Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything and I KNOW they don't want this.
The Delta Flyer nosed its way out of the shuttle bay doors, leaving behind the sanctuary of Voyager for the pulsating brilliance of space. Inside the small cockpit, Lieutenant Tom Paris grinned at his buddy, Ensign Harry Kim.
"We're free, Harry. Boys' night out for the next forty-eight hours. No reports to prepare, no leola root and no pregnant Klingons. Just you, me, the Flyer, and a poker game we have to finish."
Harry grinned back. "Don't forget the nebula we have to map, the scans we have to run and the fact that we have to report back to the ship every eight hours."
"Details, Harry. Mere technicalities."
"We are expecting those 'mere technicalities' reported in an accurate and timely manner, Mr. Paris." Captain Janeway's mellow tones came clearly across the comm link. "There will be plenty of time for your poker game later."
Harry shot Tom a guilty look and checked the link. Sure enough, it had been open since their launch sequence in the shuttle bay.
"Aye, Captain." Tom closed the link. "Great start, Harry."
Harry's hands moved confidently on the console. "Time to redeem ourselves. I've set the scanners to start monitoring when we are within ten light years of the nebula, which will take us approximately four hours at warp six."
"Course laid in." Tom made a few minor course corrections. "Now, how are we gonna occupy ourselves for four hours?"
A well-worn deck of cards thudded down onto the helm.
Eight hours later, poker game forgotten, Tom and Harry were immersed in their work. The Delta Flyer was moving slowly through space towards an M class planet that offered the potential for gathering food supplies. A beep on the console alerted them to an incoming transmission.
"Voyager to the Delta Flyer. Tom, do you read me?" Chakotay's voice came clearly over the link.
"Delta Flyer here, what can we do for you, Chakotay?"
"Just checking in. You're past your scheduled report time."
Tom and Harry exchanged surprised looks. They had both forgotten the scheduled check in.
"Sorry. Everything's fine - we were just busy working I guess." Tom shrugged his shoulders, even though the link was audio-only.
"That's fine. I'll leave you to it. Try and be on time for your next check in. And Tom," Chakotay's voice took on a tinge of amusement, "leave Harry enough rations so that he can eat for the rest of the month."
"Actually, Chakotay, it's the other way around for once," said Harry. "But I'll try and leave him enough so that B'Elanna doesn't have his hide for boot leather."
"See that you do. Voyager out." The link went dead.
They resumed working companionably together, with the ease of much practice. A short time later, Tom straightened from his hunched over position and stretched. "Don't know about you," he said, "but I'm starving. Want to eat?"
"Sure." Harry didn't look up from his work. "I guess if you're replicating it's peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?"
"Nectar of the gods," Tom called back over his shoulder as he disappeared into the aft section of the Flyer. "Besides, B'Elanna doesn't let me replicate them much anymore. She says that since she's been pregnant the smell of peanut butter makes her want to throw up. Peanut butter and away missions go hand in hand these days."
"It's obvious some people's taste buds stopped developing when they were still in diapers..." Harry's mutterings, designed to tease Tom, tailed off as his attention was caught by the forward viewscreen.
Small glowing lights, thousands of them danced and winked in joyous profusion around the ship. Their seemingly random motion ebbed and flowed around the slow-moving nose of the Flyer. For one fractured moment Harry was three years old again, lying in his little bed watching the faeries dance in giddy circles on his blankets. He shook his head to clear his vision, but the golden points of light were still whirling in exuberant motion outside the small ship.
Fireflies and faerie children. He tried to follow the movement of individual pinpricks of light, but it was impossible; they were quickly swallowed up in the coalescing movement of the whole. Dimly he could feel the cool touch of the console under his hand and hear Tom's cheerful tones in the background, but his attention was riveted on the dance of light swirling through the blackness of space outside the hull.
"Tom," his voice was suddenly and inexplicably rusty with emotion, "come here."
Tom's startled gasp brought Harry partially back from the fantastical world that he was not part of.
"What are they?" Tom's voice and the hum of the scanners as he recalibrated them, recalled Harry further.
"I don't know," he said, surprised that his voice sounded steady. "They just appeared. Are they sentient?"
"I can't tell." Tom sounded puzzled. "I can't pick them up fully on the sensors. It's like they're not really there. I'm not sure if they are sentient or if it's just some sort of weird eddying of particle matter. It has an energy signature; it's just like nothing I've ever seen before."
