Endless II.A: New Deal
by Judy firstname.lastname@example.org and Etal
Year 00; November
Stepping out of the shuttle, Chakotay was immediately hit with the fire heat of the southern location. Although they had landed at a high altitude in these mountains, nonetheless, they were exposed to the hot temperatures of an equatorial latitude. Overwhelming vegetation gave the atmosphere the humidity of a hothouse. The smell of decay tickled Chakotay's nose. The area reminded him of a long ago trip with his father.
Shaking off the sudden memory, Chakotay found his town commissioners gathered around him. He noticed the other colonists wandering about the small clearing as if a little lost. "Recommendations?"
Neelix regarded the trees and lush plant life and announced, "It looks like my home."
With a small smile, Chakotay acknowledged that they had both been touring memory lane. But he brought himself back to the tasks at hand. "We're going to need shelters. Sensors indicate rain occurs every afternoon."
Megan Delaney batted at an insect that landed on her arm. "And the bugs. What are we going to do if they swarm here?"
"Kill em with a photon torpedo." Uninvited, Brian Sophen had joined the impromptu conference.
"Get a life, Brian. This is a commissioners' meeting and you weren't elected ," Parsons told his roommate in gruff tones.
"Hey, Rick," Brian challenged.
Before the two could get into it, Chakotay suggested, "Brian, we need some good reconnaissance of the area. There aren't supposed to be any predators around, but perhaps you could scout that out for us."
Glaring at the red-faced Parsons, Brian knew enough to take the face saving out offered by his former Maquis captain. "Sure."
"Check out a tricorder from the doctor."
Chakotay gave Rick Parsons a meaningful look. "Everything all right?"
"You try living with that jerk."
Megan cut in with, "I'd almost trade you Mary Ashmore."
With a cynical laugh, Rick hit back with, "No, you wouldn't."
"All right. What about Megan's question? We don't have the replicator energy to make shelters the way we had in VoyCe, but we have to have protection from the insect swarms."
"Maybe tonight we should all sleep in the shuttles and take readings of the insect activity," Neelix suggested.
"Good idea. Then, with an idea of what we might be up against, we can figure out something. I wish I knew what."
"At home we used netting," Parsons volunteered.
"Yeah. I lived in a tropical area on my planet and we didn't have climate controls. Our homes were very open so we put netting over our beds to keep out the pests."
"What kind of netting?"
"A kind of fine mesh. Maybe there's something in the computer data banks."
"We will need some facilities for cooking and personal hygiene, won't we?" Neelix asked.
Smiling at Neelix's obvious anxiety over the possible loss of his kitchen, Chakotay reassured him, "I think we can replicate a mess hall and I personally will vouch for the need for showers and toilets."
"A shower room has my vote," Rick told them.
"And I like the idea of indoor plumbing."
"Okay, Megan, you've got it." Trying to maintain a serious demeanor, Chakotay added, "It would help to protect the environment."
At a post dinner meeting in their new mess hall, an open structure with a floor and a roof that was held up by strategically placed supports, Chakotay confirmed to the colonists that they would have to sleep in the shuttles that night. There hadn't been enough energy to replicate walls for the mess hall, not if they were to have any privacy in the facilities shelter. He and some of the scientists planned to stay up in the Lee to monitor the immediate environment. Those efforts had to come before decisions could be made about how to set themselves up in this high mountain jungle.
Jenny Delaney shrugged at the news. She'd heard about the need to sleep in the shuttles from her sister. Fighting the heat, she lifted her long hair off her neck, hoping to cool down. Lamps in the shelter provided needed illumination. Although she knew they didn't radiate heat, still, Jenny wished they could sit in total darkness and wait for cooling breezes to go through the hall.
As Jenny looked around the mess hall, she wondered when the temperature would drop. The overhead fans seemed to circulate nothing but wet, hot air. The oppressive atmosphere, coupled with less oxygen than VoyCe, had made her irritable and itchy. Her eyes settled on Tom Paris seated across the room near the edge of the mess hall. His damp hair and flushed face told her he wasn't faring well in their new home.
After the meeting broke up, Jenny angled her way over to Tom. "Tom."
"You feeling okay?" He hadn't graced her with one of his customary smiles.
"Well, it's plenty hot." Again, she lifted up thick hair from the back of her neck and fanned it out. There was no breeze to cool off her neck, but the absence of the hair helped.
"Uh-huh," he grunted.
Tom's eyes seemed to be looking over her shoulder and she turned to see what it was that had caught his attention. Neelix approached them, an anxious look on his face. "Dinner was fine," Tom told him.
"We didn't have much to work with."
"Believe me, feeding fifty people with what you had constitutes a miracle."
