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

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

Motivating more by anxiety than her infamous anger, B'Elanna Torres pounded the primitive keypads, glancing at read-out after read-out after read-out. When she learned that the Master Power Distribution Coupling System had failed, she rerouted the energy through Besaria City's emergency life support processors. When she determined that the Planetary Shield materialization sequence was fluctuating throughout much of Besaria's southern hemisphere, she amplified the power output by channeling it through the complex's internal auxiliary generator. When she found that the Pulse Cannon initializers had been fused from the extreme heat of the explosion, she engaged the manual overrides to ensure that they still had firepower, if needed.

But, try as she and her crew might, B'Elanna sensed the sad reality all too well: the Generatrix was falling apart around them. These systems were now failing more rapidly than they could repair them.

It was only a matter of time ... and not much of it remained.

"Voyager had better get here fast," she barked in the directions of the other members conducting their own repair work nearby. "If she doesn't, all that will remain for Captain Janeway to retrieve will be our DNA ... blasted into molecules and floating in space with the leftovers of this doomed planet!"

"I heard that, lieutenant," Chakotay barked as he hobbled through the Master Control Center's entryway. "Let's try to show a little optimism, people."

To his surprise, Chakotay felt a tremor shake the room, leaving everyone to glance up from their stations and around the room at one another. Clearly, they anticipated another explosion.

"What happened to you?" B'Elanna asked.

"Hmm?"

"You're limping," she explained. From her console, she requested a seismic analysis of the building. She needed to determine the source of that tremor.

"Power unit fell on me after that last blast," he explained, stopping beside her at the expansive panel.

"Why didn't you call for help?"

Ignoring the futility of their present circumstances, he smiled at her. "You and your crew had enough to worry about."

"That's the understatement of the millennium," she retorted.

"How bad is it?"

Relieved that the scanning systems were still responsive, she smiled as the analysis blinked up on the screen. "I'll tell you in a moment." Quickly, she scanned the report, and she moaned disgustedly.

"What is it?"

"Damn it!" the chief engineer barked, giving in her anger. "The Master Power Distribution Couplers red-lined again," she explained, hammering away at several controls. "This place is patchwork, Chakotay. The One constructed it out of what he could pilfer from the species he captured. It was put together on a thread, and now it's hanging by one. He designed it with too many interconnected gadgets. When one component fails, another follows. It's that old ... what's it called ... domino effect. To be honest, we haven't been able to determine what even one-tenth of these systems do. Because of the number of booby traps the One placed throughout his design, I afraid to even study them." Irately, she stood and glanced around at her team. "Has anyone found a means to vent excess power? With the distribution couplers out, we're in for a massive stockpile very soon, and I personally don't want to be standing here when it explodes."

"Lieutenant, couldn't we reroute the energy," Davis spoke up first, "and channel the excess into the defensive systems? Then, we can initialize a burst from the Pulse Cannon, jettisoning it into deep space. It might burn out the cannon, but it'll certainly buy us some time to seek other alternatives."

"Good idea," B'Elanna said. "We'd have to convert the power through the-"

"Negative," Chakotay answered, tapping his fingers on the edge of the console. "We don't know where Voyager is."

"But we know where they went!" she insisted. "We channel the power to the Pulse Cannon, and we'll simply aim the discharge in the opposite direction!"

"B'Elanna, we don't know what they encountered," the commander explained. "Who knows? They might've led the Borg on a wild goose chase, taking them beyond Besaria. That could mean that the ship's return vector could be from any one of a thousand directions."

"Chakotay, this may be the only option we have!"

He sighed heavily. "I'm sorry. It's a good idea, but no. It's too risky."

"Then what do you suggest?"

Unexpectedly, another tremor shook the Control Center.

"And let's hear it fast!"

Chakotay grimaced. "Isn't there a way that we could isolate a few of the dormant systems and flood them with the excess power? As you said, this Generatrix has hundreds of gadgets. Let's scan them. Let's find a few that aren't currently engaged. Then, we can funnel the excess energy there, and lock them into some kind of continuous distribution loop."

Frowning, B'Elanna placed her hands on her hips. "We haven't had time to map the Generatrix's dormant systems," she responded, trying to control her rising irritation. "We've been too busy putting out the fires to go on a scavenger hunt!"

Shrugging, Chakotay tried, "There has to be somewhere that you can -"

Suddenly, a third tremor struck, following by the violent concussion of an explosion. The room jolted, and B'Elanna found herself thrown. She smashed into the commander, who caught her with both arms. A junction box overhead burst angrily, and the two of them ducked clear of the contained flames.

"Report!" Chakotay demanded. "Is everyone okay?"

"Sir!" Davis cried from his console. "The power distribution system went critical!"

Righting herself from his arms, B'Elanna jogged back to the master control unit, and she studied the updated information. "Chakotay," she warned, "that means all of Besaria City will be receiving excess energy any minute now!"

He glared at his chief engineer. "I said I want alternatives!"

Her Klingon temper flaring, she flashed him a look that, under normal circumstances, would warrant a night in Voyager's brig. "You want alternatives? How about this? Evacuate the planet while there's still time!"

