Shuttle Down III
by Judy and Jacki
SUMMARY: When Tom Paris and Harry Kim crash on Earth almost 400 years in the past, Voyager mounts a rescue operation with the help of Sam Beckett, who has 'leaped' into Tuvok, and Admiral Al Calavicci, and with the sometime hindrance of Captain Braxton of the 29th Century Time Police.
CHAPTERS 7, 8, and 9: The fun of a shopping trip in the Colonel's warehouse and the return of Harry and Tom to Voyager are marred by the disappearance of Sam and Tuvok and by Tom's continuing difficulties in recovering from his injuries. Sam and Tuvok find themselves in the wormhole with Haylene as their host. Tom begins to push away those who try to help him and breaks up with B'Elanna. Janeway and Chakotay ask each other about beginning a relationships. More hankies! In Chapter 9 Tom continues to have difficulty readjusting to life back on Voyager. Sam and Tuvok initiate a helping relationship with him. R for language and intense situations.
WARNINGS: RATING: R. Mostly PG-13, but turns into serious R after later parts. The R is for mature themes concerning post-traumatic stress. There's lots of Tom angst. Spoilers for 'Future's End' and any other episode ever shown! Set during end of 5th season.
DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns Voyager and its characters. Quantum Leap was a Universal television series created by Donald P. Bellisario. We've borrowed all of them with no intent for profit. (Consider the cost of the computer, the software, the Internet connection, etc.) The story is ours, copyright 1997, 1998.
ARCHIVE: Archiving is okay, just ask us. We'll probably say yes. Please keep the disclaimer and our names attached.
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CHAPTER 7 :Shopping
The warehouse storage area was organized like a warehouse store: boxes of goods lined crowded aisles; a checkout stand by the elevators provided inventory control and billing. Tarani had seen to clearing out the area for the visitors. Only two MPs remained. The area reminded Al of the PX on a military base, maybe a bit of Sam's Warehouse thrown in for class. The shopping party included Janeway, Chakotay, Al, as well as Hernandez and Johannsen, each pushing a grocery cart in front of them. The visitors from the future tried their best in front of their hosts to seem like people who had been inside a warehouse before, even a 20th Century store. They were surprised at how large and how pleasant the warehouse seemed. First to catch their eyes were electronics, but both realized that Voyager didn't have a suitable power source for these antiques. They found boxes of books stacked on tables and eagerly snatched up several of each.
"A library?" Chakotay inquired.
"Why not?" Janeway responded. "Some of the crew have said they like books. Look at these titles: 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff', 'Sole Survivor', 'Survival of the Fittest'."
"Not to mention the pictures on the covers." Chakotay had picked up two romance novels with female cleavage in great abundance.
"You're too young for that," she admonished, taking the books from him and putting them back on the table. Chakotay grinned back at her.
Smiling as a co-conspirator at Chakotay, Al put them in one of the carts as the others passed by ahead of him. Noting another bodice ripper, Al added it to the purchases, whispering, "Trust me, these are going to be considered classics someday."
Clothes were in the next aisles: jeans, sweat pants, shorts, t-shirts, cotton shirts, long and short sleeved shirts. When Kathryn looked at them quizzically, Al pointed out, "These should be really comfortable for the crew when they're off duty."
"You're right, and with replicator credits rationed, this would be a help. Let's stock up, gentlemen."
All sizes and colors were added to the groaning carts. Johannsen took the full carts to the check-out area while the others ventured into canned goods.
The food section took a serious hit from the overwhelmed shoppers. The large cans of fruit, beans, tomatoes, and to Janeway's pure delight coffee, quickly filled up several more carts for Hernandez to remove to the front of the store.
"How much do we need for 60 years for an entire crew?" Hands on her hips, Janeway surveyed the large cans of coffee.
"Probably fill an entire cargo bay," Chakotay joked.
"Not a bad idea," Janeway replied, cunning and planning reflected in the tone of her voice. "Yes. I think you're right. An entire cargo bay."
"Kathryn," he protested, "I was just kidding."
She turned a stern expression on her first officer. "I wasn't." Then she laughed at his seriousness. "Okay. Half a cargo bay."
Al stood to one side, watching the two banter with each other. He had to admit that they made an attractive couple. On previous occasions he'd had an almost knee-jerk negative reaction to their closeness. Perhaps there was something here to think about further.
The group moved on to cases of fruit juice and soda and then to fresh foods. Janeway marveled at some of the produce. "My gods, some of these are extinct."
"Make sure we give Neelix a cookbook." Chakotay suggested.
"You mean you don't want leola root mixed in with these fine vegetables?"
"Not if I can help it," Chakotay laughed.
On their way to the checkout they passed tins of cookies, foil wrapped chocolate bars, boxes of junk food of all sorts. Al encouraged them to stock up. "Trust me," he grinned, "you'll like this stuff."
After an exchange of 'why not?' shrugs, the captain and the commander helped Al load up yet another cart.
As Janeway looked at their supplies, she recognized that they'd reach the limits of what could fit in a shuttlecraft. Turning to Chakotay, she said, "More supplies could keep the crew alive and functional for months, if not years. I want to make a second trip back here for another load of supplies. With the cloaked shuttle, we can minimize the risk of exposure."
He smiled - this was Kathryn at her most generous and expansive. "Agreed. Maybe we can get some feedback from the crew as to what they'd like us to bring back. If we put all this out in the cargo bay, they could come by and decide what else they want."
It took more than $17,000 signed off by Hernandez before they were able to prepare to exit. Al was still lingering down an aisle as Chakotay surveyed the many carts of supplies, "All this shopping and we didn't use all the money that was allotted to us."
"We have the whole day tomorrow," Janeway reminded him. "Although no one told me that shopping can make your feet hurt. I'll have to come better prepared."
Chakotay groaned, "All day tomorrow, huh?"
"Hey, big guy," she teased affectionately, "think of it as a hunt."
Dimples rippling, he grinned back at her, "Some hunt."
"Maybe we can get some feedback from the crew as to what they'd like us to bring back. If we put all this out in the cargo bay, they could come by and decide what else they'd like." It was Kathryn at her most generous and expansive. Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of Al coming towards them.
"Be good for morale," Chakotay agreed, the dimples hiding and returning as he thought of the crew, and of her happy captain.
With a light touch on his arm, she explained, "Chakotay, I need you to supervise the beam up of all of this. Al and I have a few things to discuss before he disappears."
Remembering the stunt the admiral had pulled earlier in the day, Chakotay understood and set about ordering beam ups to the ship. Janeway pulled the admiral off along the wall out of earshot of the others.
"All right, Admiral," she grated out, "what happened?"
"You mean the supplies?"
"No, I mean the beaming up of my crew. You didn't tell me a word about it."
"You sound upset," he said in mock surprise. She glared at him and waited for his explanation. "Well, Captain, I didn't know how things would go. It seemed better to keep you in the dark in case you had to deny involvement with Warrington."
As Kathryn continued to glare, Al added, "And you did have to tell her you didn't know anything about it. None of this, nor that proposal would have come off otherwise. Look, Braxton agreed to cooperate. He took the shield off this base. He assured me it wasn't easy because he was in the future and 250 miles away and I don't remember what all his problems were. He had to do something on his ship to bring this off."
His words proved to mollify the captain somewhat. "Just don't do it again. Even if you do outrank me."
Al smiled, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the redhead. "I'm going back to the project."
"Sam should have leaped," Janeway echoed his interior thoughts.
"And Tuvok should be back on Voyager."
With a smack to the handlink, Al opened his door and stepped through.
Earlier, Harry, B'Elanna, Tom, and the holodoc materialized in sickbay, the holodoc holding on to Tom on one side with B'Elanna on the other. Tom had on the thin hospital gown from the base infirmary, but his body was free of the monitors and tubes it had worn on earth. With her arm around him, B'Elanna could appreciate how much he'd changed physically since he'd flown off in the shuttle. He seemed thin and haggard. She could feel his ribs through the gown. She could also feel the heat of his fever. With Harry and B'Elanna helping the doctor, Tom was carried to a nearby biobed.
As the holodoc prepared his instruments, B'Elanna could see how pale Tom had become. He seemed so still, so ill. As she watched, his eyes opened slowly and he smiled dreamily. Murmuring softly, Tom managed to say, "Hi."
"Hi, yourself, flyboy," she smiled back at him. "You're back on Voyager, Tom."
"I'm sure glad to be back," Harry told them.
Tom's gaze searched until he found Harry. He knew there was something wrong about seeing Harry, but he put it at the back of his mind. For some reason it was difficult to speak past the lump in his throat. "Me too."
The doctor swept in with a medical tricorder and began scanning Tom's body. Both the engineer and the ops officer stepped back out of the way.
"I'm gonna be all right now, huh Doc?" Tom asked hoarsely, trying but not even remotely succeeding in sounding like the cocky pilot who'd left Voyager not so long ago.
"I'll be doing my best," the doctor told him, his voice devoid of his customary smugness.
Then I'll be fine, Tom thought to himself. He was home on Voyager. B'Elanna stood nearby. He frowned as he looked at Harry. The nagging thoughts about Harry that he thought he'd pushed away didn't stay pushed. Scared, he asked of Harry, "Aren't you dead?"
"What? No, Tom, we've been over this."
"You're dead. I killed you." Tom's voice had risen. "No. Tom, listen to me. I'm alive. I'm fine."
"He's right," B'Elanna interrupted, puzzled by Tom's obvious agitation and confusion.
He shook his head, "No, you're trying to fool me."
The doctor stepped in impatiently. "Lt., we can discuss Ensign Kim's mortality at a later time."
Harry stepped back out of Tom's line of sight, thinking it might be better if his friend couldn't see him. Helping take Tom's mind off of Harry was the holodoc, who gave the young pilot something new to be afraid of when he pulled out the heavy duty regenerator. Tom tracked it with his eyes, apprehension growing as it came nearer. "What's wrong?"
The doctor's demeanor was reassuring. "I believe you may know just enough about medicine to be dangerous. Now, you're in my care and this will be over before you know it."
Those words reminded him of something he'd heard recently, but he couldn't retrieve the memory. Tom told himself once again that he would be all right and repeated to himself that this was the doctor. This was Voyager. Even though he felt very tired, very achy, very hot from a fever, and it hurt some to breathe, he wanted to say something to B'Elanna. When he called her name, it came out as almost a croak.
She heard him though and stepped closer trying to stay out of the doctor's way. "Tom?"
He reached for her and she took his hand. There was so much he wanted to tell her. His earlier upset about Harry and the holodoc's regenerator were momentarily derailed as he gazed at her. Looking into her brown eyes so intent on him, he thought he might be pulled in as the wormhole had pulled in the shuttle. He wished he could hold her to him, feel her face against his, kiss her lips, her nose, her eyelids, her forehead, feel her softness and her strength, smell her scent with her body close to his. But he could only tell her with his eyes and with inadequate words what he wanted her to know. He breathed her name, "B'Elanna." In a whisper, he added, "I missed you. . . so much."
She gave him a rueful smile and patted his head. "I am so happy that you're back." The doctor glared at her for getting in his way. "Sorry, Tom, I think the doctor wants me to move."
Reluctantly, he let her pull away from him. There would be time to talk later. Based on past experiences with being sick and injured on Voyager, he'd probably be out of sick bay in a few hours and back in his room. She would be there then, he knew she would. He felt better just thinking about seeing her there. The fatigue overtaking him was leavened by hope, by expectations for a full recovery and a resumption of his normal life. Although the problem of Harry bothered him as his mind drifted, he would have to deal with that later. For now he was too tired. The doctor's instruments hummed, he felt his body healing, and he slid into the seductiveness of sleep.