Faerie circles on the foot of my bed. Harry let his fanciful thought remain unspoken. He'd never live that one down if Tom thought that Harry Kim, of all people, believed in faeries.
"I wonder if I can beam a sample into the aft of the flyer." Tom seemed not to notice Harry's inactivity and was still working. "I'll set up a containment field in case it's dangerous..." A pause, then Tom, sounding pleased. "Got it. Care to take a look?"
"Sure." Harry levered himself up from his console and went back into the aft section of the shuttle. The containment field that Tom had set up was approximately three meters square. A dozen or so points of light were bouncing in random patterns around the interior. As he approached, their motion slowed briefly before resuming at their frantic pace. He pulled out his tricorder and attempted to take a reading, but the readings flickered on the tricorder, much as the lights were flickering in the containment field. He singled out one of the glows and attempted to lock onto it.
The Delta Flyer lurched abruptly. The lighting in the aft section faded alarmingly for several long seconds. The impulse engines faltered, then stopped completely. The points of light in the containment field glowed fiercely.
"Tom? What's happening?"
The emergency lighting cut in but the reassuring thrum of the engines did not resume. Harry dropped the tricorder and raced back to the cockpit.
"I don't know." Tom spared him a brief worried glance; he was back at the helm. "But for several seconds there we lost all power, engines, warp core, environmental, everything. We were just dead in the water."
"Status?" Harry's hands moved confidently over his own controls running his own checks as he spoke. What he found was not reassuring.
"Emergency lighting and environmental controls only. I have thrusters but no impulse or warp drive. Everything else is off-line," reported Tom." Can we raise Voyager?"
"Negative. Communications are down and dead as a dodo." Harry looked up from his console.
"Great." Tom raised his hands in momentary defeat and let them fall. "Any idea what happened?"
"None. But the containment field is still in place. Emergency power must have held that stable."
"Transport what ever that is back out. We shouldn't drain power, keeping the containment field in place."
"Can't." Harry's voice was frustrated. "Transporters are offline too."
"I can't get the impulse or warp engines online. We're basically just drifting." Tom swiveled in his seat and looked at his friend. "I think communications should be our priority here. Try and raise Voyager. Let them know we're in trouble."
"Agreed. I'm onto it." He flashed Tom a slight grin. "At least you replicated our sandwiches before the replicators went offline."
"Yeah, I splurged too. Crunchy peanut butter."
"What else? It's better than emergency rations for taste, if not for nutritional value."
Outside the hull, the points of light continued their random patterns of dance.
All of their efforts to bring main power or any of the other failed systems online were unsuccessful. In spite of Harry's repeated attempts, the communications system remained down, and they had nothing to do except sit back and wait for Voyager to miss them. They took it in turns to sleep for a few hours, deciding without words that one of them should keep a lookout... for what they didn't know.
Harry checked the chronometer for the umpteenth time. "Nine hours since we reported in. They must have missed us by now."
"Yeah, Chakotay 's probably cursing us for not responding, but I don't think they'll be coming after us just yet." Tom was nothing if not pragmatic. He held up the cards. "Want to let me win back some of my rations?"
"Sure." Harry smiled slyly. "I'm always game to take more rations from you."
He glanced out of the front viewscreen as Tom shuffled the cards. The golden space dust was still there cavorting over the hull of the Flyer. He went back to check the containment field in the aft section. The field was still in place, but the frantic movement within had stilled. The motion was aimless and lethargic, as if the motes had run out of energy. Harry picked up the tricorder and tried to get coherent readings, but he had no better luck than before. He had the sudden inexplicable urge to lower the containment field, just to see what would happen. He controlled it, and turned to see Tom coming towards him.
Tom studied the containment field. "One of the earliest twentieth-century astronauts, John Glenn, reported seeing what he thought looked like fireflies around his spacecraft. It would be very co-incidental if it were the same thing," he said. He paused for a moment. "But it wouldn't be so coincidental if it was responsible for our systems failures. Did you notice we started having problems when we beamed them aboard?" He studied his tricorder. "But I still can't get any coherent readings. It's like it's flickering in and out of existence. Maybe if I make the containment field smaller we can isolate it better. That will conserve our power too." He crossed to the small console.
