Part II: Essentials

Day 4 0700 hours

Present Time

Tom woke for Alpha shift, surprised he had slept at all. He stretched out slowly, found the couch was too small (one of the reasons he was sleeping in a fetal position in the first place) and stood up. Ouch. One cramp, two cramps, three cramps, four…why on earth do they make these couches so small? Of course, people aren't supposed to sleep in the ready room, either, but a little foresight…

He picked up his turtleneck off the floor. Remarkably, sleeping in one's uniform pants wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as he remembered --though when you are tired enough you can probably sleep in an stasis unit equally well--oooh, I didn't need that kind of imagery this morning-- but now they were wrinkled. He looked at the blood on his turtleneck from Ensign Zephyr and sighed. It needed to be washed; if he was going to play Captain, he needed to look the part at least.

Slowly, still working out the cricks in his back and neck, he wandered over to the replicator. Did Vorik check this one yet? Tom hit his comm badge.

"Paris to Vorik."

:::Vorik here, sir.:::

"Did you sweep the replicator in the ready room?"

:::Yes, sir.:::

Tom appeared satisfied. Then a thought occurred to him: Vorik hadn't been to the Bridge after the mutiny. Certainly not before Tom had appropriated the ready room for a bedroom.

"Vorik, when did you scan it?"

A very long pause.

::While you were sleeping, sir. Lieutenant Nicoletti informed me you would probably wish for coffee this morning and I was to make sure the replicator was safe for use."

That was excellent, Sue. A commendation for saving my ass this morning. And Vorik old man, you are becoming quite the criminal hacker. We can share a cell at Auckland.

"Good work, Ensign. Carry on. I'll relieve you in," he checked the chronometer, "fifty minutes."

:::Yes, sir.:::

"Paris out."

You gotta love Vulcans. No unnecessary conversation, get straight to the point and just do it. Very, very nice.

Tom went to the replicator.

"Large espresso, hot, bill to Tom Paris, authorization Paris Psi Tau Kappa."

The cup appeared, and it was indeed large. Tom rubbed his eyes and picked up the cup. Gods, this is bitter. Maybe I should have asked for raktajino. But it had the desired effect, waking him up quite thoroughly. Feeling a little more alive, and the cramps gone, he leaned against the wall by the replicator.

"One pair of uniform pants and one shirt, size Tom Paris, bill to Tom Paris, authorization Paris Psi Tau Kappa." I hope I have enough replicator rations for that, I can't go to my room looking like this and I'll be damned if I will send someone to get me clothes.

However, his luck was still with him, and the items appeared instantly. Setting down the cup, he stripped off his clothes and redressed. His uniform jacket was still outside on the Bridge…

Ah, no it's not. Bless Vulcan efficiency, Vorik must have brought it in. His jacket sat on the chair by the desk. He fished his original turtleneck up and removed the pip and put it on his clean uniform. He wished, rather wistfully, that he had time for a shower. Later.

He sat down at the desk, closed his eyes, and took a long shot of very hot coffee.

He knew he would need it.

* * * * *

Day 4 0800 hours

Present Time

"Report."

The Bridge was at half-strength, with Baytart holding down the conn, Vorik in command, and young Ensign Larson, actually a member of security, sitting in at Ops. Tom had made significant changes to the command the night before, combining some tasks with others to keep as many people possible fixing the extremely odd changes that had occurred during the "shore leave crew's" few returns from the planet.

The warp core had almost been completely detached, and the computers infected with what appeared to be a kind of information-gathering worm virus that had kept Vorik and Crewman Stein up half the night fixing. The environmental controls had been subtly changed to slowly add more nitrogen to the air, and the replicators had only just been cleared of the presence of the hallucinogen. Carey had yet to leave engineering, still hard at work re-attaching power relays and plasma conduits that had been sealed shut. It was slow going for all the crew.

Those with even minor medical training were charged with helping the Doctor find out exactly what they were dealing with. Before the takeover the night before, Tom had run med scans on seven of the infected crewmen to be compared with the baselines they had on record in Sickbay. Just to see if what Ricarla had told him was true

She had disclosed some information--under duress, but information is information, however you get it, and I don't really think she would lie--but it was not enough. Not nearly enough.

"All systems are back on-line, sir," Vorik announced, standing up from the Big Chair. Tom looked at him speculatively, but he didn't seem to feel the same discomfort Tom had sitting in it. Interesting. Maybe it's just me--and Sue, perhaps.

"Did you finish setting the command lock-outs?"

"Yes, sir. The computer will not accept commands from anyone not currently residing on Voyager."

"Double check and make sure all codes belonging to the senior staff are erased. We can't afford mistakes, Vorik."

"Yes, sir."

"Captain Janeway also has two sets of override commands set in this system, instituted after Seska's takeover of the ship. I need those found and disabled, on the off-chance she could get into the Voyager computers from the surface." He glanced around the quiet Bridge, checked the chronometer, and almost on cue Susan Nicoletti walked in. He gave her an acknowledging nod. Just behind her, Samantha Wildman exited the turbolift, going to her station as the new acting head of Ops, relieving poor beleaguered Larson.

"Not bad, Ensigns." They each flashed a tentative smile back, and took their positions. Tom handed Sue the PADD Vorik had given him detailing the latest repairs, and she set herself to work.

