Endless I: Planetfall
by Judy firstname.lastname@example.org and Etal
Day: 08, Hour: 1624
Tom let the words and images wash over him. Each speaker reminded him of someone he had known. In his mind he saw an earnest Naomi wanting to learn to pilot a shuttle, a Pon Farr stricken Vorik fighting a ferocious B'Elanna, a twinkling-eyed Sue giving him a hard time in a turbolift. So many people. He noticed the silence and gazed at the viewscreen. The captain seemed to be encouraging him to speak. Harry and B'Elanna hadn't been specifically memorialized yet. It was up to him.
Grateful that he no longer had the mask on his face, Tom tried to figure out what he wanted to say. When nothing came to him, he decided to simply speak and let the words arrange themselves for him. "Harry is my best friend. Ever. I have to believe he and B'Elanna made it to the Alpha Quadrant and that Starfleet is giving them all the honors due to them."
One of the four images on the viewscreen was of Janeway trying not to smile. They both knew that it was more likely that Starfleet had confiscated the Delta Flyer and was desperately trying to figure out just what the hell those knobs at the helm were all about. Their problem. The viewscreen image of Harry was a recent one. A young man with confidence and maturity gazed out at them.
"I know most of you think Harry and I just sort of hung out and got into trouble in bars and stuff. And we did. My fault." He heard some scattered laughter from the group in the mess hall. "But there was a lot more to Harry than that. His loyalty saved my life. I don't think either of us ever spoke much about the time we spent on a prison space station. I would have died if it hadn't been for Harry. Hell, I was dying and he did everything he could to make sure I didn't."
Tom paused to take few deep breaths. It still hurt a little to breathe that deeply but he used his eyes to wave away the doctor's offered hypospray. He had more he wanted to say. He just wished his voice didn't sound so tired and weak. "When I first came on Voyager...most of you remember what a jerk I was. Harry stuck by me. This totally green, brand new Starfleet ensign even defended me. Harry was...amazing. So. Har, I hope you're seeing your parents now. I know how much they meant to you...mean to you. I don't know if any of us will ever know someone with as good a heart as yours."
He wanted to tell them about B'Elanna. "B'Elanna Torres...." he began and then faltered. Based on the pain in his chest, he knew he could use some medical help from the doctor. He appealed to the first officer to take over, "Um...Chakotay?" and was grateful to see the commander rise from his seat.
Tom released the tension in his body and gratefully accepted the hypospray that gave him relief from the pain and weakness. Sometimes the doc was right on top of things.
The viewscreen showed a holo image of B'Elanna. The doctor had captured her in Engineering working over one of the consoles by the warp core. Her dark hair smoothly embraced her slight ridges, her petite features. It was so much like B'Elanna. Her expression was slightly impatient but also indulgent as if she shared a secret with the camera. Stabbing pain bounced around inside his skull. B'Elanna....
And Chakotay. The commander was staring right at him. The familiar cadence began with his name. "Tom." Chakotay swallowed before he continued. "B'Elanna Torres saved all of us so many times with her creative engineering. Her passion, her energy, her restless intellect, all of these qualities helped us over and over again. I imagine she is indeed in the Alpha Quadrant, and, in the weeks and months to come, she will be showing Starfleet how to redo its engineering so that things function the way they're supposed to. I would love to see their expressions when she tells the brass how the Delta Flyer works and how the Slipstream Drive performs."
Tom saw the fleeting smile on the first officer's face and managed a small initiation of his own. Chakotay added, "But there's more to B'Elanna than her engines and her job. All of that passion and energy finally had found someone who would share it with her. Only B'Elanna and Tom can tell us what they had planned for the future. I'd like to have seen it," Chakotay acknowledged as a grin dodged other emotions on his face. Somberness won out. "I guess they would, too."
"Mostly, I want to say how I, and all of us, will miss her. I hope she and Harry will return." Tom waited, for it was clear the commander had other words he wanted to say. Finally, in a near whisper, Chakotay said, "I hope the Alpha Quadrant will be good to her."
When the first officer sat down, Tom couldn't see for the blurriness in his eyes. B'Elanna really was gone, but unlike the others, she was possibly coming back. Some day. Maybe. She and Harry. They would come back for him, wouldn't they? He wasn't sure he could survive the kind of loneliness he'd felt before he'd met them.
Lost in his own misery, Tom missed the captain's steps that brought her to stand in front of the survivors in the mess hall. However, when the viewscreen showed a holo image of Seven of Nine, he noticed the change and looked up.
