Roots

ROOT AND BRANCH

By A.S. Bailey

 

Captain  Janeway, steadily working her way through the accumulated paperwork–who would have thought it would still be such a trial, all these thousands of light years from home? And why was it still called paperwork, when no paper was involved?–wiped sweaty hands down her trouser legs and pushed a damp lock of hair off  her forehead. A few paragraphs further on she repeated the action, and this time it registered with her conscious mind. Her ready room was undoubtedly too warm.

“Computer, reduce cabin temperature by five degrees,” she called, and was rewarded by the system’s audible twinkle. In a few minutes the room had become more comfortable, and she carried on her work.  After about half an hour she sat back with a sigh of relief, and got up briskly to return to the bridge and some more interesting activity, she hoped. The door slid open and she stepped through–into a wall of heat like a slap in the face.

“My God!” she exclaimed, with uncharacteristic abruptness. “Why is it so hot out here?”

“It does seem a bit warm,” Harry Kim agreed. “I thought it was just me.”

“No, indeed, Ensign,” said Tuvok. “The temperature on the bridge is approximately 3 degrees Celsius above normal.”

“My ready room was hot as well,” said Janeway . “I  had the temperature reduced quite a while ago. Computer! Reduce bridge temperature to normal levels.”

“Unable to comply,” intoned the computer’s coolly feminine voice. “Climate control systems have malfunctioned.”

“Wonderful,” said Chakotay dryly. “That must be about the only system we haven’t had a major problem with so far. Bridge to engineering!”

“Engineering here,” came B’Elanna Torres sharp tones.

“B’Elanna, we’re reading a climate control malfunction. The bridge is five degrees above normal and won’t reduce.”

“I know,” said the engineer. “We’re overheating as well. There have been calls from all over the ship. I’ll try to trace the problem. Engineering out.”

Janeway glanced around the bridge at her perspiring crew.

“Well, until we get this sorted out I suggest we shut down unnecessary systems. Make sure that sickbay has priority for refrigerating perishable drugs–and then Neelix’s food stores. Tom, take the lights down a bit too–that should at least make it feel cooler.”

“Aye, Captain,” came the ready replies.

She sat down in the command chair with a small sigh. Chakotay glanced over with his gentle smile. She returned it ruefully.

“Now I suppose we just wait to find out what vital components have burned out.”

“Afraid so!” he grinned.

It wasn’t a very long wait. Within an hour B’Elanna had reported that she and the head of environmental control, Lt. Sian Evans, had tracked down the problem.

“It’s the temperature control system itself that’s gone,” she told a meeting of senior officers. “Normally the physical components would be replaced  during the ship’s annual overhaul. Naturally we haven’t been able to do anything like that. We’ve had to concentrate on things like propulsion and computer problems, and replacing anything that’s actually broken down.”

“I see,” said the captain. No point in apportioning blame now. B’Elanna was right–they didn’t have the luxury  of replacing parts that were simply worn or due for repair. “So what effect will this have on the ship?”

Torres turned to the environmental head, who responded quickly if somewhat nervously. She was a slim, dark young woman. A wavy halo of dark hair framed a thin pale face dusted across the bridge of the nose with freckles which made her look very young. The only remarkable feature she had was her eyes, velvet dark with unexpected amber highlights, and deep enough to drown in. The long dark lashes that framed them made them look twice as big.  Despite her relatively senior status she had had little to do with the command crew and she was somewhat overawed. Despite this her report was concise and professional.

“Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can adjust or reprogram,” she explained. “At the moment there’s nothing actually wrong with the systems that control our temperature and so on. It’s the climate control unit itself that’s gone–or at least going. Some of the components have just physically worn out.”

“And those are?” asked Janeway.

 

“Well, Captain, the most important are these.” B’Elanna tipped the contents of the container she was carrying into one small hand and displayed it to the officers. It looked like a small pile of greenish-gold crumbs. They glittered and flashed as her hand moved.

“What’s that?” asked Chakotay.

“It’s what left of the  chrysotile sheets in the heating unit.”

Tom Paris raised his eyebrows. “Chrysotile?” he enquired.

“A crystalline form of serpentine,” said Tuvok helpfully.

Paris continued to look blank.

“Used in the same way as asbestos used to be employed.”

Paris’ expression still didn’t change.

“For insulation and fire proofing,” said Tuvok with a hint of impatience.

“Oh.”

Evans nodded. “Yes, that’s right. I know it sounds odd, but chrysotile has been found to be the most effective  substance for controlling the heat flow.”

“So we replicate some.”

Torres shook her head.

“Wrong. We’ve never been able to replicate chrysotile properly.”

“To be dependent on a substance which cannot be replicated is inefficient,” said Seven of Nine unhelpfully. B’Elanna cast her an exasperated look, and carried on as if she had not been interrupted.

“So that’s why we’re still using the real thing. ”

“And why it has to be replaced at each overhaul,” Janeway finished the thought. “So we need to find some. How do we do that?”

“It is a relatively common mineral,” said Tuvok . “A survey of the nearest planets should reveal a usable source.”

“Agreed,” said Janeway.  “Let’s get on it.”

“There’s another problem,” said Torres quickly

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” said Paris quietly.

Janeway silenced him with a quick look.

“OK, B’Elanna, let’s hear it.”

Torres and Evans exchanged glances.

“Well, Captain,” B’Elanna began, “It’s not just a matter of the temperature becoming uncomfortable. Other systems will start to be affected  soon. And it will be some of the sensitive ones that go first.”

“Like scanners.” said Chakotay flatly.

B’Elanna nodded. “And transporters.”

Janeway ran a hand across her face. The heat was making it hard to think. She forced herself  to formulate a plan of action.

“Well, then we’ll have to work fast. Tuvok, you and Harry get to work on those scanners while they’re still working and find us a planet with some chrysotile on it. Chakotay, liaise with the department heads and get everything turned off that we can. Keep only a skeleton crew working, and instruct everyone else to relax and  do as little as possible, to reduce the heat we’re producing. Tell Neelix to stop cooking. B’Elanna, will this affect the engines?”

“Not really,” the engineer admitted.

“In any case, by the time it does you’ll all have died from heat exhaustion,” said the Doctor cheerfully.

“Finally, some good news,” said Janeway sourly.

“I’m afraid the holographic emitters are likely to become unreliable too,” said Chakotay. His face was blandly innocent, but there was a spark of  mischief in the glance he exchanged with the captain. “I think it would be best if you shut down your program, doctor. For the time being, at least. We can reinitialise you if there’s an emergency.”  The Doctor sputtered indignantly but had to agree. There was a slight smile on Janeway’s face as she carefully placed his mobile emitter on the table in front of her.

“Right then.  Tom, stick with Tuvok and Harry and get us to that planet at maximum warp. Don’t wait for orders.”

“Sounds good to me!” grinned Paris.

“Dismissed,” said Janeway. “Let’s get moving on this.”

The meeting dispersed rapidly.  For some time it seemed as if  they would work their way out of the situation with a minimum of difficulty. Tuvok’s scans revealed a type M planet relatively close by  that seemed to have the requisite chrysotile deposits. With the ship underway  Janeway  called Chakotay, Torres and Evans to the ready room.

“Right,” she began. “We’ve found a planet, and  preliminary scans show that there is at least one large chrysotile deposit.  So how do we get at it? Lt.  Evans?”

Evans thought quickly.

“Well, it depends on how deep the deposit is.  We don’t actually need very much.  It just has to be in fairly good sized pieces. Assuming we can clear any overburden with hand phasers, actually getting the stuff out  won’t take more than an hour or so.”

“Good,” said Janeway. “Chakotay, how long until we can determine the nature of the deposits?”

“Maybe an hour. Normally I’d say we’d be in scanner range  in twenty minutes or so, but we’re starting to  lose resolution.”

“I see,” Janeway turned to the engineer. “B’Elanna, can we get any more power out of the engines? It seems as if time is starting to run out.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Torres hurried out.

Janeway turned to the other two officers. “Now, as soon as we’re in orbit I want to be ready to send a team down. To limit the power drain I’m only going to send two people: you two.”  Chakotay  nodded. So did Evans, rather more slowly.  “Lt. Evans, do you think you’ll be able to handle the operation?”

“Yes, captain. At least…” The girl hesitated momentarily. “I’ve handled the finished product, and I know how to deal with that. But I’ve never done this sort of extraction before.”

“None of us has,” said Chakotay reassuringly. “But I’m sure that between us we can shift a few kilos of rocks!” Evans managed a small grateful smile. Janeway nodded approvingly at her first officer.

“Good.  Lieutenant, you join Harry and start mapping the deposits.  If there’s a choice we need to make the right one.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Evans hurried out. Janeway watched her go.

“She looks nervous” she remarked.