Harry listened to his running commentary with half an ear. His attention was focused on the golden particles, which appeared to be drifting within the field.
"I can access the containment field controls," Tom was saying. "I'm reducing it in size by fifty percent."
"Wait." Harry couldn't define the impulse to stop Tom, but he felt a certainty that doing so would reduce the survival chances of these creatures. And creatures they surely were.
"Too late, I've already reset the parameters..." Tom's words were cut off by a loud explosion.
Harry whirled around, in time to see Tom fly backwards and hit the bulkhead like a boneless pile of rags and slump to the floor where he lay still. Golden eddies faded from the console.
Harry dropped to Tom's side, feeling for a pulse. It was thready and racing, but still present. Tom lay at an awkward angle, one leg bent and twisted underneath him. Harry grabbed the medical kit and ran the tricorder over Tom. His eyes closed briefly in horror at the readings. Three cracked ribs, a punctured lung, ruptured spleen, contusions of the liver and a broken leg. But worst of all, three cracked vertebrae and a severed spinal column. Tom was paralyzed. The Flyer's small medical kit could do little to heal these injuries. Tom needed skilled and careful surgery, the kind that the Doctor and Voyager's sickbay could provide - certainly not the kind that Harry Kim, squeamish and unskilled could hope to do.
Harry administered hyposprays for pain that he knew would not further depress his friend's respiration, but he didn't dare move him. He grabbed the thermal blanket from the storage locker and draped it over Tom. For a moment he hovered indecisively. Should he stay with Tom, who he thought would wake soon? Or should he try to work on getting the communications system back up?
The flecks floating aimlessly in the containment field caught his eyes. Like Tom, they seemed drained and listless. And the console - why had it exploded with such force? He wondered briefly if there were a connection between the dust and Tom's accident. Those golden flares he had seen running around the console after the explosion could not be a coincidence.
Faerie dust and flickering wings. Creatures of light and hope. Creatures of mischief, ethereal and uncatchable. Harry shook his head, uncertain where his rambling thoughts were taking him.
Tom's eyelids fluttered and he moaned, a breath of pain in the unnatural silence of the drifting shuttle. "B'Elanna… Please honey, get off my legs. I can't move." Tom's voice was unnaturally weak.
Harry dropped to his friend's side and carefully checked the pulse in his neck. "Tom, it's Harry. Don't try to move. The console exploded. You're hurt."
"Harry?" The piercing blue eyes were fixed on his face and a small frown creased his face. In his bewilderment Tom Paris, the laughing careless pilot, looked absurdly young and vulnerable.
Harry pressed on his shoulder to stop him moving. "Lie back, Tom. Are you in pain?"
"Pain?" The blue eyes clouded for a moment, then cleared. "Yeah. My head hurts, my chest hurts."
Harry could see Tom running his internal inventory, and waited in sick certainty of what his next words would be.
"Harry," a thin edge of panic colored Tom's voice, "Harry, I can't move my legs."
Harry could see his chest spasming under the red and black jacket as Tom tried to force his legs to respond. He pressed with both hands on his friend's shoulders, forcing him to lie still.
"Tom. Look at me." Tom's head swung around, the fear showing clearly in his eyes now.
Harry took a deep breath. "You've severed your spinal cord," he said. "When we get back to the ship, the Doc can fix you up, good as new. But for now you have to lie still. Do you understand me?"
He watched the comprehension creep into the blue eyes. Tom nodded his head once.
"You mustn't try to move. I've given you a hypospray for the pain. I have to go and try to get communications back online, so that we can alert Voyager. I have to use the forward console, this one doesn't look like it will function again in a hurry. I'll come back and check on you in fifteen minutes. Tap your comm badge if you need me. Okay?"
Tom slowly nodded his head. "I don't suppose you'd bring me back my peanut butter sandwich?" He coughed slightly as he wheezed out the words. Blood tinged spittle sat on his blue lips.
Harry squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. "You know the answer to that one. Guess this means I get to eat two."
He saw the slight smile, so he left quickly, moving forward before Tom could pick up on the doubts and fear he knew he must have been showing.
Harry pounded the controls in frustration. Despite his best efforts all the systems except emergency lighting and environmental remained dead. He could find no explanation for it. Neither could he find an explanation for what must surely have been a power overload to the console at the rear of the flyer.