B'Elanna drew Harry back across the room, leaving the doctor to work and Tom to sleep undisturbed by their conversations. "What do you think, Harry?"
"B'Elanna, that's the second time Tom has accused me of being dead. I don't know what to think."
"The doc should fix him up, right?" Even to herself, her words sounded more upbeat than she felt.
Harry realized it was his turn to pass on the same encouragement that Sam had given him. "Yeah, I'm sure Tom will be fine." Hoping to distract her, Harry continued, "Hey. Whatever you did to get us back, I'm really glad you did it."
"Thanks, Harry. I'll tell you there were times when I thought everything was stacked against us. But we had a little help."
"From Al? The holographic admiral?"
"Yeah," she grinned. Then she looked around. "Where's Sam??"
Harry looked around as well. "Didn't he beam up with us?"
"I thought he did. Do you suppose he left sick bay when we weren't looking?" She walked back over to the doctor taking a fond look at Tom as he lay sleeping. Already she could see improvement in him as a result of the doctor's work. "Doctor?"
The holodoc didn't look at her as he held the regenerator over Tom's chest. "I'm busy right now."
"This is important. Did Sam beam up with us?"
He turned off the regenerator and turned to face her. "He should have beamed up when we did."
"Do you remember seeing him?"
"No. I don't." Turning away, he told her abruptly, "I need to get back to the lieutenant."
Something in his tone caught her attention. "Doctor. Wait. Is Tom going to be all right?"
He paused and gave her a frank appraisal, "I don't know yet, Lt."
She hadn't been prepared to hear that and snapped, "When will you know?"
He sighed, "If you keep interrupting, it may be never. You and Ensign Kim should leave now. I will call you later." He emphasized his next word, "*When* I am done."
Harry's face twisted in a grimace. Both B'Elanna and the doctor were getting testy and it was time to get out of there. He touched her elbow carefully, urging her out. As they left sick bay, Harry suggested, "Let's get some breakfast."
"I think we better try to find Sam first. Let's go the bridge and make sure he beamed up. Then we'll signal the Captain if we can't find Sam."
The doctor paused in his work and once again turned to them. "The Admiral told me we weren't to disturb the Captain. He was not sure what she would be facing down there. We're to wait until she contacts us."
"Fine," B'Elanna growled. "Now we have a holographic admiral in charge."
'She's still testy,' Harry thought, as he listened to her clipped speech. "Okay," Harry agreed. "Maybe Neelix could bring us something to eat on the bridge."
"Not if the captain found out. Which I guess she won't since we can't contact her." Greatly annoyed, B'Elanna hit her commbadge. "Torres to Sam."
There was no answer.
Once Al returned to Stallion's Gate, he stood there for a few moments in silence. Al normally liked to center himself before encountering the possible changes Sam's leaping had created in his absence. Seeing Janeway and Chakotay so close and so intimate had triggered a few conflicting emotions in him -- he was angry and agitated and if Sam was really home, he didn't want this kind of baggage to spoil the reunion with his best friend. No matter how he tried, he just couldn't suppress it or shake it off; this time he had to face what was under his skin.
It took him a moment to identify that Janeway was a painful reminder of the timeline when Beth hadn't waited for him when he was a POW. Hadn't Chakotay and Janeway left people behind? People should wait for their loved ones no matter how long it took. . . but 60 years. Al imagined himself adrift in a lifeboat in the ocean, paddling to shore for 6 decades and he shuddered. And being honest with himself, he didn't wait very long to jump back into sex and marriage after he learned of Beth's marriage. Besides, perhaps they hadn't left people in the Alpha Quadrant, perhaps they were free to be together.
Al sighed, realizing that he needed to separate his own baggage from that of others. Certainly, the captain and the commander were adults capable of making their own decisions. The fact that their attraction had gone such a short distance in four years reflected a great deal of restraint on their parts. He decided that if he ever saw them again, maybe he'd cut them a little slack. Feeling better, Al exited the imaging chamber, greeted Beth, and hoped to find that Sam had leaped. He located Braxton in the waiting room, sitting motionless, a picture of dejection. Neither Sam nor Tuvok were in the room.
"How did things go?" Braxton asked dully after Al entered the room and looked around. "My instruments said there was a transport, but . . . "
"What about Sam? Did he leap?"
"He didn't leap back. And I'm sorry, but for some reason Tuvok disappeared."
"They aren't here?"
"No. Aren't they on Voyager?"
"I don't know." Al addressed Ziggy, "Ziggy, where is Sam?"
"Dr. Beckett is not available," Ziggy responded. If a computer could sound prim, then Ziggy did.
"Where is Tuvok?"
"Commander Tuvok is not available."
"Where are they?"
"I'm sorry, Admiral," she said, this time as if there were real regret in her computer voice, "I don't know."
"Center me on Janeway."
Al found himself in the shuttle. Chakotay was piloting and he and Janeway were chatting amiably.
"Uh, Captain?" he interrupted. When he had their attention, he filled them in on the fact that both Sam and Tuvok had gone missing. Unless they were both on Voyager.
"Wait," Kathryn held up her hand, confused at Al's outpouring. "They vanished? Tuvok? Sam?"
"That's right. They're not here. They're not at the project. Ziggy can't center me on Sam."
Chakotay didn't understand. "I thought Sam was supposed to leap when we got Tom and Harry back."
"That's what I thought. Ziggy said the probability was 99.3%"
Janeway hailed Voyager and reached B'Elanna. "B'Elanna, is Sam there?"
"No, I . . . "
"What about Tuvok?"
"I'm sorry, no. Neither of them are here. Sam didn't beam up with us. We asked the computer, but got no answer on his whereabouts."
Janeway addressed the commander. "We'd better get back to Voyager."
Back on the starship, Chakotay supervised the unloading of supplies while Janeway rushed to the bridge and Al materialized shortly behind her. B'Elanna sat in the commander's chair and Harry monitored communications. B'Elanna got to her feet as the captain said, "Lt., report."
"As nearly as I could tell, all of us, including Sam, were beamed up at the same time. But Sam didn't materialize in sickbay. The doctor started to work on Tom, and Harry and I stayed around."
"I understand," the captain reassured her engineer. "How is Tom?"
"I'm not sure," she confessed. "When we realized that Sam was missing, Harry and I came up here to the bridge and the doctor told us he'd let us know when he had any news. But he hasn't said anything." Squaring her shoulders, B'Elanna confessed, "We should have been up here sooner. I'm sorry, Captain."
"I don't think it would have made any difference. Al here said neither of them were at his project." She turned her attention to Harry, "Harry. Have you found anything on the sensors?"
Chakotay entered the bridge before Harry could answer. He took in the gathering near the command chairs. "Captain? Anything?"
After Harry told her he didn't have anything yet, Janeway addressed Voyager's computer. She asked it to relate the last known presence of either man in the past 12 hours. The computer couldn't tell them. Finally, the captain asked for the origin of the beam up of Paris, Kim, Torres, the doctor, and Sam. The computer told them, "The beam-up of the first four was from Voyager. Dr. Beckett's beam up was initiated from an unknown location."
When pressed, the computer simply repeated that she had no knowledge of either Sam's or Tuvok's location.
Al cut in, "What does this mean?"
Janeway shook her head. "I don't know."
Harry saw it on his monitors. "Captain. This may be something. There's traces of chroniton particles."
"That means . . . " Chakotay began just before Kathryn finished his sentence.
"A time disturbance." She paced the bridge. "A remnant of the wormhole?"
"Definitely not," Harry replied. "The wormhole's light years away."
"A time ship?" she questioned.
"Sensors show Braxton's ship is still in its hiding place at Stallion's Gate. It hasn't been moved."
B'Elanna looked troubled. "If it is a time ship, then whose is it?"
"And when is it from?" Janeway asked in a familiar pattern of bridge communication. "Harry, see what you can find out about those chroniton particles and-"
"The doctor to Torres."
"I wanted to inform you that Lieutenant Paris is now stabilized," the doctor answered.
"Doctor," Janeway interrupted, "do you think Tom is well enough to answer a few questions?"
"He's sleeping right now, but yes, he could when he wakes up."
"Very well," the Captain continued. "I want to get a look at him. I'll be down in a few minutes. Janeway out." Turning to her crew, she continued, "Harry, you have the bridge. Hail me if you find anything. Al, please find out whatever you can from Braxton. Chakotay, you're with me." Janeway almost started to leave the bridge when she saw the engineer's face. "B'Elanna, you're relieved. I imagine there's someone in sickbay you'd like to see."
Al stepped into his door, hoping he could remember the name of the particles to tell them to Braxton.
Janeway and Chakotay headed toward sickbay. Chakotay watched her walk on feet that seemed tired. When he commented on it, she confided, "I am tired and, yes, my feet hurt."
"All that shopping," Chakotay teased.
"Not to mention lack of sleep, diplomatic initiatives, a missing security chief, and a pilot in sickbay."
Chakotay lost his grin. "I wonder how Tom's doing?"
"I guess we'll see in a minute."
They stopped in the empty corridor, facing each other. Chakotay softly touched her cheek. "I'm sure Tom will be all right. So will Tuvok."
She placed her hand on top of his. "Thanks, Chakotay. I hope you're right."
He knew she was bone tired and leaned down to kiss her cheek.
She smiled up at him. "Feeling better already."
As she headed down the corridor, she wondered if Tom would like a little shopping in the warehouse. Perhaps the doctor would let him go with them if the young man was feeling better. Of course, she was being optimistic that Sam and Tuvok would be found and that there indeed would be a shopping trip.
Since she and Chakotay had taken their time getting to sickbay, B'Elanna beat them there and intercepted the captain at the door. Janeway asked, "Tom?
"How is he?"
The engineer looked back at Tom and bit her lip. "He's . . . not so good."
Janeway sighed. It didn't look as if Tom would be going shopping with them.
"What is it?" B'Elanna asked.
Janeway shook off her question. "I'm just tired."
On sore feet she moved slowly over to Tom's bed with Chakotay and B'Elanna, and gazed down at him as he slept. His face was still pale, only faint traces remained of the earlier bruises, but even in sleep, he seemed troubled and restless. She whispered, "Sleep well," and sought out the doctor in his office.
"Captain," he noted. "If you're here about Lt. Paris, there's not much more that I can tell you. He is out of immediate danger, but there are still some serious problems. Even though I have tried some recommended medications, he is and has been depressed and confused."
Before the doctor could continue, Chakotay came in and said, "Tom's awake."
She followed Chakotay out of the office and over to Tom's bed. "Welcome back, Tom."
"I'm sorry, Captain," he told her.
"You've nothing to be sorry for."
"I crashed the shuttle. I'm so sorry about Harry. I got us involved in local affairs . . ." He saw that she didn't understand his feelings of guilt. "I . . . it's all my fault, Captain. I should have been more careful."
Troubled by Tom's obvious inability to let go of the guilt he'd assumed, Janeway touched his shoulder. "We'll talk about all of this later when you've had a chance to recover."
She turned to the holodoc, an obvious question on her face. Chakotay stayed with Tom while the Captain, B'Elanna and the holodoc moved out of Tom's earshot. Needing more information than she got before Tom woke, she asked her question out loud. "Well? How is he?"
