Space can often feel lonely. The large vastness and the seemingly unending distance between each celestial body can seem extremely intimidating, as if the blackness of the cosmos was mocking you for being so insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe. Yet, there was something about the empty, quiet void, that stretched between a thousand sparkling pale lights - twinkling with bewildering beauty - which gave Commander Chakotay a strange sense of serenity. Staring through the vaguely triangular shaped windscreen of the sleek Delta Flyer, Chakotay found himself counting each twinkling white light, wondering if one among them was the star of their home: Earth. The Delta Flyer pierced through the cold vacuum of space with precision and perfect agility, like a hot knife slicing open a square of freezing butter, rolling through each warp factor with comfort and ease. Sighing, Chakotay leant back in his seat at the starboard station, allowing the automated systems to take control of the agile vessel as they cruised towards their destination: a planet rumoured to be swarmed with dilithium deposits like weeds consuming a poorly kept garden. Beside Chakotay, Ensign Harry Kim typed lazily on the display of the port station, reading through endless pages of information on the space around them and the planet they were heading for. At the pilot seat, Lieutenant Tom Paris slouched and tapped his foot impatiently. Neelix and young Ensign Emma Simms - a shy blonde haired woman with bright turquoise eyes, petite body, and a brilliantly intelligent mind - were chatting quietly in the aft section of the Delta Flyer. Usually, Chakotay would have been more hesitant about bringing along a less experienced member of the crew, but Emma Simms was a genius in her field. She specialised in atmospheres and was more than thrilled at the prospect of studying the atmosphere of a completely alien planet from the Delta Quadrant. Her giddy, beaming smile had convinced Chakotay in a heartbeat. Besides, they were on a routine mission. Highly unlikely they'd run into any serious trouble.
For eight weeks, Voyager, the cradle of their existence, had been cutting through a completely barren portion of space in an effort to avoid several star systems that the data from their long range sensors had implied to be frequent Borg hotspots. However, they were swiftly running dangerously low on dilithium and, by the eighth week, they were becoming desperate. Chakotay had calculated that they'd be through the other side of the dead space before they'd run out completely, but the sensors failed to detect a crosswind of cosmic background radiation which had forced the Intrepid class starship to take a detour. B'elanna Torres had determined that Voyager had to continue on a straight path lest the ship run completely out of dilithium, leaving them dead in the daunting emptiness of space, but they had managed to detect a solitary rogue planet which Neelix confirmed was filled to the brim with extractable dilithium deposits. However, Neelix had also added that the planet in question was inhospitable to all life, yet rumoured to be haunted by an useeable creature. Captain Kathryn Janeway had seemed to dismiss Neelix's ghost story, which Chakotay had agreed with, and directed Chakotay and a small team to take the Delta Flyer and investigate the mysterious rogue planet.
After what seemed like hours, the Delta Flyer finally entered visual range with the rogue planet. Leaning forward in his seat, Chakotay could see a drab, grey sphere - contrasting with the glittering stars beyond - which clung to an isolated portion of space. The sombre planetoid appeared to grow slowly as the nimble space shuttle slid towards it. In his mind, Chakotay envisioned the tragic chain of events that led to this planet becoming lost in a vast void of nothingness. He imagined the world was once much like Earth - populated with lush green forests, tweeting colourful birds, foraging animals, and bustling people - and then a cataclysmic event occurred - like their star suddenly lost its gravitational hold over the world - leading to the planet drifting through space completely alone and thus, the life that once lived there slowly died out. It was fascinating to Chakotay how the destiny of planets and stars was governed by a chain of random and unfortunate events.
Strangely, Chakotay heard a gasp emanating from behind him, so he swivelled around in his seat. He saw Emma staring at her viewscreen with perplexed eyes. "Something wrong, Ensign?" He asked.
An awe inspired smile spread across her face. "The rogue planet, sir, it's totally inhospitable." She began, her voice consumed by almost childish fascination. "The planet's atmosphere is composed of seventy percent sulphuric acid, twenty percent ammonia, and ten percent pure carbon monoxide-"
Paris let slip an impressed whistle.
"-The surface temperature of the planet is below fifty degrees celsius and the entire planet is heavily saturated with cosmic background radiation and UV radiation. Ultimately, nothing could ever live on the planet's surface." Emma shook her head in astonishment. "This could be the most inhabitable planet I've ever had the pleasure of scanning. It's invigorating."
Chakotay caught Paris smiling mockingly, so he shot him a harsh glance. However, the dangerous atmosphere drew his attention quickly away. The inhospitable nature of the rogue planet would undoubtedly test the Delta Flyer's shields to the extreme, but they were running out of options, and Janeway was expecting them to return with enough dilithium to get them through the next months.
Typing vigorously on the port station, Kim sifted through endless waves of data from the planet's surface. "Neelix was correct about this planet being a dilithium gold mine." He beamed. "There's more than enough dilithium deposits to fuel Voyager for decades!"
"Calm down, Mr Kim." Chakotay chimed in. "Before we get too excited, can the Delta Flyer's shields cope with the adverse atmospheric conditions?"
"Easily, sir, we could sit in that atmosphere for days before the shields fail." Kim responded gleefully.
Allowing a smile to caress his face, Chakotay ordered Paris to enter the planet's atmosphere. Neelix rapidly shuffled to Chakotay's side with obvious concern plastered all over his face. "I warn you, Commander, this place is extremely dangerous. The stories I've heard about this rogue planet will keep you up at night, I assure you."
"Thank you, Neelix, but under the circumstances I believe we have no other choice but to at least try. Voyager is counting on us." Chakotay suggested Neelix find somewhere to buckle in for the journey through the atmosphere.
While steering the Delta Flyer towards the rogue planet, the grim, dull sphere increasing in size speedily growing as they approached, Paris joked: "When this is done, I'm buying everyone a strong drink on the holodeck." His charming smile made Emma blush slightly which annoyed Chakotay, but he shrugged it off, unwilling to start an argument with a long mission still ahead. Instead, he stared through the windshield above. The rogue planet continued to grow until the entire surface covered the viewing ports of the space shuttle. Squinting, Chakotay realised he could see rows of jagged, teeth-like mountains wrapping across the surface of the planet, a deep, black trench tore through the grey rocks alongside the mountains, surrounded by craters varying from huge pits to small dimples on the surface, and swathes of twisting storms, illuminated by purple streaks of electricity, enveloped the planet with gnarled, malevolent tentacles. Within seconds, the entirety of the ship dipped into one of the violent storms, consumed in white winds that whipped across the hull of the Delta Flyer, pushing incredibly powerful forces against the strained shields.
Suddenly, the Delta Flyer lurched forward sharply. Chakotay's stomach jumped into his mouth and, for a split second, he swore the inertial dampeners had failed. In the corner of his eye, he spotted Kim gripping the arm rests of his seat so tightly that his knuckles turned white. Paris sheepishly raised a hand. "Sorry about that." He said, tentatively. Chakotay shook his head.