"Vorik, go to bed." At Vorik's arched eyebrow, the Vulcan equivalent of shock, Tom was hard-pressed to keep from laughing. "I need you during both Beta and Gamma shift today. Staff meeting at 1200 during lunch, it will be here in the conference room. Don't worry, anyone, there will be food!" More smiles from assorted members of the crew, a little less tense, more real. "Where's Ensign Henna?"

"She's in engineering, sir, Lieutenant Carey requested her assistance. She should be back within the hour to relieve me," Baytart reported.

Tom, with some dark humor, wished he had pulled his mutiny at the beginning of the Gamma shift, rather than the middle. Beta would be the first shift with a more or less complete complement of crew in the major departments Tom had prioritized. Running with half a shift's complement made Tom nervous, but the choice between keeping a full Bridge complement and getting all the systems clean was no choice at all.

The assignments had not been easy. Somehow, they had managed to keep most of his own conn department, and everyone in engineering except B'Elanna. Don't think, don't think, not now They had lost most of security, ops, and several important subsystems, including computer maintenance. Crewman Joseph Stein was now in charge of that department, with only two extremely junior crew to help him. Sue hadn't been able to assign him anyone extra, but Joseph was an incredible programmer, as well as a good leader. Vorik was helping him with some of the more advanced functions. Stellar Cartography and most of the sciences had been temporarily disabled, the crew moved to the prioritized areas, but it still left a huge gap. Whatever had been on that planet had gone after the most skilled and most senior officers first.

When Janeway ordered all the senior officers down there, I should have protested, we should have been more careful; what the hell were we thinking?

It was pure luck that Tom hadn't gone down. His fight with B'Elanna had led him to volunteer for skeleton bridge duty while the first wave of officers went down, and it had been a full twenty-four hours, well into the second day in orbit, before Captain Janeway had ordered general shore leave for the rest of the crew. His competing Sickbay and Bridge duties, as well as a general fit of the sulks, had kept him from signing up for leave.

His discoveries on the third day had, of course, assured he would not be going down ever.

Luck. Unbelievable luck, really.

Tom shook his head, then hardened his expression, turning to Susan Nicoletti.

"How are weapons?"

Surprised, she looked up from the data PADD she was perusing.

"Weapons are fully charged, sir. They weren't affected by the fight last night." He nodded acknowledgement.

Tom studied the viewscreen. For the sake of variety, it had been switched to an interior view of the nebula. The choice of hiding place had been based on Tuvok's earlier comments on its density and the wave patterns, which, as Tuvok so succinctly put it, "could hide any number of hostile vessels." At the time, Tom thought Tuvok's usual professional paranoia was amusing.

Where the hell was that professional paranoia when we got here, anyway? What the hell were we thinking?

"Susan, I need a complete diagnostic and report on weapons and shields done immediately. Is anyone assigned to tactical this shift?"

Susan scanned her PADD.

"No, sir, on Gamma shift Ensign Ayala will be assigned. Ensign Barker is on during Beta. Is Ayala needed, sir?"

"Where is he now?" Tom caught his fingers tapping impatiently on the arm of the chair and stopped.

"Computer, location of Lieutenant Ayala?" queried Susan.

:::Lieutenant Ayala is in his quarters.:::

She glanced at Tom.

"He received notice to be here for the staff meeting, sir, at 1200." Tom nodded, knowing Ayala would be pulling more than Gamma shift tonight.

Tom went to tactical himself. It wasn't his specialty, but he had enough knowledge to at least begin what would have to be done.

"That's be fine, Susan. Carry on."

Tom listened as Susan fielded inquiries and complaints from all over the ship. One nice thing about being a Captain, at least I don't have to deal with that. Sue is much better at that sort of thing than I am, anyway. Shaking the thought aside, he began re-running the diagnostics that Vorik had performed at the end of Gamma shift.

Susan Nicoletti was turning out to be an excellent exec. After their coup had been completed, they had worked out the new crew rotations and assignments. She was one of those people whom everyone was on good terms with, and was able, after a little consultation with those in question, to reassign personnel from non-essential areas to essential systems whose departments had been reduced. Even better, she didn't question his priorities on which systems needed the quickest relief.

"Have you decided who will be temporary Department Heads?" Temporary. I hope.

Tom gave her a crooked smile.

"My co-conspirators, of course. Who ever told you crime doesn't pay?"

Susan laughed, but truthfully, she was impressed with Tom's planning skills. When she had received Tom's message through Zephyr, she had been floored, and yet, somehow, Tom had pulled it all together in record time. The plan for the coup had been complete before the first crewmembers crept into cargo bay one, and this had been a huge relief to all involved. The plan had been perfect, taking everything into account, even turbolift speed and computer response time.

To be honest, she shouldn't have been so surprised. While Tom's current position on Voyager had been a reward from Captain Janeway, Tom had been Starfleet and made it through Command School. He had been groomed his entire life with expectation that one day he would captain a starship and rise to Admiral. While the Caldik Prime incident had destroyed this particular dream, and his Maquis activities finished driving that expectation into the ground, there was no question that those abilities were still present. Polished even, after serving under Captain Janeway.