"I worked on him for hours, Captain. As I told you, I've tried several medications. At this point, I was hoping that sleep would do him some good, but there's still several hours of repairs to be made." As the holodoc spoke, B'Elanna winced. It sounded as if the doctor planned to work on a piece of equipment, not the young man she had come to love. "And since he's been my prime assistant after Kes left, it may take even longer."
"Doctor. *Will* Tom be all right?"
'In what universe?' The holodoc asked himself. "Yes and no. Yes, I can fix almost all of his physical injuries. In fact, the broken bones are healing nicely."
"Then what's the problem?"
"Neurological functions. He sustained two concussions in rapid succession, one on the shuttle and another when it crashed. There's some permanent alterations that I can't reverse. Too much time has passed."
"What about Seven's procedures? She brought Neelix back after he'd been dead for 18 hours," Janeway reminded him.
"I asked her. Adapting Borg technology, she was able to restart Neelix's main neurological functions and the gross systems eventually regenerated the smaller pathways in his brain. But with Tom we're talking about some very subtle fluctuations in bioelectrical and biochemical functioning that have altered his neuronal pathways, so any intervention at this level has to be precise. Only time will tell how these changes have affected him and if he can work around them. However, I'm expecting Seven momentarily. We're going to try some additional work on his brain."
"When can he return to work?"
"Soon, I hope."
They returned to Tom's bedside. She smiled reassuringly down at him. "The holodoc tells me you're going to be all right. That you'll be able to be back at work soon."
Having the captain hover over his bed had at first been anxiety provoking -- after all, he had so much to confess to her. But he had been glad to hear her words of comfort even if he didn't absolve himself of the guilt he felt. Now, he felt as if she was making demands and pressuring him to be well when he felt so bad. Her final words about going back to work pushed him over the edge. His heart started racing, his ears were ringing, and his chest felt tight and constricted. His breath began to come out in short pants and his stomach roiled.
"Doctor, what's wrong?" the captain's concerned voice could be heard just barely above the roaring in his ears.
"Panic attack," the holodoc answered and reached for a hypospray. Tom had started to gag before the hypospray reached him.
After the doctor's shot, Tom's breathing began to slow down although the fear lingered in his eyes. And he worried that he might be sick. The captain asked him, "What is it, Tom?"
"C -- can't," Tom stuttered.
"Can't fly," he gasped. "I can't fly."
Janeway was stunned. "What do you mean, 'you can't fly'?"
Tom's lips trembled as if he might cry. But with the help of the hypospray, he pulled himself together. In a voice hollow with shock, he told her, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I know I can't do it." His voice began to break, "I can't fly. You can't make me. I won't go through it again."
He searched her face and saw what he'd expected. Distress and shock. He turned away from his captain, the woman who'd given him a second chance. It was over.
Holodoc tried to calm her, "Please, Captain, don't upset him any more than he already is."
"Tom," she said to his back, "you're the best pilot I've ever seen! I don't understand."
"I'm sorry, Captain, I believe you'll have to take that up with him later."
Tom wouldn't look at her, finding refuge in the doctor's words.
Stunned, Janeway started to walk away. The doctor noticed her favoring her sore feet and ordered her to let him check them briefly. With a rueful grin, she gave in to his ministrations and tuned out his scolding words. Chakotay waited for her and then they headed back to the bridge together. Outside sickbay, Chakotay told her, "I'm sure its just a temporary reaction to the shuttle crash."
Remembering Tom's haunted look before he turned away from her, Janeway asked him, "What if it's not?"
He had no answer for her.
In sickbay, B'Elanna stared at Tom's back. He wouldn't face her or talk to her. B'Elanna tried to touch his shoulder, but his hand pushed hers away.
"Tom, please, talk to me," she pleaded.
"G'way," he mumbled.
The holodoc glared at her. "You're upsetting my patient. You must leave now."
On her way in to sick bay, Seven passed B'Elanna on her way out. When B'Elanna stopped the other woman, Seven's blue eyes were large saucers of impassivity. "Yes?"
B'Elanna shuffled her feet uncomfortably. "Look. I know that we haven't always gotten along in Engineering. It's . . . "
"It's your territory," Seven finished for her, surprising B'Elanna with her understanding.
"Yes. And Tom . . ."
"Is also your territory."
"Yes. No." The engineer took a deep breath. "He's not 'mine'. But I care for him very much. I want him to be all right." The admission to Seven had cost her, but it was for Tom.
"I will do my best," Seven assured her, realizing it was unnecessary in this context because she would have done her best without B'Elanna's intercession. However, somehow Seven understood she should reassure the dark-haired woman. She tried out an unfamiliar phrase, "I promise."
Her guilessness was so genuine that B'Elanna immediately stifled the ping of jealousy attempting to derail her. She nodded to the tall blonde and said, "Thanks, Seven. I'll be in the mess hall if there's any news."
In sickbay, Seven and the holodoc worked on healing Tom's head injuries as completely as they could. He remained conscious for their procedures so they could be certain of the location of their work. For his part, Tom's cooperation was negligible. The holodoc finally had to speak up. "Lieutenant. You are making this more difficult than it needs to be. You don't want to move when we tell you and you don't want to be still when we need you to be still. You yourself have worked on the sick and injured and you should know how important patient compliance is to the healing process."
"Do what you have to do," Tom replied in a dull tone. At that point he really didn't care whether they fixed him or not. He almost missed the pain that for the past several days had been his constant companion and his punishment for his mistakes. He was ready to be left alone to grieve for his losses. He did not want an audience and the last audience he would have wanted was this pair. Tom heard them talking quietly, but didn't know what they were talking about, which upset him even more.
Tom's face flushed. His anger raged. "Stop talking about me! Leave me alone! You've no right to try to manipulate me!"
"I was not manipulating you," she protested. "I was treating you. If you do not allow me to do so, you will not recover."
The holodoc waved her off and spoke quietly to her. Seven nodded and seemed to agree to adopting the silent strategy that had served her so well for so long. However, the holodoc could not let Tom off so easily. He recalled how much cooperation Sam had gained from others when he used their names. Softening his voice, he explained, "Tom, we need your cooperation. The work we're doing now on your brain is very delicate and we have a limited window of opportunity here. You need to achieve some calm and hold yourself still. I do not want to have to restrain you. But I can put up a forcefield on the biobed to hold you in place, much like we did for Neelix when he had holographic lungs."
Tom went white at the threat from the holodoc, "Please," he begged softly, "please don't."
"Another way to do this a neuroleptic paralyzer you'd stay awake and know everything that was happening to you, you just wouldn't be able to move."
"No, that's worse! I don't want that!" Tom's panic began to rise again and the doctor knew he'd have to choose the last option, whether his patient wanted it or not.
"The last alternative is a hypospray to put you under." Again, the holodoc invoked his new, gentle subroutine. "I would prefer not to use any medication because I want to know what you are experiencing as we work. But if that's what's needed to keep you still, then that's what I'll do."
Tom searched the doctor's face fearfully. He swallowed and gave his permission for the hypospray. He whispered, "It'd be better that way."
"Fine. Hold still one last time." The doctor administered the hypospray.
"Well," the holodoc said a little sadly once Tom was sedated, "that was quite a display."
"I don't understand. Did I say something wrong?" Seven asked. "I've been told that I'm probably not the best person to answer questions like that."
Tom slept through the exchange.
At Stallion's Gate, Braxton had a tough time convincing the admiral that he had an urgent message for the captain of Voyager. "Let me get this straight," Al clarified, "you want me to pull you in tandem with me to speak to Janeway yourself."
"Why don't you just get in your time ship and go see her yourself?"
Braxton tried to keep his impatience in check. "I used more than my margin of safety of fuel to get this information. If I go back in time to Voyager, I won't have enough to get home."
"The energy consumption here is tremendous. We've only done this in real emergencies. It's possible we'll shut down power in half of the west."
"It's important, Admiral. When I deliver my message I'll be leaving."
"What about Sam?"
"You'll be there when I tell Janeway."
"Tell me now," Al demanded.
"Admiral, the more time we waste here, the harder it will be to retrieve Sam and Tuvok. If I can do this once with you and Captain Janeway, we can start acting sooner. It's your best chance."
"All right. All right." Al gave in. He wanted to hear this.
Janeway had just settled in her bed when she was hailed from the bridge. "Janeway."
"Captain," a voice she vaguely recognized came over the comm. "I believe you should come to the bridge. The . . . Admiral? . . . is here."
"Have the Admiral taken to my ready room. Let Commander Chakotay know."
She threw on some clothes and beat Chakotay to the ready room by only a few minutes. Both were startled to see the Admiral reach out his hand and be joined by Captain Braxton.
"Captain Janeway, Commander Chakotay." Braxton greeted them. His form seemed to waver slightly as the power fluctuated at Stallion's Gate. "I have important news for you. I've located Tuvok and Sam."
"Where are they?" Janeway asked as Al voiced the same question.
"You need to go to the wormhole that brought you here."
"It's light years away and . . ."
"It's only a week away at warp 7.5. The wormhole is anchored in the Delta Quadrant and will take you back where you were before you blindly followed the shuttle here."
He disappeared entirely when Al dropped his hand. Janeway motioned to the admiral to get him back. Once Braxton reappeared, Janeway asked, "Why do you want us to go there? You could just open a rift the way you did two years ago."
Braxton became impatient with her. "Captain. Listen to me. I can't do that for you and still get home myself. That's why I'm appearing this way. I used my ship to track down your security chief and Dr. Beckett."
"What are you saying?" she asked.
"You'll find them at the wormhole."
Al gave the time traveler his most skeptical look. "Really?"
"Just go. Get there in a week. You'll have just enough time to go through before the wormhole collapses."
"Do you have any proof?"
"I transferred my information to the admiral's handlink and he can download it to your PADD."
"I don't know, Captain," Janeway told him. "How can those men be there?"
"You need to trust me. That's where I traced them."
"All right. We'll check out your story."
"You must go, Captain, and you must leave at once."
"We have more supplies to obtain tomorrow."
"You'll have to forego those supplies. I'm sorry."
"Where exactly are Tuvok and Sam?"
"At the wormhole. I'm sure you'll find them. If you don't do as I've directed, the time police will be back here in force and they won't be happy. Goodbye, Captain."
Al let go of the time traveler's hand and remained behind briefly. "I don't have much time, this kind of communication takes up enormous power."
"What do you make of all this, Al?"
"I was going to ask you the same thing. You've had experience with him before."
Chakotay pointed out, "The man doesn't have that great a reputation with us."
"But he seems so sure of himself." Al responded.
"He was pretty sure he had to blow us to bits the last time we saw him," Janeway remembered. "But if Tuvok and Sam are there . . . "
"How will Sam get home?" Al wanted to know.
"I don't know if he will," Chakotay said, "not if we have to go back to the Delta Quadrant 400 hundred years in the future."
Al was silent.
"What is it, Al?" she asked
"I always thought he'd come back home."
"Maybe we'll find a way to get him to you."
Al blinked a few times. "Tell him I said hi and that he'd better get his butt back here as soon as possible."
"This is goodbye then," he added.
"For now," she qualified. "Can you let Colonel Warrington know we were called away?"
"I will. She'll be pleased to know you didn't take all the supplies out of her warehouse."
Chakotay and Al took care of the business of passing along Braxton's information from the handlink to the PADD.
Before going through his door, Janeway stopped him and gave him a hug. "Thank you, Al, for everything. If we can get Sam back to you we will."
