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

Part: 9

Day: 07, Hour: 2122

It always seemed to come down to this. Kathryn personalized what should remain a professional matter. As Chakotay tried to figure out how to keep this conversation from turning into a disaster, he thought of several gambits and discarded each. 'As your first officer....' No. 'If I can....' No. Finally, he told her plainly, "Kathryn, you know that I care about you, about your well being. And I also care about the crew and their well being. There should be no reason for those two things to be in conflict."

She listened for something she could quarrel with, but it wasn't there. He was sincere. She knew that. She just wished he would agree with her. As if reading her mind, Chakotay gave her a grin, one with his dimples out, "I wish we could always see things the same way. But I've generally believed that better decisions come about when different viewpoints are taken into account. That's all we can do, Kathryn. We do our best."

"Well. We'll talk some more. I guess Tuvok's trip back to Voyager will be pivotal." She took a sip of her cooling coffee. "How soon can he go?"

"At best? A few days. He thinks he should stay for awhile and monitor the security aspects of our encampment. It wouldn't do to have a shuttle gone if we needed to evacuate."

She nodded. It made sense. They were on an unfamiliar planet. It had been scanned without benefit of Voyager's sophisticated sensors and computers. There could be problems not yet seen on this first day. And it was past time to put this day to rest. Apparently, Chakotay read her mind once again. He stood up and made his good-byes, then seemed to think of something.

"Kathryn, what about setting the emergency beacons on the shuttles?"

"Go ahead. I activated the one on Voyager before we left."

"All right. Good night."

As he stepped out of Janeway's quarters, Chakotay noticed how quiet it seemed. He saw lights on in only two of the shelters and one of the shuttles. It was the sickbay shuttle. They had discussed limiting energy sources. But this was their first night on an unknown planet and they had decided to let the crew select their own comfort levels.

A few people made their way to or from the facilities and he noticed that Tuvok had posted guards. Otherwise, everyone else appeared to have retired for the night. Walking over to the Lee, he hoped everything was all right. 

When he stepped inside, he found the holodoc hovering over Tom Paris' bed. "Doctor?"

Chakotay took a few steps over to the bed and saw that the doctor had placed Tom on the respirator again. Worried blue eyes tracked his progress. 

The doctor was using a soothing tone. "Mr. Paris,  I know you can't speak now, but remember how we talked about the respirator. Let it do the work for you and just ride the wave of air as it flows in and out." 

Seeing Tom relax a little after the next couple of breaths, Chakotay looked over to the doctor. "What happened?"

"It's the thin air. Mr. Paris spent too much time out in it. He and Mr. Neelix also worked too hard on the memorial service. They both overdid it. Mr. Neelix is fine."

Tom blinked his eyes as if protesting the doctor's description. For a moment, Chakotay thought he saw fear there, then it was gone. "And the respirator?"

"A few hours more and he should be improved enough to go on a mask."

"Good." Chakotay noticed that Tom's normally pale skin looked reddened and freckled. "Is that sunburn?"

"Yes. I'm afraid the UV rays here are more powerful than Earth's. I'd given everyone some sun blockers but in the case of the pigmentally challenged, it wasn't enough. Tomorrow, I'll remedy the situation for those who need help. I'll run the dermal regenerator when he's off the respirator."

Tom closed his eyes. This situation sucked. His face was hot from the sunburn which the doctor had just now joked about. Pigmentally challenged! To add insult to injury, Neelix had commented smartly on his freckles, calling him an honorary Talaxian. Shit. 

And before the respirator? He'd had difficulty breathing. Difficulty? Hell, he'd passed out. Good thing Neelix had been with him. According to the doctor he'd been beamed into the shuttle in time to have this irritating tube shoved down his throat so he could finally breathe again. 

And here he'd been so glad that they were on a planet. Well, this planet was not Tom Paris friendly. Not so far. He felt Chakotay give his hand a squeeze. Okay, he should be grateful that he could feel that. Not long ago he wouldn't have known if Chakotay had squeezed his hand in friendship or if he'd crushed it based on past anger toward him.

Cross but tired, Tom let sleep take him. Maybe tomorrow would be better.

Day: 08, Hour: 0146

Tom seemed upset and Chakotay worried that the doctor's manner might be making things worse. Since their talk on the shuttle, Chakotay discovered the doctor looking over at him occasionally, as if checking for feedback. The doctor had been generally quiet and appropriate in his remarks after his cracks about the 'pigmentally challenged'. Although the EMH appeared to have himself under control, Chakotay stayed, sitting on a cot near Tom's bed using a PADD to organize tomorrow's work details. Without his express permission, Chakotay's eyes would close until some shuttle sound would jolt him awake. Then he'd study the PADD for awhile longer until his eyes closed again.

"Well, well, working with your eyes closed," the doctor's amused observation brought him fully awake.


"Commander. You do have your own quarters now, don't you? So why are you still here?"

Chakotay stretched and favored the doctor with a smile as he placed his PADD to one side. He glanced over at Tom Paris who slept while the machine breathed for him. "I was hoping to see him breathe on his own."

"I was just about to extubate."

