Beth6787

August 2018

Delta Pioneers - 1. The Decision

Voyager limps back to New Earth with the anti-viral serum: beyond repair...

The static over both Comm badges made it almost impossible to decipher Tuvok's last words, but it was apparent that the signal problems originated on the ship. Once the transmission finished she looked enquiringly towards Chakotay. Sure enough, he had recorded the message on their cabin terminal and was busy doing his best to clear the signal before re-playing it.

Ten minutes later he looked up at her "This is the best I can do." She nodded for him to begin and Tuvok's distinctive voice came through loud and - almost - clear.

"...sustained significant damage to life support systems and complete destruction of the warp coils to both nacelles. Travelling at half impulse and, assuming this velocity can be maintained, will reach you in approximately one hundred hours. No alternative but to land the ship, please provide co-ordinates for nearest feasible location to your base. Transceiver failing, will contact you again as soon as is possible. Lieutenant Tuvok out."

They exchanged worried glances. The first section of the message had been clearer. Apparently Tuvok had somehow acquired the relevant anti-viral serum from the Doctor's Vidian friend, Dr. Denara Pel, and Voyager had sustained severe damage and several fatalities in the process. Though why Tuvok had disobeyed her direct orders and was still in the vicinity of New Earth four months after leaving her and Chakotay behind she had no idea!

"Well Chakotay, we have four days to prepare and we are going to be busy. First things first, I suggest we transmit the coordinates for the valley two miles north east of here. the one we discovered on your third fishing expedition. It's large enough for Voyager to land with a good margin of error if helm controls are compromised."

"I'm on it. We'll have to make our way over there and set up a temporary camp. We still have two functional replicators and a good supply of medical stores which will no doubt be urgently needed. Let's just hope Voyager's four remaining shuttlecraft are fully operational."

Janeway rapidly picked up the thread. "Agreed. Assuming there is sufficient anti -viral serum for the two of us then I will take command of emergency repairs to Voyager and you and Mr. Paris can take one of the shuttles and search for assistance. Hopefully we have sufficient materials here at base camp to re-enforce the shields and keep phasers operational. All other resources will need to be focussed on life support functions."

Chakotay sent the co-ordinates for the landing site on continuous oscillating carrier wave. Not knowing just how damaged the transceiver array actually was, he forewent the usual security encryption, prioritising the chances of reception the other end. Though from a tactical point of view it was a huge risk. After all, they were right on the boundaries of Kazon Ogla and Vidian territory. Hardly the ideal place for Voyager to set down for extended repairs. On the positive side, he and Kathryn had not seen a soul during the last four months so this planet could not be on any major trade route or shipping lanes of any sort. It was a backwater with no rare mineral deposits or any evidence of former civilisations. With luck, they could hide out here for a while whilst making repairs and be long gone before the Vidians or anyone else showed up.

Kathryn Janeway had switched back into Captain mode as soon as Tuvok cut his transmission. She re-appeared from her alcove already in uniform. Chakotay had given her an enquiring look that conveyed more than a hint of surprise and perhaps a little...discomfort?...but she didn't have time to address their personal feelings just now. Her ship and crew were in crisis and needed their Captain's full attention. "Chakotay, I'm going to take a full inventory of our remaining stores then start packing anything we will need to take to the rendezvous site. Once you have transmitted all the pertinent information to Voyager please start loading the shuttle. We'll depart at midday tomorrow which still leaves us almost three days to set up Base Camp II before Voyager arrives."

"Ay Captain" he responded without thinking and Kathryn smiled to herself. It was a good sign. She needed to start thinking of him as Commander again too. The crew would be upset enough with their current predicament and having just gotten used to Acting Captain Tuvok. The sooner she could restore the normal chain of command the better.

—-

Four days later, NE clearing, Base Camp II...

Everything was set up. In fact everything had been ready over twenty hours ago. There was nothing to do now but wait for Voyager to arrive. If she would at all.

