Endless IIB: Hitting Home
by Judy firstname.lastname@example.org and Etal
Year: 00; December
"Tom?" Chakotay kept his voice soft. The doctor had assured them that the still healing man on the biobed was awake. However, just in case Tom was actually asleep or in too much pain, he tried not to add any additional burdens.
The EMH had explained that the shuttle's illumination was being kept dim because of Tom's heightened sensitivity to light. Nonetheless, Chakotay noticed Tom's reddened eyes tracking them. Tom's voice was a faint croak, his lips swollen and split in a face made grotesque by the bug juices. He could see the way Tuvok held his face immobile and Kathryn schooled her features to show Tom none of the horror they felt when they looked at him.
Chakotay knew the doctor was doing everything in his memory banks and beyond, but wished there was more that the doc could do. As he looked down at Tom's face, Chakotay couldn't help but think that he'd never seen anyone alive looking this bad. The regenerator treatments over the past several days had only done so much. The skin on Tom's face still showed blotched red welts that distorted the normally slender features.
Although blankets covered Tom, the doctor had confirmed that the rest of Tom's body was similarly swollen and marked. Chakotay couldn't help thinking how painful it must feel. Despite their need for information about the bugs, he hoped Tom didn't remember too much about his kidnaping.
After conveying a few get well wishes from the colonists, Chakotay got to the point, "We need you to tell us what you know about what happened."
"I thought they were my friends."
He heard Tom's voice crack and decided to give him some of the intelligence they'd gathered on the bugs. "There's more than one kind of bug. You were taken by a swarm that was different from the group that talked to us."
"Their 'transport' was like a constant phaser stun all over my body. I remember how much it hurt."
"Could you move at all while they transported you?" Kathryn asked.
"No. Not even to keep my clothes on. I was aware of like...a buzz in my head that I felt more than heard. And I knew what they wanted."
"And what was that?" Kathryn followed up.
"They wanted to appease their gods. It was...a contest."
"Did you get a sense of who or what these gods were?" This time Tuvok asked the question.
With the tricorder in one hand, the doctor walked briskly to Tom's side offering him a water glass. He placed the straw in Tom's mouth and allowed him to drink. "Just one more question," the doctor told the trio.
Tom licked a drop of water off his blistered lips. "The gods. The waterfall, I think. I don't know. What about 'my' bugs?"
Chakotay looked at the others and wondered what to tell Tom. Seeing the doctor's go ahead, he answered the question. "They've come back. We've put all our resources into glass walls, screens with bars, and force fields to protect the rest of us from being carted off."
"Good idea," Tom approved weakly. "Did they...?"
"They 'talked' to us -- for awhile -- from the other side of the glass. It seems there are several types of bugs. We're calling them 'flies' and 'moths' and so forth. Your bugs are the flies, the ones who took you are the moths. Each group makes sacrifices to their gods by placing small mammals at sacred locations. Whether it worked or not, there was a kind of balance of power. Until we came along."
"Don't get it."
"I know. We don't get it fully either. As nearly as we can tell, the flies want to be friends. The moths want a power advantage. Taking you, the friend of the flies, was supposed to put the gods on the sides of the moths."
Chakotay saw Tom's lips form the word 'pawn' but the doctor waved them away before he could confirm Tom's intuition. It was clear that Tom was fading.
Days had gone by while everyone gossiped about nothing else but that stupid Tom Paris. Taken off by bugs, Brian Sophen thought, what an idiot. He'd heard that the big guns, Chakotay, Janeway, and Tuvok, were in the sickbay shuttle now trying to get some sense out of that jerk. Give him a half hour alone with Paris and he'd have plenty of answers. And a whole lot of satisfaction.
Sitting alone at the mess hall, he carefully watched Rebekah Powell as she and her roommates Golwat and T'Sem ate their breakfast together. Yes, she was a possible keeper. She didn't say much, but that was always a plus in a partner. And she listened intently to all that was said around her. Brian wasn't sure he had a handle yet on how was she was reacting to all this talk of that dumb shit Paris. She didn't seem to participate, but then again, she didn't turn away either.
As he bused his tray to the kitchen area, he made sure to walk past her, make a little eye contact. Well, maybe he did have a live one here. She looked back at him, her dark eyes wide with surprise. But there was no distaste in her expression. He gave her a nod and kept going. Phase one had begun. If she passed his tests, he figured they'd be married in a few months, say March at the latest. He couldn't stop the sneer that distorted his lips into a parody of a smile. Life was good.
Leaving the doctor alone to fuss over Tom, the three visitors adjourned to the other side of the shuttle. Chakotay concluded, "Well. I think Tom's given us what we need."
"What did you make of his saying that he understood the moths?"
"Maybe he did, but perhaps not," Tuvok equivocated.
"He gave us the same theory that we learned from the flies," Kathryn pointed out.
