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

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

"Davis, you've heard the old saying, haven't you?" Commander Chakotay asked as the two marched, their Starfleet issue boots scraping almost in unison. They were nearing the Grand Hall. Chakotay could see the main entrance just ahead of them. "It goes ... I have good news and bad news."

"Yes, sir," the ensign replied.

"Well, the bad news is regarding Prefect Packell," the commander warned. "He's not going to like the fact that we're barging in on his ... congregation. He's not going to like what I'm about to tell him. As a matter of fact, there's a very good chance that he's liable to go stark raving mad. Besaria, after all, is his life. It's his peoples' life. It's in their blood. So, Packell is going to fight me every step of the way."

Davis swallowed. "I understand, sir," he replied, trying to muster the enthusiasm he thought his commanding officer would want to hear. "And the good news?"

They reached the main entrance, and Chakotay took the door catch in his hand. Smiling at the ensign, he said, "I actually brought you along for protection."

"Sir?"

Twisting the catch, Chakotay shoved the massive wooden doors. Creaking evilly in protest, the ancient hinges were not tended for under the One's dictatorship, as the Trakill would've insisted on caring for their sacred temple. The doors opened, and the two men entered.

The enormous chamber was well lit. Glancing ahead down the center aisle, Chakotay noticed that the members remaining in Besarian society were huddled together, appearing as if they were seeking collective warmth from one another, in a large gathering at the base of the raised platform. Curiously, he found them silent, all facing the center of their group.

Nearing them, Chakotay shouted, "By command of the Starship Voyager, this planet is to be evacuated!"

Slowly, the members of the circle parted, leaving the commander to be graced with the sight of Packell and his lifemate, Aulea, kneeling together, an ornate, colorful tapestry spread on the concrete floor between them. Aulea's arm was stretching toward her lifemate, her hand firmly cupping his cheek. Much to his surprise, Chakotay found the two of them weeping.

"What is it?" the commander asked. "What's happened?"

Neelix2 stood directly behind Aulea's shoulder.

"Neelix," Chakotay began, "what's happened here?"

Glancing up from the tapestry, Neelix smiled. "Commander!"

"What's happened here?" Chakotay repeated. "What's going on?"

Tears lining her cheeks, Aulea lifted her eyes to Voyager's first officer. "Hello, commander," she almost whispered.

"Aulea, what is it?" Chakotay pressed. "Is Packell all right?"

Smiling, she studied the expression of wonderment on her husband's face. "He knows greater happiness in this moment than he has know his entire life."

At that, Packell reached up and clasped his wife's hand in his own. The two of them peered at one another, eyes meeting and embracing in a way only true loves can glance at one another.

Clearing his throat, Chakotay persisted, "Packell, I'm ordering that this planet be evacuated immediately."

Packell looked up at the commander.

"There are thirteen ships remaining in the Spaceport," he continued, pressing forward with his decision and his duty. "I've giving Ensign Davis here the responsibility to escort all of you safely to the port and secure you aboard those ships. We don't have much time, so we must leave now -"

"There won't be any Trakill leaving, Commander," Packell retorted softly.

Pointing, Chakotay stepped forward, entering the circle of the group. "Prefect, with all due respect -"

"There's no sense in arguing with him, commander," Neelix2 interrupted.

Angrily, Chakotay glared at the identical. "I'll be the judge of that, Neelix."

"No," the prefect refused easily, his voice ringing of tremendous comfort. Releasing the hold he kept on his wife, he rose and stood before Voyager's commander. "No, Chakotay. There will be no Trakill leaving Besaria. Not now. Not ever."

Containing his irritation, Chakotay sighed heavily and glanced around the throng.

Suddenly, he noticed that all of the Trakill in the group were ...

... weeping?

"Amuhlachi," Packell said. He turned, slightly, gestured with his arm at the tapestry unrolled on the floor behind him. "Commander, your Mr. Neelix has told me that you are a spiritual man."

Flashing a look at the cloned Tallaxian, the commander nodded. "That's correct." The tension relieved momentarily, he grinned slightly at the lead Trakill. "When we're young, my people are taught to believe in spirits. There are spirits everywhere, we're told, some of them good and some of them evil. These good spirits, if sought out by the true of heart, will enlighten the path that our life is supposed to follow. So long as we stay on the path, our spirit guide watches over us as we journey through life."

"Then," Packell affirmed, nodding, "you understand Amuhlachi."

"Amuhlachi?"

"Deliverance," the prefect explained. "You see, if you follow the teachings of the Trakill spiritual leader, Sonah believed that it was Besaria's destiny to provide food to all the galaxy. That simple lesson confirms why every Trakill here, at one time, committed himself or herself to the harvest. To the crops. Sonah told us that we were meant to put food on tables everywhere, not just our own household. But, Sonah warned, when our world was nearing the inevitable rest following the last harvest, our people would be visited by a star ... little did we know that what Sonah was speaking about was, in fact, a starship, not a star."

Studying the faces of the Trakill in the crowd, Chakotay freely admitted, "I don't understand."

