In the Space of Seven Days
Part I: An Alteration in Seating Arrangements
Day 4 0200 hours
The Big Chair, everyone assumed, was the most comfortable piece of furniture on board the Federation Starship Voyager. Maybe the whole mystique of the Big Chair was somehow wrapped up in that belief. Here, the Captain sat, giving her orders. Here, the central power of this ship, its soul, its determination, took on human form in the body of its Captain. It was well-cushioned leather, with comfortable-seeming armrests that fit the arms perfectly of whoever sat there in command, no matter who that was. The seat itself seemed to invite one to fall into its lush depths, surrounding a person with soft, warm comfort and absolute authority.
Tom Paris, the only member of the Senior Bridge crew left on Voyager, knew better.
The Chair might look soft, but as it enveloped, it suffocated, burdening one with the incredible weight of command. He'd never truly realized that before, and he was Starfleet, born and bred. Starships had been a second home to him for most of his life, and for the past almost five years, this one had truly been his home. Yet in that time, seeing countless captains, countless officers, he had never realized the true significance of the Big Chair.
Until his butt was firmly rested in it and perfectly aware that no one was going to get him out of it anytime soon. What I wouldn't give for someone else to sit here. Anyone. How did the Captain stand it? Every day, she sat here, our mainstay, our guide, our muse, and in a chair that feels like it's trying to eat you alive.
He couldn't stand the silence of his own thoughts anymore. He tapped his comm badge.
"Paris to Sickbay."
:::Sickbay here. What can I do for you, Mr. Paris?:::
At least the Doc sounded as testy as ever. A constant in a world that quite literally made no sense to him, and hadn't for some time. For three days--only three days? Three months, three years, three decades, rather--nothing had been right. And unless something gave, it never would again.
Tom didn't know why he called Doc. Maybe just to hear someone's voice. He looked at the viewscreen as if will alone would fix the wrongness, this quiet on a ship that was supposed to be bustling with life.
"You know, I have no idea. Paris out." He clicked the channel closed, let his hand fall back to the armrest limply.
And he stared at the false stars. Unable to imagine what the hell he was supposed to do, when nothing could be done. And that was the most damnable part. He had no idea what could be done that hadn't been already tried. And failed.
:::Janeway to Voyager:::
Startled, he winced, stood up instantly, as if she had caught him doing something inappropriate. It almost made him smile. Wondered again what she was using to communicate with.
:::Janeway to Voyager. Tom, I know you can hear me.:::
He knew that too. He raised a hand to touch his comm badge, hesitated, then laced his fingers together behind him. He couldn't afford to break, not now. Not now, of all times.
:::Tom, answer me. Surely we can talk about this.:::
Sure we can. But what's the point? I know what you'll say and unless I vary my arguments it will be a repetition of the same scene we've played for the last few hours--there's nothing left to be said.
:::Tom, listen to me, I don't understand what is going on--:::
Liar. You know even better than I do.
:::but beam me up to Voyager so we can talk, face to face. There must be something…:::
This was new. Not in the script. He touched his badge.
"You know I can't do that, Captain." He regretted his action as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
:::This is mutiny, Mr. Paris!::: Her husky voice had an acidic lash in it, meant to arouse his shame, his guilt, his feelings of betrayal.
That was new too, at least from her. But he heard that word echo in his head, every second, so it certainly wasn't unexpected. He had finally lived down Caldik Prime and the Maquis, something he had never believed possible. He had managed it by exceeding his own crimes, and in such a spectacular fashion. He looked again out the viewscreen, watching endless stars. Never in his life had he felt so hopelessly, utterly alone.
* * * * *
Day 3 2000 hours
six hours earlier
"Vorik?" His voice was low, even though there was no one on the Bridge who would be a danger to them if they overheard. Habit. Instinct. Old friends, welcome home. A bitter thought.
Vorik, standing at stiff attention, nodded from his post by the engineering station. Tom, standing by the Big Chair, as yet unaware of its ominous properties, took a long, deep breath, trying to center himself, as a long-ago Betazoid girlfriend had taught him.
It gets you in touch with yourself.
And it did, though not in the way she had meant it. Tom had long utilized that precious center to control himself, to practice the fine art of deception, to set his mind on a single goal and let nothing, not sentiment, not emotion, not circumstances, stop him from achieving it. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't at all romantic, and it was never meant to be used in such a way, (at least, that was what Kelara would have said) but Tom's post-Starfleet years had been spent on the streets, where his excellent Starfleet education meant crap. That centering technique…it came in handy. An emotional anesthetic, in a very real way. For as long as it took, he could forget feelings, forget ties to anyone and anything, and do what needed to be done.
Tom looked around the Beta shift crew, with whom he had volunteered to work today. Ensign Vorik, at engineering. Ensign Samantha Wildman, cross-training at Ops. Lieutenant Susan Nicoletti, at tactical, due to her cross-training with security. Ensign Pablo Baytart, his own second, at the helm. A full complement was on the Bridge, unusual during a routine orbit of a class M planet, as yet unnamed. Luckily, no one had bothered to notice that. Standing in the center of the ship, by that Chair, he took one last look around, trying to feel confident. Carey, I hope you're there.
Only one word was needed. His hand tightened on the chair beside him.
It happened fast. That was something.
Vorik signaled engineering (and incidentally Carey, who was supposedly off-ship) through his console. He was aware of Tom's prohibition on the use of the comm badge during this time. Carey, upon receiving the signal, would start his particular coup immediately to get the engines back online. Samantha quickly reprogrammed the ops station to emit false readings in case anyone should check to see how the engines were doing, then passed control to Susan at tactical and locked down her board. Sam then darted to the environmental console and loaded the virus program Tom had written that afternoon. Luckily, he was not only a good programmer, but he had B'Elanna's old Maquis virus code as a template to work with. He had barely been able to finish in time, with Vorik adding the final touches only hours before.
:::Authorization of Captain requi--::: The computer voice cut off, ending with a low humming. Samantha froze, watched the screen dance, and then blank. Tom watched the half-hysterical smile spread briefly across her strained face, a smile of unbelieving relief. He understood the feeling. So far, it was working. Environmental control was theirs.
