FEDERATION'S END
by E. L. Zimmerman

Chapter 05

With no warning of the impending collision, all of Voyager’s inertial compensators nearly overloaded when the two conflicting forms of shield energies impacted. The starship heaved, a sailboat run aground by the violent eruptions of an advancing hurricane. The ship, literally, groaned in space as it lurched against its will. Caught unprepared, B’Elanna Torres felt the plating vanish under her feet as she was ripped ferociously from her command console. Swearing in Klingon, she flew through the air, screaming, arms flailing wildly, and slammed into the warp core’s protective railing. The sturdy metal arm ripped into the muscles between her stomach and rib cage, knocking the wind out of her. Gasping angrily and with a lack of Klingonese strong enough to demonstrate her fury, she slumped to the cold floor, avoiding as best as she could the clutter of her equally helpless shipmates falling to the deck all around her.

Unable to twist her momentum into a useful role, she hit the floor. Again, her body was wracked with piercing, immeasurable pain.

"Don’t panic," she mentally repeated over and over again.

Fighting the instinct to run, she quickly flopped over onto her back and then lay completely still on the floor, staring up at the blurry vaulted ceiling. She blinked, clearing her vision momentarily.

"Don’t panic."

With immense concentration, she tried to block out her throbbing muscles, her piercing headache, the moans of her crew, the muffled explosions erupting all around them, and the lethal pounding of her own heart.

"Don’t panic."

She tried inhaling, tried bringing air in through her mouth and nose, tried forcing it down deep into her lungs, but it was no use. Instead, she felt only the spasm of her chest muscles, still constricted from the blow, over the cool freshness of Voyager’s needed oxygen.

"Don’t panic."

Quickly, she slapped a hand against the burning muscle and started to massage, desperately trying to loosen them so that she could suck one full, sweet, mouthful of air. Trying to regain control of her body was the first priority, so she closed her eyes, ignoring the truth that she couldn’t breathe evenly, and she lay perfectly still.

"Don’t panic."

Surrendering to the needs of her unique Klingon physique, she lay there, bitterly waiting for the muscle spasms denying her the precious air she needed to subside.

"Don’t panic."

Focusing, she softened the voice in her head to one that was calm, practiced, and secure.

"Don’t panic," she repeated. "You’re no good to yourself if you do. You’re no good to the ship. You’re no good to those who need you the most. Don’t panic. Remember your training. And … breathe …"

Finally, Voyager stopped shaking, and her chest muscles relaxed.

Relieved, she gulped in salty air tainted with …

"Plasma leak!" she shouted, her strength returning, sitting up hurriedly.

"People!" she screamed. "We’ve got a plasma leak!"

Her attention recouped, B’Elanna pushed herself off the deck, almost leaping like a gymnast to her feet in a single, fluid move.

"Get that leak sealed, people!" The work, she trusted, would make them forget any lingering fears.

The Engineering crew came alive around her. They hustled in the direction of the steam geyser venting from the warp core’s floor conduits.

His uniform shirt somehow torn and sprinkled with what resembled crimson raindrops, Ensign Sean Andres burst through the throng. In his hands, he wielded a fire extinguisher, and he was desperately trying to get a console fire under control.

A two-inch gash dripping blood from her forehead into her eyes, Ensign Larak Shevek ignored her injury, instead cradling an emergency conduit seal in her hands. Bravely, she headed into the gurgling steam, one arm drawn up and across her forehead to wipe the blood away.

Half of his face covered with the black smudge of facing a console explosion, Lieutenant Carey angrily tore the jammed hatch off a nearby Jefferies tube. Leaping up, he slid into the opening and disappeared, off on a mission to begin whatever repair he detected vitally necessary to Voyager’s internal systems.

Brushing the hair back from her face, B’Elanna demanded, "Does anyone know what the hell hit us?!"

Unfortunately, her crew was captivated with their work. She received a few replies of confusion from the passing shipmates, but, for the time being, they paid her little attention. Now, their task was clear: secure the core, and get the engines back online. Still, B’Elanna needed answers, and she knew where to find them.

Rapping her comm badge, she shouted over the ruckus, "Engineering to Bridge!"

One second.

Two seconds.

Three seconds.

No reply.

Angrily, she pounded on her badge. "Bridge, respond!"

One second.

Two seconds.

Three seconds.

Still nothing.

"Internal communications must be down!" she shouted.

She thought for a moment, cursing herself for not having an immediate solution.

‘There has to be a way,’ she told herself. ‘There has to be …"

Carey.

The memory of watching Lieutenant Carey climb into the Jefferies tube came to her.

Knowing full well that he probably had other destinations in mind, B’Elanna pushed her way through her crew, crossing over to the mouth of the open tube. "Carey!" she yelled into the dimly lit crawlspace.

After a quick second, he replied, "What is it, lieutenant?"

