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

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

"Tuvok, we've desperately run out of time and alternatives here," Captain Janeway said slowly, emphasizing every syllable. She rose from her chair, turning, and approached the Tactical Station. The Vulcan courteously glanced up from his console to meet his commanding officer's eyes. "I want Harry Kim off that Borg Cube, and I want it done now."

Displaying the stoicism commonly associated with his species, Tuvok simply replied, "I am attempting to comply with your order, captain."

She stopped in her tracks. She knew her people were doing their respective jobs. She trusted that they were all as concerned about Harry as she was, and, as she felt it necessary, she reigned in her emotions.

"Tom," Janeway continued, pivoting back to the main viewer, "assume the position at Ops, for the time being."

"Yes, sir." Without hesitation, her pilot rose quickly and jogged toward his new, temporary post.

Janeway glared at the image of the Borg Cubes on the main viewer, and, in her thoughts, she cursed them. "Tom, perform an intensive scan of this Twelfth Power Energy bubble that's containing all of these ships, Voyager included. If there's a weakness, we're going to need to exploit it, unless we can find a means to disable it."

"Yes, sir."

"Captain," Tuvok suddenly said, "if I may interrupt?"

"Report," she replied.

"The Borg have engaged what appears to be some type of mass stabilization field."

Curious, she turned to face the Vulcan. "A what?"

"You will have to forgive me, captain," Tuvok continued. "In all our travels, we've never encountered any defensive technology like this before, so the name is of my own design. Nonetheless, the vessel securing Ensign Kim is emitting an energy signature that is holding his matter in stasis."

"In stasis?" she asked.

"Precisely," the Vulcan answered. "In simpler terms, the technology is serving much like a transport inhibitor. Ensign Kim's matter has been aligned with the permanent molecular structure comprising the physical space of the Cube. That is why I cannot achieve a full transporter lock, but I can yet pinpoint his exact location. My suspicion is that the field inhibits transport by protecting what the Borg have determined to be ... their assets. All matter has been harmonized, preventing any individual component from removal."

"Has he been assimilated?" Janeway asked.

Tuvok glanced immediately at his screens. "Negative."

Janeway thought for a moment. Closing her eyes, she crossed her arms and tapped her chin with a single finger. At the fundamental level, she knew, all matter was the same. Different objects were still comprised of similar element; they were only shaped into different 'wholes.'

Could you outsmart a computer?

Could you fool technology?

"Mr. Tuvok," she began, "suppose ... suppose we were to offer this mass stabilization field something in exchange?"

Pithily, the Vulcan raised an eyebrow.

Harry Kim heard clanking footsteps all around him. The Borg were on the move, marching around, obviously carrying out orders dispersed through the Collective. He listened and he watched intently, but, so far, not a single drone had entered the long corridor he was trapped in, standing watch as he was over Mandakorr's lifeless body. If he had his way, Harry Kim wasn't going to allow the Borg to claim it, to touch it, to desecrate it in any way. He had no intention of granting them an approach the fallen Gallenian.

Tapping his comm badge, he quietly tried, "Kim to Voyager."

"Please standby, Mr. Kim," Tuvok replied.

"Tuvok," Harry continued, despite an order to the contrary, "when you find a way to beam me out, I'd like you to beam Mandakorr as well."

"The Gallenian is deceased," the Vulcan stated.

Trying to control his anger, the ensign protested, "Tuvok, would you please just do this for me? I'm asking you ... as a friend."

"Mr. Kim, I value your respect. At present, I am asking you to please standby."

"Tuvok, I want you to take Mandakorr with me."

"I cannot," came the response.

"Why not?"

"Mr. Kim, now is not the time -"

"Why CAN'T you?" Harry persisted.

"Mr. Kim," Tuvok responded firmly, "we are presently coordinating a proposition to save your life. As I value your service to this vessel and your fellowship as a shipmate, it would be illogical for me to jeopardize a single attempt to acquire you. I appreciate Mandakorr's sacrifice, and I will not ask you to be another. This retrieval is not without risk. I cannot, in good conscience, gamble with the lives of this crew. It defies my oath as a security officer." There was a brief pause before the Vulcan concluded with, "I ask you to please standby."

"Tuvok -"

Clunk. Clunk. Clunk.

Shocked, Harry turned in the direction of the sound. A single drone marched down the corridor toward him.

"Kim to Voyager," he repeated, nervously. "The Borg know I'm here!"

