SUMMARY: PT Collective Archivist's Challenge: What is the explanation for Tom Paris' claustrophobia? An earthquake in San Francisco may be an answer. Some Tom angst and a life threatening situation.
DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns 'em. The story is mine. Copyright 1998.
RATING: PG-13 for implied sexual relationship. But there's no sex, no bad language. No ensign was actually killed in the writing of this story. Do not study for your physics exams based on the information in this story!!!
Comments are welcome! firstname.lastname@example.org.
ARCHIVE: ASC; PT Collective. Just ask. Please leave all disclaimers and warnings intact as well as author attribution.
"Tom! Tom! Wake up!" B'Elanna roughly shook the shoulders of her lover. He'd awakened her with screams and flailing arms.
His eyes lasering like uncontrolled lights in B'Elanna's quarters, Tom Paris woke with a start. He gasped, frightened, his first thought was that something bad had happened to her. "What?"
"You were having a nightmare, Tom," she told him soothingly, her hands smoothing across his shoulders, down and up his arms. "Computer, lights up a quarter."
They both blinked at the illumination. Tom was panting, the sweat staining his nightshirt as his chest heaved in the aftermath of the nightmare. Sweat soaked hair stuck to his forehead, "I . . . I was dreaming."
"No. You were having a nightmare."
Annoyed, he told her, "Whatever."
"So?" she asked. "What was it about?"
He raked his hand through his hair, pushing the wet strands off his forehead. She noticed a slight tremble in that hand and he noticed her watching. "I don't remember," he reported abruptly and off her look of incredulity, said, "What?"
"Tom. Talk about it. This . . . nightmare has had at you every night we've spent together since . . . since the stasis chambers."
"Fine. I'll go back to my quarters where I won't disturb you."
"Not so fast, Tom Paris. You promised me you wouldn't shut me out and that's exactly what you're doing."
Tom realized that she had her Klingon up and that the chances of making it safely to the next shift, much less his own quarters, were dimming by the minute. Defeated he lay back down, "What do you want to know?"
Everything, she thought. "Start at the beginning. What do you see?"
She lay on her side facing him, her nose only inches from his. He gave her a weak smile and turned to regard the ceiling. "The beginning. The earth moves . . . I don't mean it that way . . . I mean, literally. The ground underneath me moves, shakes. It's like a quiver and then an upheaval. Then the ceiling comes down on me and I'm on the floor choking from the dust and there's furniture and stuff on top of me. And I pass out." He turned his face so that their noses were almost touching. "That's it."
She frowned. "That's it?"
Although his voice had been distancing when he recited his memory of the nightmare, now the warmth she was accustomed to hearing returned in his next words as he explained earnestly, "B'Elanna, that's all I remember. Talking about it, it doesn't sound like something that should cause a nightmare, does it?"
"I guess that depends. I mean, is this something you remember happening to you?"
"Was I ever in an earthquake?"
He thought about her question. "Well, I grew up in the San Francisco area. Even though the engineers had done a lot to stabilize all the fault lines, we still had small quakes from time to time. But they were small. I don't think that's it." He sighed. "I honestly don't know what's behind these nightmares. I wish I did."
She liked this more open approach that her lover was taking now. "Do you really want to know?"
He shuddered and laughed without humor, "Maybe not."
"Think you can get some sleep now?"
He kissed her, "Yes, mother."
She hit his arm and told the computer to dim the lights.
B'Elanna couldn't get Tom's nightmare out of her thoughts. During a quiet time in Engineering, she retreated to her office and consulted the computer. "Computer, how many earthquakes occurred in the San Francisco region of Earth from 2344 to oh, 2366."
"Three hundred and forty-seven."
"Limit to magnitudes of 4.0 or greater."
"Limit to magnitudes of 5.0 or greater."
"Describe year, magnitude and location."
"2346, 5.5, Menlo Park; 2353, 7.4, Pacifica; 2365, 5.1, Alameda."
"Location of the family of Owen Paris during those dates."
"The Paris family lived in Pacifica in 2346 and in 2353 and in San Francisco in 2366."
"Cross-reference any member of the Paris family with the 2346 or 2353 quakes."