Al hugged her back. "Thank you, Kathryn. And you, Chakotay." As he planned to leave, he turned back one last time. "Did anyone ever tell you two that you make a nice couple?"
Startled, the two officers exchanged grins. Trying to be brave in the face of this interpersonal challenge, Janeway told him, "No. No one has."
"You've probably thought about it," Al added.
"I got the impression you didn't approve," Chakotay said.
"I didn't. But I've changed my mind. I was applying rules for the wrong time and wrong circumstances." Al shook the man's hand. "Good luck, both of you."
Al disappeared and Chakotay turned to Kathryn. "That man is full of surprises."
"Where are we?" Sam asked, looking around in wonder.
He found himself and Tuvok standing in a large, softly lit room, slightly fuzzy at the edges. The walls were a soft silvery white, the light diffused throughout the ceiling. The floor was smooth and grey. Functional arrangements of furniture divided the spacious room: a couch and chairs of soft grey leather-like material, a table and straight back chairs placed near a replicator, an opening to bathroom facilities near two doors that appeared to lead to bedrooms. All of it was impersonal and had the appearance of space that had never been lived in. It reminded both Sam and Tuvok of the waiting room at the quantum leap project at Stallion's Gate.
"Am I me?" Sam added once he realized that he was looking at Tuvok. "Oh, boy. This is awkward. I've never been me and met the person I leaped into. Does that make sense?"
"Yes. And you indeed appear to be yourself as I myself am restored to my own body. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Dr. Beckett."
"Sam. Same here, Commander." Having inhabited Tuvok's body he knew better than to offer to shake hands with the Vulcan. "So. Where are we?"
Tuvok looked around and noted the absence of windows. He walked over to the entry door but nothing happened and there were no visible controls to activate a door. No doorknob, an adornment he'd gotten used to at Stallion's Gate. Frowning slightly, he walked to the door of the bathroom and peered inside. A mirror reflected his image back to him and he noted that he appeared unchanged from his body having been occupied by someone else. He realized he wasn't wearing his Starfleet uniform as he had been when Sam had leaped into him so many days earlier. His clothing was similar to what he'd worn at Stallion's Gate. Both he and Sam wore loose fitting white tunics over pull-on white pants, both in a soft fabric. Comfortable white shoes and socks completed their outfits save for elastic white bands around their heads. Sam had taken his band off and was curiously turning it over and over in his hands. "I wonder what this is?"
Leaving his band in place, Tuvok fingered cloth-like fabric that seemed to emit faint emanations into his brain, or perhaps it was out of his brain and into the band. He couldn't be sure. He thought, 'that's strange'.
'Yes, it is', Sam thought back. Then both realized that they had communicated without words. Aloud, Sam wondered, "How did that happen?"
"I'm telepathic," Tuvok reminded him. "But when I occupied your body I detected no such abilities in you."
"I've never had any abilities like that," Sam acknowledged. "I don't understand what's going on. Do you know where we are? I mean, I've heard of your holodecks, could this be a simulation?"
"I don't believe so," Tuvok considered, "but I can't discount your hypothesis. It is also possible that this is a counterpart to your waiting room."
"Yeah, I guess there is a resemblance. But, we can't leave. We don't really know where 'here' is, we have no way of communicating with anyone except ourselves."
"You are correct that we have no communication device that I'm familiar with, but this band . . . I believe it allows us to communicate telepathically with each other."
Their attention was drawn to the center of the room where a blue light coalesced into a pale, white robbed figure who stood shimmering before them. She had flowing white hair, a lived in face that wrinkled around the eyes and mouth. Her skin was a pale, silvery blue and her eyes were silver. "Gentlemen."
Having dealt with Q and other surprising entities, Tuvok waited patiently whereas Sam fidgeted, finally crossing his arms across his chest as he addressed the alien. "Where are we?"
She held up a hand, palm out. "I will gladly answer your questions. You are at my home. I hope you will be comfortable here."
"And here is . . . ?"
"In due time, Dr. Beckett."
He tried not to show his surprise that she knew his name. "You can call me Sam."
Tuvok broke in on the exchange. "Who are you?"
She smiled, revealing large white teeth. "I am called Haylene."
"What system are you from?"
She smiled again, blue skin darkening. Tuvok picked up a thought 'the wormhole' as Sam felt an infusion of emotions: warmth, reassurance, liking. She said, "Yes. My people live in what you call wormholes and what the Bajoran religion calls the Celestial Temple."
Sam blinked and nonverbally checked out what he'd heard with Tuvok. Tuvok asked her, "Are you a Prophet?"
Sam puzzled over his question, not knowing what Tuvok meant. An Old Testament Prophet seemed somewhat far fetched, considering that those prophets lived a long time ago on a planet that was not Tuvok's native home. Of course, Tuvok could have come from a planet with prophets as well. Accepting his lack of understanding, Sam thought this whole experience had taken on an unreal quality.
"If you mean the Prophets from the wormhole at what you designate as Deep Space 9, then the answer is no. Our wormhole is more sophisticated than theirs because of what we do, looking into corporeal worlds without revealing our own existence, but it may therefore appear more unstable to others."
"Then are you part of the Q continuum?" Tuvok queried.
"No." Her colors swirled and muddied to a dusky blue. With some disdain, she told him, "We are quite aware of the havoc caused by the Q. They are not us."
Sam decided his confusion wasn't going to clear up anytime soon so he just listened to the exchange, committing the back and forth to memory for later review. Haylene explained that as corporeal beings traveled through their home, she and her companions were attracted by any strong emotions. They had found Tom Paris' emotions to be particularly unsettling. They were accustomed to corporeal displays of emotionality; however, Tom's were exceptionally intense and erratic. Such emotions were retained as traces in their home. She elaborated that when they realized that Tuvok was telepathic as well as in pursuit of the smaller craft, this discovery allowed them to follow the tumultuous emotional trail of Tom Paris.
Subsequently, she and her fellow entities followed his journey undetected through shielded telepathic projection as their wormhole moved through the Alpha Quadrant away from Earth. They had been further startled when Sam had leaped into Tuvok and sent Tuvok to Stallion's Gate several years into the future. Such duality of corporeal existence had been truly intriguing. When Sam was about to leap, they had transported the pair to Haylene's home. She explained that they were in a time stasis in the wormhole. The 'home' had been constructed by mental effort to make them comfortable with familiar up and down coordinates and accommodations.
"What do you want with us?" Tuvok asked.
Tom woke up slowly. His mental inventory of his physical condition told him that his body had recovered from its punishment in the shuttle crash. Opening his eyes, he found himself still in sickbay in a biobed. His mouth was cottony dry and he licked his lips trying to restore some moisture to their chapped surfaces. Lights in the room were dim, probably quarter power or less. He wanted to use the restroom, he wanted to dress in his own clothes, shave in his own bathroom; he wanted to be able to function once again as an adult.
But he remembered very clearly that he had told the captain that he couldn't pilot Voyager anymore. What would that do to his status on the ship? Would all the old hatreds surface again? What would it do to his relationship with B'Elanna? Wouldn't she think him weak and cowardly? After all, she was half Klingon and had been raised in a culture for whom honor was everything.
Maybe he could try to pilot the ship again, but as he thought the words, the image of the shuttle crash exploded in his mind like a time bomb. He felt shaky and nauseous, barely able to stave off the gagging that had begun to choke at him. "Dear gods," he whimpered,"I can't even think about it."
His inarticulate murmurings brought the holodoc to his side. "Lt. Paris. I see that you're awake."
"Can I get out of this thing?"
"You seem pale and sweaty. Perhaps more observation is in order."
"No, godammit! Let me get the hell out of here!!!" Tom shouted, his once hoarse vocal chords fully restored.
"There is no need for profanity nor for raising your voice," the holodoc chastised him.
"Just let me go," Tom begged, the pleading in his voice revealing more than he'd really wanted to.
"Only if one of your friends escorts you to your room. You're to remain in bed for the next two days. We've done all we can here, but you still have a lot of recovery work ahead of you. From what I understand, you've been having nightmares so I'm going to set up the computer to monitor your room for signs of distress. It will signal me if I'm needed."
"What do you mean?" Tom asked, mollified that he could leave, but suspicious of the doctor's qualifier.
"Lieutenant, you suffered considerable trauma that wasn't helped by the long delay in getting you adequate medical care." The holodoc softened his tone. "You just need some time. Now," he added cheerfully, "who would you like me to call to help you to your quarters? B'Elanna? Harry?"
Tom winced when the holodoc mentioned B'Elanna, his recent worries still reverberating in his mind, but he outright flinched when the holodoc mentioned Harry. "No," he whispered. "No. Don't call them. I can make it."
"Very well," the holodoc said and chirped the comm badge for Chakotay. "Commander, please report to sickbay to escort Lt. Paris to his quarters."
Tom reacted badly. "No! Not him!"
"I'm sorry, Lt. Would you rather I called security?"
"I hate you for this," Tom told him sullenly, recognizing the childishness of his words, but failing to prevent them from being spoken.
The doctor decided to let Tom's outburst go without comment. He went about the business of releasing Tom from sickbay, including attaching a biological monitor to the back of his neck. When Tom sat up, the blood drained from his head and he almost fainted. The doctor told him, "Put your head down and breathe easily. There you go."
It was in this head bowed position that Chakotay found the pilot. "Tom?"
Tom looked up slowly not willing to risk a repeat of lightheadedness. He regarded his commander balefully. "Fine. I'm fine. Take me to my prison."
Chakotay didn't know if Tom was joking or serious. "Can I give you a hand?"
"I think I can still walk," Tom snapped and shrugged off Chakotay's offered hand.
He failed to notice the look of inquiry Chakotay directed at the holodoc as he negotiated the task of getting to his feet. Once again, he felt lightheaded and reached for the bed with his hand to steady himself. A few moments of holding still helped and he started out of the sickbay without a glance back at the doctor.
"You're welcome," the holodoc said to Tom's back as Tom went out the door.
Once again Chakotay checked back with the holodoc who gave him a 'your guess is as good as mine' shrug. Chakotay shook his head and followed his charge out the doors of sickbay. He sensed that Tom was an emotional minefield with unknown triggers and unfathomably dark feelings. Remembering Tom's condition when he'd been rescued from the Akriterian prison, Chakotay realized that the pilot's recovery from that experience had been a piece of cake compared to this. He wondered what would work to help restore Tom to mental health.
Safely in his room, but with Chakotay hovering nearby, Tom checked out his quarters visually. Trembling from exhaustion or from some emotion he couldn't identify, Tom stumbled on his way to his neatly made bed. Before he could recover on his own, Chakotay was by his side helping to steady him.
Annoyed for reasons he didn't understand, Tom shook off the first officer's hand and sank down heavily on his bed. His eyes refused to meet Chakotay. Dully, he told the floor, "I'm tired."
Chakotay heard the dismissal in Tom's tone and started to leave. "Okay. I'll be going then."
Near the door, Chakotay turned back. Tom hadn't moved from his contemplation of the floor. The younger man's posture spoke volumes about his dejected emotional state. Chakotay decided to risk an offer of help, one he felt likely would be turned down. But he needed to say it nonetheless.
"Tom. I'd like to help you if you'd let me," he said with quiet sincerity.
The bleak expression on Tom's face when he finally looked up told Chakotay all he needed to know. A faint sneer marred Tom's face. "Gee, thanks," he said with undisguised sarcasm.