Sue found some irony in the fact every one of them had so naturally followed Tom when he chose to lead. Perhaps because of his lack of previous loyalties when he was given his position on Voyager, most of the crew had come to trust him. Not all, but the vast majority. He had become, in many ways, a symbol of everyone's struggle to integrate Starfleet and Maquis, outsider and insider.

Watching him work, she marveled how easily he had taken command. No one had dissented his right to do so, and no one had questioned that authority since. Of course, when you have the top twelve remaining officers doing the unquestioning support thing, I suppose it is only natural no one wants to rock the boat. Besides, the only security people left are Ayala's closest friends, since none of them wanted to go down to that planet without the others, so personal loyalty there. Tom's department has incredible loyalty to him, so no problems there either. Engineering is mostly Maquis, but they have strong ties to Carey; if he tells them black is white, they'll agree. I'm beginning to suspect, too, that something happened in engineering with B'Elanna when she returned to the ship that last time. Carey had that black eye, and only said it was an engineering accident but I wonder. I really do.

Sue pushed herself from her thoughts at Tom's voice.

"Yes, sir?"

He had a very slight smile on his face, and Sue remembered that smile from what seemed like so long ago. That "I'm thinking of doing something really crazy, care to join in?" smile that he had used on her more than once to convince her to pursue such activities as rock-climbing, sky-diving, and Tae Kwon Do on the Holodeck. She still did Tae Kwon Do with him once a week or so, though careful not to bring this to B'Elanna's attention too much, knowing the Chief Engineer's temper, and her possessiveness. Well, not possessiveness, but she knows Tom and I dated, and doesn't particularly enjoy the idea of him spending too much time alone with me. To be honest, if I were in her shoes, neither would I.

"I need some help. Care to give me a hand?"

She put down the PADD, getting up from the Second Chair (as she referred to the First Officer's seat) in barely disguised relief, and made her way to tactical. That Chair, since the beginning, always seemed to be trying to suck her in, drown her in its leather depths. She wondered if Tom felt that way about the Big Chair. Probably not. He was born to sit in one of those. He looks so at ease in it, I'll bet it fits him perfectly. It was disheartening.

When she looked at what he had done to tactical, she blinked. Then she did a double take.

"Like it?" He sounded a little smug. Her lips quivered in response.

"If I knew what you'd done, I'm sure I could compliment you on the artistry."

Tom's muted laugh was the most natural she had heard since--well, since they arrived at this godforsaken planet.

"I'm separating Tactical and Security temporarily. Each one will be controlled by a different officer. Vorik will be all over Department Head and hold Tactical, and Ayala will act as his second there and head of Security."

"Why is the separation necessary?"

Tom gave her a long look, but she could see his mind was far away.

"If you can hold your curiosity until the meeting, I can tell you then. I need to talk to the Doc first. Sam?"

Samantha, running diagnostics, looked up quickly. Flushed.

"Sir?"

"I want you to run continuous sensor sweeps of everything around us, at increased and decreased sensitivity, randomly."

Samantha blinked.

"Sir?"

"Don't worry, I'm not going crazy, I'm being creative. If anyone comes near the planet, they will, of course, be checking for ships. I don't want them to find us, but I don't want them to escape our notice either because our sensors alert them. Make it look like random wave patterns from the nebula." Abruptly, he remembered her specialty wasn't Ops. Best not show less than confidence. He left Susan at tactical and joined Sam at her station.

Tom had done a little cross-training on Ops (it helped that his best friend was head of the department) and Tom had learned several tricks from Harry. Combined with his own rudimentary knowledge of procedure, he was able to set his ideas on course. After he was finished, Tom gave her a PADD he had put together before he came on shift.

"It's just some simple instructions on Ops so if you get confused, you have a reference." He gave her his famous Paris smile, or the "parismile" as some of the younger crewwomen called it. She smiled back, a little tentatively, and Tom turned to the Bridge at large.

"If I'm needed, I'll be in Sickbay for the next hour. Lieutenant Nicoletti, you have the Bridge." He disappeared into the turbolift.

Sue nodded in acknowledgement and went back to work.

* * * * *

Day 4 0950 hours

Present Time

"What've you got, Doc?"

The Holodoc glanced up when Tom entered, then his eyes flew over to the group of biologists and other hard science specialists gathered around the different diagnostic panels.

"As much as can be expected, I suppose, Mr. Paris," he answered. "Anything you need?" He sounded impatient. Not unusual. Tom often wondered if the Doctor believed there was a conspiracy on the ship aimed specifically at annoying him, spearheaded by Tom himself. At the moment, the thought was tempting. He crossed his arms and casually leaned against the doorway.

"Just a talk. Care to take a walk with me?"

The Doctor blinked, considering Tom for a long moment. The casualness did not fool him for a moment.

"Very well. Ensign Orial, you have Sickbay. I will be with Mr. Paris."

Tom led the way, the Doctor following in silence until they reached Tom's quarters. Tom solemnly ushered him in, and invited him to take a seat.

"I assume you wish my report to be private." The Doctor's voice was testy, but there was understanding there too.

"What do you have?"

