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

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

"I'm sorry," Kathryn Janeway began, entering the Voyager's conference room and finding it nearly empty of her executive staff, "but didn't I call a meeting of ALL senior officers?"

Tom Paris and the Doctor glanced at one another momentarily.

"Uh ... I believe everyone else is en route, Captain," Tom broke the silence with as courteous an answer as he could muster. "I know that Harry and B'Elanna were down on the Besarian surface, along with Chakotay. Neelix should be here shortly. He checked in moments ago from the Bridge." Nodding in the direction of the EMH, he added, "The Doctor was briefing me on Seven's condition."

"Doctor," Janeway began, turning her attention to her chief medical officer, "how is she?"

"My best professional diagnosis is that she is fine," the Doctor replied, taking a seat at the conference table opposite Mr. Paris. "We've encountered instances wherein Seven has had to contend with ... shall we say ... whispers of the Borg Collective in the past, and she's emerged none the worse for wear, if that's what you mean, Captain."

"Is she in any danger?"

"None that I'm aware of or would be willing to stake my reputation on," he answered, glancing momentarily at the medical PADD in his holographic hand. "As I had explained to you, her remaining Borg neural implants are receiving new telemetry. However, the signal clarity is surprisingly weak. Captain, if I didn't know any better, I would presume that the signal isn't intended for Seven in any way whatsoever. Consider it ... consider it a whisper or, perhaps, an echo. She doesn't seem affected in any way whatsoever. Biologically, neurologically, physiologically, she appears fine."

"Nonetheless," Janeway cautioned, "keep a close eye on her."

"Understood," the Doctor agreed.

"In your medical opinion, is it safe to assume," the Captain theorized aloud, "that the telemetry will continue to have no effect on Seven's remaining Borg implants?"

Scowling, the Doctor laid the PADD on the conference room table. "While I wouldn't rule out the possibility completely, as we've never encountered anything of this sort in the past, I continue to believe that it is highly unlikely that this message ... whatever it may be ... will have any affect on Seven's ability to serve this ship faithfully."

Chiming, the conference room doors whisked open. Neelix sauntered into the conference room.

"My apologies, Captain," the Tallaxian offered sincerely, bowing slightly as he marched through the parting panes that closed behind him. "I was detained on the Bridge. As you know, we're functioning relatively short-staffed, what with so many of the crew assigned to Commander Chakotay in the Generatrix. To help out, I agreed, for Ensign Lacoste, to man Ops in Harry's absence."

"Understood," she replied. "Where is Harry? Last I was aware, he wasn't assigned to the Generatrix crews."

Nodding politely, taking his seat, Neelix confessed, "He is on Besaria. As I understand, he's been aiding B'Elanna in stabilizing the redundant power fluctuations."

Again, the doors chimed and whooshed open.

Lieutenant Tuvok marched into the conference room.

"I offer the deepest apologies for my tardiness, Captain," the Vulcan stated, circling the conference table and taking his seat near his senior officer. "At the suggestion of Lieutenant Torres, I was attempting to increase sensor gain in order obtain more conclusive scans on the operational status of the Borg cubes."

Leaning forward, she asked, hopeful, "What did you learn?"

"Unfortunately," Tuvok replied, "nothing that, on the surface, would appear to be of consequence. However, after further examination of the enhanced sensor imaging in stellar cartography, I was able to establish one fact." He pivoted in his chair to face the group. "Captain, I believe it is safe to conclude that the nearby Borg fleet are operationally defunct."

Astonished, Janeway placed a hand over her opened mouth. "Defunct?" she finally asked. "How can that be?"

"Near dead is, perhaps, the exceeding more accurate assumption," Tuvok explained. "Collectively and individually, the Cubes are emitting extremely low level energy signatures. I've searched the Voyager database for a corresponding match, and it came up empty. The closest match was on stardate 44001.4."

"Stardate 44001.4?" Janeway asked. "After Wolf 359?"

"You are correct, Captain," Tuvok stated. "The Enterprise D, under command of Acting Captain William T. Riker, managed to have a command strategically placed, through accessing a low-priority Borg system, within the Collective's group consciousness."

Muttering softly, Janeway said, "He told them to sleep."

