The Black Box (“Chaos to Order” prologue)

posted in: Peacemakers, Stories | 0

My friends… my family…

If you’re viewing this recording, it means two things: That you are one of the people I’ve come to care about the most along my life’s journey… and that it’s my sad duty to inform you that that journey has now reached its end.

Thank you for being a part of it, and for helping to make me who I am. I hope you’ll remember me well, and cherish those memories as much as I have for you.

Here’s… to the journey.

I love you.

U.S.S. Rhode Island
Alini Sector, Beta Quadrant
Stardate 88264.1, 0917

One standard piece of equipment installed aboard all Federation starships is a Class 9 warp-capable probe containing an emergency recorder colloquially known as the “black box”, containing a copy of all ship logs, in order to document the destruction, capture, or other loss of the ship. With a chassis and casing both made from cast duranium, the black box is designed to withstand the extreme physical conditions and forces often associated with a starship’s destruction – or to be launched in advance, providing an additional degree of protection for the data contained therein. In either case, the black box is pre-programmed to set course for the nearest starbase and then, once at warp, begin transmitting a self-repeating signal so that it can be located and recovered by any nearby starship.

Like the 77 officers and crew under his command, Captain Harry Kim had a pre-recorded farewell message for loved ones stored on the U.S.S. Rhode Island’s black box. Also like his officers and crew, he would have greatly preferred it never had to be launched – least of all right now.

But right now, it seemed, they were out of options.

For the past twenty-five days, the Rhode Island had been conducting a surveillance mission along the inner frontier of explored Beta Quadrant space – a region known for its heavy Borg activity, which had long made it a constant source of concern for the Federation and now the Khitomer Alliance. Those twenty-five days had been marked by little more than tedium, as the Rhode Island seemed to spend most of that time just waiting for Borg ships to appear on long-range sensors, and then silently tracking them once they did, gathering data via a prototype of reverse-engineered Borg technology – whose principal designer also happened to be one of Kim’s designated farewell-message recipients.

Less than twenty minutes ago, just two hours into Alpha watch, it had seemed that Day 26 would prove to be just as uneventful – but then the Borg cube they’d just spotted and attempted to shadow had taken notice of the Rhode Island and abruptly changed course to intercept. The small refit Nova-class science vessel was barely a match for the cube and had taken a beating, but she’d been holding her own. Until now…

“Sir,” reported Lieutenant Link, “three more Borg vessels closing in at high warp, bearing one-one-eight mark five!”

His tactical officer’s report had left Kim dumbfounded. The Rhode Island is barely larger than Jon Archer’s NX-class Enterprise, he thought. Why would the Borg send four of theirs against us? The Mastermind… have they adapted to it already? No – there’s no way they could have discovered Seven’s device so quickly. Even so, Kim realized the tactical situation had turned decisively against them. One glance at Commander Henik, his Bolian first officer, told him that she recognized this too, along with the grim, final duty they now faced. They could not allow the Mastermind to fall into the cold, gray hands of the Borg Collective – and he’d be damned if he allowed the Borg to assimilate him or any of his people either.

“Engineering to bridge,” came the voice of his Ktarian chief engineer, Lt. Commander N’Tema, over speakers. “Captain, we’ve got damage to our port warp nacelle; it’s leaking drive plasma. I’ve taken the warp core offline until we can make repairs.”

“How much impulse power can you give us?”

“Not enough to escape, Captain.”

“I don’t intend to escape, Commander,” said Kim as another weapon impact rocked the ship. “Quite the opposite, in fact.”

“I see,” came N’Tema’s reply after a brief pause, which Kim took to mean the engineer coming to the same grim conclusion as he. “I can give you a ten- to twelve-second burst at max throttle, Captain. Any longer and it’ll burn out the impulse engines – not that that really matters.”

“Understood,” said Kim. “Get on it. Mister Gaston, bring us about, then ready a collision course with that cube. Miss Diof, dump the Mastermind data onto the black box, and then prepare it for launch.”

“Aye, Captain,” replied the pilot and Operations officer simultaneously, as the bridge continued to shake from the impact of Borg weapons fire.

