"Transporter room," called Picard. "Two to beam directly from the bridge to the Borg cube."
"Two?" The Doctor seemed as surpised and upset as Riker and the rest of the bridge crew. "I appreciate the thought, Captain, but I'd rather not have you underfoot while I have the Master and the Borg collective to deal with."
"I can help and you know it," said Picard, once again confounding his shipmates by keeping mental pace with the Doctor.
Confounding the Doctor, too, at least momentarily; apparently it hadn't occurred to him that Picard might also make the deduction he had made. "Can you handle it?" the Doctor finally asked, his obvious concern for Picard undoubtedly the reason behind his silence on the matter until now.
"Can you handle the Master if I don't try?" Picard replied.
The first of the Doctor's personalities whom Picard knew would have hotly denied that he needed any assistance. The next would have argued that it was needless for Picard to endanger himself despite any risk to the Doctor. Either way Picard would have had to refuse to have the Doctor beamed over alone.
This Doctor only smiled with mixed reservation and relief and said, "Glad to have you along."
Picard smiled back. He looked at Riker, but his exec apparently didn't feel he had any argument that would dissuade Picard after a Time Lord had failed. "Keep your eyes open, Will."
"And a transporter lock on the both of you the whole time," Riker said. Despite the banter his tone was distinctly unhappy.
"Transporter room - energize," Picard commanded.
Picard hadn't been on a Borg cube since the Locutus episode, and was wary of what reaction it might evoke in him; but when he and the Doctor materialized, the emotional impact was nothing compared to that of seeing the Enterprise half-assimilated several days before.
More ominous was the sight of the Master. As the Doctor and Picard turned to him, a drone walked up to him apparently unnoticed and installed another implant among those covering him, this one to a group at the back of his head. Yet he stood with his feet placed widely and his hands behind his back, radiating his own special brand of arrogance almost as if the implants were mere dummies. He was assimilation-pale, wearing the protective skinsuit of a Borg drone.
"Black always was your color," the Doctor greeted him.
The Master looked Picard over. "You brought us a present, Doctor."
"Yes yes, but what else have I got in my pocketses?"
"It will be good to have Locutus back," the Master said. "We shall assimilate him too, and have the best of both worlds."
"But not just yet," said Picard. "Unless I miss my guess, that's not your decision to make."
"We are Borg," the Master retorted. "We are collective. There is no dissension nor higher authority."
"You'd have us think so," said the Doctor. "We know better."
"In case you haven't noticed," Picard said, "the Federation has foiled your grand plan to stop Cochrane."
"You're too modest, Captain," said the Doctor. He told the Master, "The Enterprise foiled your plan. And in the course of it, they learned who is the real power behind the Borg."
"Real power?" said the Master, most un-Borgly nettled. "Would you like to see what we've done to this 'real power'?"
"She's behind a curtain, pulling your strings, no doubt," Picard taunted.
"You're half right," snarled the Master. Without any visible signal from the Master several drones converged on a nearby alcove; it looked like a standard Borg drone rest pod, except the front was closed, and the equipment built into it was much more complex than required for mere life support.
"That," the Doctor was suddenly whispering into Picard's ear as he pointed at a particular array of the device, while the drones worked to open the pod, "is a primitive metamorphic symbiosis regenerator. They must have assimilated it from a race who discovered the principles of regeneration independent of the Time Lords."
Picard nodded. I am the beginning, the end. The one who is many, the Borg Queen had told Data in 2063, claiming paradoxically to be, and always have been, the collective while nevertheless using singular personal pronouns. And, You think in such three-dimensional terms, when Picard said she must have died on the cube at Earth after Wolf 359. Obviously these riddles translated into some sort of immortality.
But he had suspected that it wasn't possible to keep an organic being functionally alive forever, or through the kind of destruction that that cube had suffered, with cybernetic implants alone. The Doctor had agreed with Picard on this point in passing during the telling of the Enterprise's adventure in 2063, but neither Picard nor the Doctor had at the Enterprise conference table shared the corrolary deduction: There had to be some kind of regenerative process. Coupling that thought with the unlikelihood that the Borg Queen would risk a mission into the past without providing for leadership besides the Master in the present, and Picard and the Doctor had known that they would find what the Master was showing them now.
"See whom you would believe pulls our strings!" the Master declaimed as the drones finished opening the pod, drawing Picard's metaphorical curtain.
Inside, like Sleeping Beauty waiting for her prince, was a dormant, young, virgin Borg Queen.
END OF CHAPTER 4
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