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

Part: 19


Day: 18, Hour: 1906

Janeway entered the mess hall briskly, glad that the weather seemed to be cooperating and that there were no immediate emergencies on hand. Outside, the smallest of the planet's three moons had risen, looming brightly on the horizon. Inside, Neelix had put out a choice of visually appealing desserts and a bowl of unappetizing, chartreuse punch. Otherwise, the mess hall contained most of the crew. She knew a few members remained outside on security duty.

Striding to the front of the hall, she nodded to the crew who greeted her, and shortly reached the dessert table. As her eyes swept across the room, she failed to locate Tom Paris or the EMH. She hoped that their absence didn't signal a medical crisis.

Chakotay sat up front and gave her a warm smile, one which she returned. Tuvok and Neelix also sat in the front row, as did Burleson and Carey. Placing her coffee mug on the table as far from the chartreuse punch as possible, she took a deep breath and prepared to speak as a hush descended on the hall. All eyes were on her.

"I'm glad you could make this meeting. The crew who are on duty are hearing this over their comm badges."

Dalby, Malek, Rogers, and Lang had been filling plates with dessert. She gave them a smile and a nonverbal nudge to find seats. As they left the dessert table, balancing plates and glasses, she saw Tom glide in on his chair, the EMH by his side. They remained at the back of the hall.

Although she stood at some distance from him, she easily identified a look of pinched unhappiness on Tom's face. Chakotay caught her brief concern and rotated his head to see what she saw. He turned quizzical eyes back to her but she gave her head a slight shake to keep him where he was. The doctor was with Tom and could minister to him better than any of them if he needed medical assistance. However, she had a feeling it wasn't medical difficulties that had Tom looking so distressed.

Well, time to begin. "Let's get this meeting started and then all of us can have a bite of dessert. I understand we have Neelix to thank for these treats."

She gave the room a relaxed smile. "There are several serious issues before us tonight. Our colony is not in any immediate danger. We have food, water, and shelter. However, as events have unfolded, we do not have the option of repairing Voyager. The ship is lost to us."

All eyes were on her, the crew sitting motionless, waiting for her to continue. "For those of you who know me, you no doubt realize that saying this represents a major, personal defeat. I cannot get you home. I cannot fulfill the promise that I made to you. And I regret that very, very much."

It looked as if Brian Sophen wanted to snap her head off, but he seethed quietly. Ensign Parsons sat next to him, a solid, slightly threatening presence. Thank you, she said soundlessly to the ensign.

"The loss of Voyager means that we are on our own. Thanks to Mr. Tuvok's ingenuity, we now have six shuttles. But they are not enough to allow us to continue our journey. We all remember how crowded it was on our short trip to this planet. And outfitting them with the slipstream technology is not an option. We have looked into that possibility but we lack the necessary resources, not to mention the expertise of Torres and Seven. Considering what happened to Voyager, even if we had the skills and resources, making such attempts would be inadvisable and would needlessly endanger you.

"Several of the astrometrics crew have scanned for better locations for us in the nearby star systems with no luck." She paused to catch her breath and to check the reactions of the crew. No one was pulling out a phaser, as if Tuvok would allow such actions.

Reassured, she continued, "We should remain on this planet. Some of you may be wondering if this is the best place to stay on the planet. Well, again, our astrometrics crew and exobiologists tell me we have selected the best location for long-term survival."

As she stopped speaking for a moment, this time she looked over the crew faces once more. Most seemed dismayed, a few looked intrigued, but some appeared hostile and angry. Once this was opened up for questions, things could get ugly. Grateful she'd fortified herself with a cup of replicated coffee, she reached for her mug and drank a long sip from it.

Placing the cup back on the table, Kathryn told them, "In the short run we will all be fine if we work together and make sure we cover the basics. However, there are important questions concerning our long-term future. We cannot count on Starfleet mounting a rescue mission. Although it's possible Harry Kim and B'Elanna Torres made it to the Alpha Quadrant alive, we don't know what kind of reception they may have received, nor do we know if they can retrace their path to find us.

