Endless IIB: Hitting Home
by Judy email@example.com and Etal
Year: 00; December
Rat-tat-tat-tt-tt. The noise sounded like gunfire in one of the old vids he liked. But it wasn't a vid. Tom's teeth chattered uncontrollably from the bone chilling cold. He knew he must be frozen solid inside and out. Frigid water surrounded him. He wanted to wrap his clothes around him for warmth, but sensed none. Where was he? This was crazy. Why was he so cold he couldn't think straight? Why did he feel swollen and electrified all at the same time?
Rat-tat-tat-tt-tt. Rat-tat-tat-tt-tt. It wasn't going to stop. Maybe he could move, but, no, his limbs were immobilized in some wet hell that was paradoxically very, very cold, bone numbingly cold. The shivering convulsed his whole body. He wanted to open his eyes to check out his surroundings, but his lids remained tightly closed, as if frozen shut.
Did he really open his eyes? Darkness. Rat-tat-tat-tt-tt. Rat-tat-tat-tt-tt. He was so tired from the cold and the shivering. Maybe a little nap would help. Over the sounds of his chattering teeth he thought he heard a rushing sound, the kind water makes as it falls over cliffs, off the ends of the earth.
Rat-tat-tat-tt-tt. Rat-tat-tat-tt-tt. Sleep. Escape. Rat-tat-tat-tt-tt. Rat-tat-tat-tt-tt.
Kathryn waved her hands in an ineffectual attempt to keep the bugs at bay. Although the insects remained outside the net that covered her head and neck, they nonetheless buzzed annoyingly around the rest of her body. She couldn't tell by the light of her wrist lamp whether these were the seemingly friendly bugs that had been communicating with them or whether these were the ones that had made off with Tom. For whatever reason, the communicating bugs no longer talked to them.
As she followed behind Tuvok and Chakotay, she recognized that she was hot, sticky, and constantly fighting off plants and insects, but in her mind's eye she only had room for images of the way the bugs had simply lifted Tom without touching him and had taken him away.
In daylight, the path to the waterfall was lengthy, but not particularly arduous. By moons' light, with Tom in danger, it seemed fraught with peril, such as hidden tree roots ready to trip the traveler. New plant growth, lushly overgrowing the trail, had to be brushed aside and held so as not to lash the next traveler in line.
She wished they could have used the transporters, but Tom's exact location was unknown. His comm badge had been found on his shirt, torn and abandoned just outside the mess hall. They weren't even sure he was near the waterfall. She hoped Angelo had it right, that Tom's captors had been taking him to the waterfall. She didn't want Tom under the control of the bugs any longer than he'd been already. With difficulty she tried to ignore the nasty voice inside her head that told her Tom might have been taken anywhere.
"Megan, beam Paris to the shuttle, locking onto my comm badge at my mark." Chakotay spoke to the commissioner who'd agreed to stay behind in the shuttle. He removed his sodden tank top with his own badge on it and covered Tom from chest to thighs with the sweat soaked material. "Now."
Tom dematerialized in a display of lights that briefly illuminated the gorge at the foot of the waterfall. They hadn't taken the time to examine him for injuries. The blue tinge to his skin and lips, eerily lit by their lamp light, was enough to call for the immediate beam out.
"Shit," Megan reported aloud over the comm link. "But -- um -- he's here and the doc has him on a biobed. Just thought you'd like to know."
Since none of them were needed to help the EMH back at the shuttle, Chakotay took a minute to regroup the rescue team. Still tethered together, still wearing the protective head nets, they naturally formed a circle, backs to each other and used their lamps and tricorders to scan the immediate area.
"Report," Chakotay ordered, sounding more like a military officer than a mayor.
"Large swarms over the river," Kathryn said.
"Same," Tuvok echoed.
"I'm reading signs of Tom having been over the water and in it, but it doesn't look as if he went over the waterfall."
"No. But it does look like they dropped him in this side pool here and did -- whatever."
"Let's head back," Chakotay suggested but it was another order from a commander. No one commented on his tone or manner. He knew how he sounded, but he also knew that this rescue had required it of him. The way the bugs had simply flown off with Tom, with none of them able to stop the fleeing insects, had left him shaken and unnerved. That some swarm of bugs could come take away any one of them in the night was enough to rattle even a man who sometimes thought he'd seen everything.
Tom realized he was no longer cold. In fact, he was very, very hot, burning. His joints ached and his muscles spasmed in agony. Where was the cold when he needed it? This was bad pain, inside and outside pain, like sharp lasers teasing at layer after layer of his skin. He could barely breathe, heard loud gasps as he tried.
