Nervously, Twilight crept toward the heat source. It was partly hidden behind one of the many boulders scattered throughout this crater. She hoped to high pony heaven that she would see her quarry before it saw her.
With every step closer, she could make out more and more detail on the tiny rounded part of her target that protruded beyond the boulder. There was no question; what little she could see of it was plated in the same knobby metallic exoskeleton worn by those two-legged monstrosities in the cube — and which also now covered wide swaths of her own flanks. Another Borg! She gasped ... and instantly regretted it. Her target heard the noise and jumped out into full view. It stared at her with wide, terrifying eyes.
The gray skin, the implants, the head-to-toe covering with metal and circuitry ... it was a Borg, all right. Twilight crouched and made ready to bolt, then noticed that this Borg was walking on four legs instead of two. And it had a horn protruding from its forehead.
"Nooooo!" this strange Borg unicorn screamed. "Leave me alone!" It seemed to Twilight to be genuinely afraid of her. Twilight puzzled; were there mean Borg and timid Borg? She knew so little about them. The metal plating covered most of its body, but for whatever reason, this one's rump had been left exposed. And now that she looked, Twilight could clearly see an emblem stenciled there. An emblem consisting of three blue diamonds.
A cutie mark!
"Rarity?" Twilight asked. "Is that you?"
"How do you know my name?!" the frightened unicorn screamed. "Stay away from me!"
"Rarity, it's me! Twilight Sparkle!"
Rarity could only cringe. "What? You know her name too? Wh-what have you done with her?"
"No," Twilight shook her head. "Rarity. It's me!" She turned and thrust her exposed rump forward, showing off her own six-pointed red star with the six tiny white six-pointed stars surrounding it.
"Twilight!" Rarity gasped.
Twilight nodded, smiling for the first time since this ordeal began.
Rarity scanned her friend up and down. "Twilight, what have they done to you?! You look positively hideous! Your new color clashes horribly with your mane!"
Twilight chuckled. "This color would clash with anything." She gulped uncomfortably. "You know ... you've turned this same awful color too."
Rarity looked down. "I know. I dread being seen in public like this."
"Rarity," her voice got quiet. "You're alive. You're free. You made it. But you're the only other pony I've seen. I don't know if our friends were as lucky as we were."
Now it was Rarity's turn to gulp uncomfortably.
"So ..." Twilight began, "So, how did you escape?"
"I'm not really sure," Rarity said. "I saw this dreadful buzzsaw heading right for my forehead. I thought they intended to cut off my mane!"
"Your mane?" Twilight barked, flabbergasted. "Rarity, if that was what I think it was, they weren't going to cut off your mane, they were going to cut off your horn!"
"My horn..." Rarity mouthed silently. Her eyes bulged wide. Involuntarily, her head shrank back between her shoulders and turned aside. Then, aloud: "They would do that?!"
"They cut off my leg," Twilight answered. She flexed her left foreleg slightly, letting Rarity hear the whir of its small servomotors. "This one's artificial. But what happened then, after you saw the buzzsaw?"
"Well, I screamed, and then there was this beautiful white light from above, and then ... I was here. That's all I saw."
Twilight nodded. "That's what happened to me, too. It was our horns. They saved us. Somehow, unicorn horns must know when they're in danger of being cut off."
"Did you ..." Rarity paused, not knowing if she should breach the subject. "When my skin turned this ghastly shade, I started hearing all these voices whispering in my head. Am I going craz—"
"That's the collective."
"The which?" Rarity furrowed her brow.
"All the Borg are interconnected in a kind of hive mind. Everything that any of them knows, they all know. That jab in your neck doused you with nanoprobes, to prepare you for full Borg assimilation. One of the things they built inside you was a crude telecommunications receiver. If the assimilation process had run its full course, they'd have installed a full long-range subspace transceiver into your skull, like they did with me. I'm betting you can't hear their voices any more, because your plain old nanoprobe receiver can only pick up short-range omnidirectional repeater broadcasts."
Rarity stared at Twilight in bewilderment. "How do you know all this."
Twilight's remaining natural eye grew distant. "Because I'm still plugged in."
Rarity put a hoof over her mouth.
"Don't worry," Twilight reassured her friend, "I haven't become one of them. I'm not going to become one of them. But I have direct access to all their knowledge." She took a deep breath, and seemed to swell with purpose. "It's like the biggest, most well-organized library I've ever seen. Their knowledge goes back hundreds of generations and spans millions of star systems."
Rarity shook her head. "Star what?"
"Um ..." Twilight hesitated. How did you even begin to describe the full extent of the universe, to someone who probably believed that all existence began and ended with Equestria? "I'll tell you later. But there's something even more important about the collective. Its knowledge is constantly brought up-to-date. I can look up events less than ten minutes old on the other side of the galaxy. There's even data about the invasion of Ponyville that just happened. In fact ... hey! I should be able to find out data about what they did to me!"
Twilight's natural eye rolled up into her head, as though she were in a trance. Rarity heard her mumble the odd, disjointed word or phrase. "Unimatrix 72" ... "Species 14864" ... "Sixth of twelve" ... "Chaos" ... "Chaos" ... "Disjunctional failure" ...
Twilight smiled, and her eye lit up with excitement. "Rarity! I think my horn did more than just teleport me. It also burned out a crucial circuit in their transceiver." She thumped the flat square box on the right side of her head with her hoof, for emphasis. "They can talk to me, but they can't control me. Their transceiver normally subverts its victim's will so that she can be completely assimilated, but my horn burned out that circuit before they could suck me in! They weren't expecting it to break!" An almost vengeful look crossed what remained of her face. "I can know everything they know, I can read their every move before they even make it, and they can't stop me."
"Wow," Rarity said. Then: "You're scaring me a little."
Twilight scanned the horizon, planning her next move. "I'm going to look for other survivors. We'll need all the help we can get." She swept her gaze slowly across the crater floor. "This thing they jammed onto my left eye can see heat. That's how I found you. If I can see any other warm bodies ... no, none over there ... can't see anything there ... too many boulders in the way over there ..."
"You know, there's another way to look for survivors," Rarity offered. Then, she took a deep breath and bellowed as loudly as she could: "IS ANYPONY HERE?!"
A couple hundred feet away, a tiny unicorn's head popped up from behind a rock.
Twilight shrugged. "That works too."