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

Part: 7

Day: 07, Hour: 0924

After days in the cramped shuttle, with the doctor and Chakotay acting more as grim taskmakers than pleasant conversationalists, Tom was glad to be outside. It didn't matter that he'd been placed lying down on a blanket on the ground, a pillow under his head. He looked upwards, saw the trees to one side, the soft white clouds in the intensely blue skies. Not bad.

So why did he have those burning tears in his eyes? It must be the brightness of the out-of-doors. He wanted to wipe his eyes, so he concentrated on making his arm work. He'd had periodic sensation in his arms for several days. Although it felt more like outright pain, he hoped it meant he was regaining some functions. Just like when he walked, if you could call it that, Tom shook with the strain of moving his arm. After a few moments, he saw the fingers raising into his line of vision. Tom doubled his efforts, but couldn't maintain control. Gravity took over and his hand fell onto his face, slapping him lightly. 

Tom let it rest where it lay for a minute or two while he caught his breath. Since no one came to help him, he assumed what happened went unobserved and he was glad for small favors. The hand felt warm, but lifeless against his skin. He was able to drag it across his eyes, but it was like using a dead fish for a tissue. Exhausted, he wished he didn't care when the hand fell limply away towards his chest. Damn.

Considering how the bright sunlight was, it occurred to Tom that he could use some sunglasses. Even so, he recognized that sunglasses were the least of his worries. Just the act of moving his hand like that had taken incredible effort and focus. Still, he wasn't as helpless as he'd been just a few days before.

A shadow fell across his face and he found Neelix blocking the sun's rays for him. "Neelix."

"Tom." Although Neelix had been on his shuttle, they'd barely spoken to each other during the long journey. Acting a little nervously, the Talaxian added, "I'm sorry about your injuries."

"Well, doc's says I'll heal."

"Let me know how I can help."


"Do you mind if I sit here a moment?"

"No. Please do." Tom wondered at the quiet manner of the Talaxian. It was unlike him to be so subdued. Then again, Tom thought wryly, he was hardly one to comment on someone else's subdued state of mind. "How are you doing?"

"The knee is still a little stiff, but otherwise, I'm fine."


"What do you think is going to happen now?" Neelix asked.

With Neelix's face in shadows, it was hard to see his expression. Tom thought he saw worry and anxiety. "How do you mean?"

"Are we going to live here?"

"I don't know what they have planned," Tom told him honestly. It wasn't easy for him to request help, but he realized he needed to do so. Fortunately, the Talaxian was someone who was easy to talk to. Giving a self-conscious laugh, Tom took the plunge. Trying to sound casual, he asked, "Say, is the doctor around?"

Looking at the compound, Neelix replied, "I don't see him anywhere. Do you need me to comm him?"

Tom smiled. "No. No. Listen, Neelix, I could use your help."

"Sure, Tom. What do you need?"

"I'd like to sit up so I can see what's going on."

"All right," Neelix answered, a little puzzled by Tom's request. He'd been so preoccupied with his own grief on the shuttle ride that he really hadn't paid much attention to the other survivors. He'd seen Tom's efforts to walk, but hadn't thought about what that meant. Feeling a little cautious about Tom's request, Neelix asked, "What's the best way to do this?"

"No big deal. Just take my hands and pull me forward until I'm sitting up."

Neelix started to do just that when he heard the doctor shout "Mr. Paris! Neelix! Hold still and don't move."

Neelix was worried when he saw Tom's face turn red and the human started swearing under his breath. The doctor ignored Tom's curses and spoke directly to Neelix. "We're going to lower him slowly to the ground in one smooth motion. Don't let go of his hands until I tell you to."

Neelix simply nodded and watched the doctor guide Tom back to the ground. Quickly, the doctor whipped out a tricorder and began to scan his now silent patient. Peevishly, the doctor demanded, "Mr. Paris, what were you thinking?" 

From Neelix's point of view, it looked as if the pilot was refusing to open his eyes or to answer the doctor. The EMH made it clear that he wouldn't be ignored. "I know you're awake and I know Neelix wouldn't have done this without your instigation. This was totally irresponsible. Mr. Paris, do you want rip apart your spinal cord and become a complete inva -- "

Neelix continued to watch, shocked at the doctor's scolding words. Tom's eyes flew open and Neelix knew that he and the EMH saw the horror on Tom's face. Neelix thought it was fortunate that the EMH didn't finish the word he was about to utter. Softening his tone, the doc said, "You're healing, but it's a slow process and you can't sit up like that yet."

"You don't understand," Tom responded quietly. "It wasn't self-destructive. I just wanted to be normal for a few minutes. I wanted to see what was going on, like everybody else. That's all."

For a long moment, the EMH watched Tom, his skepticism evident. But Neelix could easily make out the sincerity, even contriteness, on Tom's face. "Okay, I believe you," the doctor replied neutrally. "Let me see what I can do."

The doctor asked Neelix to stay with Tom while he went to the sickbay shuttle. Neelix didn't know quite what to say or do. He began to apologize, but Tom interrupted. "No, the doctor's right, but don't tell him I said so. I shouldn't have asked you to do that when I knew he'd be mad. I just forget sometimes that...that...."

