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

CHAPTER FOUR

When Tom Paris concluded his summation, he deactivated his PADD. As if he were handling priceless crystal or Romulan liquigems, he set it down gently on the marble tabletop. He had been engrossed in reading aloud the official Starfleet transcripts ... so engrossed that his eyes hadn't left the printed words. Now, he cautiously looked across the table at the Trakill couple. On Besaria, he hadn't much experience in dealing with the Trakill, as he had spent much of his time in hiding, disguised as a Borg to avoid detection. As of late, his special assignment in culling the ship's archives for the references to Twelfth Power Energy, at Captain Janeway's request, had kept him shipbound for the last several days. So, when greeted with the contorted faces of Packell and Aulea, he could only guess that they were physical expressions of ... remorse?

Captain Janeway finally broke the silence. 'Prefect?'

Stunned, Packell looked at her. Slowly, he tilted his head.

'This,' he tried, his voice cracking. Swallowing hard, he finished, 'This is ... true? This account of yours?'

She knew that Packell's heart was breaking. The ambassador had stood up to the menace, survived to tell about it, and been elected spokesperson for those of his species who remained. She knew how he must have felt.

With a solemn face, Janeway nodded.

'This ... information ... it is from your ship's computer?' he asked.

'Yes. We can have the actual ship's logs prepared, for your perusal, if you'd like to hear them.'

'But ... this ... those events ... captain, they happened over 100 years ago,' he stammered. 'Certainly ... things have changed ... haven't they?'

She placed her hands before her, on the tabletop. 'Packell-'

'Is there any margin for error? A misinterpretation between what we know and what we suspect?'

'Packell, Aulea said it herself,' Janeway defended, 'and you agreed. Who knows how long the Dia'Soto have existed? I don't have those answers. I can only provide you with what Starfleet knows. From where I sit, I see only one truth: it only stands to reason that if ChannelSpace has existed indefinitely, then so could the Moderators who created it!'

Packell opened his mouth, as if having something more to say, something more to argue.

Then, he closed it again.

Instead of speaking, he turned to his lifemate. Aulea. They stared intently into one another's eyes for several seconds, exchanging looks that even Kathryn Janeway could tell were those of despair, hopelessness, and desolation.

'He is at a loss for words,' Aulea explained. She reached out and lovingly stroked her lifemate's cheek with one of her hands. 'Our world ... Besaria was just returned to us. Now, to find out that ... it might be unsuitable or even dangerous to our future ...' She turned to the captain. 'Surely, you understand how we must feel.'

'I do, Aulea. Believe me, I do.'

'Our people have fought so long ...'

'I wish the facts were different,' Janeway tried.

'It is an outrage!' Packell finally exploded, rising. He stroke away from the table. 'It is an absolute outrage to have our home taken from us!'

Calmly, Janeway replied, 'Packell, our sensor readings have been checked.'

He shouted, 'Then check them again!'

'They've been re-checked,' she tried further. 'I've had Tuvok do a three-day analysis over your entire geographic area. And ... the rest ... with what happened on the planet Earth ... it's recorded history, Packell. I can't dispute history. I can't dispute the log recordings. Certainly not those of James T. Kirk, Dr. Leonard McCoy, or Ambassador Spock.'

Angrily, the Trakill prefect whirled away. He couldn't face her. Instead, he faced the Holodeck arch and stood completely still.

'Packell,' Janeway tried, 'we're not saying that your world is dead.'

'BUT IT IS DYING!' he exclaimed. 'There are provinces in the north of the city where the soil refuses to take new roots! Those plants that do take don't survive but a few hours, captain. The rain keeps falling! It keeps falling as it has done for millennia on Besaria, but, by the Essence of Sonah, even the life-bringing rain cannot cleanse our land of this filth! The One has contaminated our world with this ... this ... this Twelfth Power Energy!'

Exasperated, he turned back to face the group at the table. 'If he were alive and standing before me, I would attack him now, knowing full well that it was my life that would be in mortal danger! For what he has done to my people, I would risk everything! Life and limb! I would gladly risk it for one slap at his evil, smiling face, knowing full well that it is I who would be easily crushed in his shape-shifting grip! And ... now this! Now that he is gone, he's imparted a final curse on our world! Our entire world? Poisoned?'

Briefly, Janeway glanced at Tom. He nodded and rose. Smiling politely at Aulea and nodding curtly, he left the Holodeck.

'The question remains,' Janeway stated firmly.

'What question?' Packell asked.

'How do we tell your people?'

Disgusted, Packell spat, 'We are not going to tell the people.'

'Packell!' Aulea snapped.

Pointing at his lifemate, he said, 'This is our world, Aulea. We have lived here for centuries. It was blessed with the Essence of Sonah. I won't have it stripped away from us!'

'The choice belongs to your people, Packell,' Janeway warned. 'I won't stand aside and allow you to pronounce judgments that result in genocide.'

'May result in genocide!' he said, pointing. 'MAY result in genocide! Not WILL! MAY!'

'If the Trakill choose to live, then the Trakill will have to adjust to living elsewhere. Packell, think about it. I'm sure that the Gallenians will take you in. Voyager is here to help you. We can help to-'

Again, he tilted his head at her. 'You? The Earth woman and her elegant starship? You're choosing to speak for my people?'

'Packell,' she began, softly, 'your people deserve to know that their world ... is dying.'

Suddenly, Captain Janeway's communicator chirped.

'Chakotay to Captain Janeway,' they heard.

She immediately tapped her comm badge. 'Standby, commander.'

'She's right, Packell,' Aulea tried.

Resigned, the Trakill prefect threw his head back. In frustration, he slapped his thighs for several seconds. Finally, he said, 'My apologies, captain. You have traveled the stars and seen many worlds. Besaria ... ah, Besaria is all I've ever known.'

Slowly, calmly, deliberately, he nodded. 'I will call an assembly of the survivors this evening. I invite you and your officers to be in attendance. I invite you to tell your story to my people. I invite your Mr. Paris to provide whatever sensor logs or data recordings he can to support your position. Then, we will let the people of Besaria decide. They can choose to stay on Besaria and perish ... possibly. Or, they can choose to forsake the teachings of Sonah and leave our world behind, forsaking everything that we have ever stood for. However, with the presentation of the gathered information, whatever decision the Trakill make will be the one best suited for my people.'

Janeway smiled. 'I'm sorry for you and your people, Packell. I truly am.'

He bowed to her. 'My apologies for my behavior, captain. Matters of the heart are, of course, matters of the heart. As always, you have been a most gracious host.'

Quickly, Janeway tapped her badge. 'Go ahead, commander.'

'Captain,' she heard, 'are you in the middle of anything ... pressing?'

Looking from Packell to Aulea, she raised an eyebrow.

'What is it, Chakotay?'

'You might want to beam down to the Generatrix, captain,' he said. 'Something has ... happened. I think you'll want to see this for yourself.'

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