Endless IIB: Hitting Home
by Judy jlf@door.net and Etal

Part 4

Year: 00; December

Breakfast over, Tuvok sought out Miguel Ayala. Together they walked a ways into the jungle following a path to the nearby waterfall. If Miguel wondered what was going on, he knew enough not to ask questions until their voices were drowned out by the falling water. By taking a seat on a rock, Tuvok signaled that they were far enough from the settlement.

Miguel sat on a nearby rock, cocked his head, and waited. He'd worked with Tuvok for too long not to see the signs of tension in the usually imperturbable Vulcan. At least he could be grateful that after the hot walk over, the site for their talk was cooler than the settlement. Maybe the mist from the waterfall had something to do with the lessened heat.

Finally, Tuvok addressed the concern that brought them to the waterfall. "There are some matters that have come to my attention."

"Go on," Miguel said neutrally.

"Angelo Tasoni was at the door of our shelter this morning. He told me that he believes Brian Sophen is the saboteur."

Miguel sighed. "Brian."

"Yes. Apparently, it was something Brian said and the way he looked after he said it."

"And you wonder if I've seen anything?"

"You were rooming with him at the time."

"And still do," Miguel added bitterly. "Sorry. He's not my favorite roommate."

"Any indication of his being the saboteur?"

"He could be. The thing is, he knows I was security and he knows why we were assigned to the same living quarters. So, he doesn't do much but continually gripe about everything. But it's all general, nothing too specific. He hates all of the senior officers, particularly Tom Paris."

"Would that hatred of us cause him to commit such an act?"

"He's certainly capable of it. He worked maintenance, knows how to fix things, and I'm sure that means he knows how to break them as well."

"Has he made any statements that would seem as if he's bragging?"

"Hmm. He's the kind of guy who would find it hard to keep quiet about something like that, but maybe the destruction and loss of life were more than he bargained for."

"What about a motive?"

"You mean besides general bad attitude? I don't know."

"What makes you believe Sophen has a particular animosity towards Tom Paris?"

"Remember that night in VoyCe when we were organizing? Brian was mouthing off and Tom put him in his place."

"I do recall."

"He wasn't a fan of Tom before that and he's said some pretty ugly things since."

"Would he go so far as to sabotage the conversion in order to discredit Tom's idea?"

"Maybe that's his motive."

"I would appreciate your surreptitious surveillance of this man."

"Will do."


After Tuvok said he needed to meet with Ayala and that it was urgent, Chakotay considered postponing the meeting with the town commissioners. But they should know about the visit of the bugs and he didn't want to delay informing them. Tuvok left his report, prepared while they slept last night, on a PADD for Chakotay to share with the commissioners.

Most of the colonists went off to work about the compound, but at Chakotay's request, the commissioners and Tom and Kathryn stayed behind in the mess hall. Puzzled expressions greeted them. Neelix, Megan Delaney and Richard Parsons were clearly curious about the reason for the unscheduled meeting.

Sitting at the table they now shared, Chakotay began by expressing appreciation for their attendance. He took a deep breath before continuing. "Tom discovered this so I'll let him tell you about it."

Noticing Tom's discomfort at being their spokesperson, Chakotay gave him an encouraging smile and an 'all yours' wave of his hand.

"Hmm." Tom fingered the handle of his empty coffee mug. "Okay, the bugs know who we are and are talking to us. They -- uh -- understand us."

Neelix was so excited he stood up. "I mean," he spluttered, "this is so...."

"You've got be kidding," Megan told them.

Parsons deep bass rumbled across the table, "So, what do they want? Our blood?" He flashed a sardonic grin at the image. Chakotay wasn't sure if he was conjuring up mosquitoes or vampires.

"They seemed friendly," Tom defended and looked to Chakotay and Kathryn for support.

"This isn't a joke?" Neelix demanded, all his outsider-derived insecurities rising to the fore.

"No, Neelix, it's no joke," Kathryn reassured him, her voice pitched low and meant to soothe.

Megan laughed. "I don't believe it. *Talking* bugs? Guys."

"Well, they don't actually speak out loud. They use three-dimensional arrays to spell out words in Federation Standard."

