FEDERATION'S END
by E. L. Zimmerman

Chapter 08

Encountering no resistance from the Borg, Chakotay, Tuvok, and Seven of Nine cautiously wandered the Bridge, surveying the extent of the battle’s damage. By the looks of it, the Engineering Station was the victim of random phaser fire. Chakotay found all of its panels either dark or inoperable. Caressing the burn mark with her fingertips, Seven traced the scorched oval on the Briefing Room’s doors, another casualty from an errant phaser blast. Several ceiling plates had blown, and blackened insulation was hanging down everywhere. Tuvok listened as their footsteps crunched over shattered console screens. Together, the three managed to gather their wounded – B’Elanna, Harry, and Ishanti – before the Ops Station.

"That’s very curious," Janeway muttered softly.

"What’s that, captain?" Chakotay asked, leaning closer to her, assuming he had missed a command.

"Over there," she offered, nonchalantly tilting her head to her left.

The crew looked, and they found that the Sciences Station was occupied with three Borg who had taken up position there. One of them was seated in the main chair, and he kept pointing at the information rolling along the console’s primary screen.

"They’re looking for something," Chakotay offered.

"Yes," agreed Seven. "It is, indeed, a curious development."

"In the heat of battle," Janeway began, "did anyone happen to notice how the drones stayed clear of the Sciences Station?" She glanced over toward Commander Cole. The drone was busily attending to a comprehensive damage report handed to him by another of the Gallenian-Lemm.

With a smirk, the first officer remarked, "I can’t say that I took the time."

"I didn’t think about it at the time," the captain explained, crossing her arms. "I don’t think anyone could have. But it was almost as if the Borg wanted to make certain that the Sciences Station remained operable."

Again, Chakotay craned his neck. From where he stood, he couldn’t discern what information the Borg were scouring from Voyager's data files.

"And it would appear," she whispered, keeping her voice as low as possible, "that they’ve re-initiated our primary systems."

Theorizing aloud, Tuvok replied, "The power drain from the magnetic ships must’ve been highly localized."

"Agreed," she said, nodding.

"Captain?" Chakotay interrupted, reaching up to her forehead. He rubbed his thumb gently along the horizontal cut there. "You're hurt."

Under different circumstances, she might’ve taken issue with such an open display of affection for her … but, for the time being, she figured it wasn’t her ship anymore.

"I’m fine," she answered. "If anything, I’m more unnerved than I am weak."

"You're bleeding," Seven explained.

Concerned, the captain studied the bruised and battered face of the former drone. Suppressing a maternal instinct to touch Seven’s visible injuries, Janeway wondered how those she had met in combat had fared. In judging outward appearances, Seven arguably had fought the longest of the entire crew, sacrificing her very safety to protect the ship. When she had arrived on the Bridge during the battle, she must have rushed headlong into the carnage. Was it a dormant Borg instinct in her that had awaken, or was it fear of finding herself re-assimilated into the Collective that fueled her sheer recklessness?

'It makes perfect sense,' Janeway reasoned. ‘This crew helped her find her humanity once more. So, in hand-to-hand combat against her former captors, Seven had the most to lose.’ Not so very long ago, she had been a Borg drone. In fact, she had boarded Voyager under a ruse to capture the ship and incorporate the Starfleet technological and biological distinctiveness into the Collective. However, some brilliant strategizing on the part of the command crew had spared the ship and their lives … leaving Seven with a difficult choice: return to the Collective or stay aboard the fleeing Starfleet vessel.

She chose to stay.

Over the course of the last several months, the Doctor had physically returned her to as near human condition as was possible, ever fearful of disturbing lethal Borg technology beyond the limits of his understanding. Only a few hints of being a drone remained. Psychologically, however, Seven eventually found a latent humanity – a strong one, at that – that even the most complex drone programming couldn’t suppress forever. Once freed from the will of the Collective, she had accepted the principles of liberty, freedom of choice, and individuality … sometimes too a fault. As her effort today showed, perhaps the instinct to denounce Borg assimilation was stronger within her today than it would ever be.

