Seven Into One
I lie in their "sickbay", their medical ward, too weak and tired from all they've taken from me to keep resisting. I am alone, and I know as well as they do, or better, the law of the single, the weak, the small against the many, the strong, the powerful: resistance is futile. Their hologram attempts to engage me in conversation. I imagine linking into Voyager's computer system and channeling the consciousness of a billion voices into his program, copying what is useful, what can be assimilated, and erasing the rest, silencing his chatter forever.
It will not happen. I am alone.
There have always been other voices, guiding me, telling me what to think, what to do. Always a greater wisdom than the thoughts of this small drone to draw on. As a part of the Collective, I was safe, warm, secure. There were never doubts, never pains, never loneliness. We were many, united, harmonious.
Fluid collects in the ducts of my organic eye and spills out. The implant they have given me is inferior to my own eye, my cybernetic eye, the eye that they took away because it belongs to the Borg and is superior to anything they could have. They are jealous of my superiority, of our greatness against their smallness. That is why they seek to bring me down, to make me into one of them. The fluid blinds my organic eye, and my inferior cyber eye closes. I do not want to see with this eye they have given me. I want my own eye.
I want my implants. I want my strength. I want to be with my people, free of want and need forever.
But Janeway will never let me go. She speaks for the collective of Voyager, disunited and disharmonious though they are. She seeks to assimilate me into her weak, inferior collective, to make me small like her, to make me human.
She will not succeed. We are Borg. We do not submit. We shall not be assimilated by inferiors. We will resist.
But resistance is futile...
For a time I sleep, and when I awaken, still more has been taken from me. I cannot feel the nanites rushing warmly through my blood, and my flesh is exposed and bare to the atmosphere. The garment I am wearing is not tight enough, does not protect the flesh from atmosphere. I shudder helplessly.
"What's wrong? Do you feel unwell?" the hologram asks me.
"My flesh... my flesh is touching atmosphere..." I whisper. "It's cold..."
"Hmm. I've never had anyone else complain about the sickbay pajamas before. You should be wholly recovered from your fever earlier, so that's not it. And your flesh is entirely covered, except of course for your face and hands. Why do you say you are exposed to 'atmosphere?'"
"I can feel atmosphere on my flesh. It slips in." I pull at the collar of the garment. "This is not airtight. Nor this," and I show him the cuffs. "Atmosphere enters and touches me. It is... it is not acceptable." I shudder again. "Atmosphere bears poisons and disease organisms. Exposure must be minimized."
"So you'd like a tighter outfit. That can be arranged, I suppose. I imagine after spending your life in that skintight Borg suit, it must be frightening to loosen up." The hologram simulates an expression humans use to denote pleasure and social receptiveness. "I'll see what I can do."
The hologram leaves me alone again. Panic touches me at the thought of aloneness. But I will not cry out, I will not beg him to return. There is nothing he can do for me-- he cannot speak inside my head, he cannot guide me.
Janeway cannot speak inside my head either, but she seeks to guide me. She has told me that I will be human and I must comply. She has told me that when I become human it is what I will want to be. I do not want to want to be human. To be Borg is to be superior. She says I was human once. It is irrelevant. I am Borg now, and Borg do not move backwards, do not seek to become less than they are.
But Borg have guidance from the other voices. Borg are never alone. And I... I am alone, and I do not know how to be alone.
Janeway offers guidance. I do not know what else to do. The voices would tell me to resist if they were here, but they are not, and without them I do not know how to resist. I must have guidance, I must be given information and instruction, and only Janeway offers this. She says that if I join Voyager's "collective", imperfect and disorganized though it is, I will no longer be alone. I will have what she calls "friends". I do not know how to define that term, except that it describes entities one shares communally with in some way that leaves one still alone and yet eases the pain of that loneliness. Humans can bear the lack of voices in their head; humans can direct themselves when there is no guidance; humans can apparently use these "friends" as a substitute for the connection we Borg have with one another. Had. I am Borg no longer; I am disconnected, apart, alone.
The Collective would come for me if they knew where I was. But they do not, and as I am disconnected from them, they will assume I have ceased to function. They will not search for me. That is not the way. I tried, earlier, to contact them, to summon them to return me to them. I failed, and now I am told the ship has left Borg space entirely. Our space is vast, and will eventually encompass all. But now our space has limits, uncharted areas where unknown technologies exist for assimilation, technologies that must be analyzed by specialized scout drones to determine if it is of value, and additionally if it presents a risk to Collective resources. The Collective will never risk an entire ship in uncharted territory to return one drone.
