Series: Star Trek: Voyager
"Here's a challenge people - write about the Borg baby and where the hell it's got to all this time." - Christine in JetC23, c. 15 Jan 2001
The Borg baby was abandoned on my doorstep by Paramount. If they feel a sudden urge for continuity, they're welcome to take her back.
The color...she couldn't get the color right. The undersides of the leaves of that particular species of tree had been a strange shade, she remembered that much. She remembered lying under one of those trees with Chakotay, watching the wind and the sunlight in the leaves, but now the color escaped her.
She could call up the records from exobiology, but she couldn't bear to see her tree thus reduced and categorized: New Earth - flora - deciduous trees - etc., etc., etc. She wanted to paint the scene from memory instead; memory was all she had now.
Janeway felt that she had reached the point in her life where the past outweighed the future, that she would never see again the things she had seen, or feel the things she had felt. The turning point, she now realized, had been six months ago. Then she hadn't known, though she'd been as sorry as anyone else over the incident. That was when she had taken up painting - not on the holodeck but for real: a real easel, real paints, real canvas. The color in her paintings contrasted sharply with the washed-out tone of her soul.
It was no use - she couldn't remember the color. If only she could ask Chakotay...but she never spoke to him of New Earth. She wondered idly why not; it wouldn't lead to anything now. It was far behind him, and so, so much farther behind her.
Nowadays, she could laugh with the crew and dine with her XO much more easily than she had in the past, even though, or perhaps because, the deeper connection was gone. She hadn't noticed it slipping away, but now it was a shadow and a memory.
If she couldn't paint, she told herself, she might as well get to bed. The chronometer read 0320 hours - not too terribly late for her these days. Alpha shift wasn't until 0800.
Captain Janeway slouched across her ready-room couch, staring at a PADD. Tuvok had been in earlier, ostensibly to hand in his report, but he had seemed to be getting at something else with his odd questions. Vulcans move in mysterious ways, she reminded herself, and turned her attention back to the weekly reports.
She had always found the Doctor's reports to be the most amusing ones - he seemed to take every scrape and bruise as a personal affront. Tuvok had a flair for understatement, Neelix for overstatement and B'Elanna for profanity, but the Doctor just had a flair.
For the past six months, however, the flood of humor from Sickbay had included one notable strain of pathos, one patient with more than a sprained ankle or cut finger. She focused again on that particular entry,
Patient: Doe Wildman
Status: in stasis
Diagnosis: non-organic failure to thrive
Doe was the Borg baby. The Doctor had called her Baby Doe, an old-fashioned sobriquet which had been misinterpreted by most of the crew as a first name.
Back when Naomi was born, the crew wasn't particularly interested in children - only Neelix had gotten deeply involved in Naomi's care. It was reasonable - they hadn't joined Starfleet to be babysitters. Childcare had always been a problem for her, but Samantha had managed well.
When she'd come home from Sickbay with her second, adopted, baby, things were different. Crewmen lined up at her door for a chance to coo over the wee thing, and Naomi's babysitting ambitions were frustrated by the great numbers of volunteer caretakers for Doe.
At first, Doe had done well, but Samantha's trips to Sickbay increased over the months, until Doe's condition had deteriorated so much that the Doctor was forced to put her into stasis. And there she remained, a permanent resident of Sickbay.
The final diagnosis was ironic, the vagueness of it testifying to the impotence of Federation medicine to help Doe. 'Failure to thrive' was a medical term the EMH had dug up out of a very old database. It reminded Janeway of other pseudo-diseases of the past: hysteria, chronic fatigue syndrome, Altarian flu - catchall diagnoses for whatever the medical science of the age could neither properly identify nor successfully treat.
Yet the Doctor made it sound real enough. She paged to the extended diagnosis:
Non-organic failure to thrive results from an interruption to the normal process of caretaker-infant bonding. In the most severe cases, the lack of emotional interaction causes the production of infant growth hormone to cease, leading to malnutrition, systemic failure and then death.