Chakotay nodded. “I don’t think she’s ever been involved in a mission like this. But she’s a good officer. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

Janeway smiled gratefully at him. “Do you have this sort of confidence in all the crew?”

“Not all,” Chakotay teased. “It depends how much they pay me!”

 

From this relatively high point the situation began to deteriorate.  As Voyager moved closer to the planet the scanners became so unreliable that Harry Kim could only give approximate co-ordinates   for two chrysotile deposits.

“I’m sorry, Captain,” he said ruefully. “We just can’t get any more detail. I can’t even tell you how deep they are.  For what it’s worth, the scans we did earlier  seemed to show that the deposit in the northern hemisphere is pretty close to the surface.”

“Pretty close?” inquired Tuvok dryly.

“You’ll need to do better than that, Harry,” said Chakotay with a grin.

“I’m sorry, sir,” said Harry again. “The best we could get was the deposit was within a couple of meters of the surface.”

“Well, as long as we get beamed down close enough we should be able to clear that,” said Chakotay cheerfully. Evans looked slightly dubious.

“Captain, I…” Paris was beginning, when Torres’ voice over the com link interrupted.

“Captain!” Torres’ voice came agitatedly over the com link.

“Yes, B’Elanna?”

“We’re losing the transporters. I don’t think it will be safe to beam the away team down.”

Janeway rolled her eyes. “This is getting beyond a joke. Very well–Chakotay and Evans, you’ll need to take a shuttle.  That is, assuming the launch systems still work. Tom?”

“At the moment they seem fine, Captain” said the young man readily. “But I was about to say they’d need to take the shuttle anyway. I think it would be better if we didn’t go into orbit. At the rate our systems are going we might not be able to break out again.”

The silence fell like a stone as they considered the implications of that flat statement, and for an instant each saw his fear mirrored in the faces around him. Then the captain resolutely shook herself free of her apprehensions.

“Well, that’s one decision made for us. And once you’re in the shuttle you should get a clearer picture of the situation.

“Right,” said  Chakotay, getting to his feet. “We’d better get moving. Lt. Evans, you’re with me.  Engineering?”

“Yes sir?”

“Get a couple of phaser rifles onto a shuttle.” He turned to Walsh. “That should help us get the overburden shifted, right?”

“Yes sir,” she said briskly. “If the deposit is any deeper than that I doubt we’d be able to get it without special mining equipment.”

“Then let’s get going.”

Janeway accompanied them to the shuttle bay.

“I don’t know how long we’ll be able to stay in contact,” she said. “The shuttle’s systems should be fine once you’ve disengaged from the ship, but our range is dropping fast..”

“I understand. How long do we have?”

“At the moment our prediction is that the ship will be uninhabitable within twenty-four hours,” said Janeway sombrely. “The problem is, we don’t know which systems may be affected before then. If life support or the inertial dampeners cut out suddenly…”

“I understand.” Chakotay glanced at his companion. “WE understand, captain. We’ll be as quick as we can.”  Janeway nodded,  and Evans  saw a brief glance lock between the two. Then Chakotay turned and let the way onto the shuttle.

As the first officer guided them smoothly out of the shuttle bay and down toward the planet, Evans was conscious of a barely suppressed sense of panic.  Besides the crushing sense of the importance of the mission, and a nagging doubt of her own abilities, she was quiveringly aware that for the first time she was alone with the man on whom she had had an embarrassingly adolescent crush from the day he had joined Voyager’s crew.  Despite her shyness Evans was friendly and popular, but  unlike many of her crewmates she had never formed a romantic attachment to any of her colleagues. There were times she was convinced that this was because always, at the back of her mind, was an image of  Chakotay, his calm strength, his kindness, his humour…she became aware that he was speaking.

“Oh, sorry, sir,” she said hastily. “What was that again?”

He eyed her curiously.

“Are you all right, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, sir. I’m fine. Just a little nervous.”

“Well, that’s OK. So am I.”

Evans stared at him. “You are?”

“Of  course.  This is an important and difficult mission. Who wouldn’t be nervous?”

“Tuvok,” said Evans, without thinking. Chakotay laughed as the blush surged over her face.

“You’re probably right.  Anyway,” he tapped a few more commands into the panel. “The point  is how we do the job, not how we feel about it. ”

“I guess you’re right, sir.”

“In any case,  these scanners seem to be functioning normally. Once we make orbit we can get a better look at our site—see what kind of mining operation we’re in for.”  He leaned back in his seat and stretched his arms above his head. “At least we’re out of the steam bath for a while. That’s a plus.”

“It certainly is, sir,”  she said fervently. The shuttle’s environmental system seemed unaffected by Voyager’s problems, and even at normal settings seemed pleasantly cool.

Chakotay smiled.

“You don’t have to ‘sir’ me quite so much, you know,” he said pleasantly. “ I’ve never been very good in hot climates,” he went on. “I remember the first time my father took me to Central America. I was completely miserable. It was the first time I really understood why theycall it a rain forest. I didn’t think I’d ever get dry. It was only many years later that I realized the rainforest is one of the greatest miracles in the universe.”

The new note in his voice brought her head round sharply to study him more closely. For the first time she heard the echo of a hundred generations of his ancestors, who had never broken the fragile bond between themselves and the rest of the living universe. It was only a moment, and then he said lightly, “I still  prefer my weather temperate, though. How about you?”

She gave a rueful grin.

“I’m not very good at weather altogether,” she confessed.

“You’re not…what?” he asked, puzzled. “What do you mean? You must be used to some climate?”

“Not really. I’ve spent most of my life in artificial environments.”

“Really? That’s interesting. Where are you from?”

“From?” she repeated foolishly. The dimple in Chakotay’s cheek flashed as he grinned.

“Yes, from,” he said evenly. “You know? Your point of origin?”

“Oh, yes, I see. Sorry.” She pulled herself together. “Well, I spent most of my childhood on DS5. My father was commander and my mother worked in operations.”

“Was your father Ashley Evans?”

She nodded.

“I’ve heard of him. A good man.”

“Yes, he was. Then Mom was transferred to the Hood, so I spent a few years there with her. Then we went back to DS5 until I entered the Academy.”

“So you’re a true space brat.”

“Through and through,” she agreed

Her companion looked thoughtful. “Don’t you miss having a permanent home? Some place you have a tie to?”

She shrugged. “You don’t miss what you’ve never had.”

“I suppose so. But it seems odd to me. My people’s whole ethos is based on our tie to the land, to the places of our ancestors. That’s what we live for—and even die for.  That’s how I ended up in the Maquis.”

Sian felt a bit embarrassed at the turn the conversation had taken, but at the same time she was intrigued.

“But your people left the land they had occupied for centuries to go to the colonies in the DMZ,” she pointed out.

“True,” said Chakotay. “But really we had been displaced from our lands for centuries. And even then it wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t. But it was taken all the same. And not too many years later you were ready to die for the new place. Would you have done the same for the old lands, places you didn’t really know?”

Chakotay blinked, then smiled slowly.

“Do you know, I’m not sure. I think so—but it wouldn’t be the same thing.”

“So what’s important is just in your head. It’s for you to decide. There isn’t some mystic tie to a place or a planet unless you think there is.”

“I suppose you’re right.” His smile became a grin. “I hope you realise that you’ve just destroyed my whole life’s philosophy!”

In her interest Evans had forgotten her self-consciousness, but now it came back with a rush. Her eyes widened in consternation.

“Oh, sir, I’m sorry,” she stammered. “I didn’t mean…I mean…I never intended…”

Chakotay hastened to reassure her.

“No, don’t worry, I was just joking. Actually, I find your point of view interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever talked to someone who didn’t have a tie to a planet of some sort.”

“In point of fact, sir, I don’t like planets all that much,” she admitted. Chakotay’s eyebrows rose.

“You don’t?  Why not?”

“I don’t really know.” She considered in silence for a moment. “I’ve never really thought about it. I guess…I guess they don’t feel safe. It always seems so exposed—so uncontrollable.”

“Exposed?” said Chakotay incredulously. “Look around you, lieutenant. It doesn’t get more exposed than this.”

“I know, I know. I never said it made much sense. But that’s just the way it feels to me. I deal in environmental systems, Commander, not environments. In my head I know that a ship or space station is an unnatural place to live, but somehow it feels—easier. Maybe because it’s a finite, contained environment. And it can be controlled.”

“Up to a point,” Chakotay pointed out. ”Look at us now.”

“I know what you mean,” she admitted. “But at least we can do something about it. Or at least try to. If your planet starts to suffer major climatic changes there’s nothing you can do.”

Chakotay considered this in silence for a few minutes, while the surface of the planet slid beneath them.

“Interesting,” he said at last. “I’ve never thought of it that way. To me your planet is the source—the basis for your whole psyche.”

“We’re back to minds again.” She shrugged slightly. “I’ve never really known a planet, so I don’t have that basis.”