He went back to check on Tom again. His friend was awake; his skin was pale and clammy when Harry lightly touched his forehead.
"Are you in pain?" Harry mentally kicked himself as soon as the words were out of his mouth. Of course Tom had to be in pain - mental and physical pain.
"Nah." The thin sheen of sweat that beaded Tom's upper lip gave a lie to his words. "I'm just peachy. How did ya do with communications?"
Harry hesitated a fraction of a second, then summoned up a smile. "I got it running. They are on their way. Chakotay said they would be within transporter range in three hours."
"Yeah? Good one, Harry."
Harry hovered. He needed to go back to the main console to try and get engines online, but he could see Tom wanted him to stay. He also silently swore that he would make good on his lie and get the communications systems working. He ran the medical tricorder over his friend. Not good. Tom was still bleeding internally from his injuries and his blood pressure was falling. He needed help fast, or there was every probability he would die.
He crouched and touched Tom's hand lightly. "Stay strong, Tom. It won't be long."
Tom nodded faintly. "Yeah, I know. Go buddy, go get those engines online."
Harry glanced at the containment field. There was little movement, just the sluggish spiraling of the motes, drifting aimlessly like blown embers. He felt again the urge to lower the field. Shrugging it off with an effort he returned to the cockpit.
One hour later, he had succeeded in isolating the problem with the impulse engines. The main computer had overloaded, bringing down their main systems. All things considered, Tom was very lucky. Deftly he bypassed the circuitry and brought up the impulse systems one by one. The Delta Flyer shuddered as the renewed energy surged through the little ship. Harry brought the engine online and raced to the helm to correct the course and bring her around. Navigation was still down, but by using the last displayed star chart, Harry was able to plot an approximate course back to Voyager. He hoped that it would be enough.
Thirteen hours had passed since they last checked in. He hoped that by now Voyager was on her way, but given her planned course after they had left, even the best estimate put them another five hours from transporter range. He offered a fervent prayer to whomever was listening that it would be soon enough.
The Delta Flyer came around and Harry slowly brought her up to full impulse. The little ship started to respond, shuddering slightly as she gained speed. Out of the forward viewscreen, he saw the faerie dust move and coalesce around the nose of the shuttle.
Looking back, Harry knew that if he hadn't had his hands away from the console, he would surely have been killed or badly burned when it exploded. As it was, the force of the explosion took him by surprise, throwing him back against the bulkhead panels.
Red haze swirled in front of his eyes for a moment before clearing. He shook his head slightly to clear the buzzing noise and gingerly flexed fingers and toes. When he realized he could move them, he became more daring, testing his limbs with staccato movements.
When the pain of being slammed against an immovable object started to fade and his mind started to clear, he realized that this was exactly what had happened to Tom. He tried to control the fine tremor in his hands as he realized his narrow escape. Nausea welled up within him, and the faint tremble became a quake, shaking his entire body. He swallowed hard to control the sickness, and walked to the forward viewscreen, being careful not to touch any of the instrument panels that still glowed with a residual golden color.
"You did this." He spoke aloud, but did not expect an answer. Sentient they surely must be, with enough power and intelligence to penetrate the Flyer and overload the essential systems. He took comfort in the fact that they had left the environmental systems undamaged.
"You don't want us to leave, taking your people with us." The smell of fused plastics and metals was acrid in his nose.
He walked to the rear of the Flyer and studied the containment field. Tom lay twisted and immobile, the rasp of his breathing loud in the sepulchral ship.
Harry spoke quietly, directly to the field." I'm going to try and get you out of here. I don't want to hurt you. Please, believe me."
For nearly an hour Harry worked, trying to bring the transporters back online. He figured that their best hope was to beam them back out where they belonged. The transporters remained obstinately dead. If Tom could be moved he could have sealed off the aft section of the Flyer, opened the space doors and lowered the containment field, but moving Tom was not an option.'
He went over to Tom and checked him again. He was draining before his eyes. His vital friend was becoming a pale and bloodless husk. His blood pressure was critically low, his respiration shallow.
Harry slumped beside him on the deck and put his head in his hands. Tom's only hope was Voyager.
"Harry?" The thready voice startled him; he had thought that Tom was unconscious.
