Unmarked

They have no reason to stop. The readings off the surface aren't promising. Mostly barren and harsh terrain. No power sources. No life outside a meager streak of vegetation around the equator. It's the two crumbling structures and scattered shells of ships that stand out. That make it worthwhile. Something had existed there, something had vanished from its surface.

Or abandoned it.

Janeway is inclined to go with abandoned. It feels that way, once the energy from the transport fades. Empty. Desolate. The bones of something left behind.

The away team begins their sweep outside of the concrete walls of the first structure. There's evidence of plumbing and wiring. A group splits off to see if there is a generator still attached, if there is still some power in the place. There's a certain power in the silence. The wind seeming to call them to dampen their voices, rather than raise them to be heard.

She's the first to ascend the stars of the complex, and she can hear the security officer's boots scuff the ground as they move to catch up.

When she stops dead in the hallway, her escort stops behind her.

Doors thrown open, splintered metal bars strewn on the ground. Not exposed to the outside elements, blast patterns are still discernible on the walls. What was this place? A prison? A bunker? A haven or a hellhole?

She moves into the first room, ignoring her shadow. The staircase is an abrupt turn to her left, but she lingers on the platform, staring out and down into the space. It looks like a studio apartment. High ceiling, large windows. There's a table, and a couch, and frames for art on the walls. There's also bars across the windows and the shriveled remains of a humanoid on the main rug.

The cold from the metal bannister bites into her hand, but her palm slides across it during her walk down, never straying.

The tricorder is ready in her hand when she kneels by the body. What were they? How did they die?

Her comm beeps and reports start coming in.

There's more, under time and dirt and canvas. It explains some of the strange readings they had outside the buildings. A city of tents, collapsed and disintegrating into the quiet world. Where were its people? All dead? How? Why?

They've no reason to bother asking, but she wants to know.

If this was their planet, where were their other cities? What happened to them? The ship's sensors detected no destruction such as the kind from bombs or chemicals. There seem to be no great scars from natural disasters on the surface either. Just two squat empty buildings, shells for ships, and now, a buried tent city.

An outpost? A prison? A colony? A refugee camp?

Chakotay is surprised but doesn't comment when she agrees to stay in orbit for a while longer. He was wrong to think he would have to force her to take an interest in excavating the site.

What remains of the alien engines in the grounded ships gives B'Elanna something to sink her teeth into. Whatever these people did to gain faster than light travel, it's nothing like a warp engine. The broken pieces will likely yield little information, but it's a good question to have to ask. Knowledge of any other means of long distance space travel could mean a quicker way home for all of them.

The Doctor is more than happy to examine the bodies they found. Some have a strange synthetic in their molecules. Artificial augmentation, advanced android?

There aren't nearly enough dead to account for the population of what could fill the tents.

Why were these left behind? What happened to the others?

Tuvok is the one who voices that they should move on. Her friend no doubt has little interest in seeing Voyager suffer the same calamity these people had to have. There is no detectable danger, and he backs off before she can call him illogical. Vulcans do not base their opinions off of gut feelings.

Still, those who go down to the surface speak of it. That quiet. As if what they see and find should not be spoken of. The city like a massive, unmarked grave.

And she wanted a name.

Janeway staked out her own plot and began unearthing one.

There's crumbling rugs fulls of insects, burnished and cracked mirrors. Broken toys, dented mugs. Guns. Projectiles, and bricks of clay explosives an ensign almost set off with a phaser, thinking it was a rock to be gotten out of the way. She finds patched blankets and trunks of clothes.

They scan all the markings they can find and hope the universal translator eventually has enough to work with. Most of the paper they find disintegrates on touch.

She finds a pitted, iron idol in the dirt one day and sticks it in her pocket. It watches her in her Starfleet issue tent when she sleeps on the surface, and goes with her everywhere in the dead city. It had to have been important to these people, they find others like it near altars in private corners and within designated tents. A part of her thinks she should leave it be, the idol, the planet, the name she's looking for. Whatever this place is, perhaps it is better to be left undisturbed.

When she wraps her hands around the idol and feels its imperfections dig into her skin, all she can feel is a need for action. For answers. To uncover these people so that they will not be forgotten.

To be out here, in this desolate place, working hard for your life, only for some calamity to come, to be left behind, to be forgotten... to just be dust. She can't stand it.