Puzzlement, curiosity, detachment, all of these showed on Seven's face as captured by the doctor's camera. Janeway herself looked at the image. "Seven could be a little -- um -- distant seeming, I guess, from the rest of us. That she was assimilated at such a young age and could still function as a human being was remarkable in and of itself. Her growth was amazing to me. Not that she and I didn't butt heads a lot. We did."
The captain's fleeting smile was fond. Serious again, Janeway said, "I think what I'm going to miss so much about Seven are her challenges to me. It wasn't just Seven who grew from our association. Her presence forced me to question things, to reexamine long-held beliefs and assumptions. I'm going to miss that. And I wish I could see more of the sense of humor I noticed developing in her."
Speaking directly to the holo image, the captain told Seven, "Wherever you are now, may you be looking at -- perfection."
When she turned back to the mourners, Janeway had to take a moment to regain her composure. Seemingly smaller than life, she faced them all.
Tom didn't know if the frosty blonde would ever have taken him up on his offer of friendship, but he had meant it. Being the newcomer, especially being both an outsider and a newcomer wasn't easy. He'd never know now what Seven might have decided.
That was the worst damn thing about these losses. The people who were gone weren't going to be around in the future. And the living would never know what might have been. Chakotay had been right. None of them were going to be able to have that chance now to share a future with those who had died.
What could he have done differently? If only he could remember trying to land Voyager. What the hell had he done so wrong that a hundred people had died?
Janeway's words cut into his self-recriminations. "None of this crew is to blame for what happened."
Again, Tom felt as if the person on the viewscreen was staring directly at him. She had a certain set to her jaw, a dark intensity about her expression. "I mean that. I'm the captain. I made the decision. Surely, some of you are thinking that Commanders Tuvok or Chakotay or Lieutenant Paris could have done something to change the outcome. If they hadn't performed as heroically as they did, we all would be back on the ice planet. None of us would have survived."
More was to come. "What I want to say is this. I'm sorry. And I will do my best to honor those who died by everything that I do in the future, by every choice that I make, every breath that I take."
Tom had no doubt about her sincerity or her determination. But he was surprised by her last words. "I will get us home."
She took her seat to stunned silence. After a long moment, Chakotay rose and indicated the tables behind and to the sides of the mess hall. "There's food for all. It's replicated," he grinned. "Our last feast before we resort to native foods. Neelix and Ryson and Parsons helped to prepare things. As this final piece of music plays, let's remain seated until it ends as we remember our friends."
Once again bagpipe music sounded. This time the ancient tune of 'Amazing Grace' filled the room. Over the viewscreen, Tom saw some of the audience mouth the words and he felt the message and the mood brushing at his heart. He heard the words inside his head, 'Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see'.
His life had been spared. But to what end? The overwhelming grief that had threatened to crush his spirit so often before now sat on his chest like a stranded shuttle. He was too tired to fight it off. Tears fell from his eyes until his nose ran and he couldn't breathe. Doc offered a hypospray but Tom didn't want it to rob him of what he was feeling. If nothing else, this tragedy wasn't going to be obliterated by drugs or drink. But, dear gods, how could he go on now?
Away from the sleeping patient, the doctor met with Commanders Tuvok and Chakotay. Chakotay had reviewed his list and had wanted to discuss a few of the things on it before Tuvok set off in the shuttle to return to Voyager. The doctor was pleased that the captain wasn't present. He knew from glancing at the muted viewscreen that she was still in the mess hall visiting with her crew. He had requested that Chakotay plan this meeting at a time when the captain would be busy. A few of the items on his list might have raised more than her eyebrows.
"Doctor, I don't understand this request." Chakotay pointed to item 56 on the PADD.
"Ah, the DNA of every crew member, past and present. What is it you want to know?"
"I have heard enough to know that Voyager is unlikely to fly again. If may be years, even decades, or your entire lifetimes, that we will remain on this planet."
They gave reluctant nods and seemed interested in his coming to the point. "If that is true, then this crew will become a colony, possibly a permanent colony. Children will be born, educated, and will take their places as leaders and workers. Centuries ago it would have taken at least 500 unrelated people for there to be enough genetic diversity for an isolated colony to survive beyond a generation or two."
"What are you saying, Doctor?" Chakotay asked, a frown wrinkling his tattoo.
The holodoc continued, "Now we require fewer people, but the fifty in this colony are not enough, especially if people pair off. However, I am assuming that every crew member here would be willing to carry a child no matter what their age, rank, or gender."
