FEDERATION'S END II: THE WITCHING HOUR
by E. L. Zimmerman

CHAPTER FIVE

While Seven of Nine enjoyed the benefit of much overdue sleep, collateral with the purposes of the Doctor's research, he and his interactive data processing subroutines had been active around-the-clock for twelve days straight. When he wasn't actively scanning, reviewing, manipulating, and extrapolating the minimal facts relative to Seven's intricate and few remaining Borg systems and components, he tried creatively piecing together this complex puzzle of drone interlinked communication at Captain Janeway's command. 'Something classified is trapped in there, and we need to know what it is, Doctor,' the captain contended. 'In short, it's information vital to the Borg's origin, or, quite possibly, their master race.'

However, no matter how many different permutations he utilized to finesse the resulting data, the Doctor had reached one substantiated conclusion: Borg secrets were bound and determined to remain Borg secrets.

He paced the cargo bay for a few moments, considering the prospects of what he might explore today.

'Fact,' the Doctor began, 'from what Captain Janeway learned from the One, all drones are programmed with some encrypted command files.

'Fact: I believe I've finally determined what I believe is the location of the encrypted command files.

'Fact: I believe that the encrypted command files are located within the Collective's communications nanotechnology neural interface, surgically placed within a drone's natural brain.

'Fact: the purpose of these encrypted command files is unknown.

'Fact: the One hinted that there is a master race pulling the Borg's strings from afar, leading one to assume ...

'Fact: the encrypted command files were programmed by this master race.

'And fact: while this all makes perfect sense, I've yet to prove anything ... except that even an Emergency Medical Hologram, if not careful, might be caught talking to himself.'

He stopped pacing, stood, and began tapping a single foot.

'Computer,' he ordered, 'begin recording this conversation effective the current time and stardate index. This is the Voyager EMH. I am with crewmate Seven of Nine, who has been sedated for the purposes of recreating accelerated Borg regeneration. We are in Cargo Bay Two, where Seven has set up a crude version of a Borg alcove, an attempt to create a facsimile of her previous ... home. Let's try this from another perspective, shall we?'

The computer chimed. 'Recording commenced.'

'Thank you ever so kindly.'

The Doctor stepped in front of his subject, his friend, his shipmate, staring at her intently. Over the course of the last several months, he had grown much closer to Seven, assuming responsibility for her personal growth as his own pet project. He advised her on social graces. He counseled her on humanity, its strengths, and its shortcomings. He had even postulated that it, perhaps, might be time for her to begin extended interpersonal relations by engaging in a protracting association with a work peer, during off-duty hours, of course, of a sexual or non-sexual nature. He did it all for the purposes of forcing Seven to rediscover what lay trapped deep inside her ... humanity. He felt it necessary that she come to grips with what it was like to exist in simple, day-in, day-out corporeal reality. Now, at rest in her makeshift alcove, Seven stood immobile, her eyes closed tightly.

The Doctor suddenly realized the paradox in which he found himself. At this point, no longer did her humanity concern him. At this point, he needed desperately to understand what it meant to live, to act, and to be Borg.

For the moment, he turned his back on the road to discovery they had mutually embarked upon and ignored it completely.

Seven was, as the Doctor had guaranteed by administering the appropriate sedative, in a state of deep regenerative sleep. Her current state of slumber, he had pre-determined, was the superlative time to analyze those Borg systems remaining within Seven's wonderfully complex body, the rare union of flesh and machine. Borg regeneration was the human equivalent of sleep, a necessary component to every drone's life cycle for routine maintenance of their artificially adapted bodies. The Doctor had long since noticed that, during this state, even Seven's dormant Collective subsystems displayed a proclivity to activate, less functionally and more like an echo, behaving as if it were second nature. He hoped these fleeting glances of the Borg body-at-rest might afford him the answers for questions he had yet to ask.

He momentarily stared at her porcelain, expressionless face.

Then, he turned away, flipping open a medical tricorder.

'Computer,' he began, 'scan Seven of Nine's cerebral cortex. Specifically, scan for any known Borg communications nanotechnology.'

After a few seconds, the computer replied, 'Scan complete.'

'Very good,' he replied. 'Nice work. Perhaps paying you the occasional compliment will make a world of difference in known universe.'

'Unable to compute,' the computer said.

'Report findings of your scan,' he ordered.