"Thank you, Tom."
Jenny felt fascinated by the exchange. She knew Tom and Neelix had been friends on Voyager after they'd reached some kind of understanding about Kes. Also, she had seen the way Neelix tended to hover over Tom the past several months, but Tom's kindness toward Neelix somehow caught her off guard. And then Neelix steered Tom away. Her chance to check on him disappeared into the night. Well, she could still watch and observe.
Tom walked with hesitation into the darkness between the mess hall and the shuttle. Both he and Neelix had wrist lamps and the moons were bright between the mountaintops, but Tom's continued reliance on crutches meant extra care on his part going across unfamiliar terrain.
"Thanks, Neelix," Tom said when they were out of hearing range of the mess hall.
"Is that Jenny Delaney making unwanted advances again?"
"No," Tom laughed. "Not like that."
"What is it?"
They reached the Lee without incident and Tom sank gratefully into his chair at the science console while Neelix took up a nearby chair. "It's a lot nicer in here than out there."
"Yes. Not so hot."
"Not so humid," Tom added.
"Where's the doctor? Offline?"
"Offline," Tom confirmed. "That earthquake...we've used a lot of energy."
"At least we have you to be our medic."
"Some medic." The doctor had left strict instructions that he was to record everyone's current DNA and compare it to the records in the computers. A big task when no one else saw its importance. Maybe the scientists would be more interested in the implications. Maybe not.
"So. What about Jenny? She likes you."
Tom remembered how they'd more than liked each other once upon a time. "Yeah. Well. If you could keep her away from me, I'd appreciate it."
"Tom...are you...are you...."
He thought he knew what Neelix was asking. "No. Everything works fine. I just...I'm not interested. I still miss them."
"B'Elanna and Harry?"
Tom nodded. Although he knew he was shamelessly allowing Neelix's sympathy for him to work to his current advantage, it was true that he missed them so much he sometimes thought that underneath his skin there was a gaping hole where Tom Paris used to be.
"What do you think? Are they coming back for us?"
Tom appreciated that Neelix didn't consider them dead. "I'm giving them four years. I think they'll be back in four years."
There was a tightness in his chest. Maybe he could blame it on the thinner atmosphere. But Tom knew that the ache occupied every cell of his body. It was just that his chest held his heart.
"You look tired out. Need some help?"
"Thanks, but I'll manage. Getting out of the heat made things easier."
"There may be a lot of us going to bed early tonight."
Tom mustered a weak grin.
Janeway stayed up with Chakotay and Penny Burleson monitoring the movements of the nocturnal jungle residents. As had happened further north, the insects migrated from the forests to the water. This time their settlement wasn't in the direct path, however, enough bugs flew around on their own missions so that being out of doors unprotected at night would be a very bad move. Away from the sleeping colonists, they discussed Parsons' research on netting. Maybe it would work along with some of the doctor's bug repellant. The next night would see a small experiment.
During the evening, Kathryn, Parsons, and Megan Delaney remained in the mess hall, sleeping on cots draped with netting that they'd hung from the ceiling. Just in case they needed rescuing from swarming bugs, Chakotay remained on call at the Lee's transporter controls. Megan remarked that the jungle odors had nothing on them in terms of unpleasant smells. The bug repellant was not one of the doctor's more fragrant potions.
By morning it was clear that both the netting and the repellant had worked. They could construct shelters using native materials. The replicators would be taxed only so far as producing the netting and the repellant. Of course, the replicators would have to respond to other needs.
Kathryn smiled to herself remembering how the doctor had left strict instructions for all to consume the vitamin compounds he'd synthesized. He'd advised them to continue to eat replicated meals at regular intervals. But they all had known that the replicators also had to supply bedding and clothing as well. At least the climate helped. There was no need for blankets, just sheets. And most of the colonists wanted to wear no more than a tank top and shorts.
Kathryn sat with Tom and Chakotay and Neelix while they reactivated the doctor for what would be the last time unless there was a dire emergency. Primarily, the doctor talked to Tom about the prenatal care needed for the remaining pregnant colonists.
She tuned out the monologue for a few moments to take a careful look at her former officers and friends. Neelix's normal ebullience was long gone, Chakotay seemed deeply weary. And Tom appeared the most affected of them all. She couldn't remember the last time he'd made a wise crack or really smiled. As she ruminated on the changes in them all, something the doctor said snapped her attention back to the conversation. "Back up, doctor."
"You want me to repeat myself?" he asked incredulously.
"Indulge me, please."
"Well, since it's you. I was reminding Tom to study hard and to reactivate me to grade his tests."
That's right, the doctor was training Tom to be a physician even though Tom hadn't yet agreed. "No. The part about the DNA."
