Endless IIB: Hitting Home
by Judy email@example.com and Etal
Year: 00; December
"What a ...." Brian began to say before Jenny cut him off.
They were out gathering foodstuffs in the stifling jungle heat, placing their bounty on an anti-grav sled. Brian and Jenny worked the plants to one side of the sled while Megan and Frank Gibson labored on the other side.
"Brian, I don't get it. Why would you think you could go in there and demand to have a baby with his girl friend's DNA? She's not even dead."
"She's dead," he announced. Apparently Brian wanted to show her how he felt about her. Along with his malevolent glare, Brian silently mouthed the word 'bitch'. Jenny gave him a narrow eyed Janeway look and he changed the subject. "Gods, it's stinking hot out here."
Shaking her head, her hair now cut short off her neck, Jenny had to wonder what Brian's problem was. Well, just one more strange thing on this planet. And thinking of strange, although Megan hadn't told her exactly what was discussed at the hush-hush commissioners' meeting, Jenny thought it must have something to do with their sweltering home. She wished they'd find a way to climate control this unbearable jungle.
Penny Burleson checked the figures on her PADD one more time, then decided she'd try to sell her roommate and former captain on the plan. For some reason, Kathryn hadn't returned to their shelter last night, but had spent the night with Chakotay, Tuvok, and Paris. It must have been important. Well, she wasn't her roommate's keeper. If Kathryn wanted to tell her what was going on, she would. In the meantime, maybe Penny could interest her in this plan.
She found Kathryn and Tom working in the Lee, totally engrossed in something they were doing on the computer. Once she crossed the threshold into the shuttle and felt the cool air, she just stood there for a moment, arms outstretched, enjoying the change.
"Penny," Tom greeted.
For whatever reason he looked like hell. Maybe she shouldn't bother them. Turning to go, she muttered, "It's okay. It can wait."
"Penny?" Kathryn asked with a touch of that old command voice. "Pull out a chair."
No arguing with that tone and it was cooler in here. Penny pulled down a chair from the wall and sat on it. She held out her PADD to Kathryn. "I've been working on a variation of the conversion plan."
With a wary look, Janeway took it and glanced down at the contents. "Tell us about it."
He turned away from the computer monitor. "Sure."
"Well. Since we all know the conversion was sabotaged, for whatever sick reason, then the idea could still work. But maybe, instead of sending energy down to a converter, we should divert it inside the shuttle to act as a generator."
"How do you see that working?" Kathryn asked.
Penny could tell what she was thinking. "You remember that we dismissed the idea a long time ago. Because if the shuttle's warp was turned on it better be way away from us...."
"Yeah, out in space," Tom interrupted.
"Right. But there's a big difference between being ready for warp and going to warp. The warp core can be on, if you will, but not engaged. See?"
"Sure," Tom answered easily. "Flying, we do it all the time. We come to a planetary system, we go out of warp with the core still on and ready to be used when we leave the system. But we sure as hell don't land on a planet with the warp core on."
"No. But maybe we could."
"How so?" Kathryn asked, puzzlement in her voice.
"Diversion, just like we were doing. Only we divert the warp power to the shuttle's systems. If the shuttle has that power to draw on, it could provide almost unlimited replicated supplies."
"It would take some heavy duty shielding to pull that off," Tom considered.
"Very heavy duty shielding around the core," Penny agreed, "which could be produced from the diverted warp energy."
"So what are you proposing?" Kathryn asked her.
"That we take one of the shuttles, make the modifications I'm suggesting, and use it as our power source. We could hook up the whole settlement to the shuttle."
"What if it's needed in an emergency?"
"I know. It's not as if you could tell it to stop the diversion and go back to being a shuttle again," she agreed. "We lost one shuttle in the earthquake. But suppose some of us go back, repair that shuttle and bring it here? Or we could stay and get it ready for our return to VoyCe." She tried not to sound too eager, tried to maintain the no nonsense demeanor that had defined her professional life. But ever since the sabotage, she'd been working on this plan. It wasn't quite an obsession but it had taken on an important life of its own. Her nervousness kept her talking. "I mean, it's lost to us now anyway. And we've proven we can escape with the shuttles we have."
"What are the problems with your idea?" Janeway wanted to know.
"It might not work. We might not be able to salvage the shuttle."
"A shield failure would cause a catastrophe."
"It'd blow up the whole planet," Tom pointed out.
Kathryn nodded. "That's one reason we went out into orbit in the first place."
"Yeah. But how about if we think about it. Or we could go back to the original plan and rebuild the converter here. We'd have to be sure it isn't sabotaged this time. Then maybe this place would be liveable."
"Let's call the group together to see what they think," Janeway mused.
"It's a start."
Tom injected a comment, "So, I take it you don't like the jungle heat?"
"Who does?" she laughed with him. "All this work you've been doing inside has protected you from the worst of the tropics out there. It's bad."
"I know," Tom agreed. "I do go out in it, too, to do my chores."
