The Enterprise is hit with a phaser blast, and shields are down to 16 percent. Two Borg drones transport onto the bridge and begin firing. The crew disables the intruders, but the Borg ship gets away.
"They beamed aboard as a distraction… to give their ship time to escape," the captain speculates.
"This is another change in Borg behavior… They left their dead behind instead of vaporizing them." Riker looks down at one of the unconscious drones, and Data kneels to examine it.
"Captain," he says. "This one is still alive."
An initial interrogation of the prisoner leads to some worrying revelations. The Borg drone insists that it has a name—Crosis—and that the Borg are no longer interested in assimilating biological life forms, but plan to destroy them instead. It refers to some sort of leader, whom it calls "the One." Picard asks if it is referring to Hugh, a Borg that the Enterprise had previously taken aboard and given a name. But Crosis refuses to explain anything else.
"This is going nowhere," the captain says, displaying visible signs of frustration. He turns to Dr. Crusher. "Doctor, I want you to do an autopsy on the other one. Compare the differences with what we learned of Hugh's anatomy. See if there have been any recent modifications which might explain the behavioral differences." He then looks to Data. "Data, run a biospectral analysis on this Borg. See if he is trying to send a subspace signal to the others."
"Aye, sir." Moments later, Data is left alone with Crosis.
The Borg paces, looking at Data. "You are not like the others," it says. "You do not have to be destroyed. You can be assimilated."
"I do not wish to be assimilated," Data tells it, simply.
"Resistance is futile. You will not resist what you've wanted all your life."
Data glances downward slightly, sensing movement. The Borg appears to have activated a device on its forearm. He stares at it, puzzled.
Crosis continues talking. "I was like you once… without feeling. But The One helped me. He can help you, too; he can help you find emotion. Have you ever felt a real emotion, Data?"
"Yes," Data answers, automatically. Something is wrong. "On Ohniaka III I was forced… to kill a Borg. I got angry."
"How did it feel, to get angry?" it asks. "Did it give you pleasure?"
Data looks up into Crosis's eyes now. "It… would be unethical to take pleasure in another being's death," he says.
"You didn't answer my question," it accuses. Data turns away. "Did it feel good to kill?"
"…Yes," he is forced to admit, finally.
The drone speaks slowly, careful and almost taunting. It is oddly familiar. "If it is unethical, to take pleasure in another being's death, you must be a very unethical person."
Data swallows. "No," he insists, facing it again. "That is not correct. My creator, Dr. Soong, gave me a program which defines my sense of right and wrong. In essence, I have a conscience."
"It didn't seem to be functioning on Ohniaka III, when you felt… pleasure, in killing that Borg," Crosis points out, walking closer.
"Step away from the force field," Data says, trying to concentrate on his tricorder. Something is not right. "Your proximity is… interfering with my scan."
Crosis ignores him. His voice is teeming with emotion… It sounds out of place, strange in the synthesized voice of a Borg drone. "You enjoyed it. That surge of emotion inside you… as you watched the life drain from your victim. It was unlike anything you've ever felt before."
Data remembers… But it is more than just remembering, now…
At this point, he can hardly feel the tricorder in his hand. "It was a very… potent experience," he agrees.
"You'd like to feel that way again."
"You'd do anything to feel that way again. Even if it meant killing someone."
"No," Data replies, swallowing and forcing himself to ignore what is happening to him. It is difficult. "That would not be ethical."
"You don't sound very sure of yourself. Is your ethical program functioning?"
Something is wrong. Something is malfunctioning. Data turns away. He needs to leave, to fix the problem…
"Data?" Crosis calls. Data stops. "Do you have a friend?"
"Yes," Data answers, hollow and automatic. "His name is Geordi."
Crosis's voice pulses through his auditory processors, like something alive. Like music. "If it meant… that you could feel emotions again, the way you did on Ohniaka III, would you kill your friend? Would you kill Geordi?"
Data can hear his own pulse, can almost feel it as his processes synchronize to it in an organic rhythm. He imagines what it would be like, to feel the life drain out of the human known as Geordi, to kill him like he killed the Borg on Ohniaka III. And he truly feels something. It is not anger, this time… It is the other feeling. The corner of his mouth twitches into a slight smile.
This is not a malfunction.
This is being truly alive.
"Would you kill Geordi?"
"Yes. I would."