There had been no further communication from them so there was no way of knowing whether the information he had sent had ever been received. For all he and Kathryn...sorry Captain Janeway ...knew, Voyager could have been attacked or just lost structural integrity altogether since then. She had already sent him back to their home base twice today to retrieve non-essential items : just for something to do. He also strongly suspected that she was not coping as well as she pretended with this sudden reversion to their former roles and was trying to conceal herself from his scrutiny any way she could think of. Goodness knows how she would react if Voyager did not arrived within the next couple of days! How long could they play this game before admitting that their ship was lost with all hands?

The two of them had initially survived - and later flourished - only because she believed that Voyager was safely on route home with Tuvok in charge. She had relied on the Vulcan being as predictable as he normally was. Focus on navigating the shortest route possible back to the Terran system, ensuring that they made minimal supply and repair stops and avoiding all scientific research on interesting cosmological phenomena or any first contact situations. It would have made for an incredibly dull journey but it would have been safe. It was only her absolute faith in Tuvok that had finally allowed her a modicum of peace. And now? Goodness knows how she would cope if the worst had come to pass.

As he approached the clearing with the additional kitchen utensils, it was obvious that there had been no change. The Captain was still pacing about making that hole she had worn in the grass ever larger and muddier and there were less than two hours until dusk...

Kathryn felt as if she were going to snap any moment, so tense did she feel. Voyager should have been here several hours ago. The limited sensor sweep they could do from the planet's surface showed nothing, which meant that at impulse speeds they must be at least three hours from making orbit. The only other course of action was for both she and Chakotay to ascend in the shuttle, clear the atmosphere and place a marker buoy in geostationary orbit, before heading out to meet them. If they assumed that Voyager had kept a linear trajectory since their original departure eighteen weeks ago. That was an awfully big IF . Nevertheless, she had to make a decision : and fast.

"Come on Chakotay. We'll have to risk taking the shuttle up above the thermosphere. We can place a marker buoy to identify the descent point to this clearing, but we must hurry, it will be dark in little over an hour now."

"Precisely. It would be madness to attempt it before dawn. We have no idea how long we can remain above the atmosphere before the viral symptoms re-surface. We could fall ill within hours...or minutes. If Voyager arrives during the night cycle in this hemisphere you know that Tuvok will maintain orbit until dawn before attempting the descent."

She felt annoyed at his lack of urgency. "Assuming that the inertial dampers and thrusters are in a fit state to achieve orbit at all. If they are still as damaged as Tuvok indicated - or worse by now - we both know they will have to attempt an emergency descent. And they will not get a second chance to get it right."

He understood her anxiety but it was compromising her usually sound judgment.

"Kathryn...Captain...our ground based sensors will pick up the impulse engine ion trial at least two hours before they make orbit. That is being optimistic and assuming they have maintained half impulse speed continuously for the last four days. If not, it could take many hours more. I suggest we attempt to sleep in the meantime." Wanting to keep her hopes alive he continued "when the proximity alarm finally triggers we may be very busy for a long time before we can rest again. If the situation remains unchanged at dawn we can reconsider our next course if action." He waited and prayed she would see sense.

The Commander was right, of course he was. It was just so hard to be doing nothing but waiting. Knowing her crew was in imminent danger yet again because of her. If only she had not been bitten by that insect. And why had she allowed both herself and her First Officer to be on the same Away Team? Because she had let her guard down once too often. That was why! Well, once she was finally re-united with her ship and crew things were going to change : big time. From now on she would be the consummate professional at all times. Just let them have survived...

There was nothing for it but to accept the Commander's tactical advice. They needed to rest. She would put her rescue operation into motion at first light.

—-

Meanwhile aboard Voyager...

Ensign Kim struggled to get an accurate reading on any of the sensors. Almost as soon as Acting Captain Tuvok had cut his transmission to Captain Janeway, they had come under renewed attack from the Vidians. That had been four days ago.

They were now reduced to travelling at one eighth impulse in 'grey mode'. Still at least fifty four hours away from their destination. The last of the Vidian pursuit ships had been destroyed but Voyager's shields were now down to twelve percent, all photon torpedoes gone and phasers so low on power that they would do no more than produce a pretty light show across the backdrop of the cosmos, should Acting Captain Tuvok be crazy enough to order their use again. They were pretty much dead in the water. If they cut all systems bar life support and deflectors maybe, and it was now a big maybe, they could just reach New Earth with the tiny amount of di-lithium that had not escaped through the ruptured nacelle storage tanks.

