fedend2ch01

FEDERATION’S END II: THE WITCHING HOUR
by E. L. Zimmerman 
CHAPTER ONE

CAPTAIN’S LOG:

For the time being, Earth will have to wait.

Until further notice, I have suspended our seemingly endless quest for the Alpha Quadrant in favor of studying, in greater detail, the technology existing on the planet Besaria. The world’s former master, a ruthless shapeshifter calling himself ‘the One,’ utilized a rarely seen before form of power called Twelfth Power Energy. With it, he provided offensive and defensive capabilities to which even the Borg possessed no suitable countermeasures. Furthermore, he developed virtually limitless applications to this energy source, all for the benefit of subjugating over one hundred peaceful species under his merciless rule.

However …

Now that the One’s reign of terror has ended from efforts of the crew of Voyager, the Besarian Acting-Prefect, Packell, and his lifemate, Aulea, have embraced us with open arms, displaying an infinite willingness to share whatever science has been left behind by their former overlord. It is our intent to harness the potential of Twelfth Power Energy to power a communications beacon that will carry the message of our survival in the Delta Quadrant back to Earth.

This sabbatical will also provide the Doctor with the time he needs to conduct further studies on Seven of Nine’s encrypted files … files that I’ve been led to believe contain the secrets to the origin of the Borg and, perhaps, their master race.

Commander Chakotay is heading up the research efforts on the surface of Besaria, with the assistance of B’Elanna Torres. Together, they are tasked with preparing the communications beacon with the technology necessary to propel it through a singularity toward home. Mr. Neelix has also been assigned to Besaria. The Trakill, Besaria’s resident species, have graciously consented to providing us with a tremendous supply of food … freshly-grown fruits and vegetables … for the long trip ahead …

Still, all work and no play … we all know the rest.

Grandly gesturing at the ten-foot-high shimmering blue marble hanging in the blackness of space before her, Captain Kathryn Janeway announced, ‘Packell, Aulea … I’d like you to meet the planet Earth!’

Holodeck Two’s image of the Earth, revolving as it did ever so slowly, floated before them near enough for any of the three to reach out and touch. In the Holodeck, they stood atop the Klemmer Observatory, which, on the surface of the real planet Earth, was located only a few miles north of Starfleet Command’s San Francisco Headquarters. When afflicted with homesickness, as even the best and bravest Starfleet captain could be under the Voyager’s unique set of circumstances, Kathryn Janeway visited the observatory, having programmed the Klemmer into the ship’s database herself entirely from memory. A trip here was her own guilty pleasure.

Once inside the Holodeck, however, she had a single personal rule: never look at the stars. For that, she had stellar cartography or the bridge’s main viewer. Here, atop the platform of an old Earth observatory, she reserved herself to longing stares at the ‘big blue marble’ in space that she called ‘home.’

‘This platform was named for the late twenty-first century astronomer, Kyle Klemmer,’ Janeway explained. ‘He was the first to hypothesize charting the galactic corridors outside of our own star systems on a multi-dimensional quadrant grid relating to corresponding star systems. In his vision, Earth occupied Sector Zero-Zero-Zero-One.’ She shrugged, smiling. ‘Not exactly universal thinking, postulating a galaxy-map that was so … Earth-centric. But, among my people, his mechanics have survived any alteration or modification for a couple of centuries.’

‘Oh, my, my, my!’ Aulea squealed adoringly, stepping to the edge of the platform, gripping the black railing with her green, three-fingered hands. ‘What a picture of radiance! Your world … it’s so wonderfully blue!’

‘Keep in mind,’ Kathryn began, ‘that you couldn’t actually stand on this platform and see the Earth. That would be a paradox in time and space of unimaginable proportion. However, the simulation I’ve created here is intended for viewing pleasure only, not geographical or cosmological accuracy.’

‘My dear captain,’ Packell cooed, joining his lifemate Aulea arm-in-arm. ‘That is … quite one planet you have there.’ Casually, he glanced sideways at Janeway. ‘I can understand your … unflinching desire to return home.’

Feeling radiant herself, the Voyager captain smiled at the couple.

‘Prefect, trust me when I say that every last soul and spirit aboard the Starship Voyager misses our own special corner of the Alpha Quadrant.’ She lifted her head and added, ‘Computer, modify present visual to display the typical Earth springtime climate of 2247. Concentrate visual clarity on the Western Hemisphere, specifically the mid-western United States.’

Before them, the planet rotated, with the cloud cover increasing dramatically. An atmospheric corridor appeared that stretched down to the Earth’s surface.

‘There,’ Janeway said, pointing toward the flat land near the middle of a large continent. ‘Right about there, anyways. Indiana. If I’m headed anywhere, Packell, that’s it. That’s where I call home.’

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He smiled heartily at her. ‘Indiana,’ he said, savoring every syllable. ‘The name … it sounds magical!’

‘Captain, I’ll bet it’s a beautiful sight,’ Aulea added politely.

‘If there were ever a way, captain,’ the Trakill Prefect said, ‘I would love for us to see it with you. I do so envy your journey through the stars.’