"So, what do they want?" Rick drawled.

Chakotay fielded that one, Tom looked as if he could use a break from the skepticism and laughter. "We don't know yet." He noticed that Tom's fingers had given up their drumming on the coffee cup. "It's possible they've been trying to help us."

"How so?" Rick asked, serious now. In fact, they all were.

"We have to do some tests. But the DNA mutations may have given us immunity to their touch."

He handed over Tuvok's PADD so that the commissioners could see for themselves a playback of last night's contact. Neither he nor Kathryn nor Tom spoke while the commissioners watched the replay. When the vid ended, Chakotay shut off the tricorder.

Rick's expression became incredulous. "Hard to believe."

"Will they talk to us again?" Megan asked.

"We don't know. Tom saw them for the first time the night before last. They created words of greeting for him and they came back last night while we were all there. That's what you saw on the tricorder."

"This is simply amazing," Neelix thrilled over the bugs' capabilities. His ambassadorial identity was already emerging. "What do you suppose we should do to make them welcome?"

While a number of thoughts went through Chakotay's mind, he saw Tom mouth the words 'bug juice' and wondered what that meant. It occurred to him that the bugs were here first so making them welcome might be a little presumptuous. And they needed to know so much more than they did right now. "Let's keep that thought in mind."

"What should we do?"

"Nothing, Megan. Just go about your business. Based on the analyses Tom will do today, we may or may not try meeting them in the open tonight."

"Without netting?"

"Yes," Kathryn spoke up to answer Rick's question. "We need to know first hand if our genetic mutations have given us immunity. Tom's tests may confirm that they have, but we need to know for sure."

"Would you like a volunteer?" Neelix asked.

"Well, the same mutations have shown up in all of us, more or less," Tom began, "but I'm on shakier ground when it comes to Talaxians, Vulcans and others."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"Neelix, not all the humans have the full set of mutations. For instance, I don't. I just have one of the four." Tom didn't name others among the colonists. Chakotay understood his reticence stemmed from ethical concerns about divulging patient medical information.

"So, when you compared my previous DNA with my current DNA you don't know if you found the same mutations?"

"Let me answer that generally, okay?" Chakotay had to admire Tom's dodging disclosing Neelix's situation in front of the others. "I've made those comparisons for everyone. Some humans have four mutations, some have three, and so forth. The nonhumans are similar, but there are so few of some groups, like Talaxians, that I haven't enough of a basis for within species comparisons.

"For example, Talaxian base pairs are different from human base pairs, and Vulcan ones are also different, as are Bajoran, and, well, you get the idea. It isn't exactly the same in structure, it can't be or it would be incompatible with the host DNA. So, even if I see a mutation, I'm not sure it's the same mutation in purpose or function. I'd have to identify the proteins, see what they do, check if one of the things they do is confer immunity. That means I need to know how a human produces an immune response and how a Talaxian does and so forth."

Neelix blinked a few times. "So, if I have mutations, they wouldn't be the same as yours or the same as Tuvok's? And since they can't be the same, you don't know if they would fulfil the same function as they would fulfil for humans?"

"Yeah. That's about it. I'll run some tests, but even though I can probably support or rule out the hypothesis about the bug immunity for humans, I may not be able to do the same for other groups."

"I see."

"But I'll try."

"Well, yes, of course."

Chakotay saw how much it hit the Talaxian then that he truly was alone, separated from any others of his kind. Although it was true that they were all one collection of colonists, a special kind of isolation must be felt at times by Neelix and the other groups represented now by only one or two members. "If Tom's tests look positive, it would be our pleasure to have you with us tonight. If you want to, that is." Chakotay gave Neelix the full smile treatment.

"Yes, I do."

"I'd like to try it," Rick added.

"Me, too." Megan made it unanimous.

"We'll let you know."

"Let's keep it quiet," Kathryn reminded them.

After the commissioners left, Tom asked sarcastically, "So what do we tell everyone? That we're having a private party in the mess hall?"

"I'm not sure Tuvok would like that," Chakotay grinned.