Desperate to fill the silence, Neelix turned to Emma. She seemed really shy, but he'd been talking to her for most of the journey and, bit by bit, reinforced her confidence enough for her to start revealing her true colours. "So, Emma, what drove you to sign up to Starfleet?" He asked, a warming smile gracing his face.
Emma, who was huddled over her station, subconsciously guarding her core self, shot up, stunned by Neelix's question. She seemed to stumble on her words, before taking a short calming breath and starting again. "Well, I've always been interested in space and astrophysics. When I was a child, I used to sit on my Grandmother's balcony at night and watch the stars. I'd sit out there for hours and hours, dreaming about the planets and stars. When I was in school, I spent most of my time sitting on my favourite beanbag reading about all different types of planets: from the most beautiful like Betazed to the most inhospitable places like Venus. Yet, there were so many records of scientists discovering life in what was once believed to be totally inhospitable areas, like this world." She indicated towards her viewscreen, which displayed an image of the rogue planet whose atmosphere they were sinking through. "This place may seem completely lifeless but I guarantee you that somehow, somewhere, the tiniest of organisms could be existing in an entire ecosystem of extremophiles, living, feeding, and dying, over and over again. That fascinates me."
Neelix's face flashed cold upon viewing the image of the planet. "I do not think this place could ever harbour any form of life no matter how extreme they are." However, he quickly found himself smiling again after seeing the inspiring smile on Emma's face. She radiated an aura of intrigue and wonder that Neelix came to define the Human species.
"Where did you get this admirable love for all life forms?" He asked, bemused.
Smiling, Emma's beautiful turquoise eyes slipped to the floor. "My Grandmother mostly. I never knew my father and my mother died when I was very young, so she practically raised me. She often took me on long walks in the woods and told me about all of the different types of plants, insects, and birds." Emma laughed. "She could name everything along that footpath both their scientific names and common names. And she knew all of their properties, mating habits, and population. She was… amazing."
"I think she'd be proud of you, Emma." Neelix's voice was welcoming and tender.
In that moment, the Delta Flyer surged forwards, tipped to one side, then violently rolled harshly to starboard, thrashing Chakotay and the crew despite the overworked inertial dampeners whirring with exhaustion. "We've been hit by a radiation burst!" Paris called. "Hang on!" The front of the Delta Flyer ripped violently to port, suddenly pulled starboard, then burst forwards again, throwing Chakotay and the crew forwards in their seats. Alarms blared and warning signals flashed across all of their screens as the Delta Flyer whipped severely from side to side, over, and over, and over again. The Delta Flyer creaked, shuddered, and moaned angrily, as if it was desperately begging for the crew to stop.
"Commander, this is ridiculous!" Neelix shouted, gripping Emma's desk hopelessly.
"Agreed!" Chakotay called back. "Paris, get us out of here! Abort! Abort!" But another malevolent, invisible force slammed into the starboard side of the shuttle, causing the Flyer to spin uncontrollably.
"Sorry, sir!" Paris yelled. "I haven't got a choice now! I have to set her down!"
"What!" Neelix threw himself to Chakotay's side and held tightly onto the back of his chair with all his might. "Under no circumstances should we land on the surface of that death trap!"
Chakotay wanted to respond to Neelix, but the Delta Flyer suddenly dropped out of the air, tumbling through the thick, violent clouds, the Delta Flyer shaking uncontrollably, until the fog of storms parted and the Flyer slowly regained a steady pace. Although Chakotay had been able to see geographical features from orbit, the view outside the windshield was completely black as if a layer of black silt had been pressed against the hull of the shuttle. Finally, the Flyer rested upon the ground, coming to a merciful stop as Paris gently rested the shuttle on the surface of the rogue planet. The unnerving darkness outside the windscreen was thick and black, but, if Chakotay strained hard enough, he could just pick out vague bumpy ridges that could have been the snaggy mountain range he had seen from orbit.
The alarms and warnings quickly silenced themselves. After a few moments of silence, Chakotay relaxed. That was perhaps the bumpiest ride he'd endured since his Maquis days. "Everyone still alive?" Paris chuckled.
"Only just." Chakotay responded. "I'll try and report to Voyager." Chakotay swiftly typed on his databoard, quickly wrapping up a subspace databurst and pointing it in the direction of Voyager, however, the signal failed to reach the ship. He tried again. Same result. Swearing to himself, Chakotay informed the crew that Voyager was out of their range, so they were on their own.
"Well that's comforting." Paris moaned.
"We just have to wait for the storm to pass, then we can continue the mission. For now, we wait here." Chakotay assured them, displaying a reassuring smile particularly towards Emma, who was visibly sweating and shaking having experienced her first extremely turbulent shuttle ride that she likened to a near death experience.
They sat for a while, mostly twiddling their thumbs while Emma continued to scan the surface of the planet, hoping perhaps to discover incredible extremophiles, but inevitably finding nothing. Above them, the storms raged on, whining and whistling hauntingly, raging across the dead landscape. There was no snow because there was no water. There was no light because the radiation storms above absorbed almost all visible light. There was no sign of life. The planet was a true wasteland.
Behind him, Chakotay felt Neelix's over eagerness that warned him he was about to spin a wild story about one of his many endeavours, so he quickly tried to appear as if he was deep in concentration, working on a very important job that didn't technically exist. However, he was too late.
"You know-" He began, causing Chakotay to roll his eyes. "-I remember when a good friend of mine, Kelax - Captain of a mighty Talaxian cargo vessel, good man, great dancer - had to make an emergency landing on a planet thought to be completely dead, much like this one. He called it Darkworld. Anyway, while on this planet, Kelax's ship mysteriously lost power." Neelix added a childish 'whooo' and waved his hands around his head, making Emma chuckle uncontrollably. "Members of his crew began to disappear, but Kelax managed to escape just in time. He never found out what happened to his missing crew members, nor what happened to his ship, but he believed that an unknowable creature of the Darkworld was responsible."
"How is that even possible?" Kim questioned, raising an unenthusiastic eyebrow.
"I've been scanning this planet and, although I'd like to believe life could exist anywhere, this planet is too unforgiving." Emma stated definitely. "Nothing could live here."
Neelix argued. "I don't know what to tell you. Something took his crew."
"I tend to agree with Harry." Paris joined in. "Did you feel that storm we just flew through? That was the worst radiation storm I've ever experienced."
"But a creature of some sort attacked Kelax's crew, so there could be something out there, stalking us."
Chakotay smiled. He could tell Neelix was toying with them which always seemed to amuse the enigmatic Talaxian.
"Look." Emma directed everyone's attention to her viewscreen. "This planet, Darkworld, is constantly saturated with cosmic background radiation, intense UV radiation, and not to mention the atmosphere is mostly concentrated sulphuric acid. Nothing, let alone multicellular organisms, could possibly live here, I'm afraid." Neelix continued to stir up conversation, so Emma asked Chakoytay, who was lost in his own thoughts, what he believed.