Tom's eyes fluttered open and Chakotay watched recognition gradually register on the lightly freckled face.

The changeover to the mask went uneventfully. Once the tube was out of his throat, Tom coughed, looked miserable, but was able to breathe on his own. Chakotay heard the doc tell Tom that the mask was just a precaution as was pressurizing the shuttle to an Earth environment. Giving the pilot a grin, Chakotay commented, "Eventually, we'll all adapt to the thin atmosphere, but it'll take more than a day."

Hour: 0250

Reassured, finally, that Tom would be all right, Chakotay left the shuttle for his own shelter. Crossing the area where the feet of many had tamped down the natural growth, Chakotay's eyes automatically scanned the compound. Some indeterminate sound at the edge of his hearing bothered him and he stopped, cocked his head, and listened. Something was there but he wasn't sure whether he should reach for his phaser or his tricorder. 

The tricorder won out and he brought it up to scan the area toward the trees where he thought he'd heard the sound. And then they were almost on him. Hitting his comm badge he ordered, "Emergency! Beam inside! Everyone! Seal all the shelters and shuttles!" Flapping his arms around his head, he ran like hell for the sickbay shuttle as a dark cloud of millions of hummingbird-sized bugs swarmed around him. 

The doctor beamed Chakotay inside the shuttle and, in short order, had beamed in all three of the guards posted by Tuvok. Fortunately, the shuttle transporter filtered out the alien insects. But it couldn't undo the welts on their skin where the bugs had contact with them. The doctor motioned for the refugees to sit down on the spare bed and cot. 

"Doc?" Tom called, wakening from sleep, his voice muffled by the mask over his mouth. 

"It's all right, Mr. Paris. Go on back to sleep." To the doctor's relief, Tom complied without further comment.

Tricorder in hand, the doctor scanned each of the four people before him. 

The three men and one woman seemed none the worse for their contact with the alien insects. The doctor detected localized itching such as might occur with mosquito bites. They had several such welts where clothing hadn't protected them. Chakotay asked, "Well, doctor?"

"I can provide you all with a local anesthetic to ease the itching. I will have to study these insects to find out more about the toxin they've introduced into your systems and to find a protection against it."

"So it's not serious," Chakotay summarized.

"Itches like crazy," Molina told the doctor, his bronzed hands scratching at his neck, his expression disgusted. But once the doctor settled a frown on him, Molina stopped his actions.

"That was different than anything I've ever seen," Grimes reported, light-colored eyes rolling as if he was thinking over the experience. "It seemed like all the lights had gone out."

The doctor processed that bit of information. "Did they attack?"

"No," Dorado said thoughtfully. Blunt fingers began to scratch through spiked, grey hair. "It was more like we were in their way. They came out of the trees and were flying toward the river. Beyond that, I'm just not sure."

His voice perplexed, Grimes wondered, "How can we resume our posts?"

Chakotay stood up and approached the operations station on the shuttle. He keyed in the sensors and noted, "They're still swarming. And Dorado's right. They appear to be going from the trees to the river."

Tuvok's voice came over the comm link. "I understand my security team was overwhelmed by insects?"

"That's right," Chakotay confirmed. "We're in the sickbay shuttle. Everyone's fine, but I don't advise going outside. I've got the sensors scanning the compound."

"Understood. Perhaps I should beam over."

"I think we have it under control. I'll let you know if anything changes." Knowing how much Tuvok liked his privacy, Chakotay suspected that his turning down of Tuvok's offer had been met with relief, even if the Vulcan would never admit it.

"This is the captain. What's going on?"

Chakotay filled her in as well. With a promise to monitor the situation all night, Chakotay convinced her there was little she could do other than warn everyone to remain inside their shelters until the insects had cleared the area. 

The security team members and Chakotay took shifts during the night monitoring the sensors and the activities of the swarm. Those not on shift had the chance to sleep on the bed, the cot and the floor. As he finally stretched out full length, hours after he'd hoped to be asleep, Chakotay found himself almost too overwhelmed to actually sleep. His mind teemed with noises and images from the day as if each encounter still had unfinished business to present. Encouraging himself to adopt a more meditative state, Chakotay eventually silenced the busy voices in his head and slumbered.


Hour: 0754

In the morning, Neelix stepped out of his shuttle, saw skies clear of insect swarms but filled with low hanging clouds. The rain shower in progress was certain to slow work activity on the remaining shelters. However, it was so light that Neelix didn't bother to replicate rain gear. At most, he might become slightly damp as he made his way around the compound. 

Returning from the personal facilities shelter, he saw Janeway, Tuvok, and Chakotay heading toward the Lee. Of course, he realized, the sensor data on the insects was there. Using a visit to Tom as his excuse, Neelix decided to join them.

When the Talaxian arrived, he found the EMH giving the senior officers an update on Tom Paris. Although the injured pilot had been able to move and feel sensations in his limbs and body for several days, having made fairly steady progress over the course of the shuttle flight, on this morning, he'd suffered a setback. Neelix saw the senior officers exchange worried looks, but the doctor assured them Paris was in no immediate danger. Privately, the doctor told Neelix that Paris would need a little extra help. 

