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

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Without warning, chaos descended upon Kathryn Janeway as pandemonium erupted in the Assembly. Virtually everyone present - every species, every race - jumped to their feet, angrily rocking back and forth, pacing about, engaging one another in feverish debate about the future of their dreams, their hopes, and their planet, Besaria ... all of which the Voyager's captain had just unintentionally destroyed.

Accepting that she had lost all control of the presentation, Janeway quickly abandoned the ceremonial podium, moving around it, and walked briskly toward the edge of the platform toward Packell. She saw him. He stood, his back to her, gesturing wildly in conversation with several Gallenians and a few Maulti standing in the row directly behind his.

Then, Kathryn Janeway saw Aulea.

To her surprise, the captain realized that the prefect's lifemate was the only member of the Assembly who had chosen to remain seated. With an expression mixed with equal parts of bemusement and puzzlement, Aulea studied Janeway intently from where she sat, not so very far away. 'Why?' Aulea mouthed the single word, her face unchanged, although the captain couldn't hear her over the throng.

Frowning, Janeway silently wished for an answer.

The answer.

Any answer.

Instead of answers, the captain had her mission. True to herself, to her beliefs, and to Starfleet principles reared into her from those Academy days that seemed so long ago, Janeway always had her mission. It was her center. It was her obligation. An unflinching commitment to duty hadn't separated her from those she shared her life with aboard the Voyager so much as it had drawn her closer to them, had defined the reasons for her affection to them, had created bonds stronger than the word 'friendship' could describe. The consummate professional, Janeway surrounded herself with a crew no less committed than she was. At times, that alone made decisions far easier to make than difficult.

'Always, without surrender, defend the mission ...'

At present, Janeway's sole duty was to gain control of her audience and finish her presentation. She wasn't about to see this mission fail.

At the top of her lungs, she exclaimed, 'Packell!'

Stunned into silence, visibly offended by the way in which she had cried out his name in front of his constituents, the Besaria prefect whirled about to face the captain. Prepared to unleash a tirade of insults, he found himself equally shocked as he failed to get in a first word.

'Packell!' she repeated, softening her tone slightly, 'I need your help. Bring these people under control. I'm not finished.'

Angrily, the Trakill scanned the room, glancing from his seated lifemate, throughout the agitated Assembly, and back to the starship captain. He raised his shoulders, proudly, as he glared at Janeway. Challenging, he took a step in her direction. 'And why should I assist you?' he asked, throwing his arms forward in frustration. 'To demand silence of them?' Now, he gestured toward the crowd behind him, waving his arm across the breadth of the chamber. 'To demand that they close their mouths and instead listen while you narrate more and more useless fiction? Listen as you tell a tale that only promotes even greater fear and hopelessness?' Angrily, he raised a single finger and pointed at her. 'You forget, captain, that these people have already experienced that under the rule of that maniac, the One! However, you broke those bonds, and you set them free!'

Slowly, throughout his speech, his ire lessened. He lowered his hand to his side. 'In their lives, there will be no more room for despair. It will not have a place within these walls!'

Janeway stiffened, placing her hands firmly on her waist. 'Prefect,' she began slowly, using his provisional title, concentrating on finding the right, convincing words before she spoke again. 'I'm not about to debate you.'

'This isn't the time, nor the place,' the prefect agreed.

'Then we're agreed.'

'I believe we are.'

With that, she pointed at the audience. 'Then help me get this crowd under control,' Janeway pleaded. 'I give you my assurance, Packell. There isn't a single element of fiction in anything I or Tuvok have shared with you and your followers today.'

Suddenly enraged by her defiance, the prefect took another step forward, closing the gap between them. Angrily, he blurted out as he walked, 'Lies! All of it! It's all lies! AND WE WON'T HEAR ANOTHER WORD OF IT!'

Astonished, enraged, Janeway instinctively brought a hand up over her mouth to stifle the curse she almost uttered.

Packell was right.

She couldn't deny the truth.

She and her crew, working together, had delivered the Gathered Races of Besaria from the brink of hopelessness ...

... only to deliver them to the brink of extinction?

Finding some peace in her realization, she understood Packell's angry words were not directed at her so much as they were directed at the history she found it necessary to share. Janeway couldn't stand idly by any longer, watching these people believe their world had future. She couldn't stand by quietly knowing that the Besarian Agrarian Council had, in the new town's square, published a harvesting schedule for the coming cycle that called for every citizen's support and participation in the restocking of food stores. She couldn't stand idly by knowing that Packell's newly engineered government had begun considered parceling out the territories of Besaria City to new landowners. She couldn't stand idly by in full knowledge of the fact that Aulea herself directed efforts of a 'spirit committee' with the sole purpose of re-engineering Besaria's historical tapestries. In fact, Janeway had heard that Aulea had requested that the first tapestry completed pay homage to the captain and crew of the USS Voyager, the planet's savior, the planet's 'deliverer from the One.'

Janeway's heart ached over what she knew. Her pain intensified knowing full well what she had yet to tell these people.