Taking a deep breath, Chakotay responded, although he was trying to avoid being dragged into the argument. "I think that the universe has a habit of surprising people." He smirked, knowing the vagueness of his response would drive the fact-driven Emma completely crazy.
All of the sudden, every single light, instrument, technological device, even the backup LEDs switched off. Darkness draped its malevolent black cloak over the crew. Chakotay, Kim, and Paris kicked into action immediately. They launched themselves at their respective stations, tapping the touchpad furiously, desperately trying to get the ship's systems to respond, but alarmingly the Delta Flyer remained unresponsive. It was as still as a dead cat. Collectively, they tried again, this time they typed more despairingly, but the Delta Flyer did not respond. Nothing was working.
"I can't get the Flyer to respond." Paris alerted the crew.
"Neither can I." Harry added.
Slipping off his chair, Chakotay ripped a solid panel off of the underside of his station. Normally, all of the wires and coils glowed a chilling pale blue, but Chakotay's wires were grey and dead. Dread washed over him as he pulled himself to his feet. "We've lost power." He gulped, swallowing a growing lump in his throat.
"Maybe it's the Darkworkd creature." Neelix sniggered.
A mask of fear latched itself onto Emma's face. "Do you think something has done this? Something that wants to do us harm?"
"We're completely defenceless!" Harry added.
Paris swiftly spun around in his seat and came to face Emma and Harry. "Don't worry." He charmed her. "It's like you said: nothing could live out there." He strongly stated.
Silently, Chakotay caught Paris' attention and asked discreetly, "Are the shields still up?" Paris simply shook his head. A knowing concerned look appeared on his young face. The shields were down and the skin of the Delta Flyer was exposed to pure sulphuric acid in the atmosphere.
Silence fell again.
At that moment, the Delta Flyer's hull shuddered slightly, then a deep groaning reverberated throughout the ship. Quickly, the groaning was encompassed by the dreadful sound of scraping metal which ached and whined like two heavy sheets of metal grinding together.
Panicked, Neelix suddenly leapt to his feet, a sudden realisation striking him like a bolt of sparkling lightning. "If we have no power then the shields are off! The acid in the air must be destroying the hull!"
Paris shook his head. "No. The Delta Flyer's hull will resist the acid for weeks."
Heart slapping the shaking floor, Chakotay knew Paris was exaggerating in order to calm the more inexperienced of the crew down. He knew that the severity of the acid was corrosive enough to tear through the hull of the Delta Flyer in less than a day. However, he also knew that if he told Emma and Neelix then they'd panic and Chakotay needed to take control of the situation quickly. He didn't know how much time they had before they'd run out of air, so he needed everyone to remain calm.
"We've lost power to everything!" Emma became nervously frightened. "Even life support!"
"How much air have we got?" Harry questioned, terrified.
"Lots." Paris said, his mask of confidence slowly slipping off his face like a wet water painting.
"Are you sure?" Emma pointed upwards with trembling fingers. "Voyager doesn't know we're in trouble. We could be trapped here for hours, days, weeks!"
"We don't have enough supplies!"
"And don't forget the acid!" Neelix added.
"Don't be ridiculous." Paris added, his once confident face now twisted with horror and primal fear.
The orchestra of panicked voices washed over each other, drowning out any comprehendable words, the intensity of their fear rising into a crescendo of unanswered questions. Chakotay could pick out a few phrases from the chaos of voices. "This is your fault, Neelix!" "Don't pick on Neelix."
In an instant, Chakotay shot out of his chair. "Enough!" He bellowed, immediately silencing the distorted, ear-grating musical of confused voices. "We are the crew of the USS Voyager. We've been dragged to the other side of the galaxy. We've fought the Borg. We've defied the odds more times than I can remember. We've been through much worse than this. When we fail to report to Voyager, Captain Janeway will investigate and we will be back on Voyager long before we run out of air." Chakotay's assertiveness served to steadily calm the crew, much to his relief. "Now, let's focus on getting the power back on." Chakotay slipped out of the cockpit and disappeared into the rear compartment of the Delta Flyer, adding: "I'll check the warp core."
Silence fell again as the crew began to concentrate on their respective stations. Paris jumped out of the pilot seat and pranced over to Emma's side, replacing his mask of confidence and charming magnetism. "How are you, Emma?" He asked, wanting to reassure the inexperienced Ensign.
Her shy smirk infected Tom with uncontrollable joy. "I'm okay now." She said between deep breaths.
"You have nothing to worry about. This planet is just playing tricks on us. It wouldn't be the first time." He added a skip to his step, forcing a slight chuckle from Emma. "Chakotay will have the power on in no time and we'll be back on Voyager before you know it." Suddenly, Paris shivered, an invisible freezing snake slithered down his spine, infesting each frozen vertebrae with pores of cold that felt like a thousand tiny ice cubes. Scanning his surroundings, Paris quickly determined that everyone was feeling the same sense of sudden coldness, but Tom reassured himself by telling his mind that the Delta Flyer was just losing heat to the surroundings and, once Chakotay gets the power back online, the shuttle will heat up again. Tom rubbed his shoulders and returned to his seat.
At last, a calming, welcomed silence fell on the Delta Flyer.
BANG. BANG. BANG.
Instantaneously, Tom darted to his feet. "What was that?" He asked himself. Had he just imagined that banging? He glanced at Harry and the others. Neelix, Emma, and Harry were all scanning the perimeter of the Delta Flyer, scrutinising every nook and cranny of the sleek vessel.
"Did you hear that?" Neelix asked, but no one responded, stunned into silence by the unexpected noise.
Shaking his head, Paris sat down again. Don't be ridiculous, he told himself.
BANG. BANG. BANG.
There it was again! Paris snapped back in his seat, facing the rest of the crew. Collectively, they were frozen in place like a parade of solemn statues carved from unbreakable stone. Fear began to spread from person to person. The banging was succinct and clear. Three bangs. Pause. Three more bangs. Pause. And repeat.
"It's just the hull cooling." Paris tried to reassure the others, but he quickly found that his attempts were in vain. They were altogether experiencing a shared growing sense of pure dread. The banging continued to clang on the hull. As it continued, Paris followed the clanging with his ears until he came to the starboard station.
Neelix shot a shaking finger towards the spot on the hull where the knocking appeared to be emanating from. "It's coming from there."
"There is no it." Paris affirmed, but he could barely believe his own words. He could clearly hear the source of the banging on the other side of the starboard hull. Cautiously, he leaned against the cool metal, pressing his ear to the tetraburnium alloy hull which was chilling to the touch. For a prolonged moment, the banging seemed to stop. Paris prepared to breathe a sigh of relief. Seconds later, the banging chimed again, suddenly increased in intensity, and raced up the side of the Delta Flyer until it stopped on the roof. After a dread long moment, the banging returned to the systematic tapping from before.