"Precisely," Tuvok agreed. He, as well, placed a PADD on the conference room table. "In the events following the Borg's first attempt at assimilating Earth, Starfleet Sciences established a crude yet accessible power distribution level ranking system for Starfleet ships encountering any Borg vessels. At the time, it was hoped that the ranking system would prove invaluable in the event of future combat engagements with the Collective."

"And?"

"And," the Vulcan began, "in all of Starfleet history we've never encountered a single Borg ship, let alone six, operating on what I would appear to be fourth-level power reserves, much like the Cube on stardate 44001.4."

"Fourth-level?" Janeway asked, incredulous.

"Precisely, Captain," Tuvok replied. "Quite frankly, from our distance I had to scan twice to detect even cursory energy signatures utilized throughout the Cubes." He nodded in the direction of his shipmates. "Based on our tactical knowledge of the Borg, I can only estimate that they are ... deeply regenerating."

"But how can they regenerate on such low reserves?" Janeway asked. "It ... it doesn't make any sense."

"I concur with your assessment of the situation," the Vulcan agreed.

She raised an eyebrow at her Tactical Officer. "Any theories as to what is really going on?"

Steepling his fingers in front of him, Tuvok sighed. "Doctor, I understand that you've isolated Borg telemetry being received by Seven of Nine that is ... shall we say ... unique?"

The Doctor nodded. "I've never seen anything like it."

His stare fixed forward on nothing in particular, the Vulcan concluded, "Then perhaps, Captain, what we are dealing with at present is a type of ... Borg reprogramming."

"Borg reprogramming?" she asked gravely. "Reprogramming for what?"

"Unknown," Tuvok answered emotionlessly.

Leaning deeply back into her chair, Janeway added, "Why do I not like the sound of that?"

The nearby command console blinked to life, a communications interface with the Besarian Generatrix established. The transmission was hazy, as though intermittent fog obscured the view, but Captain Janeway turned to make out the face of her first officer.

"Commander Chakotay reporting in, Captain," he said.

"Thanks for joining us, Commander."

"Always a pleasure," Chakotay said, smiling.

"What's the status of the Generatrix?"

"Despite our best efforts, Captain," he began, "the power core is refusing to stabilize. We've been able to maintain the planetary defense systems. The planetary shield is online, but we've disabled the Pulse Cannon. All of its power relays had been fused anyway. If you decide it necessary, with the Borg in close proximity, I can shift priorities to begin re-initializing the Cannon's distribution nodes. We can get it back online." Heavily, he sighed. "But ... only at the expense of considerably time and manpower."

"Best guess?" she asked.

Frowning, he performed some calculations in his head. "Twenty hours. Best guess."

Slowly, she shook her head. "Commander, if those Borg Cubes power up, we may not have twenty hours."

"I'm sorry, Captain, but that's the best I can provide," he replied. "Under present circumstances, we can't even stabilize the power distribution in any individual section of the Generatrix let alone turn our efforts to the Pulse Cannon."

"Commander," she tried, emphasizing each syllable, "that Pulse Cannon may be the only reasonable defense we have."

"Understood, Captain. I'll get some people on it right away."

Brushing a hand across her tired face, she asked, "What kind of luck have B'Elanna and Harry been having?"

"They're en route to you now," Chakotay replied. "I think they'll have something of interest ... to all of you."

"That's rather cryptic, Commander," she retorted.

"With all due respect," he said, "I'd rather have you see it than have me explain it."

As if on cue, the doors whisked open, and B'Elanna Torres, with Harry Kim at her side, marched into the conference room.

Without announcement or flourish, B'Elanna Torres tossed a saucer-shaped device she was carrying onto the conference room table. The thick plate clanked heavily, its various cables dangling loose and slapping the table's metallic surface. Surprised, Janeway glanced up at her chief engineer.

"Sorry we're late, Captain," B'Elanna apologized, nodding at her senior officer. "But when Harry and I figured out the significance of what you're looking at right now, we figured you wouldn't mind."

"What is it?" the Captain asked.

Smirking, B'Elanna answered, taking her chair, "Only the source for every single one of all our troubles since those Borg phasers wiped The One from the face of existence in the entire universe."

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