Disclaimer: I don't own them. I just like to tell myself I understand their potential better than the people who do. (Don't we all?)
A/N: For Shayenne, who inspires me to be braver. Thanks, Cheshy for the read-through. The best, you are. :)
There are no secrets in the Collective. Secrets are for humanoids, the weak, and the dishonest organic. She is the Queen, a symbol of perfection to her children, their central plexus of awareness. She has compartments, small sections of stored data that she holds separate from them whenever she deigns fit.
One particular compartment has grown in recent history. The compartment has a name. It has yet to be assigned a permanent designation, though she has one on hand for the occasion. The compartment's name remains Janeway. For now.
Tonight must be the last time she indulges. Tomorrow she will cut the link.
She wonders what Janeway would do upon discovering that her recent time among the Collective has left her with more than a few unremovable souvenirs. One implant in particular, nestled in the middle of her spinal column, would have been beyond the scope of her holographic physician's ability to remove.
The Queen smiles the smallest of smiles. That was one of her more brilliant tactical maneuvers, it's true. The implant remains, and because it does, she is able to initiate a weak telepathic link whenever Janeway's conscious mind is inactive. It would work when her enemy's mind was active, but she would have less control over the connective portal, and then of course the good captain would notice another consciousness prying into her thoughts. Janeway would find a way to suppress the implant's neurogenic effects and that would put an end to this perfect espionage.
It's a different kind of risk, delving into her enemy's sleeping moments, as hazardous as it is stimulating. She justifies the incursions because she's been seeking the tactical advantage that might be gleaned from spying on the captain's unguarded thoughts. And she has spied many things among the sharply intriguing dreamscapes of Janeway's mind. Some more disturbing than others.
She may have uncovered a few weaknesses in Janeway's armor by invading her mind these past few weeks, or she may have uncovered nothing of value at all. Only time, and their next meeting, will be able to tell that. For now, she can experience the sensory world in archaic ways she hasn't been able to enjoy in an eternity of forward evolution.
Color. Reds, blues, yellows. How they attack the humanoid eye and provoke visceral responses in the intestinal tract, and how she's miss–
Color. It's intensely fascinating to study Janeway's reaction to the tiniest sliver in a broad spectrum that is light. The way her human psyche warms to the innocent blue of an iris or the perceived richness of an ebony brown. Her favorite, what she suspects is Janeway's favorite, is the thrill associated with the vibrancy of a ruby red, such as that found in a drop of blood sliding down lacerated human skin. Only when Janeway slumbers, reviving past events, is the Queen able to experience it this strongly. Even imagery from the freshly assimilated is filtered through Borg senses. By the time those memories reach her, they've been altered from their original state of input. In her own perfect body, these colors don't register because they aren't relevant.
In Janeway's body, with her memory of sight, they not only register, they inspire. It amuses her, in a passive sense of the word. To be inspired by something as trivial as reflected light back projected through a fragile humanoid retina…how quaint. Yet when the captain reaches for her primitive, pigmented paints and arcs swirls of minerals across fibrous canvass, these are the inspirations behind her imperfect choices. Memory. Emotional response to stimuli. In her body, through her memory, it's strangely provocative.
Scent. It's combined most fluidly with Taste. In dreams, they must be less potent than during waking hours, but they remain. The bitter coffee, half drunk, sitting beside her and wafting even cold, into her nostrils. The pedantic comfort her mind takes from the familiar scent of bath oils clinging to her pillowcase. All of these things, in less professional bionic hands, would be dangerous. She can admit this. It's why this part of her must remain compartmentalized from her children's impressionable consciousness.
She does not think she likes the infectious notion that she is shedding her perfect skin and crawling into Janeway's during the wee hours of Voyager's antiquated night. It bespeaks inferiority, a weakness of humanoid envy that She simply does not possess.
Tomorrow, she will terminate this link.
She knows she could terminate Janeway at any time of her choosing – should, perhaps, do so. In rare seconds, she has been able to step outside of the stream of Janeway's subconscious without being thrown from her body completely. Once, she experimented with inspiring the implant to produce a few innocuous nanoprobes. With perfect elation, she guided them to attach themselves to the pink lungs pulsating so very close by. She remembers smiling faintly when they did so. A single focused command from her cranial pathways, and those nanoprobes would have permanently prevented the expansion of Janeway's lungs. The captain would have awoken sharing a consciousness, knowing what was happening to her flimsy human body without so much as being able to call for help from the misguided crew that would so happily die for her at a moment's notice.
It would almost have been worth it to experience Janeway's panic coursing through shared dark veins, to have the captain know for only those nanoseconds how powerless and insignificant she is. How frail and small.
