Author: PJ in NH
Series: VOY Rating: [PG] Codes: P, EMH, P/T
Synopsis: Radiation nets, stasis chambers, and Tom. How does he survive when he's the one that has to take care of Voyager when the rest of the crew are again forced to use the stasis units?
Email: kelhapam@lr.net
Posting: OK to PTF, ASC, ASCEM, & BLTS. Please notify me if you post anywhere else.
Note of Appreciation: Special thanks to my beta readers Annie M, Phyllis Sutherland, and Ronda Sexton. Thanks ladies, you helped make this story possible.

by PJ in NH

Rating PG

Present time...

"Mr. Paris, it is time to wake up."

Tom groaned and turned his golden head into the crook of his arm, away from the EMH.

"Mr. Paris, you are scheduled to resume your duties in forty minutes--that leaves you just enough time to shower, change, and eat before you have to return to the bridge."

"Fv mo' min-its," came the garbled reply.

"I've already given you ten minutes more that you usually require." The Doctor reached down grabbed the pilot by his shoulders and shook him briskly. "Rise and shine, Ensign, it's time to go to work!"

Groaning Tom rubbed at his sleep encrusted eyes with one hand before he opened them. How could even a hologram sound so cheerful at 0530, he wondered. He looked first up at the Doctor then down at his "bed" and sighed. "I did it again, didn't I?"

The EMH nodded. "Next time you anticipate spending the night down here, I suggest you bring a pillow."

Tom returned the nod slowly and placed his right hand over the thin transparent aluminum barrier that separated him from his mate and had also served as his bed for the night. He looked down onto her peaceful sleeping face. He had never seen B'Elanna Torres so serene for such a long period of time it seemed unnatural. He had to admit, he missed her fiery temper. What he wouldn't give for her to curse at him right now and throw things at him. Anything but this silence.

"How much longer?" he asked though he knew the answer.

"Twenty-four days, five hours, and thirty-seven minutes at our present rate of progress," the physician replied.

Despite the urge he had to bend down and kiss the window between him and B'Elanna, he refrained from doing so being in the Doctor's presence. "I'll see you on the bridge, Doc."

"Very well, I'll just check things out down here and then I'll be up with your medication."

Tom grimly nodded and took a long look around at the stasis chambers that lined one of the cargo bays on Deck 14. Far against the wall, the Delaney sisters lay side by side as was fitting. Neelix's chamber was positioned ironically enough next to Ensign Smithers who still couldn't stomach the Talaxian's meals. Harry lay in the middle of the room not very far away from Seven. And on the upper level, Kathryn Janeway rested next to her First Officer where, Tom was sure, she'd like to be all the time.

So many people he now considered not only friends but family, all sleeping and waiting for him to finish his job--until he got them safely to the other side.

The pilot sighed once and swallowed a sob that caught in his throat. The overwhelming feeling of loneliness threatened to engulf him, but he fought it off. He never thought he would see the chambers again...he prayed he'd never see one again not after the last time. But this time it was different, he was the one on the outside. Surprisingly, it wasn't that much better--in fact in some respects, it was worse. His stasis chamber was just larger--just he and the Doc on an essentially empty Voyager.

* * * * * * *

Ten days before...

With one long elegant finger that was still encased in its Borg exoskeleton, Seven of Nine pointed to an area on the stellar map that was displayed on the conference room view screen.

The area that Seven indicated was incredibly vast. When they had come upon it two days ago, it had baffled not only the crew, but the computer as well. Nothing like it had ever been seen before. While it certainly intrigued the Captain, it puzzled her as well. In order to develop a way to either circumvent it or to go through it, she had assigned Harry, B'Elanna, and Seven of Nine to work together. They were now presenting their findings, and their answers were not what the Captain had hoped or expected to hear.

From the other side of the conference room table, Janeway leaned forward on her elbows to get a better view of the viewscreen. "You are saying that this is the area that would require the shortest amount of time to traverse?" the Captain asked incredulously.

Seated on the far side of the table next to the first officer, Harry was the one to answer Janeway's question. "From what we can determine, Captain, it is approximately 73 lights years wide. It is composed of layers of intricate bisecting beams of fluctuating radiation. It is also apparently all that remains of a very old security shield. At one time, the nets would have been so fine that not even our shuttlecraft could have slipped through. Though even in their present state of disrepair, they are still very effective. As such, we have yet to determine what exactly exists, if anything, on the other side."

"Layers of radiation nets," Tom Paris clarified. The puzzle before them intrigued him. Memories of his elderly aunt showing his sisters how to work a 'cat's-cradle' came to mind. He could still remember the strings stretched between Aunt Inez's gnarled hands as she coached Moira on how to place her fingers on the strings. Tom wondered how Aunt Inez would unravel these strings of radiation.

"Yes," Harry concurred, "layers of radiation nets are a good analogy." His friend always did know how to clarify a situation down to its basics.

Chakotay sat back and steepled his fingers against his cleft chin contemplating the problem. "We can't circumvent this... this... structure?" he asked for want of a better word.

"It would take Voyager 18.4 months go around it," Seven explained, "and, taking into account the challenges of flying through this *net*, we estimate that if we go through it could be done in approximately one month."

"So we go through," Chakotay concluded. The solution seemed obvious to him.

"It's not that simple," Harry explained. "Even if Voyager can safely pass through the nets, and it seems likely from the information we've gathered that it is possible--not easy but possible--there is something else to consider."

