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

Part 8

Year: 00; December

Stretched out on his cot in the darkness of the shelter, hotter than hell, Brian Sophen considered the choices open to him. Clearly, that prick Tom Paris wasn't going to give in any time soon on allowing him to create his own baby with the donor of his choosing. That left finding a colonist who would agree to do it. And that might not be such a bad idea. The choice of donor would be totally out of the hands of despots like Paris.

But who? If he chose a woman she could carry the child, which meant he really wouldn't need Paris' cooperation. But suppose she didn't share the baby after its birth the way he wanted her to? However, if he chose a man, and he himself carried the baby, then he would need Paris' cooperation. And men could be so competitive. If the other man carried the baby, he could see himself being elbowed out of the way of raising his own child. Men weren't such a great idea.

Mulling over the pros and cons of who to choose as the other parent of his child, he briefly considered cloning. Then the child would be totally and completely his own. But cloning had been banned, with good reason, centuries ago. It was too risky. And Paris would know at the first tricorder scan. Then where would he be?

That left the women. First, he ruled out anyone who'd been an officer on Voyager. No sense running into holdovers of rank as a complicating factor. So that left only 11 women who weren't officially paired. But one was Megan Delaney, a town *commissioner*, no way did he want someone who thought she was so powerful. And that meant her sister Jenny was ineligible as well. Might as rule out T'Sem, the Vulcan. Who knew what kind of mind-stuff she'd pull on him?

Running over the list of names, he found himself coming back to Valencia Pacheco. She was vulnerable, having lost her roommate Jiguo Gao to the earthquake. But, no, she'd been part of security on Voyager and still helped in that area. He gave a little more consideration to Rebekah Powell. Like him, she'd been in maintenance so she didn't have a background that would make her lord it over him.

Her good qualities? Quiet, not bad looking in a dark, intense sort of way, didn't seem to dislike him. What about the cons? She'd been going with Melchor Swift, the scientist who looked down his nose at people who did the real work. But he hadn't seen her with Mel recently. Maybe Rebekah would respond to his charms. When she had his baby, he'd show the Tom Paris' of the world just who had the power and who didn't.

It was a perfect plan, he thought, as he drifted off to sleep, smug in his knowledge of the future. Even some distantly heard shouting didn't interrupt his self-satisfied descent into sleep.


Inside the netting that draped their adjacent cots, Robin Lang and her lover Andreas Henard spoke softly to each other after their roommates had gone to sleep and they themselves had enjoyed some slow, quiet, albeit sweaty lovemaking.

"Andy, I'm worried about this baby...."

"Sh-h, it'll be all right. She's developing properly, isn't she?"

"Yes. But you've heard about these genetic mutations. What if there's something wrong?"

"Well, don't we have the mutations, too? Is there anything wrong with us?"

"Maybe it doesn't show up in adults, but harms our babies?"

"Please don't worry, Robin. I'm sure they wouldn't be encouraging us to have children if there was anything that could go wrong."

"Well, you are a scientist."

"And I've helped a little as a medic."

She could feel his grin across the inches that separated their faces. "You're sure it'll be all right?"

"Positive," he whispered back and gave her a warm kiss on the lips.

With a sigh, she settled her head on the pillow. "Thanks."

Already asleep, Andreas breathed softly in her ear. With sleep claiming her, she didn't hear the alarming cries that came from across the settlement.


Struggling to find a comfortable position, Jim Morrow turned from his left side to his right side. He felt his wife Evie's hand on his arm rubbing gently up and down as if to soothe him. He clasped his hand over hers and gave a gentle squeeze. Evanthia McMinn was the best thing that ever happened to him. And this baby of theirs was soon going to place right up there with her. Even his vaguely aroused thoughts toward her couldn't overcome the fact that it was too hot to do much more than hold hands.

As he succumbed to sleep he missed the sounds of voices somewhere out there in the night.


Joe Carey tried to sleep but the ideas he and the others on the conversion crew had tossed around earlier that evening kept going around and around in his head. He couldn't shut the voices down, so he listened to them instead. Penny had been damn persuasive that her idea of an on-planet shuttle converted to supply energy could work. And maybe it would. Without success, they'd all, even Penny, tried to poke holes in her science.

Perhaps she was right. But if she was wrong, the earthquake that had torn up VoyCe would be like the falling of a single leaf in a forest compared to the terrible energies that would be released. They'd have to make damn sure nothing went wrong.

His thoughts were disturbed by what sounded like a little too much partying over by the mess hall. But that was wrong. No one would be in the mess hall at this time of night. It wasn't protected from the bugs who should be swarming about now. Deciding he was overly stimulated and imagining things, Joe allowed himself to give into the forces pulling him to sleep. His thoughts finally quieted.