"Ah. Someone is finally interested." Chakotay acted as if he wanted to protest but the doctor continued. "We discovered that some of the colonists' DNA has been altered since they've been on the planet. And that includes the unborn."
"New sequences have been placed where normally there is nothing or just fragments. It would have to be from a bacteria we have as yet to discover."
"What are the consequences?"
"We don't know. That's why Tom has to scan everyone and do the comparisons. It must be a high priority."
Kathryn thought about the doctor's plea. She noted the looks exchanged among Tom, Chakotay and the EMH. Chakotay clearly was worried about more immediate concerns for the colony. She'd heard the rumors that some of the colonists wanted to take a shuttle and go elsewhere. This jungle was too hot, too high. Privately, she believed that some were malcontents who would refuse to be won over if they'd landed in paradise. Yet as much as she might want to help out, he was in charge of those issues. But here was something that could help divert her from the failure of the energy conversion. Tuvok's job was to locate the saboteurs. This problem was science.
"Tom, if you'd like some help here...."
The relief she saw on Tom's face made her glad she'd offered. She knew he'd done a lot of growing up in the Delta Quadrant but having to learn to be a physician while solving the puzzle of changes in their DNA, and coping with his own disability, made her wonder how much he really could carry on his shoulders alone. The unknown force that had laid out the bodies of their dead was another mystery that fell within Tom's purview. So far there had been no offerings of small mammals here but that could change at any time. Tom was their medical detective and he could use some help.
"Thanks." He actually gave her a smile. It pleased her to notice that it was one that actually reached his eyes.
She heard a harumpf from the doctor. He wanted to be part of the research and yet their energy reserves were so low. She tried to give him some comfort. "Doctor, of course, we'll consult with you on interpreting what we find out. I suspect we will need you more than we can guess."
When they deactivated the doctor, Kathryn felt a sadness that reminded her that they would be missing an old friend. At least this was one old friend they could bring back. It was hard to realize that *all* they had to do to make that happen was to generate more energy.
Year: 00; December
Tom lay on his cot, the netting protecting him from the creatures that claimed the night. Not surprisingly, it was hot enough to make his damp shorts cling to his skin. Restless, his mind sorted out the details of the tests he'd been running to determine exactly what the new DNA did. Tom turned on his side and looked out of the shelter into the darkness. Finally, a small breeze stirred out there and the open walls allowed it to circulate into their primitive home.
He'd been surprised to find that he still roomed with Chakotay and Tuvok, after all, so many others had devised their own arrangements quite different from those in VoyCe. The soft snoring of the mayor carried across the room. He never heard Tuvok except when the Vulcan moved in his sleep. Even though he believed he craved solitude, Tom was grateful for their presence. He'd been relieved when they seemed to take it for granted that the three of them would share a shelter.
As Tom stared out into the darkness, he could see the faint light of the facility shelter to the left of the clearing. If there were lights on in the other open air shelters, he didn't see any. There was so much vegetation screening them from each other that he didn't really expect to see the others.
Then something caught his eyes. A movement, possibly a patterned movement, swirled out there. He propped his head up and watched as the movement darted closer.
At this hour of the night, it was the bugs. They seemed to sense that he was awake and more and more of them came to hover just outside the shelter. As he watched them intently, their iridescent wings flickered with reflected light from the moons. He realized that until the advent of the netting and open walled shelters no one had really seen the bugs up close. Much to his surprise, Tom began to wonder if he was imagining things or if the bugs were trying to communicate with him. Certain patterns of flight, of bugs grouping together with other bugs, he saw repeated. Larger patterns appeared out of smaller ones.
He wished he had a tricorder handy. Whispering into the night, he said, "What are you trying to tell me?"
His voice had an almost electrifying effect on them. Their tiny bodies flew into patterns that dissolved and then reformed with more coherence than before. They repeated and elaborated on their constructs but he didn't know what they were saying. Suddenly, it was as if he could see clearly. Their formation spelled the word "HELLO" in Federation Standard. The bugs used their constituent members to develop a three dimensional array.
"Hello," he murmured back. He didn't know if he had to whisper or not, but Tom feared a louder voice in this quiet, dark night might send the bugs flying away, their patterns broken, their communication stilled.
They flew about, the pattern dissolving for the moment. Then they reassembled themselves. This time they spelled, "TOM."
Wonderment in his voice, Tom acknowledged, "Yes, that's me. Who are you?"
Almost instantly they had reconfigured themselves and spelled out, "BUGS."
Tom's laugh scattered them. Somehow, he knew they would be back. Letting his head fall onto the pillow, Tom grinned. He'd just made first contact with sentient bugs.
End part 6
End Endless II.A. To be continued in Endless II.B.