"I'm here." He touched Tom's hand lightly, trying not to flinch at the inert clammy touch of his flesh.
"Thought I heard the engines."
"You did." Harry gave him a weak smile. "For about a minute."
"You need B'Elanna. She could get them going." Tom's smile was weaker than Harry's. "She could get warp 9.9 out of a '65 Chevy."
An uneasy silence fell, punctuated only by the ragged sounds of Tom's breathing.
"It's them, you know." Tom coughed at the end of the sentence. "Doing this to the Flyer."
"I know." Harry saw no reason to dissemble. "I think if we could let them go I might be able to get the engines back, but I can't get the transporters back online. There is no other way to free them until Voyager arrives."
Tom nodded. "Chakotay will have raised the alarm," he said in a whisper. "We'll get rescued like the dead ducks we are and then B'Elanna will finish the job of killing me slowly for breaking her Flyer."
"And the Captain will have our hides for not letting the space dust go," said Harry.
Space dust. No. Not dust. Faerie points of light, the little people, dancing always dancing, spinning circles on my bed.
He looked again at the containment field and did a double take. The dust had vanished. In its place was a shimmering tunnel of light. As he watched it shaped and defined itself and he caught glimpses of something on the far side.
"Tom, look." He rose his feet, not taking his eyes off the apparition forming in front of him. He squinted, trying to see past the blurry walls to see what was on the far side.
His first thought was that there was nothing, but he quickly changed his mind as the scene solidified to show stars, then a solar system. The focus tightened and with a lurch of his gut he realized the solar system looked very, heart-twistingly familiar. The tunnel narrowed in again and Harry saw the blue green oceans and continents of his home planet.
"Earth," breathed Tom. "It's a worm hole."
"Not a worm hole, it's too short. It's a gateway of some sort, created at will by our friends here."
"If it's real and not an illusion," added Tom the pragmatist.
Harry grabbed his tricorder. The results left him shaking. "It's real."
He continued to study the gateway, watching in awe as the outlet narrowed down again. Earth -the European continent - an island, no, not just any island, but Ireland - the south of Ireland. Harry's remembered geography failed him, and he was unable to recollect any more details, but even as he wondered where the exit was, the dizzying change of focus stopped. He could see the exit to the gateway was a standing circle of stones, ancient and weathered. The details were sharp; he could see the gray-green lichen on the stones, could see the oozing sodden turf saturated with the rain that dripped from the stone lintel to fall onto the tea-colored mossy ground. Banks of cloud obscured much of the scene, but the curve of the land told Harry he was looking at a hilltop. Other stones, some leaning drunkenly like cadets in a Ferengi bar encircled the hilltop like a girdle. Two black-faced sheep grazed in the center, the rain sliding down their oily fleece.
Harry wasn't aware that he had moved to the containment field and was standing with his hands and nose pressed against it, tears pooling in his eyes until Tom's voice recalled him.
"I had an Irish nanny when I was young," Tom said slowly. "She would tell me folk tales of Tír na nÓg, the land of the eternally young; of the brave and fearless warrior, Oisin, who went to live there with his faerie bride, Niamh. Tír na nÓg was supposed to be someplace else. An island, under the ground, under the sea, no-body knew. It was folklore after all. Maybe it was in the Delta Quadrant."
Faeries spinning circles on the end of my bed.
Harry dug his nails into the palms of his hands, using the physical pain to distract him from his mental anguish. So near yet so far. His parents. Mom's kim chee. San Francisco. Starfleet. Safety. Love. Home. He took a deep shuddering breath, trying to compose himself before he turned to face Tom.
"You can go, you know." Tom's blue tinged lips formed the words slowly. "Lower the containment field, set the space doors on delayed opening and step through the gateway. Once you are through, they can go free. That's why they made the gateway."
For a nanosecond, Harry considered it.
"No," he said. "Voyager will be here soon. And you know that I can't move you. I couldn't take you with me."
"I don't want to go," said Tom. "I couldn't leave B'Elanna and my daughter. Besides..." his voice tailed off, before resuming sounding slightly stronger and more forceful, "I won't make it. You didn't manage to get communications online did you?"
Harry started to protest, but Tom cut him off with a twitch of his fingers.
"No, I know you didn't. The station here is still dead. Voyager will come, Harry, I know they will, but I don't think it will be soon enough for me. I'm a goner. No sense in you losing this chance. Go home. Please."