The Doctor stepped away from where he had been standing patiently against the wall behind the conference table. "Similar to our experience with The Void last year, the radiation the net emits is very detrimental to the crew. Voyager's shields cannot be adapted to completely counteract its effects. After Ms. Torres, Mr. Kim, and Seven of Nine consulted with me, I developed a remarkable compound to protect a person from exposure to the radiation. Due to the complexities involved in its manufacture though, I've only been able to create a small portion of it. It is my recommendation that we will need to dust off the stasis chambers one more time."

"Not the stasis chambers!" Paris groaned burying his face in his hands. He swore that he'd never get into one of those electronic coffins again. B'Elanna, who sat beside him, comforted him by kneading his thigh muscles with her strong fingers.

"There appears to be no other way," the Doctor continued ignoring the pilot-medic. "It is either that or we add 17 months to our journey."

Janeway stood up and joined Seven by the display. "Isn't there some other solution? We know what a difficult time Seven had last time we did this. I wouldn't like to see her experience the same discomfort this time."

Harry looked from Janeway to his best friend. Tom still looked upset at the prospect of returning to a stasis chamber. "We took that into consideration. We analyzed how much time it would take to disable a significant amount of generating stations located on planets, satellites, etc., but that would also take an extraordinary amount of time, plus it would deplete our energy reserve. There is also another factor to consider, in this instance, Seven would not be the one to remain awake. This time it would require the services of an ace pilot to navigate through the mesh of radiation."

Tom removed his hands from his face and looked up at Harry Kim.

"And while Seven has the potential to be a very competent pilot, she is, and probably will never be, as good as Voyager's chief pilot," he said with a smile directed at Paris. "It is the group's recommendation that Tom be the one to remain awake."

"Only, Tom? Shouldn't we at least have two pilots available, just in case?" the First Officer asked turning his head toward Paris.

"That would have been the ideal solution," the ops officer explained. "Tom, and one or two other pilots of his choosing, was what we had originally proposed. But we ran into complications. Doctor?" Harry prompted.

"Last time Seven was the only one not affected by the radiation other than me. This time though I've developed a compound. It is exceedingly complex to create, and it is genetically unique. It is individual to each person. With Voyager's present limited resources, I have only been able to manufacturer enough of the compound for one person--Ensign Paris."

"But who will relieve Mr. Paris?" Tuvok asked. "If the ship has to be piloted manually, as I assume will be the case in this instance," he waited momentarily to see both Tom Paris and Harry Kim nod their concurrence. "It is logical that someone will need to relieve him, even if for a short period of time."

"Ideally, that would be the preferred method," Seven explained coming over to stand by the EMH. "But not only is one of the substances the Doctor requires to produce this compound unable to be created properly with the replicators, there is not another pilot on Voyager that could successfully fly Voyager through this...this..."

"Mess." Tom supplied. "And thanks for the compliment." His own hand by now had found a home exploring B'Elanna's own upper leg. When the questing fingers tried to find over diversions, B'Elanna pinched him hard. He brought the hand up to the top of the table. Through practice of having endured the half-Klingon's pinches under the conference room table before, no one was any the wiser.

"It is a mess," Seven returned. "And you do not need to thank me. It is the truth, you are Voyager's best pilot."

The rest of the people in the room, save for Seven and Tuvok, smiled.

B'Elanna placed her hand over his own as a gesture of support, it also helped to cover the red mark left by her pinch, and addressed the group. "In addition to the compound, the Doctor will administer stimulants into Tom's system so he can remain awake and alert to increase his time at the helm. Taking into account that Voyager will have to go to all-stop during periods when he is asleep to avoid potential contact with the radiation streams, we have calculated that we should be clear of this *Mess*, as Tom put it, in approximately 33 days providing all goes as planned."

Janeway pursed her lips for a moment before she spoke. "Seems that we don't have much choice. I certainly don't want to add an additional year and a half to our journey. On the other hand, this would be an arduous undertaking. We know how the isolation affected Seven of Nine. There is no reason to believe that the solitude would be easier for any other member of the crew. I'll leave it up to you, Mr. Paris. Do you feel up for the task?" the Captain asked turning toward the pilot her hands on her hips.

Tom thought but for a moment. "Yes, Captain. I can do this. I can do anything as long as I don't have to go into one of those coffins again."

She observed the blue-eyed man for a long time. The silence in the room was almost suffocating while she carefully evaluated her Chief Pilot. There was no other person on the ship that she was aware of that enjoyed the company of their fellow crewmembers more than Tom Paris. She also knew that she had come to rely on him over the years. During their time in the Delta Quadrant if he assured her that he could accomplish a task, he had never failed her.

"Then it's decided," Janeway announced with a half-smile. "Let's all get to work. I want the stasis units in place as soon as possible. Mr. Paris, review the information we have obtained on these radiation nets. We don't have a moment to waste."

* * * * * * * *

Present time...

Heading for the turbolift, the sound of Tom's footsteps against the deck echoed through the empty corridors of the ship. Entering the lift, he called out for the bridge.

Since leaving the Doctor, he had returned to his cabin, changed into a clean uniform from the one he wore yesterday, and replicated his breakfast--black coffee and two pieces of toast. With unlimited replicator rations available to him thanks to the Captain's generosity, he could have asked for any one of his favorites: eggs benedict, a large stack of pancakes with sausage, but he found that since this ordeal began his appetite had left him. Eating alone, he concluded, was hell. it reminded him of his thirty days in the brig. He really missed the companionship of his friends and fellow crewmembers. Right now, he would even welcome Vorik or Tuvok's stimulating conversation to break the boredom, he mused. Recalling how relieved he had felt ten days ago when he had been told he wouldn't have to be placed in a stasis chamber, now he almost wished he was in one. At least then, he wouldn't feel so alone.