“Well, I think you’re going to get a chance to know one now,” said Chakotay. “Entering orbit.”

The viewscreen showed a small, blue-green planet, unremarkable except for its satellite: a single moon, larger than Earth’s and orbiting much more closely. Beneath them the panorama slipped past: a large, roughly triangular continent in the northern hemisphere  and an irregular series of large islands to the south.

Evans turned back to study her own panel.

“I’ve got the co-ordinates they came up with for the deposit on the northern continent.”

“Harry thought that one was close to the surface, didn’t he?”

“That’s right.”

“Let’s check it out first, then.  Plotting a course. We’ll be in scanner range in a few minutes.” Skilfully he piloted the shuttle down through the thickening atmosphere.

 

 

Captain Janeway shifted uneasily in her seat. She had never realized how sticky it could be. As the rising temperature made the ship more and more uncomfortable, she had told the crew to get out of uniform and dress as comfortably as they could, provided it was safe. Taking her own advice, she had donned a light sundress she wore for holodeck luaus, and while she was marginally cooler there was no denying that the costume brought unusual areas of bare skin into contact with her usually comfortable chair. She glanced around the bridge. Even Tuvok, bred in the furnace heat of Vulcan, had loosened his tunic. Harry Kim wore shorts and a short sleeved shirt—and plainly felt ill-at-ease on duty in such a get-up. Janeway suppressed an affectionate smile. Tom Paris clearly had no such inhibitions, and was stripped to a pair of luridly patterned shorts. Even so, his fair skin was scarlet, and his blond hair, damp with sweat, stood up in spikes where he had scrubbed his fingers through it. He had a towel beside him, and now and then wiped his damp hands.

The Captain sighed, and eased out of the command chair with an audible tearing noise.  “Ouch,” she muttered. “Tuvok, what’s our current situation?”

The Vulcan checked one or two readouts.  “Our rate of systems failure is increasing, Captain. We are continuing to lose sensor accuracy and communications. The holo emitters are now so unreliable that I would not recommend activating the Doctor. We have shut down all except vital systems and reduced activity to a minimum, but the ambient temperature on board has increased 2 degrees in the last hour.”

“How long have we got?” asked Kim apprehensively.

“At the present rate of increase, the temperature on Voyager will be too hot to sustain humanoid life in approximately 12 hours.”

Tuvok’s words dropped into a leaden silence.

“This is ridiculous!” Harry cried angrily. He gestured toward the forward viewscreen. “Here we are, a few centimeters from the absolute zero of space, and we’re going to be baked to death!”

“Too bad we can’t open a window,” Paris remarked, in the dry drawl he used to defuse a tense situation.

“In any case, Ensign,” Tuvok said calmly  “The area of space within a solar system such as this is generally well above absolute zero, due to the proximity of the sun…”

Harry snorted in exasperation, and Janeway raised her hands for calm.

“Gentlemen, let’s not create any more heat. No one is going to get baked, Harry. We just have to hang on until Chakotay and Evans get back. They didn’t think the job would take very long. Tuvok, can we…” Her voice trailed into silence as an impression at the back of her mind suddenly leapt forward.

“Captain?”

She held up a hand again, and turned slowly towards Paris.

“Tom, say that again.”

He swung round in his seat, his fair handsome face puzzled.

“What was that, Captain?”

“What you said to Harry.”

“Uh…” His frown deepened. “Um…I just said it was too bad we couldn’t open a window. It was just meant as a joke, Captain. I’m sorry if…”

“No, no,” said Janeway, breaking into a smile. “I think you’ve got it. Open a window!” Her smile broadened at the puzzled looks her officers were exchanging. “Have we got enough helm and sensor control to land the ship?”

“Land it?” Paris was still at sea, but he automatically checked his board. “I think so, Captain. But…”

“Ah.” Tuvok was nodding approvingly. “I see your idea. Very good, Captain.”

Janeway flashed him a bright glance. “Don’t you see, Tom? We land the ship in a temperate area of the planet, preferably near the deposits Chakotay is headed for, shut down as much as possible, the open all the bays and airlocks.”

An appreciative grin spread across Paris’ face as Tuvok said,

“An excellent idea, Captain.  Many of our systems will return to normal operation once they have cooled down, and we should be able to effect repairs to many others. And, should Commander Chakotay not be successful, our chances of survival will undoubtedly be much higher on the surface than here in space.”

“Nothing like looking on the bright side,” muttered Harry Kim.

“Right,” said Janeway. “Let’s give this a try while we still can. Tom, prepare for landing.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“Harry, can you raise the shuttle?”

The young man looked doubtful.

“There’s not much left in communications, but I’ll try.”

“Try narrowing the beam and stepping up power, if you can.  We need to get this one through. Tell them what we’re doing. With luck, we’ll be landing fairly close to them.”

“In any case, it should be relatively easy to get communications back on line once we’re down,” Tuvok pointed out.

“Let’s hope so,” Janeway glanced back at Harry Kim. “Any luck?”

“I’m not sure. I think I got at least part of the message through, but there’s no response. I don’t even think we’d pick one up.”

Janeway felt a momentary qualm, but suppressed it as she said briskly,

“Tuvok, channel all available power to helm and deflectors. I want us to get there in one piece. Tom, plot the quickest course to the co-ordinates Chakotay and Evans are heading for.”

“Aye, Captain,” they chorused.

“All hands, this is the captain. We are going to attempt to land the ship. Second shift crew to engineering—we’re going to need everything that’s left in those engines. The rest of you—just hang on. It may be a rough ride.”  She sat down firmly in her chair and gave Paris a quick nod.

“Take her down, Tom.”

An unaccustomed silence filled the bridge, broken only by Paris’ occasional reports. He was all business now, and even in her limping state he piloted the ship with consummate skill.

“Entering planet’s atmosphere…I’ve got the co-ordinates  but I’ll have to get in pretty close before I can choose a landing site…” Voyager began to shake slightly, as the reduced deflectors fought the thickening atmosphere. “OK, we’re coming in…Looks like a temperate forest zone, but there’s plenty of open space…”

“How much detail are you getting on the scans?” asked Janeway.

“Enough.”  He tossed her a quick grin. “I’m not going to put us down in a lake, captain.”

“If you do, you’re mopping up. Engage landing struts..”

“Struts engaged. Here we go!”

The buffeting increased slightly, and on the forward screen details of the landscape flashed by. The pitch of the engines dropped as Paris slowed their descent, and Janeway saw green hills and a tumble of bare rock sliding beneath them, before they dropped into a wide meadowlike area and rocked to a halt. She realized she’d been holding her breath and let it out with a whoosh.

“Well done, Tom.”

She turned to Tuvok. “Damage report?”

“None, Captain. Or at least no more than when we started our descent.”

“Good. Tom, secure the ship for landing and shut all flight systems down.” Paris’ eyebrows lifted.

“All of them, Captain?”

“All,” she said firmly. “We’ll deal with re-heating the warp core later. Right now I want everything cooling off.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“Tuvok, organize crews to get every port and hatch opened. Make sure they’re all covered by security teams. Then draw up a rota so everyone gets some time outside as well as doing repair and security details. Send Neelix out with the first batch and see if we can pick up any food supplies.” Janeway headed briskly for the turbolift.  “Harry, you’re with me. We’ll meet B’Elanna in Engineering and see how bad things really are.” Before the doors slid shut she threw a smiling glance around the bridge and added, “Well, come on, people. Let’s get those windows open!”

When they were gone, Paris turned back to his board and, almost hesitantly, touched some rarely used controls. The ship sighed into unaccustomed silence. The almost subliminal hum and throb of the engines, felt rather than heard, disappeared, and its absence was louder than its presence had ever been. It was as if Voyager’s heart had ceased to beat, and in every mind was an instant’s chill worry that it might never start again.

Characteristically, it was Tuvok who recovered his equilibrium first.

“Mr. Paris, I suggest we open the port and starboard maintenance hatches. Then, as your skills at the helm are for the moment redundant, perhaps you can be of service in Sickbay.”

Paris grimaced at the Vulcan’s choice of words, but willingly applied himself to the release clamps of the maintenance hatch, stiffened with long disuse. Tuvok’s Vulcan strength, he noticed sourly, had no problem with the other hatch. Finally, with a clang, he shoved the clamps over and pushed the hatch aside. A grateful coolness, laden with the scent and sound of flowing water, washed over him.

“That’s better,” he said cheerfully.

Tuvok nodded. “Indeed. Conditions are definitely becoming more comfortable.”

Paris eyed him curiously. “I thought Vulcans preferred it hot.”

An expression almost of distaste crossed the security officer’s impassive face. “Vulcan is a desert planet. While temperatures can be very high, it is almost invariably dry. We are less accustomed to conditions such as these, with high humidity and…perspiration”

“Oh, come on, Tuvok,” grinned Paris. “Nothing wrong with a bit of honest sweat.”