"Deliverance, commander," the prefect repeated, rolling his fingers into fists and shaking them before him with delight. "The star's arrival would signal the harvest's end ... and our admittance to life hereafter. Sonah's resting place. True peace ... true rest ... only found in Amuhlachi."

"Packell, would Sonah want your species to commit genocide?" Chakotay asked, trying to reason with the leader. "As far as you and I know, the Trakill gathered here are all that remain in the universe! This isn't about the hereafter! It's about the maniacal aftermath of the shapeshifting lunatic who enslaved your world! It isn't about deliverance! It's about survival!"

Smiling quietly, the prefect nodded. "You are a passionate man."

"I'm passionate about preserving the sanctity of all life," Chakotay countered, "not just my own."

"When I visited your ship, your captain told me about your Prime Directive, commander." Packell studied Chakotay's deep eyes. "Is it not the Federation's guiding principle?"

Chakotay remained silent. He knew where this argument was headed.

Defiant, Packell pointed at the tapestry. "This ... this depiction of Amuhlachi ... this is our Prime Directive." He turned and stepped nearer the cloth. "The lessons of our founder have returned to us. We had forgotten them, until your Mr. Neelix found and returned this tapestry to us, all that remains of our sacred teachings. Sonah is showing us the way, commander, and he will protect and preserve our Essence for delivery to our hereafter."

Chakotay didn't know what to say, but he was convinced he had to try.

"Packell, I -"

"We are well aware of the circumstances our planet is facing," the leading Trakill interrupted.

"Packell, this isn't about salvation," Chakotay finally challenged, realizing he was now only repeating his earlier argument. "If you and your people insist upon staying here, then that is your choice."

"It is our choice," Packell agreed.

"Then you'll die," the commander warned him. "This planet ... equipped with that massive power system running through the Generatrix ... is destroying itself. As sure as I've been about anything in my life, prefect, if you choose to remain here then you won't live to see another raindrop. I guarantee it."

"Such is the way of life," Packell reasoned, "in Amuhlachi."

Dumbfounded, Chakotay resigned.

The prefect spoke first. "The rest of you gathered here today," he bellowed out from the middle of his throng, "those of you who are not Trakill. You have elected me your ruler. In this capacity, I hereby order you to follow Commander Chakotay to the Spaceport. He comes from good people. He will see to it that you are delivered somewhere safe." Clearing his throat, the Trakill continued: "Those of you who are Trakill amongst this Assembly. You have seen the tapestry. You have been raised to believe in the words and works of Sonah, as I believe them and have spoken about them today. However, I will not force you down the path to Amuhlachi, and neither would Sonah. As he decreed, the path is before you for your choosing and yours alone ... not mine ... nor my wife's ... nor any fellow Trakill. If you go with the brave people of Voyager, you will not be disgracing your heritage. Rather, you will be fulfilling the destiny to carry the teachings of Sonah beyond Besaria. If you go, let not our voices be silenced in the galactic expanse. Sonah ... and I ... would expect no less of you. The choice is yours."

Gradually, the throng dispersed as the Trakill made their way forward, leaving the other species to retreat toward the pews. Quickly, Neelix2 shuffled aside, knowing that this was not his place, either.

"Packell," Chakotay tried, weakly, certain that his words would be useless, "I can't accept this."

"The Trakill have spoken, Commander Chakotay," Aulea reasoned from her spot on the floor, kneeling, cradling a portion of the tapestry in her arms. "My husband has spoken. The Trakill who stand with us shall remain for deliverance. To any of those who leave, may Sonah always be your guide. But, commander, you must go now. Time is precious. Amuhlachi was not intended for you or your people. We would not expect you to remain here with us."

"This planet," Chakotay tried, "is dying."

"The Essence will protect us," Aulea assured him, glancing up with one final, tearful smile.

Then, Chakotay felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned, finding Neelix2 at his side. "Commander," the identical said. "It's time we left."

Chakotay glanced around at the assembly. Davis had already begun his duty, filing those who were departing out through the main doors. Silently, the commander stood, watching them go. He wondered if his faith could stand the test of sacrifice that Packell and the Trakill were making. Looking back at their gathered faces, he studied them for several moments. Try as he might, he couldn't find a single expression of pain, anxiety, or suffering among them. In fact, they all appeared ...

... contented.

Reaching out with his hand, Chakotay stepped forward and grasped Packell's. The two men shook hands, staring deeply into the other's eyes.

"Packell," was all Chakotay could say.

The Trakill leader smiled. "Commander, if you are not a legend among those with whom you travel, you will be in your own hereafter. If Besaria must die, then the Trakill must die with it," Packell reasoned, "for the fortunes of Amuhlachi."

Then, he let go of Chakotay, and his hand dropped to his side. "Hurry. I can feel the planet stirring beneath me. You have little time. Get you and your people as far away from here as you can." Smiling, he added, "For what you have done here ... sacrificing yourselves ... sacrificing your honor on our behalf ... you will forever be in our hearts and our prayers. Now, go ... while you still can."

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