The door of the turbolift slid open and the pilot walked out onto the empty bridge. On the view screen, several multicolored radiation streams could be seen angrily slicing their way diagonally through space. Tom walked down past tactical and down the steps to his position at the helm. He had no sooner seated himself when the turbolift opened again, and the Doctor stepped out hyposprays in hand.

"How are you feeling, Ensign?"

Tom grumbled and turned to face the bald man. His demotion still bothered him. "How about you try that again, and this time just call me Tom or Paris?"

The EMH grimaced, but complied. "How are you feeling this morning, *Tom*?"

"That's better. I knew you could do it. Actually, Doc, to be completely honest, I feel like I'm going to crawl out of my skin if I have to stay in this Mess any longer."

"Anxiety," the EMH promptly diagnosed and stepped up closer to the pilot.

Tom pulled down his collar a little to allow the Doctor easier access.

The physician injected the anti-radiation compound into the pilot's neck. "I'm not going to give you the stimulant now. I'll check up on you later, and if you need it, I'll administer it then. It could be that it is interacting with the compound and contributing to your anxiousness." The Doctor nodded once as if confirming that he had made the correct decision and pivoted on one heel to return to Sickbay.

Tom looked at the retreating man for a moment, his mouth hung open as if deciding on whether to speak or not. Just before the EMH reached the turbolift, he called out. "Doc?"

The balding man turned back toward the pilot. "Is there something I can do for you?"

"Ah...um...I just wanted to say that I'm glad you're here. Actually, your presence has made this a bit easier. Thanks. Do you think you could come up at my noontime break and join me for lunch? I really could use someone to talk to."

The EMH was surprised and flattered by the request. The pilot had never asked him to join him before. "Certainly. 1300?"

"It's a date." A now smiling Tom Paris pivoted back on his chair toward the view screen. "Computer, play Paris Rock and Roll five through twelve."


The hard beat of drums and the squeal of an electric guitar came blaring out of the bridge's speakers. The Doctor rolled his eyes upwards as he left the bridge.

"Computer, resume course at quarter impulse, increase to full impulse upon my mark."


* * * * * *

"I tried to keep at it as long as possible today, B'Elanna," Tom explained his soft voice, heavy lidded eyes reflected his exhaustion.

As with every night since they had entered the radiation streams, he was next to her unit, perched on the stool he had commandeered at the beginning of the journey. This evening though he had found to his surprise that a pillow and a blanket had been placed on top of the stool. Obviously, the EMH had come to the conclusion that if the pilot was going to stay down here, he might as well be comfortable. It did not go unappreciated by the pilot and he promised himself to thank the Doctor in the morning.

"When I broke for lunch today, the Doctor joined me. I'm going to need to have my head examined after I get through this, B'Elanna, but I'm actually starting to like him. Just don't tell him that, it will give him more of an ego than he already has, if that's at all possible."

B'Elanna's face remained as impassive as ever beneath the window. From across the other side of the cargo bay, unbeknownst to Tom, his lunchtime companion entered to examine the silent crew.

"I did promise him that, B'Elanna, I'd try and eat more. Funny...now I have almost unlimited replicator rations. I can order anything I want to eat, and I'm not even hungry. You know what I had today for supper? Peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches! I can hear Neelix laughing at me and telling me that I ate it because I needed the comfort," Tom smirked at the thought for a moment before his expression changed to one of sadness.

The Doctor paused in examining Joe Carey's stasis chamber to listen to his friend.

"You know, he might be right. Maybe I do need some comfort, B'Elanna. I ache to hold you in my arms again--to touch you and have you touch...me," his voice broke from emotion. "I...I guess I'll have to settle for just sleeping with you tonight. Have I told you that I can sleep better in here on this stool with my head resting on your stasis unit, than I can in my own bed? Of course it aggravates the Doctor, but he's finally figured it out that when I make up my mind there's no sense arguing with me. I can think of no place else I'd rather be than here with you." He leaned over and kissed the window just above her lips. "Good night, my love. I'll see you tomorrow." Adjusting the blanket around his shoulders and tucking the pillow under his head, he settled down for the night and within moments he was asleep.

* * * * * *

Doctor's Log.

"With approximately fifteen days remaining, Ensign Thomas Eugene Paris is performing his job admirably. Actually, I have developed more respect for his piloting abilities than I ever had in the past. The way he maneuvers Voyager through the tinniest of openings in this radiation netting is nothing short of remarkable. How he can do it with that infernal rock and roll music blaring in the background though is beyond me. Now, he if opted for Carmen or Aida, maybe I would understand. Then again, when I was up there yesterday, a song--make that some noise-- started to play. The words about not getting any satisfaction roared through the speakers. It was almost profound how I could relate those lyrics to Tom Paris' own life. But if I have anything to say after we get out of here, he will get some satisfaction. And seeing that I do have something to say regarding his medical training, I'm going to see that he devotes more of his medical training toward surgery. If he has as delicate a touch inside a person's body as he does at the helm, he might even teach me a thing or two.

"In my opinion though, Mr. Paris has been performing his duties at the helm above and beyond the call of duty, his time away from his post though is cause for deep concern. He is morose and sullen. Lack of human companionship is taking a heavy toll upon him. Despite the availability of replicator rations, he eats only what he must. Yesterday, he was talking to Ms. Torres in the Cargo Bay...I'll explain that later... and he told her that he was eating what he referred to as comfort food. It is my medical opinion that Ensign Paris is indeed in need of comfort. He is desperate for human contact.