"Environmental controls locked in, sir, set to go off in thirteen minutes," she told Paris in a shaky voice. Tom nodded shortly, and checked the chronometer.
"Three minutes." The countdown had begun.
"Yes, sir," said Baytart, setting the course Tom had given him earlier that day. Sue left tactical, taking Vorik's position at the engineering station as he finished loading the final, and most complicated, virus. Vorik then walked to the conference room doors with cool Vulcan aplomb, where the senior staff of Voyager, Captain Janeway, Commander Chakotay, Lieutenant Commander Tuvok, Lieutenant Torres, and Ensign Kim were meeting. Tom knew Neelix, Seven of Nine, and a member of his own department were also in there, and for once was glad Neelix and Seven participated in Senior Staff meetings so often. It made his job so much easier.
On the off-chance they came out, Vorik pulled his phaser out from where it was hiding in the recesses of his tunic. Tom took a deep breath, convincing himself again he was doing the right thing.
Six crewmen poured out of the turbolift, almost on cue, one throwing Tom a phaser rifle. He checked it quickly, assuring himself that Ayala and Henna had adjusted the settings to the specs he had given them, then tossed it to Vorik, and caught the second one Ensign Henna tossed his way, checking it, before hitting his comm badge.
"Paris to Carey." Be there, Carey, be ready, we only have one chance…
An eternal pause, broken by--
:::Carey here.::: Tom felt himself breathe normally again, until that moment unaware he had been holding his breath.
Funny, how they all kept calling him 'sir'.
Sue worked over the engineering console, then let out a short cry. Tom spun to face her, and she nodded quickly, a very slight smile spreading her lips as she entered the last set of pilfered codes. He nodded back, waving Henna and her crew into position by the conference room doors. Sue left the engineering station and took the other side of the door, opposite Vorik, and Baytart, after locking down navigation, sped about the Bridge locking down all other controls. No mistakes could be made now.
"Computer, recognize Ensign Thomas Eugene Paris." My voice sounds so normal. That can't be right.
:::Recognized::: The computer sounds perky. How disquieting.
"Transfer all command codes to Ensign Thomas Eugene Paris, authorization Alpha Alpha Tau Omicron 1 2 3."
A breathless moment, and Tom thought Samantha, frozen by environmental, might faint.
:::Authorization accepted. Transfer complete.:::
The entire group let their collective breaths out, and Tom checked the chronometer. Twenty seconds.
"Computer, transfer bridge control to Lieutenant Carey in Engineering." He looked at the door of the conference room. Then at his group, meeting each pair of determined, terrified eyes.
:::Transfer complete.:::Don't they have just a little variety in acknowledgement?
He watched Sam receive her phaser rifle from Larson and take her position behind Sue.
"On my mark." He set the rifle again, clicking the safety off, the snap audible in the desperately quiet room, then glanced at his shipmates.
:::Carey to Paris:::
Tom hit his comm badge with an unsteady hand.
"Hyposprays?" Tom asked sharply, and received quick nods from everyone.
Nods again, this time almost in unison. Tom gave them all a small smile, which some were actually able to return. Grimly. Kind of like whistling past a graveyard.
Tom hit his comm badge to signal shipwide, eyes fixed on the goal, the conference room door. All eyes turned to him for a brief moment, anticipating his next order.
Vorik hit the controls on the conference room door and ducked in front of it, crouching, his rifle aimed at a very surprised looking Captain Janeway. Susan went in ahead of him at his short confirming nod, covering the left side of the room, and Sam ducked in behind her, taking the right. Tom drew a deep breath, raised his rifle, and heard Henna and her team flare out around him. He followed. Within three seconds they were all in the room, Vorik's rifle neatly placed against Captain Janeway's neck. A sight that Tom couldn't help finding amusing, in a gallows humor sort of way, contrasting the cool, utterly expressionless Vorik the Vulcan Terrorist to Captain Janeway's gaped-mouth, disbelieving shock.
Tom waited as the team each sighted someone, then spoke. He kept his voice low and cool. Calm. A laugh. He shook inside. Is this real? Have we come to this?
Then, he met his Captain's cold blue eyes.
"I suppose you weren't expecting us, Captain." His rifle was in a relaxed position against his shoulder, ready to be armed at the first sign of trouble. Considering the complete immobility of the staff, he found it doubtful.
Captain Janeway opened her mouth, closed it, then finally spoke.
"What is the meaning of this, Mr. Paris?" She choked the words out, her usual husky voice scratchy, as if she had been using it for purposes other than talking.
He glanced around the room, letting a slight smirk set over his features, knowing how much she hated it. Needing to remember that at this moment he was not the Captain's subordinate officer, that these officers weren't his friends anymore, this woman not his Captain, that in the space of twelve hours everything had changed. This is unreal, in the most literal definition of the term. She isn't my captain, not anymore.
"I would think that would be obvious."
"Computer--" she began, but the feel of the phaser-rifle against her windpipe cut her off. Vorik was turning into quite the little terrorist. Tom hadn't thought he had it in him.
No one else spoke. Maybe it was the phaser-rifles, but he doubted it. It was disbelief. They could not believe that he, Tom Paris, could do what he was doing. Would be able to do it. Mutiny. Underestimating the enemy is always the worst mistake. I won't make it.
At his nod, Samantha and Ensign Henna began hypospraying the senior staff, while Ayala and the security team Henna had recruited kept their weapons trained on each of the officers, almost daring them to move. When Sam nodded shortly to Tom, bringing her weapon back up and pointing it in the general direction of an unnaturally still Harry, he spoke again, hoping his voice wouldn't betray him.
"I'm sorry." You have no idea how much.
He hit his comm badge, glancing at Henna, who left the room to secure the Bridge, and set his communication for a ship-wide declaration.
:::All secure in engineering, sir::: The most placid voice in the world. As if nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all. Carey, I have no idea what I would have done without you.
:::Decks 1-5 clear, sir::: That was Ensign Megan Delaney, sounding shell-shocked. It was not every day that one took prisoner one's twin sister and one's lover. But he trusted her, knew she would pull through.
He listened to the rest of the reports, while Ensign Baytart removed the comm badges from the senior staff, placing them in a chair far from the silent officers. Tom hit his badge again.