Sworn to secrecy, Jenny Delaney did all she could to stay awake in the shuttle. Her job was to transport the colonists into the shuttle with her if there was any difficulty after they met with the bugs. If they met with the bugs. It was all a little strange. At first she'd assumed Megan was joking, but then she'd seen the look on Tuvok's face. It was very Vulcan stern.

So there they were out having an adventure or something and she was stuck in the shuttle. The conversations she overheard over the open comm link had been pretty boring, consisting of the usual complaints about the heat, the lack of privacy, the inconsiderateness of some of the colonists, and so forth. If she had to hear one more time about that stupid Brian Sophen she might scream. It wasn't her fault he'd been attaching himself to the support group that sometimes met in her shelter.

The conversations subsided into sporadic comments now and again as the time approached for the appearance of the bugs. It was all she could do to keep alert when there was no one to talk to nor anything to overhear, even when the talk that had occurred bored her to the point of trying to braid segments of her now very short hair.

Then she heard the excited voices as the bugs arrived and, as if to convince herself that she was really awake, she sat up straighter in the chair. Show time. Finally. She was ready.

Overlapping voices made for some confusion on her end of things but she wasn't hearing anything too alarming. Greetings and that sort of thing. Maybe an animal had been brought in?

Suddenly, both Tuvok and Chakotay were yelling for her to lock onto Tom Paris and beam him in. Professionalism took over and she set the transporter accordingly. But her readings showed too much interference. She couldn't get a stable lock. She tried again. No luck. Taking some reserve replicator power, she rerouted it to the transporter. Although she could hear the other's increasingly desperate calls to her, there was nothing she could do.

"I'm sorry, I've tried everything! The lock's unstable!"

"How unstable?" Tuvok asked, his voice overriding the others.

"There's massive interference!"

"Have you tried....?"

"Yes! I tried taking power from the replicators, the conn, everywhere, but boosting power didn't do any good. The interference is cutting right across the waveforms of the transporter signal. It's making a random noise pattern that needs something like a remodulator to get rid of it."

"Keep trying, Jenny," Megan urged and Jenny could hear the anguish in her twin's voice that penetrated the background shouts of the others. Something bad had happened.


Tom wanted to move and couldn't. His limbs didn't respond to his commands for them to get him the hell out of there. He wanted to talk but couldn't move his lips so only the muffled sounds of stifled screams could be heard. The tingling intensified as his immobility increased. No wonder the animals died. They were traumatized to death. Or maybe the immobilizing power of the bug teleportation stopped not only the animals' outward motions but their hearts as well.

Why the hell were the bugs doing this? Weren't they friends?

He could see nothing but the jungle, the occasional glimpse of the larger moon overheard, and millions and millions of bugs. So far they hadn't gotten in his nose or ears but he wondered how long that would last when there were so many of them, most of whom must have flown around his head at least once if not a dozen times.

The buzzing sounds overwhelmed his senses blocking out any other noises. Electrical tingles became painful throughout his body. Damn. It hurt.

Were they going through the jungle at a faster and faster pace?

Why wasn't he being transported out of here? What had gone wrong? And why the hell hadn't the bug repellent worked?

Recognizing his own hysteria, Tom wondered where in the universe the Borg were when you needed them. A little assimilation of these bugs would go a long way. Scratch that. The Borg would assimilate him, too.

He tried to keep track of what was going on but it was nearly impossible in the tsunami of insects. If he ever returned to the settlement, he wouldn't be able to tell the others anything. Of course, he could own up to being so scared that he lost total control. But it hadn't gotten that bad. Yet.


Chakotay kept trying to communicate with the swarm. But once Tom had disappeared, the bugs themselves seemed to lose all cohesion. The organized discipline that allowed them to form letters had transformed itself into a chaotic, churning mass of directionless insects. He couldn't tell what he was seeing other than millions of swarming insects. He was grateful that, for some unknown reason, none of the insects swarmed into the mess hall even though there were no walls to stop them.

Tuvok and Megan were trying to get Jenny to transport Tom to the shuttle but she wasn't having any success. He kept his tricorder pointed in the direction Tom had last been seen, but the instrument showed him nothing but noise. As far as the tricorder was concerned, Tom wasn't out there.

No matter how many settings he tried, no matter how much he reinvented every trick he knew to bring up a distant, difficult signal, no sign of Tom was found. He swore and found himself with his arm upraised ready to slam the tricorder down on the nearest table. But Janeway gripped his forearm.

"Don't," she told him. "It won't bring Tom back. And we need every tricorder we have."

She was right. He lowered his arm, still angry. "What the hell happened here? By all the holy spirits in the universe, what happened?"

"They took him."

He wanted to pounce on her for stating the obvious. Instead, he took a deep breath of the fetid jungle air. "All right. All right." His words were meant to reassure himself. Regaining some control, enough to function, Chakotay looked at her first and then the others, "Why?"