“Perhaps not. But it has little to recommend it at close quarters.”

“Well, I’ve got to agree with you there. I’ll get down to sickbay, then.”

As Paris stepped into the turbolift he heard Tuvok’s measured tones echo over the intercom:

“The following personnel are to report to the shuttle bay  for security assignments…”

 

 

On the shuttle, Chakotay and Evans were puzzling over the fragmentary message they had received from Voyager.

“That’s the best I can do, sir,” said Evans as she struggled with the comm. board. “It’s not a matter of cleaning it up at this end. Their broadcast was patchy. The comm. systems must be breaking down.”

Chakotay nodded, his eyes on the viewscreen as their tiny ship moved closer to the surface.

“It sounded as if they were going to land the ship.”

“I heard ‘we’re going’ and then ‘land’ and ‘your’ something—co-ordinates, probably.”

“That’s about what I got. They must be going to land Voyager near where we’re headed.”

“But why?”

He shrugged. “Safer on the ground than in space if the life support fails, I guess”

“Sir!”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean that as brutally as it sounded.” He gave her a quick concerned glance. “But think about it—it does make sense. Once we’ve got things repaired, we can take off again.”

“And if we don’t manage the repairs?”

“Then the crew is safe on land, rather than dying in space.”

“That was a bit brutal, too,” she said with uncertain humor.

“But true, at least.” A warning bleep from his console interrupted him. He hastily checked his readings.

“There’s a storm coming up. Looks like a big one. We’d better change course.” He worked the controls frantically.   “No good—it’s too big and too fast. My God! I’ve never seen anything like this. Maybe you were right about uncontrolled nature. Hang on!”

The shuttle grew suddenly dark as the storm roared up around them. Chakotay worked desperately, using all his piloting skills to keep them on a reasonably even keel, but there was little he could do. They were swept along like a leaf in a torrent. Sian abandoned her console and concentrated on keeping her seat. The buffeting grew worse.

“The inertial dampeners can’t take much more of this!” Chakotay shouted over the increasing scream of the storm and the creaking and groaning of the hull. “Maybe I can set us down somewhere.”

There was a brief gap in the storm, an instant’s uncanny silence in which the ship dropped sickeningly They both cried out, and then the storm caught them again. Abruptly something caught the base of the shuttle, flinging them sideways. Sian managed to lock her arms around a strut, but Chakotay was thrown heavily across the cabin. There was a cacophony of creaking and tearing metal, and a rattling and banging of rocks or other material outside. They were slewed around ninety degrees and slammed heavily into something, then fell, rolling over one or twice before they landed with a shattering crash on their side, rocked back and forth a few times, and were finally still.

Sian had not lost consciousness, but she almost wished she had. Every muscle in her body felt wrenched and her head ached where she had banged it on the console. It took a few moments to persuade her arms to relax their grip on her seat. Then she clambered awkwardly down to what was now the floor of the shuttle, where Chakotay lay unconscious. He was bleeding heavily from a cut on his forehead and one leg was bent  at a sickeningly unnatural angle. Sian scrabbled hastily for a medkit and ran the tricorder over him with shaking hands. The results weren’t as bad as she had feared. The cut, though deep, was clean and there was no concussion. His leg was broken, however. She carefully cleaned and bandaged the head wound, then turned her attention to the leg. There was no bone knitter in the medkit, but it was a clean break, and if she could get it straightened and splinted it would do until they got back to the ship…if they ever did…she bit down hastily on the thought. Setting her teeth, and glad for the first time that he was knocked out,  she carefully pulled Chakotay’s leg straight and fitted the splint around it. Once adjusted it automatically inflated and stiffened to protect and support the leg. She managed to wrench a cushion loose from one of the seats and put it under Chakotay’s head. Then she covered him with an emergency blanket. She checked the tricorder again. His vital signs were stable, and there was nothing to do now but wait for him to wake naturally.

Next she turned her attention to the shuttle. A few frustrating minutes convinced her that they were not going to fly out. The warp engines were completely dead—there must have been some damage to one of the nacelles. The computer was offline and there was only minimal emergency battery power. Her comm. badge was still working, but failed to produce any response. Voyager must be out of range. Nevertheless, she set the badge to broadcast a distress signal.

The forward screen was dark, buried under snow or debris. The sound of the storm had died away outside, so she decided she’d better go out and assess the situation. There wasn’t much cold weather gear in the storage lockers, but she found some gloves and wrapped herself in another blanket. The hatch refused to open normally, but she managed to force it partially open with the manual release and levered it farther by sheer brute force. She debated whether to close it again: she didn’t want to let the heat out of the cabin, but was worried about being able to open it again from outside. Eventually she compromised and left the pick handle she’d used as a crow bar wedged into the hatch.

Outside, Sian gazed helplessly at the surrounding desolation. Clearly they had been driven far off course by the storm. The shuttle lay on its side among the scree at the base of a sheer cliff.  As she had suspected, one nacelle had been partially torn loose, its support struts torn and twisted. That alone would have caused an automatic shutdown, to prevent a matter/anti-matter explosion. Otherwise the sturdily built craft, though dented here and there by the fall, seemed undamaged. It was half buried in a snowdrift, the forward end completely buried.

Away from the cliff stretched an undulating snowy wilderness. The sun, declining towards evening, spread deceptively warm washes of light across the plain, with lavender-grey shadows outlining every hummock or boulder. Sian shivered and wrapped the blanket more closely around her, then crunched away across the snow to see if she could find out anything about the country on the cliff above. However, she didn’t want to go too far from the shuttle or leave Chakotay for long. After about five minutes walk she stopped and looked around her.  She could see over the top of the bluff now, but there was little there except broken, rocky landscape softened with snow, and in the distance a dark mass that might be trees. Few things are as silent as a snowy landscape, and when Sian stopped walking there was no sound except the faint hiss of blood in her ears, and an even fainter whine as tiny particles of snow were driven across the drifts by the faint breeze. There was no sign of animal or bird life. There was something eerie in the frozen stillness, and she hastened back to the relative security of the shuttle.

Once there, she unearthed a shovel from the digging gear they had brought along, and began clearing the snow and rubble from the top of the shuttle and the forward screen. It was slow, heavy work and when it was finished she was exhausted and sweating heavily, but at least they would now be visible from the air. The metallic hull should wink like a beacon, and the call letters were clear too. With the screen clear the daylight would filter into the cabin—at least while it lasted—and save their batteries.

Back inside, Sian shut the hatch firmly and settled herself as comfortably as possible in the alcove where Chakotay lay, still unconscious. She dug out some emergency rations and slowly ate a small amount. Now that she could relax a bit, she was suddenly achingly aware of the twinge in every abused muscle, and wearier than she’d ever been. To take her mind off it, she idly studied Chakotay’s sleeping face more closely than she would have dared if he were awake. There was grey salting the close cropped hair, and laugh lines deepening beside his eyes. Otherwise it was a strong, ageless face, showing in repose more of the power and stoicism of his race than when his lively eyes lit it. Only the cupid’s bow mouth was incongruous, oddly delicate and sensitive. Moved by an impulse she didn’t dare examine, Sian leaned over and kissed him lightly. At the touch he stirred and murmured briefly, and  the jolt of adrenaline shock slammed her back.  He didn’t wake up, however, and eventually the thumping of her heart slowed to normal, and she relaxed against the wall.

After about ten minutes Chakotay stirred and opened his eyes, looking groggily around him. He turned his head painfully and saw Sian seated against the bulkhead with her knees drawn up and her arms draped over them. Her head was tilted wearily back against the wall, but she lifted it as she heard the movement.

“What happened?” he whispered.

“We crashed in the storm,” she said. “Everything’s out. You’ve got a bad cut on your head and a broken leg.”

“Oh.” Chakotay tried to assimilate this information.  “Did I—did you—did I imagine it, or did you kiss me a little while ago?”

Sian was too tired even to feel embarrassed. She said simply,

“Yes.”

“Oh,” he said again. “Why?”

“Didn’t reckon I’d ever have another chance..”

There was something strange about all this, but Chakotay found the effort to examine it too much. So much easier to just accept it.

“Fair enough” he murmured, and slid back into unconsciousness.

 

 

Down in engineering, Janeway was pleased to find that their situation warranted a little cautious optimism

“Most of the systems we were having trouble with will be operating normally again once their temperature has dropped,” Torres explained. “A few minor components have burnt out but they’re easily replaced. The problem is, unless we repair the heating system itself, once we start everything up we’ll start having the same problems again.”

Janeway nodded.

“I realise that. But one thing at a time. Let’s repair everything we can. And I want communications up and running as soon as possible, so we can contact the shuttle. Tom tried to put us down as close to the co-ordinates they were aiming for as possible, but at the moment we can’t tell how accurate he was.”

