Daylight Trilogy: Part 1
I'm beginning to think Tuvok might be right when he recommends that Kathryn and I shouldn't leave Voyager together. Every time we're off the ship at the same time some disaster does seem to strike. This time it wasn't even deliberate - the difference being our having left the ship at the same time, rather than having left it together.
We were in orbit of Skolar, a nice little planet, with friendly inhabitants, who seemed to treat their technological advances with caution and concentrated instead on their families. They'd been receptive to our suggestions of both trade and shore leave and the captain and Ensign Kim had gone to meet with the First Minister to finalise the arrangements. My job was to find out all about the Skolarans and their culture, imperative if we were going to avoid
embarrassing incidents. There wasn't much to worry about, the inhabitants were warm and friendly with a reasonable set of laws and expectations of visitors and their behaviour. I didn't think Voyager's crew, even after months in space without a break would have any difficulty behaving themselves.
I felt dwarfed talking to the Skolarans, something that doesn't happen to me often. They were all over 7ft tall, although I was informed that as children and adolescents they were quite small, only growing to their full height in adulthood. We passed a school as we left my beam in site and I could see this was true. The children playing outside reminded me painfully of children on Earth and Dorvan 5.But it was a beautiful afternoon and my hosts were glad to offer me a tour of their city, an offer I was pleased to accept since it involved walking around in the fresh air quite a lot - and after four months straight of recycled air the real stuff was a welcome change.
We met up with Kathryn and her group as they left the Ministry, I could see she was as pleased as I was to be out in the sunshine, so we strolled along, admiring the sites, chatting about the things we were going to be trading. We were both cheerfully extolling the virtues of the planet and the prospect of a few days shoreleave when it happened.
A massive explosion. The ground all around us shook, windows in nearby houses were smashed and on the horizon was a huge cloud of dust. We all took off at a run, Kathryn trying to contact the ship as we headed towards the seat of the blast, but all she got was static. She tried again and we were able to make out Tuvok's voice over the static. I was expecting something along the lines of an 'I told you so,' but instead he seemed to be asking if we were all right.
Kathryn told him that we were fine, but then we rounded a corner and saw all the damage and how we were no longer seemed very important. The quiet street I'd beamed into just a few hours earlier was now a pile of rubble and along with it the school.
The Skolarans who were with us seemed too shocked to do anything and before I knew it I heard Kathryn asking questions, shouting orders, taking command. I followed her example and got Harry to start conducting scans to try and find out what had happened. I could hear Kathryn asking about emergency services and not being particularly impressed by the answers she received. I could tell she'd decided that we were going to have to co-ordinate the rescue efforts.
She turned to me with a face set with grim determination and I noticed that a piece of glass must have caught her cheek, it was bleeding a little, just not enough to impede her, or for her even to notice it seemed. 'Chakotay, get in touch with the ship as soon as you can. I want them to scan the buildings, locate survivors and beam them out. If we can't use the transporters we'll have to do this the old fashioned way and for that we'll have to bring down equipment and all the people we can spare.' As I carried out her orders, the interference lessening as the shock waves receded, I could see her talking quickly and fluidly to the representative of the First Minister who'd been accompanying her, she seemed to be talking a mile a minute, making her points with emphatic hand gestures.
Her assumption of control was so smooth and seamless I was glad, all over again, that she was not my enemy. By the time the official emergency services arrived we'd started to beam people out and knew how many more were missing and for the most part whereabouts they were. Voyager was having increasing difficulty scanning, some alloy in the rock was affecting the sensors and we didn't have time to compensate for it properly. The people we'd rescued so far had been on the edges of the collapsed buildings, it would be much more difficult to reach
The Skolarans didn't seem to have much experience of this kind of rescue, their buildings did not tend to fall down, much less get blown up and there were all kinds of wild theories as to what might have happened, none of which were really important right now. This lack of experience made them glad to defer to Kathryn's authority and expertise - as I watched her I became uncomfortably aware of something I should have realised earlier, she'd done this before.
She looked up to find me watching her, her face was streaked with blood and dirt and absurdly I found myself wanting to take her chin in my hand and clean her face, but I didn't, instead I asked, 'where was it?'
'Catalucca 3,' she said, it meant nothing to me and it must have shown because she continued, 'I was First Officer of the USS Herald, we were on a trade mission in the Redgot system when we received the distress signals. The whole Planet had been hit by a series of asteroids, their defences hadn't been able to stop them all and buildings had collapsed near the impact. We were near and Starfleet ordered us to proceed to Catalucca 3 to render whatever aid and assistance we could. We spent two and a half months pulling bodies out of collapsed buildings, loss of life was in the hundreds of thousands.' She looked at the scene around her and I knew what she was thinking.
'We'll get them out.'