"It's okay," Neelix interrupted. He couldn't tell Tom that he'd want to forget, too, if he'd been partially paralyzed. Neelix had to suppress the shiver that ran through him as he remembered being immobile when he had worn holographic lungs.

Tom saw Neelix's eyes shoot up as a distressed reaction briefly crossed his face. But when Neelix turned his gaze back to Tom Neelix wore a comforting expression. "The doctor's on his way now," Neelix reported.

Before Tom could ask Neelix any questions, the doctor entered his line of vision. "I've brought you the brace we've been using in your walking exercises. This should allow you to sit up for about 20 minutes. We'll see how you do and, if it works, you can sit up outdoors two or three times a day."

Tom wasn't too excited about that brace. It was a big, padded contraption that had metal bars, and, as he remembered from the physical therapy sessions, it wasn't very comfortable. "Doc," Tom complained, "if people see that, they'll think I've turned into a Borg! And they'll really know something's wrong with me. This collar's bad enough."

Tom tried to decipher the doctor's expression and body language. Strange stuff, even for the doctor. Tom saw alarm, understanding, even something really scary like sympathy. Before Tom could add it all up, Neelix intervened. "Doctor, is there any reason we can't cover the brace? What if we replicated an oversized shirt to cover it? Then, nobody but us would know Tom was wearing a brace."

"Yeah!" Tom added, thinking of his large Hawaiian shirts back on Voyager. 

The doctor realized that this was the first time Neelix had made a suggestion or decision since the crash, and, given Tom's reaction, he thought this idea was good medicine for both of his patients. "Okay, I see no problem with that. We'll put the brace on first, then Tom can create a shirt that you both think looks good." 

Looking down at Tom, the doctor said, "Mr. Paris, we have to roll you on your side to put on the brace, but if you cooperate, we should have you sitting in less than a minute." Looking around the doctor whispered to him. "Don't worry, nobody's nearby so they won't see a thing before you're sitting up."

Tom grimaced slightly, but then apparently made a quick recovery, even favoring them with a genuine smile. "Then let's do it."

Once the doctor was satisfied that Tom was stable in his brace, he left with lurid instructions for a large, floral, patterned, blue shirt. As Tom described it, the EMH recalled past sightings of the abomination on the holodeck. However, he'd do his best to meet the lieutenant's exacting specifications. Maybe the pilot would smile again. 

When it was finally done, the doctor also replicated a mirror so his patient could see it. With Tom finally covered by the aesthetically challenged shirt, the doctor held the mirror out so that Tom could see himself. Both he and Neelix were rewarded with a huge grin. 

"It works. Looks good," Tom told them happily. "What do you think?"

"Great, Tom," Neelix smiled.

"I'm a doctor, not a fashion critic," the holodoc sniffed.

The lieutenant might be happy, but the EMH could also see that Tom was tiring from all of this activity. When he suggested that perhaps Tom should come inside for awhile, Neelix offered to sit behind Tom's back and let his friend lean against his side. "There. Now let me know if you get too tired." 

"Oh, I think we'll both know when that happens," Tom laughed, again conscious of his helplessness.

"Why is that?"

"Cause I'll just fall sideways or slide off to the side and fall backwards."

"You really haven't gotten your strength back, have you?" Neelix checked.

"You could say that."

Satisfied that his patient could remain outside for awhile longer, the doctor made his rounds of the others who weren't yet able to work but who were nonetheless outside. Like Mr. Paris, they expressed a preference to be there rather than in the shuttle.

Neelix noticed that Tom sounded a little breathless, as if sitting up had expended all his energy. His friend was silent for awhile, obviously taking in all the activity around them.

"Uh, Neelix. Where is everybody?"

"Tom?" The Talaxian became alarmed. Didn't Tom know? "Well, you see, not everyone made it."

Tom did see. And he remembered a conversation with Chakotay about casualties that occurred not long after the evacuation of Voyager. But seeing how few of them were left was more than unnerving. It was downright alarming. Somehow he'd failed to realize just how heavy the losses had been. There were a lot of familiar faces that he searched for among the people working in the clearing, faces that he didn't see. 

It was funny, he thought, he'd see someone with dark hair and a build vaguely like Harry's and he'd believe for a moment that he'd seen his best friend. But he knew better. Harry was gone, whether in the slipstream collapse or possibly in the Alpha Quadrant. So was B'Elanna. But it didn't stop him from somehow thinking he'd seen them among the crew now working in the clearing. 

Finally, the concentration it took to remain seated deserted him. "Neelix, I'd better lie down for awhile."

Repeating the doctor's actions from before, Neelix moved carefully and slowly so that Tom's back made a controlled descent to the blanket. He was concerned by Tom's tone that something was amiss. With Tom safely back on the blanket, Neelix gazed down on him and saw a pale, grieving face. "Tom?"

Trying to keep up a brave front, Tom asked, "Neelix, could you leave me by myself for awhile?"

"Sure, Tom. Maybe I'll get us something to drink."

"And sunglasses."

"Of course. Anything else?"

Tom heard only friendly concern in Neelix's voice. "No. Thanks."