"Harry," he heard Captain Janeway's voice over the open comm channel. "Defend yourself!"

"Yes, mam!"

Quickly, he brought his plasma rifle to bear on his mortal enemy and fired.

The drone stopped as the energy bolt collided with it. Immediately, the drone crackled with energy, absorbing it into its personal defense shield. The shielding danced rhythmically with miniature thunderbolts in a manner that Harry didn't recognize.

"Captain," he shouted, "they've adapted!"

"Resistance is futile," the drone stated, stepping forward and closing the gap between the two of them.

"Like hell, it is!" Harry replied.

As the Borg reached the ensign, Harry reacted quickly, fueled by anger over his friend's death. Flipping the plasma rifle around like a baseball bat, Harry lashed out and cracked his enemy alongside its head. The implants he struck exploded, and the drone's arms flailed. Clearly, it hadn't anticipated a personal assault. Stunned, the Borg teetered sideways, slowly. It lost its footing and, teetering, crashed into the wall.

Quickly, Harry tapped his comm badge. "Kim to Voyager!" he shouted. "Requesting emergency beam-out!"

"Standby, ensign," was Tuvok's reply.

"I can't do that for long!"

Continuing, the drone righted itself. It brushed at the sparks flickering alongside its biologic eye, and it said, "You will be assimilated."

"Not today!" Harry retorted.

The ensign leapt forward, raising the rifle before him. He pushed outward, and the weapon crunched into the drone's jaw. As its head rocketed backwards, Harry was doused in a shower of sparks erupting from the Borg's chest plating.

"Standby, Ensign Kim," Harry heard Tuvok over the open comm channel. "I will be attempting molecular substitution in five seconds."

'Molecular substitution?' he thought.

'What's he talking about?'

Quickly, the drone brought its head back down and focused on Harry.

Reacting, Harry again twisted the rifle in his hands, aiming the conical emitter at the Borg before him.

"This is for what you did to Mandakorr," Harry spat.

Then, with all his might, he stabbed the tapering rifle muzzle forward and impaled his enemy's neck. White fluid, oddly mixed with the blue blood of the drone's organic components, gushed through the open wound. Again, sparks erupted from the drone's chest. The Borg body trembled violently, surrendered its footing, and dropped to the floor.

"Initiating transport," he heard.

Harry Kim stood perfectly still as a second Borg appeared at the end of the long corridor. Then, he sensed the tingling of a transporter lock reverberate through his body, and the scene before him disappeared into the all-to-familiar molecular static accompanying the transporter effect.

The Borg drone marched to the spot the Starfleet ensign had occupied, facing the icy blue sphere of sizzling transporter energy sizzling. The human's form flickered from existence, but the transporter cocoon stayed, shifting, churning, until finally shrinking much lower, closer to the deckplates ... where a photon torpedo materialized.

"Detonate," Janeway ordered.

On the main viewer, the Borg Cube shook. From somewhere deep within the ship's bowels, a flash of green energy pulsed once, igniting a radiance that broke through the mechanical patchwork comprising a Borg ship.

Suddenly, a second Cube hovered closer, perhaps moving into position to assume the attack on Voyager ...

... but it was too late.

The first Cube vibrated and splintered, a cascade of furious explosions ripping the ship apart from within. Harry Kim, beamed directly to Voyager's bridge, raised a hand to shield his eyes from the immense glare. Suddenly, the Cube onscreen split into halves, the Collective obviously unable to initiate immediate repairs from the effect of a photon torpedo blast ... fueled by a Twelfth Power Energy core B'Elanna had installed back on Besaria. The two distinct halves drifted quietly apart, additional eruptions of flame and debris sending them wildly out of control. When what was left of the ship eventually succumbed to one massive explosion, debris rained violently across the second approaching Cube, throwing the vessel wildly off course, spiraling, until it tore itself apart from the shock wave as well.

"Captain," Tuvok interrupted the fireworks display on the main viewer, "the Twelfth Power Energy shield bubble has collapsed."

"Thank the stars," the captain replied, her eyes transfixed to the carnage on the screen.

"I am detecting signs that the remaining four Cubes are attempting to route reserve powers to raise it again."

"Harry, welcome back, dispense with the pleasantries, and take your post at Ops," Janeway ordered quickly, tearing her attention from the destruction. "Tom, get back to the conn. Set course for Besaria and get us as far away from here as fast as you can! Maximum warp!"

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