Captain Janeway was increasingly thankful that the former drone was now serving Starfleet in an advisor role aboard this ship.

Scoffing at the gash in her forehead, the captain insisted, rather brazenly, "Stop doting over me. You’re all behaving like concerned relatives who arrived late to the funeral. I’ll be fine. Besides," she continued, lowering her tone, "there are obviously more pressing matters that require our attention."

"You’re the captain," Chakotay snickered.

"Right now what we need most is to get Seven, Ishanti, B'Elanna, and Harry to Sickbay. Let the Doctor heal their wounds. We’ll regroup as the command crew when time permits."

His polite sarcasm recovered, Chakotay winced at his senior officer. "How are we going to do that?"

"They only way prisoners know how," she replied. "We’re going to beg for mercy … with some degree of integrity."

Turning, Janeway tried, "Commander Cole, is it?"

Responding, the Borg pivoted to glare at her.

Facing the captain, he didn’t offer a word.

"Good," she continued, ignoring the fact that he was shunning her. "Now that we’re on speaking terms, I’m repeating my original request. I would like for you to allow us to have the most severely injured of my crew taken to sickbay." Before he could object, she held up a hand. "I give you my word, one officer to another, no one will put up any resistance to you and your … drones."

Flatly, Cole replied, "You are no longer an officer."

"Then let’s call it a professional courtesy," she bargained, "one shipmate to another."

"We are not shipmates."

"I can see you’re not going to make this easy on me."

"You are presently being escorted back to Besaria," Cole explained. "As is customary, the captain of any ship or species will be granted a full ambassadorship. As is customary, your crew will be inducted into Lemm Society."

"All right, then!" she stammered, placing her hands on her hips. "What sacrifice might I offer to get these crewmen the medical attention they need? I have already given you my word, commander, but apparently that’s not good enough." Gesturing at the wounded lying nearby, she pleaded, "Look at them! In the shape they’re in, they won't put up any resistance! They don’t have the strength to even consider it an option!"

Reacting, his eyepiece twirled, accompanied by a mechanical buzz. The Borg commander considered her quietly for a long moment.

"This is a ruse," he concluded. "Your request is denied."

"This isn’t any ruse!" she argued, taking a step closer toward him. "It’s a captain watching out for the well-being of the people she’s come to know as … family." Pausing, she forced herself to relax, instead offering him her best poker stare. "Or is that simple concept lost on you? Perhaps if you weren’t Borg, my actions would make perfect sense."

He didn’t react. He didn’t turn away. Merely, he declared, "Your request is denied."

Irate, she dared another step toward the drone.

"Commander," she emphasized, "your sentries can escort them. Certainly, they are more than capable of protecting themselves against my injured crew."

"Their injuries are irrelevant."

His indifference struck Janeway too close for comfort.

Hardening her stare at him, she stated firmly, "Their injuries are relevant to me! Now, I demand that you allow those members of my crew requiring attention to receive treatment in our ship’s Sickbay … at once."

"You are not in charge."

His words struck her like a bee sting on her face.

Left with no alternative, Janeway concluded that it was time for an open challenge to the Borg’s authority. It wasn’t safe. It was the only option.

Zero Option.

"Commander," she began, strategically choosing her words before she spoke, "if I am clear on the state of affairs here, then am I correct in asserting that I will become an ambassador on this … Besaria … of yours?"

"That is correct."

"And, as ambassador, do I report to you?"

"That is incorrect."

She stared at him. "Is it safe to assume that I report to the One?"

"That is correct."

"Then, I believe I am correct in asserting that you are not in charge here, either. I believe that the One is, and, as an ambassador, I wouldn’t want to have to bring to his attention the fact that my wishes were impolitely denied … by a drone."