"Almost since the first day the crew was placed in stasis, he has visited the cargo bay. His original visits were to accompany me to check on the status of the crew. Now he comes on his own to talk to them. He has strange one-sided conversations with the crew. I have heard him speak to Captain Janeway, Commander Chakotay, Harry Kim, and in particular Lt. Torres.

"To the Captain, he generally talks about his demotion to ensign and how he has no regrets other than he disappointed her. He tries to make her understand his actions, how he felt compelled to help the Monean people see the error of their ways. But of course, since she cannot hear him, there is no resolution.

"He visits the Commander's stasis unit occasionally and talks of the past--of his time with the Maquis, and of the present--of how he and the First Officer still have strained relations. I think he desperately wants Mr. Chakotay to understand why he didn't return to the Maquis with assistance as promised. How he contacted a nearby planet to help the Maquis and how he was subsequently captured by the Federation in an attempt to divert their attention from the crippled ship. Mr. Paris tries to explain how he would like to put his past behind him, and develop a better understanding with Voyager's second in command. It is obvious that Tom Paris greatly respects his former Maquis captain, but as with the Captain, Mr. Chakotay cannot hear his words or respond.

"He generally talks of past experiences on Earth with Ensign Kim. Mr. Paris cracks jokes about Mr. Kim's early days on board Voyager, and of his own childhood experiences growing up in his father's shadow. Some of these jokes are not that humorous. Bittersweet memories surface and he attempts to joke his way through trying to make sense of his youth and his relationship with his father and family. Harry Kim, even in stasis, remains a patient listener.

"Most of his time is spent with B'Elanna Torres, which is not surprising. He spends hours talking to her. He speaks of the day's events, his meals, me--anything and everything that he can think of. There are times he even pauses in his recitation seemingly waiting for her to reply. It's as if he forgets that she is in stasis, for afterwards he looks surprised and then disappointed not to hear her voice. Eventually, still seated beside her, he will rest his weary head on the chamber and fall asleep for the night.

"I've tried to explain to him that he would be better off in his own bed, but Mr. Paris is adamant that if he opts to sleep there then that is his choice. The other day I finally relented and brought down a blanket and a pillow for him to use. If he insists on sleeping down there, making him as comfortable as possible is the least I can do.

"I will continue to monitor his condition. One of the items I am researching is supplementing the compound I am administering to him with an antidepressant. So far the tests are proving disappointing, but I will continue. Doctor out."

* * * * * * *

Nine days later...

Even being a hologram, the Doctor found it difficult to keep his balance when he visited Tom Paris on the bridge one afternoon. The ship would dive to port and climb the next moment to starboard all while Tom Paris kept time with the music by tapping his foot against the deck. With the inertial dampers not properly functioning due to the ship's closer proximity to the radiation streams, the EMH had to clutch the handrail to even come close to remaining on his feet. He was glad that B'Elanna had the foresight before they entered the net to have the stasis chambers bolted to the deck.

"Problems, Mr. Paris?!" the Doctor asked loudly trying to be heard above the music.

The pilot grinned and pressed a series of buttons in rapid succession. "No, no problems. Why do you ask?"

Stumbling down to the helm the Doctor finally grabbed onto the end of the helm console to steady himself.

"If this roller coaster ride keeps up much longer, even I will be nauseous."

"Just think of this as your introduction into test piloting, Doc. I performed maneuvers similar to this back on Earth during the pilot training program. Actually, it brings back a lot of memories." Tom turned the ship sharp to port and dove through another opening in the net.

"Mr. Paris, it is well past noon. It is time for your lunch."

"Already?" He steered the ship hard to starboard and shot through another opening which in turn sent the Doctor tumbling to the deck.

"Remind me to cut your dosage of antidepressant in half!" the physician snapped.

Just as the EMH rose to his knees, Tom cut the ship to starboard again, and once again, the Doctor found himself sprawled at the pilot's feet.

"Please, Mr. Paris---ah...Tom...can you stop this thing so you can eat and I can administer another shot of your anti-radiation medicine?"

"But, Doc, I'm having a lot of..." He slid the ship through another narrow opening. "fun."

"Now, Mr. Paris!" the hologram insisted pulling himself up once again.


"No buts, bring this ship to a halt..." The ship on cue stopped suddenly sending the Doctor to the deck one more time, this time he somersaulted end over end until finally he stopped up against the view screen. The EMH looked up at the pilot, his lips pressed into a fine line and his face red with rage.

"You told me to stop," Tom explained innocently.

"Not *that* quickly."

"Well I don't have much choice actually. Computer, display chart from position 40-2-1 to 60-0-0."

The view screen changed to a graphical representation of the remaining distance they had to travel through to reach clear space. It was much denser than what they had already traveled through. Brightly colored lines crisscrossed the screen in a fine pattern.

"The distances between the radiation streams is much narrower," The Doctor noted.

"I know, traveling until now has been relatively easy, in fact almost enjoyable at times. But now is where the real challenge begins. There are openings in the Net that are just big enough for Voyager to slip through. I may have no more than a few meters on each side of the ship to play with."

"Will that be enough?"

"It'll have to be, but there is another problem, Doc. When I enter this dense layer of the Net, they'll be no stopping. From what I've been able to determine from the computer readouts, there is no place to park Voyager that will be stable enough. The radiation streams are so close together that if Voyager was at dead stop they would push and pull at the ship until the ship would come in contact with one of the beams. If that happens, it would destroy her and us. Once I begin, I can't stop."