"There is no cross-reference with the 2346 quake. Cross-referencing with the 2353 quake occurs under the categories: Admiral Owen Paris, Thomas Paris, Pacifica Emergency Medical Center, . . . "
"Computer halt. Describe the cross reference between the quake and Thomas Paris."
"The cross references include four news reports." As the computer narrated, B'Elanna saw the images from those twenty year old holovids on her screen. "Report 1. April 8, 2353, Two days after the devastating Pacifica earthquake, eight year old Tommy Paris was located alive, but trapped, in the rubble of his school. Forty-eight children and nine teachers died in the collapsed school building alone. . . " She saw a collapsed building and incredible rubble. Then a close-up showed rescue workers hovering over one area.
"Computer: provide the leads on the other three reports."
"Report 2.April 9, 2353, Rescue workers continued their nonstop effort to free eight year old Tommy Paris from underneath the collapsed school building which killed fifty-one children and nine teachers and injured an additional 265.
"Report 3. April 10, 2353, Late last night Tommy Paris was brought out of the coffin-like space that had been his home for three days. Rescuers had worked nonstop to bring out the eight year old school boy trapped beneath debris from the worst quake to hit Northern California in a century." The night scene was illuminated by powerful lights as rescue workers carried out on a backboard a small, blanket covered child. The boy's eyes were closed, a bandage went around his head, a collar stretched around his neck. The visible part of his small face was dirt and tear streaked.
"Report 4. April 11, 2353, Admiral Owen Paris of Starfleet issued a statement today on behalf of his family thanking rescue workers and all those who had prayed for the safe return of his son. Tommy Paris, eight, is recuperating in Pacifica Emergency Medical Center after spending three days trapped when his school building collapsed, killing 67, during the Pacifica quake." A tall, blue eyed man in his forties, the Admiral stood ramrod straight reading his statement. Without answering reporter's questions, the Admiral turned on his heel and swiftly departed.
B'Elanna listened intently to the headlines, then asked the computer to download the full length stories to a PADD. She also asked for follow-up stories that reviewed the school disaster. Although she hadn't grown up on Earth, her time studying engineering at Starfleet Academy in San Francisco told her that buildings in that city didn't just collapse, even in 7.4 quakes.
She thought of sharing all the information immediately with Tom and then thought better of it. From the little she knew about his family, she wondered if the ordeal had ever been discussed with him. If it had been, she considered the possibility that Tom's father would have blamed his son for becoming trapped. Based on the holovids, she realized the boy had been badly injured with a concussion among his other injuries. She believed Tom when he said he'd told her all he knew. Springing all this on him might not be such a good idea.
After the senior staff briefing a few days later, B'Elanna asked to see Chakotay alone. The last to leave was Tom who cast her a puzzled glance at the door, then they were alone in the conference room. She confided in the man who was both her first officer and her friend. "This is sort of . . .between us. . . I mean, you're a counselor on the ship . . .?"
"What are you trying to ask? Will I keep what you tell me to myself? Of course I will," he reassured her solemnly.
"Of course you will," she muttered to herself, embarrassed that she'd even brought it up.
When she didn't say anything, he cocked his head quizzically. "B'Elanna?"
"Okay," she agreed. "What if . . . what if you knew something about someone, say about someone's past, that the person didn't know?"
"You know why Tom is claustrophobic and he doesn't?" Chakotay guessed.
"How did you know? Any of it? The claustrophobia . . ."
He gave her his most patient look as a small smile played at making an appearance on his face. "I'm first officer," he reminded her gently. "I get reports on the crew."
"Yes. Yes. All right," she regrouped. "I think I know why and Tom doesn't, and I don't know whether to tell him or what."
"Do you believe it would be helpful to him to know?"
"I'm not sure. I mean, when I heard he came out of the stasis chambers four times . . . Chakotay, if he hadn't been found, he could have died in a very short amount of time."
"Yes, I guess we have Seven to thank for his survival."
That thought hadn't occurred to B'Elanna and she squirmed uncomfortably under Chakotay's somewhat bemused gaze. "All right, all right. Don't rub it in."
He laughed and she reluctantly joined him. Then he asked her, "What makes you hesitate to tell Tom?"