'Borg interchange links, located throughout and synched through the frontal lobe, are microscopic in size, measuring one quadrillionth of an inch per each mechanism -'

'Stop,' the Doctor said, already irritated. 'Computer, in the immortal pool hall lingo of my chief medical assistant, Tom Paris, it's not the size that matters. Scan the neural interchange for a core programming chip.'

'Specify location,' the computer replied.

'Computer, if I knew the location, I wouldn't be asking you to scan for it, now would I?'

'Specify location,' the computer repeated.

'Ignore,' the Doctor snapped, frustrated.

The computer chirped.

He pursed his lips, and he paced the alcove briefly.

Finally, the Doctor asked, 'Computer, please extrapolate. Based on your initial scan, do the interchange subprocessors synched throughout the frontal lobe function on some type of associative Borg programming ... a type of communications software, to be specific?'

'Insufficient data to extrapolate,' the computer replied.

The Doctor closed his medical tricorder. With tremendous restraint, he set it down gently on a nearby computer console.

'Computer, we've been at this for twelve days, and we're no closer to the answer today than we were when we started. Captain Janeway needs the conclusions that this research should provide. I didn't assume that this task would be so ... difficult.'

'Insufficient data to extrapolate,' the computer repeated.

He sighed heavily. 'What can you extrapolate?'

'Insufficient data -'

'Enough!' he shouted. 'Thank you! Computer, short of dissecting Seven of Nine like a twentieth century laboratory intern in order to get a hands-on look at the Borg technology, what do you logically recommend -'

Finally, inspiration struck the Doctor.

'Computer,' he tried, 'disengage your logic subroutines.'

'Disengaging logic subroutines for the purposes of scientific research is inadvisable,' the computer replied.

'Understood,' the Doctor countered. 'But, I need you to be ... momentarily creatively. Work with me. Disengage your logic subroutines for the purposes of the scientific research currently being conducted in Cargo Bay Two.'

There was a brief computer clicking.

'Logic subroutines offline,' the computer replied.

'Now ... I'm going to ask you to use your imagination,' the Doctor taunted.

'Unable to comply,' the computer replied. 'The computer processing core allows for minimal -'

'Stay with me, computer,' the Doctor ordered. 'This is just you and I, and I, quite frankly, am getting tired of the sound of my own voice. I need you to speak for me. I need you to generate reasonable hypotheses based on the facts that we're able to ascertain. You won't be able to do that with your logic subroutines active. In short, as I've exhausted all of my own, I need you to come up with some ideas.'

'Unable to comply,' the computer replied.

Pressing onward, the Doctor ordered, 'Computer, perform a Level One medical scan on crewmate Seven of Nine.'

The computer chirped. 'Scan complete.'

'Does Seven of Nine's cerebral cortex contain neural interlinks commonly associated with Borg communications nanotechnology?'

'Affirmative,' the computer replied.

'Common ground,' the Doctor mused aloud. 'At least, that's a start.'

'Affirmative,' the computer repeated.

'Computer, perform another Level One medical scan on crewmate Seven of Nine. This time, I want you to isolate the scan solely to Seven's remaining Borg technology, implants, mechanibiologic subprocessors, etc.'

The computer chirped. 'Scan complete.'

'Now,' the Doctor began slowly, 'once again we've determined that Seven of Nine's cerebral cortex contains neural interlinks commonly identified as Borg communications nanotechnology. Correct?'

'Affirmative,' the computer replied.

'Are all of the neural interlinks associated with the Borg communications nanotechnology functioning in proper alignment, based on Seven's last complete physical?' Dismissive, he waved a hand. 'Access the necessary patient records for comparative analysis, authorization E-M-H-Zimmerman-Delta.'

'Affirmative,' the computer replied.

The Doctor raised an eyebrow. 'Are the interlinks dormant?'

'Negative,' the computer replied.

The Doctor raised both eyebrows.

'The interlinks are active?' he asked.

'The Borg interlinks are currently engaged,' the computer explained.

Suddenly, he whirled to look at Seven.

'Computer, are you saying that ... the Hive is trying to contact Seven of Nine, or is the interlink activity similar to that normally recorded during Borg regenerative sleep?'

'Negative,' the computer replied. 'On both counts.'

'Explain,' the Doctor pressed.

'The Borg interlinks are processing a pulse out of alignment with all previously recorded Borg signals,' the computer explained.

