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

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

"My apologies, Captain."

"You don't owe me an apology, Harry."

"I'll apologize to the others when they come back in."

Plainly, she shook her head. "This staff meeting is over. I have some thinking to do, and I was hoping you could help me out with a decision I need to make."

"Captain, please ..."

"Harry," she tried, reclining in her chair, "stop." From her vantage point, she considered the ensign standing before her. She studied the youth and confusion in his face for several moments before continuing. "Far be it from me to play the role of ship's counselor, but I want to understand where your emotion is coming from. I need to.

"I felt," she continued, "that, with the others present, we were getting nowhere, and I didn't like that conclusion. So, I thought ... I thought that if you and I were alone for as long as it took, we could chat one-on-one. I want you to help me to see clearly what it is that you're fearing."

Standing completely still before the table, Harry Kim simply stared at his commanding office. "Yes, mam."

With pursed lips, she ordered, "Harry, sit."

Quickly, he sat.

"Now," she began, hunching forward on her elbows, "emotions aside if you can, start from the beginning. Explain your theory."

Harry breathed deeply for several seconds, greatly wanting to compose himself. Hoping he had organized his thoughts sufficiently, he launched:

"Captain, we engaged the Borg Armada over Besaria. All I've been trying to say is that ... if the Borg were truly intent on assimilating us and the Gathered Races of Besaria, I believe they would have already returned."

"You heard the report," Janeway offered. "Suppose ... suppose they're regenerating."

Slowly, Harry nodded, conceding the point. "They could be. But, the remaining six Cubes didn't expend any effort or energy when we first met. Why would they need time to regenerate?"

Janeway realized that point, and she returned his nod.

"If the Borg were to return, we'd simply fight them again. In the very least, we could hide under the safety of the planetary shield." Again, the ensign paused for a breath of air to help coordinate his thoughts. "For those six Cubes to be hiding in wait two star systems away ... well ... certainly they know they'd be within the sensor range of stellar cartography or the planetary sensors ... it just makes no sense."

"Harry," she began, gently resting a hand on his forearm, "you don't have to persist on that point. I agree with you. Completely. Without question. Something appears amiss. What I would like to learn from this conversation is what you, Ensign Harry Kim, think they're doing."

All traces of emotion drained from his youthful face, he shrugged. "I don't know, Captain."

"Ensign, if you have no theory," she tried, adding a hint of irritation to her inflection, "then this conversation is finished. The Borg and this crew are waiting, and I have a decision to make."

Quickly, Harry interjected, "I do have a theory."

"Then let's hear it."

"Twelfth Power Energy," Harry explained.

Intrigued, the Captain hadn't anticipated the dialogue to turn in the direction of a power system. She considered him briefly before she granted, "Go on."

"According to what Seven of Nine explained, the Borg possess knowledge of the existence of Twelfth Power Energy," Harry continued. "Yet, they haven't employed it for any of their system applications. Why not?"

"Didn't Seven say that the Borg concluded that Twelfth Power Energy was unpredictable at best?"

Again, Harry sighed heavily.

"My apologies, captain," he said, somberly. "Maybe ... maybe I don't have a theory. Maybe all I have are confusions and suspicions that something ... something about this puzzle doesn't fit together." He paused, opening his palms on the conference table before him and laying them flat. "I guess ... I guess I've just been working too hard ... too many hours ... at the solution to Mandakorr's problem. I can't help but feel ... responsible for his assimilation into the Collective."

'So that's it,' Janeway thought.

Quietly, she edged her chair closer to Harry's.

"Ensign," she spoke softly. "Harry, you can't blame yourself. We've all lost friends and loved ones to the Borg at Wolf 359."

"I can't help it, Captain."

Concerned, Janeway could see the tears welling up in his eyes. Quickly, she explained, "The Bridge was overrun with drones, Harry. There was nothing any of us could do."

"As I said," he tried, his voice cracking, "I can't help it."

He ran a hand across his face, brushing away a solitary tear that had slipped down his cheek. Then, he angrily slapped his hand back down to the conference room table.

"Harry," she offered, "I think some R&R is in order. When we were first captured, the rest of the crew was re-assigned to Besaria to do the One's bidding. You, on the other hand, were trapped aboard Voyager, training a staff to fly the ship. Once we were freed, I understand that you spent a wealth of time reviewing your duty logs. Now, I find that you've been assisting B'Elanna and Chakotay in bring the Generatrix under control. There's no doubt in my mind that you're exhausted. Physically. Emotionally." She paused to smile at him. "If there's anyone among us who could use -"

"I can't, Captain," he replied. "If you're requesting that I take time off, I'm declining."

Tensely, she responded, "I'll order you to your quarters, if I have to. Let's not have it come to that."

"Captain," Harry began, changing the subject, "can I ask you a question? The One. Did he ... did he hurt you in any way?"

The Captain shrugged. "He threatened. Once, toward the end of our captivity, he did. When the Borg had overrun the Bridge, I think that the One finally realized that his reign was nearing the inevitable end of a very long run. He lashed out. I was his nearest subject. Why do you ask?"

"Mandakorr ... "

Harry stopped, searching for the right words.