Cole fell silent.

Sensing the advantage, she pressed onward. "I believe that the One might have something to say on the subject of your allowing the senseless deaths of servants yet to be inducted into this … what did you call it?"

"Lemm Society," he replied.

"Yes," she said softly. "This Lemm Society of his." Glancing around the Bridge, she added, "Perhaps we should contact him for to have your orders verified."

His posture remained stoic. "The all shall serve the One," Cole tried, "injured or whole."

Unable to keep quiet any longer, Chakotay stepped forward, barking angrily, "Would you mind telling me how a dead crew can serve any master?"

Methodically, Cole turned, focusing his eyepiece on the first officer for several, long seconds. Their eyes met and locked, staying on one another, sensor locks engaged and awaiting a command to fire. Due to his lack of emotional display, Janeway couldn’t figure out whether or not Cole was sizing up Chakotay for an assault or if the Borg were measuring him up with disgust.

To her surprise, Cole surrendered.

Casually, the drone gestured at two nearby sentries. "Take the crew members Janeway has indicated to this ship's Sickbay. If they offer resistance of any sort, kill them. Once you have completed this service, report back to this Bridge for reassignment."

Without so much as a nod of acknowledgement, the drones marched toward Janeway and her fallen crew.

"Captain," Seven interrupted, "my injuries are minor. With your permission, I request to remain on the Bridge."

Pleading, Janeway faced her. "Seven, by the looks of things, you may have a concussion. Besides, you’re conscious. The others are not. Therefore, I’m putting the care of Harry, B’Elanna, and Ishanti in your hands." Before the former drone could object, the captain added, "I’ll make it an order, Seven." The blonde crewmate glanced at the floor, disheartened by the development. "Trust me on this, Seven. Right now, it’s more important that you go with them. Help get them to Sickway. We’ll be fine. I give you my word."

Slowly, the former Borg conceded, and Janeway thought – for a moment – that she detected a faint grin on the crewmate’s lips. "Yes, captain."

Ignoring her own injuries, Seven bent down and easily lifted Harry into her arms. One Borg sentry did the same for the unconscious B'Elanna Torres, and the other did likewise for Ishanti, but the Zell’s arm fell loose. Quickly moving to assist, Chakotay picked up her arm and tucked in along her belly.

Emotionlessly, Cole stated, "The uninjured will remain still."

Without incident, the group exited through the turbolift doors.

Angered, Janeway turned back to the remaining members of her command crew.

"Captain, I’m agreeing more and more with what Tuvok said before we were boarded," Chakotay whispered.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "How do you mean, commander?"

"Threats? Intimidation? Then, compliance with our wishes?" Chakotay shook his head. "These are definitely not the Borg we've come to know."

"Agreed, and that's the understatement of the millennium," she replied, tenderly dabbing her right forefinger at the corner of her mouth. Somehow, in the past few minutes, she had begun to bleed from there as well.

"Captain," Tuvok finally broke his self-imposed silence. "We’re all agreed that these Borg are behaving – shall we say – unconventionally? They appear to be drones, but they’ve denounced having any link to the Collective." Nodding curtly, he asked, "Therefore, would you allow me to test a theory?"

'Zero Option,' she reminded herself.

"I was hoping there was a scenario playing itself out in that logical brain of yours, Tuvok." Glancing over his shoulder at Cole, she cautioned, "Do me one favor?"

Politely, he nodded.

"Don’t get yourself killed."

Shrugging, he replied flatly, "As always, I will endeavor to please you with my efforts, captain."

Pivoting, Tuvok approached the Borg leader. "Mr. Cole, I have a question," he announced.

Responding, Cole turned to face the approaching Vulcan.

"Questions are irrelevant."

"Nonetheless," Tuvok pressed, "I would like to ask for your designation."

"I am Cole," the Borg replied.

Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "As my captain tried to obtain from you earlier, I am more interested in knowing your Borg designation."