He had just finished his report to that effect, when Lieutenant Torres burst onto the Bridge through the aft Jeffries tube access port. Bypassing everyone, she shot over and sat next to the Acting Captain in what used to be Commander Chakotay's chair.

Before Tuvok had a chance to reprimand her, she began "I think I have a solution. It's a long shot, but it's our only chance of surviving long enough to reach New Earth." She was suprised when Tuvok merely raised an eyebrow at her then nodded for her to proceed. "We need to strip down all four shuttles and integrate their impulse drive units into Voyager's propulsion system. It's all Starfleet standard technology. Sure, a lot of the coupling sizes differ and I would have to modify the power grid : but I know I can do it. With all four shuttle drive units converted I should just be able to give her full impulse power most of the way, or three quarters impulse for the next three days, getting us there with just enough to spare for a controlled descent and landing."

Tuvok regarded her for several moments and then called Lieutenant Joe Carey to come to the Ready Room immediately. Indicating that Lieutenant Torres should follow him he headed across the Bridge. Inside she was seething! He was going to ask 'Starfleet' his opinion and, no doubt, if he didn't think it viable they would sit here waiting to be finished off once and for all. As soon as the Ready Room doors shut behind her she began "With all due respect, Sir, we are wasting valuable time. I know I can get this to work and, of course, I will value Carey's input and assistance. But he will never had tried this before. I have. Sort of."

Tuvok raised an eyebrow at her " Sort of .. ? ...Lieutenant Torres. That hardly inspires me with confidence " he raised his hand before she could interrupt yet again " and furthermore, you will stand to attention on the Bridge and wait until I address you. Not barge in and assume the position of the First Officer. Do I make myself clear?"

Keep cool B'Elanna she warned her subconscious. Play along, whatever it takes to get back to Engineering and save this ship. It was obvious that Tuvok would not take her word alone, she would just have to hope that Carey understood the dire straights they were in and just played along without trying yet more "one-upmanship" over her.

Almost as she finished that thought the Ready Room door chimed and Carey entered. Thankfully, Tuvok allowed her to elaborate on her plan and Joe Carey just sat and listened. As soon as she had finished Tuvok asked him for his assessment. Please Joe, just this once, back me up without arguing she pleaded with her eyes.

Lieutenant Joe Carey had indeed listened carefully and what he felt was a profound sense of relief that they were lucky enough to have Torres aboard. It had not occurred to him to strip the shuttles and attempt to re-assemble those tiny impulse drives into one unit powerful enough to move the mass of Voyager. Why? Because it would be so incredibly complicated! There would be no manuals, no schematics, no way of knowing whether any of the gerry rigged junctions would hold when they tried to surge that much power through the couplings...it was plain crazy! Yet he had seen her pull off the impossible more than once before and the former Maquis crew were full of tales of Torres saving their skins yet again.

Turning to their Acting Captain he knew he had to do what Torres could not. Appeal to his sense of logic that this was a plausible idea. "Sir, I think it is an ingenious solution. It will be problematic but I believe that, following Lieutenant Torres instructions, we can pull it off."

She was frankly amazed that he had backed down and deferred to her so readily but enormously grateful for his cooperation.

Tuvok took a moment longer then responded "Very well Lieutenant Torres. Put together a detailed schematic of what you plan to do and have it on my desk by 1800 hours. Lieutenant Carey will assist you. Dismissed."

Damn! More prevarication! Didn't that Vulcan P'tak understand that he was the one risking all their lives. She was about to tell him so when she caught Joe's pleading gaze and it stopped her in her tracks. He had come good for her, the least she could do was keep her mouth shut until they were out of earshot of the Bridge.