There is no way to contact them, no way to return. I will always be alone.
The fluids from my eye stain my facial skin, and I feel difficulty breathing. No breathing regulator takes over to control and smooth the ragged heaving of my lungs. No nanites compensate for the erratic flow of oxygen by splitting carbon dioxide waste into new oxygen for metabolism and carbon wastes to be recombined with water into glucose. I am away from my alcove, away from the power that should flow into and restore me, and my breathing cannot be regulated, nor can I stop the flow of fluids from my organic eye.
The hologram returns. "Now, now, there's no need to cry," he says, touching my shoulder. "You're going to be just fine. I'll perform the last set of surgeries tonight, after you've had a few hours to rest and recover from the last set, and that will finish your metamorphosis into a lovely human girl."
"I d-do not want to be hu-human," I say, forcing the words out despite my uncontrolled breathing.
"Well, I can understand. I wouldn't want to be human either. Stomach pains, leg cramps, the common cold... needing to sleep, to eat... oh no, it's not for me. But the fact remains, you are human. And being human is a great improvement on being a personality-less Borg drone, don't you think?"
"You'll change your mind, I'm sure. Once you get used to it, you'll thank us for making you human again."
I would rather be dead. It would be much easier to be dead, to suffer no more of this fear and uncertainty. As a Borg, I was never uncertain, and never afraid for my own fate, though I was very concerned about the impact of Species 8472.
I remember being afraid, a very long time ago, in another life. I remember what seemed to be monstrosities then, looming over me, pinning me and injecting me. I remember the pain and fear of transformation, and the roar of a billion billion voices in my head, drowning out all else.
No. I do not wish to remember that. That was someone else; that was the girl, not me. She was weak and childish and alone. No one protected her, no one gave her guidance, when the Borg came for her.
Just as no one is here to give me guidance now. No one but Janeway, and she wants me to be human.
Humans are small, disorganized, petty, weak. They lack harmony. But in the absence of strong guidance and the voices of others in their head, they can function. Great as the Borg are, powerful as the Borg are, near-perfect as the Borg are, we have one weakness. An individual Borg drone, alone, is less than nothing.
I cannot function alone. I do not want to want to be human... but humans can function. Humans can find ways to stop feeling loneliness, helplessness, directionlessness. Janeway tells me that I can join with Voyager's Collective, if I become human, and I... I want that. I want to be Borg, but I cannot be Borg, and if I cannot be Borg all I can want is to join with whatever Collective I can, however I can. As weak and poor a substitute for true Borg connectedness as it may be, it is all I can have.
I should not want this. I am weak. No Borg should be willing to be other than Borg. But it is the only way to have other voices, surrounding me and speaking to me even if they are not in my head. It is the only way to have guidance.
But I cannot want it... the voices would give me guidance if they were here, they would tell me not to want this... it is wrong to want to be less than Borg... it is wrong to want to join a group that is not Borg...
"Janeway," I whisper.
"Hmm?" the hologram asks, wandering past me. He will not stay with me and speak to me; he wanders throughout the sickbay, studying readouts, talking to himself.
"We will speak with Janeway," I demand. There is no "we"; I know this. It is I that wishes to speak to Janeway, but if I say that I will sound weak, and they will not comply.
"You could say please," the hologram says. His words are irrelevant.
"You will bring Janeway here," I tell him.
"You asked to see me?" Janeway asks.
She is imperfect, but strong. She can control disharmony with the strength of her mind. She imposes her will on the Voyager's "collective", and they obey. They do not obey when she does not give them guidance. When she was injured, and the human Chakotay sought to break our alliance, we saw it as representative of human weakness. All Borg unite unanimously on every action, guided by the voices of the others assisting them to correct thought. Humans lack that power. But Janeway controls despite human lack of unanimity, despite her inability to correct incorrect thoughts. The humans under her command are disharmonious and disorganized, and yet she forces them into order and correct behavior. I have never thought about it before, but that is an impressive power. No one Borg can command other Borg. The unity of the Collective can take a form in flesh and machinery, and that form may appear to be like Janeway is with her humans, commanding Borg as Janeway commands. But it is far from the same. The unity made incarnate is still the unity, not a separate mind, and Borg obey because they are part of the unity, receiving guidance from all others. Janeway is the only mind here that gives guidance. Yet that single mind was able to trick the Borg. Does that not in a sense make her more powerful than we are?
