Endless I: Planetfall
by Judy jlf@door.net and Etal

Part: 17

Day: 14, Hour: 1706

Toni Marie Swinn found herself working side by side with Sean Culhane. She wondered if he might like some company for dinner.

Grudgingly, Brian Sophen followed Chakotay's orders. Inwardly, he seethed at having to work like this. Someday, he vowed, someday.... The rest of his vow remained incoherent, but that didn't matter. He'd have his chance. He'd get back at these people who now made his life miserable.

Joe Carey carefully landed his shuttle back in its place along the perimeter of the compound. As he set it down he was amazed at the damage that one storm had caused, not only here but all through its path. The swath it had cut through the forest was impressive. Large trees had been toppled and some had even been splintered.

With nothing to do, Tom turned his mind back to the puzzle he'd been given a few days before. Who was placing dead animals in front of the captain's shelter? He asked the doctor if another one appeared this morning before the storm and was told it had. However, the storm had delayed the EMH's looking at it. He needed information. "Doc? Do you know if a camera was installed?"

"I haven't been informed. Sorry."

The doctor was a little busy trying to restore the shuttle to operational status. With a sigh, Tom put the puzzle back in the unsolved box in his mind.

Hour: 2056

Chakotay enjoyed the meal that Kathryn replicated for them in her shelter, but he knew she would soon come to the point of their get together. He dreaded telling her what he really thought, knew how she would fight him, and hated to anticipate the fallout from such an argument on her and on their working relationship. Yet he might as well remain patient. She'd get to it in her own good time.

Over coffee and tea she broached the topic that had hung between them since the afternoon. "So. It looks as if we're staying here."

"Shall we have a naming contest?" he grinned at her, trying to diffuse the tension with a little humor.

"Fine." No answering smile from her. She really was focused on her task. "Chakotay. Do we have a problem?"

"What do you think?" Nothing like answering a question with a question.

"I asked first," she responded and gave him a brief smirk.

How to tell her? "We have fifty survivors. I think we have to consider what they want, what they believe they need in order to have productive and healthy lives. We're going to be here, no doubt, for the rest of our lives. If we're going to have an outpost of humanity in the Delta Quadrant, we have to be concerned for the future."

"And you're saying?"

"Self-governance along the lines of democratic principles with protection for minority beliefs."

Her eyes narrowed dangerously when he mentioned the words 'democratic principles'. She understood his meaning perfectly. "We're a Starfleet crew, not pioneers."

"Kathryn, we *were* a Starfleet crew, but now we *are* colonists. Circumstances have changed. When it made sense to blend our crews so that we could try to get home, I agreed that we would be Starfleet."

"It was my ship," she reminded him dryly then waved her hand. "In fairness, you sacrificed your ship for all of us."

He nodded his acknowledgment of her last sentence. "But in some sense, these shuttles, the shelters, the mess hall, all come from your ship, from Starfleet. I know that. But we're not going home. Sure, we can use the shuttles to explore the immediate area, we can even go back to Voyager if there's anything still salvageable. But we won't be leaving here. Oh, maybe we'll relocate on the planet to a friendlier area, but that's about it."

"Starfleet may come after us. Harry and B'Elanna might have gotten through."

"Do you really want to live on 'mights'? Do you think the crew will live that way? I don't."

"I can't give up on my promise to get this crew home."

The words were spoken in her most stubborn tone of voice and he sighed. She wouldn't give that up easily, even in the face of overwhelming reality. He was curious about something. "Kathryn, what does that mean to you? The promise?"

Her chin tilted upwards in a willful expression of defiance and he held his hand up in a gesture of peace. Maybe he needed to elaborate. "I've heard you say that often, that you made a promise to get the crew home. Clearly, it means a great deal to you. I'm asking because I want to understand, see it through your eyes."

He saw her face soften. "I'm not sure I can answer you. Obviously, I take my oath as a Starfleet officer seriously." He nodded in encouragement. "But, I suppose, there's more to it than that."

"Help me to understand."

She looked down at her hands neatly held together on the table top. "Maybe...maybe it has to do with how my father died. I couldn't save him. I was devastated. I think I vowed never to allow something like that to happen again. I *have* to save this crew."

"It atones for not saving your father?"

"Maybe. I don't know. I just know that I can't let them down."

"Perhaps you've saved them as much as it's possible to do. And now it's time to let them choose their own destiny. We'll build up our resources, have children, form families or other groupings."

"What if some don't want to stay together? Without Starfleet...."

"You're thinking of people like Brian Sophen and Linnea Rogers?"

She nodded, "Among others."

"They're adults. They're veterans of all that the Delta Quadrant has thrown at them."

"We're a family."

"Family members grow up, go elsewhere, but that doesn't mean that they're lost forever. Just because they might leave us, doesn't mean they've died."

"They could die if we're not all together."

"Yes, they could. But that would be as a consequence of their own freely chosen decisions. Kathryn, you can't save everyone. Not the ones who want to be saved, and definitely not the ones who don't want your help."