Ignoring the podium, ignoring the open defiance of Packell, she inhaled deeply and shouted, with all her might, 'YOU MUST LISTEN TO ME!'

Even she was unprepared for the response.

Almost instantly, the angry mob fell into total silence, their eyes transfixed on the raised platform, sensors locked onto the Voyager's waiting captain.

She stifled a smile, as it wouldn't have been appropriate. 'I guess my position as savior still garners some fringe benefit,' she thought.

Slowly, she tried again.

'When the ... when the 'being' that was V'Ger reached the next level of its evolution in orbit of the planet Earth ... it exploded.'

With great hesitancy, some of the Assembly members took their seats again. Janeway waited patiently, and, eventually, everyone sat watching her on the raised platform once again.

'When V'Ger died,' she explained, swallowing hard, 'it unleashed the destructive power of a Twelfth Power Energy discharge.' Grimacing, she considered all of the data that she and Tuvok had gathered, calculated, re-tabulated, and cross-analyzed. 'While I trust that these dimensions might well be lost on you, I have to admit that V'Ger measured over 82 a.u. in length. That's well over a billion miles in length ... a measurement that would be the equivalent of lining up, side by side, nearly one and one-half million planets identical in size and shape to Besaria.'

In awed reverence, the Assembly maintained its dead silence.

'When that Twelfth Power Energy surge ignited V'Ger,' Janeway continued, 'there wasn't a single particle of the ship remaining for Starfleet Science to examine. It was as if ...'

Again, Janeway struggled to find the precise words for what she needed to communicate so strongly, so dangerously to these people. She breathed for a quick moment, tasting the sweet, damp air of Besaria, a planet with limitless rainfall.

'It was as if,' she concluded, 'everything that V'Ger had been was erased from existence.'

'And that's what will happen here?' she heard a faceless, nameless someone ask from in the crowd.

Pursing her lips, her eyes glistening momentarily, Janeway nodded. 'My crew are trying desperately to stabilize the Generatrix that the One built to power Besaria City,' she explained, 'but I'm not going to stand here and tell you that things look good.'

Again, she paused. She welcomed the silence that once again overtaken the grand chamber. If anything, she hoped that the stillness promoted a sense of calm, a sense of peace, oddly juxtaposed against her message of ...

... of ...

... total annihilation?

'Your city's power source is ... teetering unexplainably out of control,' she continued, slowly turning and walking back to the security of the podium. Pivoting, facing the group, she said, 'At this point, our suspicions are that the One implanted within the power distribution network some type of safety mechanism. We're guessing that this mechanism required either periodic maintenance or adjustment of some kind.'

'You're ... guessing?' Packell asked incredulously.

Janeway ignored the comment in favor of pressing on while she had the Assembly's undivided attention. 'Who knows? Perhaps the One had his own very special command codes authorizing the Generatrix to maintain functionality. Either he or one of his Borg sentries would've re-initialized the command sequencers.' She clasped her hands together, in front of her face, and then she dropped them onto the podium. 'Again, it's only a theory. But ... the theory would explain why our best efforts at maintaining even nominal control of the Generatrix are failing.'

Pausing, she swallowed hard. 'As a matter of fact, our ship's sensors detect that the Generatrix is actually doing nothing more at present than what would appear to be storing up power reserves.'

'For what purpose, captain?' Packell asked aloud.

Again, she grimaced. 'It would appear ... the Generatrix is amassing power for an eventual detonation of its primary core, an explosive reaction the likes of which ... well, to be honest ... the likes of which we simply don't possess the science to predict.'

The Assembly in the Grand Hall suddenly seemed more like a funeral than it did a meeting.

Suddenly breaking the silence, the prefect said, 'We won't abandon Besaria.'

'Packell,' Janeway tried, her tone softened to the point of barely being audible, 'in a matter of days ... perhaps hours ... there may not be a planet called Besaria in existence.'

Remaining seated, he pointed at her briefly, and then he dropped his hand to his side succinctly. 'I've issued my statement. We won't abandon Besaria,' he repeated.

'You don't have a choice,' she said.

'We do have a choice, and it has been made!' he shouted.

'Packell,' Janeway reasoned, 'what you're suggesting is nothing more than mass suicide. I can't just stand by and watch you blindly damn yourself, Aulea, and the Gathered Races to the kind of death you'd be facing.'

'Take the Generatrix offline, captain,' Packell ordered. 'We will survive as our ancestors did. We will live off the land, and we will exist in near darkness.'

Tuvok rose from his chair on the raised platform. 'With all due respect, prefect, it cannot be done,' he explained, stepping up to the podium to join his captain. 'The finest minds of the Alpha Quadrant studied the V'Ger Cascade for over two decades. They've speculated that Twelfth Power Energy functions much like that of a small sun. Once ignited, the star's life cycle must run its natural course. Once extinguished, however, the star implodes -'

'Speculated?' Packell shouted incredulously. 'Do you mean to tell me that everything you have shared with us this evening is based on speculation generated by scientists who don't even populate our space?'

