FEDERATION'S END
by E. L. Zimmerman

Chapter 30

Gracefully, savoring the feeling, Captain Janeway picked up a steaming cup of Rigellian tea with her right hand ... her flesh and blood right hand. As she had suspected, her shoulder ached, stinging from the pain of stress and strain, but it worked. The Doctor had made top priority of removing her Borg prosthetic, and he had offered her something to relieve the pain. She declined, somewhat foolishly wanting to experience what it meant to be fully flesh-and-blood again. After listening to her tale of survival, the EMH complimented her on having the human instinct to use Borg technology to ultimately free herself from captivity.

'I'd like to think that it was the best of both worlds,' she told him.

Sitting behind her ready room console, she quietly sipped her tea, the muscles in her shoulder twitching slightly.

The door signaled an arrival.

"Come," she replied.

The Doctor and Seven of Nine entered her ready room.

"I want to thank you both for coming so quickly," she offered, setting her tea down and reclining in her chair.

"Captain, I should be in Astrometrics," Seven protested. "At this point, we can't be certain that the Borg have left the Besarian system. With your permission, I'd like to apply an additional series of long range scans -"

"Seven," the captain interrupted, "I'm re-assigning you to the doctor's care. Youíll be answering to his orders."

Puzzled, she frowned at the shipís senior officer. "For how long?"

"Until further notice."

Raising an eyebrow, the former Borg stood firm. "Captain, this would be a tremendous waste of my faculties."

"You're not his nurse, Seven," Janeway replied, smiling slyly.

"Then ... I do not understand."

"Let me be of some assistance," the Doctor interjected. "Captain Janeway has reviewed with me, at length, what she learned from this nefarious creature calling himself the One. Massive ego, from what I understand, although I never met the man." He faced Seven and said, "Apparently, he convinced the captain that the energy used to create the Besaria shielding and the Pulse Cannon was, in fact, Twelfth Power Energy."

Seven stared at him. "Doctor, you are stating the obvious. I am familiar with the facts of our captivity. As I served in the Sciences Complex, I grew familiar with the mechanics of Twelfth Power Energy."

"Do the Borg utilize it?" Janeway asked. "In any way?"

"No," Seven answered simply. "While the Collective has knowledge of Twelfth Power Energy, I am not aware of any circumstances wherein they actively harness its potential."

"Why is that?"

Inhaling deeply, Seven thought about the question before she answered. "Unknown. My suspicion would be that Twelfth Power Energy is highly difficult to control. Consequently, the Borg would've forfeited any application."

"What you're saying is," the captain pressed, "is that, to your knowledge, the Borg are aware of Twelfth Power Energy, but they are not interested in assimilating the technology for their own use?"

Perplexed, the former drone stood absolutely still.

"Seven, doesn't that strike you as a bit out-of-character for the Borg?"

Slowly, she conceded, nodding firmly. "It would, captain."

"According to what the One told me," Janeway explained, "he acquired the ability to utilize Twelfth Power Energy from Borg command files located inside a drone's individual programming."

Shaking her head, Seven firmly replied, "That is highly unlikely."

"Why is that?"

"I would possess awareness of those files. They would have been part of my own matrix."

Glancing down at her tea, the captain closed her right hand around the cup to feel its warmth. "Not if they were encrypted," she countered.

"Encrypted?"

"Thatís right."

"For what purpose?"

"That's the quandary," the Doctor interrupted once more. "Why would the Collective program encrypted files Ė albeit dormant ones Ė into their drones?"

"There is no logic to that question, Doctor," Seven answered flatly. "The Collective wouldn't."

"Agreed, but if they didnít, then someone or something else did," Captain Janeway asserted. "That is precisely why I'm pulling you from Astrometrics and having you reassigned to the Doctor. If what the One told me is true, then the secrets we may find there, in those files, may unlock who knows what?"

Momentarily uncomfortable with the thought of irretrievable information trapped somewhere inside her mind, Seven shifted her feet. She glanced from the captain to the Doctor before adding, "I can assure you that if the Borg included these files in the matrices of individual drones, then they must serve a higher purpose."

"Here's the heart of the matter, Seven," the captain reasoned. "To put it simply Ö if the Borg put those files there, then I agree with you. They serve a purpose. Who knows? They could be nothing more than subroutines linking a drone to the Collective. However, the One spoke of races that defied assimilation. He hinted of a species higher than the Borg Ö one that, perhaps, might somehow be linked to the Borg in ways that neither you nor I can begin to fathom." She released her tea, pushing the cup aside. "He even implied that this species might be responsible for the Borg's desire to assimilate." She paused, overwhelmed with the information as much as she feared Seven was. "If what he said is true, then I would argue that the Borg didn't place those encrypted files there. A superior race did. Furthermore, if the Borg have no knowledge of even the existence of these files, then what purpose do they serve?"

The room fell eerily silent.

"I can reach no logical conclusion, captain," Seven stated.

"Then will you assist the Doctor?"

"Without question."

"Thank you."