"I mean it. I want to help." Chakotay told himself to be patient, that Tom was trying to push him away and that he shouldn't rise to the bait. He tried another tact, referring to their mutual past involving the Maquis. "I used to think you'd sold your soul for liquor and sex."
That got Tom's attention. His face white, Tom glared blue lasers at the commander. "Used to think. . . ?"
"But I think I got it wrong. You sold your soul to fly, to be a pilot. Tom. You're a born pilot." From Tom's reaction, Chakotay realized that he'd chosen his words very poorly and tried to get back to his offer to help. "If you believe that a spirit guide can lead you back to your love of piloting, I'm offering to take you on that journey."
Stung, Tom reacted angrily to the first part of Chakotay's statement and didn't hear the last part. In a deadly quiet voice, he ordered, "Get out."
Wanting to kick himself, Chakotay knew with hindsight that Tom hadn't been nearly ready to hear him, certainly not the clumsy way he'd put it. The commander gave up and turned to go.
Rising from his bed, Tom had last words for Chakotay. "Stay out. Stay out of my room, stay out of my past, and stay out of my life!"
Chakotay bit back all the things he wanted to say. Instead, he apologized in the softest voice he could muster, "I'm sorry if I upset you, Tom. I only want to help."
Once Chakotay was finally out of his quarters, Tom flung himself across the bed face down. His fist pounded the mattress as he tried to understand what was wrong with him. He had just antagonized the hell out of someone whose only offense had been an offer to help him. It had been a long time since he'd felt this badly about himself. Voices in his head began to taunt him. Aloud, Tom said, "Stop it, just shut up!"
Chakotay returned to the bridge and took Tom's position at the helm. The viewscreen showed the moon's grey surface and behind it the large blue and white sphere of Earth. He checked with Harry and the Captain. Coordinates were laid in, a course was plotted that would avoid all known space faring systems. Janeway told him to go ahead at half impulse until they were out of Sol's system.
Earth became more like a very bright star in the viewscreen and less like a vibrant, occupied planet. "Engaging warp," Chakotay announced. Janeway and her first officer exchanged glances that spoke silently of the mixed emotions elicited by their close brush with getting the crew home.
Finally, Earth could no longer be seen at all.
On Earth's surface, in the dusty section of West Texas near New Mexico, two isolated figures stood together on the heat shimmered surface of the deserted tarmac of the air base. Sparkling silvery in the direct sunlight, a rental car stood parked nearby. One of the figures was a tall, lanky man in his thirties with dark hair and hazel eyes, the other figure was younger, a petite redheaded woman with blue eyes. In their dark suits, the man and woman looked incongruous in the vast openness of the west. The woman shaded her eyes against the glare of the crystal clear blue skies. She knew her partner in the FBI was upset. Although she suspected that he wanted to believe uncritically in Warrington, there had been too many disappointments. Suspecting he was experiencing another unraveling of his beliefs, she knew there was nothing she could do or say that would help him.
"Let's go," she urged. "We got what we came for."
"Sure we did. A video of a pointy earned, so-called alien with green blood?" he asked, sarcasm shaping his tone. "If it wasn't a fake. . ."
"We have a vial of that green blood," she pointed out, "I know you wanted more. But it was a solid lead. C'mon, let's go."
Shoulders slumped in disappointment, the man headed toward the passenger side of the car, knowing that now was not the time to complain any more. If he did, he might regret it later. As usual, his partner's common sense prevailed. She was right. They did have something. And what was in that vial looked nothing like the toxic green substance they'd seen before. But, as usual, the alien they sought was gone now.
The woman got out the keys and slid behind the driver's seat. The car trailed a cloud of red dust as it headed back to the city's airport. As she drove, the woman wondered what would have happened had they been able to talk to the reported alien. She sighed to herself. Until he had what he wanted, her partner would never be satisfied with only small pieces, pieces of possibly differing puzzles that might never fit together.
Haylene tried to form an acceptable answer to her guest's question about why they were in her 'home'. "You, Mr. Tuvok, have very disciplined mental abilities, something which we appreciate a great deal. Yet you recently experienced a chaotic challenge to these abilities when a being from another species underwent her transformation from a corporeal to a noncorporeal being."
"Kes," Tuvok acknowledged and waited for further explanation.
"Yes. We know of Kes," Haylene smiled at him.
Sam tried to follow the conversation with its references to experiences he'd never had. At the mention of Kes, Sam realized he'd read a great deal about her on Voyager's logs. "Is she one of you?"
Haylene extended her smile, her blue skin darkening to a deep lapis. Once again Sam felt suffused with her warmth. "A very perceptive question, Sam. But no." She smiled again and thought for a moment about how to respond to his question. "I gather you now appreciate that there are many species of corporeal beings?"
Sam nodded, not having quite thought of it that way before. But Voyager's crew and her computer banks reflecting encounters with aliens affirmed her observation. "I guess it hadn't really occurred to me to think that there would be so many different kinds of beings."
"Understandable. Your culture has had so little contact with aliens and when it has, those contacts generally have been trivialized, covered up, and been made the object of humiliating humor and pain. No, you'd have had no reason to even wonder about aliens. But here is my point, Sam. As many forms of corporeal beings that there are in the multiverses, there are at least 20 times that many kinds of noncorporeal beings."
She noticed Sam's understanding of the concept, even if his mind stumbled over the idea of multiverses. Tuvok seemed to assimilate the revelation with ease, his facile mind making rapid connections. Tuvok asked, "Is one of the noncorporeal species responsible for Sam's leaping?"
Tuvok found himself fascinated at the way her skin shade faded to a lusterless pale grey blue. She avoided his question. "Well. Enough for now. The replicator will provide you with food and beverages as well as other items you may need for your stay with us."
Sam came back to Tuvok's original question. It was a question that echoed the one he always asked Al at the beginning of a leap. Fingering his head band, he inquired, "Why are we here?"
Haylene smiled, her skin now glowing blue green. "All in good time. We are waiting for the others."
Without using the door, she vanished.
"Uh, goodbye," Sam said needlessly. He noticed the inner warmth he associated with Haylene's presence had disappeared along with the alien herself. "What others?"
"Interesting," Tuvok reflected. "What others? Her companions? Another species? Voyager?"
"So, we don't know who we're waiting for. But I still don't understand why we're here."
"I have too little information to answer that. But I gather we are in the wormhole through which the shuttle and Voyager went from the Delta Quadrant to the Alpha Quadrant."
"And went back in time?" Sam asked.
"That too," Tuvok confirmed. "Before you leaped into me I had been monitoring the wormhole. As I recall, it appeared to move in the brief time I had to watch it. Extrapolating, I would suggest that we are a number of light years from Earth."
"Light years, huh?" Sam repeated and sat down. He'd never leaped that far. "You know, I thought I'd be happy to stop leaping. I assumed I'd be back to my own time and place." Remembering brought a lump to his throat. "I have . . . I have wife, Donna, at Stallion's Gate."
Tuvok had met her, a concerned, dark haired woman, lonely for her husband. Sam continued, "At least I hope I still have a wife."
"You do," Tuvok assured him. "She misses you."
"Thanks," Sam murmured as he tried to conjure up a memory of what she looked and sounded like. He found his photographic memory failing him when suddenly her image sprang fully formed in his mind. 'Tell Sam I love him', her voice said. He looked at Tuvok, realizing the Vulcan had been responsible for the contact. In his mind, once again, he thanked the man.
'There is no need to thank me', Tuvok responded telepathically. He withdrew mentally and physically to leave the human alone with the now retrievable memories of his wife.
Chakotay found B'Elanna isolated in engineering engrossed in readouts flashing across a console near the warp core. He called her name softly, but she startled anyway. Chakotay wished he had some easier news for the chief engineer.
"What is it?" she asked quickly.
He hesitated. Maybe telling her about Tom wasn't such a good idea.
"Is it Tom?"
He nodded and regretted the fear he saw in her eyes. "I just finished my shift. Earlier I walked Tom from sickbay to his room. I think . . . I don't know. . . "
"How did he seem?" she asked.
"Angry. Confused. Tired." Chakotay tried to get to the reason for his visit. "B'Elanna, I'm not one to pry into your relationship with Tom."
She smiled, "And here I thought you didn't approve."
He ducked his head in embarrassment. "I care about you."
"O-okay," she drew out the word slowly, not sure where he was going.
"If you and Tom are close. . . " he saw the acknowledgement in her face, "I think . . . I think he's going to need a lot of patience."
"Patience? You've really latched on to my strong suit there, Chakotay," she replied.
He smiled at her obvious irony. "Don't I know."
"You think I should do something?"
"Just be there when he needs you."
"I will," she agreed. "I will. Thanks."
As soon as she could make arrangements with Carey to go off shift, B'Elanna headed towards Tom's quarters. Squaring her shoulders, she rang for access. When he didn't answer, she rang again. The last time she'd seen him, in sickbay, he'd pushed her away. She was determined not to let him get away with it. She had missed him and wanted him to know just how much she still cared.
"Who's there?" Tom's voice asked over her comm badge.
"B'Elanna. Okay if I come in?"
There was a long silence, then he appeared at the door tying a blue robe around himself and looking quizzically at her.
"Can I come in?" she repeated.
"Yeah. Now would be good." She watched him struggle with something and lightly added, "It'd be better if I kissed you inside of your room rather than out here."
He seemed startled and then pleased as he backed away to allow her inside. Once the doors slid closed behind her, B'Elanna reached up and cupped his head in her hands. Bringing his face closer to her, she stood on tiptoes and kissed him. Her lips brushed his, then firmed and opened, her tongue darting inside his warm mouth. At first he responded by kissing her back, his hands rising up to hold her head to his face. But then he abruptly broke off the kiss and staggered away, mumbling, "No, no."
She saw his fear struggle with lust for control of his emotions. When she saw that fear had won, she reached out her hand and placed it on his arm. She wanted to tell him it was all right, but the words apparently didn't come out right. "It's okay, Tom."
"What's okay?" he challenged. "That I stopped kissing you? That's okay, is it?"
Chakotay had told her he would need patience. "Why . . . why don't we sit down?"
He folded his long body on the couch, arms crossed over his chest. She sat near him, but carefully chose a spot that kept their bodies from touching. She asked, "What was it like?"
"Earth? B'Elanna, I didn't see anything. Most of the time I didn't even know where I was."
"So what's the problem?" she asked, keeping her tone light.
"Tom. It's me. B'Elanna. No bull. Right?"
He looked down at the floor, uncrossed and recrossed his arms, stretched out his legs, and sighed heavily. He didn't look at her. There was so much he could tell her. About the nightmares, about the abject terror he felt when he thought about flying, about himself. He knew he was no longer the man she'd fallen in love with. He didn't know if he could take it when she discovered who he now was. And when she did find out, she would leave him and think him a coward and a fraud. But the words he thought of telling her choked in his throat and he couldn't say them. She almost didn't hear him when he finally spoke, his voice was so soft, so lost. "No. Just go. B'Elanna . . . oh, gods. I can't see you anymore."
His voice was anguished and his body language told her he was in terrible emotional pain. His face flushed as he stood up on shaky legs.
"Talk to me, Tom," she warned.
Why wasn't she out of there? Raising his voice, he grated out each word, "Go. Leave. Now."
He turned away from her, but she grabbed his arm. Her voice rose and raised him a level. "Look at me and tell me what this is all about!"
