Disclaimer – Star Trek belongs to Paramount/CBS not me. No copyright infringement is intended.
Diversions by Photogirl1890
A/N: this story is set between 4x26 "Hope and Fear" and 5x01 "Night"
Many thanks to Mary S for beta-reading. Any remaining mistakes are entirely my own. Feedback is welcome.
Rated T for minor coarse language and minor suggestive adult themes.
Captain Kathryn Janeway stood in her ready room, drinking her third cup of coffee since lunchtime and observing the planet looming large in the windows.
The class-M world had shown up on sensors three days ago as a likely source of gallicite deposits. The rare mineral was always at the top of B'Elanna's wish list when it came to scouting for supplies, and as much as the captain wanted to see the distance behind them rack up on Voyager's flight recorder, she had ordered a change of course to take a closer look.
After the incident with Arturis a week ago, she'd given strict instructions that her tired and emotionally-drained crew take some 'R and R'. Mining for gallicite wasn't exactly what she'd had in mind for crew recreation, but at least with a Minshara-class planet came the possibility of shore leave.
As Voyager had dropped out of warp and headed in-system, the main viewscreen had displayed the expected 'blue marble': continents of ochre and various shades of green divided the oceans; brilliant white clouds obscured some of the terrain. As Voyager had entered orbit and began imaging the surface in its entirety, the planet's remarkable resemblance to Earth had taken the captain's breath away.
Ice caps covered both poles but the northern pole was basically a frozen ocean, in contrast to the polar continent in the south. The planet's land area was concentrated to the north of its equator, with the tips of two continents protruding into the southern hemisphere. A large, arid island continent that Tom Paris had designated 'New Australia' sat below the equator, surrounded by smaller, greener archipelagos.
The Earth-like vista was accentuated by the planet's single, large satellite: a crater-pocked, geologically inactive ball of rock that analysis had revealed to be composed of a primarily anorthosite crust, with a mafic mantle and small iron-rich core, eerily similar to Earth's Moon.
They hadn't named the planet – 'New Earth' was already taken, after all – and the decision whether to allow a mining operation had become a conundrum when scans had detected the life-signs of a proto-humanoid species living on the same continent in which the richest sources of ore were located. The Prime Directive had to be considered.
The problem of whether the Neanderthal-like primates should be categorised as animals or a sentient people had been a difficult one to grapple with. Surveillance from orbit had shown the creatures using tools and building wooden shelters, but those traits alone were insufficient to classify them as sentient.
B'Elanna had argued vociferously that she be allowed to procure the gallicite. Tuvok had come down on the opposing side; he had all forty-seven sub-orders of the Prime Directive committed to memory. Chakotay had reasoned that the limited exploration and extraction they intended would not constitute interference.
Ensign Wildman - Voyager's only specialist xenobiologist - had been consulted and with the Doctor's enthusiastic assistance, she'd prepared her report. Upon the reading of it, Janeway had made the decision to allow the away mission, with the proviso that those assigned to it stay far from visual range of the proto-humanoids and leave no evidence in their wake.
As a concession to the hordes of disappointed crewmen who'd been looking forward to shore leave, Chakotay had persuaded her to allow small groups to beam down for a short period under the open skies. The allocated transport site was on a remote island, devoid of any large animals. The visitors were to take nothing with them and the visible evidence they had left behind - footprints on the sandy beaches - would be washed away with the next incoming tide.
According to Tuvok, however, a forensic examination of the area would detect shed hair and skin particles; it would also detect the microbes commensal to the human, Bajoran, Talaxian and other species' bodies, that might have contaminated the air. Would those bacteria and fungi establish themselves in their new environment? Would they affect the natural evolution of the planet's biosphere? Tuvok determined that they "could not exclude the possibility". Janeway hoped he was being overly cautious in his assessment. With no animal life in the vicinity there was minimal risk. And to how many other 'uninhabited' planets had she authorised away missions? If a planet was deemed unoccupied by sentient life and not known to be in the territory of another warp-capable civilisation, she didn't give the non-interference clause a second thought. But cell residue and micro-organisms had been left on worlds from here to Ocampa. In this case, crew morale had trumped the purity of the prehistoric wilderness. The door mechanism bleeped, interrupting her contemplations.
"Come in," she called, turning away from the planetscape.
Chakotay breezed in from the bridge, carrying a stack of PADDs in one hand. He retained one of them, placing the rest on the desktop.