Kim carefully rose to his feet, terrified eyes fixed on the ceiling of the shuttle. "That can't be the hull cooling. It moved. It definitely moved. There must be something out there."
"No, that's not possible. It must be rocks hitting the hull." Emma's voice shook with anxiety.
Paris - whose nervous eyes were locked onto the ceiling of the shuttle, warily watching the source of the systematic clanging - shook his head in disbelief. "I landed us in the open, nothing could just fall against the sides." His words were barely a whisper.
"It must be the creature." Kim's trembling voice sounded.
"Look, this is silly. We've established that nothing can live out there. You're allowing your imagination to run wild, Harry." Defiantly, Paris lurched forward, tucked his fingers into a fist, and banged on the fuselage two distinct times. He paused. There was nothing. Nothing but silence. Grinning from ear to ear, Tom spread his arms joyfully. "See."
To his horror, two bangs reverberated throughout the hull of the Flyer seconds after his defiant gesture. Paris immediately recoiled in terror; his heart sprinted circuits around his body, pumping adrenaline into every twinging, tense muscle.
"It answered!" Neelix shivered in the corner of the aft section, panic stricken and paralysed by fear.
Swallowing his fear through a large lump in his throat, Tom - paranoia punishing his bravery with waves of primitive terror that caused his limbs to shake and sweat constantly - reached out and tapped on the fuselage. After a short pause, the knocking perfectly parroted his tapping, distinct and clear.
"You see!" Neelix stuck a trembling finger towards the source of the knocking while ducking behind Emma and he attempted to conceal his entire body behind her small chair like a child hiding behind a sofa after becoming frightened by a predatory shadow. "It answered. It answered." He murmured to himself between chattering teeth.
Swiftly, Emma placed a tender hand on Neelix's quivering shoulder. "Nothing could possibly exist outside the confines of the Delta Flyer. It's impossible."
"Then how do you explain the banging?" Kim asked. "It responded."
"There must be a logical explanation."
Paris scoffed playfully. "You sound like Tuvok."
"I'd love to hear your explanation of this." Kim threw his hands up in frustration.
Emma started to argue, but Paris stopped her by holding up his finger and shushing them. Straining, he pressed his ear against the cold metal of the Delta Flyer again, listening closely to the distressing silence. The Flyer became so quiet that Paris could hear his shaking lungs filling with oxygen and his heart pounding out of his chest, but he could no longer hear anything coming from outside the ship. There was nothing. Just nothing. Where did it go? In that moment, the entire craft fell deathly silent. Perhaps the knocking was just the hull cooling after all, Paris hoped.
Suddenly, a brutal force smashed the full weight of a thousand barrelling freight trains into the port side, violently lifting the vessel to a harsh angle, wildly throwing Paris, Emma, Kim, and Neelix across the cockpit until they thrashed into the starboard wall, slamming with a vicious crash. Emma let slip a shrill scream as the invisible force launched another aggressive attack that battered the Flyer like a rampaging horde of stampeding rhinos stamping across the port side of the badly beaten hull. Boiling sparks flashed from every source of technology inside the Flyer, a raging river of cracks sheared through the fuselage, as the pummeling force fiercely threw the devastated vessel into a steeper angle. Paris guarded his face as he was tossed into the cold steel of the starboard hull, smacking the metal with enough force to completely wind him and sting his right shoulder with intense pain. A terrible scraping shuddered the walls of the Flyer. Lying on his back, Paris held his breath and braced his arms against the hull, as the ruined vessel continued to tip, groaning as the outside scraped the barbed grey rocks of the planet's surface. Tom squeezed his eyes tightly shut, praying for the tilting to stop before the vessel fell onto its roof. Terrifyingly, the arching continued until the Flyer's angled roof smashed into the serrated rocks, knocking Paris head first into the hull. He felt the vessel mercifully coming to a rest before the blaring pain in his throbbing head overcame him and, eyes rolling to the back of his head, his world faded and he fell unconscious, his limbs dropping to his side as limp as a stringless marionette.
Drifting between the enigmatic expansive world of imagination and the magical vision of his previous dreams, Paris felt lighter than a balloon filled to the brim with helium soaring through the warm air high above the clouds. Below him, his troubles floated away on the streams of twisting air currents that sifted through endless rows of fluffy white clouds and disappeared into the far distance. There, Paris hovered, whisked into a calming sense of serenity that gently stroked his sides with tender vents of relaxing smooth wind. Paris' thoughts retreated into his mind. He was trying to remember when he'd fallen asleep. As his thoughts muttered away, he suddenly felt a small twinge of pain at the back of his skull. Confused, his thoughts jumped to the source of the pain. It steadily began to grow in intensity, the small spot of pain slowly stabbed its way from the back of his skull to the front, right behind his eyes, throbbing and stinging as if a swarm of needles were stuck inside of his head. In that moment, an invisible force grabbed his shoulders and shook him roughly. The pain continued to grow. The shaking became more violent. All of the sudden, Paris felt an extreme cold creeping its way across his body as the world around him began to wash together, colours streaming into a mass of colourless glazy blurs until a suddenly emerging black patch consumed him. He was no longer flying. Instead, he was laying, his left arm awkwardly jammed under his twisted back, the pain in his head throbbed angrily, while his eyes adjusted to the darkness. A figure appeared over him, shaking his shoulders gently. Much to Paris' relief, the figure was Chakotay, who seemed unharmed aside from a large gash on his forehead that oozed a small stream of red blood.
Forcing himself upwards, Paris sat - retrieving his sore arm from his back - and he grabbed his painful head, cradling it in his left hand.
"Are you alright?" Chakotay asked.
A small part of Tom wanted to respond with a snarky comment, but the stinging pain at the back of his skull slapped whatever sense he had left back into him, so he simply said: "I'm all here… i think."
"I managed to get auxiliary power to life support online before I was ragdolled." Chakotay, after checking Tom's arm and head and coming to the conclusion that he was only bruised, jumped over to Emma, who was sat with her knees folded under her chin, then scrutinised Neelix, who sat beside Emma, and finally came to Kim's side. Harry was holding his left arm tightly against his chest and was leaning against the floor of the Delta Flyer that was now the port wall since the vessel was still resting on its side, seemingly resting against a small mound of rocks. Cautiously, Chakotay tested Kim's arm, but he could feel immediately that his arm was broken across the forearm. He tore a piece of fabric from his trouser leg, swiftly fashioned a sling, then supported Harry's broken arm while wrapping the sling around his neck and arm. "Try to keep this immobilised." He stated. Kim nodded in response.