"The physiological changes are very interesting, to say the least." Tom might have groaned; nothing could keep the Doctor from enthusing on the joys of expanding the frontiers of medical science. "The stomach has been altered somewhat, though I cannot yet find out the reason, the lungs can now process much less oxygen-intensive air as well as process, of all things, an atmosphere based on pure nitrogen. The most interesting change was in brain tissue itself. While I cannot be certain, the changes seem to affect only gray matter tissue. However, all the changes are very easily reversible. What I cannot understand is the behavior that is attributed to those affected. Their normal brain wave activity seems to be equal to the readings you took on those infected crewman, despite the brain tissue changes, but you did have them sedated when you took those readings, did you not?"

Tom's slightly nasty grin answered that, so the Doctor didn't bother to ask for verbal confirmation.

"If I had an infected crewmember to examine, it would be easier."

Tom's grin changed, and Doctor, who had worked very closely with Mr. Paris for several years, instantly recognized it.

"I thought you evacuated the ship to avoid contamination."

Tom leaned back in his chair.

"I did, with the exception of those--umm, volunteers." The light in his eyes made The Doctor wonder. "They're on Holodeck 2, in one of the very best brig programs yours truly ever wrote. None are aware any of the others are there, and I've been monitoring from the Bridge," Tom said smugly.

"Who else knows?"

"Lieutenant Ayala and Ensign Vorik, that's it, since they helped me hunt for them. Vorik's watched when I haven't been able to. I cut off access to that holodeck and Ayala made up the damage report sheet. So far, no one has tried to break my codes. I've been there only once since--well, since the forcible evacuation, and everything was fine. Don't look like that, I chose those particular crewmen because of their lack of programming skills, on the off-chance something went wrong."

"Who do you have?"

"None of the senior officers, if that's what you mean. They were too dangerous. A few regular crewmen, lower officers, ones who wouldn't be missed too quickly."

"You haven't told anyone else?"

"Not until we have some results. My--" he stopped, and the Doctor watched Tom's face change. Paler? Uncomfortable. "From one of them I received a lot of information. I need confirmation that what she said is true before I tell the others."

Watching Tom's face, the Doctor debated asking him under what circumstances he had received the information. And then said nothing, merely nodded.

"We'll go there now. Are you ready?"

The Doctor noticed the medkit sitting at Tom's feet and both eyebrows went up.

"You are certainly prepared."

"I've always played a good game of chess, Doc." He picked up the bag. "Computer, initiate site-to-site transport program Paris Gamma 3, authorization Paris Alpha One, Alpha Two, Beta One."

* * * * *

Day 4 1200 hours

Present Time

As promised, Tom delivered on lunch. He had always believed that staff meeting should include food, and as a youth at Starfleet Academy, he had seriously considered launching a petition so that by the time he came on board a starship, snacks would be required. He had asked everyone to bring some kind of fingerfood with them, and as they arrived the first meeting of the Acting Senior Staff began to look something like a party. Well, maybe a wake.

Tom, in the Captain's uncomfortable Chair at the head of the table, waited for his eleven co-conspirators to settle down before rising.

"To open our meeting, I will begin by naming the new Acting Department Heads. All of you know what your own position is, but a general run through wouldn't hurt, so you know each other." He smiled at their light, but forced, laughter. He wanted desperately to keep it light right now--in far too short a time, that would be quickly changed. Ayala and Vorik looked a little solemn, but Vorik was Vulcan, how could he be blamed? Ayala's usually cheery face betrayed him--dark, solemn, even when the full mouth was stretched into an unconvincing smile. Well, unconvincing for Tom, maybe the others were fooled.

"Lieutenant Susan Nicoletti, Acting First Officer," he introduced. "The helm will be headed by Ensign Pablo Baytart, with Ensign Elizabeth Henna, as his second. Ops is now headed by Ensign Samantha Wildman, with Ensign Megan Delaney as her second. Lieutenant Joseph Carey heads Engineering, his second will be decided when he decides," (muted laughter) "and the Head of Tactical will be Ensign Vorik."

He looked at Ayala, then Vorik, then the room at large. He'd prepared for this explanation since he had first discovered the secondary danger they were in. It didn't make it any easier.

"For the purpose of finding a way to help our lost crewmembers, I have split the security department into two separate sections. Tactical will be Ensign Vorik's department, and, due to our extremely limited crew, Sue will assist him when necessary. Lieutenant Ayala will head up ship security. The people assigned to you both will be interchangeable, and your duties will intersect, but I think it's the best arrangement. For now, at least."

Both nodded, and Tom moved on. He knew they understood why.

"All natural scientists have been moved into The Doctor's department. Now, Lieutenant Yolanda Ferris will head Ship's Services, Reclamations, and all other non-essential systems. Transporter Chief is our new Ensign Anna Zephyr." All eyes turned to the young woman sitting at the end of the table, with a brand-new pip on her collar, and there was a round of quiet, though sincere, applause. "Finally, patient Crewman--no, that's Ensign--Stein, who will cover computer maintenance." He waited for the applause to die down, and gestured at the food. "Take some time and eat before we continue."

Tom knew he wouldn't be able to look at food for a while, so didn't bother trying. Vorik seemed disinclined to anything but the crackers that Tom had replicated earlier, and Ayala simply closed his eyes and rested his head back on his chair. As he had been on shift all night, no one considered it unusual for him to take a short break, and the group proceeded, if not merrily, with a great deal less tension than might have been expected. When the different dishes were reduced to scraps, Tom called the meeting back to order, and was pleased to see how professional everyone became on cue. Carefully, he folded his hands and looked at them all.

