Endless II.A: New Deal
by Judy email@example.com and Etal
Year 00; November
The headache behind his eyes wouldn't quit. Ever since the earthquake, Chakotay felt as if he'd been running nonstop. The commissioners, Neelix, Megan Delaney, and Richard Parsons, had been understanding of the need to move south for the winter. But they'd had a lot of questions and he wasn't sure about the wisdom of telling them it had been sabotage. Nonetheless, they were the elected city commissioners and were entitled to know. Each had been shocked and each had had a lot of questions for him.
Then there had been the argument that had nearly gotten out of hand when he announced the move to the colonists. Saner heads prevailed without physical force having to be used. But the usual hotheads had poisoned what he'd hoped would be a calm, reasonable presentation into a series of accusations and counter accusations. Chakotay needed sleep. He needed it badly but there simply wasn't time.
And now the doctor was telling him they had to test everyone for some genetic mutation. "No."
"But...." the doctor spluttered.
"Doctor, I know you mean well, but this can wait until we've relocated. I don't want people more upset than they already are. Do you understand me?"
The doctor looked affronted by the vehemence of Chakotay's words, but there'd been no choice. There simply wasn't time for a long drawn out discussion. "Well."
"You can do the tests after we've moved."
"Believe me, it's important."
Chakotay realized the doctor was facing his own mortality as their energy supplies dwindled. He might not be online after they moved. "Doc, I didn't mean to sound so harsh. We'll make sure you're activated after the move. Okay?"
The doctor gave a nod and headed back to the Lee. Wondering what he'd been about to do when the doctor interrupted, Chakotay turned to see Neelix at his elbow. Wearily, he asked, "Yes, Neelix?"
"We're ready for the flight to VoyCe."
"Thank you." Touching his comm badge, Chakotay gave the order for all hands to be aboard one of the shuttles and for pilots to prepare for lift-off. Scanning the clearing for stragglers, Chakotay was the last to board a shuttle. "Let's go."
The touchdown a few minutes later in what was left of VoyCe left the colonists subdued and stunned. To Chakotay's eyes their small settlement looked as if it had been bombed by a spread of photon torpedoes. The polluted waters had retreated leaving behind a pervasive, eye-itching stench. But the odors seemed to have attracted the small animals and insects to the site.
Shelters were tumbled and split, not a one had escaped some form of damage. The ground was a jumble of torn turf, shelter parts, personal belongings, and unidentifiable debris. It was difficult to gain bearings without familiar landmarks. Even the air was different, with residual dust still in the air.
As he carefully stepped around, Chakotay found his eyes drawn to his own shelter. It hadn't split apart, but one wall, Tuvok's side of the shelter, had collapsed and the shelter itself had shifted so that its front entrance was 90 degrees from its former location.
Walking around to the front of the shelter, Tuvok trailing not far behind him, Tom somewhere unknown, Chakotay was brought up short, totally startled by the sight before him.
"Oh, Spirits," he whispered.
"Indeed," Tuvok murmured, his word equally soft.
Laid out in front of the door were the bodies of Jiguo Gao Zhang and Narinder Patel. Each lay face up, fully clothed, arms at rest on their chests, only faint traces of dirt and injuries visible. Unaccountably, there were no small animals or insects in or around the bodies.
"Don't go any closer," Chakotay ordered.
Tuvok's tricorder was out at arm's length taking readings off the bodies. "They are dead."
Chakotay thought he really hadn't needed the tricorder to tell him that. But it didn't hurt to be sure. "Doctor, Tom," he commed, "we need you over by our shelter. Bring your field equipment." Turning to Tuvok, he suggested, "Don't let anyone else near here."
Tuvok turned his back to the bodies and by his stance alone blocked access to the area. His job was made easier by the fact that the colonists were all carefully retrieving possessions from their own shelters as best they could. The new location of the front entrance also kept the sight hidden from idle glances in their direction.
The doctor appeared shortly, a field kit in his hand. Tuvok saw Tom struggling with his crutches over the rough and torn terrain. Regardless, the young man was heading over as Chakotay had requested. When Tom was closer, Tuvok stepped out to give him a hand over the roughest of the ground. He wasn't able to pinpoint what seemed wrong, but Tom's appearance was paler than usual, a kind of sick expression on his face. Considering all the destruction that he'd been looking at, perhaps that reaction was understandable. "Doctor, Tom. We'd like you to take over the scene."
"Has anyone touched the bodies?" the EMH asked.
Tom seemed to pull himself together. Some of the sick look left his face to be replaced with a nearly blank professional expression of interest. "How'd they get there? Were they beamed over?"
"That is unlikely, but I will investigate the possibility while I stand guard."