Nodding, they both left Tuvok and headed back to Engineering. By the time they arrived back there it was agreed that Torres would start dismantling one of the shuttle drive units ready for re-configuration and integration into the starboard nacelle. Although Tuvok had not expressly given them permission to start work, he had asked for a detailed schematic of their plans. Carey had agreed to write that up by observing herself at work and converting her activities into 'Starfleet speak'. As far as she was concerned Tuvok could shove his report where the sun don't shine, but if this is what it would take to get the job done...she owed Carey one!

So began a very long day's work but by 1800hours not only was the report on Tuvok's desk but the first of the shuttle drive units had been reconfigured and installed. One down, three to go. Fortunately, Carey kept his mouth shut, and by 2100 hours Tuvok had given them - if not his blessing - at least a grudging permission to go ahead. By that time Torres and Vorik were fully engrossed in installing the second unit. This was more troublesome than the first as they had to be coupled together in series circuit configuration, and somehow made to fit inside the ridiculously small cavity of the nacelle. In the end, this was achieved by stripping the first one out and reconfiguring the entire system a second time and installing the twin unit as one drive.

Torres couldn't help grinning to herself. All that work Carey had done: for nothing. She had had to go back to the proverbial drawing board, as was the case ninety nine percent of the time when your life is on the line and you are seconds from oblivion in an old rust bucket that should have been condemned to the scrap yard decades ago. Something Starfleeters still didn't truly understand. Even after two years out here. Though perhaps she would have Vorik draw up a schematic of the finished product. Once she had tested it in flight mode. Just in case she was the next fatality...after all no one else would intuit what she had done. Though maybe...Chakotay would have. How she hoped they would make it to New Earth in one piece, she missed the big guy...

Forty eight hours later... New Earth orbit...

Well, they had finally launched the marker buoy and carried out a sweep of the whole planet's surface. Just in case Voyager had crash landed on another continent or in the oceans. Though there was no chance of either of them being able to take the shuttle further afield.

They had rapidly discovered that Chakotay succumbed to the viral symptoms:- nausea; dizziness; fever; shaking; blurred vision; to name just a few - after half an hour. She was a little more resilient and could manage about fifty minutes at a push. So they had to take it in turns to go up. Which meant launching and landing the shuttle within the space of an hour at most. Hardly time to do any work and certainly inconceivable to go search for re-enforcements. They were on their own until Voyager showed up of her own volition.

Not to mention the several hours between each bout of sickness before either of them was ready to head back up. That coupled with the enormous power drain on their one shuttle, forced her to make the only command decision that was viable. They had to return to the surface and decommission the shuttle altogether. Whether Voyager finally showed up or not, the power matrices and drive units could be converted to keep the replicators running almost indefinitely. She would also have to make a pragmatic decision regarding the orbital marker buoy. Leaving it up there for too long would only draw the attention of the Vidians and Kazon - or any other potentially hostile races dwelling in the vicinity - to their existence. Their current defences were minimal and their chances of survival if discovered by anyone but their own crew, almost none.

Sighing she started the descent.

Nine hours later...

Chakotay was vaguely aware of a gathering plasma storm. The static in the air was almost audible and the ground was shaking underneath his bed. What was that whining noise? He opened his eyes and immediately regretted it. His vision was still blurred and he felt sick. The Captain was actually being sick unless he was very much mistaken. Forcing himself to sit upright he caught the blue flashing light out of the corner of his eye. The proximity detector. Voyager, or another very large ship, was in orbit or...

Kathryn staggered out of the bathroom looking like death warmed up. Trying to find her voice she croaked "Chakotay. It's them. It has to be. I'd recognise the sound of Voyager's vertical braking thrusters anywhere. Come on."

Hauling herself to the door of their temporary barracks she pulled it open, only to be knocked back by the turbulence outside. They must be landing directly on top of them!

Chakotay forced the door shut, grabbing his former captain and hauling her underneath the table once again. Though he knew it would provide precious little chance of saving them from an Intrepid Class starship landing on their heads. He just prayed to all the spirits that Paris's piloting skills were are good as he liked to claim they were.