"You're crazy." Harry deliberately didn't allow his mind to dwell on Tom's words.
"No, I'm not. If I had to pick a crewmember to send home it would be you. I know how you miss it. I've felt your disappointment each time we try and fail. You think I'm making fun of you. Well, I am, but don't ever think it means I don't care. I'm gonna be dead soon. Leave a padd for Voyager, explaining what has happened, step through that gateway and back to your life. Please. For me."
Harry looked towards the tunnel. The sheep had moved out of the line of sight, but the rain still dripped from the stones. The rain swept in scurries of moisture across the tea-brown turf. He could almost feel the droplets in his hair, taste salt laden Atlantic air, and hear the wind weaving its way through the standing stones.
Could he do this? Tom's words had the conviction of truth about them. Tom was dying; Voyager would be likely to arrive too late. He could go home. The Captain would understand. His line of thought faltered and took a nosedive. The Captain would understand, but she would not do what he was contemplating. She would not abandon a crewmember and friend to die alone. For better or for worse, his family was Voyager now, and Tom was his brother.
Resolutely he turned his back on the containment field and took Tom's hand. "No," he said quietly. "I'm not leaving you, no matter what you say."
Tom coughed slightly and licked the blood from his lips. "Thanks." The shrewd blue eyes acknowledged Harry's dilemma. "Now all we need is Chakotay's cavalry."
Neither of them noticed the gateway slowly collapsing in on itself and the fading of the utopian picture at its end.
They waited. It was mainly silent. From time to time Harry encouraged Tom, telling him that help would soon arrive or urging him to conserve his strength and keep fighting. Tom said a few words, but his quips fell on stony ground; Harry was too heartbroken to respond. He watched Tom instead, counting the shallow breaths he took.
"Can I have that peanut butter sandwich now?" Tom's smile was only an echo of his old grin but it was still there. "Last meal for a dying man and all that."
"You're not dying," Harry forced the lie through his teeth. "In a few hours we'll be back on Voyager and B'Elanna will be breaking your other leg for you."
"Yes, I am. You don't have to pretend. And while we're on the subject," Tom's voice faded to a mumble and Harry had to strain to hear his words. "Look after B'Elanna for me. She acts so tough and independent but she needs someone to care for her. Be her friend when my daughter is born."
"I will," promised Harry.
"She'll be beautiful, my daughter, just like her mother." Tom closed his eyes again and the silence wrapped around them once more.
For two more hours, they sat waiting for the rescue that neither of them thought would arrive in time.
"I have them, Captain." Tuvok's calm voice cut across the bridge. "The Delta Flyer has limited systems functioning, two life signs, one very faint."
Janeway shot a relieved glance at Chakotay, sitting on her left. "Beam them both directly to sickbay."
She nodded to Chakotay. "Commander, you have the bridge. I'll see how they are."
When she arrived, Harry was explaining the situation to the Doctor, who was already at work, stabilizing Tom's vital signs and making preparations for surgery to repair his spinal cord.
"Captain," he greeted her with a nod. "Ensign Kim is fine. If you wish to talk to him you may do so. Lieutenant Paris will recover but will require extremely skilled and delicate surgery which, I may add, is well within my capabilities." He looked smug
Janeway patted him on the shoulder. "Carry on Doctor. Ensign Wildman is at your disposal should you need an assistant."
"I have already summoned her. Medical emergencies always take priority."
"Good," Janeway offered him a curl-corner smile before turning to Harry. "How are you, Harry?"
"I'm fine," he said, "it's Tom I'm worried about. Tom and..." He drew in a sharp breath. "Captain, you have to beam me back to the Flyer as quickly as possible. I won't need to be over there very long."
"You better explain a little more first, Harry."
"Please, it has to be now. There is something in the aft section of the Flyer that needs immediate transport back out into space. It knocked out all the systems in the Flyer."
"Chakotay to Janeway." Chakotay's voice came over her comm badge.
"Janeway here. What is it, Commander?"
"Please report to the bridge. There is something here you might be interested in seeing."
"On my way." She cut the connection and studied Harry. "Why do I think you know more about this than you're saying right now?"
"I do. At least... Tom and I have a theory. But Captain, let me explain later. I don't think they can survive much longer if I don't let them go soon."