Ouch, he seemed a little touchy there. "Sorry, I didn't mean it like it sounded."
He gave her a long stare, then nodded. "It's okay."
Before returning to her plan, Penny wondered if something was wrong with Tom. If there was, she knew he wouldn't tell her. She could hope that whatever it was would sort itself out. Maybe that was why Kathryn was here. But there was no use speculating. Kathryn wouldn't tell her either. She started to say something, he looked that bad. Then she thought better of it and her professional persona reasserted itself. Shifting gears, she touched a finger to the PADD in Kathryn's hands. "Let me know?"
"I'll look over the PADD and we'll take it from there."
"Good." Penny was almost out the door, but turned back, realizing she'd ignored Tom's possible input. "Tom, I'd be interested in what you think."
Her comment was too late. Tom's attention had returned to his computer tasks and he said nothing. She wasn't even sure he'd heard her.
"Stay within the netting tonight," Chakotay told Tom. They stood tensely in their shelter before heading to the mess hall, the anticipated encounter with the bugs hours away.
Frowning, Tom drawled, "You sound serious."
"I am. You'll be there with us. But we can't risk your life."
"Gee, thanks," came the flat response, the sarcasm undisguised.
Chakotay decided to try another tact. "As our medic, if they hadn't shown immunity, would you let Tuvok or Neelix go unprotected to meet the bugs? Hmm?"
"That's different," Tom argued but his look of disgust revealed how much he knew he held a weak hand.
"No. It's not."
"Chakotay. They *talked* to me."
Tom's reminder sounded so heartfelt that Chakotay almost relented. It was a rare glimpse into Tom's feelings about his encounter with the bugs. This was one of those times when Chakotay wished for the authority of Starfleet, or even better, the Maquis. Here the power of a mayor was more circumscribed. Despite his limited authority, Chakotay hoped Tom would take precautions. He'd meant it when he'd told Tom they couldn't risk his life. "Tom, all I'm asking is that you apply your own guidelines consistently. You don't have the immunity."
As so often happened with Tom these days, he simply withdrew into himself. It was as if some gust of wind had swept by to take away the real Tom, leaving only a holovid behind. Chakotay watched the process unfold, and as much as he regretted seeing it, he didn't try to call him on it. Experience told him that Tom would only become more vacant and more hollow.
"I hope we can learn more about your bugs," Chakotay said by way of apology.
It took Tom a long time to respond, as if the holovid had to reach out to the wind to bring back the real Tom. But eventually a lighthearted question gave Chakotay hope of a successful retrieval "*My* bugs, huh?"
He accepted Tom's comment as agreement to stay within the netting. A quick, nonverbal exchange told Chakotay he was reading Tom correctly. Smiling, he told Tom, "Thanks."
When Angelo walked up to the shelter he shared with the same roommates from VoyCe, he overheard the two partners, Derick Boylan and Chris Hickman talking to each other as if their fourth roommate wasn't present either. With all the foliage in the jungle, the men inside couldn't see his approach. Since their circumstances gave none of them much opportunity for privacy, Angelo stopped and planned to return to the mess hall. But he couldn't help hearing Chris say, "Derick, I want to have our baby."
Derick's initial snort pierced through Angelo's heart. Derick was apparently going to reject what his partner so clearly wanted, what, he Angelo had tried to have and had lost so wrenchingly. Derick made fun of Chris' desire. "You'll look like hell."
"Well, thank you very much. I thought we had more than looks going for us in this relationship."
"We do. It's just that...have you looked at Jim Morrow recently? Out to here."
"Derick, I don't think I know you."
"We have a good life together without a kid. I'm not ready."
"You'd be great."
"I don't think so."
"Well, think about it, okay?"
"What brought this on, Chris? I thought we were happy together. Well, as happy as two people could be in this jungle."
"We are happy. We could be happier."
"Oh, hell, Chris. Let's find some fruit or grain to ferment and plan to get drunk instead. In nine months we could have the best vintage on the planet. What do you say?"
Angelo managed to walk quietly away from the shelter before he heard Chris' answer, mulling over what he'd heard. Chris had been involved in that still on Voyager. Maybe he was seeking a new life here. Angelo turned his mind to his wife, wondering if she would have felt threatened had he brought up having a baby while she was still alive. No. She'd have been delighted, thrilled even. Not for the first time, he felt a powerful tightening in his chest. If only they hadn't crashed.
Wearing enough of the doc's bug repellant to divert the entire planet's supply of bugs, Tom placed his crutches carefully on the pathway to the mess hall as he walked from his shelter over to the gathering place. For the brief time it took to go from one place to the other, he allowed himself to enjoy the solitude. It had been a day with a lot of tension in it. First, had been that jerk Sophen wanting a baby using B'Elanna's ova, then the strange encounter with Penny Burleson. He couldn't decide if she didn't like him or just didn't notice him. Not too long ago there had been the near argument with Chakotay. Sometimes it felt as if there were too many people in their colony. A ridiculous thought considering their small size.