Cole’s mechanical eyepiece whirled, its pupil glowing a deep, cerulean blue.

"Borg designations are irrelevant."

Calmly, the Vulcan nodded, crossing his hands behind his back.

"Mr. Cole, it has my understanding that Borg drones are assigned to functional work units. These units are interconnected to the Collective's operational hierarchy." Patient, Tuvok studied the commander’s face. "It has also been my experience that the Borg maintain a distinct affinity in determining that which is and that which is not … relevant. As you may deduce from our conversation to this point, the Voyager and its crew are well versed in encounters with the Borg," Tuvok continued, "and we have come to accept that there are a great many attributes of our quality of life that are fundamentally irrelevant … from the Borg's perspective." Indifferently, he nodded back toward his gathered shipmates. "For example, we seek to communicate. You, no doubt, have noticed this crew engaged in dialogue. However, allowing prisoners of war to speak openly amongst themselves is dangerously illogical." Tuvok stiffened, tilting his head slightly as he considered the drone. "Mr. Cole, has it occurred to you that we might be plotting an insurrection?"

Concentrating on the tactical screen before him, Cole replied, "Your captain has sworn her allegiance to the One."

"Yes," Tuvok agreed. "She has, at that. However, speaking in my capacity as ship’s Chief of Security, I would argue that the practice of allowing prisoners to openly exchange information relating to their captors and to their captivity is an incalculable liability."

The drone remained still.

"Would you agree, Mr. Cole?"

Unmoved, the Borg simply lifted his head and focused on the main viewer.

"You are Vulcan," the drone finally spoke.

"I am, sir."

"It has been the experience of the Borg that Vulcans prefer meaningless conversation," Cole explained. "Your observations are irrelevant."

Finally, Tuvok raised an eyebrow, betraying his Vulcan heritage by showing a pleasant surprise. "Mr. Cole, may I ask … what is relevant?"

"Allegiance to the One."

The Vulcan nodded. "I anticipated your answer."

"That is of no consequence."

"That is why I am offering myself to you for assimilation."

Abruptly, Cole stood rigid.

Janeway gasped.

From where she stood, she noticed Cole's human eye pivoting rapidly from left to right, displaying an inner turmoil. Beside her, she felt Chakotay tense, ready to spring into action to defend his friend.

Slowly, Cole relaxed. He gripped the Bridge railing with his one hand. Without facing the Vulcan, he replied, "Assimilation … is irrelevant."

Respectfully, Tuvok dipped his head a single time. "I thank you, sir."

Calmly, Tuvok returned to the Ops Station.

Incredulous, Chakotay demanded, "What was that all about?"

"As I had stated, commander. I was testing a theory," Tuvok answered.

"And?" Janeway asked.

"Captain, I believe that it would be premature to conclude that our aggressors are not Borg. Their speech patterns, their associative two-dimensional logic, and their appearance are identical to the Borg we have engaged previously." He shifted his feet slightly. "However, I would conclude that they are, rather, Borg, in every way ... save one."

"One?"

The Vulcan dropped his hands to his side. "Philosophically."

"Philosophically?" Chakotay pressed. "Tuvok, since when have we taken the time to debate philosophy with a drone?"

"In short, these Borg appear guilty of only one common attribute that I am able to detect," the Vulcan explained. "Simply, they fail to act on their core programming. This leads me to the only question we haven't asked nor entertained."

"What is it?" Janeway asked.

"Namely, how have they been modified? For that, I can offer only speculation."

"Yes?" she pried.

"Quite simply, the One has altered them," Tuvok concluded. He glanced at his captain and first officer, trusting full well that they were experiencing the same curiosity he was regarding his theory.

"Whatever or whomever the One may be."

That’s when Janeway felt the ship buckle beneath her feet.

"Commander Cole," she heard Mandakorr’s voice cry from the helm, "we are under attack!"

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