Her hands tried to form answers for her, but when they failed, she grimaced and said very quietly, "He might be mad at me?"
"Tell him, B'Elanna. Secrets are probably among the most corrosive and destructive forces in the galaxy."
She fretted about how and where to tell him. Over dinner with Harry and Joe Carey in the mess hall didn't seem to be a very good place or time. Later, Tom went on shift in sick bay and when he finished there he had only eight hours until his shift on the bridge would begin. It was one of those nights when they'd agreed to sleep apart in their own cabins. Tom called her 'proximity temptation' and he wanted to thwart the temptation before he spent a sleepless, but athletic, night with her. Sleeping apart was not the most satisfactory solution, but Janeway's reprimands about their behavior still carried weight. He was off in two days and she had part of the same period free so they agreed to book some holodeck time for just the two of them.
That day Seven reported a class M world fourteen hours away. Her astrometric readings pointed toward a planet that was inhabited by pretechnological beings. With the ship perpetually low on supplies, the opportunity to locate plants and foodstuffs was too good to pass by. Seven stayed aboard to monitor the interesting phenomenon of a double starred system.
Tom started his morning shift a few hours early to bring them into a safe orbit above the planet. The scans all indicated an inhabited, but primitive world. With replicated outfits designed to fit in, a team of Chakotay, Tom, B'Elanna, and security Ensign Eileen Wocaz beamed down close to a medium sized settlement. They materialized in a cultivated field not far from a dirt road, an area determined to have no humanoid lifeforms nearby.
Tricorders out, the foursome scanned the area.
"Plants," Tom identified.
"That was very helpful, Tom," Chakotay noted, his sarcasm barely disguised. After all, the field of plants was clearly visible to all.
"They're edible," the ensign told them in all seriousness.
"Not after Neelix gets a hold of them," Tom joked. B'Elanna shot him a look that had Tom reevaluating his contributions to the conversation.
Tricorder pointed ahead of him, Chakotay puzzled over a reading. "I wonder what this is."
The others pointed their instruments in the same direction and frowned over the readings. B'Elanna tweaked her tricorder and suggested the others do likewise. "Extend range into the infrared."
When they followed her suggestion, they all saw through their tricorder screens very large furry creatures systematically harvesting the field. Varied in height among themselves by several feet, nonetheless the distant creatures towered over humans. Tom thought they resembled the kangaroos he'd seen in Australia when a work detail from his New Zealand penal settlement took him there. Their tails were shorter, their arms longer, and their heads had much smaller snouts than the kangaroos he remembered. In addition, their bodies were covered with longish, reddish hued fur. Similar to the kangaroos, they had pouches into which they placed the harvested green crop, a crop that resembled corn with a long tasseled covering. The creatures had large webbed feet and hands out of which long claws extended and retracted. When one of the creatures filled its pouch, it ambled, not hopped Tom noted, over to a woven wagon and deposited its harvest there.
"What are they?" the ensign asked.
Forgetting his vow to keep his comments to himself, Tom answered, "They look like kangaroos from Earth."
"Can they see us?" Wocaz wondered as she consulted her tricorder.
"It would depend on their visual capabilities, but judging by the lack of reaction, I'd say they don't detect us," B'Elanna responded.
"Let's walk over to the road," Chakotay urged, "and head toward the settlement."
As the away team worked their way through the tall plants, B'Elanna continually adjusted her tricorder in case there was something else to pick up what was outside of their normal visual range. Following the lieutenant's lead, Ensign Wocaz did likewise. As they reached the road, their eyes detected no living beings, but through the tricorders they picked up more of the kangaroo-like beings and at a different tricorder adjustment they detected five humanoid type beings, two walking away from the settlement and three walking toward it. All carried full backpacks. As nearly as they could tell, the humanoids appeared to be juveniles of indeterminate gender. At a third setting, large winged creatures, with kangaroo like pouches flew overhead.
Taking in the now crowded roadway through his tricorder, Chakotay halted the landing party while they remained at the outskirts of the field. "Ideas?"
"Perhaps the inhabitants of this planet exist in multiple, and sometimes different, ranges of the visual spectrum," B'Elanna offered.