The EMH still seated on the floor looked first at the pilot and then bent his head backwards to look at the screen above him before he focused on Paris again. "How long to you think it will take?"

"The readouts are not precise. We can't even be sure what exactly is on the other side of these radiation streams. But I would estimate between seventy to eighty hours."

"Seventy to eighty hours? That's a long time to remain alert and functioning. Are you sure there is no other solution?

The pilot shook his head.

"Then I'll have to administer sedatives and nutrients to you during that time."

"Thanks, Doc. But I'm going to need something else from you too. I'm going to need you up here on the bridge with me. I need a second set of eyes to man tactical and ops. While I'm threading Voyager though one opening, I'm going to need you to tell me where the next target is located. Do you think you can do that?"

"I'm a Doctor not a seamstress," he proudly informed his friend. "But if you show me what it is you need me to do, I'll do my very best."

Paris pulled himself out from the helm, walked around to where the Doctor was seated, and reached down and hauled the man to his feet. "Thanks, I knew I could count you. Well I've put on the parking brake, and I thought we could grab a bite to eat--or I could grab a bite to eat and you can watch--and I'll get to bed early tonight. When I get up tomorrow, we are going to be very busy. Hell, Doc, if you're nice I'll even play some Italian opera for you while you are on the bridge," Tom quipped slapping the bald man on the shoulder.


"Carmen it is," Tom agreed but waggled his finger at the Doctor, "But I warn you I don't know all the words."

* * * * * * *

Later that evening...

"...I won't be seeing you for a while, B'Elanna," Tom explained. His fingers traced the pattern of her lips on the surface of the window above her face. 'I'll be living on the bridge for the next few days. But afterwards, we'll have some time together. I thought that you might like to go sailing on Lake Como. Just you, me, and the moonlight--and maybe a bottle of champagne. I can even throw in a beautiful sunset as an appetizer. We'll drift on the waves until...well you know what always happens after--the desert. I miss you, B'Elanna. This is almost worse than my thirty days in solitary. You are so close but so far away at the same time. I promise you it won't be for long. Soon you'll be in my arms. Placing his hand across the window that separated them, he pulled the pillow toward him with the other hand and finally drifted off to sleep.

* * * * * * *

"Doc, give me a reading on the starboard sensor grid. Does everything look in order?"

The Doctor called up the correct screen on Tuvok's panel and looked it over. "It says it's within normal parameters."

"Good. I'm going to edge us through another one. Computer, drop speed to one-eighth impulse."


"Doc, while I get us through this one, find me another opening in the next layer."

"I'm already working on it."

Tom opened his mouth to reply but emitted a deep yawn instead. It did not go unnoticed by the physician.

"After you get through this one, I'll give you another shot of stimulant," the EMH told him worriedly. They had been doing this for almost 48 hours, and by the last calculations, they might have to keep it up for another 28 hours before they would be clear.

True to Tom's promise he had allowed the Doctor to play some of his opera and had even introduce the EMH to one or two arias that the physician hadn't even heard before--but that was the first day. With rock and roll music pounding through the speakers, the Doctor having relented to Tom's preference in music in an effort to keep the pilot alert, and with the help of the stimulants and nutritional supplements, Tom was doing well at the start of the second day. During the past several hours though, the pilot had started to wane. The increased stress of having to fly Voyager with a surgeon's precision was mentally as well as physically exhausting. The EMH could see the tension that was manifested in the taut muscles across Paris' neck, shoulders, and back. It worried him, he wasn't certain that his friend would be able to endure.

"What's the distance between this layer and the next, Doc?" Paris snapped

"One hundred forty-one meters."

"Damn! We don't even have enough room to breath! Voyager itself is 133 meters wide."

"You only have a 4-meter leeway on each side of Voyager. Can you do it?"

"I have no choice, Doc. I have to do it. Just shoot me up again with another wake-me-up shot, and I'll be fine."

Knowning it was useless to argue, the Doctor grimly picked up his ever-present hypospray, pulled down the pilot's collar and gave him another shot. Paris' eyes never left the viewscreen while the physician performed his task. Releasing the collar, the hologram took his free hand and squeezed his friend's shoulder to reassure both of them. Ideally stimultants were only recommended for use in extreme conditions, and preferably for short periods of time. Already Mr. Paris and exceeded the recommended parameters by close to three times.

"I know you'll be fine," the EMH replied trying to reassure both the pilot and himself. "Now let's both work to get through this. I have people I need to wake up from stasis."

"Only nineteen hours to go, Doc. Piece of cake."

The EMH grumbled but returned to Tuvok's station.

* * * * * * *

Wide emerald-colored eyes framed by extremely long black eyelashes looked up at her supervisor, they expressed her astonishment at what she saw on her analyzer.

"Kri Gybet, there is something coming through the security grid," the owner of the distinctive eyes exclaimed, her shinny black hair framed her petite face.

A tall man, broad of shoulder and of girth turned to face her. "Impossible, no one has ever crossed the grid. Double check your instruments, B'tin.

Obeying, her nimble long fingers danced over he control panel. "Confirmed, sir. Some type of ship is weaving its way through. By my calculations, if they maintain the present rate of speed, they should be through in," she tapped a series of buttons in front of her, "three point four rotations."

Kri Gybet marched over to his command console and pounded once on a large black button. "Situation Blue...Situation Blue...All flight members assigned to first level, launch immediately...this is not a drill...repeat, this is not a drill..."

* * * * * * *

"Give me another, Doc," Paris demanded brusquely. His heavy head lulled to one side, all the while his hands were a blur of motion on the helm's console.