The doctor noticed Tuvok's eyebrow develop a decided upward tilt. "Even so, mixing the genes of the fifty people here, there is not enough diversity. But add to our fifty the DNA of the hundred crew who perished and, further, the DNA of the crew who have died since we entered the Delta Quadrant, then we would be close to an acceptable degree of diversity."
Unfortunately, his carefully reasoned statement was met with a look of total incredulity on the first officer's face and a forbidding frown on the face of the security chief. Chakotay was nearly incoherent when he spoke. "Doctor, you can't be serious. You would...you would take away choice and...everyone...*everyone* would become pregnant?"
"I am considering the long-term survival of the colony. Once the crew understands the need for having many children of diverse genetic backgrounds, surely they'll agree."
"I...I...." the first officer sputtered, "I don't believe this." His dark eyes flashed dangerously as he looked from the doctor to Tuvok.
After carefully steepling his fingers beneath his chin, Tuvok asked for clarification, "Doctor, am I to understand that you propose to use all the DNA available, including that of the survivors, to insure new life on this planet? How would that work?"
"I haven't worked out the details. I've been a little busy." The doctor remembered all the plant, animal, and aquatic life he'd been asked to certify. He had been very occupied with his tests. He made a quick decision not to go into that. "Medically, technically, there are no problems that I am aware of. But I would need a little time to prepare a complete report. The social engineering might require more than a little time. However, I believe it can be done by lottery."
Chakotay choked audibly but quieted when he saw Tuvok's look. The doctor decided that he was given permission to continue. "If there are couples and pairings, naturally at least one of that pair's children could be of their combined DNA. But the rest should be planned by a random pairing algorithm."
Hmm, the doctor wondered if he was losing his audience. Maybe an example would help. He looked at Tuvok. "Perhaps people will form relationships other than in opposite sex pairs, other than in pairs at all. For example, Lt. Carey and you both have spouses in the Alpha Quadrant and each of you have been faithful to that spouse. You, yourself, would be disinclined to pair off with one of the female survivors out of respect for your spouse."
The doctor paused dramatically and finished with a triumphant conclusion. "However, with my method, you could still contribute to the gene pool and to the need for all able bodied crew to carry a fetus to term. I don't know how this colony will survive otherwise."
Clearly uncomfortable with this scenario, Chakotay asked, "Could this DNA serve any other purpose?"
"Yes, of course. For example, genetic materials from those no longer with us could be used to cure diseases of which we remain unaware. You both remember how Lt. Torres' DNA was the key to curing the Vidiian phage."
He hadn't realized four eyes could stare so intently at one hologram for so long without blinking. Tuvok recovered first. "An interesting proposal, doctor. One I am sure the captain would like to hear."
"Actually, if we are stranded here, she would have no more say than any other member of the crew," the doctor pointed out calmly. Might as well deliver the news all at once.
"She's the captain," Chakotay pointed out loyally.
"Of course. Of a spaceship. This is a planet. Read Starfleet protocols."
Tuvok qualified the doctor's assertion. "The doctor is correct if we were colonists. Then we would have several models of self-governance to review from which we would choose a new way of conducting ourselves. However, we are not colonists. We're a Starfleet crew."
"Maybe not if we redefine ourselves as colonists," Chakotay pointed out.
"This discussion has no point at this time."
Chakotay seemed to pull out of the fog of confusion that had settled on him once they'd begun to discuss the proposed DNA retrieval. "Of course," he murmured.
"So," the doctor pressed his point, "Commander Tuvok will bring back the stored DNA."
"Yes, fine," Chakotay answered, deciding to leave for another day the discussion of the status of the crew on this planet.
The doctor observed Chakotay's distraction and hypothesized that the commander was considering how to tell Captain Janeway about all of this.
"I should be on my way," Tuvok volunteered and accepted the PADD from Chakotay with grave dignity.
Across the shuttle, Tom tried to process the very few parts of the conversation he'd overheard when he'd awakened. DNA? Babies? He wished Harry was around. He longed to be sharing a beer with him in Sandrine's as they discussed the meaning of these disturbing ideas.
Tuvok said his goodbyes to the captain and left it to Chakotay and the doctor to explain some of the nuances of his mission. When the shuttle doors closed behind him and Tuvok was able to send the shuttle into orbit, he felt a welcome calm descend upon him. These past eight days had been stressful. If no problems developed, by traveling alone he should be able to reach Voyager in four days. He knew Carey had given the shuttle a thorough inspection and had run some enhancements to improve its speed.