He realized he may have pushed her a little too far when he saw her lips tighten together. He tried to go in another direction. "I wish I could have known your father. From everything you've ever said about him, he must have been a fine role model, and a good father."

She drank from her coffee mug and seemed to consider her words carefully. "Giving up is not in my nature."

"Nor is it in mine. But when I joined Voyager I gave up fighting Cardassians, fleeing Starfleet. Hell, I became Starfleet."

"That was different."

"No, Kathryn, it wasn't. Circumstances took my choices away from me, just as they have yours. You can use your energy fighting those circumstances or building a future. If you fight, you would no doubt do so alone. Oh, Tuvok and some others might stand by you out of loyalty to you or out of a particular reading of Starfleet regulations. Even I'm tempted out of personal loyalty to you. But it would be wrong. And it would be a terrible waste of your talents."

He realized he was repeating arguments he'd made the last time they discussed this topic. But this time she surprised him. She gazed intently at the table top.

"Who will I be if I'm not Captain Janeway?"

Her anguish let him understand that her whole identity was wrapped up in being their captain, that she'd carried this as a burden and as a challenge out here in the Delta Quadrant. But that identity had been hers for so long, she no longer remembered another Kathryn Janeway. "You can't go back. You'll never be Commander Janeway or Lt. Janeway again." He put some urgency into his next words, hoping that she would be able to see another option. "But you can take all of those strengths and become someone new."

She snorted and he knew the time for self-reflection and introspection had passed. "Thank you, Chakotay," she commented wryly, giving nothing away.

He took that as a sign to leave.


Day: 18, Hour: 0803, Alpha Quadrant

They milled around the conference room nervously, each lost in their own thoughts. Most of them knew what was coming, but it would be different to hear it out loud. Myeong-Jai watched her son stand at the window. John tried talking to him, but Harry kept his back turned to them all and gazed at the stars.

She couldn't look at her friend Grace Paris. When Grace first walked in, she saw that her makeup was flawless as always, but Myeong knew the signs too well -- Grace had been crying earlier in the day and was trying to conceal it now that she was in public.

The silence of the others made B'Elanna's pacing and grumbling all the more jarring. Angrily, B'Elanna finally asked, "What is he waiting for? Is this another test, like our first meeting? If he's going to call off the search, he should just say so and stop torturing us."

Without looking away from the window, Harry shook his head and said, "They won't call off the search this time. They had to before, because there was no one to tell them that we were still alive. But we're here, we told them. They can't deny that Voyager still exists, so they won't call off the search."

There was an exhausted desperation in Harry's voice, as if his undimmed hope could turn the tide of events. Looking around her, Myeong realized that everyone was affected by the depth of his need to be right.

B'Elanna's mother, Miral, supported Harry. "You're right. They can't deny Voyager's existence and we'll keep going back to Starfleet Headquarters and make them...."

"No. They won't listen," a new voice told them. "I've talked with headquarters for days. We won't be receiving any more help."

They turned at the sound of the admiral's voice. He walked into the room followed by Captain Sisko and Dr. Bashir.

B'Elanna noticed that Kira and Dax were outside, but didn't come into the conference room. Kira looked angry and was arguing with Dax. Good, B'Elanna thought, maybe Kira can become an ally. With just two or three small ships....

Admiral Paris intruded into her rescue fantasies when he said, "I'm sorry, but our orders are to release all ships back to their normal duties. Voyager has been moved from 'Mayday' to 'Unknown' status. The search is over."

"And you're just going to let this happen!" B'Elanna seethed.

"There is nothing I can do," the admiral replied harshly.

For the first time, he looked small and old to B'Elanna, as if he was shrinking before her eyes. She wanted to stay angry at him, but he looked too pathetic. His own grief and impotence had reduced him so that even his bones seemed to have fled his body. She had no idea how he remained on his feet. Unsure of what to do with her anger, B'Elanna stormed out of the room, her mother close on her heels.

Paris looked at Harry Kim and caught their reflections in the window. He wasn't sure if Harry even saw him until the ensign uttered the word. "No."

Uncertain what he meant, the admiral asked, "'No' what, Harry?"

Shaking his head, Harry simply repeated, "No, No, No, NO!"

Each word grew in intensity as Harry became more and more agitated. When he started shaking, his father placed his arms around him to lead him to a seat, but Captain Sisko intervened. Moving in to hold Harry on his far side, Sisko said, "Why don't we let Harry sit down right here and catch his breath?"

Sisko was about to signal the doctor, but Bashir was already preparing a hypo.

"Is it a seizure?" John asked.

"No, just shock. He'll be better in a little while," Dr. Bashir whispered reassuringly.

Harry's litany grew louder as more people in the room moved towards him. He could see that his mother was crying and that Grace Paris was holding her, but none of this made sense to him.

What were they saying? What were they doing? This wasn't Voyager and this wasn't his home. He didn't belong here. Harry tried to get up, get away, go back to when things made sense, but there were too many people in uniforms. He couldn't fight them all and he could feel his strength leaving him as the sedation took effect. His last conscious thought was that he would never, ever trust Starfleet again.


