Endless IIB: Hitting Home
by Judy email@example.com and Etal
Year: 00; December
"They're sentient," Tom insisted to his roommates. Tuvok's wordlessly raised eyebrow told him what the Vulcan thought. And then there was Chakotay's focused, earnest look that he used more usually with adults of undetermined sanity. Tom decided to try again. "Look. They spelled out 'hello', 'Tom', and when I asked who they were, they formed the word 'bugs'."
"You've been working very hard on the DNA puzzle, perhaps...."
"No. Don't patronize me, Chakotay. I saw them. I saw what they did."
Chakotay shrugged leaving Tom uncertain about just where the mayor stood on Tom's report. Clearly, the jury was still out. As if seeking an answer himself, Chakotay's eyes scanned the mess hall where they were eating breakfast. He must not have found much help out there. Instead, he plucked a piece of native fruit from the bowl on their table and began to peel it. "Did they say they'd be back?"
"No. But I'm sure they will be."
"If they return, we can verify your observations. A tricorder...."
Tom cut Tuvok off. "Yeah. I wished I had one last night."
Still working on his fruit, Chakotay seemed deep in thought. While Tom waited expectantly, Chakotay took several bites. After wiping his mouth of fruit juice, he finally spoke. "All right, then. I think Kathryn should be with us while we wait for your friends tonight."
"Hell, I don't know if they're friends, but, yeah, she should be there."
Apparently concerned for security, Tuvok suggested, "Until we know what we are dealing with, I believe it would be prudent to tell no one else."
Teasing, Tom suggested, "Tuvok, you think the bugs will attack?"
"We know nothing of their motives," came the dry response.
Tom turned serious. "Yeah. You're right."
That acknowledgment earned him two raised eyebrows.
It was all Tom could do to go about his daily routine. His thoughts centered on what would happen, or not, that night. But he finished the DNA scans of the last of the colonists.
He brought the database up to date on the latest pregnancy; this time it was Robin Lang, a former ensign in ops. Robin's was the first conception since they'd moved from VoyCe. Although Tom thought he had kept pretty good track of the romances in their small colony, he was surprised to learn that Andreas Henard was the father. He hadn't realized they were seeing each other, much less become intimate enough to produce a child.
After reassuring Robin that she was doing fine and that her tiny fetus was developing normally, Tom spent a few minutes reviewing the DNA on the two. Like so many others, and like all of the fetuses, Robin and her daughter carried the genetic mutation.
Someday he knew he'd figure out just what the purpose of the mutation was, but for right now, he was simply the cataloguer of these mysterious changes. Out of curiosity, he scanned himself. One mutation, not the more usual four, the tricorder told him. He had no idea what it meant.
That night the four of them rearranged the shelter furniture so that three cots faced the open wall where Tom had seen the swarm the previous night. After ensuring that the netting was carefully in place, they talked quietly about the state of the compound knowing it would be awhile before the bugs arrived.
Tom agreed with the general opinion that they had come through the forced evacuation of VoyCe pretty much intact. According to Chakotay, Brian Sophen kept making noises of discontent. Even so, Kathryn was pretty sure his closest cronies, Mary Ashmore and Ken Dalby, didn't appear as tight with him as before. Speculating, she proposed, "Mary's caught up in the babies she and Soh are expecting. I don't think she's as interested in power games as she once was."
"I don't know what happened to Ken in the earthquake, but he's even been nice to me," Tom laughed.
Chakotay mused, "Maybe saving Tal's life changed him." As if realizing how those words might affect Tom, Chakotay shrugged in the darkness and Tom caught the gesture.
Kathryn's look of surprise made Tom wonder. He knew she knew what he'd done on Ocampa when he'd rescued Chakotay. Uncomfortable with the comparison to Dalby, Tom muttered, "Yeah, well."
The quiet conversation veered off in another direction and continued through the night as Tom continued to wonder if the bugs would return to back up his story. He sure didn't know what they'd do. Finally, Tom had to give his aching back and hips a rest. He stretched out on his cot positioned so that he could see outside.
The combined light from all the moons illuminated the darkness with a silvery, other-worldly glow. It was a vivid reminder that they were on another world, one they were unlikely to leave anytime soon. Oddly shaped leaves and unfamiliar ferns shimmered in the breezes, tipped by enough moons' light to be visible.
The hushed talking of his roommates and Kathryn were not enough to disturb the chatter of the creatures that conducted their business at night. Tom listened and fought off the sleepiness that threatened to overtake him. The damp heat would have been suffocating if not for the occasional breeze that brushed across his body.
As the time for the bugs to swarm drew near, Tom noticed that the conversation threads lost their continuity. Anticipation had them all facing the outside netting. Tom figured that he'd spent enough time stretched out that he could handle a return to a sitting position. No sooner had he straightened up and arranged his legs for the least amount of strain than the swarming began.