His trip should be uneventful. He looked forward to the four peaceful days in space.
Kathryn and Chakotay brought chairs from inside her shelter to the grassy area by the doors. The evening was too pleasant to be spent indoors. Perhaps forty-five minutes of daylight remained, the sun slanting golden rays into the clearing. Taking a seat, she looked around for a moment and noticed others doing as they were, sitting on chairs outside the shelters.
More energetic members of the crew had set up a net in the middle of the clearing and were tossing a ball back and forth over it. The sunshine of the day had dried up the remnants of the morning shower and left the air smelling sweet and fragrant.
It was good to see the crew at play. At least some of them seemed to be adapting successfully to the planet's atmosphere. For her own part, she was grateful she and Chakotay had chosen nothing more strenuous than sitting in chairs. She was startled out of her reverie when Chakotay brought them cups of replicated beverages, coffee for her, tea for himself.
"So," she said at last, "you're quiet."
"I see you noticed."
"Not really. All the shelters are now up and furnished. The doctor has cleared the local foodstuffs and water so we should be set."
Referring to the service, she told him, "I liked what you had to say about Donna and about B'Elanna."
Chakotay nodded. "I'm sorry Tom wasn't able to do B'Elanna's tribute."
"I imagine he's grateful to you. Those were moving words, Chakotay, very heartfelt."
"Then, what is it that's bothering you?"
She ducked as the ball flew over her head with Burleson chasing after it. "Sorry, Captain," she heard.
"It's all right." She placed her mug on the ground, hoping it might be safer there than possibly spilling onto her lap the next time a free ball came their way. To Chakotay she said, "I'm glad they're having fun. But you aren't."
He sighed. "Have you thought about what we would have to do to make a thriving colony if we stay here?"
"No," she told him honestly. Why was he bringing this up? "Is that it?"
"The doctor raised some interesting issues about genetic diversity being important to a colony's long-term survival."
This was not what she expected him to say. "Oh?"
"If I understand him correctly, he plans for every single one of us on this planet to bear children, men, older people, everyone."
"That's about what Tuvok said."
"You don't like it."
"No. Not really. And I don't like his ideas that he can just randomly mix DNA and hand it out for people to bear a child without any genetic relation to the bearer at all."
"Oh, my. The doctor proposes to force people to have children they don't want?"
"I don't know. I think he believes we will all want to do this. His way."
"Tuvok's bringing back the DNA of everyone who's ever served on Voyager. For all I know, I could carry a child combining Suder and Seska's DNA."
"Ah. This is all hypothetical, right?"
"But you don't have to like it."
"Not at all. I'm sorry, Kathryn, I'd do a lot for our survival, but that's asking too much. And who would raise these children?"
"The village," she murmured, remembering the phrase from her high school anthropology class, 'it takes a village to raise a child'. In the dying light of the day, she could see that he really was troubled by this. "It won't come to that, Chakotay. You'll see."
"But suppose it does? Would you do it?"
"Good question. I don't know. I'd need to understand more about the doctor's plan." A part of her was intrigued by the idea of having a child, maybe even children. Certainly with modern technology, women and men both could carry children well into their sixties with no physical concerns about the process. However, whether she would want to at that age or at her current age.... "Well. It's not something we have to think about. I'm sure Tuvok will tell us what we'll need to do to get Voyager flying again and we'll be heading home."
She was pleased to see him smile. "I hope so, too, Kathryn."
He looked out at the clearing. Lights had come on in the shelters and the outside security lights blinked on to illuminate the compound. He could see some of the security team out on the perimeter patrolling. The guards would seek shelter before the expected insect swarm. In the meantime, they were there providing a sense of safety for the crew. Inside one of the shuttles, he knew a security team member monitored the sensors, ready to alert the compound should the need arise.
The ball players were taking down their net and calling it a night. She sensed that Chakotay would be doing the same soon.
He picked up his mug and chair and brought them inside, then stood by her chair, looking down at her, his gaze troubled. "Kathryn. I'll see you tomorrow."
She watched him head to the Lee and knew he was checking on Tom before he tackled all the reports he needed to prepare. And she should be recording something official in her logs about each of the crew they had memorialized this day. It was time to go inside, but something kept her seated in the chair.
She was often alone on Voyager, in fact, many times she sought solitude as a way of coping with the demands of her command. But in this compound being alone inside her shelter seemed to mean something different. She tried to identify the strange feeling and thought she knew what it might be. Loneliness.
End Part 11