—-

Tom swore out loud as he tried to get the lateral thrusters to fire evenly. Whatever Torres had rigged together was a pile of cr** ! How he was supposed to get them down in one piece he had no idea. He called out "Ensign Kim, patch me through to Engineering."

As soon as the signal flashed on the helm control panel he let rip "Torres, get the power flow stabilised to the port nacelle NOW unless you want me to land this thing belly up!"

He could make out a deafening commotion in the background before Torres distinctive gutteral growl came over the connection "Keep your pants on, flyboy. I'm doing my job: now do yours. You are lucky there is any juice left in either thruster. Another few seconds and there won't be. Understood?!"

Yup, he did. Torres could give him nothing more on the port side so to prevent that flip he had threatened becoming fact, he would have to reduce the power to the starboard thruster. Below it's load bearing capacity. In other words, Voyager would drop like a stone for the last few meters of her descent. Timing would be crucial. Too soon and decks ten through fifteen would be as flat as a pancake, too late and they would land belly up with everyone on decks one through five likewise: history. He just hoped the landing struts would take that level of beating. They were about to find out.

—-

What seemed like an age later the noise and vibration ceased. Staggering up and hauling Kathryn behind him he made for the door, only for her to yank him back, nearly dislocating his shoulder in the process. She pointedly strode over to the far alcove and grabbed a couple of phasers, shoving one in his right hand.

"That may indeed be Voyager out there but we have no knowledge of her current status. For all we know she has been boarded and we are about to meet a Vidian organ salvaging party."

Feeling foolish, he nodded. Damn this virus, he wasn't thinking straight. "You're right. We should rig a site-to-site transport to the autopsy lab. It's the only place on board with an isolated containment field which will remain operational as long as life support does. From there we can run a full bio-signature sweep. We'll then know how many live individuals are on board and how many of each species."

Janeway jumped in "Agreed. As soon as we are sure there will be no suprises, I'll patch us through to the Bridge. We can stay in the containment area until we have been inoculated with the antidote and the Doctor has verified that it's worked. All we know so far is that it cures Vidians..."

"Let's hope this is our luck day". Chakotay hoisted his phaser and checked both their tricorders. All set. Just then he felt the familiar tingle of the transporter as the Captain put their plan into action.

The Doctor materialized just outside the autopsy room viewport "Please state the nature of...Captain! Commander! How did you get in there?"

"Never mind that now Doctor. Did the anti-serum survive Voyager's landing?" Janeway asked.

"Barely! If not for my razor sharp reflexes and immunity to pain... Though how many casualties I will have to deal with after Mr. Paris's latest display of daredevil antics I'll..."

"Thank you Doctor, I'll be sure to debrief Lieutenant Paris myself just as soon as you have administered the antidote to the Commander and myself."

"Yes, Captain. Of Course, please excuse me a moment whilst I calculate the relevant dosages and prepare the inoculum."

She rolled her eyes at Chakotay. Some welcome home. Focussing their attention on their tricorders they made the sweep. 2 Andorians; 3 Bolians; 2 Vulcans; 6 Bajorans; 1 Betazoid (deceased); 1 Human/Klingon hybrid; 1 Ocampan' 1 Talaxian & 115 Humans (4 deceased). Result : 127 live crew, themselves included. So there were no hostile aliens aboard and Mr. Lon Suder and four of her crew had not survived the encounter with the Vidians or the subsequent journey back here. Five more lives lost, all in the interests of rescuing her and Chakotay. As if reading her thoughts he broke the silence.

"They made it back here Captain, almost all of them. It's so much better than we were beginning to believe only a few hours ago. The Doctor will replicate enough vaccine for everyone and then we can start considering our options."

"Our options? We need to get those supplies we gathered at base camp on board as soon as possible then it's all hands on deck to get Voyager spaceworthy as soon as humanly possible. We've lost so much time already Commander. All because of my lapse of judgment. I should never had had both of us on the Away Team when we first arrived here nor should we have been outside without containment suits. If it wasn't for me we would be five months nearer to home than we are now, with our ship still intact."