"Mr. Paris, you aren't due for another shot until 0300, it is now only..."

"I DON'T CARE!!! I need it now. Unless you want Voyager to explode, you'll give me a shot NOW!!!!.

The Doctor gave him another shot of stimulant along with a booster shot of the anti-radiation compound.

"I should warn you...Tom...that due to the amount of stimulant that you've received, that when it wears off, you will probably sleep for days..."

"It's either Voyager crashes or I do. I don't have much choice," he replied already feeling more alert. "Another two hours or so and we should be in clear space. Any readings regarding what we will be facing when we get there?"

"I'll check." The EMH strode over to Harry Kim's station and called up the appropriate information. "Still nothing. The radiation is still preventing us from receiving any data. It looks like we'll just have to wait and see for ourselves when we get there."

"That can't come too soon."

* * * * * * *

"First Level is in place, Kri Gybet."

"Very good, B'tin. Tell them to remain alert, the ship should be coming out of the grid any time now," Kri Gybert carefully adjusted the shiny medals that adorned his new green uniform top. Inform them that I'll will join them there before the appointed time."

She nodded.

* * * * * * *

"One more layer, Doc and we're through," Paris said, relief was evident in his voice, but he knew he had to guide Voyager through this last opening just as carefully as he had the first. He took a deep breath and steered the ship into the final gap. Soon he would be able to relax, see B'Elanna awaken, and finally get some well deserved sleep.

The ribbons of radiation energy slid past Voyager ever so slowly. The Doctor called out numbers to the pilot indicating the amount of leeway that he had to play with...which wasn't much. Then, finally, when the they cleared the last of the Mess, the Doctor called out: "We're through, Mr. Paris....you did it!"

Tom smiled. "We did it, Doc."

A beep on his console, brought the EMH's attention back to the screen. "Tom, we have thirty...no thirty-eight alien spacecraft approaching us on a heading of 30.76."

"Hail them, Doc. I'm in no mood for a fight."

*Not to mention too tired to fight,* the Doctor thought. "We're patched through."

Tom slowly rose from his position at the helm and joined the Doctor at the op station where he leaned heavily on the console. "Alien vessels, this is Ensign Paris of the U.S.S. Voyager, we mean you no harm. We are travelers from afar just trying to get home."

The screen crackled and a hum came over the intercom. Soon Kri Gybet's face appeared. "Ensign Paris, it is our pleasure to meet you. My name is Kri Gybet, I represent the citizens of Zytris. Please allow us to escort your vessel back to our planet where we can honor you and your crew."

Tom looked relieved at hearing the kind voice and was suddenly very, very tired. His eyes, reddened from lack of sleep, fought to remain open. "Thank you, Kri Gybet, it...it..." He looked up at the Doctor once, gripped him by the forearm, then ever so softly sunk to the deck. Thomas Eugene Paris had crashed.

Kri Gybet looked at the Doctor, obviously very worried about what he had just witnessed. "Is he ill?"

"No, he is just very tired. I'm the ship's doctor. If you'll allow me a moment, I can bring the ship's senior officer, our captain, out to speak with you."

"Isn't he the senior officer?" Gybet asked pointing to where Tom lay quietly by the Doctor's feet.

"No. He's just the best pilot in the Delta Quadrant and a damn fine medic to boot, just don't tell him that I said so." The EMH looked down at his friend then back up to the alien.

Kri Gybet just nodded and smiled.

* * * * * *

"When do you think he'll wake, Doctor," B'Elanna asked. She had been involved with diplomatic functions, something she always hated, ever since she had been revived from stasis. Now, almost eighteen hours later, she was at her mate's bedside again.

The EMH sighed. First, it was B'Elanna herself who had stopped in immediately upon being awakened, then later the Captain, Harry, Neelix, the First Officer...the list just went on and on. By now many of them had returned two or three times to check on the pilot. All wanted to know when Tom Paris would wake up. This would make B'Elanna's sixth visit, beaming back to Voyager from the surface every few hours.

"I'm not sure, Lieutenant. He took several doses of the stimulant to get through that security grid. After all that, I didn't even want to move him enough to take of his uniform. All I can say is that he'll wake up when he's rested enough. It could be five minutes from now or five days from now, but I promise I'll let you know as soon as he does."

"Five days?" B'Elanna replied dejectedly.

"Well probably not five days, but definitely longer than five minutes. Would you like to stay with him?"

"For a little while." B'Elanna pulled up a chair next to the biobed and sat down. "I can't stay for long, there's a lot of work to be done in engineering."

"I'm sure he would understand."

B'Elanna sighed and with one hand casually brushed back her mate's hair from his forehead. "You know while I was in stasis, I could have sworn that he was with me. It's silly but..."

"He was."

"Excuse me?"

"Every night, save for the last three, he was with you. He would come in, talk to you for hours, and eventually fall asleep against your stasis chamber."

She looked from the Doctor back down to the sleeping man. He looked so peaceful, so calm. He looked like the man, and was the man, that she had fallen head over heels in love with.

"I wish he'd talk more to me when we were both awake," she said softly her dark eyes never leaving the pilot. "He keeps so much bottled up inside."

"He will, B'Elanna, you just have to give him time. He has a lot to say."

"Who has a lot to say?"

The engineer and physician both turned to see that the First Officer had entered the room.

"Who has a lot to say?" he repeated.

"Mr. Paris," the EMH answered motioning the two ex-Maquis away from where Paris was sleeping. He wanted the pilot to waken on his own and not be disturbed.

"What, he has some new jokes to tell?" Chakotay quipped when they had retreated a safe distance.