"In the long run, we have only ourselves. We need protection from the elements," she waved an expansive hand toward the outdoors and received a few laughs in response to her wry grin. "We need reliable and stable sources of energy. I do not propose to reduce us to a group that has to sit huddled around camp fires, wearing clothing pieced together from animal skins. We can and will do better than that."

She saw relief on some of the faces. "However, we face some very important decisions: how shall we govern ourselves; how shall we divide up the necessary labor to insure our survival; how will we guarantee that this outpost of the Alpha Quadrant will be here, thriving, in a hundred, two hundred years? Most of us will not live that long. It is possible that our descendants will celebrate -- or curse -- the centennial of our planetfall."

Another swallow of the now flavorless, cold coffee helped her to say her next words. They were among the most difficult she'd ever had to utter. "In one week, seven days from today, at noon, I will record in my official log that I am resigning my commission in Starfleet."

A buzz went through the room and she held up her hand for silence. "You have been a fine Starfleet crew and I have placed commendations for your service in my logs should the Federation or its variant locate us in the future. No one could have asked for more from those under her command than you have given me and your fellow crew members. But the structure of Starfleet is not appropriate to make the transition to settlers or colonists. And that is why I will be resigning."

As her eyes landed on Chakotay, she could have sworn she saw his eyes glisten. He had known what was coming; they had talked it out earlier. Still, it was gratifying to see his concern for her now. She realized she was a little overcome herself with the emotion of the moment. "I'm...I'm going to turn the meeting over to Chakotay now."

He rose. She grabbed her mug in both hands and took the seat he'd vacated. The murky depths of the mug gave her a refuge from the stares and whispered comments all around her. Only dimly did she hear Chakotay's opening comments.

"Thank you for your attention," he began. "I, too, will turn in my resignation as an officer in Starfleet. It has been a privilege to serve with Captain Janeway. But she's right. We cannot take Starfleet's command structure into our future. She and I will accept resignations and put these into our logs. However, even as we leave Starfleet, I hope that we will never abandon the ideals and principles of the Federation -- the Federation that I first served as a young officer."

He noticed the knowing nods of those who had been with him in the Maquis. "But just as we united, Federation and Maquis, to journey to the Alpha Quadrant and home, we must remain united if we are to succeed on our new journey as colonists. Captain Janeway and I propose that we spend this week in dialogue and reflection so that we may come together on the working guidelines that will take us into our future."

It was time to be more specific. "After our dinners this week, we'll have study groups here in the mess hall to discuss particular issues each night. Tomorrow night we propose to discuss governance. After that, resources. We will need to consider safety and security. Then social arrangements and children. We're open to putting other topics on the table for discussion. We don't have to begin from scratch since Mr. Tuvok brought back databases covering all of these concerns. As we conduct our deliberations, I'm sure we'll have to revisit some issues until we come to conclusions and operating procedures that will work for us."

Even as the words left his mouth, he regretted sounding so much like a bureaucrat. A mild uproar began as his words sank in. Unfortunately, some of the loudest voices belonged to the most recalcitrant and discontented among them. He held up both his hands and waved for silence. "Let's hear from one person at a time. It would help us all if each speaker would rise once called upon."

"Fuck that, Chakotay," Brian Sophen barked.

Chakotay sighed. Just as he feared, the first person to speak was one of the malcontents. But everyone should have a say.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tuvok rise and stare down the bullying man from maintenance. "Mr. Sophen, civility is not optional."

"Yeah, well I got something to say. We're in a stinking mess here. You got aliens out there and no starship. We got bugs that force us inside every night and we have storms that can make matchsticks out of trees. So, with all due respect," Sophen's sarcasm belied the words, "this whole thing is the fault of all you so-called senior officers. The *captain* just had to get us home, well, thank you very much, lady. And that piece of prison trash you called a pilot got most of my friends killed."

"I take it you're talking about Tom Paris," Chakotay clarified.

"Yeah, and if he was here I'd tell him to his face what a fuck-up he is."