Satisfied no one was seriously injured, Chakotay stood on the wall of the cockpit. "Is everyone okay?" He asked the crew. Emma and Neelix shared a terrified nod. "Okay. We must have slipped. But the good news is I've rerouted auxiliary power to life support. By now we should have rendezvoused with Voyager, so they know we're in trouble. In the meantime we need to focus on assessing the damage and making repairs." After checking if Kim was up to assisting, Chakotay directed Paris and Harry to join him in the back of the Delta Flyer.
Watching the three Starfleet officers disappear into the rear that was cast in impenetrable black shadows, Neelix calmed himself, and sat beside Emma, who was rocking forwards and backwards with her knees firmly pressed against her chest. Her eyes were lost in terrified thought, darting between each corner of her eyes again and again. Gently, he placed a tender hand on her shoulder. "Hey." He started, shaking her slightly. "Are you feeling okay?"
Emma started shaking her head, traumatised. "I scanned this planet. Nothing could live out there. But Kelax… How could it be?" Her words slipped into an inaudible whisper.
"You're right." Neelix began. "This planet is dead. I made up the story about Kelax."
The skittish young officer shot her head up, beaming with confusion. "You lied? Does Kelax even exist?"
"Oh yeah! Kelax is a real captain, but I lied about everything else."
"Why?" Her legs straightened as she bolted upright.
"Honestly, I thought it would help with the boredom. I'm sorry for scaring you, Emma." Shame adorned Neelix's face as his eyes hit the floor.
Straightening her back, Emma flexed her shoulders, adjusted to sit more comfortably, then edged towards Neelix, placing a kindly hand over the Talaxian's arm. "It's okay." She softly said. "I forgive you."
Neelix allowed himself to smile in thanks.
All of the sudden, a quick panicked cry echoed from the bowels of the Delta Flyer, immediately diverting Emma's and Neelix's attention. Speedily, Neelix darted to his feet and raced into the depths of the battered vessel, Emma following closely behind. The bulkhead that led into the rear compartments of the Flyer was wedged in a half open position which concealed the entrance way in thick black shadows. Awkwardly, Neelix and Emma crawled through the tight gap between the door and the side of the doorway which had become their floor when the Flyer had unexpectedly tipped onto its side. Neelix found that navigating the vessel while everything was flipped was extremely unnerving as if he were exploring a completely alien vessel. As they clambered over the cracked walls of the fuselage, the bullied vessel winced and groaned, whining like a wounded wild animal. Finally, Neelix and Emma slipped into the rear compartment which was in a similar condition to the cockpit: wires, pipes and sheets of metal loosely hung from corners of the medical area, dripping a cascade of sparks. Sprawled out in the centre of the darkened area, Paris lay unconscious and pale like a sickly moon. Harry was huddled over him with a medical tricorder he had retrieved from the medical area which he waved over the Lieutenant's motionless body.
Shocked, Emma rushed to kneel beside Tom just as Chakotay emerged from the innards of the warp core, engines, and computer core that Neelix could never understand no matter how many times B'Elanna had explained it to him. Chakotay quickly came to Kim's side, immediately inquiring about the situation. "What happened? What's wrong with him?" He questioned while carefully dragging Paris' limp body into a more comfortable position in between the metal poles where the hull had been bolted together.
Kim's eyebrows raised, perplexed by the results of his tricorder scan. "I don't know." He simply responded, uncertainty ringing throughout his voice. "I was in the cargo hold. I came back and he was just lying there." He displayed the screen of the tricorder to Chakotay. "I can't make any sense of this."
Leaning over, Emma studied the tricorder. "Leave it with me." She stated, accepting the device from Kim. "I was once forced to listen to the Doctor's speech on the medical history of tricorders." She flashed a quick smile before taking a seat next to Paris.
Thanking Emma, Chakotay indicated for Harry and Neelix to clamber back through the half open bulkhead, dodging sudden sprays of sparks, and slipping back into the upturned cockpit. A chill danced a chaotic samba along Harry's spine as the hull of the Flyer continued to groan and shriek as if a mysterious creature with long sharp claws was systematically scratching the walls over and over again, intentionally trying to scare them wittless. Accidentally, Harry knocked his broken arm against a metal beam which sparked a wildfire of agony to spread up his side like a stream of boiling heat, so he gently rested against the back of the pilot seat. Neelix balanced his body against the front windshield while Chakotay stood between them, seemingly unphased by the large gash in his forehead that continued to leak blood over his left eye.
Kim's thoughts were with Paris. He had left the Commander and Paris in the aft section while he followed energy readings from his tricorder into the cargo hold. He was expecting to find a serious electrical problem that needed immediate attention, but before he could fully investigate, he had heard a loud thud from where he'd left the others. He remembered struggling to climb out of the cargo hold with one arm - a mixture of carefully planned manoeuvres and tumbling clumsily from step to step - only to find Tom unconscious, but alone. At first, he had thought that Paris had slipped and hit his head, or passed out since he was moaning about a pain in his skull, but the medical tricorder he had quickly scooped up from the storage compartments kept informing him that Paris was completely fine.
"What happened, Commander?" He asked Chakotay, cradling his painfully sore arm.
Chakotay appeared to be distant. An eternity of seconds passed before he finally registered Harry's question. "I have no idea. I didn't see anything." He responded quickly. "I'm sure he will be fine. We need to get the shields back online. We don't have long before the acid penetrates the hull and we want to make sure we're still here when Voyager arrives, don't we?" The Commander gave Harry a reassuring smirk.
Unconvinced, Harry responded harshly. "We don't even know what caused the power loss in the first place!"
"Calm down, Ensign." Chakotay's voice was calm. "Voyager will be here in no more than a couple hours. All we have to do is focus on restoring power to the shields."
Nodding in agreement, Kim bit his tongue. "Yes Commander." He said, drawing in several deep, soothing breaths. After a desperately needed pause, Chakotay led them back into the aft section, ignoring the continual grating of the acid chewing at the outer hull of the Flyer, and passed Emma, who had found emergency medical blankets which she was using to keep Paris warm. Chakotay quickly directed Kim into a jefferies tube to see if he would have better luck with the Delta's Flyer's crippled systems. In the meantime, Chakotay removed a panel from the wall, exposing an ecosystem of wires and cables that meandered around each other like two entwined neon snakes tying knots into themselves. Seeing everyone else hard at work, Neelix felt awkward and longed to fill the silence that had laid its malevolent veil across the traumatised crew. Eagerly, Neelix leaned against the bulkhead beside Chakotay, whose focus was narrowed on the guts of the wall panel. "Tell me a story, Commander."
"Tell me about an embarrassing story from your childhood. Something really funny. For example, I once managed to get stuck in a slippery situation, but-"
"-I can't afford to waste time on your stories." The Commander snapped, irritated.
