FEDERATION'S END II: THE WITCHING HOUR
by E. L. Zimmerman
"Don't try to move."
Mandakorr opened his eye. At first, he saw only blackness, ... a vacant expanse of nothing ... but, after a time, the void reluctantly began to stir and take shape. Shadowy, gray lines bled in the black soup, lines that eventually froze and adopted a uniformity of purpose, stretching, turning. Suddenly, the lines brightened, and the blackness surrendered. Surprised, Mandakorr realized he was lying on his back, staring up at an infinity of Borg power cables. The corridor's ceiling, a jumbled, chaotic, formless mass of barely illuminated conduits, cabling, and power indicators, settled into the dark but discernible, definable.
Mandakorr remembered where he was. He remembered waking up ... Borg. He remembered tearing his body from his assimilation alcove. He remembered achingly crawling the lifeless ship's accessways, hour upon hour seemingly without rest, until he found the communications interface for which he so desperately had searched. He remembered aligning a distress signal to a specific frequency he trusted detectable and decipherable by anyone serving on the Voyager's Main Bridge. He remembered -
"The drone?" he asked, frightened.
Instinctively, he tried to sit up, knowing that his attacker could be near, but his body flailed wildly.
"Mandakorr," a voice cautioned, "lay still!"
"The drone! THE DRONE!"
Mandakorr felt a pair of hands clamp gently on his head and turn his view in a different direction. Slowly, he distinguished the familiar face in his new line of sight. Achingly, he forced a smile onto his face.
"Ensign ... Harry Kim," the Gallenian whispered, his voice hoarse. "I think ... you're on the wrong ship."
"Lie still," he heard.
"That's an order." Harry tilted his head a bit. "Maxwell, get me a reading on Mandakorr's vital signs."
"Harry?" Mandakorr persisted, voice weak and cracking. "The drone. There was a drone here. It tried ... it was going to kill me -"
"Mandakorr," the Starfleet Ensign replied, pressing his face closer to the Gallenian. "There's no one else here. There's you, me, and Maxwell. The drones are all regenerating. Otherwise, this corridor is empty."
"But, there was a drone! It was ... unlike the others -"
"There's no one here now," Harry reassured his friend softly. "Now, I need you to lie completely still. Conserve your energy. Let us try to help you."
Confused, lost in assumptions of what might've happened to the drone he thought he had vanquished in mortal combat, Mandakorr cautiously relaxed, his tensed muscles unknotting as he eased himself down on the deckplates. Closing his eye, he breathed deeply, utilizing the Gallenian meditation technique that had brought him this far, searching out the inner calm, the inner peace.
When his heart had slowed and the anxiety ebbed, he opened his eye again.
"That's better," Harry agreed, smiling. "You just relax. Let us do the work."
"Is that," the Gallenian began, "is this ... is it really you, Harry?"
"It's me," he replied. "And I'm not alone. I brought a friend, one of my shipmates from Voyager. Ensign Nathan Maxwell."
"Hello," Nathan offered, smiling politely, not taking his eyes from studying his tricorder readings.
"I'm here, Mandakorr."
"Sir," Nathan began, whispering his report, "his vitals -"
"Keep it to yourself for the time being," Harry snapped curtly, infusing a command tone in his voice. All of the time in the Delta Quadrant, so far away from anything remotely similar to Starfleet Headquarters, Harry Kim was still committed to making the best use of his new-found maturity.
"Harry," Mandakorr said, and, for a fleeting moment, he savored the word. "I knew ... I knew you'd come."
"What?" Harry asked, reaching out and placing a hand on Mandakorr's chest. He wasn't touching Gallenian flesh but, rather, cold Borg armor. Still, he hoped the gesture wasn't lost on Mandakorr. "Abandon a friend in a time of need? That's not any Harry Kim I'd want to know."
Reaching up, Harry tapped his comm badge. "Kim to Voyager."
"Janeway here," came the reply.
"Captain, we've found him."
"Well done, Harry," Janeway replied, and Harry heard the praise in her voice despite the distance separating the two of them. "Prepare for immediate transport. We'll send you directly to Sickbay," she ordered.
Tapping his comm badge, Nathan quickly implored, "Belay that, Captain!"
"What?" Janeway asked. "What's wrong?"
"I'm reading total cellular degradation in Mandakorr's current condition," the ensign explained. "His readings are ... well ... they're fluctuating from one moment to the next, Captain. I'm quite certain that his constantly shifting molecular composition would be too complex for our pattern buffers. I'm no doctor, but, if I were to guess, I'd have to say that his Gallenian physiology is incompatible with Borg biotechnology." Nathan studied the tricorder readings closely. "His body is not only rejecting the implants, but it's as if ... somehow ... his DNA is attempting to recode itself as a defense." With that, Nathan Maxwell somberly closed his tricorder. "In his present state, if we successfully achieved a transporter lock, I don't think we'd have the ability to re-materialize him aboard Voyager. His DNA might shift again in transit, and the pattern would be lost. I don't think he'd survive transport."
"Is the condition irreversible?" Janeway probed.
Harry glanced up at his shipmate, and he saw Nathan's perplexed shrug, the man unclear of how to respond. Harry had seen it before. The inability to face the unknown. The hesitancy to explore the unthinkable. He had seen it in himself when he had first joined Voyager.
"Negative, Captain," Harry replied for his shipmate.
"Harry," Mandakorr whispered, weakly.
"I'm here," Harry said. "I'm with you."
"Stay with me?" the Gallenian asked. "What ... what Maxwell has found is true. I know ... I know that I'm dying. I've known that since I woke here ... on this Cube. I just ... it's just ... I don't want to die alone."
Aghast, Harry lowered his head. He forced himself to breath slowly, pushing aside the rising anger he sensed deep within himself at finding Mandakorr in this ... shape. Controlling his emotions, he concentrated instead on his alternatives. That's what Starfleet would want him to do. That's what Captain Janeway would want him to do.
Not far away, the Borg were regenerating in their respective alcoves.
Outside, the Delta Flyer awaited his return.
Captain Janeway had made her orders very clear.
'Beam in. Beam out. No sightseeing.'
"Harry?" Mandakorr tried.
"Captain," Harry broke his self-imposed silence, "Ensign Maxwell will beam back to the Delta Flyer. I'll order Tom to return to Voyager. There's no sense risking their lives at this point. Have Tuvok establish a transporter lock on my location. I'm prepared for emergency beam-out at a moment's notice, should it become necessary."
"What are you going to do?"
Harry sighed heavily, glancing down at his Gallenian friend. "I'm going to see if I can stabilize Mandakorr's condition."
"Harry, Ensign Maxwell said that -"
"I heard the diagnosis," Harry interrupted, realizing afterward he had made a poor career choice in cutting off a senior officer in mid-sentence. But, he didn't care. He couldn't be demoted any further. And what was Janeway to do for the duration of the trip home? Throw him in the Brig? "I ... I just can't accept it, Captain."
After a prolonged moment of silence, Janeway finally replied, "Understood. Keep me apprised of your progress. Voyager out."