The Doctor knew that Seven of Nine would always 'sense' the Collective. While the Doctor, in all of his gallant and good intentioned wizardry, might've severed critical junctions that allowed for the commute of information between the drove and the Hive/mind, wherever that may be, he couldn't cut her off completely. The location of the neural receivers and transmitters ... the proximity and complexity of the Borg's miniscule nanocircuitry to Seven's neurologic centers of the brain made a complete truncation dangerously out of the question. Despite what the captain would prefer, the Doctor couldn't stop Seven from hearing the Collective's occasional whisper. The difference was, now that her individuality and freedom of choice had returned, Seven wasn't required to act on those impulse commands.

Picking up his tricorder, the Doctor ran another neural scan of the Borg transceivers embedded deep within Seven's cerebrum. Locating the technology wasn't difficult. That task didn't pose any particular challenge to the ship's computer or the Doctor. Isolating and deciphering its associative software, where the encrypted command files were undoubtedly hidden ... again, using the words of Tom Paris, 'was the real pickle.'

The readings from the medical tricorder confirmed what the computer had determined. Seven was receiving a weak, isolated signal.

'Computer, does this signal pose any threat to Seven of Nine?' the Doctor asked.

'Unable to compute.'

'Computer, how long has Seven been receiving this signal?'

'Unable to compute.'

'Computer, could you measure signal degradation based on when it was originally detected?' the Doctor asked. 'Has the signal reduced its potency at all?'

'Signal was only recently detected,' the computer replied.

'As of when?' the Doctor asked.

'As of twelve-point-nine seconds ago,' the computer replied.

'You mean,' the Doctor surmised, 'when I asked for it?'

'Affirmative.'

The Doctor gasped. He closed he tricorder and stepped into the alcove, very near his shipmate. He studied her emotionless state.

'Computer, I need you to extrapolate on the following, and I don't want to hear any of your 'unable to compute' nonsense,' the Doctor stated. 'Would it be reasonable to assume that the reason we've been unsuccessful as accessing Seven of Nine's communications nanotechnology because someone or something had already established contact?'

'Affirmative.'

'Computer,' the Doctor began, excitedly, 'scan all known Borg frequencies. Isolate that incoming signal.'

After a few seconds, the computer replied, 'Scan complete.'

'Report.'

'There are no detected Borg transmissions.'

'But ... that's impossible!' the Doctor exclaimed. 'If the Collective isn't trying to communicate with the Borg, then who is?'

Based on another cursory scan compliments of his medical tricorder, he could see himself that Seven's neural transceivers registered activity.

'Computer,' the Doctor tried again, 'open EMH medical database titled Borg nanotechnology. Specifically, I'd like you to refer to the major sections and subsections relating to the Borg neural transceiver, specifically the one integrated in the processing center of Seven's brain.'

The computer signaled the affirmative.

'Verify that Voyager crewmate Seven of Nine's neural transceiver is receiving communication via subspace.'

'Affirmative,' the computer replied.

'Identify the source of those signals,' the Doctor ordered.

'Unable to comply,' the computer answered.

'Why?'

'The source of the neural impulses originate outside of the Voyager's sensor range.'

'Computer, examine the transmission itself.'

'Specify parameters,' the computer replied.

'WHAT DOES IT SAY?' the Doctor shouted, incredulous.

'The signal is encrypted,' the computer replied.

'Encrypted?'

Lost in thought, the Doctor tapped the end of his nose with his right forefinger. 'Computer, based on the schematic available in the medical database of the Borg neural transceiver, would it possible for another species to initiate and engage Borg neural activity?'

'Insufficient data to extrapolate,' the computer replied.

Frustrated, the Doctor closed his tricorder and tossed it onto the nearest console. 'Computer, is the transmission recordable?'

After a brief pause, the computer replied, 'Affirmative.'

'Thank you!' the Doctor exclaimed. 'Computer, record the transmission in the medical database. Catalogue it Borg Communications Anomaly Number One.'

'Affirmative.'

The Doctor tapped his badge. 'Doctor to Captain Janeway.'

'Why, Doctor,' he heard, 'you must've been reading my mind. I was just about to summon you. I need you down on the surface of Besaria. Immediately.'

'Captain,' the Doctor began, 'is there a medical emergency?'

'There may be by the time you arrive,' she replied.

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