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

CHAPTER SIX

'Just for the record,' the Doctor began, 'I will say that this particular scenario was perhaps the absolute last medical emergency I was anticipating when I beamed down, captain.'

The two of them, along with Neelix, B'Elanna, Chakotay, and several other crewmembers, stood in a brightly-lit corridor deep within the Besarian Generatrix. The Trakill had forsaken the subterranean levels of the One's compound, a decision that made the work of the Voyager crew to harness Twelfth Power Energy for their own unique need only that much easier to accomplish. Captain Janeway had been down here only once, during their first organizational meeting, to direct the crew's efforts. At that time, she had delegated the responsibility of dismantling and disengaging all related Twelfth Power planetary systems to Commander Chakotay.

The Besarian Science Compound was massive. Its three aboveground stories primarily housed monitoring centers for the One's security and defensive systems, while its ninety subterranean levels contained the Generatrix, the sprawling machine network that provided the One with the power source to propogate his madness. At the last senior officers' briefing, Chakotay went to great lengths to demonstrate that, in the past three weeks, the dismantling team he commanded had made little progress in understanding let alone deactivating all of the One's secret mechanisms and clandestine devices.

For the moment, Kathryn Janeway mused, she was only concerned with a single device. Entranced, she and her group closely studied a ceiling-high glass viewport and what lay behind.

Nodding, Captain Janeway crossed her arms. 'Yes, Doctor,' she said. 'I'm afraid I'd have to agree with you.'

'Frankly,' he continued, 'I'm at a loss for words.'

Still nodding, Janeway added, 'At least this explains the One's seemingly inexhaustible supply of Borg. Think of it. We're light years from Borg space. How was he able to maintain a constant supply of drones? Under the circumstances, I can understand how we overlooked it, but one might assume that the question of where he was getting all of his henchman would've occurred to one of us!'

Humbly, Chakotay offered, 'We were too busy fighting for our own survival.'

'Or ... some of us were just busy fighting,' B'Elanna said, sounding guilty and remorseful at the same time.

Collectively, the group turned away from the viewport, and they looked at the Tallaxian.

'Well, Mr. Neelix,' Janeway began, a slow smile cracking across her face, 'what do you have to say for yourself?'

'Captain?' Neelix replied defensively.

She held up her hand, commanding silence. Then, she pointed at the viewport, asking, 'Explain this to me again?'

'I can't!' he insisted. 'Captain, all I did was step through the chamber in the adjoining room! I told you! It's where I thought B'Elanna and her crew were working, and ... lo and behold ... this happened!'

Neelix gestured at the glass.

Behind the glass stood another Neelix.

And another.

And another.

Holding back her laughter, Captain Janeway looked into the massive chamber and guessed she was peering at Neelix 'ad infinitum.'

'Remarkable,' the Doctor remarked, holding up his medical tricorder. 'There must be hundreds of them.'

'Thank goodness the door is sealed,' B'Elanna said.

No longer able to contain themselves, the group, except Neelix, burst with spontaneous laughter. The Tallaxian glared at the half-Klingon, half-human engineer.

'I'm sorry, Neelix,' she admitted, laughing, holding up her hands in the universal gesture of surrender, 'but I couldn't help myself!'

As the laughter gradually subsided, the Doctor continued, 'Captain, these Neelix are not exactly unique in and of themselves. They share traits in common with one another, but, based on these tricorder readings, they can only be compared to our Mr. Neelix in the matter of appearance. Undoubtedly, Commander Maddux of the Daystrom Institute would love to get his hands on just one of these.'

'Which one?' Neelix asked.

'Any Neelix will do,' the Doctor replied. 'For lack of a better scientific explanation, they're all ... replicated.'

'Replicated?'

'With one caveat,' he added.

'Yes?' she asked.