Thankful that he had heard her over the activity’s roar, B’Elanna exclaimed, "Internal communications are down! The Bridge isn’t responding!"

"After a hit like that," Carey shouted back, now deep within Voyager’s engineering systems, "I’m surprised we still have life support!"

To her pleasant surprise, she had come to have a special appreciation for Carey. After all, he was the man she had bested for the Chief Engineer’s position, and, thankfully, he didn’t carry a grudge. For that trait alone, she was eternally grateful to the man, but, as they worked together over the last five years, he turned out to be the perfect engineering counterpart to bounce ideas off. She admired his expertise, his commitment, and his professionalism. In fact, she relied on them, far more than he would ever know.

"Lieutenant," she tried, "since you’re in there, see if you can restore communications! We must establish contact with the rest of the ship! I want damage reports from all decks on all systems! More importantly, we need to know if whatever hit us is coming around for another pass!"

"Aye, chief!" he shouted back. "But, in all honesty, you might have better luck taking a lift to the Bridge! Almost all of the conduits I can see in here have broken loose from their housing! If I don’t stabilize the fluctuations in the inertial dampeners immediately, communications with the Bridge won’t mean a damn! We’ll all be nothing more than carbon-based jelly splattered against the Engineering walls!"

Trying to maintain her calm, she replied, "Understood!"

Suddenly, her comm badge crackled angrily at her.

A frantic voice tried breaking through the white noise.

Someone was trying to communicate with her!

Responding, she tapped the badge. "This is Torres!" she reported, ignoring the reality that the comm line sounded as if it were being filtered through a wind tunnel. "I’m in Engineering. We’re doing everything we can to get a plasma leak under control. Please repeat your last message!"

Then, she forgot her training.

She feared that the broken, indiscernible, electronic voice belonged to Tom Paris.

Her beloved Tom …

"Tom?" she asked. "Tom, is that you?"

One second.

Two seconds.

Three seconds.

When she received no reply, she headed for the Main Engineering Console. From there, she’d patch directly into to her Bridge Station, hoping that an alternate communication lines might be operational …

… but, before she reached the port, the unit burst, exploding into a blossom of sparks, flame, and plasma lightning! The explosion’s gush of heat washed over her, and she brought her arms up to protect herself, letting the gale force her back to the core railing.

"Dammit!" she spat, preferring good old-fashioned Earth slang for the benefit of the crew around her.

Opening her eyes, she slapped her hands to the rail and gripped it tight enough to leave the impressions of her fingertips.

Beneath her feet, Voyager trembled again.

Fearing the worst, she steadied herself against the core railing.

"What the hell is going on?!"

Undoubtedly, she trusted the only answer to that question would be found on the Bridge.

Before her, Seven of Nine watched in macabre, scientific astonishment as the Main Astrometrics Display, literally, cracked in half.

The unit suddenly hiccupped, belching vicious blue flame. The viewscreen disappeared, and a rolling ball of intense heat mixed with hundreds of glass, plastic, and metal shards took its place.

Without hesitation, the billowing mass reached toward her.

Raising her hands up for protection, she surrendered to the brunt force of the explosive blast. It lifted her off the floor from behind her counter, throwing her into the air, pitching her across the lab. Unsuspecting, she crashed into an already-rupturing wall console. Angrily, it doused white-hot tissue from ruptured neural gel-packs all over her, burning her exposed hands and neck. Rapid flames engulfed her, and she felt the intense heat of the hungry fire reach across her entire backside.

Crying out, her nerve-endings overloading with pain, Seven reflexively dropped to the cushioned deck with a resounding thud.

She didn’t need to look up to estimate that the lab was, virtually, dead.

Rolling over onto her belly, gritting her teeth to fight back pure physical anguish, she pushed herself up slowly and brought her feet under her crouching form. Momentarily captivated by the sight of her charred boot heels, she trusted that if she hadn’t fallen to the floor she might have been swallowed whole by plasma fire. Her human flesh would’ve disintegrated instantly. Certainly, at the very least, the flames would’ve melted her blue uniform onto singed flesh. She guessed that the only piece of her that may have survived would have been her remaining Borg implants, the few that Voyager’s Doctor couldn’t remove without the risk of killing her.

Righting herself, she faced the wall console that had broken her fall … of was that flight? Most of the visual interfaces were shattered, burning, or both. Surprised, she found one screen still intact. She pushed through the spitting flames and found that the monitor, somehow miraculously, remained operational. Ignoring the searing heat, she tapped control keys for a pinpointed external scan, but the console ignored her request, burping a negative retort at her. Persistent, she tried another sequence, the keys growing hot under her fingers. The new code worked, and she was granted access to an external view of the ship by cleverly bouncing a sensor impulse off what remained of Voyager’s defensive shielding. It wasn’t a perfect technical solution to gain a room with a view, but it worked.

