Endless I: Planetfall
by Judy email@example.com and Etal
Day: 18, Hour: 1448
Janeway looked around the table at her senior staff. Chakotay rivaled Tuvok in his impassivity. Neelix snuck glances about her quarters and she hoped he found something to satisfy his curiosity. It was a plain, undecorated shelter. Not much to see. The EMH's mobile emitter allowed him to be present, his dark, curious eyes missing little. And Tom's chair gave him access to the meeting.
Her gaze rested on his freckled face. The time he'd been spending out of doors, although almost always in the shade, nonetheless, had given his skin a pink cast and had brought out the latent freckles on his face and arms. But his expression was wan, as if he didn't have much hope anymore. His bleak look tugged at her, and she hoped his condition might be repaired with time.
As much as Seven and B'Elanna had always been at loggerheads, she missed their presence in this meeting. And Harry Kim -- from green ensign to trusted member of her inner circle -- she wished he was here as well. As much as it might be comforting to have all of them present, she couldn't dwell on their absence. There were important matters to discuss.
"Tuvok, would you brief us all on your findings."
Although the security officer had a PADD in front of him on the table, he didn't pick it up. He looked at Janeway, then at each of them around the table. If Tom's chair surprised him, he didn't let it show.
His voice nearly expressionless, Tuvok intoned, "First, Voyager is unable to fly. What was not damaged in the crash landing has been submerged under repeated avalanches. Furthermore, vandals stripped her of much of her armament. It may be possible to send other shuttles back for salvage but I doubt that much would be found.
"Should the vandals return, then any such mission of ours could be imperiled. That these vandals have not approached this planet is fortunate, but our 'good fortune' could change at any time because we left clear directions as to our intended location."
His grip tightened on the PADD. "I have altered that situation. Only Ensign Kim or Lt. Torres will be able to determine our current location."
At Tuvok's mention of vandals, Chakotay's studiously blank features became animated. "What is the level of threat?"
"I am unable to make a determination. That they have not come here is a promising sign."
"Well, an abandoned ship is quite different from a colony with warp capable shuttles and sophisticated weapons," Neelix opined.
"I understand you were able to retrieve quite a bit of the equipment I asked for from sickbay."
"Yes, doctor, that is the case. In addition, I returned with the DNA files you requested." Tuvok's voice held no indication of his feelings, if he had any, about the prospective use of the DNA.
"DNA?" Tom asked, clearly lost.
"For making babies," Janeway told him with a smirk.
Tom's eyes looked from one to the other seeking clues. As Janeway watched his progress, she noted that he saw Chakotay's anger, the doctor's anticipation, Tuvok's neutrality, Neelix's puzzlement, and her own ambivalence.
Vaguely, Tom remembered overhearing part of a conversation among the EMH, Tuvok, and Chakotay, but he'd been asleep at the time and all Tom recalled was something strange about babies, "Babies? I don't get it."
"Doctor," she invited with a wave of her hand toward the EMH.
"Genetic diversity is necessary for the survival of this colony. The commander brought back the DNA that, if used by all," here the EMH directed a pointed look Chakotay's way, "will provide a marginal level of diversity."
Incredulous, Tom asked, "You want me to have a baby?" At least Chakotay seemed to share his indignation. Neelix looked intrigued and Janeway bemused. Tuvok's reaction was up for grabs. "That's crazy!"
"In fact, the doctor's plan is one I have considered on my recent journey," Tuvok revealed. "He is correct. All of us, unless Mr. Paris' injuries continue to imperil his health, should contribute to the survival of this colony."
His smart mouth ran ahead of his common sense and Tom noted bitterly, "Gee, I didn't think I'd ever be grateful to be partly paralyzed."
Shocked faces turned to stare at him. It was the captain who broke the ice, her 'Mama' Janeway persona in place, "Tom, I understand this news might be upsetting to you. And no one would ask you to risk your health."
"Good. I'd make a lousy father anyway."
"There is no need for biological parenting to be accompanied by actual parenting," the doctor lectured. "Many societies separate such functions. There's adoption, cross-fostering, communal child rearing, and so forth."
Tom shuddered and shook his head. He noticed sympathy in Chakotay's dark eyes and wondered where the silent commander stood on the issue. "Look, doc, captain, everyone, with all due respect, I don't think you ought to just spring this on the crew."
"We won't," Janeway assured. "There are other things to discuss tonight. Let's table this plan and move on. Tuvok, what were you able to bring back?"
"I believe most of you noticed the photon torpedoes. I was able to beam them out of their tubes and place them on top of the shuttle. They were too large to fit inside."
No kidding, Tom thought. Tuvok had certainly used his imagination, but he realized saying something along those lines might be taken as an insult. "What was that thing that followed you down?"
"Indeed. That was Mr. Neelix's shuttle."
"My shuttle?" The Talaxian beamed with apparent delight. "But how...?"
"When the last avalanche settled, I determined that a part of the shuttle bay had actually been sheared off, taking some of the snow with it. I was able to beam over and fly out your shuttle. It was the only remaining one that was operational and free of the snow. Subsequently, I beamed in as many components of the other shuttles as possible into Mr. Neelix's shuttle and tractored it back to this planet."