Tom picked up the thread of B'Elanna's suggestion. "The crop exists in our visual range but also further into the infrared than we can see. The kangaroos picking the crop must see it in the infrared spectrum." His curiosity got the better of him. "I'm going to step out into the road and see if anyone or anything notices."
"Wait, Tom," Chakotay ordered and Tom paused in mid-step. "We don't yet know how many different levels or ranges of the light spectrum these beings exist in. Let's do some more recording from here."
Chafing a bit at Chakotay's caution, Tom remained in place, his tricorder going through set ranges of the light spectrum. He started at the farthest end of the infrared range. Across the road, the scene in the tricorder screen changed as the setting changed. "This is strange," Tom murmured.
"What is it?" B'Elanna asked as she looked over his shoulder.
"The terrain seems to change depending upon the length of the visual spectrum you use to look at it."
"What's your setting, Tom?" Chakotay asked, then set his to correspond to Tom's when the younger man told him what he'd done. "Yes. At one range of the light spectrum there's a scorched crater over there. At a lower range, closer to our visual range, there seems to be a continuation of the field we've already seen. Has anyone checked the ultra-violet spectrum?"
"I have," Ensign Wocaz spoke up. As the three peered over at her tricorder, they saw a forested hill in her screen.
"I don't understand how this works," Tom muttered. "Is it a field, a forest or a desert?"
B'Elanna answered him, "I guess it depends upon which spectrum is visible to you. If you can see it, its real to you."
Tom shook his head. "I have a bad feeling about this."
Overhead, the sun began to be partially eclipsed by its companion star, a much smaller, less intense sun. As the sky darkened, the visual spectrum underwent changes as well. Reds held their color while other colors dimmed. The field where they were standing began to change from verdant field to burned and cratered wasteland. The ground under them began to fall away as a crater formed. Chakotay ordered an emergency beam-out for all of them over his comm badge.
There was no answer from Voyager and no beam out.
The four went plummeting through the hole in the ground, falling fifteen to twenty feet, depending on where they'd been standing. The earth and dirt fell on top of them as the hole collapsed in on itself, covering them with a layer of dirt, the depth of which also varied with their original location.
Chakotay found himself pitched face first with a nose full of dirt and a sore wrist. His free hand was braced against something hard, hence the pain in the wrist; his other hand still gripped the tricorder. The darkness, the weight of the dirt and debris on top of him, caused disorientation and a moment of panic. What had happened? He snorted the dirt out of his nose, but it did little good. He was surrounded by the choking soil.
Sightlessly, he fingered the controls of the tricorder and, there, through the dirt, he could make out a faint glow. He was able to move his arm through the loose ground and brought his hand with the tricorder closer to his face. Once again, he manipulated the controls and determined up from down. Using his arms in a swimming motion he moved soil away from his face and tried to surface through the constantly shifting dirt. He was grateful that the dirt was as loose as it was. Not only did it allow some movement but there were enough air pockets to breathe as he struggled to break free.
When his head burst through, he took great gulps of air and assessed his situation. He was waist deep in the clinging dirt and found it hard to move the parts of his body still held under the ground. He estimated that he had been buried under three feet of earth. As best he could, with his limited range of motion, he looked around for the others. About the same time, B'Elanna, one hand also holding onto her tricorder, broke through the surface of the reddened earth. He waded six inches closer to her, fighting against the weight of the dirt. Finally, he was able to grab a wrist, helping to pull her through. All the while, the sides of the hole above them continued to avalanche down in running waterfalls of red dirt. It fell on the still struggling commander and chief engineer. He tried to pull himself up on top of the dirt but it was too loose to hold him and he simply fell through again.
Like Chakotay, B'Elanna's first efforts on reaching the surface were to bring in huge lungfuls of air. Spitting dirt out of her mouth, she looked around frantically, buried up to her chest in dirt. "Where's Tom and Eileen?" she asked anxiously.
"Don't know. I just surfaced."
Chakotay focused his tricorder on the ground below them and pointed to an area more than ten feet away. "Over there!"
"Chakotay!" B'Elanna couldn't hide the alarm in her voice as she consulted her tricorder. "They're buried nine feet deep over there! But they're alive."