Hiss. He heard the hiss and felt painful pressure against his neck. Then the hurt faded in lock step with awareness. Deeper down he went until he was swamped by darkness and relief.
Megan watched the transformation the doctor was bringing about with the kind of sick fascination one has at the scene of a terrible accident. Tom had arrived blue and still, his body bloated and splattered with welts. She saw a green bug wing in one ear, another small bug body part in his nose.
Megan turned away, nearly violently ill at the sight. Putting her head down and taking deep breaths helped. When she could function again, she faced the doctor by the biobed. "What can I do?"
"Replicate a bioblanket and put it over him." The doctor answered mechanically, without even sparing a glance her way.
Megan did as asked and placed the blanket over Tom's body, bringing it up to his chin. The doctor continued to work on Tom as she quickly stepped out of his way. She didn't take his brusqueness personally. It was clear that Tom's condition was grave.
Seemingly dozens of hyposprays and numerous adjustments to the raised arms of the biobed later, the doctor stepped back. Based on what Megan could see, it looked as if the hologram actually drooped. An interior voice told her that just couldn't be. "Doc?" she ventured. When he didn't answer, she tried again.
Finally, the EMH gazed her way. "Megan."
"Yes. How is Tom?"
That slump she thought she'd seen returned to his shoulders and she realized she hadn't imagined it. "He is...." Surprisingly, the doctor didn't finish his sentence.
"He's very ill."
"He'll be all right, won't he?"
"There's alien substances in his body and almost every inch of him has been in contact with the bug fluids. Unfortunately, his DNA profile still shows only two mutations."
"No immunity, then?"
So involved had she been in the doctor's efforts to help Tom that she hadn't realized how much time had gone by until Chakotay, Tuvok, Kathryn, and Neelix let themselves inside the shuttle. For a moment the shuttle's environmental controls went into high speed to compensate for the aroma circulating from the jungle heated new arrivals. In response to their questions, the doctor told them the same things she'd just heard.
"What's going to happen?" Chakotay asked.
"Do you mean the course of the illness?"
"When he came in, he was in shock. Had he remained untreated for another two minutes, he would have died."
Megan watched their reactions to that news. Neelix fluttered, Tuvok's eyes narrowed, but Chakotay and Kathryn had put on their command masks. She knew they were shocked, but they hid it well, the masks wavering only for a moment each. But that moment was enough to tell Megan that their leaders were seriously unnerved.
The doctor continued summarizing what he knew and it was grim. Tom's body had been invaded by live bugs, his skin had erupted in allergic hives, and he had nearly stopped breathing from a closed trachea and bronchial tubes. Reversing the allergic reaction had required every medical intervention the doctor had ever acquired. Eventually, enough steriods and epinephrine and an antivenom the doctor had been working on kicked in. Nonetheless, the doctor had Tom on some serious life support.
Hearing the news about Tom seemed to drain the rescue party. Even Tuvok appeared weary and worried. "What does it mean?" Megan asked.
Wiping a hand over his sweat stained face, Chakotay answered her. "The nets aren't enough. We've got to make the shelters safe. And somehow we've got to find out what's going on if the bugs will talk to us again."
"It appeared that Tom was caught between rival factions of the insects," Tuvok hypothesized. "I suspect he was placed in the water as a gift or sacrifice to follow some custom of theirs. That he wasn't dead may be due to the fact that the bugs have not dealt with such large creatures as us before. They may not make that mistake again."
"Do you think they'll take someone else?" She flashed on her twin Jenny and on their roommates. Soh was expecting twins. Nothing had better happen to any of them.
"Establishing communication is crucial," Kathryn said forcefully. "We have to know what happened."
"But next time we try, we'd better do it behind a force field," Chakotay looked terribly grim when he spoke to them. It was clear he took his responsibilities as mayor very, very seriously.
Tom struggled to breathe, labored against pain, found fever consuming him even as he processed the memories through drug and venom induced hallucinations. Although so much was a blur, he could remember the way the bugs had left him helpless with their kinesthetic powers. He desperately wished he had been able to stop them, to convince them to talk, to refrain from treating him like some large animal sacrifice to their gods.
He tried to tune into the sounds and smells around him. At least his teeth had ceased that bone rattling chattering. But beyond that observation, he couldn't be sure where he was. Maybe he should open his eyes, but that would take effort. It might hurt his eyeballs. He shuddered as he remembered bugs flying into his eyes. No. No-o.
Was this a real voice? He couldn't be sure. It sounded like the doc. How could the EMH be around? Wasn't he offline? If he was thinking about this, did that mean he was all right? Was he back? Was he safe? As if sensing his questions, the voice told him, "Tom, you're safe now. You're in the shuttle. It's all right."