The room fell silent except for the rumbling of the distance power build-up.

Slowly, the commander glanced around at the expectant faces of the remaining repair crew. He knew they were looking to him for leadership, to make a difficult call that comes with being in charge. It was his duty, and the moment for decisiveness was upon him.

Finally, he asked, "Davis, how long before the power ignites this planet?"

"Sir," the ensign began, "I wish I could say, but, as Lieutenant Torres has already explained, we lack the working familiarity to understand all of these systems!"

Maintaining his calm, Chakotay grinned at the man. "Best guess," he remarked.

Frowning, Davis returned to his screens. "Sir, with what we've dealt with since the Generatrix began playing tricks on us, I'd say we have ... uh ... less than eight minutes."

Nodding, Chakotay searched for his own alternatives, but he knew he had nothing. His chief engineer was right. It was time to leave Besaria or die trying.

"B'Elanna," he said, "can you manually divert some of the energy powering the Planetary Shield into a sort of bubble that could house the Generatrix?"

"To what end?" she asked, exasperated.

"To contain the explosion," he replied. "Look. You're right. This planet is doomed. I want to be the optimist, but even the optimist knows when it's time to face reality. Trust me. It's time. There's little more we can do here other than abandoning ship." He glanced around at the members of the repair team. "So, our responsibility shifts from repair detail to that of life-saving. If we're going to evacuate the planet, I need as much time as possible in order to get every single inhabitant off this rock before the Generatrix detonates."

"Contain it?" she asked. "Absolutely not. This is Twelfth Power Energy we're dealing with, Chakotay. We don't even know how to manufacture it, let alone control it."

"Understood," he replied calmly, "but can you use that energy on itself to contain the blast?"

"Chakotay," she began, slowly, "there are conduits starting at this Generatrix that run throughout all of Besaria City." Before he could interrupt, she held up her hand. "All right. I can get a protective bubble around this building. That shouldn't be a problem. But, I think I can only delay the inevitable for a few seconds."

Again, he managed to smile at his troops. "That may be all we need." Finished, he clapped his hands together. "Here's what we need. Davis, you're with me."

"Sir?" Davis asked, nervously.

"I'm putting you in charge of the Spaceport.

"But, sir," the young man protested politely, "uh ... I'm only an ensign!"

"Lodge a formal complaint with Mr. Kim," Chakotay replied. "How many ships presently remain?"

Excitedly, the ensign returned to duty, glancing at his control screen. "Thirteen craft, sir," he reported, pulling up a quick schematic. "Uh, sir, they're all small models. They were designed, mostly, for atmospheric travel only. Trips from city to city, and so forth. From here, I have no idea of determining how many of them are spaceworthy."

"Then they're what we have to work with," Chakotay explained. "From your schematic, can you tell whether or not they are large enough to accommodate an evacuation of our crew and the city's residents? We're looking at a complement nearly the size of Voyager's present crew."

"Best guess, sir?" Davis asked.

Grinning, the commander said, "I'll never expect anything less ... from an ensign."

Ignoring the chuckles from his crewmates, Davis glanced at the screen again before replying. "Yes, sir! If all thirteen are spaceworthy, I'd say we have more than enough room."

"Then," Chakotay responded authoritatively, "you're in charge, and that means that you're coming with me."

"Where are you going?" B'Elanna asked.

"The Assembly," the commander explained. "Neelix reported in to me before I arrived here. The citizens gathered in the communal center after that first explosion. Prefect Packell was providing comfort to his flock. I'm now going to convince the flock that it's time to leave the field, so to speak. Davis will coordinate the citizens while I convince the Prefect." Reaching out, he placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently. "I need you, however, to remain here until the last possible moment. Reconfigure the power to that Planetary Shield, and get this building under some kind of protective shell. Whatever you can work out. I know we've all been working on a handicap here, so give it your best work. Whatever margin you can buy us, B'Elanna, will do. I have the gut feeling we're going to need it."

Pleased, he released her shoulder and pointed toward the Generatrix's exit. "After I finish with the Prefect, I'll meet you out front. Then, I'll race you to the Spaceport."

Finally, she managed to smile back at her commanding officer. "Chakotay, I've known you long enough. Remember that time on Creata III, on the edge of the Badlands? I told you that you ran like a girl."

"Yes," he agreed, containing a laugh. "And, if I remember correctly, someone's rations were served inedible at that evening's dinner."

Suddenly, she dropped the smile. "You did that to me?"

Finished, the commander nodded at Davis, who quickly abandoned his post and joined Chakotay as they headed out the door.

Over his shoulder, the commander spoke as he walked. "The rest of you get to the Spaceport. When the city's residents arrive, fit them wherever you can on those available ships. Maintenance closets. Cargo bays. Jefferies tubes. I don't care. Just get them onboard."

"Chakotay!" B'Elanna yelled, taking a step forward. "What about Voyager?"

"My hands will be full with Packell," he replied. "I'll leave contacting the captain to you."

As she watched the repair crew filing through the archway behind her commander, B'Elanna muttered to herself, "As if I don't have enough to do!"

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