'PACKELL!' Janeway shouted, managing once again to command the attention of the silent grand hall. 'You can think whatever it is you choose to think about Starfleet Science, but the facts we've presented to you and your people are on record. They are indisputable proof that your Generatrix has the destructive capability of wiping out not only this planet but your entire star system.' Again, she left the podium, brushing politely past Tuvok, as she approached the edge of the platform nearest the prefect. 'If my crew cannot bring power distribution under control within the next forty-eight hours, then you and the rest of these survivors are going to want to be as far away from Besaria as any flyable spacecraft can take you. Do you understand?'

'LIES!' Packell shouted. 'ALL OF IT! LIES!'

Again, the Gathered Races of Besaria slowly began cheering for their Prefect. Enraptured, Packell stood, and he climbed atop his stone bench, raising his arms out toward his people. His actions only excited the mob to no end. They cheered ever louder, and he had to struggle to be heard over the deluge of chants and praises.

'WE WILL NOT SURRENDER BESARIA! SURRENDER IS WHAT THE ONE WOULD HAVE EXPECTED OF US!' he proclaimed. 'WE WILL STAY! WE WILL FIGHT FOR THAT WHICH IS OURS AND FOR OUR MUTUAL EXISTENCE! AND, I PREDICT, WE WILL TRIUMPH!'

With that, Janeway surrendered.

She realized, in that moment, that her role as savior to these races didn't warrant taking them into any kind of protective custody.

These people were now following their leader ...

... blindly.

Rising quickly, Aulea rushed the platform. Seeing her, Janeway moved to greet her.

'Captain,' she began, 'are you absolutely certain?'

Crouching, Janeway took Aulea's extended hands and grasped them firmly. 'Aulea, there isn't a doubt in my mind. I wish there were. I wish it weren't true. I can't tell you how sorry I am for you and your people.'

Aulea's eyes glistened. 'But ... how? How could this happen?'

Shaking her head, Kathryn Janeway pointed at the rear wall of the Grand Hall. 'That Generatrix? Aulea, Twelfth Power Energy powers it. But the Dia'Soto clearly didn't construct it. I believe that the One probably pulled the schematics for it from the recesses of a Borg drone's mind. If the Dia'Soto are manipulating the Borg, those schematics are embedded so deep that I would imagine even individual drones don't know about them. My crew is doing everything we possibly can to keep that complex operational, but I don't think we possess a tenth of knowledge necessary to keep that conductor from eventually imploding upon itself.'

Cautiously, Janeway stepped down from the platform and stood on the floor, within Packell's captivated audience. The captain wanted to be sure that Aulea heard listened, heard every word clearly. That way, perhaps his lifemate could speak some logic to Packell. 'When the Generatrix explodes ... and it will explode ... everything on this planet will be obliterated. Aulea, there isn't a doubt in my mind that that process will send a galactic signal the Dia'Soto will unquestionably hear.' She paused, making sure that Aulea was still following the reasoning. 'Simply put, that reaction requires that you, your people, the races gathered here, and my ship and crew need to be as far away from here as is possible or we'll cease to exist in any frame of reference you and I care to consider.'

Janeway barely heard her comm badge chirp over crowd's chanting.

'Doctor to Janeway.'

Raising an eyebrow, Janeway reached up and tapped her comm badge. 'Go ahead, Doctor.'

'I'm glad I reached you, Captain,' she heard. 'Seven of Nine's Borg neural implants have just begun receiving a new signal.'

'A new signal?' Janeway asked. 'From the Borg?'

'It's difficult to tell, Captain,' he continued. 'I'm in the process of cataloguing the signal as we speak. My preliminary finding would be that it is, however, not of Borg origin.'

Janeway was confused. 'But it's operating on known Borg frequencies?'

'That's just it,' she heard. 'I believe that the data stream is coming in on a Borg frequency that, according to Seven's own extensive neural cataloguing, has never been used before.'

Suddenly, Janeway was surprised as her comm badge chirped again.

'Chakotay to Janeway.'

'Stand-by, Doctor.'

'Aye, Captain.'

Quickly, she tapped her badge again. 'Excuse the noise and go ahead, commander,' she replied.

'You'd better return to Voyager,' he cautioned. 'I think there's something you need to see for yourself.'

'I don't have time for riddles, Chakotay,' she replied. 'What is it?'

'It's the Borg,' he explained grimly. 'Ensign LaCoste has detected them. They appeared on our sensors a few moments ago.'

No.

Not again.

It can't happen.

Not now.

'The Borg?' she asked, curious.

'Yes, captain,' she heard. 'I believe it's the armada we recently engaged.'

'The armada? But ... I thought they'd left the system?'

'So did I,' he confessed, his voice coming through clearly. 'But, apparently they have other plans.'

Kathryn Janeway glanced around the Assembly. The Gathered Races of Besaria were chanting ceremoniously to their elected prefect, Packell, who was still standing atop his stone bench, arms akimbo.

'Chakotay, just how close are they?' she asked.

She couldn't see him, but she heard his heavy sigh carried through the comm system as though he were standing at her side. 'Kathryn, it appears they've been lying in wait about two star systems away.'

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