"I'm impressed," Janeway told him.
"So am I," Tom echoed. Who would have thought the Vulcan had it in him?
"Tuvok, I think you heard about the storm we had here. We need to figure out a way to shield the compound so that we aren't hit like that again." Chakotay looked at Tom when he began to speak, then shifted his attention to his fellow commander.
"I concur. However, this compound comprises a volume somewhat larger than Voyager and I doubt that we have sufficient energy stores to power such a shield."
"We have six warp cores," Tom pointed out.
"What are you thinking, Tom?" Janeway asked.
"A warp core is nothing but a controlled matter-antimatter reaction. That reaction releases so much energy that a starship can fly at warp speeds completely shielded. Redirect that energy so that all it has to do is shield a relatively small area. Maybe there'd even be power left over."
Tom wasn't sure how his idea would sound. But Janeway had that 'excited scientist' look she got whenever they encountered a scientific anomaly. "Tom...yes, I see the possibilities. But the warp core plasma is vented out in space, it's considered too dangerous to use on a planet."
He shrugged. "Look, I'm not a scientist. I've heard that explanation before," from his sixth grade science teacher, "but why not put our physicists on it? Maybe they can figure something out, after all the magnetic confinement field keeps everything tidy on a starship. And didn't Joe Carey bring back a ton of dilithium?"
"What if we put the warp core in space and used a transporter beam to direct the energy here?" Neelix offered.
"You're thinking of what the Caretaker did for the Ocampa? He shot energy beams to their underground cities, didn't he?" Janeway thought out loud. His beams had been destructive to that planet's surface. However.... "We'll put the scientists on this. Maybe there's a solution. Good thinking."
"I'll find the right people," Chakotay volunteered. As nearly as Tom could see, however, the first officer didn't seem particularly thrilled. Tom wondered what was bothering him. The baby thing -- or something else?
"Gentlemen, tonight at the meeting, I'll have an announcement to make."
Janeway's determined expression told Tom that this was serious. What was she going to say? She'd indicated she wouldn't push the baby thing just now. Maybe it was about the dead animals? If so, then he'd better speak up. "Um, Captain. I have a theory about the dead animals."
Based on her startled look, he guessed that hadn't been it. And now he'd put himself out there. He could be wrong. He should have kept his mouth shut.
"Chakotay asked me to try to figure out who was doing it?" She nodded. Okay, good, she knew that. "Well, we tried putting up cameras, the doctor did autopsies, and nothing really conclusive came of any of it. But I talked to Lt. Burleson, she's one of our exobiologists, and we asked the doc to do another autopsy."
"And?" the captain asked with definite interest.
"We think, well, I think, we're not sure, but maybe...."
"Mr. Paris, please tell us," she urged and there was some amusement in her voice and face.
He knew he was blushing, but he couldn't help it. Damn, he hated being put on the spot like this. "Okay." He took a deep breath. "I think it's the insects."
Neelix shook his head, Chakotay grinned until his dimples danced, Janeway smiled. The EMH started to speak, obviously ready to refute his conclusion. Tuvok merely looked bemused by the situation. Perhaps he didn't know much about this. "Look, I know it sounds farfetched that flying insects could kill a small animal, and then dump it at the leader's doorstep. It sounds like the work of a jerk of a crew member. But I don't think it is."
"Tom, if you're correct, there are very far reaching implications."
"Yeah. I know. The insects are pretty smart."
"Mr. Paris has jumped to the conclusion that it must be the insects because the animals had the insect toxin in them when I did the autopsies. However, I could detect no cause and effect action. Anything out of doors when the insects swarm is going to have insect toxin in them. Furthermore, millions of the insects would have to coordinate their efforts to actually kill the small animals and carry them, much less have the intelligence to carry them to the captain's doorstep. It defies everything we know."
Janeway looked to Tuvok next. "I would need to review the doctor's notes and consult with Lts. Burleson and Paris before I reach any conclusion. Although it appears farfetched, I cannot reject Mr. Paris' theory out of hand."
Tom felt that round went to him. Neelix was nodding his head and Chakotay had a look of what appeared to be something like respect in his eyes. Couldn't be, Tom dismissed, but if it was? He'd take it. Of course, if Tuvok proved him wrong then Tom would look like an idiot, not just to the doctor, but to the captain and to both commanders. They'd put him out to pasture for sure.
Something of his uncertainty must have slipped past his usual control. The captain was giving him a warm smile. "Tom, I appreciate your efforts."
"Thanks," he mumbled. That was damn nice of her to say even it did center all of their attention on him. Funny how different he felt now. Being the center of favorable attention shouldn't bother him so much. But he felt as if all eyes must be cataloguing how defective he appeared compared to the rest of them.
Mercifully, Chakotay deflected attention away, well, somewhat, by asking Tuvok, "What about the cloning chamber?"
"I was able to work on it during my return flight," Tuvok answered levelly. "Technically, it is operational. I believe the doctor can use it to clone whatever he needs once he's tested it. Perhaps cloning Mr. Paris' nerves should receive priority."