Day: 18, Hour: 1433

Out of doors, shaded by the shadow of a shelter, Tom sat in the antigrav chair Chakotay and the doctor had replicated for him. Although it didn't elevate him to his normal height, still, he could raise or lower the seat so he could look most of the crew in the face. They didn't have to bend down to talk to him and he didn't have to crane his neck to look up at them.

As he watched the descent of the Earhart and something else out of the clear, blue sky, he wondered if Tuvok's return with the sickbay equipment would actually make much of a difference to his life. He'd begun to adapt to the thin atmosphere and was able to spend more and more time out of doors -- as long as he had the sunscreen on. And he'd managed to walk a little more each day. He was up to fifty steps. Not enough to get him from the Lee to the mess hall, but progress.

In his heart, though, he felt bitter and cut off from the others. They were doing interesting things, they were getting on with their lives. He did little or nothing. If he didn't find something to do soon he thought he'd go nuts. He was used to *doing* things and this enforced restraint, day after day, was getting to him.

Chakotay had escorted him to the quarters that he would share with the first officer and Tuvok. As yet, it was undecorated, furnished with the replicated items that made it utilitarian but not much else. It had struck him as boring. He had looked about him curiously, trying to imagine himself well enough to live there instead of on the shuttle. He couldn't. Even the dream about running eluded him. Another dream, about an icy, white planet had taken its place.

About the only thing that captured his interest were the rumors that had been sweeping the compound. They were so blatant that even he heard things. There was a group of malcontents, led by Brian Sophen and Ken Dalby, who wanted independence. Another group, mostly career 'Fleeters, wished to remain Starfleet. Then there were those who longed to just go back to the Alpha Quadrant. Another group thought they should stay on the planet and make a home for themselves.

An after dinner meeting had been called for this night with everyone expected to attend. He guessed that Tuvok, Chakotay, and the captain would meet first. As much as he saw of Chakotay, the man never told him very much.

In fact, Chakotay had seemed troubled and even distant. For awhile Tom thought it meant the older man had rejected his revelations about his dream the day of the storm, but later he decided that this wasn't about him. He saw the tension between Chakotay and the captain. It was a little like the tension he remembered seeing between his father and his mother. Wishing it would stop had no more effect here than it had had in his childhood home.

Then there were the more interesting dynamics: Culhane and Swinn's budding romance; the games Mary Ashmore seemed to play on her partner, Soh Ryson; the way some of the crew tried to suck up to the first officer. All of it Tom watched, noted, and filed away.

Tom also thought about the small animals that continued to be left on Janeway's doorstep. Camera coverage had detected nothing, only the nightly swarming of the bugs through the compound, the occasional passer-by on his or her way to the facilities, but no 'smoking gun' had been sighted.

Directing his chair over to the Lee, he watched Chakotay and Janeway greet Tuvok. As nearly as Tom could tell from where he sat, the security officer seemed fine. Chakotay directed a small crew to handle the cargo Tuvok had brought back. Strangely, Tom thought he saw photon torpedoes affixed to the top of the shuttle. There could be a story in that. And there was a bulky object behind the Earhart that Tom couldn't make out from where he sat.

"What do you think, Tom?" Neelix joined his side.

"Photon torpedoes?"

"It certainly looks like it. How do you suppose he got them up there?"

"My guess is that he used the transporters and then deployed a shielding modification to keep them there. Otherwise, they'd disrupt the warp field when he went to warp."

"Ah hah," Neelix exclaimed. "Tom, what is that behind Mr. Vulcan's shuttle?"

"I don't know. I can't figure it out. It followed Tuvok down here. I almost thought it was a shuttle, but...."

Neelix craned his head around. "I can't tell either. Maybe I'll walk over and check it out."

"No need to. I suspect we'll find out soon enough."

Neelix remained at Tom's side, thinking his friend simply wanted the company but didn't want to say so. Tom could be less than forthcoming along those lines. He asked, "What do you suppose will happen at the meeting tonight?"

"I don't know," Tom told him honestly.

"What would you like to see happen to us?"

Oh, he'd like to walk there tonight, just like he used to almost three weeks ago. He'd like to sit at the helm of Voyager. He'd like to meet Harry and B'Elanna on the holodeck. He'd like to....


"Nothing. My guess is that we're stuck here."

"Yes, everyone's been saying that for days. But the captain hasn't confirmed anything publically," Neelix revealed. "I wonder why? Do you think there's a great secret?"

"Maybe Tuvok is needed here for some reason before she makes a decision," Tom said diffidently. "I don't know."

Just then their comm badges beeped them. The captain's voice came through, "Tom, Neelix, would you join us in my shelter in ten minutes?"

"Of course, Captain, I'll be there promptly," Neelix told her.

"Yes, ma'am," Tom said and exchanged a confused look with Neelix.

End Part 17