"Paris to Transporter room."
:::Zephyr here. Ready sir.::: The feminine voice that answered him was shaky but clear and relatively calm. Good job, Zephyr, you're holding up a lot better than I expected.
Tom let his eyes run quickly over the senior staff at the table, watching each pair of eyes that stared at him with such fury, betrayal. Neelix, jovial face a mask of anger. Seven and Tuvok, impassivity breached, pulsing with rage. Chakotay. Janeway. Finally, he looked at B'Elanna, who was standing very straight in her place, as she had since they had entered. Larson's phaser rifle near her ear, but no fear clouded her dark eyes. Only raw hatred. He knew it would hurt later. But nothing could hurt now, not the way Harry held one delicate hand in his, not the unhealed bite on Harry's face.
He took another breath. Time. He took out the extra hypospray, tossing it on the table, tacitly telling the others to do the same. The Senior Staff watched this little show with hypnotic intensity.
"Beam the occupants of this room with a solution of iron hydroxide directly to the planet's surface. On my mark." He listened for her acknowledgement, then looked at the Captain, at the hatred and anger that was completely foreign to the woman he would have followed to the ends of the universe. His mouth was dry.
* * * * *
Day 4 0210 hours
"Mr. Paris? Tom?"
Tom spun around from his thoughts, phaser already out, to see the Doctor (one very startled Doctor at that, but he tried not to show it, quite aware of what Tom was going through) who was watching him with undisguised sympathy. He reholstered his weapon absently, began to sit in the Chair, shuddered, and returned to his old helm seat.
"What are you doing up here?" He tried not to sound defensive. Besides the fact I called and you probably think I am losing my mind.
The Doctor shook his head.
"You should rest. Why are you here alone?"
Tom smiled a little.
"I sent non-essential bridge crew to clean up the mess. Some of the decks are--less than pristine, you know. Hiding in this nebula doesn't give us much to do, so I sent Baytart and Nicoletti off to eat, they should be back soon. I can certainly handle anything that might happen up here in their absence."
The Doctor could read between the lines. Tom had wanted to be alone for a while.
He took the First Officer's seat, studying the young man in front of him.
"I haven't talked to you since I was reactivated." He watched Tom carefully. He noticed Tom's slight wince. B'Elanna had been the one that almost destroyed his matrix.
Tom shook his head quickly, and a bitter laugh escaped before he could stuff it back in.
"No, Doc, thanks, but I definitely do not want to talk about it."
"You might feel better."
"Mutineers aren't supposed to feel better, Doc." His voice was sharp, the words bitten off. "They're supposed to feel like hell for betraying their captain. And I do. But it isn't as bad as I thought. Not much real guilt. Just--a kind of numbness…" he trailed off, realizing what he had revealed. The Doctor, however, did not jump in. He had learned the fine art of patience. Instead, looked at the viewscreen, the false view of stars on black-velvet night.
"You didn't have a choice, I know. I am sorry, Tom."
Tom Paris laughed then, couldn't help it, and tried to stop, but six hours had been too long, and he couldn't find his center. He laughed until his eyes burned, until his throat closed over, until he couldn't breathe. He felt the Doc's hand touch his head, then begin to pat him on the back, a little awkwardly, but there it was, a definite pat. After a few seconds, a lifetime of discipline asserted itself, and Tom lifted his head, roughly wiping his face on the sleeve of his uniform jacket. With a sudden, violent movement, he pulled the jacket off, tossing it on the floor.
"Yeah." He watched the red and black settle stiffly to the floor, hypnotized. "I ran the internal sensors seven times. There are no more of them left."
"How many crew are still on board?"
"Sixty-five." At the Doctor's look of shock, Tom smiled a little. "Yeah, I know what you mean. Sixty-five can't run the ship."
The Doctor had to agree.
"I'm meeting with our new acting department heads tomorrow to discuss the situation. It's funny, when we were planning this, we didn't realize just how many people we were going to lose." His eyes went to the conference room doors. He hadn't been able to go in there since--well, since.
"Such as Lieutenant Torres?" The Doctor's voice was gentle. Tom shivered, trying to avoid the intense pain her name brought him. The thought of her brought him.
"A lot of good people. The senior staff, Jenny Delaney, a lot of the crewmen, almost all of security. I guess that's not a surprise, considering who it was that beamed down to that planet first." He turned away, checking the readings at the helm, where he had transferred all major functions of the Bridge. More to keep his face from betraying him to the Doctor than because he thought there was anything to see.
The Doctor nodded slowly, getting up. He had no idea what to do. This situation was certainly not one the Doctor had ever been programmed to handle. For that matter, he doubted any Starfleet Doctor could have handled it any better. He would just sit back, watch, do what a doctor did, and hope it was enough.
Tom stared at the panel, watching the lights, until they became a single bright blur. His fingers drummed a discordant rhythm on the edge of the unit, putting the Doctor more on edge.
"I didn't think there was another way." His voice was low, hoarse, almost as if he was speaking to himself. Carefully, the Doctor eased himself back into the chair. He knew Tom, had worked with him for almost five years. Exasperating, frustrating, sometimes far too flighty in attitude to be considered a valuable officer. But the Doctor saw also something Tom did not overtly display. An intense loyalty to the Captain who had quite literally changed his life. A superior intelligence, even though it was almost completely focused on flying. An ability to set aside inconvenient emotions when they interfered with his professional duties. But more than these things--an absolute, unwavering determination to do the right thing that, once set free, could be neither denied or ignored. When the Doctor had been re-activated by Megan Delaney and briefed on the situation, it had not surprised him that Tom would lead a mutiny. Nor that he had gotten so many crew to follow him.
What surprised him was the cool, almost emotionless way he took the desertion of B'Elanna Torres. For like the Captain, B'Elanna had his loyalty. Yet he had been able to turn his back on them both, when he had to.
To save them all.
And the Doctor wondered what had happened.
* * * * *
Day 3 1503 hours
eleven hours earlier
"You each have a specific job to do. There will be no communication until three minutes before 2000 hours, when the countdown begins. According to Vorik's calculations, three minutes is as long as his virus will distract those on the planet and keep the Senior Staff from finding out what we are up to. We have to have control by that time."