Bewildered by the Commander's bizarrely angry outburst, Neelix worried that the desperation of their situation was beginning to affect the Commander for the worse, so he leant closer. "Let me help you." Innocently, Neelix put his hand in the endless, tangled mess of wires. Chakotay immediately protested, wildly waving his arms in irritation, and accidentally touched Neelix's hand. In an instant, Neelix recoiled. A primitive survival instinct had jerked his hand away from a sudden and unexpected decrease in temperature. Staring, jaw wide open in horror, Neelix hadn't noticed the Commander tucking his hand behind his back because he was shocked when their hands touched and Chakotay's felt cold. Cold as stone. They stared at each other for a moment. Neelix was petrified with disbelief. Thankfully, Chakotay pointed towards the jefferies tube, saying: "Go check on Mr Kim if you want to be useful."
Nervously, Neelix hurried over to the entrance of the claustrophobia-inducing jefferies tube, desperate to put as much distance between him and the Commander, almost tripping over in the process. He rubbed his hands together. Never had he ever touched someone that cold. Usually, he expected, when making contact with another creature, to feel warmth from the many biological systems that worked together harmoniously, but when he had touched Chakotay he felt a deathly cold. Staring at his hands, Neelix barely noticed Kim carefully dragging himself out of the depths of the tunnel with one arm. Neelix dismissed his thoughts. He must have been mistaken. Ever since the Delta Flyer had crashed, the interior was getting progressively colder. Shaking his head, he turned his attention towards the Ensign. Worry lines wrinkled his face serving as river beds for the beads of sweat that ebbed from Harry's face and his eyes were wide and unmoving.
"What's wrong?" Neelix questioned.
"I've found evidence of… sabotage." Kim's face froze. "Some of those power lines have been cut just enough to spark a chain of system failures."
"Who could have done this?" Neelix found himself whispering, using his body to block their conversation from the rest of the crew.
Kim wriggled out of the jefferies tube. "They couldn't have done it before we left because Tom and I checked the Flyer top to bottom. It was fine. So, the sabotage must have happened during the mission."
"Did that cause the power to be cut out?" Neelix added.
"No, I think the radiation storm could have overloaded the system." Kim jerked a finger towards the depths of the jefferies tube. "That damage was definitely deliberate and is making it impossible to restore power to the entire ship."
A sudden, horrible realisation slid into Neelix's mind. "Commander Chakotay was in the jefferies tube when we found Paris."
A stunned silence fell between them.
"No." Kim stated firmly. "He was in the cockpit with us when the power cut out."
"But when I touched the Commander just now he was cold." He leaned in closer. "It was like touching a corpse."
Startled, Kim hauled himself to his feet. "What are we talking about here? Mutiny?"
The silence was immediately shattered by an extremely ear piercing shriek that reverberated from somewhere high in the atmosphere. Seconds later, a bright flash whipped through the Delta Flyer, temporarily blinding Kim and Neelix. Just as quickly as the white light appeared, it vanished. Systematically, each and every emergency light bulb switched off, instantly recasting the Flyer in a thick black abyss. Kim stumbled into Neelix. The darkness was so thick that he couldn't even see his hand in front of his face, like swimming in a soup of impenetrable fog. "We've been hit by radiation lightning from the storm." He said. "The lights should turn on in a minute." He reassured Neelix and himself. Seconds seemed to drag into hours before the soft white lights burst back into life. Swiftly, Kim raced back into the aft compartment. To his horror, Chakotay was standing over Emma, the young Ensign was spread across the floor beside Tom, motionless like a coffin cast from lead. Her once twinkling turquoise eyes were consumed by a cloud of pale liquid that merged into the whites of those glossy spheres. Pink cheeks were replaced by sickly pale skin and her blonde hair loosely sprawled across the floor beside her statute-like face. It was as if her very life force was drained from her. Kim recoiled in shock.
"She's dead." Chakotay said, voided eyes staring into nothingness.
Behind Kim, Neelix gasped, stepped backwards, and allowed his body to sag limply against the fuselage, limbs dangling with sombre sadness. Neelix could barely believe his eyes. He had been talking to the young ensign less than an hour ago. Chatting about her wonderful life, her past, her future, all gone now. Her life had been cruelly ripped from her in a sudden moment.
Slowly, Chakotay rose to his feet. "I have to get the shields online." He stated before quickly retreating back into the cockpit, a determined mask etched onto his face. Stunned, anger flashed across Kim's face as he stormed after the Commander, ignoring the pain in his broken arm.
"The Delta Flyer was sabotaged." Kim stated firmly, charging after Chakotay, who had darted into the main cockpit of the vessel, his back turned to him, his broad, riot shield shoulders obscuring his face. "You were the only one alone." Kim added, expecting a harsh reaction from his commanding officer.
Neelix spoke to Chakotay's back. "Why are your hands so cold, Commander?"
"The heating isn't working, Neelix. We're all cold." Chakotay retorted.
Cautiously, Kim took a step towards Chakotay. "Why are you so focussed on the shields? Paris is unconscious. Emma is dead. Why aren't you more concerned about the possibility that one of us is a murderer?"
"Is this a mutiny?" Chakotay swivelled around, commanding eyes drilling a hole into Kim's skull like a high powered phaser carving through the hull of a technologically inferior starship. Shivering, Kim retreated, his Starfleet training wincing at the terrible thought of starting a mutiny.
"No." Neelix began. "Of course not."
A flash of wicked coldness appeared in Chakotay's eyes for a split second. "Good." He sneered. Suddenly, the coldness vanished, immediately consumed by a mask of reassurance and understanding. "Look-" He began. "-I know the situation seems bad. Allowing ourselves to be overcome with grief won't help us get out of this place. Voyager is only half an hour away. We should focus on restoring power to the shields." He smiled. Desperately, Kim fought to conceal his grimace of disgust. The Commander's smile was hollow and emotionless.
Hastily, Harry and Neelix apologised, made their excuses, then slipped back through the half open doorway, and back into the aft section. Depressed, Neelix sagged to the floor next to Emma and reached for her unmoving arm with sorrowful hands. Neelix gave the once lively ensign a mournful Talaxian farewell while Harry retrieved an emergency blanket. Delicately, Kim covered Emma's body and face with the blanket. He didn't know her very well, he cursed himself for not paying her more attention, yet he mouthed a solemn goodbye before concealing her beneath the sheet. After a melancholy moment, Kim spotted a glint of light emanating from the darkest corner of the upturned aft section. He carefully stepped past Paris and reached into the darkness, fingers curling around the familiar box shape of the medical tricorder. Harry studied the tricorder for a moment. The little screen was displaying records of having scanned Paris, but the results of the scan were mysteriously missing. Reading closer, Kim realised Emma had been specifically scanning Tom's face and hands. Curious, he repeated her experiment. It took him less than a minute to wave the tricorder over Tom's unconscious face and hands which caught Neelix's attention. At last, the results of his scan flashed across its screen. Kim almost dropped the device.
"What have you found?" Neelix asked.
Kim's face drained with colour, his throat became sore and dry as he tried to swallow his fear. "There are trace elements of DNA on Tom's hands. It belongs to Commander Chakotay."