"Under Federation law, as you all know, we are mutineers, and could face a court-martial when we find a way to cure the captain." He kept his voice sure, they would find a way to cure her, one way or another. The thought of not--it didn't bear mention. "I don't think it's very likely." He tried to sound confident. "However, I do not want to risk the possibility that any of you will be tried for other than that mutiny, which we can plead the inability of the Captain to lead us." He took a breath. "From this moment on, I'm taking full responsibility for all orders given, so if it comes to a court-martial, none of you can be implicated in anything else."

Sue leaned forward, eyes flashing.

"With your permission, sir?" Formality again. He nodded, sitting back in the chair. Shifted to make himself comfortable. "Whatever orders you give, I will obey, all of us will, there is no question of that. But I, at least, claim equal responsibility for whatever we do. When accepting the position as your First Officer, I became as heavily implicated as you, and if there should be a court-martial, not over the mutiny, which falls under definite extreme circumstances which even a Starfleet court run by my great grandfather would call necessary, but over the method by which we command this ship, I can and will claim full responsibility for my actions." She paused to catch her breath and glanced about the room, seeing the heads nod in agreement. So did Tom, and he didn't like it. He had given this a lot of thought and studied the regulations to make this work, and Sue led the revolt against him. It made him reluctantly smile.

"When you hear what I am planning, you might take that back, Sue," he said softly. The aqua eyes flashed back without the slightest hint of uncertainty.

Lieutenant Ayala's grip on his PADD grew visibly tighter, and Tom decided to act.

"Under regulations as they stand, there is no way around Federation Policy regarding the ethical treatment of prisoners or captives, except in circumstances not applicable here. However, I have decided that these circumstances warrant it. We're under half-power, and the half of our crew that is here is among the lower orders of officers and specialists. We lost our Senior Staff, most of our department heads, and all the Starfleet information in their minds. As Starfleet officers, we cannot afford leave a large group of our own people in this situation, with the possibility that they can use their information against the Federation."

He took a deep breath. This was hard.

"I am--I am dismissing all Federation policy regarding the ethical treatment of prisoners. Six hours before we took the ship, Lieutenant Ayala, Ensign Vorik, and I took seven prisoners to Holodeck 2, members of our crew under the influence of noncorporeal lifeforms that call themselves the K'eya."

The conference room was very silent. Tom took a deep breath and continued.

"Before I enlisted the assistance of Lieutenant Ayala and Ensign Vorik, Ensign Zephyr and I apprehended her roommate, Crewman Ricarla, who was under the K'eyan influence. After Zephyr left, I proceeded to interrogate Ricarla using chemical coercion techniques." He kept his gaze fixed over their heads, breathing deeply, hoping he looked as if he were still in control. "The information she gave me is here." He passed the PADDs around, first to Ayala, who handed it off, already having seen the report. He waited while everyone looked it over and copied it onto their own PADDs for later viewing.

Sue was the first to speak.

"They are being held right now in the Holodeck?" Her voice was tight.

"Yes. The Doctor is with them right now performing a complete medical scan. Ensign Zephyr," he turned his attention quickly to the young ensign, avoiding Sue's darkening eyes, "the Doctor wishes you to report to him at the end of your shift, he thinks he may have a use for your empathic skills." At her shy nod, he continued.

"The K'eya apparently infect the host bodies using the hallucinogen we found in the food onboard the ship and a property of the planet's atmosphere. While on the planet, they are able to remain within a host body long enough to affect the physiological changes necessary for them to assume control of that body." Tom looked around the room. "What we know now is that these creatures, if they are separated from the body while off the planet, will die. What we don't know is how to accomplish the separation or how long it will take before they die." Tom noticed their relaxation and felt his own body mirror them. One less problem. Infected crewman with body-jumping parasites abounding on Voyager. A nightmare he knew Sam had worried about since their mutiny, restricting Naomi to quarters at all times.

At least, that much they could be thankful for. Unless they went to the planet's surface, they were safe from infection.

"Now, the second item of business. The reason for the modification of security."

Again, Vorik and Ayala already knew. Tom saw Sue's curious glance at them, then her gaze darted back to him. She wasn't pleased to be left out of the loop. He suddenly understood how Janeway must have felt when she had concealed Tom's activities as a "malcontent" from Chakotay.

"From Crewman Ricarla, we discovered the name of the species that trapped the K'eya on the planet. They are called the Da'Oon, a corporeal spacefaring race. The K'eyan entity I spoke to did not know why the imprisonment occurred, and frankly I didn't care, so I didn't push the issue much. There are two things about them, however, that give me pause.

"They sealed this system over a millennia ago. We broke that seal."

Sue started, eyes wide.

"How?"

Tom shrugged.

"Your guess is as good as mine. Voyager didn't detect any anomalous readings when we entered this system, but the Th'alin were here first, so perhaps the seal, by the time we got here, was gone." Sue nodded, and Tom went on.