Chakotay knew, his own tricorder told him that. He hit his comm badge trying once again to hail Voyager but no one answered. He guessed that the eclipse had caused both the physical changes on the planet that they were experiencing as well as a communication blackout with Voyager.
B'Elanna struggled against the dirt, but she might as well have been trying to move against the tides of the oceans. Her progress was measured in inches. She slid her free hand against her body trying to locate her phaser but came up empty. "Do you have your phaser?"
Chakotay shook his head and aimed his tricorder at the area where he'd surfaced. "It's about five feet below me. I'm going to try for it."
He gave her his tricorder and held his nose with one hand and then tried to swim down below through the constantly shifting dirt. He used his free hand to search for the phaser where he thought it should be but came up empty. When he couldn't hold his breath any longer, he surged upward as quickly as the dirt would let him and surfaced gasping for air. "I'll try it again."
"No. We could try all day. We've can't waste any more time." She kept darting frantic glances to the area where Tom and Ensign Wocaz were buried. "Let's get over there."
Using their bodies together as wedges they managed to make some progress. Chakotay ignored the fiery protests of his wrist. The ground under their feet was treacherous with still settling dirt. As the loose dirt shifted under her, B'Elanna fought against sinking in deeper when the dirt under her gave way. Chakotay caught her and pulled her up until she was able to tamp down a stable footing. "Are you okay?"
"Fine," she answered in a clipped-I-can't-be-bothered tone. She was registering the readings from the tricorder. "Chakotay . . . "
"I see it," he told her grimly as he rubbed his sore wrist. One of the lifesigns was failing.
Tom didn't know which way was which. One arm was above his head, another below it, but that didn't tell him whether he was facing up toward the surface or down, further into this black, heavy death. He choked on the dirt in his mouth and felt it in his eyes, nose and ears as well. A photon torpedo of fear shot through him. He was immobilized by the weight of the dirt, breathing only because of the pocket of air formed by his arms. His out-thrust fingers seemed to touch human hair and he remembered the others in the landing party. He tried pulling his body closer to the other person, but stopped immediately, freezing in place when dirt began to pour into his small air pocket. No, he thought to himself, no!
In the space of a shallow breath, he felt himself engulfed in a waking nightmare. He was pinned in place, choking on dust, unable to move for fear of bringing more destruction down on himself. He tried to call out for help but succeeded in filling his mouth with the still shifting dirt. Only a whimper came out as the dirt closed in on him as tight around as a shroud. His mind couldn't accept that he was enclosed on all sides in a dark, choking grave, and retreated further and further from reality, sheltering in a lost byway in his memories. The primitive part of his brain that still functioned knew with total certainty that any movement on his part would bring about his immediate suffocation.
B'Elanna prayed, "They've got to hold on until we can get there."
She and Chakotay slogged through the dirt, pausing repeatedly to tamp down the dirt under their feet so neither would fall through the loose dirt again. But it was slow going and when they were finally close enough to mount a rescue, they knew they faced a challenge. How to bring up someone buried nine feet down?
They agreed that Chakotay would hold B'Elanna's ankles under the dirt as she swam down to the missing pilot and ensign. One shake of her ankles meant she needed to be pulled up right away. They rigged a shirt around her head to keep the dirt out of her nose and mouth and to provide a small pocket of air. Taking deep lungfuls of dusty air, she nodded and used her strong arms to dig away the loose dirt, tunneling down to where she hoped she'd find them.
The further she went, the more the dirt kept closing in and she was forced to give up before she found either Tom or Eileen. B'Elanna's lungs were close to bursting when her head finally surfaced. Shaking the dirt from the shirt and from her face and hair, B'Elanna glanced upwards. Two of the field creatures were visible to her eyes and she flinched when she saw them looking down at them. Fearful of their intentions, she startled when they dropped down, their giant webbed feet providing them with a landing that kept them from sinking too far into the dirt despite their great weight.
Baffled, both officers exchanged glances. Were these huge creatures here to finish the job the crater had begun or were they here to help?
"Can you help us?" B'Elanna asked them.
