FEDERATION'S END II: THE WITCHING HOUR
by E. L. Zimmerman
"Captain," Tuvok announced, the data quickly filtering onto one of his many defense screens, "I'm detecting highly accelerated levels of radioactive contaminants in the Besarian atmosphere." He touched a few keys to retrieve a quick analysis. "The signature of the radiation is extremely comparable to that of Twelfth Power Energy."
"The Generatrix?" she asked.
"I believe the structure has achieved critical mass," he concluded. Again, he touched some additional controls, reviewing a degradation chart he had initiated upon their return to Besaria. "My best estimate gives us two minutes before the city's power center ignites," he stated unemotionally.
"Captain!" Harry called out from Ops. "If the Generatrix goes up, the planet's core will rupture. Besaria will explode. The explosion of a planet this size will easily destroy the three moons."
"Meaning?" she pressed, curious.
"Meaning if we don't abandon Besaria now," Harry explained, "we forfeit all access to Channelspace."
In the fight for survival, she had forgotten all about their Holy Grail.
Leaning her forehead into her hands, Janeway closed her eyes and concentrated. She took a second to collect her thoughts. Why, in their seemingly infinite trek across the Delta Quadrant, did their decisions always rely on these variables? If Voyager broke off now from saving the inhabitants escaping a planet falling apart around them, the crew might secure a transportation system that could deposit the ship back in the Alpha Quadrant, possibly hours from Earth. If Voyager continued, here, all hope would be lost?
"Captain," Harry added, "Mandakorr's death will have been for nothing."
Her head finally clear of the swirling thoughts, the decision was easy.
Glancing up at the main viewer, she replied, "No, Harry. Mandakorr made us aware of Channelspace. Even if we're assimilated, the Borg can't take that away from us. His sacrifice will not go unacknowledged." She flashed him a quick, knowing look, trying to provide her ensign what comfort she could. "Our first priority is staying alive, and Mandakorr explained that there were other conduits out there. If it turns out that we can't use this one, we'll do as we've always done. We'll keep searching for another way home."
Frowning slightly, Harry Kim nodded, understanding precisely the sentiments of his senior officer. "Aye, captain."
Enjoying the momentary peace, quiet, and safety under the Planetary Shield, Janeway realized how tired her 'ole bones' felt. The entire Besarian affair seemed as though it had begun months ago. In real time, Voyager had been delayed here for only a matter of days and weeks. But, the ordeal still felt like forever. Despite overcoming every obstacle that had been thrown their way, the crew of the Starship Voyager wasn't out of danger yet.
One Borg Cube.
One dying planet.
Rising, her hands on her thighs, she faced the main viewer.
"I don't know about the rest of you," she began, "but I'm personally ready to get the hell out of here."
Someone on the bridge, she wasn't sure who, chuckled, but she was quite confident that it wasn't her Vulcan security officer.
"Tuvok? Send a message to all of the escape craft. Order them into a V-flight formation. I want them out in front of Voyager, leading the way. There's a lone Borg Cube overhead. My suspicion is that the Borg will eventually find a way to crack that Planetary Shield. That vessel will come for Voyager first, so we're all those escape craft have for protection. Likewise, all we have to defend ourselves is a single modified torpedo. After that, we'll be shooting blanks."
Next, she tapped her comm badge. "Janeway to Chakotay."
"I'm here, captain," came the reply.
"Well, you're supposed to be up here," she concluded. "Prepare for transport, commander. We're beaming you out of there. You can control the Planetary Shield from here. We're going to need it lowered in order to make our final escape attempt."
"That's not possible, captain," she heard.
"It isn't a request, Chakotay."
"You can't do it, Kathryn."
"May I ask why not?"
"The Generatrix," he replied. "The only measure of containing the explosion of the Generatrix is a containment field. Unfortunately, all B'Elanna had time to configure was a system requiring manual control. It's triggered to a proximity transmitter on the tricorder in my hand."
Janeway heard her first officer sigh heavily over the comm channel.
"To put it lightly," he concluded, "if I go anywhere, Voyager doesn't."
'Damn,' she thought, lowering her head.
"We're not leaving you, commander," she said, defiant.
"Captain, you have no choice."
"Captain," Tuvok interrupted, "the remaining Borg Cube has somehow engaged a protective energy shield of Twelfth Power magnitude."
"No," she whispered, knowing full well what the consequence meant.
"As their frequencies are compatible, the remaining Cube has just passed through the Planetary Shield unharmed," the Vulcan continued. "It is on a direct intercept course with Voyager."
"Tom, evasive maneuvers! Now!"