“No problem, Captain,” said the chief engineer. She beckoned to Harry Kim. “Come on, Harry. You and I will start on the comm. systems.”  Pausing only to shout a few orders at her busy crew, she led the young man out of engineering.

Janeway headed for the shuttle bay.  All around the ship she could hear the clang and hiss of airlocks and hatches opening. Moment by moment the air grew fresher, and illogically her spirits rose. Once communications were back on line it should be easy to contact the shuttle, and with the full resources of the ship on hand, surely they could get the chrysotile they needed without much trouble. With luck, they could be on their way in a day or two, and the repair schedule could be stretched to include some much needed shore leave.

In the shuttle bay, the force field had been shut down, and the first teams were scrambling down ladders to the surface. Janeway stood in the cavernous opening, peering out. The green area in which they had landed wasn’t as uniform as she thought. To her left it sloped to a narrow stream, swollen now over its banks into the grass on either side, and rushing along noisily. The ground nearby looked marshy, the growth more luxuriant than elsewhere. In front and to the right a dotting of bushes merged into denser cover, of various species but all surprisingly squat, gnarled and tough looking. Hills in the middle distance showed scars, some fresh, others older, where storms or landslips had scoured the trees away. It was a pleasant, peaceful spot, and Janeway smiled as she turned her head to greet Tuvok.

“We’ve picked a nice spot,” she remarked, gesturing to the scene outside.

“Indeed, Captain,” he returned. “The proximity to water may be useful, though our own supplies are currently adequate. And Mr. Neelix believes some of those trees may yield edible fruit.”

“That’s not exactly what I meant,” she said with a resigned smile,  “But go on. Life signs?”

“No signs of intelligent life. Indeed, there appears to be little land-based life beyond the plants and some insects. The  planet appears to be quite seismically active. I would postulate that it is in an early stage of evolutionary development.”

“You’re probably right. It’s interesting that everything is so low-growing—like tundra plants. But this seems to be a temperate zone.”

“Presumably  other conditions operate which make that survival strategy the most successful.”

“No doubt. How close are we to the co-ordinates of the chrysotile deposits?”

“If our readings were accurate, they should be approximately five kilometres in that direction.” He gestured towards the distant hills.

“Tom’s done us proud,” she said appreciatively.

Tuvok nodded.

“Despite his somewhat frivolous attitude, Mr. Paris’ piloting skills are considerable.”

Janeway regarded him quizzically.

“Coming from you, Tuvok, that’s practically a standing ovation.”

“Captain!” Harry Kim’s voice came urgently over the commlink. “We’ve got some external communications back.”

“Good work, Harry.”

“But, Captain, I can’t raise the shuttle! I’ve tried all frequencies. There’s no response at all!”

Janeway and Tuvok exchanged concerned glance.

“We’re on our way up. Keep trying.”

“Aye, Captain.”

A few minutes later she fairly rocketed onto the bridge, Tuvok at her heels. One glance at Harry’s face was enough to tell her there was no good news. With an effort she forced herself to consider the situation logically.

“Right. Let’s look at the possibilities. Harry, are communications back to full power?”

“Not yet. But we’ve got enough range to cover most of the planet and the immediately surrounding area of space. If they’re in orbit or down here, they should be receiving.”

“Suppose they’re not. If they’ve gone back to our last position, where we were when they launched, would they be out of range?”

“Yes, I suppose they would. But why would they go back there, if they knew we were landing?”

“Maybe they didn’t. You weren’t sure if the message got through.” She held up a hand to forestall his next comment. “I know it’s not likely, but we need to explore every possibility. So keep on working to extend the comm. range.”

“Aye, captain.”

She turned away, stepping down into the central well of the bridge.

“Assuming that our communications are working properly as far as they reach, it could be a problem with the shuttle’s system. Bridge to Engineering.”

“Torres here.”

“B’Elanna, could the shuttle’s comm. system  have been affected by the environmental problems in Voyager?”

“I doubt it, Captain. They’ve got a different heat exchange mechanism, and except for the computer tie in they’re completely independent. Why? Is there a problem?”

“We haven’t been able to make contact with Chakotay.”

“Oh.” Even over the comm. link the flat note in B’Elanna’s voice was audible. She saw the picture as clearly as the others did

“You keep working on the repairs,” said Janeway. “I’ll let you know if the situation changes.”

“Right,” said the engineer reluctantly. “Torres out.”

Tuvok had been working busily at his own station.

“Captain, I have succeeded in restoring partial scanners.” Janeway hurried over. “Their range and resolution is limited. However, I am not detecting any sign of debris or residual energy signatures indicative of an explosion or other disaster to the shuttle.”

“Thanks, Tuvok,” she said warmly, answering the implication rather than the words.

“However,” he went on with unwonted gentleness,  “It is still possible that the shuttle has been forced to land or crashed somewhere on the planet.”

“I know. Well, if  our machines won’t work we’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way. We’d better send some teams on foot. Take some of the security people off the hatches—some of them can be closed, anyway, now that things are more comfortable. Use anyone not doing essential repairs. They can start from the chrysotile deposits and spiral out.

“Once you have the search parties deployed, take a team yourself and see what you can extract. Evans didn’t think it would be a long job. Once we have those baffles replaced we can power up and make a more effective search.”

Tuvok nodded, wasting no words in unmeaning sympathy. Janeway turned back to stare out of the viewscreen, at the unfamiliar vista of green hills. However personally, burningly important it might be to find Chakotay and Evans, she knew the ship and the rest of the crew had to come first. Well, repairs were underway, and with luck Tuvok would bring back the materials they needed to finish the job. She could concentrate more resources on finding the missing shuttle and its two passengers without feeling guilty. And find them they would! They can’t have gone, she raged silently. Not now, not like this. I promised I would get this crew home, and I will. All of them. Come on, Chakotay, where are you?

 

 

The storm struck just on the edge of dusk, as the Voyager crew was preparing for the shift to night duties. Tom Paris, having nothing that required his attention in sickbay, was on security detail in the shuttle bay. The  search parties had returned, unsuccessful. Tuvok’s group, however, had managed to extract a supply of the mineral which had caused them so much trouble, and had returned in some triumph. Paris sighed and shook his head.

“Chrysotile!” he muttered. He was lounging near the great bay doors, fuming between boredom, concern for his missing friends and frustration at his own helplessness. Suddenly everything grew dim. It took a few confused seconds for him to realise why: outside, black clouds were boiling up into the sky, pushing what was left of the evening light before them. He could see the rain they shed like a sheet of smoke below them. His ears popped, and, faster than he would have believed possible, the storm was on them. Driven by the hurricane force winds, the rain stung his face like needles. Instinctively he flung his hands up to protect his face, and was knocked off his feet by the gale. Already the deck was soaked and running with water.

Scrabbling foolishly, Paris managed to slide alongside the wall, out of the main force of the blast, and lever himself to his feet. Shakily he edged around to a control panel and re-energised the force field that normally sealed the bay in flight. Abruptly the howl of the storm was dulled, though he could still hear it beating outside. He stumbled for the door and stepped into the corridor, almost falling into Janeway’s arms.

“Tom!” she cried. “What happened to you? Your head…”

He became suddenly aware of his own condition. His uniform was soaked through, and his head ached. When he touched his forehead he felt the warm stickiness of blood.

“I must have hit my head when I fell,” he said muzzily. “The deck was so waterlogged…”

“Waterlogged?” asked the captain incredulously. Paris shook his head to clear it.

“Yes, captain. The storm blew up so fast—I’ve never seen anything like it. One minute quiet, peaceful evening in the countryside, the next hurricane. The wind knocked me over. And the deck was pretty well flooded before I could get the force field back up.”

“Well, I don’t suppose a little water is going to be much of a problem.”

She eyed his bedraggled appearance. “Go get a dry uniform, then get down to sickbay and take care of that cut.”

“Aye, captain.” he said gratefully.

Janeway touched her comm. badge as he dripped shiveringly away.

“Janeway to Tuvok.”

“Tuvok here.”

“Get a crew down to the shuttle bay to mop it up. It’s been flooded.”

“Immediately, Captain,” said the Vulcan imperturbably. “We have had similar problems elsewhere on the ship, wherever a hatch has been left open.”

Janeway sighed. As if they didn’t have enough to do already…

“I’m on my way up.”

On the bridge, she found her crew staring at a virtually unique sight:  Voyager’s main viewscreen was deluged, the rain streaming down it like a waterfall.

“What’s the status of the search parties.?”

“All back on board and accounted for. No luck.” said Kim, tersely.

Outside, the wind roared and whined, powerful enough in gusts to make the huge ship rock. It was an eerie, unsettling feeling.

“How are the repairs coming?”

“They are proceeding steadily,” said Tuvok. “Several small areas of the ship are somewhat water damaged, but the hatches have now been sealed, and cleanup operations are proceeding.”