"There is a high probability that the Da'Oon will be aware that the Th'alin ships we destroyed yesterday and Voyager are both in this system, and it is no longer sealed. From what I understand, they will most likely attack first and ask questions later, when they find us. I have no doubt they will find us, and I want to be ready."

"Couldn't we explain we aren't K'eyan?" asked Sue, jotting notes into her PADD.

"I don't think they'll believe us, but yes, we'll try diplomacy first. This is the big club we are bringing to the meeting, our new weapon systems." His look now was slightly feral. "The weapons modifications Vorik will be working on during Beta shift were culled from the brains of several of the prisoners this morning. I hope that it will be enough. We have some Borg technology on the Delta Flyer, but I am not Borg and our only Borg is not capable of volunteering. I don't have the knowledge necessary to make our weapons more powerful, hence Vorik will be doing all. You have Seven of Nine's weapons designs from the Delta Flyer, correct?"

Vorik nodded.

"Yes sir."

"Good. If it comes to a fight we can't win, we run. Period. I don't want to leave the crew any more than anyone else, but I won't risk the rest of you either." He looked around the room, reading the agreement.

"I separated the departments to better facilitate the interrogation of the prisoners currently enjoying Voyager's hospitality on the Holodeck." The amusement in the room was slightly malicious, and Tom couldn't say he didn't feel the same. It felt good to have at least some of those who had taken over their crew. "Ayala and I will personally be handling this assignment, with Vorik's help." He looked around the room, noting the expressions. He'd expected some shock, some disapproval. Either they trusted him unquestioningly, or they understood the logic behind what he had chosen to do. Or maybe they saw it as payback for their own abuses by the K'eya in the bodies of their crew. He didn't know. "Vorik will mainly be responsible for the changes in tactical and weapons from this time forward."

"Drills will be started on Gamma shift tonight as soon as Vorik gets the weapons on-line, to prepare for the possibility that the Da'Oon will decide to show. Sue, did you get the new shield modulation calculations I gave you?"

"Sam and I are running simulations now, sir," she answered briefly. "We should be able to implement by Gamma shift if not before."

"Excellent. Any questions?" He hadn't thought there would be, at least until they all had a chance to read his report. "All right. Lieutenant Carey will have the Bridge during Beta shift today. Dismissed."

Sue stood up but didn't leave. Seeing this, the others hastened their way out. Slowly, she walked to the head of the table, looking straight into Toms eyes.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

He shrugged, and her hand came down, hard, on the table, making him wince. I knew what the reaction would be, how would I feel to hear--

"I am your First Officer, Acting First Officer, and I--Tom, don't you trust me?" Her face changed, and he saw the anger had hidden hurt. "If we are going to get through this, you have to trust me. This-" she said, fingers brushing the PADD,"-you could have shared." She pulled a chair up and sat down. "Tom…for a minute, let's be friends, not officers, okay?"

He nodded slowly. Surprised there was no horror, no disgust. No disillusionment.

"Tom, did you really think any of us would have a problem with doing this? They're holding our people hostage in their own minds, and do you think any of us would stop at anything to get them back? If it took thumbscrews and whips, I would do it." She glanced down at her hands, face pale and set. "Sir, I request that I be put in charge of this assignment."

Tom couldn't help it, her switch between formality and informality was charming. He smiled slightly.

"I'm taking it during Beta shift, with Ayala's help, but thank you. I need you on the Bridge." He changed the subject. "Have you gotten any word about how long it will take to get the warp engines back? Lieutenant Carey said he'd given his report to you."

"Joe gave me his report while you were in Sickbay. I can get it to you now. Do you want to read it in here, sir?" She stood up, and they were officers again.

"No, on the Bridge. " He stood up, and followed her out of the room.

Day 4 2100 hours

Present Time

The Doctor was alone, for the first time that day, when Tom appeared in Sickbay. He wasn't surprised when Tom walked in, wearing the face of a man who had crawled through filth, and sighed, to himself. He knew what Tom had been doing since the end of Alpha shift.

"Computer, activate-"

"I'm here, Mr. Paris."

Tom was too exhausted to even turn quickly. He stood, back to the Doctor for a long moment, then turned around. Black circles under bloodshot blue eyes, hard lines around his mouth. Anything he had of careless youth was gone, perhaps irrevocably. And the Holodoc, to his own surprise, somewhere in his subroutines, mourned that loss.

"Can I do something for you?"

Tom nodded slowly, jerkily, and walked to the biobed.

"I need a stimulant." His voice was hoarse.

"I assume we aren't talking about coffee." Tom shook his head, and the Doctor slowly approached the biobed. "You know this is not a good idea."

"If you have a better one, I'm listening." His voice was sharper than the Doctor had ever heard it before.

Truthfully, the Doctor didn't. He would have liked to tell Tom that he should go to bed, sleep, he needed it. He wanted to say that Tom wasn't needed every second, that he could afford to rest, but he didn't. It wasn't true, and of all the people on this ship, the Doctor knew it best. Slowly, he replicated the strongest stimulant he could find and loaded it into the hypospray, then pressed it into Tom's neck.

"The effects will last twenty-four hours at most."

"How long can I take it?" Tom rubbed his neck lightly.

The Doctor tilted his head.

"How long do you need it?"
 

Seeming more awake, Tom jumped down off the bed, stretching his back reflexively. The Doctor could actually see the energy pour into him, and the lines of his face, while they did not disappear, eased a little.

