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

Part: 5

Day: 02, Hour: 1032, Alpha Quadrant

If anyone had told B'Elanna that, in a crisis, she would be the level-headed voice of reason and Harry would be the impulsive hothead, she'd have laughed out loud. Since their arrival at Deep Space Nine, she could see that this was exactly what was happening. The more they were examined and debriefed, the more agitated Harry became, shouting at their rescuers, telling them they had to send all their starships to search for Voyager before something worse happened. B'Elanna expected that she'd be shouting too, forcing them to take action, but she realized a few things that Harry did not.

First, the Alpha Quadrant had changed since they'd been gone. Her Maquis instincts told her these people were edgy and nervous about war. Even if they weren't thinking about it all the time, it was in the air around them. Second, Captain Sisko didn't completely believe them yet, and no one was going to search much for Voyager until he did.

Still, he must have believed at least part of their story because he had them secluded in a private, two-bedroom suite and not in the brig. The decor was so determinedly utilitarian she thought it might as well have been a holding cell. Despite the sparse accommodations and less than effusive greeting, B'Elanna could sense that Sisko wanted to be persuaded, that he was the kind of man who was won by reason, not passion.

As she sat next to Harry on the couch in their quarters, waiting for Sisko and Odo to arrive for yet another interview, she gently placed a hand over the fists he kept clenching. When his fingers finally stilled, she told Harry, "If we're going to get some help here, you've got be quiet and let me do the talking." She saw the anguish in his eyes, as if she was betraying him too, but he simply nodded.

B'Elanna was starting to tell Harry that he could still trust her when she heard the door open and Ben Sisko speak in his resonant voice, "Let's go over this again. The last we heard from Voyager, through the array, you were decades away from the Alpha Quadrant. But somehow you created the technology that would allow you to form a slipstream...."

It was going to be another long session, she groaned to herself. Might as well get comfortable.


Day: 03, Hour: 1317

Janeway ate from her ration pack while resting on the floor of the F'Lang in what she had come to view as her space on board this cramped vessel. Her mind raced along several tracks simultaneously. On one track, she was congratulating herself that no other deaths had occurred since the one involving Ensign Sharr that first day out. On another track, she was trying to think of opening gambits to enlist the aid of friendly aliens. Still another track was dealing with the realities of setting up camp on an uncharted planet. But all in all, she thought things were going well.

That was just about when they heard from the shuttle Ride.

"We're losing the warp drive!" Carey shouted over the comm link.

"Got it," the pilot answered.

Hearing the exchange over her comm, Janeway dropped her ration bar and strode forward to the co-pilot's seat of the F'Lang. "Carey, report."

"This is the Ride. We have to shut down the warp core, Captain."

"Do it," she ordered. "All shuttles: drop out of warp."

She commed Tuvok and Chakotay to place their respective shuttles into formation so that they could put simultaneous locks onto the stricken shuttle with their tractor beams. It meant both the Earhart and the Lee would have to move ahead of the Ride since it had been the lead shuttle. Chakotay suggested they use the Jolly Roger instead of the Lee. Too many things could go wrong and jeopardize the safety of those on the Lee who were already the most medically vulnerable.

Janeway voiced no objection to the change in plans as long as Chakotay agreed to pilot. He beamed over, and, once there, took a seat at the helm of the Jolly Roger. In their respective shuttles, Chakotay and Tuvok each labored over the necessary controls and vectors involved. More quickly than Chakotay might have thought possible, they were able to get a tractor lock on the Ride.

"Captain, we've got ten people on this shuttle. What do you want us to do?" Carey asked, relief clearly evident in his voice.

Janeway checked with Tuvok and Chakotay. The tractor lock was holding. With the four remaining shuttles too crowded to take on more passengers, they would have to continue to tractor the remaining shuttle all the way to the planetary system where they would drop out of warp together.

"We've got you in two tractor beams, Lieutenant. Check the rest of your systems. Are environmental controls stable?"

"Yes, all the systems are working except the warp drive," Carey reported.

"Can you fix the drive?"

"I'll try."

"All right," she told him, "we'll stay like this until it's fixed or until we reach the system."