"Not that I know of, but you should talk to him sometime, Commander. Ask him about what happened after he left the Maquis."

"I know what happened," the First Officer countered crossing his arms in front of him.

B'Elanna spoke up. "Maybe you do, and maybe you don't, Chakotay. Take the Doctor's advice and talk to him sometime. It's time you and he put that part of your past behind you."

"He's spoken to you about it?" the tattooed man asked.

The half-Klingon nodded. "Some, it's been awhile. The Doctor's right, Chakotay, you should speak with him."

"Okay, I will. But while I have you both here, there is a few things I need to talk to you about..."

* * * * * *

Kri Gybet graciously ushered Captain Kathryn Janeway and Commander Tuvok into his private dining area. Having changed out of his uniform he was now wearing ceremonial robes. The heavy purple material of the robe rustled as he showed his guests to their seats. Satisfied that they would comfortable, he clapped his hands twice before he also sat down. The claps brought two smiling female servants into the room carrying trays laden with culinary delicacies and bottles of amber colored liquid. Gybet smiled his thanks at the women and soon they hurried off leaving the three alone with the feast.

Kri Gybet carefully selected one of the bottles. "Can I offer you some refreshment? This is a beverage we call pypet. We ferment it here on my estate from the pyprian fruit." Without waiting for an answer he proceeded to fill two slender glasses and passed them to first Janeway and then to Tuvok. Then he took two plates off the other large tray. One plate was covered in small pie-like pastries. Purple filling bubbled up between the slits in the crust. On the other platter, delicate leafy vegetables that had been stuffed with a creamy filling had been arranged in a circular pattern. Janeway chose the sweet and Tuvok the vegetable--both sipped at the pypet. The Captain smiled at her host.

"Excellent, Kri Gybet. The wine, as we would call it, is lovely, and the pastry...you have to give me the recipe so I can pass it on to my cook." Janeway licked at the crumbs that clung to her fingers.

"I'll also make sure you have a cask of pypet to take with you on your journey. But, please, now that we are alone, call me Tikot. I still have yet to get used to being a kri. Oh mind you, the medals are nice, but there are times when I wish I was still in the ranks. People are sometimes afraid to talk to me. Think I'm going to demote them or something."

Janeway paled slightly remembering when she had demoted her pilot before she found her voice. "I think our Mr. Paris would agree with you, Tikot. If he ever achieved the rank of admiral, he'd wouldn't like the pomp and circumstance that would accompany that position."

"Oh yes, Ensign Paris. How is he? You know I only got to speak with him briefly before he fell asleep...not that he didn't deserve it. I still can't believe he piloted your ship by himself through that old security net. The race that constructed it has long since faded from history but it still remained effective, though we aren't sure as to the reason behind its construction. We certainly never thought that anyone would make their way through."

"Well if anybody could it, would be our pilot, though it took a lot out of him. He still hasn't recovered from the feat. Last I checked, he was still peacefully asleep on Voyager. It's a shame really, he's missing out on a wonderful shore leave. There is no one that appreciates a good shore leave like Ens...um...Tom."

"You seem reluctant to call your crewman by his rank, Captain Janeway. Do you mind if I ask why?"

Kathryn shifted uneasily in her chair, looked up once at Tuvok, encountered his trademark raised eyebrow, then turned back to Tikot. "It's a bit of a long story. Basically, Mr. Paris felt compelled to assist a planet that we encountered some months ago. Against my orders, he commandeered a shuttlecraft and went to the planet's surface to help save its citizens from their own government." Voyager's captain took a long drink of the alien wine. It burned satisfyingly as it flowed down her throat. "I had no choice at the time but to reduce him in rank." *I'm not about to tell the Kri that I also put him in the brig. It's not hard to tell that he is a big fan of our pilot. There is no sense in disrupting the harmony of such a gracious people.*

"Ah, it is difficult being in command. I myself have been through similar situations over the years. Having to reduce someone in rank is not a pleasant task." Tikot drank from his own glass before placing it carefully back down on the table. "I hope I'm not too bold to ask if Mr. Paris' latest mission through the Net will restore his rank?"

Janeway looked warmly up at her new friend and graced him with a warm smile. "An excellent idea, Tikot. Would you care to accompany us to Voyager to witness the event?"

"I thought you'd never ask. Since you've arrived I've been wanting to visit your Mr. Paris and Voyager. In fact there is something that I would like to give to him"

Voyager's captain tapped her comm badge. "Voyager, three to beam up."

* * * * * * * *

Finding that Tom was still asleep, Janeway adjourned briefly to her cabin to procure a lieutenant's pip. With it safely pocketed in her uniform, Janeway proceeded to escort her guest around Voyager. The Doctor was ordered to contact her as soon as Paris woke up.

With each new turn, Tikot was amazed at what he saw. He asked questions of everyone, from the senior staff down to the lowest of crewmembers, and politely and patiently listened to the replies. On the bridge, he walked around, looking at all the stations with great interest. Harry Kim smiled warmly at him when he examined his ops station and answered several questions. In engineering, B'Elanna Torres explained the theory behind the warp core and while she was in the middle of introducing him to several of her engineers, the Captain's comm badge chirped.

"Captain, this is the EMH. Tom Paris is waking up. You asked to be notified."

B'Elanna smiled, and Janeway grinned back at her Chief of Engineering and Kri Gybet.

"Care to accompany us, Lieutenant?"

"Yes, Captain."

"I didn't think I could keep you away."

