FEDERATION'S END II: THE WITCHING HOUR
by E. L. Zimmerman
Slowly, he opened his eye.
He opened his eye.
His vision blurred, adjusting to the harsh gray interiors. He looked
ahead. He stared straight ahead, feeling that his skull was mounted to a
solid chunk of ... of ... of something latched on the base of his neck.
Despite the constriction, he tried turning his head aside, to the right, but
he couldn't. He couldn't move. He was ... locked. Mentally bracing
himself, he tried again, but he found the effort excruciatingly painful,
red-hot daggers of fire drilling through his neck and shoulders, and he
stopped. Suddenly, his body convulsed, and he spat what he could only guess
would have been blood into the space before him.
For blood, though, whatever it was had expectorated had felt awful ...
Resigned, he stared with his single eye. He focused straight ahead.
Before him stood a wall, matted and blistered with a seemingly endless
series of charcoal metal tubing laced with white lights blinking
intermittently and jutting aluminum fixtures that took all but a thousand
shapes, glimmers, and textures. Curious, he concentrated on the flashing
patterns of the tiny blinking lights, but his vision blurred again.
Gradually, the substance before him lost cohesion, and he closed his eye.
Slowly, he opened his eye. He found his vision still blurred.
After several seconds passed, clarity of vision returned, and he stared
at the wall across from him.
Charcoal metal tubing.
Charcoal. Metal. Tubing.
Charcoal, colored much like his ... skin?
He closed his eye.
He forced open his eye, and he studied the wall. The white lights
blinked in patterns ... irrelevant? He wondered if -- at some cosmic,
clandestine, or psychological level -- someone or something or somehow or
somewhere was trying to communicate with him.
He wasn't getting the message.
He blinked, and he learned that, presently, any and all movement hurt.
Without turning his head, using his single eye, he glanced down the
corridor. He took in the dark surroundings. It ... was ... a corridor. Of
that, he was certain. It had to be. It simply had to be. It looked like a
ship's corridor. But ... where could he be? What looked like a corridor
stretched far away from him for some length, for some distance that he
couldn't quite fathom, so far that he trusted -- somehow he knew -- he could
not see its end.
He wondered how far it went, when suddenly ...
He heard them.
The hundreds upon thousands upon millions of voices.
Anguished, he listened to the voices in his head. They burst through the
vacant humming that had once filled his ears. Only now he guessed that the
humming could have been ... must have been ... some type of transportation
drive or activity signature ... the sounds of a ... ship? ... drown out by a
chorus of a evil-sounding voices regurgitating simultaneously mechanical
commands, reports, and miscellaneous technical drivel inside his head.
Speaking simultaneously inside his head.
Speaking simultaneously inside his head.
He heard them. He closed his eye, and he listened. He blocked out the
pain associated with all of the voices barking and bursting at various
Desperate, he concentrated. He searched for a single voice, a single
thread, a single event with which to attentively lock onto like a transporter
signature and energize! He tried to find a solitary conduit of information
and to consciously ignore, block, deny the rest.
He closed his eye tighter. He concentrated, but it ... burned ... and he
exhaled heartily, air gushing from his lungs.
Frightened, he felt the weight on his chest.
He heard all of the voices. He couldn't help but hear all of them! He
couldn't help but hear them all.
Consciously, he forced air into and out of his lungs.
He breathed slowly, forcing his breaths to come slower and slower,
concentrating on increasing the intervals between inhalation and exhalation.
Instead of siphoning for an individual voice, he lost himself in the
now-voluntary task of breathing. He inhaled slowly, held it for several
seconds, and then he exhaled. With that single breath, he felt the sensation
of dead weight across his chest and upper shoulder, but he wouldn't open his
eye. He wouldn't open his eye. He wouldn't open his eye.
'Don't open your eye,' he told himself over and over and over again.
'Don't open your eye. Do not open your eye. Breathe. Now. Just breathe.
Now. Just stand here. And breathe.'
That was it.
His body was panicking, all of its own devices. As if functioning on its
own mechanisms, like an immune system activated at the detection of an
invasive organism, his body rocked intuitively with ... emotion?
'Breathe,' he told himself mentally.
'Just breathe. Just breathe. Let it be normal. Breathe and nothing
else. Nothing else. Nothing else at all.'
He concentrated, but suddenly found it difficult. 'Breathe,' he told
The genetic protocol associated with the involuntary intake and expelling
of oxygen from the biologic receptacles ...
'Something isn't right,' he warned himself. 'Something isn't right.
Something isn't right. Something isn't right.'
Again, he sensed and fought the panic, the frenzied verve of emotion
Again, he forced himself to consider breathing again.
After several moments, his calm returned.
His mind reeled from the sounds of the automated voices, and, for the
time being, he decided to give in to them 'ONLY IF YOU MAINTAIN CONTROL!' he
cautioned himself. 'YOU MUST MAINTAIN CONTROL!'
He listened to the voices. The automated voices. The snippets of
interrelated dialogue and independent speech.
Bilateral programming calibration.
Collateral systems modification.
Primary node recognition signature.
Function interface downloadable.
Collective designation forthcoming.
Systems access denied.
Systems access denied.
He opened his eye. He again took in the corridor, all the while
maintaining control over his breathing. He blocked out the pain and the
He still couldn't move his head, but he obstructed the pain, and he
looked down the corridor.
Suddenly, he ... remembered.
What skin remained uncovered by the partial Borg plating and prosthetics
itched terribly. He felt that sensation creeping up the flesh from his feet,
along his calves, into his thighs, above his waist, into his arms, around his
chest, and reaching ... reaching ... reaching for his face.
Suddenly, Mandakorr ... remembered.
He tried to find a word for it, for the rising sensation in his mind, his
chest, his soul. The pain forced him to blink, and he felt the tears welling
up inside of him as the panic returned. He wanted, desired, needed so badly
to rock, to move, to help his body in releasing the trembling emotion that
came with realization with what he had become, with what he was becoming.
'BREATHE IN, DAMN YOU!' he told himself, recalling the swear word he had
picked up that benevolent ... earthling? 'BREATHE IN, DAMN YOU, AND YOU
BREATHE OUT! YOU DO IT! YOU DO IT NOW!'
He had to find a word for it.
He kept looking for a word to describe what he felt.
The voices overwhelmed him again, but, biting his lower lip, he forced
them into the back of his mind so he could maintain his sanity and his
individuality long enough to categorize, legitimize, quantify this feeling.
He tried to find a word for it ...
... and suddenly he realized he was feeling ...
... reluctantly mechanical ...