The day stretched, B'Elanna and the Engineering teams worked flat out, shoring up buildings, extending the range of the sensors by tiny amounts so we could locate life signs and then try to beam survivors out. By late afternoon we couldn't use the transporters anymore, we were digging people out with ridiculously primitive equipment, almost with out bare hands. Fifteen Skolarans had lost their lives to date, nine of them children. Our progress was painstakingly slow, Kathryn's experience was really paying off, she and B'Elanna were using their Engineering skills to organise the rescues, I was looking after the teams, making sure the people digging took rests and drank fluids.
It was amazing and inspiring, to see children come out of the dirt and the dust with just a few injuries. Cut and bruised, scared as hell, but many of them unscathed. They looked so fragile, especially in comparison to the adults of their species, who's strength and stamina was impressive. I watched the little ones go running to their parents, saw the love and joy of families being reunited, the agonised looks on the faces of those who were still waiting for news, the sorrow of those who already knew that their children or their relatives had been lost.
Then, as day drifted into night with slow, calm certainty, they found the last child. She was buried under the central part of the school, remarkably still alive after so long, although her lifesigns were weak. While we were still standing around trying to figure out how the hell we were going to get her out it started to rain, not just a small shower, but a steady, heavy downpour which looked as though it could go on for hours. Even I knew this was a disaster, the water could wash away the debris holding the buildings up, it could even start mud slides and then we would all be in trouble.
'We don't have much time left.' Kathryn's eyes moved quickly over the results of the last scan, displayed on the terminal in the ad hoc control room we'd set up.
'We need more information about where she is, we need the quickest way to get her out.'
'We can't scan any further, the sensors are all over the place.'
'Someone will have to go in and take a look - we might be able to find a quicker way to get her out.'
'And we'll also be endangering someone else - the rubble's unstable, the rain's making it worse, moving it could cause a cave in. We can't risk another person.' Seeing the determination on her features I had a fair idea who this person was liable to be, 'and we certainly can't risk you.'
'I don't see that we have much choice.' Her fingers traced a path on the screen, 'I could get to her, either pull her out with me, or at least keep her alive until you reach us.'
'No, Captain, absolutely not.'
'Then who do you suggest goes, the Skolarans are a hell of a lot bigger than I am and I don't want to risk the Doc's mobile emitter?'
'If someone has to do this, then I will.' She looked at me levelly for almost a minute and then said, 'Chakotay, with all due respect I think I'll find it slightly easier to squeeze through all those tight spaces than you will - and besides, I've already made up my mind. You'll be here, making sure nothing goes wrong, everything will be fine.' As much as I wanted to tell her not to do this I knew it would do no good, my reasons for wanting her to be safe were too complex, too personal, but I knew that Voyager would never recover if anything happened to her - and that was enough to be going on with.
'Kathryn,' her name slipped from my lips, 'please be very, very careful, OK?'
'OK.' she smiled back at me and then whispered, 'no sudden moves,' and I didn't know if she was talking about the rescue, or about us.
We lost contact with her after half an hour, the sensors were monitoring her life signs, so we knew where she was and that she was alive. The girl was getting weaker and we all knew that there was no way we could lift the heavy rubble to get her out, not with the rain turning the whole site into a mud bath.
Kathryn was our only hope.
I stalked around, not even trying to hide my anxiety, my fear. Being helpless was worse, not being able to do anything but wait. B'Elanna tried to talk to me, but I couldn't tear my gaze away from the rubble, as though if I stopped looking, Kathryn would disappear, as though I was her lifeline. She tried to get me in out of the rain, but I wouldn't go. As long as I believed she would be standing next to me any moment, having just pulled another miracle off, then it would come to pass.
Minutes dragged into hours - and there was still no sound, no news. Nothing. I was thinking about going in there after her, even though I knew Tuvok would object like hell, but I didn't care I just had to do something I couldn't stand here and watch while she... And then it happened, she stumbled out of the darkness, a tiny body in her arms. She looked as though she'd been to hell and back, her legs buckling after just a few steps. We all rushed towards her, the Doctor reaching her first as she laid her small charge on the ground. Up close I could see scratches, and mud and blood on her arms and face, I didn't want to think about what she'd done.
The Doctor was moving a scanner over the small lifeless body that Kathryn was still holding onto. I thought I heard him say, 'I'm sorry,' but that couldn't be right because Kathryn had rescued her and there was going to be a miracle.
'She's dying, there's nothing I can do, the injuries are far too severe. In the distance I could hear a Skolaran doctor confirming the Doc's diagnosis, but I wasn't listening, I was looking at Kathryn, at the despair and hopelessness in her eyes.
'Her parents?' she asked in a tremulous voice.
'They're still trying to locate them,'
'How long?' she asked the doctors, but she was looking at me, as though I could give her a different, better answer than this meaningless death of a child.
'Minutes, I'll give her something for the pain.' The hiss of a hypospray filled the air, and I think the Doc expected us to move the child, but instead the Captain of Voyager lifted her up and cradled her to her body, whispering softly to her. I did the only thing I could think to do under the circumstances, got to my knees and put my arms around Kathryn, holding her as she held a small girl who's life was ebbing away. And the rain fell steadily from the heavens as I held her and the child died in her arms.