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

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Doors parting quickly, Captain Kathryn Janeway, alongside Harry Kim, marched from the Briefing Room onto the Main Bridge, where the rest of her senior crew waited impatiently for her orders. In forced concentration, she brushed past several junior officers, manning secondary consoles, and she stepped down onto the command deck. Immediately, Harry turned from his senior officer and took up his position at Ops.

"Listen up, people," Janeway announced, demanding the attention that the tenor of her voice so richly deserved. Stopping in front of her Captain's chair, she turned and faced the bulk of her crew on the raised dais. All of their eyes were on her, and she met their collective stare with a determination all her own.

"After conferring with Ensign Kim," she began, selecting her words strategically, "and considering the alternatives I think available to us at present ... I'm endorsing a slight change of plans."

Nodding at Tuvok, she ordered, "Raise Commander Chakotay on the main viewer."

"Aye, Captain," the Vulcan replied.

"This isn't going to easy," Janeway continued. "I suspect, while you're not afraid, that most of you aren't going to like it. But, Harry's convinced me that ... to put it in as few words as possible, there's simple no other choice I can make.

"Defending the lives of innocents is something Starfleet has built its reputation on long before we heard the likes of Captains T'Pallantee, Robert April, Christopher Pike, James Kirk, and Jean-Luc Picard," she continued. "Choosing the path less traveled ... the one fraught with danger ... is something that we've a long-standing tradition to uphold. I'm proud to say that this crew - a mix of Starfleet and Maquis talent - has behaved no different." Pausing to let her words sink in, she took the liberty of clearing her throat, to ensure that everyone heard what he had to say next.

"We're dealing with the improbable ... maybe even the impossible ... and, quite simply, now isn't the time to run and hide." With a glare of fierce, stoic determination, she added, "We're making a stand, and we're making it now."

"Captain?" the Doctor asked. "Might I ask ... what's going on?"

Defiant, expecting objections from what she considered the finest crew with which she had ever served, she crossed her arms.

"Yes, Doctor," she answered. "We're going after those Cubes."

Collectively, the crew gasped. Janeway felt a chill in the air and wondered if someone had mistakenly adjusted the environmental controls. Slowly, her staff's attention lingered, and they started taking slight precautionary glances at one another.

"A single Starfleet ship," Tom Paris asked, "against six Borg Cubes?"

Suddenly, the main viewer crackled to life, pulling everyone from the trance back into the present. Commander Chakotay's image appeared, his eyes fixed on his Captain's backside.

"Chakotay here, Captain."

"Commander," she began, turning around to see him, "I'm giving orders for the Voyager to prep for departure from Besaria." She paused a moment, knowing that she was facing not only her single greatest critic but also her most stringent ally. "I've decided to respond to that distress signal."

"Is that wise?" he asked.

"It may not be wise," she answered, inclining her head at the viewer, "but Harry's convinced me that those assimilated when we first encountered that Armada ... well, perhaps the Borg didn't have time to finish the job before they went into deep regenerative mode. There may be injured Gallenians and Trakill and others out there." She swallowed, forcing back her emotions. "I can't sit by and let them suffer."

Known throughout the crew for choosing his arguments wisely, Chakotay nodded his reply. "You'd be facing off against six Cubes, Captain."

"I'm well aware of that, Commander."

"If a single Borg sensor detects you -"

He stopped, trusting that every person on the Bridge knew what the outcome would be. Momentarily, he glanced away.

"Captain, with all respect, it sounds more like a suicide mission than a rescue attempt." Quizzically, he returned his stare to the viewer. "You might as well be taking on the entire Collective."

Smirking, Janeway replied, "Let's hope it doesn't come to that."

"Captain, I -"

"I don't have time to explain all of the particulars," she countered, holding up a single hand. "Harry and I have worked out a scenario to get us aboard the Cube emitting the distress call, and that's all we're intending to do. Investigate. If we find nothing, we tuck our tail between our legs, and we head back here at Warp Nine. But, while Voyager is away, I'm leaving you in charge of the repair efforts on Besaria."

"Understood."

"I'm giving you two mission objectives. First and foremost, I need three Twelfth Power Energy cores converted to fit Voyager torpedo housing. Is that possible?"

"Not a problem at all, Captain," Chakotay answered almost instantly.

"If I'm going to have to light up the night sky should the Borg awake, I'm going to need the firepower to back up my convictions," she concluded.

"Only three?" B'Elanna asked from her position at the Engineering station. "Captain, there are six Cubes. What good -"

"At ease, lieutenant," Janeway cautioned. "If Chakotay can provide us with the power cores, can you engage them within the torpedoes and still maintain the ability to fire in our regular torpedo tubes?"

