FEDERATION'S END
by E. L. Zimmerman

Chapter 22

Her mind centered on containing her increasingly notorious Klingon temper, B'Elanna Torres used a trick Tom Paris had taught her. He called it ‘distraction therapy,’ an approach he clearly endorsed based on the amount of free time he spent ‘distracting’ himself through creating ever-more-elaborate holodeck pursuits. Simply put, distraction therapy challenged the sufferer to lessen his or her undesired feelings or emotions by masking it with an even stronger, more pleasant mental stimulus. So, in her mind’s eye, B’Elanna imagined the conduits, the pathways, the configurations, and the variables of the warp mainframe power inducers tracked from subprocessors A367 to A368. There were dozens of fragile connections between this, her favorite power junction. The mental picture could, if needed, keep her occupied for hours.

She hoped.

It was a simple trick, but, so far, it was working. She marched into the Lemm Sciences Complex. For the first time since arriving on Besaria, she was reporting to her workstation promptly. As anticipated, Seven of Nine met her at the main entrance.

"Lieutenant," her crewmate greeted her.

"Good morning, Seven."

"It is agreeable to see you this morning."

B'Elanna offered her a curt smile. "I’m just here to do my part for the team."

Curious, Seven tilted her head. "I fail to see the analogy."

"I'm not surprised."

Briskly, the two strode together through the complex, especially careful not to bump into the wayward Gallenian-Lemms. ‘They love to chit-chat about their passion for power induction,’ B’Elanna mused, watching as Lemms of all shapes, colors, and sizes busily rushed to their respective posts.

"Is it safe to assume, lieutenant," Seven began, "that your timely arrival this morning signifies your acceptance of the captain's transmitted request last evening?"

She filled her mind’s eye with the image of two power invertors coupling together with the customary magnetic ‘click.’ Peacefully smiling to herself, B'Elanna nodded. "I got the message loud and clear. You?"

"I concurred with the captain’s order," Seven agreed.

"Captain Janeway wants me to jump when these Borg overlords say 'jump,'" Voyager’s chief engineer said. "As far as I’m concerned, I'm no longer interested in asking ‘how high’ or ‘for how long.’ I’ve been ordered to jump by my captain, so I'll jump."

"Lieutenant," Seven tried, keeping perfect stride with the half-Klingon woman, "you’ll pardon my reluctance to accept your explanation at face value. Rather, it has been my observation aboard Voyager that, on occasion, you’ve been known to take issue with the captain's directives."

"However could you notice?" B’Elanna muttered.

She wasn’t fond of Seven. She hadn’t been, since she had come aboard Voyager under less-than-ideal circumstances, but she didn’t exactly dislike her shipmate, either. It was a relationship that ultimately boiled down to mutual respect, and that was it.

"Regardless of your opinion," Seven pressed, "you have always followed the captain's orders."

"Thank you."

"Would I be correct in assuming that you’ll adhere to this missive, as well?"

The half-human, half-Vulcan smiled. "Seven!" she cried. "Relax! The day's only just begun!"

Casually brushing their way past through the scurrying Lemm, B'Elanna saw that they were en route to colliding with her Borg supervisor, Krynn. At her hands, over the past few days, he had suffered several beatings.

Intense beatings.

While the captain didn’t mention her by name in last evening’s communiqué, she felt quite certain that her efforts were the cause for the message. Perhaps it was her Klingon pride.

Gradually, B’Elanna sensed the distraction therapy was failing. She felt herself slipping back into the unpredictable emotional abyss that was her explosive Klingon nature. Though flawed, it occasionally brought her great joy … while bring others tremendous bruising.

Smirking devilishly, she thought, ‘Who knows what the day will bring?’

Stopping directly in front of Krynn, she flashed him a wide grin.

She wasn't certain, but she thought she detected a glint of fear in the Borg’s visible, human eye.

"Top o’ the morning to you, Krynn," she cooed.