"Until I can get those parasites out of the crew."

Parasites. Nice term, though hardly official. Must be something Mr. Paris coined, though I suppose it's as good a term as any.

"I can give you one more injection before worrying about neural decay."

"Humans can go longer than that without sleep." Tom ran his fingers lightly through his hair.

"Humans that aren't using prescription drugs to stay awake, yes. Of course, those humans are usually subject to fits of paranoia and unclear thinking, both of which I assume you wish to avoid. Everyone is different in that respect, Mr. Paris." He put the hypospray away, and Tom began leave. The Doctor stopped him. "How long has it been since you last ate?"

An unguarded expression of bewilderment crossed his face, chased by--anger? Hurt? The Doctor couldn't tell, and it was all sealed up in a neutral expression before the Doctor could interpret.

"A while."

"Stay here. I will replicate you something."

Surprisingly, Tom flushed.

"I can do that…"

"But you won't. I am still Chief Medical Officer on this ship, and I am telling you, you will eat. Come to my office."

Even more surprisingly, Tom obeyed.

Sitting on the other side of the desk opposite the Doctor, Tom ate the tomato soup and sandwich, giving The Doctor a wry smile at the choice of meals. When he was done, the Doctor ran the tricorder over him, to Tom's vocal protests.

"Better. Much better." He closed it and set it aside. "Do you have any new information you wish to share with me?"

Tom looked at the Doctor carefully.

"You know why I don't want to, other than the most necessary."

"Yes, yes, court martial, la te da. Of all the people on this ship, I am probably the only one that wouldn't be affected. I am the only Doctor."

Tom grinned then, and the Doctor felt several subroutines relax in response.

"True, but there are other considerations. You have ethics programming, and I can't afford for you to interfere if that programming snaps into effect regarding my methods."

The Doctor hesitated, not wanting to inquire further as he watched the lines of strain appear again. But he was a doctor, and it was his duty to care for the crew, all of them.

"You could disable the ethics parameters," he said calmly. Tom started, blinked, staring at the Doctor as if he had never seen him before.

"Do what?" His voice was edged with utter disbelief.

"Disable the ethics subroutines. I could try to do it myself, but after my last experience with altering my own program, I don't think I want to try that again. In any case, you have the option of using my expertise."

Tom shook his head and smiled, and the Doctor felt himself relax more.

"That's very kind of you, Doc, but you know I wouldn't do that to anyone."

"Could you disable the ethics of someone else? I thought I was the only one programmable."

As jokes went, it was lousy, but Tom chuckled. The Doctor warmed at the sound.

"Nice idea, but no. Thanks for the offer, though."

Tom didn't seem in any hurry to leave, and finally slid a PADD to the Doctor, with the recordings of information received from the prisoners.

"Nothing very new. They say the original hosts of the body are unaware--unconscious, is the way I think they put it. I still haven't found out what happens to the original owners. I don't think they know either. But they get to keep the perks--memories, skills, general knowledge." Tom shook his head. "If they had been better actors they would have gotten away with it, but apparently for some of them this is the first time in a corporeal body and they got a little carried away."

The Doctor read over the report and sat it down to download a copy into his database.

"Mr. Paris…" He stopped, trying to decide how to frame the question he wanted to ask, aware he was facing one of the most skilled manipulators on Voyager, who could easily answer a question without giving an answer at all. "Tom, if I ask this, will you give me an answer that is relevant to the question?" Honesty occasionally works. Not often, but sometimes.

Tom tilted his head, eyes narrowing slightly into blue crescents.

"Yes."

"After you beamed the crew to the planet, there was a fight with the other ships."

Tom nodded.

"How did that happen?"

"Ah." Tom understood now. "You mean, did I pick a fight? Yes. I am guessing you want to know exactly what happened, though, huh?" Tom's eyes darted to the chronometer, then he seemed to settle back in the chair. "This is one of those times I need a drink, but don't say it, alcohol and stims don't mix, especially with command. I know, I learned that. Hope your holomatrix is comfortable, it is actually kind of funny…"

* * * * *

Day 3 2045 hours

Very lucky for me, that I don't have the time to let the shock wear off.

Tom looked out the viewscreen, standing at tactical, waiting for his crew to return. They didn't disappoint him. In seconds, like a well-oiled machine, they poured out of the turbolift and onto the Bridge, running for positions. Samantha Wildman, however, looked nervous at Ops, and Tom turned to Lieutenant Nicoletti as Baytart took the Conn.

"Sue," he said softly, "we're about to finish this. Go help Sam with Ops, will you?" Louder, "Vorik, how are weapons?"

"Fully charged, sir." I love Vulcans. Who can't love perfect efficiency and succinctness all in one pointy-eared package?

"Paris to Carey. You all assembled in engineering yet?"

:::Yes, sir.:::

"Good. We'll need you in a moment. Get ready for some extreme unpleasantness."

Though they had talked about this, knew what they had to do, it was still difficult to actually start firing on quiet alien vessels who did not seem to have hostile intent.

"Shields?" he asked.

"Still at maximum, sir."

He glanced at Susan.

"Hail them."

"Channel open."