A clear voice came from the back of the room. "Tom Paris is here." Paris' chair moved forward to the front of the hall to join Chakotay and Janeway.

It gave Chakotay a little satisfaction to see Sophen's face redden when he first heard Tom speak. And when the pilot turned his chair and raised it up to face his accuser, Sophen's complexion nearly turned purple. "So. Brian. You want to tell me something?"

Paris sounded icily polite. Only a throbbing vein in his temple gave away how much tension he felt. Chakotay opened his mouth to say something but a glare from Tom kept him silent. Clearly, Tom wanted to handle this himself.

"You're sh--," Tuvok's reminder must have made an impression, as Brian began again, "Your sorry excuse for flying killed most of the crew, that's what I want to tell you. You hide out behind that collar and in that chair, you do none of the work around here, and you even have a private shuttle all to yourself."

The list of petty grievances gave Chakotay a pretty good clue about what was behind Sophen's attack on Tom.

"So, you'd like to change places with me, is that it? Well," Tom said with a tight smile, "let me tell you what it's like to have a broken neck and some severed spinal nerves with no cloning chamber to fix them."

There wasn't a sound in the room, not a cough, not a rustle of fabric, not a whisper from neighbor to neighbor. "You know, today has actually been a good day. I haven't had a tube shoved down my throat so I can breathe. With the doc's help I even walked from my bed to the bathroom. Of course, once I got there, the doc had to help out with some of the little details. Do you want to hear about them?"

Brian continued to glare at Paris but didn't ask for more information. Continuing in an ironic, but determinedly pleasant tone, Tom said, "Well, I guess not. Come around and watch sometime, why don't you? Oh, and let's not forget the occasional pain that even the doc can't completely stop. Imagine putting a dozen 20-centimeter knives in the warp core and heating them up until the metal glows red? Then, imagine those same knives running through your body, through your surprised flesh, as if they're slicing you open. Having fun yet, Brian? Still want to trade places?"

Tom's gaze held onto to Sophen's until the angry slits of his tormentor's eyes finally gave way. "You still killed damn near everyone on Voyager!" Sophen accused.

When Janeway started to open her mouth to speak, Tom mouthed 'let me' and she shrugged. Chakotay saw Tom's expression change from rigidly cold to fleetingly painful and then back again. But what happened next surprised him. All the protective masks seemed to drop away. Tom wasn't talking to the roomful of people, he was talking to himself, quietly, despairingly.

"I've been asking myself how it happened. How I could have been piloting Voyager in that way, you know, that allowed her to crash so out of control that a hundred people died. For the longest time I couldn't remember. But, lately, I've been having dreams -- more like nightmares-- and I can see my hands going over the helm controls, but we're going too fast and I can't slow her down. And we're going too close to the surface, but I can't bring her up."

Tom gazed inward. "We came out of the slipstream and I remember hearing Commander Tuvok say that we were risking structural collapse. If we'd remained in space we'd have blown apart. We had to land on a planet. And, yeah, I found one. But I couldn't control the landing. I just couldn't control her at all." He looked at Janeway, his voice breaking, and said, "I'm so sorry, Captain."

Chakotay could see the pain in her own face as she struggled to find words to comfort the pilot. "Tom, it wasn't your fault," she told him and then dared the audience to disagree with her. "I don't believe there is anyone here, or anyone we lost, who could have landed Voyager so that all could survive."

"Thank you, Captain, maybe someday I'll believe that." With those bitterly spoken words, Tom directed his chair down the aisle and out of the mess hall.

He didn't return for a week.


Day: 23, Hour: 0914, Alpha Quadrant

"What is it, Harry?" B'Elanna patiently watched Harry stare at a PADD, the same PADD he'd been reading over and over again for 30 minutes. They sat at their dining room table, breakfast long since finished. Well, at least she had finished breakfast. She noticed that, as usual, Harry pushed the food around his plate, but didn't eat very much. She was going to say something about it, but decided that she didn't need to mother him with Myeong on the station. Besides, he was so volatile that she chose her topics very carefully these days. 