I suppress that thought. I do not want to think that way. But there are no voices to guide me to correct thought, and the suppression is imperfect.
"You said that if I became human, I would not wish to be Borg again. But you did not answer me. I asked, if I become human, and become capable of wanting things without the guidance of the others, and if at that time I wish to be Borg, will you let me go? You did not answer."
She sighs. "Anneke--"
"My designation is Seven of Nine. Even-- even if the nine are gone-- even if I am alone-- that remains my designation."
"All right then, Seven of Nine. My answer is that I've never seen a human in full control of their capacities who wanted to be Borg. But if that's what you want, once you're capable of knowing what you want, then yes. We'll have to find some way to keep you from summoning the Borg until Voyager's long gone-- I have no intention of letting you assimilate this crew. But I will find a way to return you to the Borg, if that's what you still turn out to want. I promise."
"And how will you know that I am capable of knowing what I want?"
"There are objective tests we can use. I won't use the fact that you still want to be Borg to assume that that means you can't possibly be fully self-aware and capable of making your own decisions, if that's what you're afraid of."
It is what I am afraid of. Her words reassure me, make it easier to do what I must. Perhaps she is deceiving me-- there is no way to control for human deceit. But I have no choice. I must believe.
Humans are capable of knowing what they want. Without guidance, I am lost, torn between my desire never to be anything less than Borg and my desire to join this group and receive what guidance, what freedom from loneliness, I can. If I were human, I would no longer need guidance. I would know what I wanted, and what I would want would be to be Borg again, and Janeway would no longer stand in my way.
I will return to the Collective. But first I must become human, so that I can know that that is what I truly want.
"Then I will join you," I whisper.
"I'm sorry, what?"
"I will join you," I repeat. "I will be human."
She makes the expression of pleasure that the humans call a "smile". For a moment I remember another woman smiling at a little girl that way, happy and pleased and proud of the little girl for some human achievement... Then the memory is gone, but a strange warm feeling remains in its wake. Janeway is pleased with me, and I... I am content that she be pleased.
"Thank you, Seven of Nine. You won't regret this, I'm sure."
The hologram comes to the bed. "It's time, Captain. I'm going to have to perform the last of the surgeries to remove what's left of the Borg implants that can be removed."
Janeway takes my hand and squeezes it. The gesture is meaningless to me, but another long-buried memory tells me it is intended to reassure me. "I'll see you when you're ready."
The surgery is done. The garment that allows the air to touch my skin has been replaced by something more acceptable, something that holds tight to my flesh and allows no air to touch it. There are no nanites within me, and my cyber eye is inferior to what I had before, and much of that which gave me greater physical strength than mere humans is gone. They have added things for reasons I do not understand, like hair upon my scalp.
But I am free to move about now, and the draining, heated weakness is gone. I am in familiar territory, the room we prepared as a hive, facing my familiar alcove. I look around myself, remembering. It is as if a small bit of home, of familiarity, remains here in this new place to anchor me.
The hologram approaches with Janeway and a security guard. "I've extracted 82% of the Borg hardware," the hologram says. "The remaining bio-implants are stable, and better than anything else I could synthesize on such short notice."
So he has left me that much of my Borg identity. "It is acceptable," I say.
He adds some irrelevant data about my garment and the hair, then leaves. Janeway speaks. "You'll have to spend a few hours each day regenerating in a Borg alcove, till your human metabolism can function on its own. We'll leave one operational."
"Let's see how things go over the next few weeks. I'll consider granting you access to the rest of the ship, once I can trust that you won't try to get us all assimilated again."
Did she fail to understand, when I told her I would be human? I know, now, that there is no direct path left between the Collective and my destiny. I must pass through humanity first. "It will not happen again."
Again she smiles. "Good." And presses a communication device into my hand. "If you need anything, contact me."
As she turns, the light catches her garment, and a memory rises of a garment that color, swirling around the body of a little girl, and a high voice squealing, "Daddy, thank you thank you! I love my new dress- it's my favoritest!"
Almost without realizing I am doing so, I murmur, "Red..."
"What?" Janeway turns back.
"The child you spoke of, the girl. Her favorite color was red."
I return to my alcove, to sleep. Behind me I can hear Janeway depart. I am alone again.
But perhaps, if I follow Janeway's guidance, perhaps not for long.