'Non-organic' was the final irony. In the old terminology, it meant that the difficulty was psychological or external, rather than an 'organic' disease. For the Borg baby, however, it had added significance: she couldn't relate to non-cybernetic life. Doe was herself non-organic, at least in her own underdeveloped infant mind. She had never bonded with Sam. Even Seven had had only partial success with the baby, but her hands were full with the other Borg children. By the time the Doctor realized what the problem was, it seemed too late for the infant Borg.
Doe, Janeway recalled, had taken no interest in the numerous toys replicated for her by adoring crewmembers, but she had been known to cozy up to a medical tricorder or hypospray during her frequent visits to Sickbay. This had given Seven an idea which had seemed gruesome at the time: the eldest drone replicated her a tiny model of a Borg cube. Samantha blanched when she saw it, but Doe grasped it in her tiny hands and was never parted from it willingly.
"I thought she might respond to an image from the Collective mind," Seven explained. The little Borg cube was beside her to this day in her miniature stasis chamber.
The Doctor postulated that Doe missed the Collective. His recommendation was to return her to the Borg at the earliest opportunity. Janeway, for her part, hoped they would come across a civilization with more advanced medical technology which could help Doe. It was a shame the Vidiians were so far behind Voyager now.
"Pardon the dust," Chakotay commented to Tuvok as they sat down in his office. The XO didn't use his office much - he preferred to work on a PADD out on the bridge, but Tuvok had asked to speak to him in here.
When the Vulcan failed to respond with a denial of the presence of dust, Chakotay knew that the issue, whatever it was, was serious.
"What can I do for you, Tuvok?" he asked.
"I am concerned about the Captain's well-being," the Vulcan replied.
"She has not been herself lately," Tuvok said, apparently not pleased with the idiom, but unable to come up with a more logical phrase.
"Perhaps this is a matter you should take up with the EMH," Chakotay demurred. He'd had enough trouble dealing with Funk Kate in the Void. "She doesn't seem depressed to me, though," he added. "She's still determined to get us home."
"One can be determined without having hope," Tuvok stated philosophically. "It is not a medical issue, but a spiritual one." And you're the spiritual one, Chakotay heard, though that part was left unvoiced.
There was something to it. The XO had noticed something wrong but hadn't wanted to put his finger on it. She'd been unusually sociable, if in a shallow way, and he hadn't wanted to frighten her off with too close an examination of her motives.
"So what do you want me to do about it?"
When she didn't answer the chime, he keyed in an override and walked into her ready-room. She was sprawled across the couch, asleep. It was late in alpha shift; he had waited five hours after speaking to Tuvok before coming in here.
Had she lost weight? He hadn't seen her asleep in years; it was strange to see his steely Captain looking so frail. Her uniform jacket, perhaps once carefully folded over the back of the couch, was now in a puddle on the floor. She looked for all the world like a piece of driftwood tossed in the sea for seven years before being cast up on the couch, broken, though never bent.
He couldn't bear to see her that way; he spoke, and she awoke.
"Sorry, Chakotay, I didn't hear the chime," she said, pulling herself up to a sitting position and rubbing at a crick in her neck.
He had walked in with no idea what to do and woken her out of his sudden despair, but now an instinct led him to sit down next to her on the couch. She'd left a small space behind her by sitting up, and in one swift movement he had occupied it and begun rubbing her neck.
She made no protest, nor did she freeze up, as his fingers worked her stiff muscles. He'd always wanted her to relax around him, so why did he feel only apprehension? When she leaned against him, he stopped breathing. She was no longer afraid of him, of them - he posed no threat.
The vacuum of space rushed into his soul. He'd come to help her, and with one telling gesture she'd removed the hope he'd barely acknowledged fueled him - the hope that someday, somewhere, they could be more to each other.
Despair - he'd heard the word, he'd thought he'd understood, but he'd never felt it like this before. The deadening thing that had crept up on Kathryn so slowly that Chakotay hadn't seen it, had hit him in the square in the chest and taken him down for the count - as she leaned so gently, so tiredly, against him. Vulcan meddling had reached new heights.
A console beeped; "Shift's over," he said.
