Warnings: Off screen deaths of unnamed characters.
Categories: Ship, Het, Action
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, the EMH, Torres, Tuvok
Spoilers: Devil in the Dark
A/N: Written for Crossover at Love Through the Years.
Credits: Thank you to Kim for the beta.
Disclaimer: Almost everything here belongs to Paramount, including the concept of rewriting original series episodes with new characters. The TOS episode The Devil in the Dark was originally written by Gene L. Coon, and I have used some of the original dialogue where appropriate. The aliens appearing here, however, are my property.
Voyager was in need of supplies, which really wasn't anything new. The residents of Tosis had offered those supplies at a price. If they could put an end to the killings at the mining operation on Knalb then the crew of Voyager was welcome to a fortune in raw ore and foodstuffs.
Knalb was an ugly planet surrounded by thick clouds. Its slow rotation added to its inhospitality, but it was rich in a number of valuable minerals. The Tosians, led by Chancellor Ni, had set up a mining camp, but once word of the mysterious deaths had reached the home world, workers had become scarce.
"Dozens! It's butchered dozens of my people!" The lanky Tosian paced the space between his desk and the landing party. "Production is frozen."
Janeway nodded. "Do you have any suspicions?"
The man stared at her as if the answer was obvious. "There's a monster loose in the mine."
"Has anyone seen this life form?" Janeway didn't know what had made the universal translator choose the word 'monster' but she had no intention of using the term herself.
"Not and lived to tell about it. Dozens, dead! You must find it and destroy it before anyone else is butchered." He rubbed his smooth bald head with a thin-fingered hand and pressed his thumbs against his temples.
"We'll certainly do our best to protect your people," Janeway assured him. "When did this start?"
He pushed a button on his desk, and a dark gray crystalline globe some ten inches in diameter rose from a previously unnoticed panel. "Send Nar Shat in here," he said, then turned back to Janeway. "My production engineer."
The captain nodded.
"Three cycles ago, we moved down to a new level. It was unusually rich in a number of valuable minerals. This whole planet is a treasure for our people, and we have really extended our resources in order to harvest it.
"We were just setting up to mine when things began to happen. First the automatic machinery began to disintegrate, piece by piece. The metal just seemed to dissolve away. We didn't bring anything here that can do that."
"You said people were being killed," Janeway said.
"Yes. Maintenance engineers at first. We sent them down to repair the machinery. We found them melted."
Janeway nodded and tried not to picture any members of her crew meeting the same fate.
"Would it be possible for me to examine the remains?" the Doctor asked quietly.
"You may," Chancellor Ni answered. "If you think it might help."
The door slid open to admit another lanky Tosian. He eyed the away team like a child sizing up a new babysitter.
"You've done your own investigations?" Janeway asked.
"Of course. Our constable was killed tracking the monster."
"Tracking it? Someone has seen it, then?"
"I have," said the man at the door. "Briefly."
"Could you describe it?"
"It was longer than a man and brightly colored. Fast, too. It killed Ty Berius in moments. I fired at it, but it was gone too quickly."
"Did you hit it?" Janeway asked.
"I thought so. But it wasn't affected if I did."
"What sort of weapon?"
Nar Shat glanced at his supervisor, then handed his weapon to Janeway. It looked very much like a Federation phaser from a past century. There weren't many life forms that were impervious to phaser fire.
When Janeway and the Doctor beamed back to Voyager, Chakotay was waiting in the transporter room. He gave her that look she had so often seen in sickbay; that look which climbed across the parameters of a command relationship to silently welcome her safely home; that warm look so like the embrace that protocol wouldn't allow.
He hadn't liked it when she had beamed down with the Doctor, and no security team whatsoever. "Someone or something is killing people down there, Captain."
She'd laid a hand on his chest. "All the more reason not to send a full team, Commander. Why risk extra lives? It's just a meeting. We'll be back in ten minutes."
Now she was back, and he was visibly relieved not to have been proven right. They headed for the briefing room, where the rest of the senior staff was already gathered. The captain laid out the situation as she knew it.
"Doctor, proceed with an autopsy on the most recent victim. Tuvok, assemble a small team and start your investigation by interviewing the workers. Perhaps someone has a reason for sabotage. Harry, I want a complete scan of life forms on the surface. We may be looking for a large poisonous snake, but don't limit your search. Seven, try scanning this region of space for cloaked vessels. I want to cover all possibilities."