They gazed at her with red eyes, didn't answer and began using their webbed hands and feet to dig rapidly in the loose soil. Their powerful limbs were able to fling the dirt up above the rim of the crater far enough so that none of it fell back down on them. They worked in smooth synchrony and eventually brought up Ensign Wocaz far enough out of the dirt so that Chakotay could reach her.
He was able to haul her limp body up the rest of the way. As B'Elanna breathed deeply in and out into Wocaz's mouth, Chakotay tried to revive the ensign with closed chest heart massage.
Out of the corner of her eye, B'Elanna realized the creatures were still working. Good, she thought, they must be going after Tom. In between breaths for Wocaz, she glanced at her tricorder lying on the soil next to the ensign. She realized Tom's lifesigns were barely registering. Chakotay's pinched look told her that he'd seen it as well. He worried that by the time Tom was brought up, he'd be gone like Wocaz. But they had to keep hoping and, in the meantime, did the best they could to revive Wocaz, all to no avail.
B'Elanna tried to keep her worry about Tom from interfering in her work on Wocaz. Both she and Chakotay realized at the same time that the ensign wasn't coming back to life. They watched the creatures continuing to fling huge webs full of dirt as they worked systematically inside the crater. Chakotay saw the lifesigns falter and stop altogether. But within seconds of the halt in lifesigns, the creatures uncovered Tom's body and brought him up. Still without any communication between the creatures and humans, the kangaroos swept a crew member under each of their arms and sprang easily out of the crater. The four were deposited on the stable, mounded soil outside of the crater. Without waiting to hear B'Elanna's thanks, they strode off into the blasted landscape.
With their tricorders down in the crater, B'Elanna didn't know if Tom was still alive or not. Chakotay understood with sick certainty that they had brought up another body. Nonetheless, the kangaroos had brought Tom up very quickly. Wocaz had been below without lifesigns for too long. He just hoped it wasn't too late for the young pilot.
Tom's face was dead white under all the dirt, but Chakotay was prepared for that. He was closer to Tom than B'Elanna and he started to work immediately. He cleaned out Tom's nose and mouth with his fingers, then pinched off the younger man's nose and began to breathe into the pilot's mouth. He motioned B'Elanna to start cardiac massage once she had oriented and begun to register what Chakotay was doing.
She didn't think except in rhythm, 'Come on, Tom, come on, Tom,' went over and over in her head as her hands clasped over his heart and provided the centuries old CPR. Chakotay continued to breathe into Tom's mouth, a similar echoing phrase going round and round in his mind as they coordinated their efforts.
Tom's first breath was nothing dramatic, a weak choking sound, a small flutter of one of his hands. B'Elanna's hands fell away as she finally realized he was coming around. For his part, Chakotay braced Tom's head and shoulders allowing the younger man to hold his head above the level of the ground. But the movement pushed down the loose dirt under his hips and he started to sink. Not knowing it was just the dirt the kangaroos had flung up onto the more stable ground, Tom feared returning to that dark grave. Eyes wild, a hoarse cry came from the frightened depths of Tom's childhood. Tom started to jerk and whip his arms and legs wildly about him. Chakotay held him tightly around the chest, enclosing one of Tom's arms, and told him to calm down, "It's all right, Tom, you're safe. Just hold still."
Seeing his panic, B'Elanna leaned over and grabbed his free arm holding it still with Klingon strength. "Tom! Stop it! You're making it worse. Tom!"
There was no recognition in those reddened eyes, just fear. Chakotay was beginning to believe that the two of them might not be enough to keep Tom from doing the very thing he feared most: fall back into the crater and sink down beneath that dirt. Chakotay redoubled his efforts to restrain the pilot. Both rescuers kept up a steady patter reassuring him that he was safe and that he needed to be calm. Ragged breathing began to slow and some of the wildness left Tom's eyes. He seemed to realize that he was no longer buried.
"B'Elanna?" he asked as if not sure of her reality or solidity.
"It's me, Tom. You're all right now."