"All of the Gallenians ... they were ... they were ... so simple. All they wanted to do was explore space. It was their cultural life mission, to explore the stars! To travel as far as they could go!" He swallowed, forcing back his emotions. "The Gallenians were simply doing all that they believed their civilization was destined to do. The irony is that it, ultimately, lead them here. This planet. To Besaria. To slavery."

Again, Harry lost himself in thought. "Now, they've been freed from one form of servitude only to find it with another in the Borg Collective. It's ... it's just so unfair, captain."

She nodded peacefully. "I understand."

"I want to help him," Harry offered.

"Let it go, Ensign," the Captain stated firmly. "There's nothing more you can do for Mandakorr or any of his people assimilated."

Again, Harry slapped his hands firmly to the conference room table.

"Take it easy, Ensign," she said firmly. "That's an order."

"Captain, was the One superior to the Borg?"

Confused, Janeway tilted her head. "In what way?"

"He was a shapeshifter," Harry explained, "but, in terms of cognitive ability, would you say that the One was superior to the Borg?"

For several moments, she considered the question. "The One isolated 127 species here on Besaria," she explained. "He could've had not only their scientific knowledge, but also the knowledge of species others had engaged previously. Why do you ask?"

"Seven would have us believe that the One was smarter than the Borg," Harry reasoned. "The One was able to create Twelfth Power Energy. Granted, he had to steal the technology from other worlds to do so, but did it. Not the Borg. Not the Gallenians. Not the Trakill. But, the One. He was ultimately responsible for creating a destructive power Starfleet hasn't seen in nearly one hundred years."

"Harry," the captain began, "where are you going with this?"

"Not only was he able to create Twelfth Power Energy," Harry pressed on, "but he was able to harness it. Rather efficiently, all things considered. He created a Pulse Cannon ... not a stunning application of an energy source, but, nonetheless, a creation. The Generatrix is living proof that he used Twelfth Power Energy to power Besaria City. Again, not stunning in its application. However, he also used it to create a planetary shield. While we've figured out how to activate and de-activate the shield, we're nowhere near understanding how it operates. The technology escapes us, possibly by decades, if not centuries.

"However," Harry continued, "Seven would have us belief that the One could do something that the Borg, in all of their infinite Collective wisdom, couldn't."

"Do you suppose she's lying, Harry?"

Harry shook his head. "Seven is a member of our crew. She wouldn't betray that confidence."

"Then what?"

"She wouldn't be lying, Captain," Harry reasoned, "if she didn't know that it was a lie."

"I'm not following."

"You've said so yourself, Captain. The Borg act as they do as a response to programming." Slowly, he curled up his hands and placed them in his lap. "That being the case, suppose Seven reported what she knew of Twelfth Power Energy because that's all the Borg had been programmed to know?"

Captain Janeway raised an eyebrow.

"Think about it," Harry offered. "The One himself mentioned that the Borg respond to programming. Well, who programmed them?" He stared at her intently. "Didn't the One say something to you about a master race manipulating the Borg? Didn't he also confess that he learned himself of Twelfth Power Energy from some encrypted Borg subroutines? If those subroutines are encrypted, that would directly prove that the Borg's master race have knowledge of Twelfth Power Energy. But, for reasons we couldn't begin to fathom, the masters kept that knowledge from their underlings, the Borg. Why?"

Slowly, Katharine Janeway stood up.

"Captain," Harry said, "like it or not, we just introduced Twelfth Power Energy to the Collective ... a fact of science their creators, the Moderators, denied them."

"Oh, my God," she muttered.

Responding, Harry stood up beside her. "Captain, I believe that those Borg vessels are sitting there in space. They're hovering. They're regenerating ... of a sort. I believe ... I believe two actions are taking place. First, the Collective is coming to grips with a technology they cannot comprehend, due to the restrictions of their programming."

He paused.

"And?" she asked.

"The second choice?" Harry asked. "It's the one I support, captain. I believe the Borg are being reprogrammed."

Gasping, Janeway asked, "What do you mean? Reprogrammed?"

"Either the Moderators are removing all traces of knowledge of Twelfth Power Energy from the Collective," Harry explained, "or they're preparing the Borg for the next step in their technological evolution."

"What about the people they took from our bridge?" she asked. "Mandakorr and the others? If the Borg are caught in the midst of an evolutionary step, what do you think has happened to them?"

Harry frowned. "As you mentioned, I've spent my off hours reading, captain," he admitted. "Mostly, I've been conducting my own research. Did you know that it took the Borg a relatively short amount of time ... no one knows for sure ... for them to assimilate Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise into their chosen form of Locutus? It didn't happen very quickly, as I understand, and I can only imagine ... knowing the Borg as we do ... that Captain Picard endured tremendous pain during the conversion from a human being to ... to a drone."

"Why am I not liking the sounds of this?" Janeway asked.

"Captain, I believe that Mandakorr and the others are physically trapped somewhere between assimilation ... and not," Harry stated. Again, tears welled up in his eyes as he fought back his frustration of feeling powerless to aid a friend. "I believe those people are in the gravest kind of pain any of us could ever experience. And, I believe one of them somehow broke free and sent that distress signal.

"We've only so long to respond before they're all dead."

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