Pleased to be asked, Neelix listened carefully to the doctor's instructions and prepared to do what was needed, one ear tuned to the meeting beginning over by the ops console.

"Tom?" Neelix ventured.

"Yeah," Tom replied tiredly, the mask muffling his word.

Thinking that his friend was not looking his best, Neelix offered up a cheerful smile. "I thought I'd give you a hand here, that is, if it's all right with you."

Blue eyes flashed in protest. Neelix could see the weakness in that nearly motionless form, the discouragement settled in the narrow features. When Tom spoke, Neelix recognized the way Tom covered up whatever he was feeling by trying to sound breezy. "Sure. Thanks."

While Neelix ran the sonic shaver over the faint stubble on Tom's face and then brushed Tom's teeth with the sonic toothbrush, both listened with interest to the conversation among Voyager's senior officers. When he finished, Neelix replaced Tom's mask.

"As you can see," Chakotay must have been pointing to the replay of the sensor readings, "the swarm came out of the forest, went as far as the river, settled for awhile and then returned to the forest before sunrise."

"What time did they first depart the forest?"

Neelix finished grooming Tom and offered to replicate some breakfast. Tom indicated he wasn't yet ready to eat, but accepted a glass of water which he sipped through a bent straw as Neelix supported him under the neck brace. Wishing he could do more, the Talaxian carefully read the strained set to Tom's jaw and realized he'd better not try. Additional morning rituals would have to await the EMH. Having done all he could, Neelix replaced the oxygen mask on the younger man's face.

In the mean time, he heard Chakotay answering Janeway's question. "Using the local time of a 26-hour day, they swarmed toward us at 0253 hours. They all had cleared the forest by 0344. As the last of them reached the river, the early arrivals began the return trip to the forest. Sunrise was at 0629 hours and they were all back in the forest by then."

Janeway summarized, "Basically, we can't go out after 2 in the morning until the sun rises."

"That's what it looks like," Chakotay agreed, "However, it may be more complicated than that. The swarms occurred when all three moons were out. Until we get more data, we won't know what really triggers the insects' movements."

Janeway nodded her understanding and turned to the holodoc. "Doctor, what do you have on these insects?"

"The toxin is mild, causes itching, but so far nothing more serious than that."

Chakotay asked, "So far?"

"Probably nothing more serious will develop. But you can't always tell on the basis of a few hours."

So as not to interrupt the meeting, Tom whispered through his mask to Neelix, "What's going on?"

"Bugs. Lots of them," Neelix whispered back.

"Yuck." Tom yawned widely, still tired. The events of the night before had failed to provide him with a good night's sleep. At least the sunburn had been healed with the doctor's regenerator, but for some reason he didn't really feel all that great.

"Exactly," Neelix seconded.

"What about this rain?" Tom heard Janeway ask as they tuned back into the conversation of the senior officers.

"There is nothing unusual about it," Tuvok noted. "Sensors show it should move off to the south and east in forty-seven minutes. No other precipitation appears to be heading in this direction."

"Good. Well, I guess the crew could use the late start to the morning. Let's give the all-clear and tell them they can leave the shelters now."

Chakotay made a wish, "I hope the replicators are capable of delivering a decent breakfast."

"And a decent cup of coffee," Janeway spoke aloud of her own craving.

Tuvok reminded them, "The doctor has promised to have a full report on the local food stuffs before our midday meal. We should then be able to reduce considerably our reliance on replictors."

"At the risk of repeating myself, in the meantime, I am looking forward to a cup of replicated coffee." 

Tom could almost see the twinkle in the captain's eyes as she made her pronouncement. He thought that sounded like their captain. He wouldn't mind some coffee for himself. In the interests of his health, the doctor had prohibited anything interesting, tasty, stimulating, or fun. Maybe he could bargain a few additional footsteps in his daily physical therapy for something decent. He'd definitely settle for replicated coffee.

He heard the preparations of the senior staff to leave the shuttle and wished he could get up and join them. In the past, he wouldn't have felt strange to be on the outside, but after nearly five years of being a part of the senior staff, it was vaguely upsetting to have been virtually ignored. 

However, to his surprise, Chakotay, Janeway, and Tuvok came by before they left. Tom was on the verge of asking Chakotay to bring him back a cup of coffee and a muffin, but he didn't want to be overheard by the doctor. Ruefully, he thought that even if Chakotay managed to smuggle in something, he wasn't sure he felt up to having any.

And no sooner had he thought of the doctor, than the hologram appeared by his side, the ever present tricorder in hand. The three senior officers said their good-byes and left. A lot of the time the doctor was easy to read, but never when he scanned a patient. And this occasion was no exception. "So? How am I?"

The doctor seemed to be absorbed in his readings. 


Neelix showed up to join them. "Is everything all right?"

"Please, Mr. Neelix, I am consulting with my patient."

"Oh, pardon me," Neelix gave an offended sound and moved away. Tom wished the collar would allow him to turn his head to see where the man had gone. The doctor's abrupt dismissal of the Talaxian bothered Tom, but he didn't say anything while the EMH ran his scans.

"Mr. Paris, I believe this would be a good day for you to get some rest."

End Part 9