The comm system beeped. "Captain, Chancellor Ni is hailing."
"It's our main reactor, Captain. The moderator pump is gone. Without it, we'll be without life support within twenty four hours."
"You don't have a replacement?"
"I never thought we'd need one. The thing was supposed to be indestructible."
Janeway managed the difficult, but diplomatically necessary, task of not rolling her eyes at that. "Send us the specs and I'll have my chief engineer work on a replacement."
"Thank you, Captain. That would be most generous of you."
Chakotay touched her elbow, and she glanced at him. The two exchanged a silent communication. "Perhaps, Chancellor, it might be wise for you to conserve resources under the circumstances. Might I offer Voyager's hospitality to your off duty personnel?"
The Chancellor beamed. "Thank you Captain."
With Tuvok interviewing the workers safely on Voyager, away from either the threat of a hostile life form or the camouflage such a story could provide to a saboteur, the captain joined Harry in running scans inspired by some of the more elusive life forms in the Federation database. She found it refreshing to be doing scientific work for a change.
Sabotage was probably the more plausible explanation, but in that case she had every confidence that Tuvok would find the perpetrator. For the moment, she could concentrate on the possibility of an unknown life form.
The planet's slow rotation created extremes in temperature, which meant life on the surface was unlikely, though not impossible. Janeway suspected that an indigenous life form was more likely to dwell beneath the surface. Perhaps the mining operation had disturbed something.
She went over the information they had already gathered. Knalb had an oxygen-argon atmosphere, which was breathable, if not ideal, but the mines were full of fluorine gas, making life support necessary.
That didn't mean that a native life form couldn't have evolved. Sugars could be metabolized anaerobically in a number of ways, which meant life could exist without oxygen. It was even theoretically possible for an organism to breathe fluorine.
The usual scans for nucleic acids and ATP hydrolysis yielded nothing more exciting than a half dozen varieties of algae. If the life form existed, it was either deep enough underground that the heavy metals in the planet's crust were interfering with the scan, or it was something without nucleic acid, such as a silicon based life form.
Janeway tried to imagine a giant silicon-based snake. Silicon based life forms, such as the Horta, did share a few characteristics with reptiles. Both would have a slower metabolism than the average carbon based, warm blooded organism. A slow metabolism would be an asset for something living beneath the surface of a hostile planet such as Knalb.
"Harry, let's try scanning for silicon based life."
Lieutenant Torres studied the schematics that the Tosians had transmitted. The reactor was almost comically primitive. The Federation had stopped using similar technology by the end of the twenty-first century.
One of her instructors at the Academy had claimed they were used at Federation colonies as late as the twenty-third century, but she had always assumed he had been lying. It was a ridiculously risky and impractical thing to use with so many superior options available.
She called Lieutenant Carey and Ensign Vorik. Then she smiled and called Tom as well. She might as well put his interest in antique technology to good use. Too bad the thing didn't burn fossil fuels.
"Captain, I have found no reason to suspect any of the Tosians of sabotage."
"I think there's a very good reason for that, Tuvok." Janeway pointed to her display. "There's a life form down there, just as Chancellor Ni said. One that's intelligent enough to damage the life support system."
"Captain?" Tuvok's eyebrow rose. "What facts have lead you to that conclusion?"
Her lip quirked. "The scanners have had trouble with the variety of heavy metals found in the planet's crust. But when we compensate for the disturbance, the variety of algae increases as we move deeper underground. With the inhospitality of the planet's surface, it only makes sense that any complex organisms to evolve would do so underground."
"Logical," Tuvok said. "But that does not mean that it did evolve, or that it is intelligent."
"No," Janeway agreed. "But whatever is down there, it found the one piece of equipment that the Tosians could neither replace nor operate without."
"Other equipment has been damaged."
"Yes, equipment that was sent down into the mines. But this time the damage was done at the base of operations. A wide variety of equipment is stored there, but the alien chose the reactor that powers life support."
"A logical choice if it wished to end the mining operation."
"You're not going down there alone."
She ignored the resolve in his soft voice and smiled. "I'm not, Commander?"