Chakotay filled them in with what little he knew. "We found them here just like you see them, dead and laid out."
"On the front door step even though the shelter's turned around," Tom mused aloud. "Just like the small animals."
Tuvok heard the reluctance in the mayor's voice. Neither of them wanted to admit that some intelligence appeared to have been at work. Jiguo Gao had fallen into a deep crevice in the ground, Narinder had been in the underground food storage room. Yet both were now above ground and clearly care had been taken in locating them. Tuvok planned to check the records but he doubted if he would find evidence of transportation of the bodies.
Tom suggested that the doctor go over alone to the bodies since he wouldn't leave any trace of extraneous DNA at the scene. Tuvok had to concede that despite the young man's uncertain appearance, Tom was thinking clearly about the best way to deal with the unusual situation they confronted. Both Tom and the EMH had their tricorders out duplicating the scans Tuvok had conducted earlier.
"I'm going to talk to the commissioners," Chakotay informed them, edgy and noticeably distracted by the unexpected location of the bodies.
"I'll be here," Tom promised.
The EMH approached the bodies slowly, his tricorder providing constant readouts. Times of death were as expected. The cool weather had prevented any significant decomposition of the bodies. However, given what was understood of their deaths, he was baffled at the way these bodies were presented. They should be under the earth in different locations. Not here at the mayor's front door.
Finishing the scans, the doctor motioned his assistant to come over. "Tom."
"What do we have?"
"Times of death were during the earthquake. There are no injuries inconsistent with the information we have about how they died."
"How'd they get here?"
"Is it possible that someone beamed them out and put them here?"
"No evidence of it. They're here under unknown circumstances."
"The bugs," Tom announced and the doctor gave him a sharp glance. Had Tom tried to get to him with that comment?
"Tom. It is not the bugs."
"Why not? Can you prove it wasn't?"
"No. Of course I can't. The bodies have insect DNA on them, I'm sure. Based on my scans, they were apparently outside during the night when the bugs swarmed."
"What's your theory, then?"
"It is premature for a theory."
Tom seemed determined to needle him. "What about a best guess?"
"I do not indulge in guesses."
"Oh. I didn't know you'd turned into Tuvok."
The doctor turned on Tom, irritated by his apparent glibness. "Perhaps you have a theory. A viable, testable theory."
Tom shrugged. "The bugs did it, Doc. Give up. There's no other explanation. Unless this planet's inhabited by some invisible beings."
"I highly doubt that."
Chakotay returned across the broken landscape. "Doc, Tom, what do you have?"
"Oh, our usual disagreement," Tom informed him. "I think it's the bugs."
"Why do you say that?"
"It's the only reasonable explanation."
"There is no evidence," the doctor interjected.
"Gentlemen, this sounds like the same old argument." When Tom began to protest, Chakotay cut him off. "Now, about the bodies. Can we let their family and friends decide funeral arrangements?"
"Of course," the doctor agreed. "I have all the data saved in the tricorders."
"Thank you," Chakotay declared with no small amount of exasperation. "You can take up the intricacies of your debate with Tom later."
"You're letting Arenda and Jiguo's roommates see them like this?"
"Tom, we have no place to lay out the bodies properly."
The doctor listened to the exchange with interest. He had observed burials in space, but was unfamiliar with customs of death and burial outside of a starship. Before he could ask a question, Tuvok and Joe Carey escorted Arenda Malek to the body of her husband. Following close behind were Valencia Pacheco, Mikhaila Jackson, and Trumari Tierney, the three roommates of Jiguo Gao Zhang.
Based on the wails and cries of the survivors, the doctor was grateful to have his medical kit with him. It was apparent that overwhelming suffering accompanied viewing of the bodies. Just as he was about to pull out a hypospray, Tom's voice stopped him. "Don't."
"It's grief. It's normal."
"Are you sure?"
The doctor saw a grim tightening of Tom's lips and realized that, of course, Tom was sure. He had painful personal experience to draw upon. "Let me know when I can be of service. I'm going to return to the shuttle and download this information to the computer."
The doctor left Tom leaning on his crutches, watching the unfolding scene as other colonists came over to comfort the survivors. His eyes had been bleak with a far away point of focus. It made the doctor wonder if Tom was reliving some of his own trauma.
According to the customs of their peoples, both bodies were cremated after brief, commemorative ceremonies. As well, the bodies of the three lost fetuses were wrapped and arranged in as solemn a presentation as the adult bodies. The colonists ringed the funeral biers, made of mess hall table tops retrieved from the wreckage. The bodies were wrapped in white cloths and phaser blasts accomplished the grim task in seconds leaving an almost invisible residue of ash. Arenda placed some of the ash and dirt into a small cloth packet. Valencia followed her lead as did Mikhaila and Tierney.