"Go ahead, Ensign Delaney."
"How will the transporter room know who to beam?"
"That is what the hyposprays are for. Each one of you will have at least three. When injected into a crewman who is infected, it will emit a radioactive signal. The transporter room will fix on anyone who gives off that signal and beam them to the surface. Got it? Ayala, you are in charge of procuring the weapons, I don't care how you do it. Here are the settings for them, and be exact, I have tested this frequency and it works on them. Ensign Henna, you will lead the team to the Bridge. Everyone know their assigned decks? Good. Use the modified tricorders, watch for the yellow light, that will tell you what you want to know. When in doubt, hypospray, it won't affect an uninfected crewman in the same way. At 2012, everyone outside the Bridge must retreat to the Mess Hall or engineering and lock yourselves in. It will be a tight fit. Carey, you know how to lock down both areas?"
"We will gas all the decks. It will take ten minutes for the gas to disperse enough to allow safe exit. Ensign Henna, Lieutenant Ferris, Lieutenant Ayala, and Lieutenant Nicoletti will lead the sweeper teams to check every room in every deck. We cannot afford to miss even one infected person, do you understand?"
"Vorik, can you check my program? Will it work?"
"Yes, sir. Crewman Stein and I will have two minutes to open the security files and get the command codes. I can finish the coding this afternoon."
"Are you sure you can you do it?" Impatient.
"Yes sir." Faintly offended.
"No one is to eat or drink anything until after this is complete. I am not risking the effects of some of the stuff brought from the planet, and it is possible hydroponics has been contaminated. Until we can do a sensor sweep, stay away from anything edible, it's apparently the way the contaminate is spread. Ensign Vorik and Lieutenant Carey will conduct a quick sweep of the Mess Hall and Engineering replicators after we are finished here, but try to avoid anything edible.
"You have your orders. Anything else? Good. You all know to be armed at all times, understood? Crewman Zephyr brought the harnesses you will use under your uniforms to hide your phasers. Let me check the settings before you go.
"All right. Dismissed."
* * * * *
Day 4 0215 hours
"Sweeps are complete, sir."
Tom glanced up at Susan Nicoletti, who had the unenviable task of being his first officer. First Officer. She looks as miserable as I am. I wonder if the First Officer's seat is as bad as mine? The expression of distaste she could not hide when she sat down told him it was. He took the PADD she offered, which held the new crew assignments, then the sweeper report.
All suspicious food had been taken to the Mess Hall under the auspices of Crewman Stein. Vorik and another crewman were busy scanning hydroponics. Internal sensors had found all the remaining contaminants, including food, liquor, and, oddly enough, a box of replicated fudge that had been a gift from Gerron to Megan after he had returned from the surface. Luckily, she had received it after witnessing her sister and Gerron engaged in--Tom, just say it, they were having sex-intimate relations, and had thrown it away immediately. So far, so good. The internal sensors, run by Doc, were regularly checking the remaining crew for a possible infected or contaminated crewmember, but nothing had come up.
"Has the Doctor found anything yet, sir?" Nicoletti looked a little pale, but oddly calm. Probably shock. A lot has happened lately. That thought made him smile again. A lot indeed.
"He's working on it. It's not quite a virus, or a disease, or--well, anything. The Doctor will know soon, I hope." At her look of curiosity, he bit his tongue. He couldn't afford questions just yet. "I was right about the food, everything from the surface or deliberately contaminated by infected crewmen had a hallucinogen in it, with a little suggestibility thrown in for kicks. That explains why everyone was so hot to get down to the planet, all at once. From what I have been able to find out, the hallucinogen causes the person to want to get planetside. Infection with whatever is making our crew act--well, act unlike themselves--is separate." He was glad she didn't question his sudden knowledge. Maybe real Captains were omnipotent, but he was not one of them, relying on more concrete methods of discovery. He leaned into the Big Chair, trying to keep from sinking. At least, that was the impression he was getting from it. Like the damn thing is trying to bury me.
"Can we be infected?" She sounded worried. Tom tried to be reassuring.
"Doc thinks not unless we beam down to the planet. I am more worried about someone being accidentally contaminated by the hallucinogen and trying to take us back. How are repairs?"
She checked the PADD in her hand. He noticed, almost as if for the first time, that her black hair was several different shades, sheening to midnight blue in some places, other spots sooty dark, currently all wearing an equal layer of dust and--is that blood?--sweat. One strand hung in front of her ear, curling slightly against her cheek.
It brought back memories. They had been lovers for only a little while in their first years on Voyager, more of a casual once in a while situation, when they had time and opportunity. A higher level of distraction, and Tom had never been known to turn down a distraction that was as beautiful as Susan. In those early days, before B'Elanna, sex had still been his main source of relief from his problems.
One slender hand went up and pushed the strand back absently, and it fell forward again, brushing against her cheek, oddly familiar. Almost unconsciously, Tom reached out and pushed the strand into place behind her ear. His hand lingered. Susan glanced up, their eyes locking for a moment, then they both looked away. Hot color stained Susan's cheeks.
Selfish. Unforgivably inappropriate. What the hell are you thinking?
Tom didn't need to remember what he was thinking. What he was trying to forget. It was branded into his mind, the entire scene he had witnessed earlier that day. Then the conference room, where he had seen Harry's cheek. B'Elanna's hand in Harry's. The lovely brown eyes filled with hate.
It hurts. But that isn't an excuse. I'm not just a pilot now, who can afford to bed anyone in sight to distract myself. I am de facto captain of a starship with my captain on a planet I trapped her on. I am the man who only a few hours ago vaporized all three of this planet's ships in orbit. I did beam the crews off first, but if that hadn't been possible I would've blown them up anyway. If our crew gets off that planet, if they really are contagious--
Not thinking, refusing to think, of the only real reason. B'Elanna. That hurt too much.
"We have everything online, there really wasn't much to do once you authorized the computers to let us do something," she blurted out. For a reason unknown to any of them, Captain Janeway had set in new sets of command codes that had locked out many important functions of the ship from the general crew, even those whose usual duties required access to those functions. After an uncomfortable pause, Susan said thoughtfully, "I didn't know that a Captain could literally take over every function of a ship just via command codes."