He was interrupted by a crash of thunder directly overhead, startlingly loud. Almost simultaneously a crewman jumped and cursed as the comm. panel he was working on spat sparks. There was a momentary sweet whiff of ozone.

“The ship has been struck by lightening several times.” Tuvok continued imperturbably. “This has caused some additional minor damage, mostly to the communications system.”

Janeway felt her heart sink.

“How much time will that add to the repair?”

“Hard to say,” said Harry Kim. “Until the storm has passed and we stop getting zapped.”

“I think it’s passing now.” Janeway gestured to the viewscreen, where the rain had eased to a fine drizzle, and the clouds were parting to let in the level evening light.

“Well, if that’s all we’re going to get, I think we’ll have full communications back in about six hours.” Kim glanced for confirmation at the crewman, who nodded, still shaking his singed fingers.

“Well, that’s something.” Janeway stared at the screen, where the storm was already a distant mass of hazy black. “If storms like that are the norm around here, no wonder all the trees are low growing.”

“Captain? What if the shuttle was caught in a storm like that?” Harry’s voice was apprehensive. “They could have been driven way off course. They could be anywhere on the planet.” He didn’t add “Or even dead”, but they all felt the thought

“I know they could, Harry. So we’ll just have to go on looking.”

 

 

It was evening when Chakotay awoke again, and while his head ached it was clear enough. Moving very cautiously, he pushed himself into a sitting position. Sian, who was seated in the same attitude as he had last seen her, sat up quickly and moved across to help him.

“Good to see you awake, sir. How to you feel?”

“Awful,” said Chakotay feelingly. “My head’s thumping like an engine.” She dug a hypo out of the medkit, and he felt the cool hiss against his neck.

“That should help.”

“Thanks. How long have I been out?”

“About two hours.”

“Any change?”

“None. No sign of Voyager. I’m not even sure my comm. badge is still broadcasting.”

He glanced out  at the last of the light.

“Well, there’s not much we can do about it tonight. It’ll be too dark to work in a few minutes. We should have something to eat and get some sleep.”

“But, sir…if Voyager…”

He met her gaze solemnly.

“Sian, I’m going to be brutal again. If Voyager landed successfully, they’ll be repairing their systems and will find us much quicker than we’d find them. If they didn’t—then it won’t matter one iota whether we get some of our systems working tonight or tomorrow.” He went on in a lighter tone, “For what it’s worth, I think they made it. Tom Paris could land that ship blindfolded in the middle of a typhoon

“Meanwhile, our main concern is us. Have you noticed how much colder it’s getting in here?”

“I certainly have. No heaters, of course.”

“Of course. Well, are there any more blankets?”

A brief rummage produced one more. Then Sian had an idea.

“I can use a phaser to heat water. There should be coffee or tea in the food packs.”

“Good idea.”

They ate a little and drank the warming, reviving coffee. They both felt better for the food and drink, but Chakotay found that, as the painkiller Sian had given him took effect, his energy began to flag. Without the pain to keep him alert, his body needed to rest and recover. He ran his hands cautiously over his bruised face.

“I think I’d better lie down again.”

“Hang on” said Sian. She folded one of the blankets in two on the floor, as a makeshift mattress, then helped him settle down on it. She spread the second over him and wrapped the last around herself.

“More comfortable?”

“Yes, thanks. But…” He broke off, lifting his head.

“What is it?”

“Wind’s rising. I think the storm might be coming back.”

It was indeed. With surprising speed the light dimmed to the feeble pallor of a blizzard as the wind began to howl and buffet the shuttle. Sian’s teeth began to chatter, and not only with the cold. She clenched them tight, but that only transferred the trembling, and her whole body shook. She drew her knees to her chest and hugged them tightly, hoping to subdue or at least conceal  the tremors. But even in his battered condition Chakotay noticed her tension.

“Does the storm worry you?”

“A bit,” she replied shortly, jerking the words out before her voice could tremble.

“Well, I’m sure we’ll be fine. Didn’t you say we were at the foot of a cliff?”

“Yes.”

“That will shelter us if the wind’s coming from that direction, and stop us being rolled from the other. Better than being in flight, really.”

She made no reply to this somewhat specious argument, and Chakotay shifted tack.

“I don’t want to belittle your fear, Sian,” he began carefully. “I know there’s no controlling these things. But I really don’t understand how you can spend your life with just a few centimetres of metal and force fields between you and instant death,  without any concern, but  a terrestrial storm…”

The storm was increasing in intensity, the wind whining and screaming around the shuttle. Occasionally  the little craft shook slightly in a stronger than usual gust. Sian was battling her rising fear and, at the same time, her angry embarrassment at her loss of control, at what her intelligence told her was a foolish and irrational worry. She  answered him almost savagely, forgetting considerations of rank.

“We’ve been over this before,” she snapped. “You don’t miss what you’ve never had, and you don’t fear what you’ve come to expect, and I’ll tell you this, Commander, I’ve never been as frightened in space as I am now!” She bit down hard on her lip, trying to wrap herself more tightly in the blanket. Chakotay studied her quietly for a moment, apparently unperturbed by her outburst, and then appeared to reach a decision. He shifted position cautiously, turning to lie on one side propped on his elbow.

“Come over here,” he said. Sian was startled out of her preoccupation.

“What?”

“I said, come over here.” He shook his head a little and grinned at her blank expression. “Lieutenant, it’s cold in here and by the sound of things it’s going to get a lot colder. It won’t be long before the coffee’s worn off. Our best chance is to wrap up together. Don’t you remember that from your survival training?”

“Well, uh…yes, of course, sir,” she said hesitantly. She scooted across and cautiously lay down beside him. He took her blanket and his own and spread the double layer over them. Then he relaxed with a sigh.

Sian lay beside him in tense silence. His big body seemed to radiate heat, and her shivering subsided as she grew warmer. At the same time, her mental unease grew. Chakotay was right, this was standard survival procedure, but it was too much like the fantasies she had sometimes indulged in…

Abruptly the wind rose to a tortured scream, and the snow outside turned to hail, rattling like old fashioned gunfire against the hull. The shuttle rocked, lifted a little, then smashed down again. Sian managed to stifle her scream, but Chakotay felt her body jolt and stiffen and instinctively wrapped his arm around her shoulder to hold her tight. Another hurricane gust jolted and dropped them.  Her last reserves of self control evaporated and to her own horror she burst out in uncontrollable sobs. Chakotay tightened his hold, turning her toward him. She clung to him desperately, her face buried in his shoulder. He cradled her gently, soothing her like a little child. Through her misery she was just aware of his touch, the strength of the arms that held her, the kind voice murmuring soothingly. She held onto that thread of comfort, using it to pull herself from the quicksand that threatened to engulf her. Slowly the violence of her sobs lessened, and some of the tension eased from her body. Her desperate grip no his tunic relaxed. She tried to move away, but his strong arm across her shoulders stopped her. She turned her face away, flinging an arm across her eyes.

“Oh, sir—I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…” she stammered. Chakotay propped himself on his elbow again so he could look down at her. They were barely  visible to each other in the faint stormy light.

“Don’t worry about it. We all have our breaking point.”

She dragged the arm across her face, trying to wipe away the tears.

“Somehow I don’t think Starfleet expects its officers to be broken by a storm!” she said, trying to smile.

Chakotay gently stroked the tumbled hair back from her forehead.

“Starfleet is a long way from here, and I promise not to mention it in my report.” He touched her face lightly, brushing away the tears. “What I will say is that Lieutenant Evans behaved with great courage and resourcefulness in a difficult and dangerous situation.”

Startled amber flecked eyes lifted to meet his.

“Do you really mean it?”

“Of course I do. We all have our fears, Sian. The important thing is that you don’t let  them interfere with what you have to do. You behaved today exactly as Starfleet expects its officers to, and no one can do more than that.”

“Commander, I have tried—it’s not so much the accident—I think I could handle that—it’s these storms-even on Earth, with the weather control, I always had to go inside, almost hide. It’s so stupid—I’m so scared!”

Her whole body was trembling again, the words jerked out from between clenched teeth as fresh sobs threatened to overwhelm her. Chakotay felt his own worries recede and was filled with tenderness for this gallant, frightened woman. In the growing darkness he reached to softly touch her lips, murmured “Hush, now”, stooped his head and kissed her.

Sian’s mind and body had taken so many blows in the last few hours that she felt almost dizzy. Normally she would have been astonished and horrified and delighted at the turn of events. Now all she could do was surrender to the sensation of his lips on hers, and the warmth and power of his body, so close beside her. So many times she had imagined such a situation, and yet…and yet…Somewhere deep inside her a tiny calm core of her mind was watching and analysing.  Somehow she knew that what they felt was not desire, but the warm sweetness of mutual kindness and dependence. It lit a flame that warmed them both, body and soul, and held at bay the cold and the pain, the fear and the loneliness.