"I guess the question is moot because there's no way any of us are going to be taken by the moths again," Chakotay told them, determination making his voice edgy and hard.
Tuvok theorized, "Perhaps it isn't being transported by the moths that allows the communication that Tom described to occur, perhaps one only has to be in the proximity of the moths. It could be telepathy of some form. Another possibility is that the kinesthetic power forms a communication link. Before we can come to any conclusions, we need a great deal more information."
"Well, our glass barriers will probably prevent us from finding out much," Kathryn expressed her continuing displeasure with the precautions they were taking, seeing them as overly conservative. Most of them had the immunity and wouldn't be harmed by contact with the moths the way Tom had been. She was certain the failure of the bugs' attempt to use Tom as an offering to their gods would prevent the moths from taking away anyone else.
However, as long as the doctor couldn't confirm that Tom's condition was due solely to his lack of immunity and not to the power of the kinesthetic abilities of the moths, Chakotay and the doctor had argued forcefully that they shouldn't take the risks. Tom's survival had been a matter of minutes. They felt they had no other means than the barriers to prevent anyone else from being the next 'sacrifice'.
"Kathryn," Chakotay began but stopped when she waved him off. Apparently, she didn't want to reopen the argument. "All right."
The doctor joined them. "He's resting peacefully."
"How much longer?"
"Until he's recovered?" Chakotay nodded. The EMH continued, "Another week. Then you can put me back into cyber oblivion."
"We may not have to," Kathryn smiled at the doctor.
"Penny, Joe, and Hammid are working on converting the F'Lang to produce energy. They recovered it and are operating on site at VoyCe. It looks promising."
"I thought we had abandoned that approach after the earthquake."
"That was sabotage," Tuvok told the doctor. "We have a lead on who it was and that person is not at the site."
"We won't have unlimited energy, but we should have enough for essentials. It looks very much as if we'll have enough energy soon for you to stay online."
With a little uncharacteristic uncertainty, the doctor asked, "Am I to assume that I'm 'essential'?"
"Indeed," Tuvok assured him.
"Well. I'm gratified to find that you appreciate my talents."
"Unfortunately, the constraints of the shuttle's abilities and the fact that it will be on the ground providing us with power, means that, unfortunately, you won't be able to be activated as much as you or the rest of us might like. Tom will still have to assume a lot of the medical care. There are going to be many babies to deliver."
The doctor smiled, "So I've gathered. It will be interesting to see how Tom Paris handles those duties."
Chakotay turned to Kathryn, "You're awfully quiet," he observed.
"I'm a little worried," she conceded. "I think it's imperative that we establish regular communication with the flies."
"I agree," he said with a nod. "But?"
"Why was he chosen as a sacrifice by the moths? Why Tom?"
Year: 00; January
If Tom could count all the 'two steps forward, one step back' times that had occurred in the past month, he could have walked around the planet by now. Progress, setback, progress, setback, no gain lasted for more than a few days. Once the welts finally disappeared, inside and outside, he had to redo much of the physical therapy that had enabled him to walk in the first place. He had thought that was behind him, but the biobed could do only so much in keeping his muscles stimulated and strong. The rest he had to do himself.
At first his strength was that of overcooked leola root, unexciting and without redeeming value whatsoever. Regaining it took time and effort. Unfortunately, far too many colonists had far too much time on their hands and insisted on *helping* him.
The combined energy left in the shuttles was dwindling to critical levels. Too much had been expended on glass walls and force fields. They'd had to give up the force fields due to the energy shortage and relied on the walls and barred screens to keep the bugs from taking anyone. And they'd had to place the doc offline until they succeeded in developing another source of power.
Fortunately, the moths had either lost interest or been conquered, no one could say what had happened, but they didn't revisit the colony in swarm strength. Tuvok wanted to understand how they exerted their kinesthetic power, Janeway still questioned why they'd taken Tom, but the moths weren't communicating. Not that they ever had. Only the flies had ever talked to them.
Tom understood that his confinement in the sickbay shuttle had upset the flies. They had told the mayor one night that they weren't interested in coming back. They still swarmed through the jungle to the river each night, but they didn't stop to chat. They seemed to have taken offense when told that the moths shouldn't have taken Tom. It was as if they resented the implication that they, the flies, could or should have stopped it.
Tonight was Tom's first night back in the shelter he shared with Tuvok and Chakotay. Instead of nets over their beds, there were walls of glass and metal. Windows crisscrossed with bars and metal screens had been generously located all around. The windows allowed the occasional breeze to creep through the shelter and the bars were placed so that the bugs couldn't take a body through. Since the windows were virtually useless in providing any movement of air, circulation was accomplished by ceiling fans over each bed. Small generators cobbled out of their few spare phasers, wrist lamps, and whatever else that had a small power pack in it, were re-engineered to provide power to the fans as well as the one ceiling illumination panel installed per shelter.