"Impressive, I know. My father once told me about it, and fortunately I listened, or I would have had no idea how to get passed all those lock-outs." He handed the PADDs back, sighing. "Hopefully, the Doctor can find a way to uninfect our people. Once he figures out, of course, what's wrong with them." Sue glanced down at that, playing with her PADD absently.
Blue eyes darted back to him, he saw the speculation, the question she would not voice. Knew everyone wondered what had triggered his sudden action. Susan had been suspicious from the beginning, some of the others had noticed the oddness, but Tom had been a staunch supporter of the Captain until he had suddenly called the meeting in cargo bay one.
"You want to know what changed my mind?" His tone was weary resignation, one eyebrow lifting slightly.
"Well, sir--" she trailed off, flushed. He shook his head, glancing at the useless viewscreen. He hated looking at the swirl of gas around them, had put this more long-range view in to calm himself. Stars had always been his comfort. He was a pilot. They were where he belonged.
"We have time to kill, I don't see why not. Actually, you were there--"
* * * * *
Day 3 1030 hours
sixteen hours earlier
"How's the leola root casserole, Tom?"
Surprised, Tom looked up into the smiling face of Ensign Harry Kim. He hadn't seen him in some time ever since he went down to the planet, actually, like most of the senior staff. As he sat down, Tom tried to think of a response. Couldn't find one. After all, leola root was terrible, what need was there to say more on the subject?
"It's been a while," Tom offered, chewing. Neelix was still on the planet, so someone had been kind enough, or sadistic enough, it was a toss-up, to lay out the leftovers from--well, it could have been anytime in the last four years, leola root always tasted the same no matter what. "How have you been?" He was genuinely curious.
"Great. Wonderful. Fabulous."
Tom's eyebrows went up. He noted that Harry had no food on his tray. In point of fact, Harry was simply carrying around an empty tray, his fingers uncharacteristically drumming on its surface, a nervous gesture Tom did not remember ever seeing before. He decided, in the spirit of friendship, not to comment, but Harry's earlier words took root.
Harry's cheery grin changed to a sly, rather muddled smile, an expression Tom had never seen on his friend's face before. To be honest, he had never seen that look on anyone's face before.
"I think you can guess." Is that smugness?
Tom whistled softly.
"Do I know her?"
Again, that sly smile. Where the hell is that coming from?
"Yes." He held up a hand, dramatically. "Ask me no questions and I will tell you no lies. I am too much a gentleman to impart information on the identity of the lady."
Tom laughed dutifully and nodded, looking down at his plate to hide his face as he fished for another bite. His very reliable instincts were itching again, and it was bothering him. They had begun doing that, off and on, since Sue had talked to him the day before about the odd way she felt those on shore leave were acting, but he hadn't really taken them seriously. Yet when he had come in the Mess Hall today, he had caught himself retreating to a table against the near wall, close to a door, his back to the wall. A space where he could keep his eye on the room, see who entered and exited. He thought he had broken this particular habit living on Voyager. There was no reason for him to feel this way, no reasonable reason anyway Say that two times fast. Harry's slightly maniacal grin was grating, though, he had to admit it. And the empty tray. That was really beginning to bother him.
"So how is the planet, anyway?" he asked, changing the subject.
Harry blinked. The smile vanished, replaced by a kind of blank, general-issue frown. Tom took that frown in, and his mind, all on its own, began to play connect-the-dots.
"You haven't been down yet?" Even his voice was blank. Tom hid his expression beneath his glass.
"No." Tom took another bite of the casserole, keeping his voice off-hand. "The Captain had me on the bridge skeleton crew."
"But you got off this morning, right?" Whoa. Since when have you been so incredibly interested in my shifts?
"Uh-huh." Tom swallowed carefully, certain he would choke if he wasn't vigilant. His entire mind was devoted to this moment, concentrating on Harry's words. Harry's expressions. Or lack thereof.
Harry's face still had that very odd frown. Like he borrowed that expression from someone else, but never learned to use it. What the hell am I thinking? He took another bite, more for something to do than because of hunger. All his wonderful prison reflexes were making a big comeback. A cold adrenaline rush swept his body. The room suddenly seemed to be brighter and clearer, he was able to note the entire complement of the Mess Hall was a little too still, a little too quiet, a little too--what was the word?--calm. Tom felt every muscle in his body tense, and for the life of him couldn't figure out what it was alerting him. It reminded him of a pattern he had once seen on a wall, with a picture in it, but you couldn't see it directly. It took almost a corner-of-your-eye approach to see what was inside. Tom had the feeling he was looking at one of those now and the only reason he wasn't seeing the picture was because he was looking for the wrong thing.
The big picture, so to speak. Just out of view.
"Well, B'Elanna was wondering if you wanted to meet her planetside this afternoon." There was an eager expression now, replacing the frown. Way too eager. Way, way too eager for me to get to the planet--Tom, that is called paranoia. Maybe he missed you. Maybe she misses you.
Maybe this is just a little too much enthusiasm for my company, charming though it may be.
Tom stopped chewing for a moment. Replayed what had been said. Matched the tone of Harry's voice with his memories. He's lying. I just watched Harry Kim lie to me.
On the heels of that, Why would he lie? You're starting to sound paranoid, you know. You're imagining things.
Tom finished the mouthful and swallowed, dropping his fork and fixing his expression into an earnestness he knew disarmed.
"What did she say?" He kept the exactly right amount of curiosity and eagerness in his voice. Never had he used this particular talent on Harry. Never thought he would have to.
Harry's face formed the frown-thing again, and Tom caught himself gritting his teeth.
"Just that she missed you." A mild shrug accompanied that, which could mean anything.
"Did she tell you why we fought?" I can't believe I'm doing this. This is my best friend--who is acting really weird, but--
"Yeah, she did." Tom let out his pent breath slowly, evenly, not even realizing until that moment he had been holding it.
"I didn't mean to break that vase in her room. I know her father gave it to her." A deliberate lie. He watched Harry.
Harry smiled reassuringly.
"She said just replicate her a new one and bring it down, Tom. You shouldn't worry so much."