Once the smaller man had departed, Tom allowed the tears that had been stinging his eyes to spill out. The names and faces of the people he'd never see again overwhelmed him. B'Elanna and Harry? Maybe there was hope for them. But Sue, Samantha and Naomi, Vorik, the names were too numerous to keep in his head all at once. 

At least lying down on the blanket he couldn't see the survivors out working, couldn't mistake a live crew member for one he remembered with such acute pain. Samantha and her daughter Naomi, what a short life for such a curious little girl. On those occasions when he'd been asked to babysit Naomi, he'd felt trusted by her mother and needed by the young girl. He, Tom Paris, wanted and needed. The grief threatened him as if it could engulf his soul and show him an inner darkness he thought he'd been able to diffuse in good deeds. 

It took an act of will to pull himself away from these demons that could still dance. He turned his thoughts to Voyager in the moments after the slipstream collapse. There should have been something he could have done to get Voyager down safely. But he still couldn't really remember piloting the ship that morning, couldn't remember the crash at all. 

Vaguely, he recalled Chakotay saying something about his piloting skill during the crash, but the commander couldn't have meant it, could he? If Tom had had any skill at all, then a hundred people wouldn't be dead. He never should have piloted anything after Caldik Prime. 


Day: 07, Hour: 0933, Alpha Quadrant

For the first time since their arrival, Harry thought B'Elanna looked nervous. He could tell that she was trying to keep herself from fidgeting, but a small twitch of her cheek, a tightening of her fingers were giving her away. The other people in the room probably didn't notice, but he knew her too well.

Truth be told, he was glad to see her agitated for a change. He was tired of feeling as if he was the only one who was upset about this situation. The people at this space station had stopped listening to him days ago and sometimes he thought B'Elanna was shutting him out. Her calm throughout all the interviews made him feel at once stupid and foolish, and at other times he was furious that she was able to be so compliant. 

What was the matter with her? There were moments when he thought that maybe she had never cared about any of them, that her life on Voyager had been a lie, and that this was the real B'Elanna Torres. But he could never believe these accusations for long. The news of the admiral's arrival made her show her true feelings. From everything Tom had told him, Harry had mixed feelings about Admiral Paris, but he liked it that his pending arrival had B'Elanna acting more honest. 

Harry was so lost in his own thoughts that he barely noticed when Admiral Owen Paris and his entourage of two captains and three lieutenants entered the room along with Captain Sisko, Dr. Bashir, and Lt. Dax. Unfortunately, Harry was a little slow to stand to attention. He'd hoped the admiral wouldn't notice, but a quick glance told him that this man missed nothing.

"I'm sorry, sir," Harry began, "I'd let my attention drift."

"Toward a new plan for stealing a shuttle?" the admiral accused.

Harry could feel his cheeks burning and knew the redness was spreading across his face even as the other officers in the room tried not to look at him to add to his embarrassment.

Harry was about to reply when the admiral continued talking, refocusing that laser-blue look on Ben Sisko. "If I'd been here, you would have been thrown in the brig for a stunt like that, but I suppose some captains feel a certain freedom to ignore the rules." On his part, Sisko looked unfazed by the insult.

For the first time, B'Elanna spoke up. "Sir, Harry knows that what he tried to do was wrong. He had the right motives, but the wrong methods. We should be trying to work within Starfleet protocols. And we're willing to work with you. Fully and completely." If Harry had heard B'Elanna say those words under any other circumstances, he'd have laughed.

The admiral turned his attention on B'Elanna. She didn't know quite what to make of him. He was giving her a charming smile, one that looked too familiar, but this smile had no warmth behind it. When she'd first met his son on Voyager, Tom had smiled like that.

"And you are?" he asked pleasantly.

"Lt. B'Elanna Torres, sir." As if he didn't know.

"Lt. Torres," the admiral barked, "you will not interrupt me again." Glancing at both Torres and Kim, he added, "You seem to be under the misguided assumption that we are having a discussion. We are not. I am here to give directives, and you are here to follow them. I will not tolerate one more unsolicited word from either of you. Do you understand?"

Unsure of whether they should answer, B'Elanna and Harry nodded, stood at attention, and replied, "Sir, yes, sir!" in unison.

"A wise choice," he responded. Without looking at the others in the room, the admiral offered, "Everyone may be seated."

The pleasantly chilly smile returned to the admiral's face as he continued. "Now, this is how we will spend our day. I and my staff will be asking you a series of questions. You will answer the questions briefly and to the point. If I think you're lying or withholding any information, then you will never take one step deeper into the Alpha Quadrant and you'll spend the rest of your days in a room less comfortable than this one. If you tell me the truth and we find the remainder of Voyager's crew based on your information, then you'll go home to a hero's welcome."

Harry could see the admiral's team busying themselves with PADDs. He understood that they were relieved that so far Admiral Paris had not turned his attention to them. Without turning to the staff behind him, he simply reached out a hand and was given the first PADD by a lieutenant who remained unintroduced.

"Lt. Torres," he began, "how does a former Maquis send a shuttle with Borg technology halfway across the galaxy in a matter of minutes?"

End Part 7