Tom read these words as a command rather than the permission to open up that he needed. He felt threatened and sensed his worst fears of being found out were being confirmed. What could he say that would make her leave? Gods knew he didn't want to hurt her, but she was so stubborn. If she stayed, she would eventually break him and make him tell her everything he wanted to keep hidden. Almost without realizing what he was saying, he accused, "You have no right! Who do you think you are, anyway? You don't really care! You left me there!"
"Where? What the hell are you talking about?"
"On earth. How long was I there? Do you have any idea what that was like?"
"Of course I know how long you were there! I stayed up for days trying to find a way to bring you back. You and Harry were the only thing I thought about. I. . .we tried and tried to rescue you and didn't give up," she challenged. B'Elanna had been through an ordeal of her own and was running out of patience with him.
"Well, you should have tried harder!" He understood that not only was he shouting but he was hurting her with his words. He didn't want to say them, but they came tumbling out before he could stop them. "I kept waiting, thinking that soon, soon, Voyager would be there and I'd stop hurting. But you abandoned me. I was all alone in those small dark rooms . . ." Tom was panting heavily now, as if he was drowning
B'Elanna felt the venom in his words. She took a deep breath. 'This wasn't Tom,' she told herself. This was someone who'd been badly injured and made to live in pain for days while they tried to figure out how to rescue him successfully. Her Tom was in there. She didn't know how she was going to find him, protect him. In fact, B'Elanna couldn't identify the enemy, if any, but if she could do so she felt sure she would know what to do unless Tom was his own worst enemy. If that were the case, she was lost. She opened herself to him, to show that it was okay to be vulnerable. "You're right. You were hurting too long and maybe I should have tried harder or been smarter, but I did my best. I love you and wanted you home. I still love you."
"No!" he yelled. "No! You don't love me. And I don't love you. You're not Klingon or human. You're nothing!"
The shocking words were out there between them.
Why was he yelling at her? Somehow, Tom felt desperate to get her out of his quarters. A part of him wanted to apologize, to hold her to him, to tell her he didn't mean it, but that part was overpowered by the part that was scared to death that B'Elanna would then come to see him as he really was. Trembling with fear, he felt impelled to redouble his efforts to get her out of there at any cost. "We're over, B'Elanna, only you're just too blind to see it. Get out of here!"
At his words, the Klingon part of her was crying for vengeance; the human part was simply crying. With her last ounce of restraint, B'Elanna decided she wouldn't retaliate today. Defeated, B'Elanna headed to his door. She recognized that she would not be able to get through to him now. Before leaving, she said sadly. "You're wrong, Tom. I know you love me." The doors opened and she added softly before she left, "And I love you."
She was gone. He staggered to the couch and fell on it, sobbing into his hands. He'd just dismissed the woman who had loved him, who had seemed like his soul mate for life. But he knew he was right. She would come to hate the man he now was and he felt he couldn't bear seeing her love turn to hate. He tried to tell himself that he should save her from that. But the sadness on her face when she left, would he ever be able to forget it? Couldn't he have done it without hurting her? But he was sure it was better to have broken up with her now before she really knew him, before she knew everything bad about him. In abusing her, he had damaged himself. Gods, how he hated himself for what he'd done. And now, without her, he felt terribly and incredibly alone.
Deepening his misery, Tom's past failures and mistakes lined up in parade formation. One by one, they marched before the review stand in his mind. One by one, they pronounced him guilty until the accumulated weight broke him into tiny pieces of pain. And the shards of those bits of sorrow wounded his soul, slicing it away mistake by mistake until it felt as if there was nothing left of his heart.
B'Elanna walked on autopilot to her cabin determined not to let tears come to her eyes in public. She followed her determination into her quarters and collapsed onto her couch. Once alone, she allowed the flood of emotion that had accumulated since the cloaking accident to finally expunge itself in sobs. Afterwards, she felt empty and raw. It surprised her a little bit, but she also felt love and pity for Tom. It had not washed away and B'Elanna decided she was in this for the long haul. 'He was so wrong,' she told herself. She was not going to abandon him. He'd see. Tom had always accused her of pushing him away and he'd been right. Well, she wasn't going to let him get away with turning the tables on her. No way was she going to allow him to push her away. No way. She turned back the little voice in her head that asked how she was going to prevent him from leaving her. So, maybe she didn't have a plan yet. But she had her determination and her love for him. Somehow that should be enough, shouldn't it?
The computer signaled the holodoc of a temporary increase in Tom's distress. After noting the signal, the holodoc signaled Tom and asked if he needed assistance. When Tom told him no, and the readings returned to normal, he went back to his work.
"Tuvok, I don't understand what's going on here." Sam complained from his perch on one of the chairs in their common room.
Tuvok roused himself from the semi-meditative state he'd adopted. His link with Sam was strong and he sensed the other man's confusion and agitation. He was no expert on the Bajoran religion and their Prophets, but he knew that Sam had far less knowledge than he did. Perhaps a little history would help his roommate.
"The Bajorans believe in the Prophets, that it is the Prophets who give them strength and wisdom and who replenish the Pagh or life force. The Pagh is a kind of spiritual energy. The spiritual home of the Prophets is the Celestial Temple, the wormhole."
"What are the Prophets?"
"Scientists believe they are noncorporeal entities and that they may have actually constructed the wormhole."
"The wormhole you're talking about is the one near the space station you call Deep Space 9." Sam had read a great deal about events of Voyager's time off the ship's computer.
"Correct. And in my time it connects the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants."
"But it doesn't change from one century to another when you go through it?"
"Again. You're correct. Time is stable through that wormhole."
"But it wasn't stable in the wormhole that brought you from the Delta to Alpha Quadrants."
"No. It wasn't. The Prophets apparently do not experience linear time as we do. So, the fact that time is stable through their wormhole may be significant."
"What do you make of our wormhole then?"
"From what Haylene told us, it is structurally unstable."
"What happens to us then?"
"I do not know."
Sam felt the other man's discomfort at not having answers, but he forged ahead with still another question. "What do you think Haylene wants with us?"
Tuvok wanted to say that he didn't know the answer to that either, but he wondered if there wasn't something he was missing. He remained silent, following his thoughts to an unsettling conclusion.
'Tuvok?' Sam's telepathic nudge reached him. He allowed Sam to see the processes of his thinking. Sam told him, 'You may be right. She may want followers. The Prophets have the Bajorans, who does she have?'
Aloud, Sam mused, "On Earth, one of the religions describes a god named Yahweh who made a covenant with a particular group, the Israelites. The Israelites embraced this god and gave up worship of all competing gods. They called their god Lord. As part of the covenant the Lord god told them that they were his people."
"A mutually beneficial arrangement," Tuvok noted.
"So, perhaps Haylene wants a people of her own ?"
"If she has adopted us, then what does she plan? And what does she want from us?"
Sam's questions hung in the air. He didn't know if the religious scaffolding he and Tuvok had constructed reflected only a way to fit the unfamiliar into the familiar or if it reflected a reality that would eventually become clearer to them. Somehow he doubted that Haylene would be successful in recruiting the two of them, much less the crew of the Voyager, into worshiping her or her people as their only god. From what he had seen, the 24th Century had peoples with many religions and many with no religion at all. Even if Haylene could deliver the Voyager and her crew back to their 24th Century home in the Alpha Quadrant he doubted that they would give her their exclusive faith.
After all he had seen and done in the last several years of leaping, Sam wondered about the mainline Protestant faith of his parents. It had been as much a part of them, of his childhood, as the farm in Indiana. Trying to understand the forces behind leaping had led him to believe that some Higher Power was at work. Within the confines of his background, he'd been willing to call that Higher Power God. But now. . . now, he'd met a noncorporeal being, had conversed with her, had been transported light years across a part of the galaxy, and had been told that there were many, many kinds of noncorporeal beings. Was one of them, and not the God of his 20th Century upbringing, responsible for his leaping? To believe in some other god would be to question the foundations of his faith.
Tuvok had retreated into his own meditative state walling himself off from Sam's ruminations. Instead, Tuvok was troubled by his inability to fathom the motivations and powers of the entity who called herself Haylene.
Chakotay looked in on Kathryn in her ready room. "Are you free?"
"I could be," she smiled at him. Somewhat playfully she asked, "What did you have in mind?"
Setting down her cup of real coffee, she got up from behind her desk and met him by the couch. Without needing to say anything, both sat next to the other on the couch.
"How's the coffee?" he asked with a grin.
"Excellent," she grinned back.
Dimples flashing, he told her, "I've been thinking about what the Admiral said."
"Oh?" she replied coyly. "And what part of what the Admiral said has you thinking about . . . whatever . . . ? Let me guess. You're thinking about what he said when he met Seven."
"Ah, yes. He certainly seemed to appreciate all of her attributes."
"And when she introduced herself as Seven of Nine . . . "
Chakotay finished her sentence, "he wanted to know where the other eight were!" They both laughed. She flashed him a silent question and he responded. "All right. I was thinking about the part about us . . . as a couple."
Both sobered, recognizing that he had brought up a heretofore untouchable subject. She held his hand to her cheek, sighed, then placed both of their hands on his thigh. "Do you think it could work?"
"I don't know. But I believe so."
"There's more than just us."
"I know. There's the crew."
"Would they accept us as a couple?" she asked.
"Yes. I think so. They're all adults. They know that there have been many married and partnered captains in Starfleet."
"Just not ones faced with the problems we've had."
"Perhaps we and the crew would be stronger with the two of us together," Chakotay suggested.
She looked down at their hands, his large brown hand holding her smaller, paler one. It was time to risk something. "How do you feel, Chakotay?"
His voice husky with emotion, he told her, "I want this." He leaned closer to her, his face only inches from hers. Whispering, he asked, "What about you?"
She nodded and closed the distance between them. He lightly touched his lips against hers. She pressed back at him, her lips crushing up against his. Her hands flew to his head, embracing the dark hair, touching the geometric tatoo, touching the warmth of his mouth on hers. He pulled her closer to him, holding her shoulder with one hand, the back of her head with the other. His fingers entwined in her soft,
red gold hair. He murmured, "Oh, Kathryn," and kissed her deeply and thoroughly, putting into his kiss all the held back passion of years of denial.
B'Elanna didn't go near Tom's quarters the next morning and decided to leave him alone for the day. She knew that he wasn't himself, but she also knew that she'd been deeply hurt and was likely to strike back if he provoked her again. She found it difficult to control the Klingon side of her that wanted the retaliation that honor demanded. And until she won this internal battle, external battles would have to wait.
'Let someone else babysit Tom', she thought to herself. 'Harry's good at that sort of thing . . . ' It was then that she realized that she hadn't seen much of Harry since their return. She asked the computer to identify Harry's location and found that he was on holodeck 2. When she arrived there, she noticed that Harry had reserved the deck for every minute that he wasn't on duty. The program had already been running for three hours. He'd cleverly created his own locks on the program, but she eventually got around them and opened the door.
She was prepared for an angry reaction on Harry's part, but he didn't seem to even notice her arrival at all. She was taken aback when she realized that she had stepped into a holodeck recreation of the cell in Warrington's underground facility. Harry had an amazing eye for detail and for a second she thought they'd actually returned to the planet that had so transformed Tom that she hardly knew him. B'Elanna slowly stepped back into the shadows, hoping that Harry wouldn't see her. Normally it would have been a cruel violation of someone's privacy to enter a holodeck program uninvited or unannounced, but she was overwhelmed with a desire to see what would happen next.