Collectively, their stomachs slammed into the floor.
"Tom must have found out that Chakotay had sabotaged the ship." He indicated at the tricorder with nervous fingers. "The results of Emma's scan were deleted. I bet she discovered the same evidence when he killed her."
"This is not good."
Understatement of the year, Harry thought. A growing sense of vile sickness bubbled within Harry's mind as he forced himself to grapple with the realisation that Chakotay could be a murderer and that he and Neelix would have to mutiny against their stalwart Commander. Maybe the isolation of the Delta quadrant finally snapped the Commander's mind? Maybe he decided he was Maquis afterall and decided now was the time to take out some of the crew? No way, Kim told himself, I've known Chakotay for years now. There must be some other explanation. There must be? Right? Swiftly, Kim swept up the nearest phaser from the closest storage compartment and tucked it into the pocket of his uniform. He knew they had to confront Chakotay, but he feared that his paranoia and growing sick feeling would overcome him. He looked to Neelix for support. Neelix simply nodded. Taking in what Kim considered to be the last deep breath he'd be able to inhale for a long time, Harry and Neelix crawled back into the cockpit to face Commander Chakotay.
Huddled over a dissected portion of green humming motherboards and cast in a dark shadow, Chakotay was working away, seemingly unaware that Kim and Neelix were standing behind him with accusatory faces. Harry kept his tricorder - loaded with evidence - close to his broken arm.
"Commander." Kim coughed.
A guttural snarl slipped through Chakotay's gritted teeth. "What!" He demanded, refusing to break eye contact with the guts of the Flyer that was strewn out beside his knees.
"I've discovered something that needs to be brought to your attention."
Chakotay did not respond.
Nevertheless, Kim continued. "I believe that the initial power outage was caused by passing through the radiation storm in the planet's atmosphere. However, I have found evidence of sabotage in the jefferies tube which has been preventing continual attempts to restore power."
Finally, Kim noticed Chakotay, who carefully placed the pieces of technology he had been working on next to the mess of green wires and steel cables beside him, diverting his attention with a slight movement of his head.
"Paris was attacked while I was in the cargo hold. Neelix and Emma were both in the cockpit. Where were you?"
"Emma was killed while Neelix and I were in the jefferies tube. Where were you?"
Chakotay growled angrily. "Is this a mutiny?"
Swallowing, Kim hesitatingly retorted. "Yes. Sir."
Suddenly, Chakotay rose to his feet, straightened his shoulders to increase his looming height, towering over Neelix and Harry - broad shoulders caging the pair in a torturous prison - and stared at them with cold, dead eyes that brimmed with pure, vengeful hatred. Overshadowed by the Commander, Kim found himself taking a few trembling steps backwards. He couldn't believe his eyes. Chakotay's face was so consumed with hate, so boiling with anger, that it no longer appeared to be his commanding officer. It was as if he was staring at an imposter. Exactly identical to Chakotay in every physical detail except this Chakotay was a sadistic murderer.
Every single fibre of muscle in Harry's body shook violently. "What do you want?" He forced himself to ask as the looming shadow of the hate filled Commander enveloped the cockpit in a fiendish abyss, as if they were drowning in choking oil. Chakotay's furious eyes twisted and turned until a deep, red blood-like liquid spilled into his irises, mutating them into two glowing red orbs that emanated an aura of sadistic cruelty. The Commander's head tilted to the left, a barbarous smile stretched across his face which oozed with demonic evil.
Horrified, Kim dropped his tricorder. "What are you?" He asked the creature that was wearing Chakotay like a skin suit.
The entity did not respond. Instead, it titled Chakotay's head to the right, hungry red eyes scanning every detail of Harry and Neelix. "Hungry." The entity spoke through Chakotay with a hoarse, guttural voice that reverberated throughout Harry's bones. "So very hungry." The creature grinned a toothy smile and licked the tips of its teeth. Grimacing in disgust, Harry reached for his phaser. In a flash of movement, the entity launched itself at Kim, throwing the full weight of the six foot tall boxer into the skittish ensign, which smashed him into the floor, instantly losing his grip on his phaser. The phaser bounced into the darkness of the aft section. Harry cried out in agony as the entity twisted his broken arm around his back. Neelix jumped forward, but the entity snapped back and rammed its shoulder into the small Talaxian. Instantly, Neelix fell hard against the edge of the starboard station desk, then fell limp, rendered unconscious by a blow to the head. Desperately, Harry crawled away from the entity, tidal waves of anguish tumbling through his entire shaking body. However, Chakotay's body came to stand over him, blocking out the soft emergency lights, casting him in an inescapable shadow. The entity kicked Harry's leg, freezing him in place as more tsunamis of uncontrollable pain flooded through him again. Aggressively, the entity bent down, gripped Kim's collar and ripped him into an upright position. Evil red eyes burnt into his skull, but surging torrents of adrenaline and pain had been pulling Kim in so many different directions all at the same time, confusing his terrified limbs, which caused him to freeze in place.
The entity, a vile smile still spread across Chakotay's face like a twisting painting devised by a madman, raised its right hand which started to glow with a silvery light. Terrifyingly, Kim felt a dreadful sense of numbness climbing up to his chest from his petrified legs. Horrified thoughts stampeded through Kim's shaking mind. The entity was draining his life force! He was going to die! Then the entity would kill Neelix and finish the job on Tom! Harry tried to struggle, to fight back, to scream, anything, but his limbs refused to budge and the sense of numbness continued to climb malevolently into his chest. The beaming red eyes of the fiendish entity gleamed with sadistic joy. It was going to kill him. It was going to suck the life out of him.
Mercifully, a precise orange beam from a phaser struck the entity, causing it to reel backwards. Harry fell limb against the floor. The pain in his arm reassured him that he was still alive. Craning his neck, Harry saw Paris standing his ground ahead of the broken bulkhead, phaser in hand. A bright heavenly light emanated from behind him like a guardian angel descending from the vibrant, yellow sun. However, like a devil from the darkness, the entity lurched forward, seemingly unaffected by the phaser blast. Paris fired again. Chakotay's body jerked backwards, but the entity forced it to move closer towards Tom. Determined, Paris fired again. The phaser beam struck the entity in the chest. It stopped. Kim noticed its knees beginning to wobble.
"Shoot him again!" Kim cried. Immediately, Paris fired for the last time. Mercifully, the entity staggered backwards before Chakotay's legs gave out beneath them and they tumbled to the floor, motionless.
Crying with relief, Kim relaxed. Paris, although still woozy from almost having his life nearly drained from him not two hours ago, rushed to Neelix's side. "He's fine." He said - his phaser still trained on Chakotay's unconscious body.
"Harry, are you okay?" Paris asked, kneeling beside his friend, with one eye carefully watching the entity.