'None of them are, in fact, Tallaxian,' the Doctor concluded. 'I've scanned the entire room, and there isn't a component of Tallaxian DNA present in there. Rather, each of these Neelix is little more than a fascinatingly complex mechanical composite of the Voyager's chief morale officer.'

'Machines?' she asked.

'Precisely,' he answered.

'I've always wanted a brother,' Neelix said.

'Well, now you can have your pick,' the Doctor remarked.

Commander Chakotay stepped forward. 'Wait a minute, Doctor,' he began. 'Are you saying that those ... those Neelix are only automatons?'

'In short, yes,' the Doctor answered. 'They are nothing more than incredibly complex biocircuitry fitted into synthetic tissues matching in appearance those of our Mr. Neelix. Those robots have infinitesimal neural processors, the likes of which I've never seen. They've been designed as exact duplicates, nearly down to the genetic level.'

'What about Starfleet's Commander Data?' Chakotay asked. 'Could what we're looking at be the end result somehow of Dr. Noonien Soong's work? What I mean is ... who knows where the One pirated all of this technology? Perhaps he accessed this ChannelSpace we keep hearing about, at some point, and visited the Alpha Quadrant.'

The Doctor shrugged. 'While I haven't met Commander Data myself,' the Doctor continued, 'I have available to me a complete summary of his schematics, both those of Dr. Soong and the periodic modifications performed over the years.'

'Modifications?'

'Adjustments enacted by the commander himself, Lieutenant Commander Geordi LaForge, and Dr. Beverly Crusher, all of the USS Enterprise,' the Doctor explained. 'The changes were all minor. One might even consider them nothing more than routine maintenance. However, it is my professional opinion that these replicated Tallaxians would put even Commander Data's positronic brain to shame.'

'What is the plural of Neelix, anyway?' B'Elanna asked. 'Neeli?'

Stifling a laugh, Captain Janeway offered, 'This is no time for jokes, people.'

'Well, captain, you were saying you wanted to increase morale around the ship,' Chakotay chimed.

'That's enough, commander,' Janeway said, again stifling a laugh.

Neelix asked, 'What are we going to do with all of them?'

'Absolutely nothing,' she replied. 'Doctor, I'd like you to create some foolproof means of identifying our Neelix from those, should they get out of their cage.'

'There wouldn't be any possibility of that, captain,' the Doctor explained. 'Those are machines. We have the living, breathing original.'

'Nonetheless,' she pressed, 'I'd like you to outfit Neelix with some kind of ... I don't know ... perhaps a kind of isolinear tag. That way, should these Tallaxians somehow get loose from their pen, we'll be able to simply get a sensor lock onto our morale officer and beam him out immediately.'

One of the Neelix knocked on the glass, startling the group of Voyager officers.

'Are we getting out of here soon, captain?'

Stunned, she pointed at the window.

'Did you hear that?' she asked. 'It recognized me.'

'Captain?' B'Elanna asked. 'Did it just call you 'captain,' captain?'

'No, no,' Neelix tried. 'He isn't an 'it.' He's a Tallaxian. Like me.'

'On the contrary, Mr. Neelix, those machines are anything but Tallaxian,' the Doctor counseled. 'They're nothing more than incredibly complex mechanical composites of what you are.' The Doctor turned to the captain. 'It would be safe to assume that, as they appear as near a facsimile as is scientifically possible, perhaps the level of duplication reaches down into to Mr. Neelix's memory patterns. If that were the case, then each of them would have the memory of our Mr. Neelix.'

'You don't suppose ...' B'Elanna began, and then her voice trailed off.

Janeway turned to her chief engineer. 'What is it, B'Elanna?'

'Captain, I just had a frightening thought.' She looked around at her Voyager counterparts. 'You don't suppose ... you don't suppose that the One tried to ... replicate himself, do you?'

Another Neelix rapped on the window.

'Captain?' it asked.

'Just one second, Mr. Neelix,' the captain replied.

Commander Chakotay stepped forward, and he took the authentic Tallaxian by the arm. 'Neelix, you'd better walk us through what happened.'