That afternoon Tom was interrupted in the middle of his tests. Brian Sophen stood at the shuttle entrance, a belligerent expression on his face. "I want a baby," he announced.

Tom couldn't have been more surprised. It was like learning that Sophen's mother was somehow in the colony. Tom didn't see how this man and the word 'family' went together. "Uh-huh."

"Don't give me shit over this, Paris. I know what I want. And I know I'm entitled to it."

Tom thought the man was a totally lousy candidate for parenthood. Any child with Brian for a parent...it made him shudder. "Who's the partner?" Tom kept his tone matter-of-fact.

"I want one that's not one of us. I want B'Elanna Torres."

"You can't have her," Tom replied coolly, while inside he imagined smashing Sophen's smug face into the next solar system.

"I didn't know someone else had first dibs on her. You maybe?" Sophen taunted.

"She and Harry Kim are presumed alive and therefore not part of the pool of available DNA." Tom did his best to imitate the doctor's pompous tones. Sometimes having a mentor like the doctor came in handy. "Since they're alive, they'd have to give their consent. They aren't here to give it."

"So what? I'll bet if you wanted her baby, you'd have it. Right?"

"I'm not the one asking to become pregnant."

"All right then. Seven of Nine."

"Her DNA has already been used." He told the lie with a straight face. He'd have to remember to doctor the records later. "It can't be used again until all the other DNA has been used."

"So who has it?" Brian demanded, his face twisting in anger.

"You know I can't tell you that."

"Fuck you."

"Get out of here, Brian. When you have a reasonable request, you can come back." Tom hoped his voice sounded calm. Inside he was shaking from the hatred that Brian projected.

"Fuck you!"

At last the pissed-off man left the shuttle, but just as Tom reached for his comm badge to notify Chakotay, Brian stuck his head back in. His face a mottled red from anger, Sophen shouted, "And don't you talk about this or I will get you! You hear me!"

Everybody could hear him, Tom wanted to say, but kept silent. He waited a few minutes to make sure Sophen was really gone before returning to his work with the computer. Before he could start, he heard sounds of someone approaching the shuttle. Damn, not him again.

"Tom." It was Kathryn.

"Oh, gods."

"What's wrong? Are you sick? Did the bugs....?"

He held up a hand to forestall her cascade of questions. "No. I just had an unexpected visitor."

After he told her what had happened, Kathryn was suitably shocked and supportive. "You don't think he really wants a baby with B'Elanna's DNA -- or Seven's."

"No, I think this was some kind of attack on me. I don't know why, though."

"Well, he's never acted as if he liked you."

"Yeah, I noticed."

"Tom, have you told Chakotay or Tuvok?"

"Not yet. I was going to when he threatened me. I was just kind of sitting here in shock when you came in."

"Let's get them over here."

"Maybe we should wait until we're together tonight."

"You're not going to be there."

"Why not?"

"Because you told us you only had one mutation."

"I now have two."

"Two? One appeared overnight?"

Tom shrugged.

"Is that enough when others, like me, have four?"

He gave her his results, "The tests I've run indicate that the full mutation does confer immunity to the bugs' touch -- at least in humans it does. The immunity falls off depending on the number of mutations."

"Falls off how? Linearly?"

"No. Not exactly. There's a big drop between four and three, a curve at two."

"So two is the lower asymptote?"


"Then two won't confer immunity."

"Some," he said hopefully.

"Better than none?"

He couldn't lie to her, "Probably not."

"Then why would you want to be exposed?"

"To see if exposure is the way the mutations happen. Maybe tomorrow I'll have three or four."

"Sounds dangerous to me. We'd better have someone in here with a hand on the transporter."

"Tuvok could do it."

"What about Vulcans and Talaxians and Bolians and...?"

"I don't know yet. Each mutation is different by species. I was just about to run Neelix's."

"Need some help?"

"Oh, yeah," he nodded and gave her a smile.

As he turned to work, Brian Sophen's outburst began to fade from his thoughts. Before it went away entirely, he wondered if he'd be able to fight someone like that if he was actually attacked. Before Voyager's crash, Tom felt confident he could have taken Brian. But now....

End part 4