"Why, Commander Chakotay!" Neelix cried happily, shuffling uneasily several empty bowls he carried in his hands. He nearly dropped them all, but, thinking quickly, he leaned back slightly to tilt the mass onto his chest. "I can't tell you how thrilled I am to finally brush shoulders with another of the crew! How wonderful it is to see you!"

"Well, Mr. Neelix," Chakotay replied, taking a seat at an open table in the Generatrix cafeteria. Although largely deserted, the place was starting to fill with the usual morning work crews. Tuvok had been chatting out front with several Lemm, and Chakotay thought he’d get an early start on the breakfast crowd. "Don't tell me that you'll actually be serving me today?"

Neelix laughed, bobbing his hairy head as he did. "I guess what they say on Earth is as true in the Delta Quadrant! Some things never change!"

"Where've the Borg been hiding you?"

"Let's see," the Tallaxian began, settling the empty bowls on the table and eagerly taking a seat across from his senior officer. "My first duty assignment was in the Spaceport. From the Voyager's crew manifest, Commander Grayson learned that I had for several years operated and, rather frequently I'm sorry to admit, repaired my own space vessel. So, I was put to work performing modifications on repulsorcraft that the Lemm could possibly make use of in the fields, while harvesting the planet’s indigenous fruits and vegetables. They have an entire fleet – well, if you call eighteen untested craft a fleet – and, sadly, they’ve been broken down for years." With a hand cupping his mouth, he explained, "I personally concluded that it’s from all of the moisture." Neelix shook his head. "Apparently, they were never well maintained, and this ruler … what’s his name … the One … he refused to allow the Lemm to utilize some of his own automation in their general upkeep. Well, despite the fact that their design specs were illegible, I did try to configure a means to convert the moisture into coolant. But, faced with unintelligible specs, the best I could do for them was to get several of them operational. I could get them to hover about six inches off the platform on their own limited power." Tiredly, he plopped his chin in his hand. "Guidance? Oh, ho, ho, don’t talk to me about guidance! See, eventually the craft crashed into one another, and now they’re derelict. Basically.

"After that, Grayson had me assigned to the Borg medical facility," he continued, clearly excited to finally spin his fantastic yarns to a colleague once more. "I was given the responsibility of assisting with modifications to failing Borg drones. Why, commander, I didn’t realize how frequently these Borg require preventative maintenance!" He held up a finger. "I do have a theory about that. From what I hear, the One doesn’t allow them much regeneration time." He leaned forward and smiled. "Thank goodness that our captain allows Seven all of the time she needs!" He sighed, thoughts of his days aboard Voyager weighing heavily on his soul. "Well, anyway, let's just say ... I didn't have the stomach for the … re-attaching of calibrated prosthetics. Nasty smell. And the blood? All the colors? Don’t get me started!

"So," he concluded, "this morning, Grayson had me report here, food detail, for the Generatrix labor crews."

"My, my," Chakotay replied, chuckling genuinely. "Neelix, you've had your own little adventure."

"Never a moment's rest, commander." Leaning closer still, Neelix concluded, "Between you and I, I'm feeling particularly lucky about this duty assignment. Think of all of the work Grayson could've drummed up? Scrubbing ship hulls. Plucking the native fruit. Sweeping the town square. But look where I ended up? Right where I belong! I’m not exactly a chef here, but it’s as close as it gets!" Again, he pointed. "I’m telling you, it's a sign, commander! I'm absolutely certain of it!" He sat back and casually whispered, "In fact, I have a very good feeling about today."

"You always were the optimist."

"Mark my words, commander," the Talaxian offered, rising from his chair. "You just wait and see. Today is the day! Now, what can I get you to eat?"

Outside of her quarters, Janeway halted and faced Cole.

"Don't you have an execution to see to?"

"The all serve the One," he agreed, turning slowly and heading down the massive corridor.