The ceremony over, the colonists returned to salvaging what they could from their damaged and destroyed shelters. Tom found the picture Tuvok had rescued for him from Voyager. He felt his eyes tear up as he located it beside his upended bed. Also found was his Hawaiian shirt, one of the first possessions he'd had on the planet. It wasn't much to salvage but considering the loss of life others had suffered, he counted himself lucky to be able to do this much.
Once again, he wished he could stay behind. But it wasn't because of the difficulty he'd have in an airborne shuttle. He wanted to stay and rebuild. This had become their home and, besides each other, there was little else that they had. However, Chakotay had made it pretty clear that this group was going to winter in the south, no exceptions.
Tom knew that Chakotay and Tuvok were busy with the needs of the colonists, so he continued to search the chaotic interior of their shelter. What the hell? For a moment he thought the ground was falling out from under him, that he must not have his crutches planted firmly on the floor. But he was swaying even as he dug in. This must be an aftershock. Okay, maybe Chakotay had been right. It wasn't just the oncoming winter weather that would hurt them, these vibrations could also be a serious problem.
Once the aftershock subsided, and Tom found himself still on his feet, he resumed the search for Tuvok and Chakotay's possessions. He found some things, Tuvok's lamp, Chakotay's bundle, and gathered them into his colorful shirt, using it as a container. Another rumble decided him against searching any further. If he fell, it could be a real challenge to get back up amidst the rubble.
Outside the shelter he saw other colonists gathering together, nervously looking around as if expecting another aftershock to appear above ground like an ocean wave. Adjusting the crutch supports on his forearms and holding tightly to the bundled up shirt, Tom slowly made his way over to the nearest group. He could make out the pregnant forms of Soh Ryson and Jim Morrow. Mary Ashmore hovered beside her partner and Jim's partner, Evanthia McMinn, stood by his elbow, their heads bent together as they talked. Joe Carey stood near them talking to Angelo Tasoni, an arm across the latter's shoulders.
This aftershock was a lot sharper and a lot harder than the one Tom had felt in the shelter. His feet went out from under him and he landed heavily on his tailbone. At almost the same time, a crutch thumped against his head hitting it smartly. "Shit!"
Joe Carey came running over even as the terrain undulated under him. A sudden fissure opened up and tripped the engineer. "Fuck!"
Angelo followed, helped Joe to his feet and Tom saw them both swaying drunkenly as they made their way over to him.
Joe reached him first. "You okay?"
"Yeah. That aftershock took my feet out from under me."
Bending down, Angelo gathered up Tom's shirt and the contents that had scattered when Tom fell. After Joe gave him his crutches, Tom took a deep breath. He couldn't help but wince as the shooting pain began in his tailbone and traveled up his spine.
"You sure you're not hurt?"
"It'll be okay. Doc'll be able to fix me up in no time." He accepted the bundle from Angelo. "Thanks."
Angelo nodded gravely.
"I'm sorry about what happened," Tom told him, feeling awkward about what to say to a man who'd lost the fetus he'd carried in honor of a wife lost less than a year ago.
"Thank you," Angelo rumbled in a low bass, sounding numb and depressed. "Thank you for saying something."
The words startled Tom but before he could say anything else Chakotay's voice came over the comm. "Please report to the shuttles. Lift off is in ten minutes."
Tom figured it would take him at least ten minutes to reach the Lee. Angelo surprised him again, this time by saying, "Allow me to help you."
In the confusion of the shuttle being readied for take-off it wasn't hard for Tom to find a hypospray. After all, he had injured his tailbone, albeit superficially. And there had been that nasty knot on his forehead where the crutch had hit it. Instead of a painkiller, though, he set the hypo to a sedative designed to make him so woozy he'd never notice if the shuttle got off the ground or not. Thank goodness Angelo had said something to Chakotay about Tom hurting his back during the aftershock and he wasn't asked to fly the shuttle.
Wincing slightly at the residual pain even after the doc ran a regenerator over his back, Tom settled on a blanket on the floor near the bathroom. He just prayed the sedative would work in time and would be effective. The last thing he wanted was to make a fool of himself during flight.
Seated in the co-pilot's chair, Jenny Delaney watched Tom off and on after he entered the shuttle. He was briefly treated by the doctor, but then gave himself a hypospray. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the way he slowly lowered himself to the floor where he wrapped himself up in a blanket. Tom Paris was definitely acting oddly. Maybe she'd have a chance after they reached their new home to say something to him. He was hiding something. Probably his fear and she didn't quite get it. What was the importance of keeping that kind of a secret? Before her thoughts could take her too far, Chakotay said something to her and they took off.
End of Part 5