The argument could be made that killing Janeway would solve so many problems, and by a majority of the voices, it was made, but that would not allow for the satisfaction of assimilating all that she requires from Janeway's devious and humanoid mind. That was why she had disengaged the probes and ordered them to self destruct before losing her grip on the disjointed link. That, and only that, is why she has not attempted to construct them again.
The first time she slipped into Janeway's slumbering reality, she was unprepared. It was highly disconcerting, nothing like the organized reinterpretations of Seven of Nine's daily experience. Seven of Nine's human brain is still Borg enough, her ocular implant still bionic enough to produce images along the lines of what her queenly eyes and orderly mind is used to. Janeway's perception is an entirely different universe. When she engaged the link that first time, it wasn't freshly assimilated memories with her own perfect will asserting dominance over the order of imagery. She had no ability to choose where in Janeway's mind she wanted to go; it was dropping into a running stream with no access to conscious sensory input for grounding. The images washed over her awareness with purpose, nearly overwhelming her, so swift and vibrant they were.
Faces. Names. Concepts. Running, walking, fighting, laughing, talking. Color, sound, scent. She had no control over the stimuli assaulting her. The faintest instrumental musical twinging against a kaleidoscope of auras and bright, beckoning smiles. Endless stretches of silvery sanded beaches and bare skinned humanoid bodies. Laser fire cutting into barely familiar forms traveling beside her, the physical precision involved in turning and unleashing retributive energy in a determined, glorious red wave of vengeance. The scenarios were vast, and they were unending. She did not see Janeway, and why she had expected to she couldn't be sure, but rarely did she see Janeway.
She saw herself. She almost didn't recognize the fluid creature stalking towards the observer's position with mottled skin that reeked of death, but it shone smooth and glistening. She watched the perceived version of herself, fascinated as she summoned armies of drones with a single hissed breath, amassed spheres of awing proportions with the curl of her fitted hands, and she was gratified to realize that this was how Janeway saw her: terrifying, powerful, beautiful. Deadly. Her eyes struck her most sharply, dark and stamped with shining hematite, almost all knowing, but the need, the organic hunger for touch that she radiated…
That was infuriating. The arrogance of Janeway was never clearer than in that defining moment of gross projection of her own shortcomings. The Queen paces darkly. It will be her duty to disavow her enemy of these misconceptions when they are truly one. And they will be one. Soon enough, they will share all.
Even Omega. Especially Omega. She, Seven of Nine, and Janeway. She hasn't dismissed the fledgling idea of forging a miniature hierarchy of the three of them. They three now know more about Omega than any living creature in the galaxy. That makes them closer to perfection than any other three. In a way, it's galling to consider. In other ways, less so.
She tries to extract the knowledge Janeway has amassed on the stabilization of Omega, some of which the prudent captain kept even from her precious Seven of Nine, but the Queen is unsuccessful. Assimilation is essential. That is why Janeway must live.
Next time she'll go slowly – oh, slowly. She regrets having rushed the chemically blocked assimilation experience when Janeway thwarted the effort to destroy Unimatrix Zero, and that was a rare misjudgment. Janeway must appreciate the beauty of the perfection she so ignorantly declines. Next time, she will have the persistent captain assimilated system by system, leaving her mind separate until the very last. Janeway will observe the conversion of each of her closest companions, those she guards so fiercely, so mistakenly, before her mind will be allowed to join theirs. Conscious, fully aware for every phase of assimilation. She will watch through a queen's eyes as her own prized white skin mottles with the efficiency of cold machinery and her pretty pink organs sprout mechanical perfection that will spread throughout her systems. There will be pain. It is essential to the assimilation process.
Pain is a deliciously efficient way to break resistance in a flesh and blood humanoid. Although she has come recently to understand that some deep part of Janeway's psyche has the ability to embrace pain, to transform it into something that can be used as a source of absolving power. Amazing, how the organic mind works. It is a system of flawed pathways and self-serving lies. That is something she intends to study closely the next time Janeway's subconscious revives the concept. Perhaps it is something she can inspire the human subconscious she shares to revisit this evening. Pain as a source of imaginary power. There is beauty somewhere in the reconciliation of powerlessness and self determination. Flawed beauty, but beauty nonetheless.
Touch. It's the most cloying of physical senses. She has that sensation translated through thousands of interactive nanoprobes. Somehow, the fineness of live humanoid skin is lost in that translation. She only remembers that when Janeway dreams, and she can sink into her body, wrapped in an uninterrupted skein of silken flesh and curled betwixt soft cotton sheets. Hair, a source of so much unwarranted vanity. Shining strands of bacteria-collecting protein sleek with natural oils tickle her stolen cheek and it is immeasurably soft all the same. That sensation is nothing short of exquisitely disconcerting. It's been quite a while. All around her, Janeway slumbers, unaware and undisturbed, while she awakens to touch and smell and need.