Before the explosion had wounded Astrometrics, she had been tracking a mobile Grembionic Wave. The wave bore down on Voyager’s shields … and hell broke loose when the conflicting energies collided. Something … logically a large ship or several smaller craft … was undoubtedly cloaked behind that wave. Now, Seven theorized, whatever ship produced the Grembionic Wave had impacted with Voyager’s primary hull.

To her disappointment, the remaining monitor’s image lost cohesion and then blanked entirely.

Inspired by the defeat, she sought out and found an undamaged phaser lock and rerouted the scan through it, tapping several keys in the estimated sequence. Almost instantly, the screen flickered back to life, displaying a hazy portrait of what lurked outside. Squinting, she guessed the white, cylindrical blobs to be small attack crafts, but the resolution wasn’t powerful enough for her to discern any markings on the ships. One of the blobs attached itself to Voyager, and, instantly, explosive plating tore away from the smaller craft to reveal unbilicals that drilled into the Federation starship’s outermost hull.

Then, the viewer image lost focus dramatically. Accessing an optical relay, she tried refining the distortion, but her efforts proved fruitless.

As suddenly as the monitor had come alive, it died, the screen cracking in spiderweb fashion from exposure to the intense heat.

Ironically, Seven of Nine found herself blind while standing in the most advanced sensor imaging facility available with Starfleet technology.

Reaching up to her chest, she tapped her comm badge …

… and the Delta Shield fell, in three pieces, to the deck at her feet.

Her badge must have broken, cracked, perhaps the end result of her violent tumble.

Glancing up, she cried out over the crackling flames, "Computer, relay my communication to the Bridge!"

One second.

Two seconds.

Three seconds.

There came no reply.

Realizing that internal communications must’ve fallen victim to the collision, she pivoted, striding rapidly toward the exit, confident that the only destination holding answers to the questions that plagued her was only a few decks away.

Voyager’s Bridge.

The cacophony of explosions, crackling fires, and flame suppressants coming online was suddenly deafening, and Janeway coughed violently from the thick black smoke quickly filling the Bridge. Struggling to be heard, she shouted at the top of her lungs, "Report!"

With his acute Vulcan hearing, Tuvok recognized the voice of his commanding officer over the symphony of destruction. Fortunately, somehow, his station remained active, escaping failure despite a three destroyed panels. Pensively, he brushed at the lingering smoke that eluded environmental venting, and he glanced toward Ops. There, he saw Harry valiantly attempting to establish control over his sparking consoles.

"Captain!" Tuvok replied, also shouting over the commotion. "The Grembionic Wave dissipated the moment it collided with the ship’s starboard deflector shields. Apparently, the energies were incompatible. The collision must have damaged the Grembionic Generator as well as our starboard deflector systems!" On his main screen, he watched the small fleet of attack craft as they slipped through the hole in Voyager’s protective shields. "I am detecting six vessels attacking us!"

"Can we fire on them?"

"Negative," he answered, still shouting. "They are too close. An explosion at their proximity would compromise our safety."

"Helm!" Janeway cried. "Evasive maneuvers!"

"That would be useless, captain," Tuvok determined, watching closely and interpreting the data scrolling onto his Tactical readout. "Two of the attacking ships have magnetically attached themselves to Voyager’s hull!"

Bucking as the ship quaked beneath her, she braced for another impact. "Maybe we can shake them free! Helm, one-quarter impulse!"

Suddenly, the captain stared through the haze and found Ishanti Arelldo lying unconscious and bleeding on the floor.

Knowing how precious each second was in the heat of battle, Janeway launched herself out of the captain’s chair and into the helm.

"Captain!" she heard Tuvok’s voice, the Vulcan now struggling to be heard over the escalating roar of thunderous destruction around them. "The craft are attaching a sort of corrosive umbilical cord to the ship!"

"Purpose?"

"They appear to be draining power and deactivating all primary systems!"

Fighting against fate, Janeway pounded her commands into the blinking interface. She had to get her crew away from here … and fast … or risk losing everything.

As if bitter over the present circumstances, the helm only chirped angrily at her.

"Tuvok!" she yelled. "The helm isn’t responding!"

To her left, a fire erupted around the entrance to the Briefing Room as several power conduits hidden beneath the walls exploded. Grimacing, she leaned forward, trying desperately to avoid the rainfall of plating and charred insulation pelting her back. Sweat mixed with a hint of blood flowed freely down her face now, and she wiped her eyes clean in time to notice that the main viewer was dead.

"Tuvok!" she tried, ignoring the sweltering heat that simmered all around her. "What systems remain operational?"

There came no reply.

"Tuvok! Report!"

Furious, she whirled in time to hear the barrage of noise overcome by the rising chimes of multiple transporters engaged …

"What the hell – ?"

To her astonishment, she found her bridge was suddenly filling with Borg!

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