a genetic modification I made to the yams, which of course I never wanted to see again. There are definite advantages to having the entire Borg database of biological information available for downloading into one’s brain.
Tiny winged creatures that look almost like hummingbirds flit among the flowers, making sweet chirping noises. Of course they’re not really birds, but a new variant of the indigenous crickets, although you’d have to look closely to see the difference.
Several colonists are enjoying the warm water of the pool. The sunlight reflects brightly from their biomechanical implants. Miriani is playing Ping Pong with another girl at a table near the pool. The ball whizzes back and forth so quickly that it would be no more than a blur to normal human eyes, but my ocular implant has no trouble keeping track of it.
I stretch luxuriously, enjoying the warm feel of the sunshine on my bikini-clad body. As a cybernetic organism, I don’t require suntan lotion, but I never miss an opportunity to have Seven of Nine rub it on me, anyway.
Quintus, with a definite look of disapproval, brings me a drink. The concept of leisure still offends his Borg sensibilities. I don’t concern myself with educating him, though. He’ll figure things out eventually. In the meanwhile, he makes a damn good cabana boy.
My daiquiri is non-alcoholic, of course, but that’s all right. I’ve found that I don’t miss the booze in the least.
I’ve just about finished the daiquiri when the Federation starship makes its appearance, carrying another group of refugees that we were recently told to expect. I hand my glass to Quintus as the newbies walk stiffly toward the open courtyard, bewilderment showing plainly in their expressions. Apparently we’re not quite what they anticipated a Borg colony would look like. But they’ll get used to life in Paradise soon enough, I’m sure. Until they do, well, I see a few hunky guys in the group that I wouldn’t at all mind keeping as additional cabana boys.
A Starfleet officer — yeah, the same jerk as before — approaches the pool area and takes a good look around. Presumably he’s trying to find Seven of Nine, an effort that won’t be successful. Seven is working in one of the cybernetics laboratories at the moment, designing a vibrating biomechanical dildo with enhanced sensory capacity. And of course I’m going to assist her with some very thorough field testing, just as soon as I can get rid of this idiot officer.
I slip on my sandals and walk toward the idiot, giving him the benefit of my very best slow and seductive stride, with my super-enhanced boobs jiggling in the skimpy bikini top. The bulging crotch of his uniform trousers lets me know I’ve had the intended effect.
“You’ll probably think this is irrelevant,” he says, still staring at my tits, “but whoever turned a hot babe like you into a drone deserves worse than being shot.”
I want to laugh, but instead I keep my face under perfect and expressionless control, so that there won’t be a shred of doubt as to how irrelevant I consider him and anything he has to say.
“There was an elderly woman living near here,” he continues, “who was in very poor physical and mental health. I had planned to check on her, but my ship’s sensors aren’t picking up any human life signs. Do you know what became of her?”
I want to laugh. I want to throw back my head with its cybernetic enhancements and howl my glee into the gleaming curve of the heavens.
But I manage to keep my control as I give him a terse answer.
“She found another way to leave.”