"Captain," Seven added, "there is another issue I'd like to discuss with you ... privately." She glanced at the Doctor.

Sighing, the Doctor muttered, "You donít have to ask me twice to leave." He nodded at the captain. "I'll be in Sickbay Ö when you're finished."

"I will see you shortly," Seven stated.

Curtly, he vacated the room.

Indulging herself, Janeway took another sip of tea. "What is it, Seven?"

"At the Doctor's behest, I have continued working ... on my smile."

Cautiously, carefully, as if it took extreme effort, Seven grinned, showing her pearl-white teeth to the captain. "My last attempt, he found a noble effort. I hope you find this sufficient."

Unable to contain herself, Janeway laughed, almost spilling her tea.

"Seven ... it's priceless!"

"Thank you, captain," she replied efficiently. "I would like your personal opinion on the purpose of these files."

"Seven," the captain began, "I haven't the faintest idea. To tell you the truth, Iím not even certain that the Doctor will be able to isolate them. If thatís the case, then my fear is that we'll never know. As I've always said, unknowns don't frighten me. I consider myself an explorer, at heart. But this ... this may go deeper than understanding my own human nature. This could be fundamentally important to the existence of life as we know it. Quite frankly, Seven, this is a question that we might one day wish we never asked."

She paused briefly, considering the weight of their subject matter.

"I'm guessing that whatever is hidden in these encrypted files might reveal secrets behind the creation of the Borg. It has been my experience that if we can understand how a being began, then we can better understand how to cope with it."

"Creation? Of the Borg?"

Janeway frowned. "Seven, every species has a story Ö a fact Ö a myth regarding their beginning. With humans, itís been a centuries-long argument over evolution versus divine intervention." She leaned forward, pondering the nature of existence as she spoke. "I believe that the Borg are a creation. A fusion of flesh and machine? It defies my understanding of how life begins. I donít mean this as any insult to their species when I say that they couldn't have always existed in this fashion. They are a hybrid of machine and biology Ö with the ability to absorb any DNA. We've yet to encounter anything remotely resembling them elsewhere in known space." She held up her index finger, tapping it to her chin. "That fact alone leads me to believe that someone Ö or something Ö assembled the very first Borg.

"What we're talking about here," she continued, "is the foundation of an entire civilization Ö one bent on assimilating everything in its path." She held up both of her arms in a gesture of confusion. "Why? Why assimilate everything? Surely, there has to be a reason behind it all." She glanced away toward the viewport and glimpsed the slowly passing stars. Sometimes, watching the endless void of outer space brought her momentary comfort. It didn't today. "I'm hoping that these files bring us one step closer to understanding the Borg's desire to conquer all."

Quiet, Seven nodded.

"Thank you, captain, for your honesty," she said, turning to leave. "If you require assistance, I will be in sickbay until further notice."

She disappeared through the closing doors.

Feeling alone for the first time in a long while, the captain reclined in her chair, realizing how comfortably it fit her shape after these five years. She closed her eyes. Using a centuries old breathing technique to release tension, she exhaled slowly, audibly. Opening her eyes, she again turned slowly in the direction of the viewport on the far wall. She studied it, concentrated on expanse of stars. Gradually, her thoughts lingered toward images of her childhood home, the One, the friends that were her command crew, Senator Packell, the planet Earth, and ...

"Computer," she said suddenly.

The computer chimed its acknowledgement.

"Retrieve Starfleet Command File CCF Omega 351," she ordered.

Quietly, she perused its contents. Starfleet's legendary Captain James T. Kirk had encountered a duplicitous shapeshifter in a Klingon penal colony in 2293. Captain Ivan Macgruder had chased another, through space, into the Neutral Zone in 2304. The discovery of several changelings that maintained a small colony on Collutan Five near the edge of the Cardassian Empire made waves with Starfleet Intelligence in 2323. In 2369, on Stardate 46461.3, the USS Enterprise and her crew had encountered a coalescent organism, on Station 47; again, Starfleet Intelligence believed that the being had some link to a master race of shapeshifters. CCF Omega 351 was rife with sensational communiqués purchased, at exorbitant costs, from the Ferengi about a lingering alliance with a group calling itself the Dominion Ö a union rumored to be comprised of several species, but the ruling class was said to possess the extraordinarily unique ability to alter their appearance.

Lastly, she studied the portrait and service records of Deep Space Nineís Security Chief Odo.

Starfleet Command, over the course of several years, had strongly encouraged Commander Benjamin Sisko to remove the shapeshifting Odo from a position of authority on the station, but Sisko constantly refused.

Had Ben Sisko, she wondered, like all of those species on Besaria, fallen under some mysterious form of control or domination by a shapeshifter? 'Certainly not,' she hoped. Sadly, she realized that, unless Voyager made it home in one piece, she might never know the answer to that question.

'A single shapeshifter,' she mused, thinking about the Besarian Foundation, 'subjugated 127 different species.'

Soberly, she wondered what kind of danger the Alpha Quadrant could be in under the control of a solitary Odo.

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