‘Packell!’ Aulea squealed at her mate. ‘May the Essence enlighten you! With all that our people have suffered for so many years, your thoughts for the future should be on your own kind! We have our own world to rediscover!’

‘Aulea,’ he purred, leaning romantically close to her ears, ‘I am being polite to our guest … the savior of Besaria.’

‘No, no, no,’ Janeway insisted, shaking her finger at him. ‘I’ll not be called any planet’s savior. Packell, I did my duty and that’s all. Aulea’s right. Besaria needs your thoughts and dreams and plans perhaps now more than ever before. It needs that much more than it needs a savior.’

Packell sighed heavily, dropping his wife’s arm and slapping his flattened palms on his own thighs. Janeway had learned that it was a Trakill gesture of frustration.

‘But my post!’ he cried, pounding his thighs for several seconds. ‘It’s only temporary! I am ‘acting’ head of state. And what state is there? Our people, in the frenzy from having the bonds of servitude lifted from them, have scattered to countless worlds amongst the stars!’

‘Freedom is always the better alternative,’ Janeway cautioned. ‘It isn’t necessarily the ‘easy’ one.’

‘While freedom has caused many new plants to sprout,’ Packell reasoned, ‘who knows when the remaining flora will come home to root?’

‘All in good time, Packell,’ Janeway counseled.

‘Listen to her, my love!’ pleaded Aulea.

‘Their shackles are off,’ the captain continued, ‘but your people will eventually want to do as you and Aulea have done. They’ll want to come back to the only home they’ve ever known. And … they’ll want to start fresh. They’ll begin raising crops and rearing families almost as fast as you can open your mouth and catch raindrops! Your planet will find a new evolution in no time.’

Again, Trakill Ambassador wheezed heavily.

‘Captain Janeway, I can only hope you’re right.’

She smiled at him. ‘Packell, among my people, hope is our most powerful weapon.’

‘Hope?’ Commander Chakotay barked into the Besarian comm system. ‘B’Elanna, did I hear right? Did you say that you ‘hope’ the power converters don’t blow up in your face? How can that be? I thought we had them stabilized as of 0700 hours?’

Although he couldn’t be certain, Chakotay suspected that his voice reception on the other end, deep in the subterranean Generatrix, far beneath the surface of the planet Besaria, was garbled at best. He assumed that the now-seemingly routine communications break-up had returned.

‘These problems are becoming all too common,’ he worried, realizing that he was now experiencing the same transmission ‘crackling’ on this end that he had fixed over an hour ago. ‘Damn the white noise anyway,’ he muttered. When it came to Twelfth Power Energy distribution, he wasn’t certain as to all of the hows, ifs, or whys, but it was his opinion that the Besarian Science Complex was experiencing extreme technical difficulty, mounting in increasing severity as the days passed.

‘B’Elanna?’

There came no reply.

‘B’Elanna, do you read?’

‘Barely < crack crack > -ander,’ came the response through the buzzing intercom.

Grimacing, he quickly adjusted the unit’s frequency modulator. The speaker whined in protest, and he lowered the volume. ‘Is that better?’ he asked.

‘Somewhat,’ she replied. ‘I’m not convinced … < crack crack > … better.’

‘Say again?’

‘I’M NOT CONVINCED THAT < crack crack > -‘S GOING TO GET ANY BETTER!’

Despite the frustration, he smiled. ‘Now THAT I heard.’

‘THEN I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO KEEP SHOUTING!’

‘How can all these systems be offline again?’ he questioned his chief engineer. ‘I thought we had established an online lockdown?’

‘I know,’ she muttered her reply. Then, the remainder of her explanation blended amongst the crackling, popping, and gurgling of radio static.

‘Say again, lieutenant?’

‘I KNOW, COMMANDER! I KNOW!’

‘Any theories, B’Elanna?’

‘IT’S LIKE THE SYSTEMS ARE JUST TEMPERAMENTALLY FALLING APART ON US!’

‘I thought you had the custodial mainframe reconfigured to Voyager specifications,’ he tried.

On the other end of the weakening comm signal, B’Elanna Torres shouted, ‘I THOUGHT SO TOO, COMMANDER! BUT … EVERYTHING JUST CRASHED! AGAIN! FOR THE FOURTH TIME TODAY!’

‘Oh, my,’ Chakotay heard from behind. Quickly, he turned to find Neelix walking up from the corridor. ‘Hello, Commander,’ the Talaxian offered.

‘SAY AGAIN, CHAKOTAY!’

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‘What’s B’Elanna yelling about?’ Neelix asked.

‘It’s the comm system,’ the commander explained.

‘I REPEAT … SAY AGAIN!’

‘Standby a minute, B’Elanna!’ Chakotay shouted into the mouthpiece.

‘What seems to be the problem, commander?’ pried the Talaxian.

‘Cascading systems failures,’ the first officer explained.

‘WHAT?!’ B’Elanna snapped.

‘HE SAID THAT YOU’RE EXPERIENCING CASCADING SYSTEMS FAILURES!’ Neelix offered, leaning over, delivering his cry into the unit.

‘CHAKOTAY?’ she shouted in reply. ‘WHAT’S HAPPENED TO YOUR VOICE?’