Janeway commed Burleson in the Earhart. "We've had to slow to warp 2. How long until we reach the planet?"

"Checking," Burleson told her. "It should add thirty-two hours, give or take."

"And what's the latest on the sensor readings?"

"We've detected no large mammalian or reptilian life forms," Burleson informed her. "Of course, there is the possibility of life forms smaller than we can detect at this distance. There's a pocket of localized chroniton particles, there are widespread dilithium deposits, also galacite."

"Plant life?" Janeway asked.

"Vegetation varies from dense to nonexistent. There are salt water bodies as well as fresh water lakes and rivers. Land masses go from below sea level to higher than any mountain ranges on Earth."

"Keep running sensor sweeps of the planet every three hours. The more we know before we arrive, the better prepared we'll be."

"Yes, Captain."

"Janeway out." So much for thinking about how smoothly things were going.


Hour: 1351

Chakotay wondered what Janeway was thinking these days. Since he'd confronted her, she had avoided him. She made the rounds of the shuttles, indeed she had many of the crew rotate to the other shuttles. But instead of asking him to make these crew assignments, as was his job as first officer, she did it herself.

He decided to pick his battles carefully. Who assigned crew members where was not as important to him right now as was seeing to their overall, long term well being. If she'd let him.

Once the tractor beam was stable, Janeway transferred a pilot to relieve Chakotay from the Jolly Roger. He went back to the Lee. Chakotay had considered helping out on one of the other shuttles, but he found himself feeling more useful on the sickbay shuttle. Besides, he was a little worried about the doctor.

Although Chakotay hadn't expected to see signs of stress in the holodoc, the EMH was clearly becoming increasingly impatient and curt with everyone. Unlike the captain, Chakotay had long seen the doctor as a member of the crew and considered him a friend. Maybe if he could run interference between the doctor and the patients for a little while, it would make things easier for everyone. Chakotay decided to be around the patients more often when the doctor became testy.


Hour: 1433

Neck in a brace, torso in another, larger brace, tubes going to and from places he didn't like to consider, Tom found himself upright, not quite sure if he was standing or not. He was informed that his feet were on the floor and the doctor and Chakotay supported his weight. However, his legs seemed to be independent of his body. No amount of concentration would make one foot step in front of the other. The doctor had directed Chakotay to stay on one side of him and when he listed toward that side, the man held him. When he listed in the other direction, the doctor supported him.

Tom knew he was concentrating, but it was as if his legs were unclear about what was required of them. For all he could sense of his body, he might as well have remained in bed. He wanted to tell them that this exercise was useless, that he couldn't walk much less control any part of his body below his neck. Sure, there was some feeling, but it was diffuse and, at times, vaguely painful.

The doctor kept urging him on until sweat popped out on his face. Staring helplessly at his captors, Tom begged them to let him stop.

"One more try, Mr. Paris."

"Fuck this!" Tom exploded, more vehement than he'd intended.

Startled heads turned to look at him and Tom felt the heat flush his face pink. He had not wanted to call attention to himself, not with all the tubes attached to his body. But seeing so many faces turn toward him made him realize that the shuttle was crowded with others sitting and sleeping on the floor.

Finding a clear path through them hadn't been easy. However, Tom figured that the doctor had made one readily with his cutting remarks. Those ascerbic comments seemed to exceed the norm for the sometimes caustic EMH.

Angry and frustrated, Tom's 'helpers' finally guided him back to his bed. That was when he counted only two beds along with a single cot in the entire shuttle.

Once settled, the brace around his torso removed, Tom asked about why he was given this special privilege. All he got from the doctor was a gruff, "That's our decision. We'll try this again tomorrow."

Right. Too exhausted to defend against the doctor's abrupt manner, Tom blinked in confusion. Well, he wouldn't worry now about what torture the doctor had in store for him tomorrow. With any luck, Tom wouldn't have to face it, not with this wreck of a body. Damn it all, the doctor had to know he couldn't really walk.