But maybe that was the problem. It was just the less than fifty of them. For all the confines of Voyager at least there had been relatively safe places, like the holodecks, to get away when needed. How many times had he enticed Harry to join him on some holodeck adventure? He knew where he stood with Harry. As best friends they had looked forward to the time they spent together. On this planet, however, he'd carefully kept to himself. What would happen if you became best friends or lovers with someone and that person disappeared?
Closer to the hall, he saw Neelix turning Angelo Tasoni away. The man's shoulders drooped and his gaze looked down at the ground. Tom knew Angelo had the immunity and, noting the sadness not unlike his own, he called out to Neelix, "It's okay, Neelix. He can go in."
The two stood in place as Tom made his slow way over to them. Angelo seemed wary while Neelix looked puzzled. Neelix began to question Tom, "Are you sure? I thought just the commissioners...."
"I don't see why not. After tonight, it's not going to be any big secret."
His voice low, barely audible over the jungle sounds, Angelo asked, "What secret?"
"The bugs can talk to us using symbols."
Angelo's look was skeptical. But he shrugged. "I can go back to my shelter if you want privacy for your -- " he hesitated " -- talk."
"Stay. You're here. Let's go inside." With a motion of his crutch, Tom indicated that they should precede him inside the mess hall. Because the colony only used the mess hall during the day and early evening, the large room was not netted. But Tom noticed that Chakotay had been busy. A small area towards the rear of the hall had netting hanging from ceiling beams. A little cage all for him, he thought sourly.
Neelix bustled ahead, stopping only long enough to offer them iced coffee or tea. Angelo shrugged and Tom accepted the iced tea suggestion. Tom could see Chakotay, Tuvok, Janeway, Megan, and Rick gathered around a beverage dispenser. Before he could resume the path through the chairs and tables over to them, Angelo stopped him with a light touch to his forearm.
"What's going on, Tom?"
"We hope to talk to the bugs again tonight. Find out more about them."
"I do not believe I understand how bugs can talk. They are so tiny, surely they can't be seen or heard communicating to us?"
Tom explained what he'd seen the past two nights while Angelo listened, head cocked to one side as if he could absorb things better that way. Finishing up his description, Tom shrugged, "So, that's the big secret."
"It is an enormous secret. Intelligent bugs are surprising."
"It could be a bit unsettling to some of the colonists," Tom pointed out.
"I understand. How then will you let the people know?"
"Fortunately, that's not in my job description," Tom laughed. "Come on, Neelix has our drinks ready."
Tension levels in the mess hall rose as high as the humidity. The bugs were late. Maybe this was just one of those days, Tom thought. Sometimes a day would start off badly and it would just never get better.
Even Neelix couldn't think of anything to say that would dispel the itchy anxiety they all felt. But Tom felt it more than the others. After all, they were *his* bugs.
"I think they're coming," Chakotay announced.
Tuvok's tricorder confirmed it. The bugs were coming. As he'd agreed, Tom stepped inside the netting. Everyone else lined the invisible wall of the mess hall. As the dark mass neared, there were muted sounds from the watchers. When enough of the bugs gathered by the hall, Tom greeted them, "Hi."
The bugs formed the words, "Many."
"Yes. Some of us are here to meet you."
As they had the previous night, the flying insects grouped and regrouped to spell out the names of the colonists, impressing everyone with the fact that the bugs knew who they were. Suddenly, the bugs seemed to form a receiving line, as if waiting for someone important to arrive. Like a set of pallbearers, additional bugs flew through the opening, supporting at chest height without any visible means, one of the small animals. The grey furred animal with rabbitlike ears that flopped down toward the ground had the limp stillness of recent death. Without touching the animal at all, the bugs somehow guided its body through the thick jungle air down to the ground. It landed softly at Chakotay's feet.
"Well," Janeway said at last.
Tom looked from her to Chakotay to the bugs and then to the animal. It seemed as if everyone was staring at the animal. Drawing his eyes back up from the ground to the swarm, Tom asked, "Why?"
As he waited for an answer, he wished the doctor could see this. Oddly, he didn't feel like gloating. That he'd been right all along about the bugs seemed unimportant faced with the enormity of the fact that the bugs had somehow teleported the animal. Maybe that explained the relocation of the dead colonists back at VoyCe from buried underground to the aboveground door of their shelter.
"Honor to you." The swarm of insects exploded in size until the whole area was completely overwhelmed by them.
Inside his netting, Tom could hardly make out the others through the thousands of insects. Maybe he'd thank Chakotay later. But the bugs surrounded his netting and he felt himself being lifted out of his seat, his crutches left behind as he was raised above the ground. "Hey!"
He could see a phaser here and there and shouted to his friends not to use them. "No! I'm all right!"
But he was far from all right. He hovered horizontally too far above the ground for his feet to touch. A tingling energy field immobilized him inside the netting. However, in seconds the net fell away leaving him completely exposed to the insects and absolutely helpless.
End part 6