"Captain," he greeted her. "I've been trying to contact you from transporter room two. Is your combadge broken?"
Instinctively she looked down to her chest. The badge appeared undamaged, but perhaps a micro-component was malfunctioning.
"I don't know," she said. "It worked a moment ago when I contacted Tuvok on the bridge." She added it to her mental list of tasks for the day and assured him, "I'll get someone to look into it."
She placed her empty cup on the desk and stepped up to the sitting area. Perching on the edge of the couch, she gestured for him to come and join her. He did so and began his report.
"I thought you'd like to know that the last party to go down for shore leave has beamed back aboard," he said, stealing a glance out of the window at the blue glow beyond.
"The mining team has beamed up half a kiloton of gallicite," he continued. "B'Elanna says that's the amount she needs to refit all the failing warp coils with some to spare."
"And they've left no sign of the extraction?"
"The vein of ore they tapped is fifteen kilometres deep. Thanks to the transporter modifications, there are no visible traces of the operation on the surface."
Janeway nodded her approval, "Good." She trusted the chief engineer and her team to carry out their captain's orders to the letter, but hearing from Chakotay that everything had gone to plan was reassuring. Chakotay studied her intently, and she recognised his expression as one of worry. Worry for her, specifically. She raised an eyebrow, bemused.
"Out with it, Commander."
He tipped his head in the direction of the window. "It's not too late to get some fresh air yourself, you know," he nagged, gently. "There's still an hour of daylight left at the landing site."
She was the only one on board who'd neglected to take her shore leave allocation. She should have known it wouldn't go unnoticed or without comment from him. Even Seven had spent an hour on the surface yesterday, albeit at the Doctor's insistence.
"No," Janeway insisted, with a slight shake of her head, "I'm fine."
Chakotay looked ready to press the issue then seemed to think better of it. She hadn't expected him to give up so easily but as she was in no mood for a debate, she was thankful that he had.
The beautiful world below was a tortuous hint of the home she wondered if she'd ever see again; the home that a week ago had seemed within her grasp. The quantum slipstream technology acquired had seemed so promising. Despite her well-founded scepticism, she'd let herself get briefly carried along on a wave of optimism with the rest of the crew.
"Well," he said, "Voyager will be ready to leave orbit tomorrow." He smiled and the lines of concern were erased from his handsome face. "Let's hope tonight's party won't result in too many sore heads."
She'd almost forgotten about the party. "That's why we have synthehol," she remarked.
"True, but Neelix has other plans."
He handed her the PADD that he'd omitted to place on the desk. "His requisition for extra replicator rations and foodstuffs from stores - for your approval. I said I'd pass it along as I was on my way here."
She scanned the list on the tiny screen: one hundred tomatoes from airponics, forty onions, six hundred units of replicator rations for various foodstuffs and some concoction called 'mulled wine', which appeared to contain real alcohol. Well, the Doctor could take care of any intoxication-related problems quickly enough. She nodded and rose. Chakotay got to his feet also, interpreting that the conversation was at a close. She handed him back the PADD.
"Request approved," she said. "Tell Mister Neelix, I'm expecting him to put on a feast. And would you mind looking in on Tom? He asked me if I'd like a sneak preview but I really want to finish what I'm doing here."
Chakotay nodded. "Of course." He hesitated before adding, "I will see you there tonight, won't I?"
"I'll be there," she replied, knowing that her lack of enthusiasm was blatant.
He passed no comment on it, merely smiling again and she felt her mood lift – slightly – in response. As the doors swished shut behind him, she retreated behind her desk.
Neelix and Tom had come to her yesterday afternoon and proposed holding a New Year's Eve celebration. There wasn't much for the helmsman to do on the bridge whilst the ship was in orbit, so she'd given him free rein to work on a suitable holodeck program, with Neelix assigned to organise the catering.
Her original intentions had been for Voyager to resume her journey as soon as all personnel and materials were back on board, but again she'd heeded Chakotay's advice. He'd reminded her of her insistence on extended R and R for the crew earlier in the week and persuaded her to wait until the next morning, so that most of the crew could take a night off and attend the party together. They needed to let off steam. Three hundred light years, they'd travelled during their hour in the slipstream. In comparison to the dizzying velocities of the slipstream, standing still felt like moving backwards. She sighed, turned her back to the room's long windows, grabbed a PADD from the set Chakotay had left her, and began to work.