Kim wasn’t afraid of dying. This wouldn’t be his first time, or even his second, even though he only personally remembered the first – during the Vhnori incident, just a few weeks into the U.S.S. Voyager’s journey through the previously unexplored Delta Quadrant. Afterward, Captain Kathryn Janeway had encouraged him to take time to process that experience. He’d always been grateful for that, but perhaps no more so than now, as he stared death in the face once more.

Still, though, he ached for his crew (who, even at oblivion’s door, were performing admirably), their loved ones, and his own – especially the ones he’d chosen to receive his black-box message. Most of those weren’t even blood relatives, but his found family from Voyager – the only family he’d had during those seven years in the Delta Quadrant, whose bonds had endured long after their return home.

He expected at least three of them would take his death especially hard: Tom Paris, his best friend then and now; Seven of Nine, nowadays a Starfleet captain in her own right, and for whose mission Kim had volunteered the Rhode Island; and now-Admiral Janeway, who had authorized the mission in the first place. During their years in the Delta Quadrant, Janeway had nurtured both his and Seven’s growth, as officers and as people; to the point where both had come to consider her a sort of surrogate mother figure. Kim hoped that she and his flesh-and-blood mother and father might seek one another out, and find some solace in grieving their loss together.

“The black box is ready, Captain,” Diof reported, having to shout above the din of the red-alert siren and the rumbling of further impacts on the hull.

“Launch it!”

On the viewscreen Kim could briefly see the probe streaking away, then out of forward view as the Rhode Island continued its turn, until the view settled on what would become their final destination: The heart of that Borg cube. With any luck, he thought, destroying the cube should take out its incoming reinforcements too.

“The Borg are ignoring the black box, Captain,” reported Link. “All their weapons remain locked onto the ship.” As though to underscore that point, the bridge was then rocked by a particularly hard impact.

“Hull integrity down to 23 percent!” Diof added. “EPS grid failures reported on Decks 3, 4 and 5!”


“Still holding, Captain,” Diof replied. “The Borg tractor beams shouldn’t slow us down much.”

“N’Tema, is that engine burst ready?”

“Ready as it’ll ever be, Captain.”

“Borg reinforcements are now entering weapons range,” reported Link. “A sphere, and two probes.”

From his command chair, Kim activated shipwide comms. “Attention all hands, this is the captain,” he began. “This isn’t the way any of us hoped our mission would turn out – but I want all of you to know that… it’s been an honor and a privilege to serve with you.”

He closed the shipwide channel and prepared to issue his final orders.

“Gaston… N’Tema…”

“Wait!” came Link’s voice again suddenly. “Sir, those aren’t reinforcements – the new arrivals are firing on the cube!”


Kim couldn’t believe his eyes – nor could his bridge officers, all now transfixed at what was playing out on the main viewer: The cube they’d been set to pulverize in a suicide run was instead now taking fire from its fellow Borg, forcing it to halt its attack on the Rhode Island in order to defend itself against the sphere and probes.

Perhaps later, the Mastermind data would shed more light on this bizarre turn of events, but for now, all that mattered was that it was a gift horse they could ride to safety, and Kim wasn’t keen to stick around long enough to give it any oral exams. “Get us out of here, Dan,” he shouted, “full impulse!”

Gaston didn’t have to be told twice, immediately starting to maneuver the ship away from the battlezone.

“Gwen, keep the main viewer fixed on the Borg. Link, keep all aft weapons locked on them until they’re out of range, but hold your fire unless they give chase. N’Tema, change of plans – how soon can we get warp drive back?”

“Thirty minutes, minimum, sir,” came N’Tema’s reply from Engineering. “That’s assuming we don’t take any more fire.”

“The Borg aren’t pursuing, Captain,” reported Link. “They’re too busy tearing each other to pieces. We just might get out of this af – hold on…”

“What is it, Lieutenant?”

“The sphere just hit the cube with an energy weapon of unknown type, Captain. It’s… now the cube appears to be undergoing some kind of power overload… cascading system failures. It’s gonna blow any second!”

“We’re still too close… N’Tema, looks like we’ll need that engine burst after all!”

“Too late,” shouted Link, “the cube’s going critical!”

“All hands, brace for imp-”

Suddenly Kim was thrown out of his chair like a rag doll, and the blinding flash of light on the viewscreen gave way to total darkness.

Chaos to Order is the first interactive story in the Star Trek Online Peacemakers series. It is currently in development.