For the first time, Tom looked around with eyes that could process his surroundings. He saw both B'Elanna and Chakotay coated with dirt. He noted Wocaz's still form with a hard swallow. He looked at his dirt smeared hands and touched his face as if not sure he was all connected. The fear still seemed to dominate most of his brain as he tried to emerge from its shadow and resume control of himself. He shook from shock and the realization that he had almost had his worst nightmare come true: death by burial. Closing his eyes in gratitude, he reopened them and said, "Thanks. That . . . that was . . ." His voice trailed off as he found himself too stunned to say aloud the nature of his overwhelming fear.
"It's all right," B'Elanna told him again, prepared to repeat herself over and over until he got it.
She wasn't prepared for the totally terrified look that seized his features.
"No! Oh, gods, no!"
"What, Tom? What is it?"
"Wocaz. I. . . I felt her down there. But I didn't help her. I had a pocket of air. But I froze. I didn't try to bring her to it." Under normal circumstances, describing such feelings of panic would never have been possible. But being responsible for Wocaz's death was a jolting reminder of how worthless he was. Shuddering with the horror of the memory, he repeated as if in a daze, "I just froze."
B'Elanna held his hand and patiently tried to explain, "Tom, there's a good reason you froze. If you'd moved, you'd have lost that pocket of air, all the dirt would have filled it up and you'd have smothered, too. Freezing in place kept you alive. Don't you see?"
He tried to understand her words, and although they seemed to make sense, he kept shaking his head. He knew he should have helped Wocaz. He'd touched her. She was that close to him.
B'Elanna questioned Chakotay nonverbally. Should she tell Tom what she knew? He nodded encouragingly. Taking a deep breath, she said, "There's probably another reason you froze."
"No," he said as if fearing what she would say. In his mind he made the connection between his nightmare and what had just happened. Had he some kind of precognition? Had his dream forecast this experience?
"Tom, listen to me," she told him sharply as she noticed his eyes begin to glaze over and his thoughts turn inward. She jerked his attention back to her by saying, "Your nightmare. . ."
"I dreamed it and it came true," he whispered, taking on the responsibility.
"No, Tom, no. That's not how it happened. Your nightmares were of an earthquake on earth. When you were eight?" She tilted her head at him, hoping to see some sign that he remembered.
"What?" he asked, confused.
"You remember, you told me it was an earthquake in your nightmare? This wasn't an earthquake. It was . . . it must have something to do with the eclipse and the light spectrum." Impatiently, she shook her head, she didn't want to get sidetracked. "Tom. There was an earthquake. . . on earth in 2356. You were eight years old and you were at school. You were trapped there for three days before rescuers could get you out. Sixty-seven people died in that school but you didn't. You were a hero."
Tom was startled as was Chakotay. Tom asked, "A real earthquake?"
"Yes. A very big earthquake. It destroyed buildings all over and killed hundreds of people. It was centered in your home town. Don't you remember?"
Still confused, Tom shook his head. "No. I don't remember it."
Chakotay placed a restraining hand on B'Elanna's arm as she seemed determined to make Tom remember. His look told her this could wait. She understood and simply gathered the pilot into her arms and hugged him tightly to her. "I'm so glad you're safe."
The light appeared to brighten and, as Chakotay lifted his eyes from the ruined landscape, he realized the eclipse was ending. The visual spectrum shifted back to what it had been before the eclipse. The field of crops was once more restored to sight. Without the tricorders, they couldn't tell if the kangaroos were back at work harvesting the crop. Chakotay keyed his comm badge and hailed Voyager ordering an immediate beam-up to sickbay. The response was a shimmer of blue light as the transporter performed its function.
The doctor was not pleased. He'd easily fixed the minor injury to the Commander's wrist. Although he could do nothing for the ensign, at least he could put Seven to work using her Borg technology to revive Eileen Wocaz. Assured that Wocaz would recover, he left the biobed with the ensign resting on it to approach the one with the lieutenant sitting impatiently on his. B'Elanna and Chakotay had not left his side, dirty uniforms, filthy faces and hands and all.
"Well, Lt.," he began in his best scolding tone as he ran his diagnostic tricorder over Tom, "I see you grace these walls once again."
"It wasn't my fault," Tom protested.
"It never is," the doctor agreed sardonically and pressed a hypospray against Tom's neck. "There. A little tri-ox, a little rest, a shower . . ."
"He almost died," B'Elanna informed the doctor indignantly, believing that the hologram was ignoring the seriousness of the situation.