He had no way of knowing if these were the same bugs he'd seen the night before, but they behaved very similarly. He hoped the presence of the others wouldn't spook them into flying away before they could communicate. Tom realized he wanted them to prove that he hadn't been dreaming. He wanted the skepticism to disappear and be replaced with something like the awe he'd felt when he realized that he and the bugs were talking.
The tap on the shoulder from Chakotay told him it was time. To his side, Tuvok and Kathryn both had their tricorders out and ready. As planned, he spoke first. "Hi. Hello."
Not sure whether they'd just fly off or whether they'd show the others what he'd seen, Tom waited. Intently, he followed the swarm's seemingly random flying. He began to worry that they weren't going to respond. "It's all right," he told the unformed swarm in a voice that he hoped would come across as soothing and reassuring to the insects.
It was difficult to make out individual bugs. There were so many of them. About the size of houseflies with colorings and markings that varied from insect to insect, most were of a shiny, iridescent green. Multifaceted eyes appeared to glow in the moons' light at the ends of short stalks. Wings swept back from rounded bodies in multiple layers.
He wanted to shout when they actually began to form up a three dimensional array, just as they had last night. Instead, he held himself quiet and still. "Hello" dissolved into "Captain", then "Mayor", and then "Tuvok". Each of his companions made some kind of involuntary exclamation at being addressed. Except Tuvok, whose only response was a slight waver in the hand that held the tricorder. Then they reformed and spelled "Tom".
Looking around, Tom could make out the very different expressions on the faces of the others. Kathryn was smiling but completely focused on the bugs. Chakotay seemed to be stunned by the visual array. Tuvok, well, his expression didn't seem to have changed, but Tom was sure he noted an elevated eyebrow, certainly a sign that the Vulcan was impressed. Or something.
For himself, Tom felt immense relief. He couldn't help the huge grin that spread across his face. They'd come back and they were definitely aware of who was who. Sentient. No doubt about that. Enough marveling at the sight. He had a script to follow. "Welcome. We intend you no harm."
"Greetings," the bugs replied in their new formation. "Big bugs," they spelled and formed an arrow toward one of the shuttles. Then they rapidly turned the arrow toward another shuttle and then another.
"I think they mean the shuttles," Kathryn interpreted.
"Yes," Tom agreed with them. "We have shuttles that brought us here. We came from very, very far away." He pointed to the stars.
"That's good," Chakotay whispered in his ear. "Repeat that we are peaceful."
"My friends want you to know that we are peaceful."
"You protect selves," the bugs pointed out before they formed another arrow pointed straight at the four of them. The pattern fell apart and became random.
"Yes," Tom agreed. "We are hurt by bug fluids."
"No," formed a message out of the tail end of the swarm. "No hurt."
"That's good to know," Tom ad libbed, not sure what the bugs had meant. Before he could say more, this swarm had flown off. Other swarms flew throughout the settlement but didn't approach their shelter.
Tom slumped over, worn out from the intensity of the brief visit on top of the long wait. But he was also elated by the success of the bugs' appearance. He felt Kathryn's hand on one shoulder, Chakotay's on the other. She asked, "Are you all right, Tom?"
"I've never seen anything like that," Chakotay said reverently. "That was amazing."
"I have recorded all of the movements," Tuvok told them.
"And I have the scans of the bugs before, during, and after," Kathryn affirmed after she checked her own tricorder. "First contact. It went well. You did a good job, Tom."
"I'm just glad they came back."
The others laughed with him, sharing his relief at having his strange story verified. Tom mused, "They knew your ranks."
"Yes. And I wonder if they saw our shuttles as some kind of rival bugs?"
"It should be very important to maintain regular communication with them."
"Well, gentlemen, it's late and I'm tired," Kathryn announced and stretched her arms.
The three men noted that there were only three cots and four people. Tuvok volunteered his cot first but she waved him off. "They said they didn't hurt us, at least I think that's what they meant."
Chakotay caught on first. "You're not planning to go out there while the bugs are still swarming."
"What better way to learn the truth?"
"Um, maybe there's a connection between what the bugs said, if they meant that their fluids won't hurt us anymore, and the DNA mutations. Maybe that's what the mutations are all about?"
"What are you saying, Tom?"
"Well. Almost all of the colonists and all of the fetuses have the mutation. Maybe the mutation provides an immunity to the bug fluid? Maybe even helps with other hazards to us?" Tom suggested, not sure if his idea would be received well by the others.
"But you have no proof of this?" Tuvok asked.
"No. Until now I didn't know what to test for."
"You should be able to test your hypothesis tomorrow," Tuvok noted.
"Yes. First thing."
Chakotay forestalled any resolution for this night. "Well, Kathryn. It looks as if you'd better take up Tuvok on his offer of hospitality until Tom can run his tests."
Graciously, she thanked Tuvok. After several minutes of work in the dimly lit shelter, they settled in for the night. Tom was excited by the possibility of finally understanding the genetic mutation. He hoped that this hypothesis was right. It would mean unfettered travel around the compound at night. And if they could establish a relationship with the bugs, that would be impressive.