Here we go again, he thought, rather ungallantly. Why does everything have to be down to her? "Captain, you can't possibly know that for sure. Anything could have happened. Perhaps we would all have been destroyed by the Kazon, Vidians or some cosmological phenomenon had we continued on our original course past this planet. We can't second guess every choice we make. The fact is we are here. Now. Let's just get our vaccinations and take it from there."

Not wanting to get into an argument with her First Officer before they had even been re-united with the crew, she let that one pass. Nodding she hailed the Bridge.

Within seconds she was speaking to one very happy and relieved Operations Officer. Notifying Ensign Kim of their status and receiving a readout from Ops at the sickbay terminal : she realised that New Earth would be their enforced home for a good few weeks ahead. Commander Chakotay came up behind and read over her shoulder.

Life support was barely operational; there were no photon torpedoes left; phaser banks were almost depleted; shield emitters were at less than ten percent; the warp core was offline; impulse drive had been achieved by removing all the drive units from every single shuttlecraft; replicators were offline; the water recycling plant & hydroponics bay had been totally destroyed during the landing. Suffice to say, Voyager would be going nowhere without some very generous alien race passing by and donating them a new ship! There were nowhere near enough spare components amongst the items left with Kathryn and himself all those months ago.

It was over. Their mission to return to the Alpha Quadrant was pie in the sky. Somehow this group of one hundred and twenty seven souls would have to make a new life and home for themselves: right here. He just hoped that the Captain could see that too. She had to. If they ever needed to speak with one voice and think with one mind : it was now.

He put his hand on her shoulder "I'm sorry Captain. We gave it our best shot but now we have to plan for the future..."

Captain Kathryn Janeway was at a loss. What was the Commander talking about? "Sorry Commander, you've lost me." Smiling grimly she elaborated "Doubtless I'm still groggy from that last orbital recon flight."

Was she being deliberately obtuse, or just refusing to face facts? Blow it, she needed a reality check. First, let's dispense with the ranks.

"Kathryn, Voyager is not going anywhere. Now or ever. We have barely five percent of the spare components needed to rebuild even the basic circuitry. Yet alone enough spare tritanium to repair the hull. So we have a ship that has lost structural integrity, has no shields, deflectors, impulse or warp drive, minimal life support, no food or water recycling facilities and no means of subspace communication. We have no choice. This is Voyager's final resting place. We are all New Earth colonists now."

She couldn't believe what she was hearing! So things looked bad but they had beaten the odds before and would do so again. Besides, until she was out of this confinement chamber and had inspected every nook and cranny of Voyager herself she would not be coming to any premature decisions. And since when had they decided to drop ranks when on board?! Suddenly she noticed. Whilst she was in full uniform, Chakotay was still wearing civilian clothing. She needed to assert her authority, and fast.

"Commander, I have yet to step foot outside this holding area. Yet alone inspect my ship. Which you and I will do, metre by metre. Once I have ALL the pertinent facts I will decide on the best course of ." It wasn't a question and she could see by the sudden straightening of his posture and uneasy look in his eye that her words had hit home. Good! She had had quite enough defeatism for one day. Could she murder a coffee now. "Doctor, how much longer with those injections?"

"Right here Captain. I was just instructing Kes on how to manufacture sufficient for all the crew with the limited power we have to the medical replicator."

"Belay that Doctor. We need to ascertain whether the vaccine works for the Commander and I first and whilst we are waiting to see, please get me a strong black coffee. Now!"

So here they sat, newly vaccinated and awaiting a response from their immune systems. The Doctor was sure that they would start to manufacture antibodies within ten hours if the vaccine had worked. If not, well, it probably didn't matter now. After all, regardless of what the Captain said, she no longer had a ship to command and she knew it. Just as well as he did. The only difference is she would avoid facing the inevitable for as long as she could. Of that he was sure. Watching her drinking her coffee as if it was the elixir of life itself : he pitied her. She already felt a failure. She had stranded her crew on the far side of the galaxy the moment she destroyed the Caretaker's Array and now she had stranded them all here on New Earth: as she would see it. The fact that both situations were outside her direct control would matter not to her. She would beat herself up endlessly, regardless. He knew better. As B'Elanna so often put so eloquently "Shit happens. Get over it."