* * * * * * *

The Captain followed by Kri Gybet and B'Elanna Torres entered Sickbay. Over on the far biobed they could see that Tom Paris was rubbing at his eyes and beginning to wake up. The Doctor, who was bringing the pilot a glass of water, motioned for them to come over.

Circling the pilot they watched the Doctor hand his patient the glass. Sleepily, Tom reached for it and drank a sip or two, before giving it back to the Doctor. It was only then that he looked around and noticed his audience.

"Kri Gybet, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Thomas Eugene Paris, our chief pilot," Kathryn Janeway said proudly.

Tom held out his hand, and the alien, as he had seen the humans do during their visit to his planet, shook it.

"Good to meet you, Kri Gybet. You were the one..." Tom tried hard to stifle a yawn but it escaped him. "Sorry, just can't stop yawning. You were the one that contacted us, right?"

"Yes, that's me. I just wanted to say to you in person what a fine job of piloting you did. I've never seen any better."

Blushing, Tom ran his hand through his sleep ruffled hair. "Thanks, but I did have some help. I couldn't have done it without the Doctor."

The EMH smiled proudly.

"Do you know that you are the first person to successfully navigate the Net? Your name will go down in history on our planet. School children will be taught about the day someone traversed the Net and visited us from afar."

Tom rubbed his eyes again. This time he saw that B'Elanna was standing next to him and he reached out for her. She grabbed his hand. *Damn, it felt good to touch her again. If everyone else would just leave us alone.*

"Is Lt. Torres your joined soul?" Kri Gybet asked motioning to B'Elanna.

"Joined soul?" Tom smiled at B'Elanna. "Yeah, that says....it..." Another yawn hit the pilot, he blinked his eyes several times trying to remain awake. B'Elanna laughed at the expression on his face.

"You can see it in their eyes," Gybet explained with a grin. "Even tired eyes."

The Captain cleared her throat and the group's attention centered on her. "Tom, one of the reasons we came down here was so I could give you something."

He yawned again half covering his mouth with his free hand. "Give me something, Captain?"

"Yes," Janeway reached into her pocket and pulled out a lone pip. "Thomas Eugene Paris, I have entered into the ship's log that on this date you are hereby restored to the rank of lieutenant." She adhered the small round pin to the collar of the uniform her pilot still wore. It looked good to see it back where it belonged on his collar again.

Then Kri Gybet stepped forward and withdrew a large metallic object from one of his own pockets. "And I would like to award you with the Grand Order of Zytris, our planet's highest honor." He pinned the large medal on Tom's left shoulder then stood back, brought his right hand to his left shoulder, saluting the pilot.

"There will be a formal ceremony in a few days, Lieutenant," Janeway informed him. "Until then, you can go on shore leave and relax."

Another yawn, this time larger than the others.

"Thanks....Umm relax...sounds...good." He yawned again, blinked his eyes twice but this time didn't open them after the last blink. Then he lowered himself back down to the mattress and with one hand still clutching B'Elanna's, he used his free hand to pull the sheet up to his shoulder. Sleep...sounds...better..." he murmured then promptly was asleep again.

The Captain turned to her guest. Tikot's he face broke with a smile and he laughed lightly. "I can think of no other person I know who deserves the sweetness of sleep more than he. Let's adjourn and leave him in peace. Captain Janeway, I believe that you were going to show me the holodecks?"

Janeway nodded at his wisdom and smiled. Turning to B'Elanna she noticed that even in sleep Tom hadn't relinquished his grip on her hand.

"B'Elanna, it looks like Tom isn't going to let you go anwhere, consider yourself off-duty. I'll inform Lt. Carey not to expect you in engineering for a while. In the mean time, you can take care of your joined soul."

"Thanks, Captain. I wouldn't want to miss it when he wakes up next time. I'm not even sure he'll remember what just happened."

Janeway smiled. "Doctor, if you would accompany us. Kri Gybet, I'm sure has some questions for you as well."

"Of course, Captain. It would be my pleasure. Lt. Torres, if you need me you know how to reach me."

B'Elanna nodded. The three then left her alone with the sleeping man and exited Sickbay. It was good to be alone with Tom again, she thought, even if it was in here.

"Are they gone?"

"Tom!" she admonished lightly.

One blue eye popped open, it looked into her shocked face. "Are they gone?" he whispered again.

"Yes, they're gone."

Tom grinned and opened the other eye as well.

"Tom Paris, you just received your pip back and a medal from the Kri. How could you just dismiss them like that and pretend to fall back to sleep?"

"Because I don't care about medals and pips, B'Elanna. I didn't think about those trinkets for the last month. All I thought of you." He sat up on the bed and grabbed his mate by her shoulders. "Come up here, B'Elanna, I want to feel you next to me."

"But we're in Sickbay!"

"Computer, install security lock on Sickbay, authorization Paris Omega Epsilon Two."


"Now come up here so I can show you how much I missed you."

"You can't order me, Lt. Paris, I believe I have seniority, by about thirty-five days."

"Are you saying you don't want to join me?"

"I didn't say that," B'Elanna said with a sly smile as she let herself be pulled up onto her mate.

"Then show me, B'Elanna. Show me what you want to say. I'll show you how much I missed you."

"Here in Sickbay?! We could sneak off to my cabin, the Doctor isn't around, he would..." Her words were interrupted by the pilot capturing her lips with his own. It was hard to talk when you had someone's tongue in your mouth. Eventually, they both broke away breathlessly.

"I can't wait that long. I need you, and I need you now, B'Elanna."

"Tom, I can't wait either, but are you sure your up for it?"

"I guess you'll find out."

The End.

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