Tom took a deep breath. He was about to announce his take-over, and he couldn't help his sense of humor getting itself up, in pure self-defense, he was sure. How many Starfleet officers got the chance to take over an entire ship?

"This is Thomas Paris of the Federation Starship Voyager. You have three minutes to evacuate your crew planetside before we open fire."

He waited. They all waited.

:::Starship Voyager. We will not comply.::: Succinct as well. I wonder if the Delta Quadrant has its own Vulcans? Nah, that smacked of Borg. The ship shuddered a little at the impact of fire against their shields. He glanced at Susan, who quickly shook her head.

"No effect, sir."

"How much of our technology did they get?" Another brilliant idea, free trade with an alien race. Again, what was I thinking not to realize what the hell was going on sooner?

Susan thought carefully, then glanced at Vorik.

"They have the transporter technology," Tom's heart stopped, "but they haven't installed it yet, if the sensors are correct."

The very concept that any of the Senior Staff might be able to get up on one of those ships via transporter made Tom's blood run cold. And we definitely don't want them to figure out now how to make transporters work.

He turned to Vorik.

"Fire at will. Target engines and life-support." He felt the feral smile stretch his mouth. "Let's encourage them to our way of thinking."

Vorik obeyed. It wasn't easy to watch the maiming of the ships, but Tom believed in the concept of amputation, and the destruction of those warp-capable ships would go a long way toward assuring him that not one of the crew could get off the planet.

Suddenly, the ship rocked. Tom grabbed at the armrests for support, looking back at Vorik, then at Sue.

"Shields down to 75%." Susan looked pale. "They have photon torpedoes!"

"Wonder where they got those?" Tom said softly. "Vorik, how long until they're disabled?"

"Approximately twenty minutes."

"How long would it take to blow them out of the sky?"

Vorik thought.

"Four minutes, fifteen seconds."

Tom looked around his crew, seeing their expressions, their loyalty, and their conflict. No different than that going on inside himself.

"Their shields are lousy, sir," Susan offered. Tom had an idea.

"Can we beam through it?"

Susan's face lit up.

"Yes sir."

"What is the crew complement on those ships?"

"Sixty people per ship."

Tom calculated. He hit his comm badge decisively.

"Paris to transporter room. I have a job for you…"

* * * * *

Day 4 2123 hours

Present Time

"It was easier to transport everyone off and blow the ships than wait to disable them and then convince them to leave," Tom explained. "We sustained some damage when we modified our shields, but we were lucky they had bad aim and lousy weaponry."

"Why did you consider them a threat?"

Tom started.

"No one told you--no, I guess not. The ships belonged to a race known as the Th'alin, basically scavengers. Think the Delta Quadrant equivalent of Ferengi without the ethics." The Doctor winced. "They agreed to help the K'eyan find and destroy the Da'Oon in exchange for the technology on Voyager. I couldn't take the risk that the K'eya controlled crew would get up into those ships. It would be way too easy for them to take over Voyager. No matter how good the remaining crew is, the senior staff of Voyager is better, and…" he broke off. His knuckles had gone white from clenching on the edge of the desk.. "Too big a risk."

The Doctor could see that.

"After the ships were destroyed, we were able to finish the repairs on the ship. The entities changed the environmental controls quite a bit, did some damage to the warp core. Apparently, they were trying to find a way to detach it for the Th'alin to transport easily, without being too obvious about it and alerting the rest of the crew."

"Is that when you sent Ensign Delaney to look for my program?"

"Yes. She found it by accident, actually. It was hidden in a subsystem…" Tom broke off. Looked at the Doctor.

"Was B'Elanna trying to destroy you or disable you?"

The Doctor shuddered, he couldn't help it.

"Delete, Mr. Paris, though her terminology was quite crude."

Tom stood up, not to leave, but to pace. This was unusual. Tom rarely paced. Usually, he found something useful to do when dealing with excess adrenaline. More efficient.

"That can't be right." Almost to himself.

Now the Doctor looked confused.

"I assure you, Mr. Paris, that is exactly what happened. I was here, I remember."

Tom shook his head slowly, and when the Doctor saw his face, there was something there, the expression just dawning, not quite able to put his finger on it--

"Doc, the parasite had the knowledge to delete your program. Why didn't she? Why hide it?" Tom's demands were rhetorical, and The Doctor caught the direction of Tom's thoughts quickly.

"My matrix was badly damaged…"

"But fixable." Tom straightened. "Do you have a baseline for B'Elanna on file from her last physical?"

"Yes…"

"Excellent." Tom smiled, and the Doctor recognized the sudden hope, relief. At the same moment, he realized what Tom was about to do.

"You are going to beam her up." Holographic voices were apparently not meant to convey disbelief. His tenor voice hit soprano. Tom's smile became a heady grin.

"Uh-huh. Doc, whatever it is, she's fighting it! Somehow, she didn't delete you, but I believe the parasite thinks it did. She got around it."

"No other crewmember has." He tried and failed to keep the hope out of his own voice.

"Maybe they have, but we didn't have the proof." Tom shook his head. He tapped his comm badge even as he jogged out of Sickbay, calling for Vorik. The Doctor watched him go, then resigned himself to finding B'Elanna's baseline scans.

Organic lifeforms could be so demanding.

TBC