Hour: 2204

That night, as Tom and the other patients slept, Chakotay decided to act on his building sense that he needed to say something to the doctor. Chakotay relieved the pilot and co-pilot and asked the doctor to join him at the co-pilot's seat. He casually surveyed the sensors a few moments, and then asked, "Doctor, how are you doing?"

The EMH looked quizzically at Chakotay. "My matrix is stable. Why do you ask? Do you see a problem?"

"Not with your matrix. But I'm concerned about how you're handling all of this. I know it's hard for you to lose patients or see patients who will never recover. And I can imagine how frustrating it is to be without all the tools of sickbay that could help you do a better job. On top of that, you lost family and friends, just like the rest of us."

The doctor was silent for a long time and Chakotay wondered if he had heard him at all. Finally, the EMH replied, "You know, it wasn't supposed to be like this. I started out as an emergency backup system. But I didn't stay that way for long. I wanted to be a part of this crew, but not like this."

Pleased to see the doctor's ability to self-reflect, Chakotay pressed forward. "I know you're doing a tremendous job here, but how you save them is just as important as if you save them."

"What do you mean?" the doctor asked.

"Well, for the last two days, you've been short and sarcastic with the patients. I don't mind when you get frustrated with me -- I know I haven't yet learned how to anticipate your needs -- but I don't think it helps when you're upset with the others. And you seem to have the toughest time dealing with Tom."

After the EMH frowned at him, Chakotay feared that he wouldn't make any headway tonight. But he saw the doctor's expression soften, as the EMH conceded, "You're right. I have been frustrated, and I regret taking it out on all of you."

"Can you tell me why?" Chakotay asked gently.

The doctor struggled to find the right words. "On Voyager, when I found conversation to be too much, I would go to my office or turn off my program for a little while. But I've never had to have my program on for so long with so many people with no moments to myself. Maybe I am starting to degrade."

"No," Chakotay countered, "I don't think there's anything wrong with you. You're just in shock like the rest of us, and you need a break. If you think the patients are stable enough, perhaps you should shut down your program for awhile? I can always call you if there are any emergencies."

Chakotay was struck by the intensity of relief that appeared on the doctor's face. He was touched when the doctor said, "Thank you. I'm not sure that everyone would understand."

They both knew who the doctor meant by 'everyone', but Chakotay made no comment on it. He wasn't going to triangulate himself into the doctor-captain relationship. Instead, he followed-up on something else. "You're welcome. But what about Tom?"

The doctor put his finger to his lips to silence Chakotay and looked around at the sleeping patients before he replied. "I know that you might think I'm pushing Mr. Paris too hard. But I need your trust and support here. I believe I've seen a side of him that you have not, so I have to keep pressing him."

Intrigued, Chakotay listened carefully as the doctor continued. "You probably see the lieutenant doing things that come naturally to him like piloting and playing pool. He does so many things with an affability and gracefulness that is disarming. But medicine doesn't come naturally to Mr. Paris. He's had to work very hard to become a good physician's assistant."

Reminiscing, the doctor added, "When we first started working together, I tried being encouraging, but he didn't respond. I tried a variety of teaching strategies until I found that if I ignore his complaints and we exchange sarcasm, then, in his own way he reads it as confidence on my part that he really can do things. To this day, I don't truly understand why it works, but it does."

Chakotay had to smile. For all he knew about Tom, this did make a weird sort of sense.

"So," the doctor continued, "I'm trying to treat the lieutenant as normally as I can. I hope to give him confidence in his recovery and motivation to work hard at it. I'm also concerned that if he sits too much, he's going to obsess about the crash and the losses and turn in on himself."

"How do you mean?" Chakotay asked.

"It's too easy for him to turn inward. We've seen him do that time and again when he's faced with difficulties. For all his sociability, he won't go to others for help. Sometimes, for his own sake, we have to invade his privacy and give him the help he needs. I know he resents it, but I can't rely on him to initiate or maintain contact when he's in trouble. So if being angry with me keeps him motivated to do anything, gives him a goal, even if the goal is to get back at me when he's well, then it's a small price to pay."

Chakotay realized that the doctor saw Tom as his friend. "Okay," he conceded, "I'll back you up for now. But if I think you're pushing him too hard, I'm going to tell you."


End Part 5