"Dinner?" she asked. "There's something I'd like your advice about."
Chakotay walked beside Janeway down the corridor to her quarters - it wasn't far from her ready-room, but it felt like he was walking a kilometer underwater. He heard himself making small talk, eerily familiar small talk of the sort she'd been making for the past six months.
If only he could be angry or sad or afraid, he thought, he could snap out of it. Instead, he watched the blurry faces on the bridge, in the 'lift, and in the corridors, through the murky water. Don't breathe the water, he warned himself desperately, but he breathed it nonetheless.
In her quarters, he couldn't see the water anymore - perhaps it had been here all along, or maybe the lights were just too dim. They ate - something - and made some sort of small talk over it, and when she smiled wanly, he did too.
"Is something wrong, Chakotay?" she asked.
He didn't dare answer; he glanced around the room instead. He hadn't been here in a week. Things had changed. Her easels were out, if covered, cluttering the corner by the viewport. He stood up suddenly and crossed the room to a section of wall that had previously been blank.
The canvas was large, but mostly grey. In the center was a small window, and beyond the window, a baby floating in - water, he thought, like the water I was breathing in the hall. It was the Borg baby, as Seven had first found her in her defective Borg maturation chamber, still sporting tiny implants. There were some added details, however. The painter had labelled the maturation chamber like a specimen jar: "Doe". Doe's tiny hands grasped a miniature Borg cube.
Chakotay felt a ray of hope - the solution was here, if he could understand it. He'd seen a few of the Captain's other paintings. There was a more human version of Doe, seen from above cradled in black-sleeved arms - she'd given that to Samantha. Tom and B'Elanna displayed Kathryn's painting of the Delta Flyer against a starscape to anyone who visited their cabin. For Harry she'd painted a scene from the grounds of Starfleet Academy. He'd heard of the Vulcan desert scene she'd painted for Tuvok, but never seen it. He wondered how many others he hadn't even heard of.
Coming up behind him, Kathryn drew him away from the painting on the wall and toward the easel. "I wanted to ask your advice about a color," she said.
He was afraid, but very glad of the fear. He knew he was alive again, at least. What lost scene was under that cover? What color could he advise her about? He knew, with the certainty of instinct, that it was New Earth, and she was about to ask him about New Earth - their own private taboo. He could not allow it.
She reached toward the piece of linen which covered her elusive tree scene; he reached out and took her wrist to restrain her. She was puzzled.
"You can't remember the color, can you?" he asked.
She shook her head. How did he know? She felt a dim shadow of apprehension, as if a small tactical sphere had just entered the sector.
"Are you sure you want me to remind you?" he asked.
She wasn't sure.
"I'll try," he said, when she didn't answer.
He ran his fingers through her hair. She almost looked surprised, almost. He cupped her chin in his hand, and she began to be actively nervous. He leaned down and kissed her, and she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back.
"Now do you remember?"
Yes, she remembered. She remembered the deeper connection. She closed her eyes to picture the leaves, and she saw the color.
He reached for cover to the painting but she smacked his hand away. He smiled and said, "I should go. Protocol and all that."
She stayed up all night working on the painting, and in the morning met Sam for breakfast. On the bridge, her first order was, "Mr. Kim, find me a Borg cube. Try to make it a small one."
"Excuse me, Captain?"
"We're not the only ones who miss the green fields of home, Harry - or grey planes, in this case."
Harry saw Chakotay smiling, and decided it was safe to humor the Captain. She seemed to be her old self again, though he wasn't quite sure when she'd stopped. He began to scan for Borg vessels.
When it was finished, Janeway smuggled the painting into her first officer's quarters one day while he was on duty. She didn't say a word about it; he didn't either.
When Harry finally found a Borg cube, Seven smuggled Doe aboard. The drones did not consider them a threat, so they did not disturb Seven as she placed Doe into an unoccupied maturation chamber. The assimilation systems went into operation automatically and functioned perfectly, and thus Doe became the first Borg foundling.
"How did she do?" Sam asked when she returned.
"She adapted," Seven replied.