They clung together for a long time, while outside the storm slowly eased and moved away. As the turmoil outside subsided they grew slowly quiet and, still holding each other close, fell asleep.

Chakotay was awakened a few hours later by the percussive throbbing in his head and leg. He sat up gingerly, stifling a groan, and eased himself carefully along until he could reach the medkit. He found the hypo and gave himself another shot. The sky had cleared and the planet’s huge moon had shouldered up over the horizon, filling the shuttle with its cold light. His companion was still asleep, curled like a cat into a surprisingly small bundle. In the pure blanching light her tear stained face looked younger than ever, especially with those deep eyes hidden. Chakotay shook his head—and regretted it, as a wave of dizziness and nausea rolled through it. He knew that Starfleet put its cadets through a battery of physical and psychological tests to ensure they could stand up to the rigors of space, both the vast emptiness through which they travelled and, paradoxically, the somewhat claustrophobic conditions in which they lived. As far as he knew, they had never tested anyone to see how they stood up to planetary life. Perhaps they would have to start. Sian was one of the first of a new breed: true children of space, no longer allied to any planet. Humanity was endlessly adaptable. But sometimes when you adapt to one environment you lose the ability to function in another…a fish out of water…Chakotay rubbed his eyes. Well, as he had said before, Starfleet was a long way off, and the problem was here and now. He glanced down at the pale delicate face again. One thing was for sure—she wasn’t going to go through another experience like this again, if he could help it. They would have to work to overcome her fear, so that the next time she joined an away team…that was, if the two of them didn’t end up stranded here…but that was something he refused to contemplate. He knew the crew of Voyager too well. They’d get through this as they had so many other crises…he yawned suddenly. The pain was easing and he was feeling sleepy again. He lay back down cautiously, careful not to disturb his sleeping companion. He arranged the blankets as warmly as possible over both of them, and then relaxed gratefully into sleep.

 

 

Dawn found Voyager beginning to awaken from her enforced sleep. Repairs had continued through the night, and B’Elanna’s engineering crew were hard at work replacing the chrysotile baffles. When the command crew assembled on the bridge the mood was quietly cheerful, though tempered by the jarring emptiness of the first officer’s seat.

“Good morning, everyone,” said Janeway as she took her own place. “Tuvok—status report.”

“Our situation has greatly improved, Captain. Many repairs have been completed, including those to the environmental system, so we should not have any repetition of our former problems.”

“Good.”

“However,” he went on, “A few key systems, such as scanners and transporters, are operating only marginally and will require further attention to be brought back to full efficiency,”

“Do we have enough for navigation?”

“Yes, Captain,” said Paris, “Provided we don’t want to work our way through something tricky like an unstable asteroid belt.”

“No, I’m not looking for anything fancy. Just get her into orbit so we can find Chakotay and Evans.”

“That’ll be a pleasure, Captain.”

Janeway nodded her approval.

“Bridge to Engineering. Commence warp core reheat.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Almost unconsciously, everyone paused in their work.  In Engineering the crew worked with well practised efficiency,  and the huge central core began to glow and throb.  The sound should have been inaudible elsewhere, but it seemed to come up through the deck plates, or along the conduits: Voyager’s heart was beating again.  On the Bridge Janeway drew a deep relieved breath  as the power readings climbed steadily and smoothly.

“Right, Mr. Paris. Take us up..”

The hum of the engines rose as Paris poured power into the thrusters. The green landscape outside tilted and receded, blurring as they picked up speed. A few moments later he announced,

“Standard orbit, Captain.”

“Begin search pattern beta. Harry, keep trying to raise the shuttle.” She stood up. “I’ll be in my ready room.”

Alone in her ready room. Janeway stared at the planet slipping beneath her and  hoped for a miracle. Or at least hoped that whatever deities might be out there watching would look kindly on a hard working ship’s captain and her crew.

 

 

When Chakotay awoke again it was full daylight, and he was alone.  Sian must have been awake for some time—she had left water and some food for him. As he started on his breakfast the shuttle door creaked open and she slipped through the gap.

“Oh, you’re awake, sir. Good. I thought I’d have a better look at our situation, while the weather’s clear.” She was being determinedly professional and matter-of-fact, and Chakotay replied in the same tone.

“Good idea. So what’s the verdict?”

“Well, I’d say we’ve definitely landed in an arctic zone. There’s no trees or much other vegetation, and I can’t see any signs of animal life, not that I’m much of an expert. Of course, I can’t get up on that bluff above us, but I don’t see why that should be any different. It looks like the country’s more broken up that way—it’s pretty much flat and wide open on this side. No signs of shelter.”

Chakotay considered this catalog for a minute.

“So if we were stranded, we’d have plenty of water but no obvious food source once these rations are gone. We’d need to trek out—though there’s  no telling which is the best direction. And I’ll be in no shape to do that for a while.”

“Yes, sir, that’s about it,” she replied, with commendable steadiness.

“So obviously we must cease to be stranded” said Chakotay briskly. “That means getting communications up and running.” He studied the console which jutted at right angles from the wall above where they sat. “It’ll take two of us, and I won’t be able to do much climbing. I’ll need a seat.” The two of them considered the forward pilots’ seats, sprouting incongruously sideways.

“What about some of the cutting equipment we brought?” Sian suggested. “If I could get through the bolts we should be able to set it up below the console so you could at least reach the controls.”

“Good idea. Set the cutter on the narrowest beam and just try to take the tops off the bolts. I’ll steady it from here.”

Chakotay manoeuvred himself to sit below the chair and hold it steady, while Sian leaned against the wall and carefully sliced away the bolts that held the chair. Chakotay grunted as his arms took the weight, but between them they managed to set the seat up  within reach of the console. He was surprised at the ease with which the slender Evans managed to lift and support him.

“Oh, I may have a neurotic fear of weather,” she said with a grim smile, “But I’m in pretty good shape physically. Where should we start?”

Chakotay thought for a moment.

“All we need is communications. It doesn’t even have to be visual. If we can trace the power flows back until we find the breakages, I’m betting we can get at least one repaired and bypass it to the comm. system.”

“Right.” She knelt down and began to prize the cover off the control console.

The next few hours had an odd, feverish quality. It was surprisingly confusing working at ninety degrees to the familiar instruments. Chakotay’s seat proved to be somewhat unstable, and tended to fall over if he made any sudden movements. It was annoying at first, but eventually had the effect of reducing them both to helpless giggles. Evans burrowed inside the consoles, working her way through unfamiliar circuits and relays with only Chakotay’s instructions to guide here. At one point she snagged her hair on a projecting component. Her startled yelp caused Chakotay to fall over again, and then he had to crawl painfully across to free her. It was a long, frustrating process, but eventually they managed to patch up a power source to the comm. relays. Chakotay took a deep breath, and with his eyes fixed on hers pressed the appropriate controls.

“Chakotay to Voyager.”

“This is Voyager,” came Harry Kim’s voice immediately. “Are we glad to hear from you, Commander! Captain, we’ve got them!” Chakotay and Sian exchanged triumphant glances.

“So I hear,” said Janeway dryly, but even at the other end of the link her relief was almost palpable. “Chakotay, what’s your status?”

Chakotay’s chair fell over again. Evans instinctively turned to help him  up, but swung back as Janeway repeated her question  more urgently.

“ We’re OK, Captain,” Evans began. Relief and laughter made her voice waver wildly, and she stopped to clear her throat and steady herself. “The shuttle crashed in a storm. Everything was knocked out. We’ve only just managed to jury rig power to communications, and that won’t last long. Commander Chakotay was injured. We need to get him to sickbay. Can you beam us up?”

“Sorry, Lieutenant,” said Janeway regretfully. “Transporters aren’t back on line yet. I’ll have to send a shuttle.”

She glanced over her shoulder. Tom Paris was already on his feet and heading for the turbo lift. She stopped him with an uplifted hand.

“Our scanners aren’t up to full power either, Evans. Do you have any idea of your co-ordinates?”

“None, Captain. We seem to be in an arctic zone, I presume near one of the poles, but we don’t know any more than that. Can you lock onto the broadcast signal?”

Harry’s fingers flew over his board. He looked up with a wide smile.

“I think we’ve got you,” said Janeway. “Just hang on, Lieutenant. It won’t be long now.” She waved Paris on his way.

“Thank you, Captain. Shuttle out.”

Sian sank down beside Chakotay , pressed her hands to her face and drew a deep, shuddering breath. She let it out slowly, feeling the tension drain away, then rubbed her face and leaned back against the bulkhead, suddenly limp. Chakotay clapped her gently on the shoulder.

“Feeling beat?”

“Like I’ve been through a wringer!” she responded feelingly.

“I know what you mean.”