"I tell you there's something going on. I saw Janeway going over to the mayor's and I didn't see her leave."
"What? She's going to get it on with him while Tuvok and Paris chaperone? Give it a rest, Brian."
Meeting in Mary Ashmore and Soh Ryson's shelter, Brian Sophen, Angelo Tasoni, and Ed Molina waved palm fronds against the sweltering heat. Lights were dim to keep the heat down as much as possible. Every so often, but not nearly often enough, a breeze would waft through the netting that surrounded their group.
Mary was beginning to wonder what she'd ever seen in Brian as an ally. As she had on a number of occasions recently, Soh had invited Angelo and Ed over because she empathized with their losses and knew that they weren't partnered. The four of them had been building some kind of a friendship, although Mary wasn't sure what to really call it. Grief recovery? This time, Brian had included himself.
Now, they were stuck with them because the bugs were swarming. No one could go outside for a few hours yet. Wishing they would leave, Mary glanced around the group. Soh rested back on the cot, her feet in Mary's lap receiving absent strokes from time to time. As usual, Angelo had hardly said a word all night. He seemed buried under a grief so great he might himself have died in the earthquake. He'd refused Paris' offer of medical help and Tuvok's offer of meditative help. However, as far as work went, he did what he needed to, just like they all did. And sometimes he could be persuaded to spend some time with them.
Ed Molina had made himself comfortable on the floor, his back against the cot opposite Mary and Soh. Mary couldn't tell how the loss of his fetus or their changed circumstances had affected him. The man with the thick, dark brown hair was unreadable to her. She did know that he and Te Bereyt were no longer together. They'd planned to have and raise their babies together. But he'd miscarried and she hadn't.
Then there was Brian, always going on about something. Her remark to him about giving it a rest had brought out a twitch of a smile to Ed's face, so that was something. Someone else was growing tired of him. But she could tell from the mulish expression on Brian's face that he wasn't going to back down at such a mild rebuke from her.
"Hey. I thought you'd want to know what's going on around here."
"Of course I do, Brian, but I really don't care who sleeps with who." Soh's feet nudged Mary's mid-section. Knowing Soh was reminding her that she actually did care about that, Mary rubbed one of the feet in her lap a little more seriously.
"Suppose they're figuring things out?" Brian challenged.
Soh's feet went motionless. Angelo looked more ashen-faced than a dark complected person ever should look. Like the others, Mary instantly wondered if he'd had something to do with the still unsolved sabotage that had caused the earthquake. If he had, she doubted if he would own up to it.
It was Ed who asked quietly, "What are you talking about, Brian?"
Suddenly, Brian's expression changed from one of arrogance to one of fear, then he sneered. "I was thinking about how we're supposed to survive in this fucking jungle. There's no air, it's hotter than a warp core in heat. I gotta tell you. I don't like this."
"So, what do you propose?" Soh finally reclaimed her feet and sat up on the cot. Clearly, her partner didn't want to pursue the fear they'd all seen on Brian's face.
"I think a group of us should take one of the shuttles and set up our own camp. Away from all of them."
"You are a fool," Angelo declared, his soft voice low with misery but easily heard by them all.
"You know shit, Angelo," Brian retorted.
"Hey, guys," Soh interrupted, "Brian's right about one thing. It is hot. Let's cool it down a notch or two, huh?"
"I still say we'd do a lot better on our own."
"That isn't going to happen," Ed announced. "Look, we need to stick together and do what we can."
"Yeah, working for a bunch of power-hungry idiots."
Soh warned, "Brian."
Sensing that Soh was ready to tell Brian to leave, bugs or no bugs, Mary decided to add her own thoughts, "Brian, maybe a few months ago I would have agreed with you, but all of us, including the mayor and the council members and even Tom Paris have worked really hard to keep us going."
It looked as if she'd said the wrong thing. Brian's complexion turned dark, so much so that she could see the change despite the dim lighting. "Paris," he spat.
Mary leaned back to miss any spittle that might be coming her way. Somehow, he managed to keep the saliva in his mouth, but his anger wasn't so easily managed.
"That Paris is nothing but a leech on this whole community. Him and his tests. Some kind of ghoul."
Funny, Mary thought, that was how she was beginning to see Brian.
"So, Brian, tell us how you really feel," Ed prodded lazily.
Turning his head from Mary to Ed he pronounced "Fuck you," on each of them.
His words taking great effort, coming slowly one after the after, Angelo asked, "What is it about Tom Paris that bothers you so much?"
As if sensing the group's hostility, Brian clammed up. He jumped to his feet and walked around within the confines of the netting not gracing them with so much as a look. His anger enveloped him, set his shoulders tight, bunched his fists, and warned them all that he could be dangerous.
Mary and Soh exchanged glances of surprise as did Ed. Angelo looked worriedly after Brian's pacing figure. Mary wondered if he was weighing the security implications of Brian's outburst, after all, he'd worked both ops and security on Voyager. But his grief seemed to return to shut out everything else.
End part 2