Oh, the need in Janeway's unused body, the power and compulsion fueling that prehistoric drive. There is a reason it is among the first of systems disrupted during the assimilation process. The Queen is reminded of the reasoning for that precaution whenever the stream of imaginary stimulus produces a now-familiar ridged face. He is a member of species one eight nine, a fine specimen if she does think so herself, one she would delight in assimilating, if only for the will to resist control so very like that of Janeway. Her body hums at the mere memory of Janeway's response to his assumed proximity, a pooling ache that throbs relentlessly deep between her thighs. She both revels and recoils at the sticky warmth producing lubrication for imaginary penetration–
No, not hers. Janeway's. It's Janeway's body producing these fluids, experiencing this want, a neverending spring of aching desire. It's almost sad. If she had the ability, she would rise from the trappings of the bed and seek relief for her mortal enemy. She would find Harry, Tom Paris or Seven of Nine – not Chakotay, the soft spoken native, never him.
That would be cruel. She is never cruel without reason; she is almost never cruel without reason.
Mercy. She possesses it when there is an advantage to employing it. Mercy would inspire her to send her unwilling host to someone else who follows her with eyes of unquenched longing, someone with soft, fragile hands and a full mouth that could ease the torment that burns between her thighs, but if she did that, the need would cease. The sensation would end. She does not want that. Not really.
Somewhere in reality, her spine twitches.
Addicted. The very translated word makes her nodes itch. She cocks her head to shake off the imaginary sensation of mechanical insects ticking down her painstakingly-crafted vertebrae. Addiction is an organic condition, an uncontrollable impulse, an empty well that must be chronically refilled. It applies to humanoids and their insistent clinging to the limits imposed on them by individuality, to Janeway and her precious liquid stimulant suspension. It cannot possibly apply to the perfect, nor to the pure.
She is purity personified. Then what, her voices ask, is personified? Is it not the lowering of perfection to humanoid level?
No. She's above that, she never touches that. She is perfect. She will always be perfect. All of her actions and each of her thoughts are perfect. She turns her curious children away from that concept with a stern instruction for the intrusion not to be repeated. This is a journey she must make on her own, in order to spare them the chaos that is individual thought.
Still, her time with Janeway must come to an end. Tomorrow, she will disrupt the link left to her by the spinal implant. For now, she will make one final attempt to convert the link into something she can use to defeat the captain, to something that will enable her to neutralize Voyager and to regain Seven of Nine.
She needs only to take one of them, she has learned, to gain the other, after all.
The Queen turns the others away from her immediate consciousness with a single blink. Her children quiet to a low, muted murmur, tending to the Whole in her absent attention, and it is the closest she ever comes to being a single entity. Perhaps it's appropriate that this is how she enters her enemy's deepest unchecked thoughts.
She searches for the hidden frequency, for the string that is uniquely unblended: a noisy thread, acrimonious and insistent. Dark and bitter, yet with a richness that somehow calls to her ordered mind. Anticipation seeps into her coils at the first taste of a strong will to resist. Resistance is futile. It's not her fault that it's also deliciously bracing, intriguing even after all these centuries. She cannot be faulted for the added lure of a will that is especially strong.
She slips into Janeway's body, a purr of faintest pleasure vibrating through the space of her awareness as she drops into the stream of sensation that is Janeway's unconscious mind, and the Queen does not acknowledge the comforting sensation of having come to a home she has never missed from the instant she awoke to the perfection of the Collective for the first time.
She of course detests sorting through the exhilaration of mundane humanoid experiences reinterpreted in a disjointed state. If this wasn't necessary she'd never condescend. Dreams are meaningless, a feedback loop hitched awkwardly into the evolution of sentient beings. She has assimilated enough scientists to know that.
It is interesting, then, that in this state, Janeway is closer to perfection than not. Here, she is unfettered by prime directives, unguided by the lines she's drawn for herself and unbound by the imaginary inconsequentials she terms right and wrong. The Queen does not exhort in the memory of a breeze ruffling through the fine hairs on her arms, cannot partake in the fulfillment inspired by a shining blue and green orb and once-live linear beings who have ceased to exist. How can she pine at the image of a small round breast aroused to fullness, or a nipple piqued to the shape of an aching, hard pebble by an insistent set of lips and a textured humanoid tongue? That she can almost replace the memory of another mouth with hers, or exchange places with Janeway in the scenario by now is irrelevant. The ache between her legs – Janeway's legs – is irrelevant. Even if it is deliciously wrong and so very persuasive. The sigh that makes its vibrating way through Janeway's white throat is entirely her own, unshared by her travelling companion and She does not wish for her own image to appear again, to see herself through Janeway's organic eyes.
Tomorrow, she will sever the link.