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

CHAPTER EIGHT

Exhausted from rifling through his personal logs, Harry Kim decided it was time for a walk.

For the moment, he wanted nothing more than to clear his mind of the last few weeks, and a walk seemed to be the best logical alternative. He left his quarters, leaving the frightening images of Mandakorr's assimilation and the Borg drones storming the bridge behind in favor of the sights and sounds of the ship. He roamed the ship's evenly lit corridors, smiling politely at every shipmate he passed. Under his feet, he felt the barely tangible vibration of the ship's engines as the Voyager maintained orbit around Besaria. In his ears, he heard the soft hum of the warp core systematically going about its duty.

'Ensign,' he heard.

Harry turned around. Just behind him, in the corridor, stood Lieutenant Tuvok. He wore the unique expression of Vulcan curiosity on his face.

'Yes, sir?'

Raising an eyebrow, Tuvok slowly approached the junior officer. 'Might I inquire ... what are you doing?'

'Doing?'

'Yes, ensign,' Tuvok answered. He stopped and stood firmly in front of Harry. 'What are you doing?'

Confused by the query, Harry asked, 'I'm sorry?'

'Ensign Kim, if my senses haven't failed me ... and it is my firm estimation that they haven't ... then you just walked into me,' the Vulcan replied.

Harry felt a burning sensation rise in his cheeks. Apparently he had been so wrapped up in clearing his mind of his personal logs that he had lost control of his senses. Momentarily. 'I did?'

'Yes.'

'When?'

'Just now.'

'I did?'

The two officers stared at one another for several moments, each one waiting patiently for the other to say something.

Finally, Harry broke the silence with, 'I ... I apologize, sir.'

'For?' Tuvok asked.

'For bumping in to you,' Harry explained. 'Sir.'

'For which you have no recollection?'

Smiling boyishly, Harry ran a hand through his hair. 'Lieutenant,' he tried, 'really, I'm sorry. Very sorry. This is my entire fault. It's just ... well ... I've had a lot on my mind lately. I've been spending a lot of time, at the captain's request, with my personal logs, as much time as possible, as a matter of fact - '

'Ensign Kim,' the Vulcan began, leaning forward, 'you'll have to pardon the interruption, but I feel it necessary to ask. When did you take your last break from perusing your logs?'

'Break, sir?'

Again, Tuvok raised an eyebrow.

'You're asking if I've taken a break?'

'Yes,' answered Tuvok. 'Your last break. Specifically, your last break from reading your logs. I'd like to know when it occurred.'

The burning sensation in Harry's reddened cheeks suddenly intensified. 'It's ... been awhile, sir.'

'Yes.'

'Yes, sir,' Harry replied. 'It's been quite awhile.'

Pursing his lips, Tuvok nodded.

'Ensign, effective immediately, I'm ordering a cessation of your log reading.'

'Well, Tuvok,' Harry verbally fumbled for a clearer explanation, smiling, 'that's what I'm doing. See? I was out, taking a walk - '

'Ensign, I'm ordering you down to the Besarian surface,' the lieutenant said. 'There is more than ample work that needs attention down there, as well.' Reaching up, he tapped his comm badge. 'Tuvok to Lieutenant Torres.'

'TORRES HERE,' came the loud reply.

Again, Tuvok raised an eyebrow. 'Lieutenant,' he began, 'are you aware that you're yelling?'

'IT'S KIND OF HARD TO HEAR THROUGH ALL OF THE WHITE NOISE GENERATED BY THE PLANET'S POWER CORE, TUVOK,' B'Elanna replied. 'MY APOLOGIES. IT'S MORE INSTINCT THAN ANYTHING ELSE. DON'T TAKE IT PERSONAL.'

Tuvok nodded. 'Do you require additional assistance?'

'ARE YOUR EARS POINTED?' came the reply.

The Vulcan stared straight ahead for a moment.

'I'll take that as an affirmative,' he replied.

'WHAT?! I LOST THAT LAST TRANSMISSION.'

'Never mind,' Tuvok answered. 'Mr. Kim will beam down shortly.'