Tom found his center, sat there for a brief second. He lied to my face. Cool and premeditated, and without the slightest hint of apology or remorse. Tuvok cheerful after I got off shift, Chakotay being incredibly friendly and well-meaning in the hall, now Harry. All of them want me to beam down. Now. What the hell is on that planet that is so damned important that everyone is trying to get me down there?
"You know, you're right, Harry." His voice sounded incredibly natural, incredibly easy. He picked up his tray. "I'm going to go replicate it right now. Are you going down soon?"
"Yes." The eagerness was unmistakable. Tom's stomach turned to ice around the leola root casserole. He knew he was going to be sick.
"Tell B'Elanna I'll meet her down there as soon as I'm done." He stood up, tray in hand, and half-turned to the door.
"She'll probably come looking for you if you don't."
Tom's hair began to stand on end. That was a threat. He could feel it, no matter what kind of smile played on Harry's face, no matter how playful his voice sounded. Tom nodded slowly, moving away backward, unable to make himself turn his back on Harry. Too worried about what would happen if he did.
"See you later." How am I keeping my voice so damned calm?
Tom started, spun on the ball of his foot. Captain? He automatically put the tray on the nearest table. Stared.
The Captain was beside the buffet table, where Crewman Anna Zephyr was standing, shaking, a cup of coffee in one small trembling hand. Or what had been a cup of coffee. If Tom had to extrapolate what just happened, he would guess that, from their positions, Anna must have run into Janeway on her way out. Now the Captain, in her uniform--it looks as if she wore it to sleep for the last two days--was standing over the very short crewman, her tunic splotched with stains. She had a look on her face Tom had never seen before.
Then, with cool deliberation, the Captain drew back her arm and backhanded the crewman across the face.
Zephyr's head snapped back and she hit the floor without a sound.
Tom didn't move. Couldn't, really. A part of his mind was waiting. For someone else to react. Time in several prisons and "detention centers" I've always liked that particular euphemism in his misspent youth--ha, how many years ago was that, seven, eight?--had conditioned him to keep very calm during a fight, especially if you didn't want to join in one already in progress.
No one reacted. They all continued whatever they were doing. Harry was walking to the door, and Tom watched in appalled shock as he stepped directly over the young woman.
Janeway left, and he slowly walked to Zephyr's side. Why didn't I stop this? Why did I just stand there?
Good question. Here's another. Why did the Captain just hit one of her crew?
It seemed to take forever to reach Zephyr, and finally he got to her, helping her up. Her mouth was bleeding, but just a cut lip, nothing more serious. He hoped. Not looking back, he walked out the door, keeping a grip on her other arm. He noticed, from the corner of his eye, Susan Nicoletti standing paralyzed just inside the door, her empty tray forgotten in one hand. Zephyr didn't resist much, she was obviously in shock. He didn't blame her. He was too.
It was a very silent walk from the Mess Hall.
Sickbay was equally quiet. Tom took Zephyr to a biobed. She began to speak and he touched her lips closed.
"Don't talk. I want to make sure your mouth is okay. Computer, activate Emergency Medical Hologram."
:::No such program exists.:::
Tom did a double take. He noticed Zephyr was silently crying, and put aside his shock and confusion. Worry about that later. If there is a later. There is something desperately wrong here. He was a trained medic, he could fix her. He ran the medical tricorder over her face, then found the dermal regenerator and applied it. In a few minutes, her mouth was fine, and he gently wiped the blood from her chin, unable to do anything about that on her tunic. Silently, she began to twist her blonde hair back from where it had come loose from the ponytail she had had it in. The blank green eyes glistened with unshed tears.
"What's going on? What is happening to everyone?" she whispered. Tom looked around the Sickbay. No one was nearby. He jumped up on the bed beside her and gave her a Paris smile. It worked to relax women. It did work this time. Barely.
"Tell me what's been happening, Anna, on the ship. What you've seen." He kept his voice gentle, encouraging her to open up, aware that his position as a senior officer would naturally make her a little nervous.
Officers fighting for no reason. Megan Delaney's story was already circulating. The odd obsession the crew who had been planetside seemed to have in getting the rest of them down there. "I used to read about religious fanatics who would kill you if you didn't convert to the religion of choice. I got the feeling that--well, my bunkmate, she had the oddest expression when I said I didn't feel well enough to go down. Something's wrong with them." She gave him a quick glance, as if expecting him to ridicule her statement.
Tom studied the young woman's face. The honest, terrified expression. And knew she was right.
"Zephyr, I want you to do something for me. I want you to look in the hall and see if any of those crew who are acting oddly are out there. If there is, tell me." She looks about fifteen. But then again, she is only half human. What else? Damn, can't remember, anyway, maybe they all look this young.
She nodded, but her slow movements were a giveaway of her nervousness. Tom ran a hand through his short hair distractedly, wishing he hadn't cut it quite so much, so he had something to fiddle with. Slowly, the young woman went out the door and he waited, loading a hypospray. Calmly, as if he wasn't risking his career just now. Risking his life if he was right.
The doors opened, and Zephyr had done him proud, she brought in a crewman-woman, rather. He gave them both a professional smile and stepped forward, hypospray behind his back, meeting the eyes of the obviously irritated and ill-at-ease crewmember
"This is my roommate, Crewman Ricarla, Ensign Paris," she said breathlessly, her voice too high. "You said you wanted to see her?"
"Yes, crewman." He glanced at the doors, and then at Ricarla, whose expression was changing to suspicion, and thanked whatever benevolent being watched over reformed convicts that he worked in Sickbay. "Computer, initialize Emergency Privacy Lock authorization Paris Beta Beta Iota."
Ricarla started, and Tom caught her around the waist, then pressed the hypospray against the side of her neck. She collapsed before she even realized she was being assaulted.
"That was fun," he told Zephyr, throwing her a grin, hoping it would calm her. She grinned back. With Zephyr's suddenly enthusiastic help, he placed the crewman on the biobed and initiated a containment field, then worked the medical tricorder over her. Twice.
"Computer, display baseline vitals for Crewman Ricarla."
The panel across from him lit up, and he studied it for a moment, then back at the tricorder. That can't be right.
Just to make sure, he ran the tricorder again, then checked the baseline to make sure it really was hers. It was. He noticed she was waking up. That hypospray should have knocked her out for at least half an hour, I know the dosage.