Yes, that sounded like the EMH. Maybe it would be possible to open his eyes now. Blinking, Tom felt his eyes tear at the bright light. He could make out only a blur. "Doc?"
"Yes. Computer, lower lights 20 percent." The doctor drew closer. "Better?"
"Computer, lower lights another 20 percent."
Blinking rapidly, Tom found his vision clearing to the point where he was certain it was the doctor he saw even if the details were a little fuzzy. "Can't see too good."
"You've got some irritation of the corneas from the bug fluids."
"They flew into my eyes." And everywhere, Tom added silently.
"Yes, they did."
"What's...what's the prognosis?"
"My antivenom treatment is working. I'm altering some of the parameters to improve your recovery time."
"I'm an experiment."
"Yes. But a successful one." The doctor made a throat clearing sound. "There are some people who would like to talk to you."
"Just people, no bugs?" Tom tried a feeble joke.
"Just people. Chakotay, Tuvok, and Kathryn."
"Only three people?" Ouch, talking made the raw soreness in his throat worse.
"I won't allow more than that. You're still very ill."
"Feel like shit." He felt as if a shuttle had rolled over him.
"I'm not surprised."
There was a lot more he wanted to know, and he suspected the trio waiting to see him wanted some answers themselves. But before he could agree to see them, he found himself sliding down into that inky blackness that formed a bulwark against pain.
High over the area that was once their town, Joe Carey piloted the Ride to a stationary place above VoyCe. Scans showed swirling snow on the ground, but none currently fell over the devastated site. "Couldn't be more different from that jungle we left," he commented to his colleagues, Penny Burleson and Hammid Zakhireh.
"Good thing we brought our all-terrain suits," Penny acknowledged.
"It looks very bad down there," Hammid's voice gave a gravelly warning.
"Well, let's see if we can tractor out the F'Lang."
"I've got it on sensors," Penny reported.
"Tractor beam is ready."
As their shuttle pilot, Carey called the shots. "Let's get her out."
"Engaging," Hammid confirmed.
"She's coming free!" Penny told them as she monitored the sensors.
On screen they could see the broken shuttle jerking upwards in the light of the tractor beam. Hammid guided the beam carefully to settle the shuttle on a smooth area of snow covered ground.
Carey commed the waiting colonists they'd left far behind in the jungle. "Tuvok, Mayor Chakotay. We've got her."
"What's her condition?" Chakotay asked.
Penny answered. "Sensors show three major hull breaches."
"Are the breaches repairable?"
"Don't see why not," Carey drawled. "We're going to set down and see what we can do on the ground."
"Weather conditions do not appear to be favorable," Tuvok indicated.
"You've got that right," Carey agreed. "We're going to put a force field around both shuttles and extend life support from the Ride."
"It's that bad?" Chakotay asked.
"Wind chill is -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Ground temperature is -17. Snow should begin falling any time now."
"It's your call, Joe," Chakotay assured him. "Let us know when you're on the ground."
"Will do. Carey out."
Swiveling in his chair, Joe grinned at Penny and Hammid. "The adventure of our lives, folks. Let's do it."
He piloted the Ride to a soft landing right next to the heavily damaged F'Lang. It took a few minutes to establish the force field and to bring life support from the Ride to the interior of the F'Lang. With the force field in place, the heated air from the Ride would sustain both shuttles. He commed Chakotay with the news and promised to give updates periodically. To Penny and Hammid, he gave a wry grin. "Let's go give her a look."
Although the force field could keep the warm air inside the F'Lang, despite its broken hull, the shuttle was too damaged to bring up operations of any kind. Light came inside through gaping cracks in the hull and from their wrist lamps. Snow began to melt down the walls and puddle under their feet. "This is a mess," Penny announced, seeing her dream of using the F'Lang as a power source disappearing in the reality of the shuttle's condition.
Hammid looked around. "It can be fixed," he shrugged.
"Yeah," Penny challenged. "Since when are you the optimist here?"
Another shrug from the Persian whose ancestors had rarely encountered snow in their desert home. "The camel smells water," he told her, deadpan, but with a twinkle in his dark eyes.
"And that means...."
"We can fix it."
Penny had to laugh. "Well, that took us full circle."
"Let's get to work, then," Joe said, taking advantage of the good humor of the group. His work team had gotten along together on the first attempt to convert power. It looked as if the camaraderie continued to this mission as well. Good. He believed Penny's plan was sound and that they would soon have a reliable source of power for the settlers left behind in the jungle.
End part 10