Tuvok had encouraged Jenny to keep trying to raise Tom's signal but he didn't think anything would be found until the insects left him alone. Considering the fate of the dead animal still laid out at their feet, Tuvok didn't tell them what he had concluded. He simply reported what his tricorders and his eyes had told him. "There were at least three groups of insects to visit us tonight. The ones who brought the animal are the ones we saw last night."

"The ones who talk to us," Neelix clarified.

"Yes." Tuvok had all eyes on him. He observed that those eyes were strangely colored by the wrist lamps most had turned on when Tom was taken and then had never been turned off. At least they were pointed downwards. "A different kind of insect seems to have swept in and taken Tom."

"Different how?" Chakotay asked. He didn't say that he'd never noticed the change.

"The bugs we expected to meet are more like Earth's housefly. Let's call them flies. They brought the animal to 'honor' us. The ones who arrived to take Tom were more like moths. The coloring is similar to that of the flies, but the wings are more rounded and there are other structural differences between the two groups. The insects swarming out there now are more like mosquitos in form, however, there is a difference, these mosquitos do not feed on blood."

"Well, thank goodness for that," Neelix said.

"And they can't or won't communicate with us?" Kathryn asked, but knew it was too early for an answer.

"What happened to our friendly flies?" Megan wanted to know.

Tuvok's eyebrow shrugged.

Rick Parsons glanced back at the jungle where the moths had taken Tom. "Maybe they went flying to the rescue."

No one said anything as they relived portions of the harrowing last ten minutes. Chakotay felt the need to do something. "I want to take a shuttle up."

Kathryn spoke gently, "If the shuttle sensors can't find him when it's practically on top of Tom...." She let the thought drift between them.

"A waste of resources we don't have, is that what you're saying?" Chakotay's angry tone said he'd pick a fight with anyone.

"No. Getting Tom back could take every resource we have left and it would still be worth it. What I'm saying is that we need to do things that will prove productive. Flying the shuttles all over this planet won't do it."

"However," Tuvok mused, "perhaps one shuttle orbiting the planet would be able to detect Tom's comm badge or life signs if he lands on the other side of the planet."

"If the insects are causing the interference, then when they go back to bed or whatever it is they do, shouldn't the interference stop?" Rick asked.

Chakotay knew Parsons was right. But he wanted to do something *now*. "Tuvok, how long until they finish swarming?"

"Four hours and eight minutes -- if they adhere to the patterns we've registered here in our data banks."


Angelo Tasoni had been all but forgotten in the chaos of Tom's disappearance. He had gone into the jungle running after the swarm that had taken Tom and only now reappeared.


"What were you doing out there?"

Angelo brushed dead bug bodies and clinging vines and other jungle foliage off his hair and face and off his clothes. His hands and fingers looked swollen, his face spotted with red welts. "I tried to catch up to Tom. I was unsuccessful."

"How far did you go?"

"Almost to the waterfall."

"The waterfall?" Chakotay repeated.

"I could hear it over the insect buzzing."

Kathryn tried out an idea, "We know the ones outside VoyCe went from the trees to the river and back. Could the river here be their destination?"

"It's as good a guess as any."

"Our data banks record that the insects have indeed swarmed along such a pathway in the recent past."

"Jenny," Chakotay called over the comm link. "Can you beam us to the base of the waterfall?"

"No sir. I'm sorry, there's too much interference," Jenny's voice told them.

"All right then. Let's go," Chakotay urged the others.

"May I suggest certain precautions?"

"What?" Chakotay wasn't interested in Tuvok's precautions. They'd lost precious time already.

"Phasers, a medical kit, and if we still have enough reserve power, the EMH."

With as much good grace as he could muster, Chakotay conceded, "Do it."

"And we should travel in a group. Tom was separated from us by the netting and that could have made him a target."

"All right. We go in ten minutes." It was as much as he could give the security minded Tuvok. But the time would allow him to debrief Angelo. It would help to know what the man had encountered out there. Apparently, the bug swarms weren't as impenetrable as they seemed. "And if we don't find Tom there, we take up a shuttle."

Tuvok and Neelix returned with the phasers all around. In addition, he passed around net head gear to protect them and safety belts to allow them to hook up together as they traveled.

The EMH joined them, his med kit in one hand. His words were testy, his expression grim. "I understand you've lost Tom Paris."

"Good to see you, too, Doc," Chakotay greeted him. "He was taken from us."

Kathryn nodded to the doctor. "Doctor. By the way, Tom was right about the bugs. They were depositing the animals."

"I will congratulate Tom when we have back safe and sound. Obviously, while I've been in cold storage, all sorts of interesting things have been happening."

"I'm sorry you couldn't be with us," Chakotay said with more of an edge to his voice than he had intended. Glancing around the group, knowing Jenny was still on duty in the shuttle, he motioned Tuvok to take point. He'd take the rear. "Stay together. Let's go."

No one noticed the faint flicker in the doctor's holographic matrix.

End part 8