The adjoining oval room, about the size of the Voyager's conference room, held walls lined with blue-lighted power cables and blinking junction boxes. The machinery extended even along the ceiling. Inside the main entrance stood the room's only command console, which B'Elanna and Chakotay immediately approached. At the far end of the oval, there appeared an arch, the beginning of a small corridor. It looked as if it were the start of another access port, perhaps leading into the next chamber. The arch and the small hallway were outlined with hand-sized silver globes peppered with small black nodules. Black cabling led away from each nodule, disappearing into the room's mechanical walls.

'There,' Neelix said, pointing excitedly at the arch. 'I entered this room, just like we did now. I noticed that arch. I thought that perhaps it was a hallway that lead into the next room, where I thought B'Elanna and her team might be working. I stepped under the arch, and I, of course, realized right away that I had been mistaken. There was no exit at the opposite end. No exit and no door. So, I turned around, but my entrance must've activated the contraption. Those globes? They started flashing, and those tiny black nodules started turning. I didn't know what was happening! The last thing I heard was some massive mechanical gurgling noise.'

'I can confirm the sound, captain,' B'Elanna interrupted. 'That's what brought me and my team running. With all of these system failures we've been experiencing, I assumed that some equipment somewhere down here was about to explode. We wanted to ensure that the area was clear for safety reasons.'

'So,' Neelix continued, 'I left the room in an awful hurry. I started back down the main hallway, just outside, and that's when I saw them.'

'Your replicants?' Janeway asked.

'Yes,' he agreed. 'Only there weren't as many, at first. I quickly closed the hatch, electronically sealing them in there.' He tilted his head slightly. 'I hope they're not upset with me. You don't suppose that chamber is pressurized, in any way? They're not going to die from a lack of oxygen, are they?'

She hadn't considered the thought. 'B'Elanna? Chakotay? You know these systems and this environment better than anyone else. What do you think? Are those ... those Neelix in any danger?'

'The Generatrix doesn't appear to have any isolated chambers, captain,' Chakotay replied. 'As a matter of fact, everything down appear appears linked in every way. That's why we're struggling with these fluctuating power levels. One system fails, and, by the time we have it back up, the initial failure has caused another systems failure.'

'Captain, over here,' B'Elanna said. 'I believe I've located the activation circuitry. With all of these systems powering up and down, it's no wonder that Neelix was replicated.' She tapped a few keys on the console. 'Based on what I'm assuming to be a time index, Neelix happened to be standing at the right place at the right time when a power surge activated the replication system.' Without warning, the console chirped. 'Hang on one second, captain. Granted, this technology is alien to us, but consoles are designed, as you know, on principles with minor degrees of variance from species to species. I believe I've found the replicator's logbook.'

Captain Janeway turned and stared at the arch for several moments. 'Here's a thought. You don't suppose all of these system problems could be the end result of some replicated saboteurs, do you?'

'While not out of the question, it would be unlikely, captain,' B'Elanna explained, still busily tapping keys on the console before her. 'I'll produce a prognosis once we achieve Generatrix control.'

'How long might that be?' the captain asked.

Chakotay piped in. 'The central control room is online now. It's just that these little hiccups of power surges and drains are throwing our data out of alignment.'

'Here it is,' B'Elanna finally announced. 'The replicator's entry logs.' She glanced up from the console. 'Doctor, perhaps you should look at this. I'm no expert when it comes to Tallaxian DNA.'

The Doctor rounded the console and stepped between B'Elanna and Chakotay. Reaching down, he tapped a few keys. 'Ingenious,' he admired.

'Doctor, if you please,' Janeway said.

'Yes, captain,' he replied. 'The last coded DNA sequence is Tallaxian, meaning it belongs to our morale officer over there.'

'Are there any other log entries?' Janeway asked.

