FEDERATION'S END
by E. L. Zimmerman

Chapter 14

Waiting in the main corridor outside the Grand Hall, Cytal stood arrogantly, his arms crossed, leaning against the stone wall, his head turned to face the opening doors. Confident, he smirked at the trio making their exit. As soon as Cole and Packell closed the doors behind them, the Iajohnn senator remarked, "I understand how strongly rebellion runs in your family bloodline, Packell, but you made a bold first strike today at inciting mutiny."

She was going to protest, but, to her astonishment, Janeway watched as Cole reacted with lightning speed. Pivoting away from the massive doors, he reached out as if it were a reflex motion, clamping his cybernetic claw instantly around the orator’s throat.

Coughing, protested, kicking, Cytal sputtered, "What do you think you’re doing, you mindless drone?"

Clearly, by his intonation, the Iajohh intended the word ‘drone’ as an insult to Cole. Suddenly, the senator found himself lifted from the floor, his feet swinging, twitching feverishly beneath him, his body contorting as he tried frantically to free himself from the Borg’s clutches.

"Put me down!" he coughed out his gagging words. "Put me down … this instant!"

Twisting his head around, Cole stared emotionlessly at the dangling senator. His eyepiece made one complete revolution as he studied the alien’s purple visage quickly matching the amber shade of his ceremonial robes. "The One dispatched the Quorum with the understanding that all senators were to return to their respective quarters."

"I SAID PUT ME DOWN!"

"You have failed to comply," Cole added. "Violations of a directive from the One are punishable by extermination."

"WITH THE ONE’S BLESSING, YOU FOOL, AND HE’LL NEVER BLESS ANYTHING YOU WISH TO DO TO ME!"

"You may be correct," the drone added simply.

Reaching up, clasping his hands around the Borg’s massive forearm, digging his fingertips into the black implants he found there, Cytal calming, perhaps weakened from the sudden loss of oxygen. Still, he managed to spit out, "You had better put me down at once … or I’ll have you dismantled on charges of insubordination to a member of the Quorum -"

"You may try," the Borg agreed, sliding his face closer to the senator, now coughing violently for air between his verbal attacks on the sentry. "My service record is available for review by members of the Quorum. You know that my performance is sufficient for demotion."

"I’LL HAVE YOU KILLED!"

Stepping forward, placing a hand on the drone’s shoulder, Packell ordered the drone to release the Iajohhn senator. "He isn’t worth it, Cole," the junior senator added, whispered so only the Borg and Janeway could hear. "Like all of the orators who have come before him, Iajohh’s time is limited. I have no doubt."

Without warning, Cole opened his clamp.

Cytal dropped to the floor, slamming hard into the bare stone. He collapsed into a ball, coughing and hacking for air.

"So," he gasped, looking up at the trio standing over him, "this is the way you treat a colleague! You!" He pointed at the Trakill. "You consort with an out-of-control Borg … and a barely-clothed, insubordinate female!" Grasping his neck, wincing, he rubbed the swollen muscles, hoping to relieve the pain. "You’re no better than your father, Packell. You never will be! And, mark my words, you’ll suffer the same fate!"

Calmly, the Trakill nodded toward Cole. "You have your duty to attend to, commander. Escort Ambassador Janeway back to her quarters. She has much reading to catch up on, as I’ve had the last two months worth of Foundation activity loaded to her info-LINK." Nodding, he added, "Please show her how to access the information, and, ambassador?" He glanced over at Janeway. "I occupy the chambers directly above yours. When I have returned to my quarters, I will cry down to you so that we may make arrangements suitable for your indoctrination."

Pointing at the still seated Cytal, she asked, "What about this mess?"

Smiling, the Trakill nodded. "Leave the orator to me."

The palace halls were as empty, dank, and colorless as Janeway remembered upon first entering the palace. Dull fluorescents threw down scant light on their bare surroundings.

"This place sure could use some color," she muttered as she walked.

Walking in step behind her, Cole replied, "Color is irrelevant."

"Cole, Cole, Cole," she sighed. "How little you understand Species 5618! You say that you understand us, but my guess is that you've been Borg so long that you've forgotten what it means to be another but a hybrid of flesh and machine."

Expecting a mild protest, she instead heard the Borg stop.

She turned to him.

His face was expressionless. "I am not human. I am Borg."