"Would you like me to ask Seven to work her Borg technology on him?"
That shut up B'Elanna.
"Seriously, doctor," Chakotay asked, "how is he?"
"He's running a little short on oxygen circulating in his blood, hence the tri-ox, and I believe these adrenalin levels will return to normal, but I'll want to monitor that. After 24 hours of rest he should be fine."
B'Elanna's interest peaked. "Twenty-four hours of rest?"
Chakotay was unsuccessful in smothering his grin as he realized that B'Elanna had very little intention of letting the pilot rest for all of those 24 hours.
"Yes," the doctor affirmed, and then punctured her budding fantasy. "Here in sick bay. As soon as he showers and changes I'm giving him something to help him sleep."
"Don't I get to say anything?" Tom whined.
Providing a unanimous front, all three faces turned to him and said, "No." The doctor gave him a hand off the biobed and noted the paleness that drained the pilot of color under all the dirt on his face. "Let's go to the shower, unless you'd prefer a sponge bath?"
His color returned and even shaded into pink. Tom went meekly with the doctor.
B'Elanna and Chakotay exchanged smiles. Tom would be all right. As B'Elanna's smile faded, Chakotay asked her, "What is it?"
"I can't help thinking that was not a good experience for a claustrophobic."
"I agree. When he's ready, maybe we can program the holodeck to help him gain some sense of control over the situation."
Knowing that this offer to help Tom was a major concession from the first officer, B'Elanna said, "Thanks, Chakotay." The next trick was to get Tom to cooperate. One step at a time, she thought.
The captain swung into sickbay and stopped first at Wocaz' biobed. She noted the readings of the ensign's vital signs above the bed, and then joined the other two members of the away team.
"Getting a shower," Chakotay reported.
Noting their appearance, her facial expression conveyed her thought that they, too, could use showers. "I gather we'd better look elsewhere for supplies."
"Definitely," again both officers spoke in unison. Although the kangaroos had saved them, they had not been able to establish communication with the giant creatures.
As they waited for Tom's return, they discussed the strangeness of a planet where visibility of material form depended on the wavelength of light. Speculations proved fruitless although they wondered if the eclipsing of one sun by the other didn't have something to do with it. Janeway was grateful to the creatures who had rescued her crew but none of them had a satisfactory answer to the creatures' motivations or existence. Just another day in the Delta Quadrant, the captain thought.
Tom reappeared in a robe over pajamas, much cleaner, somewhat subdued, his still damp hair falling into his face. The doctor hovered by his side until Tom resumed his place on the biobed giving up his robe to the doctor.
He gave the captain a wan smile, the strength obviously deserting him as he sat slumped on the bed. "I'm okay. Thanks to these two. And some kangaroos. Or maybe that was a figment of my imagination, I'm not sure right now what's real and what isn't."
"It was real, Tom," Chakotay confirmed. "And when you're feeling better, maybe you'll let us help sort things out."
A genuine smile lit the young man's face from within and B'Elanna felt her breath catch at the unconscious beauty of it. "Thanks," he told them gratefully, but wearily. "I'm all right."
Janeway looked at the doctor for reassurance, not quite trusting Tom's self-diagnosis. The doctor nodded. "He'll be fine. And these two should clean up nicely."
"Good. Tom, get some rest," she ordered.
"Yes, ma'am," he offered no resistance and lay down on the biobed, accepting the doctor's hypospray. B'Elanna placed a blanket over Tom, bringing it up to his shoulders. She was rewarded with a sigh. They watched as his blue eyes closed and his body relaxed into sleep. It was as if years of tension drained from his face as the muscles smoothed into an image of the child he must once have been.
"And you two," Janeway turned a twinkling eye on her two officers. "Get a shower. And use real water."
Echoing Tom, B'Elanna said, "Yes, ma'am."
Chakotay just grinned, his dimples creasing his dirt smeared cheeks. Janeway read his thoughts perfectly.
Grinning back at him, she said, "I don't think so."
With a shrug, Chakotay led the way out of sickbay still grinning. At the door, B'Elanna turned back for one last glance at her lover. She sighed and wished: if only he could always look so peaceful.