'There are,' he answered. 'Thirty-four, to be exact. However, I'd have to perform a massive research project to obtain samples of the DNA related to the species that the One held in captivity here, captain. Given the fact that most of the once-indigenous races have run off to enjoy their freedom, I think that's out of the question. However, at a glance, I'm comfortable stating that there is nothing here that appears out of the norm.'

'Doctor, this entire affair has been far from status quo,' she corrected.

'Understood and agreed,' he complied. 'I was speaking to the fundamental similarities of the DNA patterns encoded in this log. If we accept the premise that many of the species of the Delta Quadrant possess similar DNA patterns, much like the various races of the Alpha Quadrant do, then I'm comfortable concluding that it is my belief that the One never attempted to replicate himself. At least, not with this device. Why would he, after all? He probably wouldn't trust his other self, if he did.'

'That's a very good point,' Janeway said. 'Then we'll consider this case closed. Those Neelix are to remain under lock and key until further notice. Who knows? Maybe we can find some way to un-replicate them. No insult intended to our present crewmate. And Doctor? Get Neelix tagged. In the meantime, how close are we to having full Generatrix control?'

B'Elanna shrugged. 'Commander?'

Chakotay took his turn at shrugging. 'By this evening, captain, so long as we encounter no major setbacks.'

'Captain?'

In unison, the group turned toward the entryway, where a second Neelix stood in the open doorway.

'Uh oh,' B'Elanna said.

Janeway asked, 'How did you get out?'

'Get out?' the surprised replicant asked. 'What are you talking about? Get out of where?'

'How did you leave the chamber where you were sealed?'

'Chamber?' the Neelix2 asked. 'Sealed? Captain, what are you talking about?'

'He has my memory, captain,' Neelix reminded. 'Let me try.'

Cautiosly, Neelix walked over to where his twin stood.

'Greetings, fellow Tallaxian.'

Neelix2 looked from Neelix to the others.

'What ... is this?'

'I'm afraid,' Neelix began, 'uh, I'm not quite sure how to put this. But ... you're not real.'

'I'm not?'

'No,' Neelix answered. 'You're a machine.' Neelix smiled. 'The Doctor has paid you a compliment in adding that you're an incredibly complex one, at that. No doubt, you're an incredibly charismatic one, as well. But, in short, you're still a machine.'

Neelix2 slumped his shoulders. 'I am?'

'How did you get out of the reproduction chamber?'

'I didn't,' he answered. 'The last thing I remember was coming down here, bringing the tricorders to B'Elanna.'

'No, no, no,' Neelix tried. 'That was me. That's my memory.'

'It is?'

'Yes,' Neelix tried, 'but, please, go on.'

'Well,' Neelix2 said, 'I remember coming down here. I was carrying the receptacle full of tricorders that Commander Chakotay had given me.' Pointing, he added, 'Well, there he is! Hello, commander!' Neelix2 waved. 'Then, I remember walking into this room and standing there.' He pointed at the arch.

'Captain,' B'Elanna interrupted, 'the arch must produce the first reproduction.' She plunked some keys on the console. 'Neelix left the room as soon as he heard the noises, so he probably wasn't around when this first duplicate was complete. Having the first duplicate manufactured here is probably a quality control mechanism, ensuring that the first duplicate is fully functional. My guess would be that so long as the operator records no failures to the system, then the reproduction chamber out there replicates ...'

She paused and read a small display screen. 'Oh, my.'

'What is it, B'Elanna?' the captain asked.

'The chamber ... out there ... replicates 82 units every ... well ... approximately every seventeen minutes,' the chief engineer concluded.

'How many cycles did the chamber go through?' Janeway asked.

Again, B'Elanna tapped several console buttons. 'It would appear ... four cycles, captain.'

'Four?' Janeway asked. 'You mean ... that room has over three hundred copies of Mr. Neelix?'

'I'm afraid so,' B'Elanna said.

'I beg your pardon?' Neelix and Neelix2 said simultaneously, both sounding hurt.