They had grown quite easy together, in their shared sense of accomplishment and relief, and sat dropping occasional idle remarks into the quiet as they came to  mind. It was wonderful just to luxuriate in the feeling of relaxation. As the time drew near when they began to expect the arrival of Paris in his shuttle, however, Sian seemed to grow tense again. The easy flow of conversation dried to a spasmodic trickle, with long silences in which she seemed to avoid Chakotay’s gaze.  He was uncertain whether to press her, but finally said,

“Sian, is there something wrong?”

“Not exactly, sir,” she said reluctantly.

“How, not exactly?” he persisted. “You seem worried about something. What is it?”

“Well, I just wanted to say…to assure you…look, I know last night didn’t mean…that it was just because…” She straightened up, pulled herself together, and for the first time looked into his face, into his eyes: those kind, temperate eyes that seemed to see her so clearly yet never judged. Suddenly the last vestiges of embarrassment left her.

“I know that you were just being kind—that it didn’t mean anything really. And I just want you to know that I won’t…do anything embarrassing once we get back, or…”

Startled and touched, Chakotay reached out and took one of her hands in his.

“Of course it meant something, Sian. I needed you too.”

That startled her.

“You did?”

“Of course I did. Think about it. If you’re stranded in an arctic wilderness with a broken leg and a head wound, in a disabled ship with no way of contacting the outside, it can be a little…depressing, to say the least. Having someone else to hold on to can make the difference between hope and despair. I don’t know how I would have survived without you.”

“I never thought of it like that,” she said slowly. “It’s a nice way to put it. But even so…Look, I  must admit I’ve sometimes imagined spending the night in your arms,”—she smiled properly as his face flamed red—“Though these aren’t exactly the circumstances I’d have chosen. And believe me, I will never forget it, or the way you pulled me back from the edge. But I know that it ends here.”  She was in earnest now, all embarrassment gone. “You’re the first officer, the Captain’s right hand. You aren’t likely to get involved with a junior—even if you wanted to, which I’m sure you don’t. Besides,” she studied him for a moment, frowning a little. “In some way that doesn’t even have anything to do with sex, you’re hers, aren’t you? Janeway’s? Her shield—her squire.”

Chakotay nodded.

“That’s right. Captain Janeway made me. She completed me. I owe her more than I could ever repay, and  she means more to me than almost anyone. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room in my life for others. I think I know what you’re trying to say, and you’re right. I wasn’t making some kind of romantic advance. But you and I have shared something very important, and that makes a bond that can’t be broken. In any case,” he went on in a lighter voice,” If you think you’re going to disappear back down to Environmental Control, you’re sadly mistaken. You’re going to be seeing a lot more of me in the future.”

“Sir?”

“You’ve got to get over this planetophobia, or whatever you want to call it, and my prescription is participation in  a lot more away missions. You’ve managed to dodge them so far, but nemesis is finally catching up with you!”

She returned his smile, and even managed a chuckle.

“Well, after this particular excursion, I imagine anything else will seem pretty tame.”

“Very true.” He grinned, then tilted his head. “Listen. Do you hear…?”

The whine of a shuttle rose outside, then faded to the crunch of snow as it set down. “That’ll be Tom. Come on, help me up and let’s get out of here.”

She lent an arm one last time to help him as he stood up, then slipped it around his waist to steady his limping steps. He laid an arm across her shoulders, but before they began to move he pulled her close and gently kissed her forehead.

“Well done, Lieutenant,” he said quietly.

She replied only, “Thank you, sir,” but he saw her lips tremble and tears brighten her eyes. Then Tom Paris, puffing and grunting, levered the shuttle hatch fully open and poked his head in.

“OK, you two?” he inquired breezily. “Enjoyed your shore leave?” His lively blue eyes ran over them in mingled amusement and concern. Their uniforms were dishevelled, torn and blood stained. Chakotay’s face was swollen under the makeshift bandage and his jaws were dark with stubble. Evans sported a number of cuts and bruises, and her dark hair, ineffectually tied back with what looked like a strip torn from her uniform, hung around her face in limp rattails. Nevertheless, she retained the spirit to say tartly,

“Well, I’ve had a wonderful time, but I think the Commander here found it a bit much. Come on, let’s get him back to the ship so the Doctor can patch him up.” Her face was steady again, and she tightened her arm around Chakotay’s waist in a quick, reassuring squeeze.

 

 

A few days later Voyager had resumed her long journey, all damage repaired, all wounds healed. Once again the senior staff were meeting in the Briefing Room.

“We’ve refitted the heating baffles,” B’Elanna reported, “And laid in a supply of spares.”

“Good,” said the Captain. “That’s our latest crisis averted. Any other reports? Doctor?”

“Commander Chakotay, Lieutenant Evans and Mr. Paris have fully recovered from the injuries they sustained during the emergency,” said the hologram briskly. “So have I, now that you’ve stopped my circuits melting down.”  The others grinned.

“We’ve taken aboard a good stock of fresh food from the planet, between storms,” Neelix added cheerfully.

“Good,” said Janeway again. “It sounds as if Voyager is back to her usual smooth running self.”

“But if we want to keep it that way, I think we need to look at some modifications,” said Chakotay. The Captain nodded.

“These heating baffles are obviously a weak point in the ship’s systems. Any suggestions?”

“The Borg have assimilated many races with varying technology,” Seven of Nine remarked. “It may be that one of those techniques could be adapted for Voyager.”

Chakotay nodded. “That’s what I was thinking.  I think you, B’Elanna and Sian here should work on developing an alternative system—preferably something we can replicate, or at least replace without mining it!”

Seven nodded decisively, but Sian looked less convinced.

“Sir, that’s a pretty tall order. The Starfleet designers decided to use that material for a reason.”

“I know they did. But one of their assumptions was that a ship would be available for refit at regular intervals. So we need to discard that idea and start again. Between you I’m sure you’ll find something.”

He smiled inwardly as he considered the two women. They made an almost ludicrous contrast. Everything about Seven of Nine spoke of power and control, from her incisive voice to the carriage of her magnificent figure and her perfectly coifed hair. Beside her Sian looked waiflike, almost negligible. But there was steel in that slight frame, he knew now, and  a powerful mind behind that childlike face. He had no doubt that she could hold her own even with the formidable ex-Borg, and was sure that between them they would solve the problem. Janeway obviously shared his optimism because she gave him a smiling nod of satisfaction before standing up and saying briskly,

“Well, that’s all for now. Let’s get back to work. Dismissed!”

Obediently the officers started to file out.  Chakotay stopped Sian with a quick gesture, and motioned her back to a seat. She sat, eyeing him a little apprehensively.

“Sian, I’ve been thinking about what you said on the away mission.”

She flushed slightly at the memory of some of the things she had said, but answered quietly, “What was that?”

“You said that our attachment to a planet was all in our heads: a product of upbringing, or intellect—not something fundamental to our psyche. But I’ve decided you were wrong. It’s not in our heads—it’s in our blood, in our bones—in our hearts…”

“What do you mean?” she cried. “That planet very nearly killed us. I feel no bond to that place, or any other.”

“Maybe not. But on a planet, you have a chance: to use the environment, or adapt to it, or defend against it. Space will just kill you.” She looked unconvinced. “Don’t you see? Voyager’s very survival depended on something that was only available from a natural, terrestrial environment. We have become so sure of our technology that we tend to only look for the solution there. If the Captain hadn’t thought of landing the ship and using the planet’s environment, storms and all, the whole crew would have died.

“Human beings have had a few generations in space, but millennia on Earth. We can survive on this ship or a space station as long as our artificial systems hold out, but only on the surface can we survive alone and unprotected. Maybe one day we will evolve to exist out here without help, but then we will no longer be human. A new species: Homo Universalis.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because I think it will be an important step for you to recognise your ties to the earth, to the natural environments we can never control. I think we all need to remember them, in fact.”

Sian studied his face in silence for a moment, then  stood up and moved over to the viewport. She reached out a hand to touch the force field that shielded it. It responded with its faint musical note, gently repelling her fingers. A few centimeters of compressed and compelled energy, constantly monitored and maintained, to keep at bay the ruthless emptiness of space. Suddenly she remembered the crunch of snow under her boots, and the silence of the sweeping arctic plain on which they crashed.  The air had been tingling cold and clean, the light blindingly pure on the undulating whiteness. Seen in retrospect, without fear distorting her perceptions, it was an exciting memory, much more vivid to the senses than the moderate light levels and  comfortable, hygienic air of the ship.  Behind her Chakotay said quietly,

“However big the tree, however far the branches spread,  the sap still comes from the roots.”

She turned back to face him and smiled.

“OK, you win. This little twig will learn to appreciate its roots.”

He returned her grin. “Great. Shall we go see what delicacy Neelix has provided for lunch today?”

“As long as emergency rations are not involved, I’m game!”

They turned to the turbolift in amicable conversation, ready to begin the next stage of the long journey home.

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