‘STANDBY, LIEUTENANT!’ Chakotay belted into the microphone.

‘DON’T YELL AT ME!’

‘I’m terribly sorry, commander,’ Neelix apologized. ‘I was only trying to help.’

Frustration bubbling within, the first officer held up his hand. ‘It’s not your fault, Neelix. It’s this damn energy processing system. Frankly, I don’t know how the One did it. I can’t even begin to imagine how he kept all of these inter-linked power systems functioning all of the time. He must’ve possessed either some grand secret or the ability to work magic.’

Shrugging slowly, Chakotay forced the tension he felt in his shoulders to flow down his arms and out of his body through his fingertips, a trick passed down from his tribal ancestors. The technique, while ancient by Earth standards, still worked today.

‘Neelix, what are you doing here?’ he changed the subject. ‘I thought Captain Janeway assigned you to food collection detail.’

‘You’re absolutely correct,’ the Talaxian replied, ‘and that brings me to why I’m here. These Trakill are generous beyond compare! I’ve so much stock prepared for transport to Voyager that I was hoping you could spare a few extra hands to assist in parceling some of the Gallush fruit. Fresh pickings from the trees, commander! Warm and juicy! I can’t wait to get it in my pantry!’

Smiling at his shipmate’s enthusiasm, Chakotay surrendered. ‘Need a couple of strong backs, do you?’

‘Only if you have them to spare, commander.’

‘CHAKOTAY, CAN WE PLEASE GET THIS OVER WITH! IT’S HOTTER THAN KLINGON HELL DOWN HERE!’ B’Elanna’s voice came to life over the speaker.

‘B’Elanna,’ Chakotay tried, ‘how can we be experiencing these multiple system failures? We’re watching system after unrelated system almost methodically shutting down and powering back up as if under their own free will! From what we’ve been able to learn from the Generatrix engineers who stayed behind, there’s no logical explanation for the core energizers to behave this way, so I need you to come up with an answer to that question for me.’

‘SAY AGAIN, COMMANDER!’ he heard. ‘YOUR TRANSMISSION IS FRACTURING ALL OVER THE PLACE!’

The first officer sighed heavily, losing himself briefly to the silence between the three of them. Then, Chakotay heard the familiar voice of good old Morale Officer Neelix.

‘Easy, commander. B’Elanna knows her job. It’s this quilted alien technology that makes no sense to any of us.’

Chakotay smiled.

‘How right you are, my Talaxian friend.’

‘CHAKOTAY, IF YOU CAN HEAR ME, AND I SURE HOPE THAT YOU CAN BECAUSE I’M STARTING TO LOSE MY VOICE … I HAVEN’T THE SLIGHTEST CLUE AS TO WHAT’S CAUSING THESE SYSTEM COLLAPSES!’ B’Elanna admitted. ‘IT SEEMS AS IF ONCE I GET A PRIMARY SYSTEM STABILIZED, THE RELATED JUNCTIONS FAIL! I’M OF THE OPINION THAT THESE SECONDARY FAILURES ARE CAUSING SOME TYPE OF INTEGRATED FEEDBACK LOOP! IT’S ALMOST AS IF THAT’S HOW THE SYSTEM WAS DESIGNED! LET ME DO THIS! LET ME RESET ALL INITIAL SYSTEMS ONE MORE TIME! THIS’LL BE THE LAST TIME! I’LL HAVE TO GET BACK TO THE MASTER CONTROL PROCESSORS! IF YOU HAVE SOMEONE YOU CAN SPARE, I COULD USE SOME ADDITIONAL TRICORDERS! I’LL HAVE MY CREW FAN OUT TO DETERMINE WHICH JUNCTIONS ARE DESTABILIZING, AND WE’LL INSTALL OUR OWN MAKESHIFT BYPASS SYSTEMS! THEN, LET ME RUN A FEW MORE DIAGNOSTICS! I’LL GET BACK TO YOU WITH A MORE DETAILED EXPLANATION THEN!’

‘Understood,’ Chakotay replied.

‘WHAT?!’

‘UNDERSTOOD!’

Interrupting, Neelix tried, ‘Commander, your hands are full.’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘and B’Elanna’s got a strong pair of lungs.’ The first officer considered his shipmate for a moment. ‘Neelix, I’ll make you a deal.’

‘I’m listening, Commander.’

Pointing to a nearby aluminum container, Chakotay bargained, ‘You see that container? It’s filled with tricorders and B’Elanna’s personal engineering whatnots. If you’ll deliver that to Generatrix Sub-Level Nine, I’ll return the favor and pull Heidhuz and O’Neill off science detail long enough to get your food stores packaged and transported up to Voyager. What do you say?’

Smiling, the Talaxian agreed, ‘On my way, commander!’ With that, he quickly snatched up the meter-long container and headed down the main corridor of the Besarian Sciences Complex. More to himself than anyone in particular, he added, ‘Let’s just hope I can find my way through these tunnels this time.’

‘Don’t worry about that, my Talaxian friend,’ Chakotay thought to himself. ‘Losing you would hardly be the worst thing to go wrong today.’

Next Chapter 
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