'No insult intended,' B'Elanna replied. 'That room has over three hundred copies of Mr. Neelix.'

'What did you mean by that, lieutenant?' Neelix asked.

'Easy, Neelix,' the captain counseled. 'Just take it easy.'

'But, captain, that's me in there!' he protested.

'They're not you, Neelix,' Chakotay explained. 'They're replicas of you. Living and breathing, granted. We're not arguing that. But ... they're doing so as the result of programming.'

'Does that make them any less real?' Neelix pried.

Chakotay sighed heavily. 'That's a question for scholars and academics from here to the Alpha Quadrant,' he finally said. 'But you're the only Tallaxian serving admirably under our command. Don't you forget it.'

Calmly, Neelix shrugged. He glanced at the other version of himself. 'I could use a spare set of hands in the galley.'

Janeway stared at her morale officer coldly. 'Don't even joke.'

Neelix frowned. 'My apologies, captain.'

'Captain?' Neelix2 asked.

'Doctor, please,' she said, gesturing toward Neelix2. 'Take Mr. Neelix ... that other Mr. Neelix out of here.'

'Please,' Neelix2 begged, backing away, 'don't put me with the others!' He quickly found himself pressed up again the wall, his face contorted with desperation. 'They are too many of them! I can't go in there! I just can't!'

'I'm sorry,' Janeway offered, calmly. 'We don't have any other choice.'

'Please,' Neelix2 tried, slowly dropping to his knees before the group. 'I'm begging you. I understand that I'm not a part of this crew any longer ... a crew that's it has been my life's honor to serve alongside. I understand that I don't report to you, captain. But ... please. I can't go in that champber. I just can't.'

Janeway stared at Neelix2, torn between the realization that he was nothing more than a machine but his words - the emotion, the pride, the plea - it all sounded so real.

'Captain,' Chakotay tried, 'I have an idea.'

She turned to her next-in-command and friend. 'Please, for all of our sakes, I hope it's a good one.'

Shuffling his feet momentarily, Chakotay slowly smiled. 'Well, the Trakill have granted Mr. Neelix complete access to Besaria's food stores,' he reasoned, 'and you've confined him to the ship. There's no question as to whether or not we need that food.' He paused, and then he stood firm. 'Captain, how would you feel ... what say we transport our Mr. Neelix back up to the Voyager, and I'll take this other Mr. Neelix under my command and have him finish his work here on the planet?'

She dropped her head slightly. She couldn't believe she was honestly considering it. Slowly, she walked near enough to Chakotay to whisper, 'You know, as well as I do, the dangers of ... getting attached.'

Idly, Chakotay smiled. 'I'll take the risk, captain.'

Still whispering, she added, 'You do understand, Chakotay, that we don't have room for another Mr. Neelix onboard Voyager.'

He nodded. 'Understood completely.'

Suddenly, the room hummed to life.

'What was that?' Janeway asked.

The console humming, B'Elanna immediately went to work, tapping the keys and scanning the instrumentation. 'Uh, captain,' she began, 'the Generatrix just replicated another 82 Mr. Neelixes.'

'Shut that thing off!' Janeway ordered.

'Aye, captain. It'll take me some time to figure out the power source for the disconnect, but I'll get it done.'

'Don't worry,' Neelix told Neelix2, helping the duplicated Tallaxian to his feet once more. 'Commander Chakotay will take good care of you.'

Perturbed, Janeway snapped, 'Doctor, will you please see Mr. Neelix back to Voyager?'

'On our way,' the Doctor said, abandoning the replications console. Walking briskly, he took the real Mr. Neelix by the elbow and tugged him through the open doorway.

'Be sure to get plenty of Gallush!' Neelix advised as he was virtually dragged down the hallway.

Turning to Chakotay, Captain Janeway whispered, 'Please tell me ... what more can go wrong in one day?'

Next Chapter
Return to Fan Fiction Return to the Databank