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

CHAPTER TEN

He opened his eye, straining against the pain that ripped through his entire body, from his head to his feet. The same pain had apparently caused him to succumb to a black sleep once more ... possibly to awake a full drone ... possibly never to awake. He blinked the haze from his own good eye, and he lie completely still, waiting patiently for the ache to subside.

The droning voices inside his head had returned. Lying there on the deckplates, he heard programming commands, battle analyses, power statistics, communications sequencing. But Mandakorr wondered ... where they speaking to him directly, or were they simply speaking to hear themselves talk? Obviously the content was directed somewhere ... to someone ... to a drone or to a series of drones ... but was it intended for him? If he were truly now Borg, wouldn't he know? Wouldn't he know the simple answer to a relatively simple question?

When he realized it hurt too much to think, he stopped.

Face down on the floor plating, he lacked the strength to do anything other than stare down the length of the silent corridor, finding drone after drone after drone standing peacefully in their alcoves, apparently locked into their regenerative cycles. The minions simply stood silently in their respective spaces, eyes closed, limps at their side, face forward, completely expressionless. They were ships waiting to be engaged, toys waiting to be played with, and Mandakorr realized that he was trapped, here, among them.

He guessed there were dozens of them. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. And ... he guessed it was their voices that he heard deep inside his head.

The voice of the Collective.

'No,' he finally told himself. He closed his eye for a second before opening it again. He glared angrily, spitefully at the nearest still drone, and he wanted to viciously lash out at the worker-bee for no reason other than the sole fact that it existed, it was there, and it was the closest. 'No,' he repeated to himself. 'This is not for me. I am no Borg. I will be no Borg. I won't serve the Collective, and I will be no drone.' He gritted his teeth, and he spoke aloud, 'I ... am ... Mandakorr.'

Slowly, he repeated the phrase until his normal speech cadence returned.

He repeated it for several moments, fighting the panic bubbling just under the surface, suppressing the anger to flare up at the defenseless drones near him.

'I am Mandakorr.'

Fighting the pain, he slipped his true arm out from under him and planted his hand squarely on the deck. Deliberately, he raised his aching form from the deck, his natural muscles straining. Pulling, he brought his legs up under him, grinding his teeth against the burning fire that engulfed his entire body. Eventually, inevitably, he succeeded in pushing himself up from the floor and stopped on his knees, lungs heaving for air.

'I,' he began, panting, reaching up and wiping the sweat from the exposed tissue of his forehead (so much of him had been covered in Borg armor), 'am Mandakorr.'

After several seconds, he had his breath back, and he started the battle again ...

'One battle at a time, Mandakorr,' he remembered the counsel of his father. 'Fight them one battle at a time. Do not try to seize the universe in one fell swoop. That will only bring about your end.'

Mandakorr remembered his father's advice, and he fought, pushed with every fiber of his being to stand. Aching, his legs extended, his ankles and his knees red hot, the muscles and ligaments trembling until ...

He stood, sweat pouring down his skin. The Borg must have administered a paralytic, he guessed, to keep him at bay until the assimilation process was complete. Certainly, a drug could account for the difficult he had in maintaining his physical and emotional control. Gallenian physiology was never his specialty, but he knew enough about how his body worked to diagnose that he was under the influence of a very powerful drug he had never experienced before. If not the truth, his was still a reasonable hypothesis, and he would accept it and work around it for the time being.

For the moment, he felt overwhelmed with the sight of the infinite wall of Borg drones.

Mandakorr saw what he was destined to become, if the Collective had its way.

He remembered it now.

The Borg had come for him while he was aboard the Voyager, piloting from the ship's helm. Under orders, he had played out the coordinates to intercept the Borg Armada approaching the planet Besaria in the console before him. He could see it vividly in his mind's eye. The Voyager. It was quite a ship. Somewhere, deep inside him, he had hoped that the ship's industrious, defiant crew would free the Besarian Lemm from their captivity. If that happened, Mandakorr imagined that, due to his piloting skills and his proclivity with ChannelSpace, he would be asked to join them on their trek toward ... where was it that Harry Kim had said they had come from? Earth? Dearth? Hearth? Something like that. However, the One had seen to it that Mandakorr's dreams remained just that ... dreams.

They engaged the Borg and were eventually stalemated in space, but suddenly the Borg had the upper hand, and the Voyager bridge was overrun with drones.

Not drones like the One had co-opted for his own personal army.

These were drones run by the Collective.

First, they went about re-assimilating their lost brethren, somehow miraculously reactivating whatever programming the One had suppressed years and years before. Then, the drones turned their attention to the rest of the bridge crew ... and Mandakorr was one of the first, the helm located so near one of the primary beam-in points.

A drone had taken him from behind.

Mandakorr recalled the sting of Borg tubules lancing deep into his neck.

And then he remembered the blackness that pervaded his very being ... until he woke up here, latched into his very own alcove, aboard one of those Borg Cubes he had seen on the Voyager main viewer.

'Harry,' he wondered.

'What happened to Harry?'

'And to the others?'

'Were they here as well?'

'Were they on another Cube?'

'WHERE WAS EVERYONE?!'

No.

Again, he slowed his breaths, denying the probable side effects of the paralytic drug coursing through his system.

Harry and the others couldn't be his priority now.

Undoubtedly, the people of Besaria were protected under the planetary shield. Mandakorr guessed that there was no means for the Borg to go after them, to threaten them, to assimilate them.

That was all he needed to know, and that was where his message would be sent. All he needed to do was to find a communications console.

Certainly, Borg technology couldn't be that different from anything he had encountered, especially since the Borg assimilated everything. As he recalled remarking on the Voyager bridge and from his talks with his friend, Harry Kim, species weren't so different. Technologies far and wide were based on similar principles. Automated systems required manual activation, and Mandakorr hoped the Borg, while they might've communicated through neural transceivers, were ultimately no different when it came to piloting their ships and communicating to non-assimilated species.

If there were a communications console on this ship, Mandakorr was confident he would find it. If there were anything he could modify into a transmitter, he was confident he could do it. If anyone was alive and listening on Besaria, Mandakorr trusted they would hear him.

But it would have to be soon ... before these Borg cubes traveled too far from Besarian space. He wasn't sure how long he had been under the influence of the Borg sedatives while the nanites did their work, and he realized he was increasing confused about how it was he hadn't been turned into a full drone ... or had he?

Was this what it was like to be a Borg?

Were you only a Borg in body, not in spirit, until the voice of the Collective called upon you?

Or ... was he not worth being called upon?

Regardless of the consequences and his position, he had one directive from this moment onward: he had a message to send.

'I am Mandakorr.'

Denouncing the pain, he lifted his foot and took his first step, then his second, and then his third, lumbering ever so slowly down the long dark corridor.

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