It was damn hot in the shelter. Theirs had the usual amount of vegetation providing shade during the day, but the oppressive jungle heat respected no barriers. Without climate controls for the shelters, heat built up all day. Since it never really cooled off at night, the heat and humidity remained inside the shelters, barely touched by the earnest efforts of the ceiling fans.
Exhausted by the trip from the sickbay shuttle to the shelter, Tom lay on his bed. Sweat poured off his body and soaked his tank top and shorts, dampening the sheets under him. Tuvok sat on his own cot, a PADD in hand. For whatever reason, Tom knew that he hadn't been left alone since that terrible night he'd been carried off by the moths. He wondered about that, but decided not to ask.
"Tuvok," he called. The dark man looked up. His skin gleamed with sweat. Although Tuvok was used to heat, it was the heat of the desert and not that of the jungle. Tom appreciated the difference, but, in spite of that knowledge, wished he had any kind of heat adapted body for himself.
"What if the F'Lang can't be made to work? What happens?"
"We will endure a lesser quality of life than we might have otherwise."
That wasn't what Tom was getting at, but his brain remained lazy in the heat and he didn't try to sort out how to express what he wanted to ask.
"Perhaps you were asking a different question?" the Vulcan inquired.
"We will survive?"
"I am certain that many of us will survive."
"Just not all of us?"
"Ah. You are wondering if the weaker will be the ones who will not survive? And you consider yourself to be one of those who are weaker?"
"A little blunt, Tuvok but yeah."
"We are not operating on a survival of the fittest mode. We are operating on a cooperative model that protects all of us, especially the weakest."
Tom mulled that over, "Thanks, I think."
"You are welcome."
Chakotay entered then with a smile on his face. "I've been in touch with Penny Burleson. They've succeeded. They're bringing the Ride and the F'Lang back tomorrow."
"That's great. Did it live up to expectations?"
"Very close. We will still have to be very careful about using our power sources, but we will be able to develop some climate controls and other improvements. They recommend we go back to VoyCe in a few months when the weather improves. They said a lot of what we had there can be salvaged."
"This is good news."
"I'll say." Tom wished he hadn't brought up the topic to Tuvok. But it was reassuring to know that the cooperative model was in effect. He wondered if everyone subscribed to it. Every time Brian Sophen looked at him, it seemed as if cooperation was the furthest thing from the man's mind. Maybe some of Sophen's antagonism would have diminished now that Tom had been disabled for so long. He could only hope that was the case.
In the hours after midnight, Tom turned restlessly in his sleep. Back pain broke through his sleep and brought with it unwanted awareness, both of the pain as well as the sounds of the jungle at night. Those sounds were of swarms of thousands and thousands of insects flying their nocturnal flight plans. They were the noises of his kidnaping by the moths, the reminders of his helplessness.
He came awake, heart pounding. At least his teeth weren't chattering, he was too hot to be cold. Eyes wide open he noticed the outlines of the swarm outside the window. Carefully, his back aching, Tom sat up and watched the nightly show. As he took deep breaths, trying to get his heart rate under control, he noticed a break in the swarm, a circling near his window of a group of the flies.
Wondering if they were going to talk to him, he sat up straighter, fingers dug into his lower back, and peered more intently out into the darkness. At this hour there was illumination from only one of the moons, and the smaller one at that. The lack of light made it hard to figure out what he was seeing. While he watched, he thought he could make out the construction of three dimensional shapes. Yes, he could. There it was. 'Tom'. His name.
Not wanting to disturb his roommates, Tom nodded his head vigorously, mouthing the word 'yes'. Then they regrouped. He swallowed hard. 'We regret,' they spelled. 'We will prevent the sacrifices. The large bugs stop.'
Tom stood up leaving his crutches where they lay and lurched the two steps to the screened window. He leaned his hands against the bars over the window. "Thank you," he told them quietly. He hoped they would say more. He wanted to be sure.
'We missed you,' they told him and flew off.
"Tom?" Tuvok asked softly. The Vulcan had approached him without making a noise and Tom turned to him, startled. Tuvok wondered, "What is it?"
"The bugs. They said they missed me. And I understood them without having them spell it out for me."
"Hmm," Tuvok murmured. Based on the tone, Tom guessed that Tuvok was not surprised. "Did you experience telepathy?"
"No. I don't think so." Tom thought of something. "Did you 'hear' them?"
"No, I did not."
"Then I don't think it was telepathic. It felt more like air rushing inside my ears. Maybe the air created displacement the same way that sound waves do. I'm not sure how it happened. But it was amazing. I 'heard' them."
"This could be a weapon," Chakotay's voice warned, joining the two of them by the window.
Tuvok agreed, "The power to alter air in the inner ear could disable an opponent with hearing senses and balance mechanisms constructed like ours."
"But it's not what they want," Tom protested.
"It may not be what the flies want, but what about the moths?"
End part 11