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

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

From high orbit, Voyager's bridge crew watched the screen as the surface of the planet Besaria far beneath them now boiled.

"Harry," Captain Janeway asked, her eyes locked on the viewer, "has the evacuation fleet cleared the planet?"

She listened to the clicks and beeps as the ensign performed a scan of the surrounding space. "Aye, captain."

Nodding, she continued, "Tuvok, at their present speeds, will the ships clear the blast?"

Again, she heard the chirping work of a computer console.

"Affirmative, captain," Tuvok replied.

"Then," she tried, her lips drawn tight, "maintain the image on the main viewer for as long as you can." Sighing tiredly, she added, "And Tom? Get us the hell away from that."

"Aye, aye, captain."

On screen, incandescent bursts of green energy exploded one after the other, stretching quickly across the planet's surface. The growing clusters ballooned, ripped themselves apart with a startling display of emerald flame, and then dissipated ... only to leave a subsequent flare-up brewing in their collective wake. Visibly, the planet trembled, like a frightened child, as it succumbed to a barrage of constant earthquakes, tectonic disturbances obviously shifting the planet's crust in order to release the building pressure of the molten core. Suddenly and without warning, a massive chunk of Besaria's northern hemisphere collapsed, followed by an explosion the magnitude of which obscured the blackness of space with a blanket of pure white for several, breathless seconds. For that brief time, Janeway was catapulted, in her mind's eye, back to her childhood Indiana home, imagining that she sat on the front porch, staring out across a perfectly unblemished field of snow, the result of an incredibly harsh winter.

She blinked, and the memory vanished.

Undoubtedly, Besaria's core had ruptured. Molten lava, along with surface material, spewed viciously into the planet's troposphere.

As the blinding white light softened, she brought her hand up and squinted, making out a wall of the fiery clouds finally obscuring the natural green hue of the world she had come to care for so deeply.

"Is this what it's like," she asked, more for herself than for any of the crew, "to watch a planet die?"

Is this what the One meant when he alluded to watching her Federation's end?

Is this what was in store for her homeworld, Earth, tens of thousands of light years away in the Alpha Quadrant?

Is this what brought delight to the Moderators? The Dia'Soto?

Was this just a prelude to the inevitable conclusion of the galaxy?

Or was this an isolated incident?

Tuvok would certainly tell her otherwise. He would explain that what she was presently witnessing was nothing more than the calculated build-up of immeasurable energy finally breaking the boundary of the planet. He'd cite percentages and statistics of the forces tearing Besaria apart. He'd elucidate that she was seeing little more than the proper scientific aftermath of a power source improperly contained, but her heart told her otherwise.

Suddenly, she felt overwhelmed with the impulse that she was committing a sin. She wanted to demand that the image be taken off screen. Wasn't she desecrating Packell's memory? Wasn't she violating some unspoken promise to give one privacy in his final moments? Had she deprived the prefect, Aulea, and the remaining Trakill their inalienable rights to finally secure tranquility after they had endured treachery for so long? She thought of the Grand Hall, thought of the simplicity of its architecture. Although she had yet to hear Commander Chakotay's final report, she knew that the Assembly would undoubtedly have gathered under its roof for solace in the few final moments of existence - or at least this frame of existence. She wondered, if the time came, would she be willing to make a similar sacrifice for her crew? Voyager was more than the sum of its parts, warp core included. The ship had become their home away from home ... their own little piece of Federation territory where there was no Federation. Facing these extraordinary circumstances, a lesser captain would've abandoned the journey ahead of them, ignoring Starfleet's guiding principle when it came to educating starship captains: "Explore new worlds, seek out new civilizations, but realize that, always, you do so with the element of risk."

Was this what 'risk' meant?

Death?

Destruction?

Incalculable demise?

The desire to silence the main viewer grew, but she couldn't bring herself to utter the command.

She needed to see this out of reverence for all those who died there.

She needed to serve witness, as did every member of the bridge crew.

The planet's atmosphere filled with massive clouds, the byproduct of a burning surface, and Besaria lost its green hue in favor of a fiery charcoal luminosity. Slowly, the molten flames enveloped the planet, and the glistening gray clouds followed in their wake.

"Captain," Tuvok said from his Tactical Station, "I'm detecting final rupture of the Generatrix power core. The planet should -"

He never finished his sentence, uncharacteristic of any Vulcan.

Before them, the screen went blank for a millisecond.

Sensing an unanticipated malfunction had deprived them of Besaria's final death throes, Janeway almost turned to ask Harry for an immediate diagnostic ...

... and then the viewer came alive.

A sky blue radiance overtook the main viewer as the explosion of Twelfth Power Energy crackled like a thunderclap, defying the inertial dampeners and shaking Voyager in its grasp. The blue reached out like a tidal wave and enveloped the ship along with the evacuation fleet before it receded. As the flash ebbed back in from its point of origin, a virtual starfield of yellow, green, and orange exploded, rocketing through space, harmlessly passing along the ships' hulls. Like wild and angry fireflies, the energy orbs flitted into the darkness beyond, careening wildly out of control, until they slowed, faded, and inevitably died, swallowed up by the eternal nothingness that filled the gaps between the stars, planets, and galaxies.

Janeway sensed the deck quaking slightly under her feet. It, too, subsided, and she glanced up at the main viewer, finding an empty, flickering sparkler where the planet Besaria once remained. The crackling energy soon fizzled, and the world was dead.

"Goodbye, Packell," she whispered. "May the Essence guide you ... always."

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