"Curious," she replied. "Not ‘we’ are Borg?"

"The One severed our link to the Collective."

She rested her sole hand on her hip. "Doesn't that anger you?"

Again, she watched as Cole's sole human eye pivoted.

'He's trying to reason,' she thought, 'but he can't find the method from the madness.'

"Commence movement to your quarters," he finally ordered, "or I will take you there forcibly."

"Commander, I don't even know where my quarters are!" she admitted. "You brought me here, whisked me from the spaceport to meet his Highness, and, when I awoke, I had this prosthetic attached to me! If I have quarters, I haven't even seen them!"

"I will provide directions," he explained. "Commence movement at once."

Tilting her head, Janeway couldn’t help but smile at the drone. "You know, your link to the Collective may’ve been severed, but trust me when I say that you possess that the same bubbly Borg personality." She turned and started walking again. "You know what really gets me, Cole? It's you and your Borg Army. Why do you follow the One? I can understand those other species. By Borg standards, they're weak. They’re powerless against his will. There’s no doubt in my mind that not a single species here could mount a defense suitable to overthrow the Quorum, let alone the One. But, surely there are enough Borg sentries on this planet to rise up and overthrow a single shapeshifter."

"Ambassador, what knowledge do you have concerning shapeshifters?"

She sniffed back at him. "What makes you think I know anything? Or, if I did, why would I share it with you?"

"CCF Omega 3-5-1."

'Classified Command File Omega 351.'

Janeway stopped dead in her tracks.

Infuriated, she whirled on Cole.

"How dare you!"

"What knowledge do you have concerning shapeshifters?"

"You’ve tapped into the Voyager’s central computer processors," she challenged, controlling her anger. "Haven’t you?"

"I will not ask you again."

"And I will not answer you ever."

Cole tried to grab her, to take hold of her, but she countered with her Borg prosthetic. Suddenly, their mechanical limbs clashed! Sparks erupted into the air, showering the both of them in their luminous rainfall. Attacking, she pressed forward, pushing down with her prosthetic, but the commander held his ground. Somehow, in the struggle, she had activated the blades gracing the tip of her Borgified arm. She wasn't exactly sure how, but they were whirled and whining feverishly. Afraid she would inadvertently injure the Borg, she yanked the prosthetic away, and her blades died.

In response, Cole lowered his arm, greeting her with an expression of bemusement.

"How do you know about CCF Omega 351?" she demanded.

"It is an encrypted file indexed within the Voyager computer core," he replied.

"That much I know," she countered. "But, it's classified and encrypted. It’s for the captain's eyes only." Glowering at him, she challenged, "You've been onboard the Voyager, searching our files."

"I have not."

"Then who has?"

"A friend?"

"A friend?" she asked, sounding incredulous. "Cole, you’re a Borg. You don’t have friends.

"Another drone."

"What’s his name?"

"Jorta’Rel."

As it had grown increasingly heavy, she lowered her prosthetic. "What does Jorta’Rel want with Voyager’s encrypted files?"

"CCF Omega 351 references shapeshifters."

"CCF Omega 351," she taunted. "Cole, you have a true shapeshifter within your grasp. Anything that might be contained within that file, I have no doubt that you already know."

"Our link, severed from the Collective, has posed tremendous difficulty in deciphering CCF Omega 351."

"Then leave it alone," she replied flatly.

"We need the information."

"For what purpose?"

By the expression on his face, she trusted he didn’t want to answer the question. "We need the information."

She smiled. "Poor little Borg. It's a shame to hear that you're experiencing difficulty with inferior Federation technology."

Coldly, Cole stated, "CCF Omega 351 will be decrypted."

"Then why are you asking me for its contents?"

Cole's glare hardened, turning fully emotionless again.

"You are to return to your quarters."

"Answer my question," she ordered, "or we go right back to the One with your request."

Suddenly, Cole glanced at the floor. Not facing her, he repeated, "You are to return to your quarters."

"Cole, I know what's in CCF Omega 351," she replied. "The question is ... why are you asking for my help?"

Mechanically, the sentry glanced up. "You are to return to your quarters at once. Failure to do so will result in the immediate cessation of your life signs."

Turning, she walked briskly ahead of him. "Don't try to fool me, Cole. You don't have the authority to play games with life and death around here."

For what must’ve been several hours, B’Elanna did her best to maintain the level of professionalism she knew Captain Janeway would’ve expected, if not ordered.