She shuddered when she realized that she was seeing Tom's broken body on the bed flanked on each side by Warrington and Smith. Sam/Tuvok and Harry were standing by the cots, MPs close at hand. At Warrington's signal, the MPs nudged them forward and Harry attacked one of the guards. B'Elanna had read Harry's report; she knew what had happened next on the planet. But this time, things were different. Harry successfully subdued the guard and Sam took out the other with some martial arts moves she recognized from Academy training. Harry pulled each gun from the MPs' holsters and held them on Warrington and Smith while Sam handcuffed the MPs to a pipe on the wall. Then Harry ordered, actually ordered, Sam (he called him Tuvok) to go through Smith's little bag and give Smith and Warrington injections. As Warrington started to object, Harry gave her a menacing look (a look that made even B'Elanna's blood run cold) and cocked the gun. Smith pulled Warrington back and subdued any further objections. Once the drugs took hold and they slumped to the floor, Harry pulled some electrical cord from the wall and tied their hands and feet. Sam gagged them all with medical gauze from Smith's bag. Harry and Sam then wheeled Tom's bed out of the room and Harry locked the cell door. The whole scenario took less than two minutes. As she watched, Harry stopped and, breathing hard, said, "Computer. Reset."
He reset the program and replayed the scenario three more times, making minor modifications each time. By the last run, they'd exited the cell in less than 30 seconds. His strength spent, Harry slumped against a wall. When he ended the program he saw B'Elanna for the first time. "What are you doing? How long have you been here?" he snapped off angrily.
She was overwhelmed by complex feelings that ranged from pity to admiration and found it difficult to speak. But his demands hung in the air and shook her from her silence. "I . . . I'm sorry, Harry. I didn't mean to . . . it's just . . . Look, when I realized what you were doing," she tried to find the right way to say what she thought. As usual, she ended up blurting it out, "I wanted to see you win. Okay? So. How do you get out of the building?" Harry softened just a little. "I haven't gotten that far yet. I'm just trying to solve one problem at a time. You see, it's like chess, you make one move and everything else on the board changes. . ."
She moved closer to him as he described the parameters and possible winnable scenarios. She saw his strength return with every imagined victory. Eventually, she interrupted his words by saying, "So. It felt good to hit the guards."
Harry blinked at her. "It would have been necessary," he instructed.
"It felt good to hit the guards," she repeated.
The young man looked away and stood up. He paced quietly until he finally turned on her. "Yes. It felt great. Is that what you want to hear? I wanted to smash their faces in, break their arms, do anything to stop them. But Sam ordered me not to and I didn't. I didn't," he repeated, his voice choking. "I just walked out and left Tom with them. And now look at how Tom's doing. Well, it won't ever happen again. I'm going to be ready for anything and next time Tom's in trouble, I'll be ready to stop it."
B'Elanna had never seen Harry look so tough or so fierce. Somehow he didn't seem quite as young as he did before this away mission began. Realization dawned, "You'd do anything for Tom, wouldn't you?"
"Anything," he replied firmly, jutting his chin out a little further.
"Then go to see him," B'Elanna urged.
Of all that she might have asked, Harry least expected this request. "What?"
She elaborated. "Go to see him. Sit with him. Be his friend. Tom needs your kindness right now, not those killer instincts."
"B'Elanna, you know I can't just do that. Half the time he looks through me like I'm some kind of ghost and the other half, well, I don't know what his look means. But I know he's not happy with me. Maybe the best thing I can do is leave him alone."
"Enough!" B'Elanna barked louder than she had intended, but it certainly caught Harry's attention. "No more pity parties, Harry. You . . . we . . . all of us got Tom safely home. Maybe we all made some mistakes, could have made some other choices, but we did what we could under trying circumstances and replaying this hologram isn't going to change that." She could see her words were reaching him. "Harry, let yourself off the hook. You've got to face the fact that you protected Tom the best you could and kept him alive until we could bring him back to the ship. With no weapons, no communicators, no allies, none of us could have done any better."
He desperately wanted to believe her. B'Elanna knew what had happened to Tom and she wouldn't have let him off so easily if she thought it was his fault. In fact, he initially thought she'd skulked into the holodeck to retaliate against him for his failures. But nothing she'd done so far fit his fears. 'Maybe,' Harry thought to himself, 'maybe she was right.' "Okay," he finally replied, "let's say for the sake of argument that you're right. That still doesn't explain why I should go see Tom."
"Harry," she explained softly, waving her hand around at the holodeck, "you're facing up to your demons about this mission and Tom has to face up to his. Besides, think of how relieved he'll be when he can accept that you are alive. I don't know what else can convince him of that than to see you again and again until it sinks in to that stubborn, arrogant brain of his."
His laughter at this last comment surprised both of them. "Okay. I'll go see him. Tell Tom I'll stop by after my shift."
Puzzled, he couldn't help but notice the cloud of pain that crossed B'Elanna's face. "Harry. I did see him last night. He--uh--he was having a rough time, we argued, and well, I've decided to give him some space today." Before Harry could object or question her she quickly added, "Harry, you must try. You must."
He had never seen B'Elanna look so vulnerable. "I will," he told her, "I promise."
They both smiled and began to exit the holodeck. A thought occurred to Harry. "By the way, how did you break my locks on the holodeck?"
She grinned and cryptically said, "You're not the only one trying to learn from recent experience. Before he could ask her more she was striding away toward the turbolift.
After his shift, Harry kept his promise. Ringing Tom's door chime, he waited nervously for his friend to appear. When Tom came to the door, Harry was unable to hide the shock he felt at Tom's appearance. The man looked as if he hadn't slept in days, he was unshaven, unshowered, and he greeted Harry with all the enthusiasm of a poorly programmed hologram.
"What do you want?" Tom asked abruptly.
"Uh, hi. How are you?" Harry thought it was a start. At least Tom hadn't screamed at him.
"Fine." Tom began to turn away as if Harry had already left. When Harry followed him into the room, Tom turned around and snarled, "I told you I was fine. Now you can leave."
"Tom? What's going on here?" Harry looked around Tom's quarters. Usually they were neat and tidy, but it almost looked to Harry as if Tom had been throwing things.
"Nothing." Tom's flat, expressionless voice said more than his words.
"Yeah. Right. What's B'Elanna . . .?"
Before Harry could finish his thought Tom interrupted him getting right into his face to do so. "Get out. And don't mention B'Elanna." When Harry didn't move, Tom's finger poked his shoulder. "Go!"
Harry took a step away, but didn't back up any further. He put up his hands in a gesture of compliance. "I won't mention her again, but I'd like to stay awhile longer."
"Why?" Tom virtually spat at him.
Harry tried to assume a more casual air in the hopes of de-escalating the tension. "Why not? I'm off duty, you're off duty . . . " Although Tom winced at those last words and Harry wished he could take them back, he forged ahead as if things were normal between them. "So, what do you say? We could visit a little French bar on the holodeck. Or I'm sure that Neelix'll have something awful brewing in the mess hall."
Tom smiled a little, the aggressive stance abating a degree or two. Then he shook his head, "I'm not in the mood for company tonight and Neelix's cooking . . . I'm just starting to feel better and you want me to risk food poisoning?"
A joke, a terrible little joke, but Harry was thrilled at this inkling of the old Tom. He suppressed his first reaction which was to hug his friend and welcome him back. He feared he might overwhelm Tom again. "Okay, then, we'll stay in," Harry persisted without missing a beat. "How about some cards? I know, a little poker. I've been practicing my poker face and it's much better."
"Harry," Tom informed him honestly, "you're a terrible poker player."
"Then you have nothing to worry about," Harry continued nonplused.
Tom really was in no mood to play cards, but he was too tired to fight right now. He let Harry set up the game and joined him at the table, pulling his robe around him. He played the first few hands with little enthusiasm, but when Harry offered to play for actual replicator rations, he could feel a spark of competitiveness driving him onward. Harry was trying to look like he wasn't watching Tom and kept the conversation light, sharing bits of gossip about shipboard romances, including the captain and Chakotay. He even let Tom tease him about his relationship, or lack of it, with Seven. Deadpanning it, Tom said, "Face it, Harry, she reminds you of your mother."
Harry began to sputter a response, but his answer degenerated into laughter until he fell off his chair. When Harry came back up to the table he was shocked to see that Tom had turned white, an expression of empty horror on his face.
He called Tom's name, but his friend didn't seem to hear him. Harry slowly reached out to touch Tom's shoulder, but Tom jumped at the slightest contact. Pushing away from the table, Tom scrambled backwards across the floor until he found a corner and could go no further. Still, Tom pushed himself into the wall as if trying to find a way to break beyond the ship's hull. He looked terrified, was sweating profusely and muttering, "Get out, get out," each repetition increasing in volume and intensity.
Harry didn't know what to do. Would staying reduce Tom's panic or only make it worse? If he left, would Tom be okay by himself? Harry finally decided on a compromise strategy. He forced himself to back away, giving Tom more space. "Tom. Listen to me, buddy, you're going to be okay. You're going to get through this. I'll step outside now, but I'm going to get you some help."
Almost more frightening than Tom's panicked flight across the room was his friend's total lack of response to Harry's words. What was going on? Harry stepped outside Tom's quarters and immediately hailed the holodoc.
At the time of Harry's signal, the doctor was finishing the repairs on a crewman's cut hand. The doctor sent the patient out the door and checked Paris' readings on the monitors. Given Ensign Kim's description he wasn't surprised at the elevated readings. But when there was no response to his hails, the doctor's concern increased. He weighed just beaming into the lieutenant's quarters, but Kim had been clear that Tom was in a highly agitated state. Such a surprise entrance might prove more than Paris could handle. So he transported to the hallway outside of Paris' quarters where he found an anxious Harry Kim.
"It took you long enough," Kim complained.
"I had to finish up. Anything new happening?" he asked the ensign.
"I think I hear water running, but that's it. Shouldn't I go in with you?" he asked.
"No," the doctor answered. He modulated his vocal routine to sound reassuring, "I'll call you if I need you."
The doctor strode purposefully into Tom's quarters and followed the sound of water into the bathroom. He found Tom sitting on the shower floor, the wet robe around him, water cascading over him from the shower head. The doctor turned off the water and stood with his hands on his hips staring down at the stunned lieutenant. Tom didn't seem to notice him or the fact that the water stopped running. When the tricorder indicated that he was in no immediate danger, the doctor opted to not transport Tom to sickbay -- after so many recent changes in environments, perhaps it would be easier for the young man to come back to awareness in his quarters. Remembering the effective use of the soft- handed subroutine, the doctor asked quietly, "Tom? Can you hear me?"
"Wh--what?" Tom looked up as if awakening from a deep sleep.
"Here." The doctor held out a hand and helped to haul up the soggy pilot. Tom began to shiver. "You have nothing to worry about. I just came by to look in on you, and I found you taking a shower."
Tom looked down at himself and seemed puzzled, as if he was looking at somebody else's body. "I was showering? With my clothes on?"
"So it would seem. Now, you'd best get out of those wet clothes." When the doctor made a move to help Tom take off the robe, Tom flinched away, "No."
"There's no need to panic. I'm not going to hurt you."
Tom just stared at him as if the doctor had suddenly sprouted a full head of hair. Although his shivering intensified, Tom shook his head at the doctor. Seemingly surprised at his condition, he told the doctor, "I'm c-cold."
"I'm not surprised. I'm going to find you some dry clothes. You need to take off those wet things. Go on, get undressed." Seeing the young man blush, the doctor added, "Put a towel around yourself if that'll make you feel better."
