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Vickie T. — 24 Sep 1998, 1:43 PM

Captain Juliet and the rest of the band froze in mid-note as the big bell in the steeple of Reverand Windes' church began to peal. At almost the same moment, Chakotay and Lee-Marie dashed toward the bandstand from someplace outside the circle of lights illuminating the Leola Root Ball. Miss Kathryn's eyes narrowed and in the split second before Chakotay began to speak, she wondered, "Just where in the h*ll have they been?" The little green monster sitting on Miss Kathryn's shoulder disappeared, however, at Chakotay's shout of "Fire!"

Fire!?! Everyone immediately gathered around Chakotay and Lee-Marie as they breathlessly made their report. "We were over at Pinnacle Bluff when we saw the flames on the horizon." "It looks like a grass fire - and a big one, at that." "We could see flames stretching all the way from the base of Big Rock Candy Mountain to the foothills below old prospector Miles' place." Miss Kathryn went pale and gasped, "Oh my God, Chakotay...the cattle...Ice Box Canyon...Fire!" Grimly, Chakotay nodded, "That's right. Our main herd is grazing in Ice Box Canyon this week. With the breeze from the northwest, this fire could sweep right into the canyon." From the back of the crowd, Quark could be heard to mutter, "Hmmm. I feel a special on barbeque coming on."

At that very moment, Tom and B'Elanna, coming from the direction of Look-Out Point, rushed up to the crowd gathered on the dance floor. Chakotay's eyes narrowed and in the split second before Tom began to speak, he wondered, "Just where in the h*ll have they been?" Tom and B'Elanna called out, "Ma!" "Pa!" "Miss Kathryn!" "Fire!" "Yes," Miss Kathryn replied, "we know about the big wildfire out on the range." Tom and B'Elanna looked blankly at one another. "Range?" "Wildfire?" "No, Ma," Tom nearly shouted. "The Delta Q! B'Elanna and I were up at Look-Out Point and we could see flames over in the direction of the Delta Q. It looks like the far west barn may be on fire." Miss Kathryn went paler and gasped, "Oh my God, Tom. With the Delta Q buildings laid out in two big wings, the fire could travel through every barn and home on the ranch."

By this time, the ringing church bell had brought everyone within hearing distance to the center of town, where they stood on what, only minutes before, had been the dance floor of the Leeola Root Ball. Big Jimbo, the Captain of town's volunteer fire department climbed up on the bandstand. "Folks! Folks! Everyone, can I have your attention, please?" The crowd quieted down. "I know that many of you have cattle out there on the range that are being threatened by this fire. I also know that if that west barn at the Delta Q is burning, we're going to need as many hands as we can get to fight the fire. Fortunately, nearly every single able bodied hand is right here in town tonight. I propose that we send a couple of hands from each ranch out to move the cattle out of the fire's path, and the rest of us head for the Delta Q." The crowd nodded and murmered their agreement.

"Chakotay," Miss Kathryn commanded, "I want you and Tom to go after the cattle." "No, Ma," Tom protested, "Let me go back to the Delta Q, I can do the most good there." "I don't need his help," Chakotay growled. Miss Kathryn affixed them both with her Number 3 strength Death Glare. "Listen you two, every dime we've got is tied up in that herd. If we lose the herd, it won't matter if the whole spread burns to the ground, because we'll lose it anyway. I need my two best men out there, and like it or not, you two are it." "Yes, Ma." "Yes, Miss Kathryn." "Then let's go!," said Miss Kathryn, setting her jaw firmly and nodding her head.