There was a flash of anger in his eyes, but his voice remained soft. "Captain, it's dangerous, and it isn't worth the risk. We don't know - "
"This is an intelligent species, Chakotay. We need to make first contact properly, and that means taking a non-threatening approach. If I go in with an armed security team it sends the wrong message."
"I don't disagree. But we don't have all the facts. People have been dying in that mine, and I'm not going to let you get yourself killed because we need supplies."
Her patience expired. "Last time I checked I didn't need your permission, Commander."
"Kathryn - "
"I've made my decision, Chakotay."
Her theory was sound. By running a life support system, the mining operation had destroyed the natural habitat of a fluorine breathing life form. The destruction of the reactor pointed to the intelligence of this life form, and the fact that no one had died when it had obviously visited a populated area proved that it wasn't motivated to kill, only to protect its environment.
The uneasiness she felt wasn't out of concern for her own safety. She was perfectly safe. The uneasiness she felt was due to her disagreement with Chakotay. It always rattled her when they argued. It shouldn't. But it did. If only he'd stop fussing over her like a mother hen.
She wasn't beaming down just to prove him wrong, either. If she waited, the opportunity would be lost. If she was correct, and this life form intended to stop the mining operation, then the installation of the new moderator pump would cause it to escalate its aggression. A solution had to be found now. Chakotay had to see that; he was just being stubborn.
Dressed in a bright orange EV suit, she headed for the transporter room. She would have enough oxygen to spend three hours searching for the aliens before she would have to return to an area with life support.
Three hours was plenty of time.
Janeway had been hiking through dark tunnels for over an hour. While her tricorder confirmed an increasing variety of algae, she had yet to find evidence of animal life, whether carbon or silicon based.
She caught herself hoping that the life form was silicon based. They were rare, and she had never seen one. The Horta rarely left Janus VI, and she hadn't had the opportunity to visit the planet. She had been rather jealous of those on the Enterprise when life was discovered on Velara III.
A beep reminded her that she had used half of her oxygen supply. She was about to turn back when the beam of her hand lamp fell upon some carvings on the wall. The symbols appeared to have been burned into the wall with some form of acid. And they looked fresh.
She aimed her tricorder at the etchings. Sure enough, the device recognized them as letters from the Tosian alphabet. They spelled the words "AIR BAD." The acid used had the same composition as the acid used to damage the reactor. Now certain of the validity of her hypothesis, Janeway ignored her own safety and moved deeper into the tunnels.
Evidence that the alien could communicate in the Tosian language increased her hope for a peaceful first contact. Even more important was the fact that it wanted to communicate.
Movement caught her eye and she froze, aiming the hand lamp carefully. All she saw was stone, but she suspected that she was no longer alone. "Hello? I won't harm you. I'm here to help." The universal translator broadcast her words in Tosian. She usually didn't notice it, unless it failed to work, but it seemed louder inside the EV suit.
The rock moved, lifting what might have been an arm and revealing brightly colored skin. "Air bad."
"Yes, air bad. We will fix it. No one knew you were here."
"We live deep," it answered. "Strange ones come from above, make air bad. Many die."
"I'm sorry." The words seemed inadequate. They always did, in any language. "I am Captain Kathryn Janeway, and I am here to make sure no one else dies."
The alien shifted, and she got a good look at it for the first time. It had an exoskeleton of that perfectly matched the tunnel walls. Her tricorder indicated that it contained silicon. To her irrational disappointment, however, the alien's soft tissues were carbon based.
It wasn't shaped like a snake, as Nar Shat's description had suggested. It did, however, have several long, flexible arms.
Part of its body glowed softly, giving off a faint green light. Probably due to a chemical reaction, similar to that found in some life forms on Earth's ocean floor. Without that adaptation, it certainly would have been blind.
She tried to silence the scientific part of her mind. She was here as a diplomat, after all. She and the alien, who introduced himself as Nahood, discussed the situation. He finally agreed to meet with Chancellor Ni to find a solution to the environmental problem.
Janeway was rather pleased with herself as she hurried back toward the Tosian control center. She had been right, and the mission was a success. She had never been in any danger.
Another beep reminded her of the rapidly depleting oxygen supply. No matter. She would soon reach a point where she could contact the ship for a beam out. Every few minutes, she tried hailing the ship again. As she fiddled with the comm link in the EV suit, she failed to watch where she was going. She didn't notice the heavy rock drill laying on the tunnel floor.
