fedend2ch02

FEDERATION’S END II: THE WITCHING HOUR
by E. L. Zimmerman

CHAPTER TWO

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Slowly, he opened his eye.

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He opened his eye.

His vision blurred, adjusting to the harsh gray interiors. He looked ahead. He stared straight ahead, feeling that his skull was mounted to a solid chunk of … of … of something latched on the base of his neck. Despite the constriction, he tried turning his head aside, to the right, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t move. He was … locked. Mentally bracing himself, he tried again, but he found the effort excruciatingly painful, red-hot daggers of fire drilling through his neck and shoulders, and he stopped. Suddenly, his body convulsed, and he spat what he could only guess would have been blood into the space before him.

For blood, though, whatever it was had expectorated had felt awful … thick.

Resigned, he stared with his single eye. He focused straight ahead.

Before him stood a wall, matted and blistered with a seemingly endless series of charcoal metal tubing laced with white lights blinking intermittently and jutting aluminum fixtures that took all but a thousand shapes, glimmers, and textures. Curious, he concentrated on the flashing patterns of the tiny blinking lights, but his vision blurred again. Gradually, the substance before him lost cohesion, and he closed his eye.

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Slowly, he opened his eye. He found his vision still blurred.

After several seconds passed, clarity of vision returned, and he stared at the wall across from him.

Charcoal metal tubing.

Charcoal. Metal. Tubing.

Charcoal.

Charcoal, colored much like his … skin?

He closed his eye.

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He forced open his eye, and he studied the wall. The white lights blinked in patterns … irrelevant? He wondered if — at some cosmic, clandestine, or psychological level — someone or something or somehow or somewhere was trying to communicate with him.

He wasn’t getting the message.

He blinked, and he learned that, presently, any and all movement hurt.

Without turning his head, using his single eye, he glanced down the corridor. He took in the dark surroundings. It … was … a corridor. Of that, he was certain. It had to be. It simply had to be. It looked like a ship’s corridor. But … where could he be? What looked like a corridor stretched far away from him for some length, for some distance that he couldn’t quite fathom, so far that he trusted — somehow he knew — he could not see its end.

He wondered how far it went, when suddenly …

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He heard them.

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The voices.

The hundreds upon thousands upon millions of voices.

Anguished, he listened to the voices in his head. They burst through the vacant humming that had once filled his ears. Only now he guessed that the humming could have been … must have been … some type of transportation drive or activity signature … the sounds of a … ship? … drown out by a chorus of a evil-sounding voices regurgitating simultaneously mechanical commands, reports, and miscellaneous technical drivel inside his head.

Speaking simultaneously inside his head.

Speaking simultaneously inside his head.

He heard them. He closed his eye, and he listened. He blocked out the pain associated with all of the voices barking and bursting at various intervals.

Desperate, he concentrated. He searched for a single voice, a single thread, a single event with which to attentively lock onto like a transporter signature and energize! He tried to find a solitary conduit of information and to consciously ignore, block, deny the rest.

He closed his eye tighter. He concentrated, but it … burned … and he exhaled heartily, air gushing from his lungs.

Frightened, he felt the weight on his chest.

He heard all of the voices. He couldn’t help but hear all of them! He couldn’t help but hear them all.

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Consciously, he forced air into and out of his lungs.

He breathed slowly, forcing his breaths to come slower and slower, concentrating on increasing the intervals between inhalation and exhalation. Instead of siphoning for an individual voice, he lost himself in the now-voluntary task of breathing. He inhaled slowly, held it for several seconds, and then he exhaled. With that single breath, he felt the sensation of dead weight across his chest and upper shoulder, but he wouldn’t open his eye. He wouldn’t open his eye. He wouldn’t open his eye.

‘Don’t open your eye,’ he told himself over and over and over again. ‘Don’t open your eye. Do not open your eye. Breathe. Now. Just breathe. Now. Just stand here. And breathe.’

Panic.

That was it.

His body was panicking, all of its own devices. As if functioning on its own mechanisms, like an immune system activated at the detection of an invasive organism, his body rocked intuitively with … emotion?

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‘Breathe,’ he told himself mentally.

‘Just breathe. Just breathe. Let it be normal. Breathe and nothing else. Nothing else. Nothing else at all.’

He concentrated, but suddenly found it difficult. ‘Breathe,’ he told himself. ‘Breath.’

The genetic protocol associated with the involuntary intake and expelling of oxygen from the biologic receptacles …

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‘Something isn’t right,’ he warned himself. ‘Something isn’t right. Something isn’t right. Something isn’t right.’

Again, he sensed and fought the panic, the frenzied verve of emotion boiling inside.

Again, he forced himself to consider breathing again.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

After several moments, his calm returned.

His mind reeled from the sounds of the automated voices, and, for the time being, he decided to give in to them ‘ONLY IF YOU MAINTAIN CONTROL!’ he cautioned himself. ‘YOU MUST MAINTAIN CONTROL!’

He listened to the voices. The automated voices. The snippets of interrelated dialogue and independent speech.

Bilateral programming calibration.

Collateral systems modification.

Primary node recognition signature.

Function interface downloadable.

Biologic integration.

Collective designation forthcoming.

Systems access denied.

Systems access denied.

Access denied.

‘Collective?’

He opened his eye. He again took in the corridor, all the while maintaining control over his breathing. He blocked out the pain and the voices.

‘Collective?’

He still couldn’t move his head, but he obstructed the pain, and he looked down the corridor.

‘Collective?’

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Suddenly, he … remembered.

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What skin remained uncovered by the partial Borg plating and prosthetics itched terribly. He felt that sensation creeping up the flesh from his feet, along his calves, into his thighs, above his waist, into his arms, around his chest, and reaching … reaching … reaching for his face.

Suddenly, Mandakorr … remembered.

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He tried to find a word for it, for the rising sensation in his mind, his chest, his soul. The pain forced him to blink, and he felt the tears welling up inside of him as the panic returned. He wanted, desired, needed so badly to rock, to move, to help his body in releasing the trembling emotion that came with realization with what he had become, with what he was becoming.

‘BREATHE IN, DAMN YOU!’ he told himself, recalling the swear word he had picked up that benevolent … earthling? ‘BREATHE IN, DAMN YOU, AND YOU BREATHE OUT! YOU DO IT! YOU DO IT NOW!’

He had to find a word for it.

He kept looking for a word to describe what he felt.

The voices overwhelmed him again, but, biting his lower lip, he forced them into the back of his mind so he could maintain his sanity and his individuality long enough to categorize, legitimize, quantify this feeling.

He tried to find a word for it …

… and suddenly he realized he was feeling …

… reluctantly mechanical …

Next Chapter
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