Befuddled, stumbling with the quickly altering Engineering images whirling through her half-Klingon mind, B'Elanna answered, "I believe so, Captain. Harry and I have prepped the communications drone, so, in the very least, I'm fully aware of the technology we're dealing with. I wouldn't go so far as to say I understand it, but I'm faking my way through." She wrinkled her Klingon forehead, still lost in thought. "I'll need to make some slight modifications, perhaps provide some additional shield housing to the torpedo rings, but it's entirely possible."

The Captain took a step closer to the Engineering post. "B'Elanna, I'm sorry, but I can't accept 'possible' right now," Janeway countered. "I need to know whether or not we're going to fly into the hornet's nest defenseless."

Sputtering, trying to find an alternate solution, B'Elanna managed to say, "Captain, if I can't complete the modifications by the time we're within weapons' range of the Cubes, I'll have an Engineering crew configure the transporters in Cargo Bay Two to beam the torpedoes into space. We'll affix proximity detectors onto the torpedo housing, so, adrift in space, they'll serve as mines." She smiled. "With a little luck, we'll beam one right off a Cube's bow and light that ship up like a supernova when she runs into it."

Pausing, B'Elanna ran a few calculations in her head. "Yes. That's undeniably possible. It's primitive, but that's the beauty of the work. The Borg, with all of their advanced technology, won't be expecting it."

"That's the kind of thinking we need right now," Janeway concluded.

Turning back to the screen, she added, "Commander, how soon can you have the power cores to us?"

"When do you need 'em?" Chakotay asked.

"Is yesterday ahead of schedule?"

"Give me thirty minutes," Chakotay answered. "Neelix and I will have you five power cores. That'll give you your requested three, with two backups in the event that you need them."

From beside Lieutenant Tuvok, Neelix asked, "I beg your pardon?"

Suddenly, Neelix2 poked his head into the projection range of the main viewer. "I think he meant me!"

"Well, there you are!" Neelix rejoiced.

"And there you are!" Neelix2 responded.

"Neelix," Janeway remonstrated. "We don't have time for this right now."

Dropping his head, slightly embarrassed, Neelix said, "My apologies, Captain. I was ... just saying hello ... to me."

"Understood," she agreed, "but talking to yourself will land you in Sickbay for psychiatric observation, if you're not careful."

Chakotay interrupted the Bridge chatter. "And the second?"

"Commander?" Janeway asked.

"You said that you had two mission objectives for me," Chakotay piped in. "I've only heard the first."

"Yes," she said. "I do have something more." Quickly, she brushed a hand across her forehead. "Commander, I need you to convince Packell and his ambassadors that Besaria is doomed," she stated. "You know it. I know it. Make sure he understands."

"Captain!" Neelix2 interrupted, excited, and then he forced himself to calm down, standing at attention. "Forgive the intrusion ... ever so impolite of me ... but isn't that task better suited to my talents as morale officer?"

Unsure of whether or not the sensation she felt in her gut was unease or irritation, Janeway pursed her lips.

"Neelix, do you think you can handle it?"

From his position beside Tuvok, the true Tallaxian shouted, "Why, of course, he can, Captain! He's me!"

"I believe I can speak with the Trakill," Neelix2 confessed, his eyes glazing over in thought. "I give you my word as an ... an ad hoc member of your crew ... that I'll stop at nothing to convince the Prefect that his planet needs to be evacuated."

"It isn't like me to throw water on the playbook this late in the game," Chakotay tried, "but what about us? The crew left on Besaria? What happens if you don't make it back in time, and the Generatrix detonates?"

Emphatically, without fear or indecision, Janeway said, "We'll be back for you, Commander. In the meantime, I need your crew to do everything possible to keep that planetary shield functional. It may be our last line of defense against the Borg ... should they awaken and hostilities commence. If need be, Besaria will be where we make our last stand against the Borg. And ... if it's our last stand, it'll be a good one, Commander."

With conviction, she added, "You have my word."

Smiling back at his Captain, Chakotay nodded. "Then, your power cores will be up shortly. I'll have Neelix hunt down Packell and begin negotiations for a planetary evacuation. If memory serves, Besaria has three moons. Perhaps we can hide there to avoid the Borg, if need be."

Janeway thought she saw a twinkle in her commander's left eye when he said, "We'll be waiting for you, but try not to keep us waiting too long."

Stepping closer toward the screen, Janeway waved a hand at the man.

"Voyager out," she said.

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