'TUVOK, I CAN HARDLY HEAR A WORD YOU'RE SAYING RIGHT NOW BECAUSE OF THIS DAMN WHITE NOISE, BUT WOULD YOU BE ABLE TO SPARE HARRY KIM FOR A COUPLE OF HOURS? I COULD REALLY USE HIS HELP WITH THE COMMUNICATIONS BEACON.'

Again, Tuvok simply stared straight ahead. Harry suppressed the urge to laugh.

Breaking his silence, the Vulcan said, 'I believe we can accommodate your needs, lieutenant.'

'THANKS A MILLION, TUVOK. I REALLY APPRECIATE IT.'

'Yes,' Tuvok stated. 'Voyager out.'

Harry reached out with his hands. 'Tuvok, I'm fine. Really.'

'Mr. Kim, I'd like you to assist Lieutenant Torres with reconfiguration of the communications beacon,' he commanded. 'That's an order, ensign. I'll clear your temporary reassignment of duty with the captain. I'm on my way to the bridge presently.'

Sighing, Harry surrendered. 'Yes, sir.'

Slowly, the two shipmates parted, with Harry turning in the direction of the nearest transporter room. Rounding the corner, he nearly ran head-on into Neelix, who was carrying several parcels of overflowing with Gallush.

'Mr. Kim!' the Tallaxian exclaimed. 'And where might you be headed this bright afternoon?'

'Down to the Generatrix,' Harry mumbled, disgruntled.

'Ah! Good!' Neelix replied excitedly. Tilting his head, he added, 'If you happen to run into me down there, do me a favor and say hello!'

With that, Harry watched as Morale Officer Neelix disappeared down the corridor.

'Maybe Tuvok is right,' Harry thought. 'Maybe I do need a break.'

With no other alternative to keep visions of Mandakorr's assimilation from hauntingly coming back to him, Harry Kim gratefully beamed down to the planet, into the Besarian Sciences Complex. With directions provided by various Voyager crewmembers, he eventually found B'Elanna Torres in an energy-processing chamber on Sub-Level 61.

'Permission to join the fun,' Harry said, arms open wide, as he entered the room.

From her spot on the floor amidst a wealth of tools and tricorders, the half-Klingon, half-human engineer looked up from the communications beacon sitting before her. 'Nothing fun about it, but I'll take any help I can get,' she shot back at him. 'Including yours, Starfleet.'

'Ouch!'

'Give me a break.'

It had been a long while since Harry had heard her call him that. 'Starfleet.' The informality of their working relationship washed over him, and it felt good.

'What exactly are you up to with this?' he asked.

Wiping her forehead, she used her other hand to swat the side of the four-foot high projectile. 'This, as you well know, is a standard-issue Class Three Communications Beacon.'

'Class Three?' He rubbed his palm across the unit's metal surface. 'With a mission of this importance, shouldn't we be using a Class One?'

'Because, my good friend, the fine folks back at Starfleet Engineering designed a Class One Communications Beacon only for prime efficiency,' she explained. 'As a matter of fact, they designed it so efficient that I've been able to learn the following in just a matter of days. First, I can't modify the propulsion converters for compatibility with the requirements of Twelfth Power Energy. And, second, there isn't enough extra space between the turbine and the housing to plug even a few extra nanites, let alone a computer core.'

'A computer core?'

'We have to put the information the Doctor is retrieving from Seven's Borg programming in there somewhere, Harry,' she said flatly.

'Why not upload into the beacon's own computer core?'

Grimacing, B'Elanna reached for a tricorder, flipped it open, and performed a diagnostic scan on the unit. 'Well, that was my idea, but the captain's first fear was that the Borg programming might somehow become active, once in the core, and it might assimilate the probe. I mean, who knows what's going to happen when we combine Borg secrets AND Starfleet technology with this Twelfth Power Energy anyway? This isn't just Federation science we're using here, so everything we're doing has to be ... what's the word Tom uses? Oh, yeah. Hot-wired. That aside, the captain's second fear was that there wouldn't be enough memory. She wants us to copy as much data from the ship's logs as possible into the core, as well. You understand? Let Starfleet Command know where we are and where we've been. Those kinds of things.' Finished with the tricorder, she set it on the floor. 'So, I have Tuvok configuring a flight program for the beacon. Early estimates predict that itself is going to take up a tremendous amount of memory.'