But, enough was enough.

Giving in to her anger, B’Elanna clasped her white-knuckled hands across the back of Krynn’s skull plating. With all of her Klingon might, she smashed his head down hard against the stone floor. He tried to resist her, lifting his head up to find his bearings, but she slapped it down again and again and again and …

… again.

"You filthy Borg!" she howled at the Sciences Complex commander. Around her, the other Lemms, uncertain as to an appropriate response, slowly rose from their chairs and stood, watching the fight with mild interest and amusement.

"I told you [slam] … if you hurt any of us again [slam] … you’d get the same treatment back [slam]!"

Consciousness slipping away, Krynn went limp. She thought she heard something crunch like breaking glass, and she wondered if she had shattered his Borg eyepiece. She felt his body relax beneath hers, and, cataleptic, he relaxed, his limbs flopping across the floor.

B’Elanna couldn’t believe her ears.

The drone was actually snoring.

Panting, spitting blood from the cut in her bottom lip, she struggled against exhaustion to her feet. Teetering slightly, she steadied herself against the nearest wall, and she heaved in several gulps of Besaria’s moist air.

"Let that be a lesson to you," she said.

Then, she heard the drumming of Borg footsteps, and she knew that, however many of them there were, they undoubtedly were coming for her. Keeping one arm against the wall, she slowly turned her head around and saw three sentries marching directly at her. By the expressions on their faces, she trusted that things were about to get ugly.

Very ugly.

"This," she began, righting herself from the wall so that she could grant them a warrior’s greeting, "can’t be good for my public relations."

"What are you doing?!"

Maloneus, the Yyniverck-Lemm directing the Pulse Cannon maintenance team, stepped forward, ducking his head to avoid having it snagged on several large dangling black cables. Gently, he pushed Chakotay aside, and he yanked the fiber cords out of the targeting interface, their ends sparking and popping angrily.

"You fool!" Maloneus shouted into Chakotay’s sweat-lined face. "If His Highness had called for a single blast from the cannon, you would’ve killed us all and perhaps destroyed the entire Generatrix!"

Smirking mildly, Chakotay asked, "Is that all?"

Holding up the fibers, the Yyniverck explained, "You were routing the targeting feeds to generate a power inhibitor! That barrier would’ve caused the energy to ignite this entire system! This entire room would’ve vaporized instantly!"

His expression unchanged, Chakotay glanced innocently at the cable mounts in Maloneus’s hand. "Who would’ve thought?"

Perturbed, the Lemm dropped his arm and lowered his eyes on the Voyager crewman. Tilting his head, he asked, "You knew what you were doing all along, didn’t you?"

Meeting his glance head-on, Chakotay replied, "I have to admit that I had a pretty good idea of how to sabotage the targeting system." Casually, he crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall. "Actually, what I would like to have achieved was a complete systems failure of Besaria City, but I just can’t seem to grasp the mechanics of your distribution nodes. If I could manage that, a single burst from the Pulse Cannon – with the magnitude of energy you employ here – would actually disintegrate every power relay and conversion conduit within … say … well, this entire city, the Spaceport included." Nodding at the nearest control console, he added, "Would you like to give me a hand?"

His eyes wide as stars, Maloneus replied, "I most certainly would not!"

"Come on," the commander chided. "It’ll be fun."

"Fun?!" The Yyniverck pulled his head back so that he could take in the Voyager-Lemm in an entire view. "Are you feeling well?"

"I’d be feeling much better if I could figure out those distribution nodes."

Finished, the crew chief pointed toward the exit. "Get yourself … and take the Vulcan with you … and get down to the primary maintenance bay. Maybe some back-breaking coupler hauling will provide you suitable distraction from such treachery!"

"You’re the boss," Chakotay said.

"Yes, I am!"

As he headed toward the archway, the Voyager-Lemm shot over his shoulder, "Think about what I said. A power outage to this entire city might give everyone a new outlook on life. At the very least, it would be good for a laugh."

"Mandakorr," Harry whispered to the nearby form crouched inside the Jefferies tube with him, "how long have you been here?"

Curious, the Gallenian looked up from the circuitry he was fumbling with behind the open panel. "Here? In the ship?"

Smiling, the ensign chuckled at the alien. "Not here," he replied. "I know how long you’ve been here. I was wondering how long you’ve been trapped on Besaria?"