No shit, Tom thought. At least he hadn't said that out loud. "Tuvok," Tom began, then couldn't continue. Somehow no words would come out of his mouth.
"You're welcome," the Vulcan nodded, a possible smile edging his lips upwards just slightly. Maybe it was just something Tuvok ate.
"Mr. Paris, I would like to conduct some tests first, then we can proceed. I assume," the doctor turned to Tuvok, "that the biobeds are likewise operational."
"Both are in working order. Again, I recommend testing them first."
"Thank you, Tuvok," Janeway said and she sounded as if she truly meant it. "Meeting's adjourned."
If anyone else said anything of substance before they left, Tom wasn't really aware of it. He directed his chair to the Lee, the doctor walking beside him. Was it really possible that his nerves could be cloned? And could they be implanted successfully so long after the injury? Would it work?
He hadn't really dared to hope that Tuvok's mission would be successful. The cloning chamber had been broken. But now...maybe he would run again. Maybe. Then again, maybe not.
Unsurprised, Janeway found that Chakotay stayed behind after the others left. "Chakotay?"
"What are you going to announce?"
"Right to the point, I see."
She sighed. "I'm not going to mandate childbearing if that's what you're worried about."
"No. It never occurred to me that you would do such a thing. What are you planning?"
"Basically, I intend to outline the challenges we face and ask us to consider some choices." Her deliberately evasive answer wasn't satisfying him but she put up a hand to forestall further questioning.
For a moment it looked as if he'd keep at it anyway, but then he gave her a rueful smile and a shrug. She could tell that he was covering up something, maybe a feeling of being hurt. That was enough to make her relent, "Chakotay, I'm not trying to keep things from you. It's just that I haven't made up my mind about some things. One minute I'm certain of what I'm going to say, and the next, I'm convinced I'm going to say something else."
"Do you need a sounding board?"
She hesitated, her customary preference was to go it alone, but he deserved to know. In some sense, he'd helped her to make the possibilities more likely. "Got a minute?"
It was right thing to say. He nodded and took his seat. With a sigh, she resumed her seat as well.
Looking down at the exhausted patient who'd been napping on his usual bed in the Lee, the EMH, reminded, "It's almost time for tonight's meeting."
It was encouraging to see the tired eyes opening to present a conscious, albeit confused, image. Even more encouraging was the way the pilot was able to raise his arm and wipe his hand across his face. Although he'd been working on the cloning chamber all afternoon, testing it thoroughly, the EMH hadn't yet tried to clone Paris' nerves, so the motions were all Tom's own.
Despite Paris' work during the day, that he retained this much mobility marked how much progress he'd made. A week ago, such a day would have set Paris back considerably, perhaps even to the extent of requiring use of the respirator. But he'd come through the day fairly well, if the EMH did say so himself.
"Yeah. The meeting."
With the doctor's assistance, Tom was able to sit up and plant his feet firmly on the floor. In a familiar routine, the EMH helped Tom to his feet and guided him to the bathroom. He turned his back and gave his patient some privacy, but remained nearby to help once Paris was ready to leave the small chamber.
"Doc, I could use some clean clothes." Tom sniffed at his upraised arm, his armpit nearly visible when he did so.
Paris' clothing consisted of the hideous blue flowered shirt and a nondescript pair of sweatpants. Catching a whiff with his odor identification subroutines, the EMH agreed, "I think you put a change of clothes in the recycler the other day."
"Okay," Tom remembered, his manner more subdued than the doctor was used to.
"Is something the matter, Mr. Paris?"
The pilot seemed evasive. "Nah."
In response, the EMH adopted a stern posture, arms folded across his chest, dark eyes magnified. "Mr. Paris."
"Just some dreams, Doc. Nothing to worry about." Together they helped Tom seat himself in his chair.
"And who is your doctor?"
Shadowing his patient as he made his way to the recycler, the EMH wasn't going to be deterred from finding out what was going on. The recycler wasn't set at a height that allowed Tom, no matter how he adjusted the chair, to reach the clothes inside. The doctor pulled out a t-shirt and a matching pair of faded blue sweatpants along with a clean pair of shorts. While he did most of the work of changing Paris' clothes, the EMH gently prodded for more information.
"Dreams can be important, Mr. Paris."
"I know," Tom sighed as the t-shirt was pulled over his head.
"It was about the crash," Tom mumbled.
"You were dreaming about Voyager crashing?"
"Yeah," came the defensive response. Fresh shorts replaced the ones that Paris had worn all day and had napped in.
"And what was the nature of your dream?"
"Just help me get my damn clothes on and then leave me alone!"
Paris hadn't had an outburst like that in a long time. The EMH stopped with the sweatpants only on one of his patient's legs and stood up. Rapidly, he ran through appropriate responses. His usual sarcasm didn't appear to be called for, nor did snapping back. He settled on empathy, "You appear to be distressed."
"Yeah, right. Why the fuck didn't I die like everyone else? Huh?" The bitter anger seemed to cover up an underlying hurt.
"Are you remembering what happened?"
"What do you think?" was Paris' anguished retort.
End Part 18