He just hoped and prayed he could talk her round in time to present a united front to the crew. They needed positive leadership and a real future to focus on. Not some fantasy, pie in the sky dream of resuming their past lives in the Alpha Quadrant any day soon. All they had was each other in the here and now...

—-

Three days later, Voyager Command Conference Room...

They were all here now, just waiting for the Captain to return from her Ready Room. Sitting around the table were himself, Tuvok, B'Elanna Torres, Tom Paris, Harry Kim, Neelix and Kes.

As soon as they had started to produce antibodies to the vaccine, they had been released to the Bridge. From there the Captain had given a rallying speech to her crew and then issued orders to all sections to begin essential repairs. Not much had been achieved though everyone had worked around the clock. There were simply insufficient raw materials or power reserves to complete the repairs anywhere. The Captain had also been true to her word. He had accompanied her as she inventorized and assessed every room, every corridor, every Jeffries tube and bulkhead. She had said little but he knew she fully understood the implications of what she was witnessing first hand. He also understood that she needed to see for herself. To be sure there was nothing she had missed...

For the last twelve hours she had been holed up in her Ready Room, refusing to see anyone, but now she had called this meeting of the senior staff. She had not discussed it with him but he knew what this was. A formal acknowledgment of the inevitable. And, he fervently hoped, a new beginning...

She stood outside the Conference Room door, never more lost than she felt now. She was about to go in there and announce that all their past lives were erased forever. They would never see their homes and families again. Somehow she had to look young Harry Kim in the eye and tell him his first Starfleet mission would be his last. All those years of study and hard work, all their careers...to come to a grinding halt. They were to become Delta Quadrant colonists on this unremarkable and completely unoccupied M Class planet in the middle of nowhere. Why? Because she had allowed herself to be bitten by a mosquito! They had the vaccine but no ship to carry them home. They were marooned, like the sailors of old. On a new world that they had neither sought out nor conquered.

It was all so...pointless, yet she had to engender a sense of purpose. To keep them all going. As to the future? The command structure? The aims of their new colony beyond survival itself? She had no answers. Only endless questions.

She recalled a similar feeling a year ago. When they had met Amelia Earhart and the other humans abducted from 1937 Earth. They had been offered the chance to settle on that world and she had put it to the vote. Like today, she had stood outside that door feeling sick and he had reassured her.

Only this time Chakotay and all her senior staff were on the other side of that door. She was truly alone.

Four hours later, Mess Hall...

Somehow he had done it. Stretched the supplies to the limit and come up with yet more variations on a theme. One hundred and one ways to prepare Leola Root. Tomorrow he would lead an expedition to collect as many edible plants as he could, of which there were quite a variety according to Commander Chakotay's field notes.

A little over an hour ago everyone had gathered in Cargo Bay 1 and the Captain had told them of the decision reached by the senior staff. Not that there were any other viable options open to us. Predictably the reaction had been much as it was in the Command Conference. The former Maquis were broadly accepting, some even enthusiastic. It was understandable, most of them had no home or family worth returning to. But the 'Fleeters, they were a different story. He only had to wander around here, picking up plates, dishing up dessert, to get the full picture.

Most were shell shocked, devastated. Like poor Samantha Wildman, who had only just recently given birth to her first child. Now having to accept that little Naomi would never meet her father or Sam see her husband again. Likewise, those with children back home such as Joe Carey, crewmen Carlson, Sharr, McKenzie, to name but a few. Others were angry and resentful. Blaming the Captain and Lieutenant Tuvok for getting them into this mess. And what of the command team themselves? Tuvok never to see his four children again, Chakotay seemingly looking forward to a new start and the Captain herself? After the address in the cargo bay she had been heckled and security had been obliged to form a cordon around her before Chakotay had arranged an internal beam out to her quarters. It burnt out the last transporter coil but she made it home. Home ? ...was it really this planet now?

If ever this community needed a Morale Officer, it was now. Neelix just hoped he was up to the herculean task.

TO BE CONTINUED...

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