"Trapped?"

"Yes," Harry said. "You’re being held against your will. You’re trapped here … aren’t you?"

Returning to the converters he was trying to replace, Mandakorr explained, "You don’t understand our society, Harry Kim. I am here because our ruler, Alandamesh, swore allegiance to the One. When one’s ruler – such as your captain – swears allegiance, then the leader’s people must serve Lemm Society for the duration of their existence."

Yanking the shorted communications coil from his panel’s interface, he answered, "Sounds like imprisonment to me."

"Really, Harry Kim," the Gallenian argued, finally loosening the converter and pulling it from its socket, "it is not as bad as it would seem. As a matter of fact, I believe that I lead a rather good life."

"How do you figure?"

"Well," he tried, "I’m a Gallenian, through and through. My people – perhaps you did not know this as you’ve yet to encounter us – travel space. We left our homeworld centuries ago in favor of journeying through Channelspace."

From his pack, Harry retrieved a new comm coil. He removed the protective housing around its socket nodes, and, for good measure, he blew along the exposed metal links. "Channelspace? What’s that?"

Surprised, Mandakorr glanced over at the ensign. "You mean, you’ve never heard of Channelspace either?"

"Not that I can recall."

The comm coil slipped easily into its socket, and Harry heard the pleasing sound of the electromagnetic lock enabling.

"Why, Harry Kim, then Channelspace may very well be the last, best hope for your craft’s long journey home!"

His curiosity aroused, the ensign closed his Engineering pack and faced the Gallenian. "What do you mean?"

To their mutual surprise, the nearby hatch suddenly ground open. Together, they turned and found Jorta’Rel studying them.

"Report," the Borg said.

Sighing, Harry said, "Another minute, and we’re finished in here, sir. We’ve replaced all of the faulty communications coils, and you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve adjusted the environmental controls to increase the temperature a few degrees." He grimaced. "While it may be a bit warm for me, I understand that the Borg prefer a touch of heat in the ships."

Smiling, Jorta explained, "This is not my ship. This ship shall serve the One."

Shrugging, Harry glanced over at the still-open control panel. "If you like, I can switch the temperature back."

"Irrelevant."

"Agreed."

"You and Mandakorr are finished in here," the sentry explained. "Report to your ship’s mess hall. Obtain sustenance. Afterwards, rest."

Surprised, Harry again looked at the drone. "Sir?"

Jorta nodded. "You have done exemplary work. This ship is presently at ninety-eight percent full power. All primary systems are functioning within optimum parameters. You shall be rewarded."

Unaccustomed to a Borg considering his well-being, Harry glanced over at Mandakorr. Simply, the Gallenian nodded.

"We will test your repairs in the morning," Jorta continued. "You require sleep in order to function accordingly. At dawn, at the order of His Highness, we will depart Besaria for a brief trial run."

Unable to think of anything more to say, Harry started toward the hatchway. "Thank you, sir."

When he reached the opening, he started to climb out … until he felt the Borg’s hand under his shoulder helping him out of the Jefferies tube and depositing him upright on the deck.

"Thank you," the ensign said, his voice hinting of his surprise.

"You are welcome," Jorta replied.

Then, the drone turned and left.

Glancing back into the tube at the Gallenian making his way toward the exit, Harry asked, "Mandakorr, have the Borg on your world always behaved with … civility?"

Tossing his work pack ahead of him, the tired alien reached out through the opening and took Harry’s extended hand. He edged himself out of the cylinder, planting his feet firmly on the floor.

"Jorta’Rel is different," Mandakorr explained. "He comes from Talesee Palace. I do not know how long he served there, but that means he has grown accustomed to dealing with the members of the One’s quorum." The alien slapped his thighs, a gesture Harry had come to understand as common. "As any representative to a ruling class would, the senators do expect treatment with a measure of … ‘courtesy’ would be the appropriate word."

"This place is so … unpredictable," Harry explained.

"Agreed," Mandakorr conceded.

Reaching up, the ensign patted the Lemm on the shoulder. "Well, I give you my word that I’ve encountered hundreds of Borg while serving Voyager. That Jorta’Rel just helped me out of the Jefferies tube."

"And?"

Harry shrugged. "I can’t get over the fact that the only place I ever expected a drone to send me was to an early grave."

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