The closed eyes opened, not blearily, not slowly rising, but fast, almost snapping into place, and when those muddy green eyes looked at him, he wanted to disappear. The feeling shocked him. Zephyr whimpered, retreating, and that he couldn't blame on age, he wanted to do the same thing. But he was Tom Paris, a senior officer, he wasn't able to indulge his terror. He filled the hypospray again, deactivated containment, and wrestled her down, pressing it against the bare flesh of her arm when he couldn't get to her neck. More disturbing than anything else was her silence. As if she didn't know how to scream. Her mouth opened, but no words formed or sounds emerged before the muddy eyes closed. For good measure, he gave her another dose. He didn't think it would be long before she woke up.
Zephyr turned huge eyes on him. He gentled his voice. "I need you to do something for me. You can tell who is affected by this?"
A feeling, sir." He gave her a sharp look.
"Are you empathic?"
"Yes, sir. My mother was half-Betazoid."
Should have guessed, considering how strongly she is reacting. In Tom's mind, a plan was forming. But he needed to be sure.
"I need you to take a message to someone for me, Zephyr. Susan Nicoletti. She isn't affected, is she?"
The delicate head shook, and he took a deep, calming breath.
"Tell her cargo bay one, 1400 hours. Bring friends. That's all. I want you to come to the meeting too. After you talk to Nicoletti, I want you to go somewhere that you can be alone. Will your quarters…?" She shook her head frantically, and he remembered how very crowded the crew quarters were. "Go to hydroponics. No one is there this time of day." He caught himself speaking very slowly, as if to a small child, and stopped himself. But she looks so damned young, it's hard not to, especially right now.
A few minutes later, he watched the young woman on the biobed, now contained, wake up. Again, her eyes snapped open, and they found him unerringly. This time, he was ready, and didn't give react to the hostility he sensed from her.
"Good day, crewman. Maybe you can help me with something." His tone was easy, and he slapped the hypospray against his hand lightly as he circled her. He knew very well the power of visual stimuli to convince people to do something.
"I don't understand, sir." Her voice was oddly flat for a plea. He pulled up a chair, turning it backward so he could rest his arms on the back and, incidentally, make sure she saw the hypospray dangling from one hand.
From the look on her face, he didn't think she missed it.
"What is wrong with this crew?" Tom watched her try to struggle against the containment field with a little amusement. He had changed the settings and set the paralytic field in place as well. The Doctor had shown Tom how to use it only a few days before arriving on the planet, during some minor back surgery on a crewman. He kept his eyes on the medical tricorder, watching her adrenaline and endorphin levels. Reading the vitals that no longer matched her baseline. Wondering if whatever was wrong with her might possibly break her free.
He didn't want to test that. This would have to be fast. He locked down the sick feeling rising in his stomach, knowing what he had to do, but he would be damned if he would like it.
"I don't know what you are talking about, sir." You are as lousy a liar as Harry.
"I think you do." He held up the tricorder, then picked up the other hyposprays he had prepared before she woke. Centered himself. I haven't done anything like this in a very long time. Another skill in my checkered past, I am a good interrogator. "And I think you will tell me what I want to know." He stood beside the bed, looking into muddy green, that now flashed with hatred, and brought down the containment field, leaving the paralytic, hoping whatever was wrong with her wasn't contagious. "And soon."
* * * * *
It hadn't taken long, and he knocked her out again (with an incredibly high dosage he never, never would have considered using, but having the readings from her to work from he was aware it was the only way to keep her unconscious) before beginning his search for the EMH. Gone. He checked archives, checked the main computer, even the holodeck programs. Nothing. Then considered who would have both the authorization and the ability to wipe the Doc.
Two people. One, the Captain. But she had been in the Mess Hall the same time he had been. He had visited Doc only a few minutes before going to getting something to eat.
"Computer, location of Lieutenant Torres." A part of him hoped he was wrong.
:::Lieutenant Torres is in her quarters.:::
And there she is.
Tom left the office and walked to the biobed, wondering what he was going to do with his prisoner. Odd, how easy it was to slip back into a life of crime. But what she had told him had been enough. Scared him and set his goal. Clear the ship of every one of those infected until he could find a way to reverse it.
"You know, all I have ever wanted to do is fly. I don't want to interrogate and I don't want to instigate a mutiny." He heard himself talking to an unconscious woman and stopped himself. I'm snapping. Always knew it would happen eventually. I need a vacation.
Tom thought. Hard.
And had an idea.
He released the paralytic/containment field and picked Ensign Ricarla up. She was heavier than she looked.
"Paris to Nicoletti." I hope they aren't observing us. Okay, Tom, that is paranoia.
:::Nicoletti here.::: Her voice sounded wary.
"Had any visitors, or are things pretty boring down near the transporters?" Nicoletti worked in engineering. He could almost see her thinking. Making the connection. Intuition is a wonderful thing, Sue, use it.
There was a long pause, and Tom held his breath.
:::Lonely, but okay. Not many people around for transporting. One or two people came down to gossip, you want to start a new betting pool?::: Zephyr, good job. You are brilliant, Sue, I owe you big time.
"Not now, no extra rations, you cleaned me out during the last holographic game of pool we played." He kept his voice light, playful.
:::That was in Holodeck Two, right?:::
"Yeah, it was. Can you do me a favor?"
:::Anything for you, Tom.::: He grinned unwillingly at the exaggeration.
"Will you check my logs and see if there are any discrepancies? You are better with computers than I am and I got some false readings in my logs last time I checked. Direction was way off."
:::You need it done now?:::
"I'd love it if you have the time. I really need to get this done before I see the Captain."
:::I have a break coming. I can do it now.:::
"You're an angel. Paris out."
Tom hefted Ricarla's weight again. I need to work out more. At least, now, he wouldn't have to worry about anyone tracing this quick transport.
"Computer, initiate site-to-site transport, Sickbay to Holodeck 2."
The shimmering covered him, and if his molecules hadn't been in state of flux, he would have smiled.
* * * * *
Day 4 0230 hours
Tom glanced at Nicoletti.
"You have great intuition."
She shrugged, but the awkward moment between them had passed, and they both were more relaxed.