The fall damaged her oxygen tank. Janeway didn't need the warning system to tell her that. The hissing sound of escaping oxygen told its own tale. Cursing in every language she knew, she fumbled through her pack for a repair kit.
It had been exactly two hours and thirty minutes since the captain had beamed down to the mines. She'd be out of oxygen in thirty minutes, and they hadn't heard a word from her. Chakotay sat on the bridge and fidgeted. Five more minutes. He'd give her five more minutes to check in, and then he was going down after her.
He managed to wait almost half of that time. Then he bolted for the transporter room, where he had already stashed an EV suit, unwelcome visions of his captain's acid burned body hurrying him along.
His light fell on her unconscious body, and he felt his heart stop beating. "Kathryn."
Instantly on his knees beside her, he felt for a pulse. Then he was tearing off his oxygen mask and pressing it to her face. "Breathe, Kathryn, please."
She coughed and sputtered, then sucked in a deep breath of air. He fought the urge to pull her into his arms, and instead helped her to her feet. Sharing the oxygen, they walked back to the transport site together.
"So," B'Elanna was explaining. "The oxygen will remain only in the areas where crews are actively mining. They won't be venting the fluorine. It's actually a more efficient system than they had before."
"Excellent work, Lieutenant," Janeway said. "That goes for everyone. We've gotten two very different races to work together and we've obtained enough supplies to last a year. I'm very pleased."
Neelix grinned. "And the Knalbians are actually happy that the Tosians are removing some of those metals. Everyone's happy."
"Just as long as you don't try to serve us any recipes meant for fluorine breathers, Neelix." Tom slapped the Talaxian on the back as the senior staff shuffled out of the briefing room.
Chakotay remained behind.
Janeway smiled at him. "I owe you one, Chakotay."
"You certainly do." He crossed the room and stood facing her. "And I intend to collect."
She looked up at him, momentarily speechless.
"You nearly gave me heart failure today, Kathryn." His hands slid around her waist. "I think I deserve compensation."
"Chakotay - "
"No." His voice was soft, compelling. His eyes never left her face. "You had the last word earlier, Kathryn. Not this time."
She started to protest, though in truth she wasn't entirely sure what she intended to say. His finger, pressed gently against her lips, kept her silent.
"I don't want to hear about protocol right now, Kathryn." He used her name like a caress, not keeping his love for her from his voice. "It isn't proper protocol for a captain to make first contact alone, to be reckless with her life, to almost put her first officer into cardiac arrest."
His hand caught hers. He laid it over his heart, holding it there. "My heart deserves compensation, Kathryn. From now on, whenever you scare me like that, I will expect compensation."
His words were firm, but his eyes sought permission and she knew that if she pushed him away he would leave. She also felt him shaking, afraid she would reject him, and trample his heart once again. She couldn't push him away. She couldn't act as though his emotions meant nothing to her, or pretend that her own emotions didn't exist.
She kept her voice steady. "That seems only fair."
The corners of his lips rose, and she saw the relief in his eyes. His hands slid around her once again, pulling her against him. Time slowed as his lips moved closer to hers. She let her eyes drift shut as she stretched up to meet him.
He kissed her softly, his lips brushing over hers persuasively. The contact was electric, turning her knees to jelly on the way to her toes. The thought of this being only a stolen moment spun away into the inky void outside the view port.
This was the moment, one she would never forget, because in this one moment the fabric of her life changed forever. She returned the kiss, seeking his tongue with her own, needing him as much as she now realized that he needed her.
They broke apart slowly, breathing the same air, foreheads touching.
"I think," Kathryn said. She traced his tattoo with her fingertips. "I think we have some things to discuss. And we can start with a definition of compensation."
This fic now has a sequel: The Definition of Compensation.
The aliens in this story were created with the aid of The Writer's Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe by George Ochoa and Jeffrey Osier, and The Biology of Star Trek by Dr. Susan Jenkins and Dr. Robert Jenkins, two of many helpful books found at Spiletta42's Online Bookstore. Pardon the shameless plug, but I'm low on rations and since I needed to credit the books anyhow...
Star Trek™©, Star Trek: The Next Generation™©, Star Trek: Voyager™© and related properties are Registered Trademarks of Paramount Pictures. No copyright infringement intended. No profits made here. © Spiletta42, January 2003.