The captain glanced at Tom, standing guard at her chamber door. After ensuring that her attaché was out of eyeshot, she nodded for him to follow into her chambers.

"Ambassador?" she heard.

To her surprise, Cole had returned from around the corner. He approached down the length of the hallway, walking very slowly, deliberately, as if physically weighted down by the task the One had assigned. As he strode, he studied her face intently. For what purpose, she couldn’t fathom.

Finally, he stopped before her.

"The One has provided you with his theory on the nature of extinction," Cole stated.

Confused, she replied, "Yes."

"Do you support this philosophy?"

"What do you mean?"

Cole glanced at the floor momentarily. "Has it been your experience that extinction is a universal constant?"

Grimacing, she shrugged. Crossing her arms, she asked, "What does your programming tell you?"

"The Borg assimilate biological and cultural distinctiveness -"

"Let me rephrase that," she interrupted, holding up a hand, signaling for his silence. "What do you think about it? Do you believe, Cole, that everything ... every species, every planet, every living creature exists for the sole purpose of being eradicated by a greater power?"

He looked up, and she found the drone’s expression completely blank, void of emotion. Finally, he conceded, "Ambassador, I have no opinion on the matter."

Sighing heavily, she said, "Then, I’m not about to give you one. As I said, commander, you have an execution to carry out. I’ll see you aboard Voyager."

Before he could reply, she disappeared into her quarters.

"Captain?" Tom asked as entering the room after a few moments had passed.

"Tom," she began, "I'm afraid that I have to ask you and the Doctor to step even further into harm's way."

Smiling under his Borg prosthetics, he joked, "Well, captain, the all do serve the One. In this case, I’ll consider you ‘the One.’ What's the order, ma’am?"

"The Pulse Cannon," she said.

He drew in a quick breath.

"From what I understand in reviewing the data provided to all members of the Quorum, it’s housed on the top two levels of the Generatrix," she explained, ignoring his emotional response. "I need for you and the Doctor to somehow take control of it." With an expression of concern, she walked over and stood before him. "Tom, there's a Borg Armada of nine cubes on its way here. I'll be commanding Voyager. Cole will be serving as my first officer, and the ship will be crewed by some of the Lemm. The One obviously sees that it’s too dangerous to have Voyager’s regular crew aboard, so he’s had Harry training others to serve in your absence." She brought her hand to her mouth, cupping it for a moment as she calculated a strategy. "I have no doubt that Voyager is to serve as a decoy. The real destruction will come from the Pulse Cannon. We’ll only be luring the Borg into the trap, much like that debris field did to us. My guess is, while the Borg are distracted by us, the One is intent upon destroying them with that cannon."

She pointed at him. "You must use whatever means necessary to secure that weapon before the Borg assimilate the ship ... or you, the Doctor, and the others will be stranded here eternally ... under that planetary defensive shield."

"But I thought you said that One was going to destroy the Borg?"

"Somehow," she began, "I can't be sure as to why ... I have a strong gut feeling that this isn’t going to work. The Pulse Cannon destroyed the Borg Sphere with no difficulty, but I’m not certain it’ll pack the same punch against nine cubes. Still, I don’t believe that even the Borg possess the firepower to penetrate this planet’s defensive bubble."

Again, Tom smiled a boyish grin that looked terribly uncharacteristic under his Borg make-up. "Then the Doctor and I will just have to find some way to take that cannon."

"If you control that cannon," she cautioned, "you can control the One. As best as I can tell, it’s his only weapon. Once I’ve lured the Borg away, I want you to use it to destroy the planetary shield. If necessary, use it to wipe out the Borg Army on the surface of this planet." She stared into his one visible eye. "Tom, I want you to release every species that’s been held captive here all of these years."

Nodding, he turned for the exit. "On my way, ma’am. I won't let you down. Good luck to you, Captain."

"No," she muttered to herself. "Good luck to us all."

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