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

Part: 20


Day: 25, Hour: 1936

Neelix watched the former Starfleet crew members gather in the mess hall for the meeting that would determine their future. Without their uniforms, they certainly looked different. In fact, not a few could benefit from his fashion tips. Janeway had a shapeless brown shift that conveyed no color, no sense of who she was. And Mr. Vulcan was even worse, brown tunic, brown pants. At least Chakotay's brown outfit had a dash of white and blue threaded through his top.

After six nights of meetings, he had a sense that they were all ready to move to on to new things. The discussions had been acrimonious at times, but also beneficial in clarifying just what this small group wanted and didn't want. And despite the doctor's pleas to the contrary, not too many women, and very few men, were interested in his plan for them to have children. As Ken Dalby put it, when the doc bore the kids, then Dalby'd consider it.

The process had been fascinating, small groups chosen at random each night, a new spokesperson decided each time, and, later, a series of reports from the groups had capped each evening. Last night the small groups tackled putting together the most favored of the earlier reports in order to hammer out a working document that had circulated all day. Neelix had been impressed with the process, everyone, even the troublemakers, were heard. But instead of the senior staff stepping in to stop excesses, fellow crew members did it.

His only regret was the continued absence of Tom Paris. Every time he went to the shuttle to talk to Tom he was told by the holodoc that Tom was undergoing delicate procedures, or he was in physical therapy, or he was resting. Neelix knew when he was being shut out. He could only hope that his young friend was making progress. After the revelations of a week ago, he knew Tom was facing difficulties in abundance.

It looked as if the meeting was ready to get under way. He just wished Captain Janeway -- no, only *Kathryn* Janeway now -- had not withdrawn from consideration to be their mayor. She said she wanted to work on energy problems with the other scientists, that after four and a half years as their captain, she needed a break from command. Kathryn even had a roommate now, announcing that she was simply a private citizen. After consulting with Chakotay, they agreed that Penelope Burleson should move in. The two no-nonsense scientists seemed to communicate easily with each other.

Tuvok called the meeting to order with a solemnity that befitted the occasion. "We are here tonight to ratify our agreements and to count the ballots for the election of one of us to the post of mayor. Should there not be a candidate with 26 votes, then there will be a run-off election among the top two vote getters."

The candidates had been Joe Carey, D'Linda Dorado, and Chakotay. Neelix had been nominated but had declined. He couldn't see himself in that role. Supporter? Oh, yes, but not the leader. And Tuvok had also declined for undisclosed 'personal' reasons. Actually, Neelix thought Chakotay or Tom Paris would make excellent leaders, but he encountered uncomfortable silences and looks when he mentioned Tom for the position. And he never was able to determine what Tom thought of the idea.

The voting PADD was accessed and Tuvok counted out the tally with Janeway and Ayala confirming his announcement. With fifty-one colonists, including the holodoc, the votes didn't add up. Dorado had 9, Carey 16, and Chakotay 24. Two votes were missing and, without them, Chakotay didn't have the required number to win the election.

Consulting the PADD, Tuvok concluded that neither the doctor nor Tom Paris had voted but kept that news to himself. "We will have a run-off election between Joe Carey and Chakotay. Should those who didn't vote before fail to vote this time, then the person with the greatest number of votes will be declared the winner."

Neelix realized that if all of Dorado's votes went to Carey, then Carey would edge out Chakotay by one vote. Now, Carey was a good man, but Chakotay would make the better leader, of that Neelix was certain.

He wondered why Tom and the holodoc hadn't voted. It just wasn't right. What could be more important? He placed his vote on the PADD and went outside. Crossing the compound by the light of the security lamps and the two moons now high in the sky, he headed toward the Lee.

Before he could work himself up any more, he saw the doors to the Lee open. The EMH stood at the doorway beside Tom Paris. This was a different Tom. The collar was gone as was the bulk of the back brace. He stood there, tall and slender. In his hands were crutches that gripped each forearm. He defied the predominate color of the day and was not wearing brown. Instead he had on blue jeans and his blue Hawaiian shirt, a shirt that seemed to hang too loosely on him.

Tom's backlit face appeared solemn and lost in concentration. The ramp they stood on lowered and Tom took two careful steps off it to stand on the grass of the compound.

"Tom. Doctor, we need you in the mess hall. The mayor's election is going into a run-off."

"Thank you, Mr. Neelix. We are headed there now."

"It's my fault we're late. Couldn't decide what to wear," Tom deadpanned. Moonlight glinted off his light hair.

"Actually, I was making last minute adjustments --"

"Doc," was all Tom said in a warning tone and the EMH subsided.

Neelix wasn't sure how to take Tom's statement about the clothes, but gave a nervous laugh, deciding Tom had meant to joke with him. "Well, it's a very nice outfit, Tom, but we need to hurry."

"Um, Neelix, I can't hurry."

"Oh, yes, I mean, well...."

"It's all right," Tom reassured him.

Although the doctor accompanied him on one side and Neelix took up a post on the other side, Tom knew he could make it to the mess hall on his own. Now he just had to convince his legs that they could do it.

A cool breeze ruffled his shirt and bare arms but Tom worked so hard to walk without falling that he didn't mind the faint chill. He concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.

The grass didn't provide an even surface the way the shuttle had, and the night lighting was deceptive. By the time he reached the mess hall entrance he was sweating and a little shaky. He tried not to let that show. The doc kept hovering too much as it was.

They made it, his legs, his crutches, and him. All together, in one piece. To his relief, he hadn't fallen once. Even as he privately celebrated his victory, Tom wondered how long it would be before he could walk without the crutches, without the intense concentration that took so much out of him. Well, the doc wasn't telling.

Tom noticed that a lot of eyes were on him as he made his entrance. Self-consciously, he stood beside the holodoc wishing that a lot of things were different, that they were still flying Voyager home, that he could walk easily, that he knew what had happened to Harry and B'Elanna. 

Gazing about the room he saw the expected encouragement from Janeway and Chakotay, suprisingly open speculation from the Delaneys, and something like unease, even contempt from others. Well, they'd just have to wait in line. He was disgusted with himself enough for a roomful of Brian Sophens and Ken Dalbys.

When the three of them walked in, Tuvok wordlessly handed the doctor a PADD. "Yes?" the EMH asked.

"Voting. Carey or Chakotay."

"I see. You realize this is my first time to vote. I wish to convey my approval of the decision that granted me voting rights in this community. This is my home as well...."

"Doctor, I am sure you have much to say on the topic, however, we would like to conclude the election this evening."

While Tom tried hard not to grin, Tuvok's mini-chastisement drew a petulant sniff from the EMH. Then the PADD was given to Tom. Uneasily, he managed to retain his balance and place his vote at the same time. Tuvok retrieved the PADD and headed back to the front of the room.

Both Neelix and the EMH insisted on helping him to sit down. Although Tom wished he didn't need their help, he had to admit it beat falling off the chair or missing it entirely. Someday he'd have to remember how to go from standing to sitting in one graceful movement. But for the time being, that skill eluded him. He heard Tuvok make an announcement.

"I am pleased to let you know that our new mayor is Chakotay."

Applause broke out as Chakotay stood up with a large grin on his face. "Thank you. I appreciate the confidence in me that you have expressed. D'Linda and Joe are very fine people and I know we will all work well together as we face the challenges ahead of us. Anyone have any questions?"

There was some buzzing, but no one said anything. Then Tom couldn't resist asking, "Yeah. What are we going to name this place?"

End Part 20

End Endless I: Planetfall

Any thoughts on names for the planet or the community? Feedback on this or anything else about the story is welcome! We'd be glad to hear from you: jlf@door.net