B'Elanna could feel her own patience running out as a maelstrom of emotions threatened to overwhelm her. If they both got upset and said things they'd regret later, she knew she couldn't bear to lose her friendship with Harry. Not now.

But she'd almost prefer to have a fight than this silence. Ever since the admiral had called off the search, Harry had folded in on himself. B'Elanna saw that Harry was even keeping his parents at bay. He was polite to everyone, but still sort of unreal, as if he was an incomplete holographic copy of his old self. She knew he was oblivious to the worried looks and whispered questions of those around him, but she wasn't and B'Elanna wouldn't let him disappear in his own world.

So she tried again. Placing a hand on his own, B'Elanna gently pulled the PADD towards her, being careful not to pull it out of Harry's hands. As if it was a magnet, Harry followed the PADD until B'Elanna had led him to the couch. Once he was seated, he looked again at her hand, and visually traced the uniform up to her face. It took a few seconds before B'Elanna knew that he really saw her. Pointing to the PADD, B'Elanna asked him "Are those your new orders?"

"Yes. An awards ceremony next week," he fairly spat out the word 'awards', "sixty days' leave, then an ops position here on DS9." Harry laughed derisively. "Apparently, Dax thinks I have talent, so she asked Captain Sisko to request my posting here."

"And a promotion to lieutenant," B'Elanna added, "Congratulations! You deserve it."

Harry shook his head, and B'Elanna heard the deep pain when he spoke again. "I can't do this. I tried to resign my commission last night, but the admiral refused to take it. He said if I did something that dumb again, he'd throw me in the brig for a week."

"Why can't you accept it?" B'Elanna asked, "We both know that you earned the promotion many times over. Janeway probably would give it to you herself if she could. And you know Tom would be proud and want you to have it."

Harry struggled to describe his reactions. "It's like...if I get an award or a promotion, it's like getting it for just being a survivor, 'cause I'm the last soldier left alive on a battlefield. I don't want to be advancing my career at the expense of my friends. How can I sit in front of the families of everyone who didn't come home and accept an award?"

"The ceremony is going to be hard for me, too. Frankly, I don't know how I'm going to get through it, but it's like you said -- if people see us, they can't deny that Voyager still exists. Maybe some of the families will resent that we're here and their loved ones aren't, but for others we can be a symbol of hope. And we can tell them what's happened to the rest of the crew during the last few years. We're limited by how we can help Voyager right now, but at least we can do this."

Harry got up and began pacing, a habit he'd abandoned years ago, but picked up again from his father. "OK," he conceded after a few moments, "I can see going through the ceremony, but why should we stay after that? What good is it gonna do?" Angry for reasons he couldn't explain, Harry accused,"Why haven't you tried to resign yet? I know you've never been a fan of Starfleet. Yet, you've been playing the 'Good Lieutenant' ever since we arrived!"

B'Elanna could feel the anger rising in her, but she was able to suppress the words she was tempted to say. Instead, she replied, "Maybe Starfleet will still help us, and maybe they won't. But they have all the resources we need to keep searching and I can't walk away from that. You know that we can't do this ourselves. And what do you think is gonna happen to the Flyer? Did you think we'd get to take it with us? They see it as Starfleet property, so wherever it goes, I go. If they don't help us, then I'm going to use them as long as they use me."

It finally occurred to Harry that B'Elanna must have received her orders. "Are you going to be stationed here?"

B'Elanna could hear the hope in his voice, but he knew the answer by the look on her face. "No. I also have the awards ceremony, promotion, and leave, but after that I'm stationed at the Academy. Admiral Paris wants me to run an Engineering team that will use the Delta Flyer as a prototype and upgrade Starfleet ships with our technology." 

Before Harry could become dejected, she added, "But I'll be out here as much as I can. If we coordinate our leave, we should be able to go out on a search three or four times each year. I know it's not enough, but it's all we've got right now."

Harry nodded. At least he could hold onto this bit of hope. Still, he was dogged by one last thing. He was embarrassed, but couldn't resist asking the question, "B'Elanna, do your orders include a psychiatric evaluation too?"

End Part 19