Harry nodded. 'Okay. All of that said, what about using a Class Two Beacon instead?'

Pushing aside her tricorder in favor of a silver phase-welder, she glared at him. 'Why, Harry Kim,' she began, 'aren't you positioned on the Voyager bridge at ops? Don't you know your own ship's inventory?'

Feeling inadequate, he slapped his forehead. 'We're fresh out.'

'We modified the last one as a countermeasure in that shoot-out with the Brekklekaw Pillager, a few light years back,' she said, applying her phase-welder to a spot inside the beacon's internals that lay out of his sight. Dancing blue sparks lit the beacon's interior. 'Don't you remember? Harry, it was your idea. If the captain could have, she would have pinned a medal on you for thinking that quickly. What? Are you down here looking to work some other miracle, or are you just pining for sympathy? In either case, forget it. You're losing it, Starfleet, and you're going down fast.'

'I did forget all about that,' he admitted. 'The Brekklekaw Pillager ... that was some engagement. I thought, technologically, we had met our match.'

Casually, he sat down on the floor next to her. Pushing around some of the ship's equipment spread out on the tile, he finally picked up a coupling stabilizer and began fiddling with its settings.

'So,' B'Elanna announced, 'all I'm left with is this Level Three Communications Beacon. Make sense to you now, Starfleet?'

He mock-saluted her, coupling stabilizer in hand. 'Affirmative, Lieutenant Torres.'

'We're going to need to realign the power distributors,' B'Elanna counseled, removing the phase-welder from the beacon and setting it on the tile. 'Narrowest settings possible. As we only need to produce and contain a microburst of that level fuel, I'd definitely want the output matrix on the thinnest possible degree. I trust I can leave that to you. Harrison needs me over in the Generatrix master linkage corridor. As long as you can stay focused on completing the task at hand, then we've got a deal.' She smiled at him. 'Welcome to the fun.'

'No problem, B'Elanna.'

'We don't want this beacon reduced to survival kindling from Twelfth Power Energy.' She reached over and took the coupling stabilizer from Harry's hand. 'Think you can handle that?'

'Whatever you say, lieutenant,' he chirped.

Stopping what she was doing, she turned to consider him. 'You're being unusually agreeable.'

Harry shrugged. 'I'm trying to ... help the team.'

She glared at him. 'Then give me your opinion, Harry,' she ordered, 'not your acknowledgement.'

That was more like B'Elanna.

'I'm not ... I'm not sure how to respond,' he said.

'Voyager to Kim,' she teased. 'Are you there?'

Smiling, he nodded at her.

'What you're saying makes perfect sense,' he finally chimed in agreement. 'At Twelfth Power level, a fraction of energy over our mechanical tolerances would cause this beacon to light up like a warp core breach.'

Sitting on the floor, she crossed her arms and studied his expressionless face for several moments. Finally, she tilted her head and said, 'I'm not ship's counselor, but you don't have to be a Betazoid to see that there's something bothering you.'

Unsure of himself, Harry stared at the floor. He shrugged.

'What's on your mind, Harry?' she asked.

He replied, 'What makes you think there's something bothering me?'

Looking up, he studied her face. He realized that, of all his shipmates, B'Elanna's smile was the slyest. 'Don't try that programmed response on me,' she answered curtly. 'You haven't been yourself for days.'

'Is it that noticeable?'

'To use your words, it's written across your face as bright as a warp core breach.' She placed her hands on the tile and leaned closer to him. 'Now, I have many jobs to do. This place is falling apart, and I haven't the slightest idea why. We have this beacon that has to be prepared for launch, by captain's orders, in less than two days. That's when she wants us off this rock and back on course for Earth. So, if you catch my drift, ensign, my time is precious. Start talking, and you can consider it an order. Now.'

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