Janeway studied him a moment longer, then tapped her Comm badge. "Chakotay, transport Mr. Kim back to the Delta Flyer. Keep a lock on him and beam him out of there in five minutes."
She cut the link. "Will that be enough time? With communications down you won't be able contact us."
"Yes, I only need a minute or two. Thank you, Captain."
Harry materialized in the forward section of the Delta Flyer and moved quickly to the rear of the shuttle. The containment field was still in place, but it was several seconds before he spotted the drifting dust. The exuberant glitter was almost gone, faded to dull ochre.
"I'm letting you go," he said aloud, unsure if he would be understood.
He moved to the controls for the containment field, and set it so that it would lower in one minute. Returning to the cockpit, he sealed off the aft section and opened the space doors.
"Goodbye," he said. "I'm sorry. We meant you no harm."
He sat in the pilot's seat and waited for transport back to Voyager. Another minute passed and he saw the golden dust gather around the nose of the Flyer again. It appeared to be closer grouped than before and was not dancing as wildly. He strained his eyes trying to see better and out of the corner of his eye, he caught a golden swirl around the bulkheads of the shuttle. Briefly, the eddy streamed around the interior before approaching him in a dancing follow-my-leader. Caressingly, the trail of dust wrapped briefly around his wrist. He fancied he felt the briefest brush of faerie wings as they left him streaming around the cockpit one last time to flow seamlessly through the Flyer's hull to open space. He watched them go, taking with them his dreams of Earth.
"Yes, it was so real. The detail was incredibly vivid."
"And you think that the... space dust, for want of a better word, is somehow linked into the myths and cultures of ancient Ireland?"
Harry hesitated. "I know it sounds fanciful, Captain, but yes, that is what I believe."
Chakotay spoke up for the first time from where he was leaning against the viewport. "You could be right, Harry. I've studied a little about the legends of Celtic Ireland. The 'Little People' were believed to live far away. Anyone who visited seldom returned. They often appeared as faeries or dancing sprites. I saw them surrounding Voyager, it is easy to see how people believed them to be otherworldly creatures."
"Tom wondered if this was what John Glenn saw outside his spacecraft back in the twentieth century. Apparently he reported seeing firefly-like creatures and didn't know what they were," said Harry.
Faeries on the end of my bed.
Chakotay gave a sudden grin, "Possible, I guess, but Glenn's 'fireflies' turned out to be his own crystallized urine that he had ejected out of his craft. Your report didn't mention that the bathrooms were offline too so I doubt that's the explanation for your 'fireflies'."
Janeway chuckled, then sobered. "You did the right thing, Harry. You let them go as soon as you could." She smiled wryly. "It's just a pity that they didn't stay around long enough afterwards for us to see about recreating that gateway. Although how we would have taken Voyager through into a stone circle in Ireland I don't know."
"We would have scared some sheep, that's for sure," said Chakotay.
Janeway put down her mug and leaned slightly forward. "Tell me, Harry, off the record and between the three of us. You didn't think that Tom would survive. Were you tempted to reach for the golden apple and step through the gate?"
He hesitated remembering his momentary wavering, but he owed it to her to tell the truth. "For a second, yes, it crossed my mind, but not for long. I couldn't leave Tom."
Janeway smiled slightly. "No, in your place I don't think I could have either, no matter how tempting it might have been."
"Did you run a temporal scan of the gateway?" Chakotay asked from his position by the viewscreen.
"No, I never thought of it." Harry looked surprised. "Why do you ask?"
"Tales and alleged sightings of the little people have decreased over the centuries. It may be that their gateways lead to a 'when' as well as a 'where'."
"I could have ended up in twentieth century Ireland." Harry grinned. "Tom's Fair Haven program might have been useful after all."
"Speaking of Tom," said Chakotay, "when I saw him earlier, he was sitting up in bed in sickbay, fretting about winning back his rations from you before B'Elanna noticed they were gone. I think you have a poker game scheduled."
Janeway stood. "You can go, Harry. Don't let us keep you from more important things." She smiled to take the censure out of her words.
Harry left, striding through Voyager's corridors with a light step. Faeries? Maybe. Right now he had some rations to hold onto.
Feedback? Please. Shayenne
© Shayenne, May 2001 Please email me to post/distribute elsewhere.