Harry checked himself. The growing numbness quickly subsided and, while his broken arm still stang ferociously, he sat himself up and forced a smile on his face. "Yes. I'm alright." Kim grabbed Paris' arm. "What happened to you?"
Haunted, Paris stared at Chakotay's motionless body. "That thing tried to kill me, but you saved my life. I think you interrupted it when he came back from the cargo hold." Sorrowful eyes returned to look at Harry. "It killed Emma." Paris cursed himself.
Silence fell as Kim and Paris sat next to each other, watching Chakotay closely, terrified that the entity might suddenly spark back into life and try to devour the pair of them, but after a long fifteen minutes the voice of an angel sounded through their comm units.
"Voyager to the Delta Flyer." Captain Janeway's voice immediately calmed Paris' tense trigger finger.
Instantly, Paris jumped to his feet, tapping his comm unit, and speaking to the sky, picturing the cradle of hope that was the USS Voyager. "Paris to Janeway. Emergency. Four to beam directly to sickbay." The well oiled machine of the crew of the Voyager responded immediately, transporting the surviving crew through the radiation cloud and far away from the barren, inhospitable rogue planet.
Captain Kathryn Janeway marched through the endless corridors of the USS Voyager, flanked by two security officers who had their phaser set to stun at the ready. Hours ago, they had missed their scheduled rendezvous with the Delta Flyer, so they hurried back to the rogue planet she had sent them to. It had taken them an agonisingly long two hours to finally arrive at the planet only to find the Delta Flyer crippled and tipped on its side on the surface of the dead world. Janeway was relieved to have heard Tom's voice over the communication system, but her relief was quickly consumed by fear when he called for an emergency. As soon as the transport chief verified the crew were successfully teleported to sickbay, Janeway had leapt out of the Captain's chair and charged into the turbolift. Swiftly, she trooped into sickbay, the automatic doors sliding open with a quiet hiss, where she found: Neelix standing in the corner, Ensign Kim stood beside the Doctor, cradling his newly repaired arm, Paris sat on a medical bed next to Chakotay. Furthest away from the crew was Ensign Emma Simms' lifeless body which the recovery team had beamed to sickbay. The Doctor was scanning Mr Paris with his medical tricorder.
"What happened, Mr Kim?" She demanded, distressed by the sight of Emma's body.
She was surprised to hear Harry stumbling over his words as he recounted the events of the mission. She listened attentively as Kim explained to her how the Flyer lost power then something struck the vessel causing it to become severely damaged. Then he explained how the entity, which they couldn't explain how it survived on the rogue planet, tormented them and seemed to possess Chakotay in order to kill them off one by one. Horrified, Janeway redirected her attention towards her first officer. He was conscious, though he appeared deeply traumatised and refused to make eye contact with her.
The Doctor completed his scan on Mr Paris and Ensign Simms' body. "This is interesting." He blurted. "It appears that every ounce of energy from Ensign Simms' body has been completely drained. In Mr Paris' case there only seems to be a partial energy drain. You got lucky."
"Tell me about it." Tom muttered.
"Unfortunately, Mr Paris, you're going to live." The Doctor retorted.
After seeking the Doctor's permission, Janeway allowed Paris, Kim, and Neelix to retreat back to their quarters for some much needed rest while a backup crew attempted to recover the Delta Flyer. The Doctor waltzed over to Chakotay's side, who was still lost in his haunted thoughts. Janeway waited with nervous anticipation as the Doctor intricately scanned Chakotay from head to toe, running every test his programming allowed. Raising an inquisitive eyebrow, the Doctor murmured to himself.
"Well?" Janeway asked. She placed a caring hand on Chakotay's shoulder. "What have you found?"
Mercifully, the Doctor broke the silence swiftly. "I can find no evidence that Commander Chakotay has been or is currently being possessed by an alien entity. I believe that it is possible for a highly telepathic force to have influenced his mind, but there is no evidence to suggest that he was directly possessed."
Janeway wasn't sure if she should be alarmed or relaxed. "How do you feel, Chakotay?" She asked him.
Finally, Chakotay locked eyes with hers. He took a moment to embrace a deep, calming breath. "I feel strange. It's difficult to explain, but whatever force took control of me instilled one strong emotion into my mind."
"What do you remember?"
Chakotay reached into the depths of his mind, his memories burnt his thoughts like singing embers from a raging bonfire. "We had to make an emergency landing on the planet's surface. Then, all of a sudden, the power had cut off, so I tried to get life support online by going into the jefferies tube." He paused, recollecting his scattered thoughts. "I felt the Delta Flyer being shaken then it began to tip over." He cushioned his forehead where his head wound once was, which the Doctor had healed after determining he had a very mild concussion. "I hit my head. Then everything went black. I distinctly remember feeling extremely cold, terrified, and alone, but they weren't my thoughts. Something forced its way into my head and overwhelmed me with one simple emotion." He stopped himself, horrified.
Janeway leant in closer, trying to reassure the Commander. "What was it?" She asked, tenderly.
Slowly, Chakotay looked up at her. "Hunger." He stated. A twinge of fear struck Janeway as she witnessed the usually stoic first officer and Maquis veteran conceal tears behind his large hands. "I killed her didn't I?" He choked on his words while indicating, with a nod, towards Emma's lifeless body, which one of the security officers had covered up with a medical blanket.
Janeway shook her head definitively. "No." She stated firmly. "It was the entity. Not you, Chakotay." Thankfully, her words reassured the Commander and he relaxed slightly, pulling his head out of his hands, eyes red with tears.
"Do you know what the entity was, or where it came from?" The Doctor asked, inquisitively. "Do you know why it attacked you and the crew?"
Chakotay simply shook his head. "I have no idea." He affirmed. "All I remember after being knocked out was feeling extremely, extremely hungry." Carefully, he slipped off of the medical bed - eager to put as much distance between him and Emma's body as humanly possible - and started towards the exit of the medical bay, but he was stopped by the security officers. Slightly agitated, Chakotay turned to the Captain and the Doctor. "Permission to be dismissed from sickbay?" He asked, desperate to return to his normal routine and bury the events of the failed Darkworld mission far into the depths of his mind.
Janeway turned to the Doctor. "I don't see why not." The Doctor said. "There's nothing physically wrong with you."
"Commander, if the Doctor can't detect the presence of the alien entity, how do we know if you are really you?" Janeway asked.
Immediately, Chakotay slipped out of sickbay, the doors hissing shut behind him, which obscured the worried faces of Janeway and the Doctor. At last he was free, he thought to himself as he darted through the bustling corridors, filled to the brim with person after person like a table adorned with a buffet. Free from the inhospitable rogue planet. Free from the burning acid atmosphere. Free from the choking, unbreathable air. Free from the prison it had been trapped in for hundreds of agonising years.
Sadistic red orbs flashed across Chakotay's brown eyes.
Free from its blazing hunger.
A slight, fiendish smirk danced across Chakotay's face.
At last, it was free…