A/N - Below is my first attempt at moving from missing scenes to a full "missing episode" as it were. This is the much needed follow up to "What Comes Before" and is in the same mental universe as the rest of my Voyager writing though it should be able to stand more or less on its own.
Disclaimer - Voyager, her shuttles, and her crew do not belong to me, and I apologize for any and all damage inflicted upon them while I borrow them for this story.
jop 'ej way'*
...takes place a few weeks prior to "The Chute", beginning of Season 3
Six hours out from Voyager to the gravimetric distortion ring; two hours of careful piloting to cross the ring; now another hour and a half of the flight through the system to their destination. Time until the shuttle craft would touch down on Ferrin's third planet: thirty minutes, give or take. And her pilot was seriously considering pushing some limits to ensure it was "take".
He felt restless, fidgety, having seemingly lost all usual ability to sit calmly and pilot a ship. Hell, this had even been an interesting run. While Voyager had been trading and resupplying in a neighboring Talen system, one of Neelix's contacts had pointed the Captain in the direction of Ferrin. The contact had explained that several of the planets in the small system were rich in many of the mineral supplies that Voyager most needed and that there was a trading colony on the third planet of the system. The catch was that the entire planetary system was encircled by heavy gravimetic distortions, making travel to and from the colony difficult, especially for a larger ship. Captain Janeway had quickly dispatched Lt.'s Paris and Torres in the Cochrane to investigate.
The ring lived up to its billing as a formidable obstacle: frankly, it was a pilot's playground, if one could imagine playgrounds without all of the safeties that centuries of cautious parenting had built in. Riding eddies and shooting around gravity wells for a couple hours should have been the highlight of Tom's month, and he would be lying were he to say he had not enjoyed himself. But the thrill had been tempered by the company.
Not that the chief engineer was anything less than courteous and professional. She had relayed navigational data as he asked for it and had volunteered information and even observations on a couple of occasions. There were definitely worse travel companions that one could be stuck with.
But nine and a half hours in, Tom felt like he was going to jump out of his skin.
Once through the ring, he had plotted a standard approach through the system to the third planet, leaving him with nothing much to pay attention to except the now silent presence in the seat beside him.
Were he by himself, he would have had the computer blast some archaic, percussion heavy music - probably not an option in present company. Almost unconsciously, he found himself humming the intro to an old favorite, lightly tapping the bass line on his console.
An exasperated sigh came from the co-pilot's seat.
An unholy rush of joy surged through the pilot at the sound. Gods, he had nearly forgotten how much he loved getting a reaction out of her. Any reaction.
Having found the slightest chink in the wall that the engineer had thrown up between them almost six months before, Tom could not resist poking at it further. "Not your taste in music, Lieutenant?" he goaded, half-grinning.
Torres snorted derisively, and he wondered briefly about his own sanity as he mentally chalked that up as another small victory. "Not my definition of music," she muttered almost under her breath.
His grin only widened at her reply; B'Elanna glared at him for a second and then turned back to her console in stoney silence. He narrowly stifled a chuckle that might have led to his untimely death: had he known all it would take was a few hours crammed into the cockpit of a Class 2 shuttle to get a glimpse of unfiltered B'Elanna again, he would have volunteered them both for a supply mission months ago.
Their destination began to gain definition in front of them. Ferrin's third planet was Class L, largely barren but with some limited oases of rich vegetation. Tom's scans revealed very limited animal life, and he quickly located the trading colony within one particularly large vegetated area near the planet's southern pole. He frowned as he fiddled with the sensor's resolution before addressing his companion, his tone now back to business, "I'm having a hard time getting any sort of read on the size of the colony down there. Any chance you could boost the sensors a bit?"
B'Elanna nodded, shedding her former annoyance and leaning forward over the console. "I'll see what I can do." A couple of moments later, she too was frowning. "We're getting unusually high amounts of interference from the planet's magnetic core. And it's particularly strong towards the planet's poles."
Tom's frown deepened. "I'm not sure how I feel about flying in there blind."
The engineer nodded in agreement. "Can you put us down a little away from the colony itself? We should be able to get some better information once we are on the surface."
"Yes, ma'am," Tom quipped, but Torres was still busy with the sensors and missed, by chance or choice, the particular tenor of his response.
They passed into the planet's outer ionosphere, and Tom laid in a flight plan that would put them down a few kilometers away from the settlement. For good measure, he plotted their course to come in around a nearby mountain range, hopefully allowing them to land relatively unnoticed. There was nothing from Neelix's contact's reports that indicated either provision was necessary; Tom preferred to err on the side of caution.
"Beginning planetary descent," Paris announced. Then he flashed a grin: "Enjoy the ride."
A warning light on the upper left hand side of his console flashed red. As he turned to address it, the entire console lit up like a proverbial Christmas tree and alarms began to screech. "What the hell?" he muttered as his fingers flew over the controls.
"It's a cascade failure of some sort," B'Elanna supplied, as she worked furiously on her own console. "The systems are taking each other down."
"Can you get them back up?" The shuttle was now in an uncontrolled descent, and the pilot did not need the flickering readings in front of him to know how quickly they were losing altitude nor how close the craft was to tumbling into a dangerous spin.
Torres muttered a string of invectives under her breath as she fought the ship's systems. "Give me a minute."
"We're a bit short on those," Paris shot back.
Another outburst that sounded distinctly like a Klingon curse. "If I can get you one system, what do you want?"
Good question. "Give me navigational thrusters, and I'll get us down in one piece." More or less.
"Right," the engineer replied, fingers flying over the board. "They're up! I'll do my best to keep them there."
At that moment, the shuttle broke through the cloud cover, and the all too solid planet erupted spinning below them. "Tom!" the gasp was instinctive, involuntary.
"Just hold on," Tom called back and then every thought bent upon wrestling the Cochrane back from its deadly spiral.
* "jop 'ej way' ("lunge and deflect") This idiom, which means "have an argument," is based on movements associated with the bat'leth. During the course of a bout, both parties, among other things, alternately lunge (jop), that is, push the bat'leth toward the opponent, and deflect (way'), or use the bat'leth to push the oncoming one away. Each side, then, engages in both offensive and defensive movements, and this alternation is likened to a verbal duel." - from Klingon for the Galactic Traveler, Marc Okrand, 1997