"I have known you for a long time."
"I knew I would be a bad influence on the crew!" They laughed together for a moment, not really because of anything he said, but because they needed to. Sue looked exhausted.
"You should go to bed," he said gently, catching her laugh become a yawn.
"Yeah, and when is the last time you slept?" Tom realized he couldn't remember, and flushed a little under her knowing smile. "I thought so. Vorik and Ensign Henna are going to relieve both of us in an hour."
"Permission to speak freely, sir?"
Her sudden formality startled him, and he nodded.
"We need you, if we are going to get the others back. And I know you're tired." Her face betrayed real concern. "Tom, take the time until Alpha Shift to sleep."
"I don't know if I can." The admission hurt. The idea of what would dance through his mind the minute he was alone and his eyes closed did not bear examining. Sue seemed to see that, and she reached out, taking his hand.
"Tom…" She frowned, started again. "Sir, I saw--in the conference room--"
He shook his head sharply, and she didn't speak further. They sat together in silence. Finally, giving her fingers a squeeze, he nodded.
"You're right, I do need some sleep."
"Nothing is going on. I can hold out until Vorik gets here." She nodded to the ready room. "You could sleep in there, if you want. That way if anything happens, you'd be right here."
That hadn't occurred to him before. Anything to keep me from my room. He smiled, squeezed her hand again, and found he had some difficulty letting go. Quickly, he stood up, realizing just how tired he really was. Four hours won't be much, but at least I will get my edge back.
Sue watched him leave, lips tight. Knowing something else had happened to Tom before their meeting that afternoon. The set look on his face, the battle between blankness and anger in the blue eyes during their meeting, his odd sharpness…but more, the way he had thrown himself into their mutiny, heart and soul.
Alone on the Bridge of the Federation Starship Voyager, Susan Nicoletti began her diagnostics of the systems on Voyager. There was nothing else to do right now, and the thoughts she entertained did not bear more examination.
* * * * *
Tom gave the leather couch a dubious look, but it was better than nothing. Luckily, a blanket was lying in the corner, and he picked it up and spread it, then took off his boots.
"Computer, initiate privacy lock." Just in case. Though I have no idea why anyone would want to come in here.
Carefully, he removed his shirt and debated removing his pants (he vividly remembered the last time he had slept in them, uncomfortable had been an understatement). Then he considered the ramifications of an emergency, running out to the Bridge in his boxers, and decided the pants would make acceptable pajamas.
"Computer, lower light to five percent."
He liked the dark, it gave him a sense of privacy. Carefully, he felt his way down on the couch, wondering why he hadn't waited until he was actually laying down before killing all illumination. His feet stopped well before his head was low enough to touch the small pillow he made of his turtleneck, and he looked at the ceiling to regain his temper before drawing his legs up. Squelched into a tiny ball, he somehow maneuvered the blanket into place over him.
How the hell am I going to sleep like this?
He rolled onto his side carefully, making sure the blanket didn't catch under him, and tried to bury himself in the pillow. An injudicious movement brought his jaw in contact with the arm of the couch and he swore, rubbing the spot
* * * * *
Day 1 1600 hours
(three days earlier)
"B'Elanna, what difference does it make?" She was mad. Not angry, not pissed, but mad, Klingon-violent mad, and he knew it the second he walked in her quarters, just by the way she sat on the couch.
Somehow, Tom had hoped for something more pleasant. They were arriving near a quiet M-class planet that day and he had wanted to sign up himself and B'Elanna for shoreleave.
This mood told him it wouldn't be happening like that, and Tom was getting impatient. He had pulled double shifts for almost two weeks, Sickbay and Bridge, had looked forward to spending more than a few hours at a time with his lover. Not to mention getting some rest.
After forty-five minutes of a B'Elanna temper tantrum, Tom's patience gave out. He acknowledged that if he had gotten up earlier, he could have had it regenerated in sickbay, and if he would keep spare power cells in his room, this wouldn't have been a problem. He tried. B'Elanna didn't, and Tom was tired. More tired than she knew or cared at that point.
B'Elanna stared up into the blue eyes of her mate. Then, pointedly, to the bite on the point of his jaw. That had been there all day, to her utter embarrassment.
"It makes a difference. The crew--"
"Fuck the crew. Since when do you care what anyone thinks of you? The whole damned ship, thanks to Seven, is quite aware of how we spend our nights together, what difference does it make if I'm wearing a little proof? Are you that ashamed of me?" His voice picked up heat and volume. It spurred B'Elanna on.
"That's not fair…"
"Isn't it? The only time I ever see you is when we are in bed together. Oh, I get a lunch or dinner once in a while, if your precious engines can spare you, but it hasn't escaped my attention that we never eat in public alone together without Harry if there is a possibility a large number of the crew might see us together, especially the Maquis. And I won't even discuss our professional relationship at work, the type where you pretend I don't exist…"
Tom lost his temper. That was new. Annoyed, irritated, even upset, she'd seen them all, but never truly angry.
"The hell I am!" His hands bunched into fists in his discarded tunic, he met the startled eyes of the angry engineer. "I have been underreacting for so long you think it's natural! Now, I apologized that I didn't get the dermal regenerator out to fix this before shift today, but if you remember its power cell ran out last night. Hell, the damned thing was in your hand when it did!"
B'Elanna blinked, stepping back. Aware she had reached his limits of patience, and took a more conciliatory tone. For her, anyway.
"Tom, I just don't want to advertise--"
"That you fuck me every night?"
The chill bitterness in his tone startled her speechless. So did the crudity.
"Is it that bad, to be with me, B'Elanna?" His voice was deathly quiet.
"Of course not--"
"Or is the reason you are so secretive is that all this relationship means to you is sex?" Tom's voice dropped lower, quieter, and somehow that was worse than yelling. "Would anyone have done, or did you want to see if everything Sue and Megan have said about how good I am in bed is true…"
He was cut off by the uppercut across his jaw. His head snapped to one side and he lifted his face, touching the blood at the corner of his mouth with one finger. B'Elanna took a deep breath, holding her hand, which stung from the contact.
"Then the sex is over," she whispered. "Get out."
"Gladly." And he turned and walked out the door.