Chakotay tells her of a larger tent a group unearthed. It's south of what they think is a market square. His eyes are bright when he tells her it's a school. He's positive it's a school. In it they found books. Damaged, yes, but preserved by the nature of their containers.

Its not long until the computer is spitting out translations.

They all crowd, eager to hear the first words of these people.

She's the first to succumb to laughter. Math. Algebra. They definitely uncovered a school.

They throw themselves into finding more for the computer to read to them. Their attempts at accessing the computers on the ships has failed. Too badly degraded. And a quiet curse from B'Elanna would also tell that interface integration would likely have been difficult, had they managed to get it any power in the first place.

She finds a false bottom in one of the school containers, and a soft bundle holding together personal journals inside. It's such a precious find, and her first instinct is to put it back where she found it. She wants to know about these people, but the sudden thought of knowing this one person, who hid their script in a school, is overwhelming. She clutches the idol in her pocket a long while before calling to someone to report her find.

They hold their breath as the pages are scanned, and a crewman breaks a leg.

Tunnels. Networked under a large portion of the city.

They scramble to figure out why the tricorders didn't read them. They did. They were filed in the reports as natural caverns. Until they fell into one, there had been so many cave-ins within the network, the ensign who did the scan hadn't thought to connect the pockets. They map them as best they can and Janeway clutches her padd tight at night and reads the journals she uncovered.

Whenever she finished a page, she looked at the computer's image scan, and traced her fingertip over the flowing script. It's beautiful, in more than just being a foreign shape. She likes the handwriting, though it's the only in this alphabet she's ever seen.

The translation is imperfect, incomplete, and sections were still lost to damage. She clings to the fragments of the world she has been allowed a glimpse of. The writer did not seem particularly pleased with being on the planet at all.

Where had their people come from?

She craved star charts and signposts. She wanted to know where these people had gone, to speak with them.

Had the writer made it off the planet? Were they one of the dead they had found?

A group excavating the tunnels finds more containers. More weapons. The idol is in her hand when she hears the report, and she runs her thumb over the metal until her skin is raw.

What war had these people been fighting? Against what? Had it chased them here, or off the planet?

She's gotten greedy since she got the journals. She wants more.

Tuvok tells her two weeks is too long for an idle curiosity, but it's not just her. The whole crew has been drawn into the mystery. The silence. They need a name, and though none of them will ever be able to speak it, they'll know the shape of it. Know more than the dust and echo left behind on the planet.

She keeps reading and becomes convinced that the writer is a woman. She thinks it is her own projection, her own bias being forced onto the page, until Chakotay refers the to author as 'her' as well. They compare what they've learned from the text, about this teacher who hid her thoughts at school. He confesses to skipping to the end of the translation material, and she tells him not to tell her. She will get there on her own.

When she looks at the shape of the letters, sees a certain sharpness, an extra line, that tells her of a frustration that the computer had been unable to transfer due to mere translation, she likes to think she's getting to know her.

They've scanned and mapped the city, and unless they plan on truly setting up shop and becoming an archaeological vessel, they need to move on.

B'Elanna has everything she can hope to from the ships, not counting a working model of their engines. Any further work could be done on Voyager, with the scans they had. The Doctor can offer nothing but speculation as to the differences between the humanoid remains. They simply don't have enough information.

She suddenly wishes the journal writer had a propensity for the third person. Wishes every entry were signed and addressed to the writer. Wants to know who she was, beyond a frustrated teacher.

How old was she? She spoke of the destruction of her home, could she even remember it? Had she spent her whole life there, and was thus angry at it having to end somewhere else? Did her students like her? What did she think of those concrete buildings and the cells they held? Had she ever been in one? Confined to more than just a ship, and then a desolate planet?

She does not know what the idol is called, so she leaves it on the surface. Did their author have one? A corner in her tent with an altar and a small collection of figures? What did they mean to her? There is mention of prayer in her words, but she is not sure anything she has read speaks of faith.

It chafes her to leave behind such an unsolved mystery. To not know what to call the planet, the people who had briefly lived their, or know what had driven them from it. Despite all their time, and all their findings, all she is left with is silence.

Janeway finishes reading the journal fragments as they break orbit. It's a small phrase, but it is something that the translation program seems quite clear on. The scan of the page it is taken from shows the letters to be larger, more unkempt than the others she has seen earlier in the journal. It read simply:

They're back.