His hands trembling, Tom pulled the robe off and let it fall to the floor in a wet heap, water pooling around his bare feet. He shivered in the cool air of the bathroom, then removed the soaking t-shirt and shorts, letting them fall onto the robe. Vaguely, he felt an ache in his hips, his medical training telling him it must be a residual from the fractured pelvis. He must have aggravated the still healing injury by sitting so long - - how long had it been? - - in the shower. His stomach contents rose up, clutching at his throat. He swallowed past it. Shaking from cold and from fear, he found a towel and began to dry himself off. As the doctor returned, he tied the towel around his waist.
The doctor found another towel and draped it around Tom's goose bumped shoulders. Worried about keeping him focused, the holodoc said, "I want you to put on these dry clothes now. I'll wait for you out there. You have five minutes."
When Tom emerged from the bathroom, he'd shaved and dried and combed his hair and had successfully put on his clothes. But as Tom walked into the living area where the doctor waited, he seemed surprised at the condition of his quarters.
"Tom, do you know where we are?"
"Uh, my quarters, right? But what happened here?" he asked.
Tom's confusion seemed genuine to the doctor. He knew it was important to get this right and not make the same mistakes he'd made with Neelix and Seven in the past by pushing them too soon. So as not to startle Tom with sudden movements, the doctor casually took a chair at the table and motioned Tom to take the other chair. Tom had to step over the remaining debris from his throwing fit to reach his seat. He stepped gingerly, as if each piece was alive and would harm him at any second. When he was finally seated, the doctor noticed that Tom was subdued, and in the doctor's eyes, he looked scared.
Gently, the holodoc tried to re-capture Tom's attention. "Tom, it's important that you focus. You're right, we are in your quarters, but I don't know how this place became such a mess. Can you explain it to me?
Although Tom knew the doctor was a hologram, he couldn't meet his eyes. "I. . . uh. . . had a bad time?"
"So it would seem. Care to elaborate?"
"But you need to do so. Look at me, Tom."
Tom looked up, saw the light shining off the doctor's bald head. His fingers gripped the edge of the table as he fought for control.
"What's going on, Tom?"
Tom cleared his throat and willed himself to loosen his grip. "Things . . . I don't know how to describe it . . . Harry? Is Harry okay?"
"He's fine, Tom."
"Are you sure?"
"He is fully recovered and doing fine." Tom sat back in relief, but the doctor continued, "I'm far more concerned about you at the moment. Harry told me that the two of you were playing cards and then . . . "
Tom looked troubled, "And then things shifted."
"What do you mean?"
"It's like, it's like when they placed that murder in my head as punishment for my supposed crime. I'd be fine for awhile, I'd be me. And . . . and then suddenly things shifted and I was another person in another time and place. I feel like I'm tumbling in and out of these multiverses or realities. I can't stop them and . . ."
When Tom's voice trailed off, the doctor gently prodded, "And?"
"And I'm not sure which one is real anymore."
"I see. Is that what happened when you were playing cards? Things shifted?"
Tom looked down at his feet and nodded.
"What happened?" the doctor made his voice soft yet curious, as if this was simply another cut finger.
"It was fine. Like you said, we were playing cards. In fact, I was even winning. I said something to Harry and he started to laugh and then he tumbled," Tom looked up disturbed by the connection he was beginning to make, "he tumbled like when, like when . . ."
He could see that Tom was becoming more and more agitated, but this seemed important. "Go on."
"When the shuttle crashed it broke apart . . . things shifted . . . like I was flying above everything. And I could see all of the debris, fires burning, and Harry's seat pulled out . . .tumbled on the rocks . . .and he's dead, really dead. When Harry reaches back up to the table, it's like . . . " Tom struggled to find the words to describe the horror of the sight that appeared before him. "He's bloody and broken and he's reaching out to me, but his hands are bloody. . . it's awful. . .and he's dead." Upset, Tom repeated, "He's dead."
Tom balled his hands into fists and pushed them against his eyes. The doctor reached forward and placed his hands on Tom's forearms, ready to pull the fists away if Tom began tearing at his eyes. That fear abated as Tom sat shaking, quietly taking a few deep breaths at a time. Finally, his hands left his eyes to wrap tightly around his chest. When Tom appeared to have calmed himself enough to go on, the doctor began to ask another question, but Tom interrupted with a plea, "Please. No more interrogations."
"What's going on, Tom?"
Tom cleared his throat and willed himself to loosen his grip on his body. "I see the doctor."
"No. Another doctor."
"And?" There was silence as Tom seemed to gather his courage. "Tom?"
"He- - uh - - did I did something."
The holodoc recognized the tremendous tension Tom was under. "What did the doctor do?"
Tom shivered. "It's . . . it's what I did."
Tom's eyes had closed, his face was pale and pinched, and another shudder ran through him. Helplessly, he opened pain dulled eyes and looked at the holodoc. "I don't remember. But . . . but it . . . what I did. . . it feels wrong."
The holodoc didn't know if Tom's memory had blocked on a recent event or on a more distant one. Harry had briefed him on the fact that Tom had been questioned under drugs by the earth colonel and doctor. "Did someone ask you questions, Tom?"
Tom blanched, but denied any knowledge, saying in an agonized voice, "I don't know. I just don't know."
"I understand," the doctor lied. He decided not to push Tom to remember. His own failures in helping Seven with her memories put a brake on his curiosity and his hubris. "Tom. I know you're not going to like this, but I think you'd better come back to sickbay with me."
Could any look be more innocent? "But why? I'm okay."
"No. You're not okay. Far from it, in fact. I want to run some tests and then I want you to get some sleep."
"But. . . " Tom protested.
The holodoc was on his feet, "Let's go, Lt."
Tom's biobed was away from the center of sick bay, shielded by a screen. Despite the young man's protestations, the doctor persuaded him to get some rest. The tests had turned up nothing new about his condition, other than the fact that he was desperately sleep deprived. Harry showed up asking questions, but the doctor sent him back to his own quarters for further rest before Tom had a chance to register his friend's appearance in sick bay. Turning back to Tom, the doctor fussed over the young man to deflect his attention away from the departing Harry Kim. When Tom fearfully asked about the possibility of his nightmares returning, the holodoc told him they would deal with that eventuality if it happened. Privately, the holodoc thought Paris was too tired to experience the nightmares.
Piercing screams informed the doctor that he was wrong. Hypospray in hand, the holodoc passed around the screen to the darkened sleeping area. Tom was sitting up on the biobed, his eyes brightly feral in the darkness. He was breathing heavily and his face was sheened with perspiration.
"Computer, increase brightness to 50%." The holodoc stood at the side of Tom's bed. "Tom?"
"Doctor," his patient said somewhat shakily.
"Do you know where you are?"
"Very good. What happened?"
"Dream . . . bad dream."
"What do you remember?"
Tom's gaze dropped to his lap, confusion putting lines on his forehead. "I . . I. . ."
"It may be important. Try to remember."
Despairing blue eyes looked at the doctor. In a small, almost childish voice, he said, "I did something wrong. I was to be punished."
"That must have been some kind of punishment. Can you describe it?"
A frightened look came and stayed. "I don't remember. It's . . . it's . . . I don't know what's going on." Looking around desperately for safety, Tom appealed to the doctor, "Am I back on the ship?"
"You are." The holodoc thought about going further with his probing and with additional reassurances, but once more he recalled the disastrous consequences when he'd tried to play psychologist to Seven. He'd thought he'd helped her to retrieve repressed memories, but subsequent events cast doubt on the validity of Seven's memories. He knew he couldn't make the same mistake with Tom. This young man was in far too fragile a condition for the doctor to play psychotherapist. It'd be better to help Tom get the rest he needed so badly. "It's all right. I'm going to give you a sedative. You'll be able to sleep. Trust me. You're safe, Tom. Lie back down, now."
Tom settled down on the bed feeling somehow betrayed. The doctor was right. He was safe on Voyager, he should be over these nightmares. But he wasn't. The fatigue combined with the hypospray and his eyes closed. But even in sleep lines of worry remained as mementos of his troubles.
During her next visit, the two travelers learned more from Haylene, yet she still frustrated them with her incomplete and oblique disclosure. Glowing a deep blue, she told them both that they had a unique assignment. Although she recognized their hunger for greater understanding of her motivations, she wanted them to focus on what she saw as an important and vital task. It would help Tuvok's crewmate and it would have a possible tangible benefit for herself.
She lightly fingered a tiny crystal on a smooth, thin rope around her neck. It had been transformed by her from Tom Paris' energy patterns, patterns that were volatile and going more and more awry. Additional successful transformation would require the intervention of skilled, caring, and knowledgeable helpers. To the two men she referred to the unsettling effect of Paris' erratic emotional state, saying, "My companions are concerned about the impact on us of this very strong, very difficult emotional energy should he go through the wormhole like this."
"How so?" Tuvok asked her politely.
"There is a limit to the amount of corporeal emotional energy that we can handle. All energy, emotional or otherwise, affects the wormhole. The unstable emotional energy from Tom Paris threatens the already tenuous and limited stability of this wormhole itself. If the ship is going to get through before the wormhole collapses, then help must be obtained for your lieutenant. We, but especially the both of you, need to see him become stabilized and restored to an acceptable level of emotional equilibrium."
Steepling his fingers, Tuvok gave her his steadiest gaze. "Yes?"
"What about him?" Sam wondered. "We got him back to his ship. I thought that was what the leap was all about: getting Tom and Harry back to the ship."
"Yes, that was important. But you see," and her skin color swirled with varying shades of blue and silver, "Paris' energy patterns are wrong. More wrong than ever before."
Sam felt an unsettling sensation move through him. He had been standing, but sat down hastily until the sensation passed. Her colors coalesced into the cool silvery blue he'd first seen and he felt calmer. "I don't understand."
"He needs to confront his present, but his past is interfering. I can show him these experiences using my abilities and the holodeck's capacities. Tom has to go beyond seeing it to active engagement and confrontation with it which I can't do. But you and Tuvok can help him to do what he needs to do."
"But how?" Sam sputtered. "I'm not a psychologist."
"No. But you have great empathy and I will expose you to the experiences of others. Your intellect and empathy will allow you to use these appropriately to help Tom Paris."
"And my role?" Tuvok inquired.
"Your analytical abilities are greatly needed. You can assist with pointing out and correcting the flawed reasoning. The residue of your past mind meld with the pilot will also help you. The headbands you've both puzzled over will help you in your communication with each other and will assist you in transforming memories into holographic recreations."
"Why are you doing this? Why do you care?"
Haylene smiled, her color deepening. "Energy comes in many forms," she told them enigmatically.
Sam started to ask about going home. He felt her incredible warmth and heard her compassionately stated yet cryptic answer, "You'll go home when it's time."
He wanted to ask her what that meant when she disappeared. At the same time, he felt his surroundings dissipate. He continued to exist in some form of energy matrix. Images wavered on the periphery of his vision, voices were heard almost subliminally. Sam felt himself immersed in the experiences of others, all existing simultaneously so that one could not be distinguished from another. Yet the result was not the confusion he might have expected. Instead, he experienced a greater clarity and sense of understanding. Time and space as he understood them did not exist, only experience existed. His experience, Tuvok's, others' experiences, all of their experiences, all of their colors, together.
Tom felt better. Two straight nights of hypospray induced sleep had restored to him some energy and a more optimistic outlook. Nonetheless, he didn't seek out his friends. And they didn't come by. Unknown to Tom, the doctor had asked them to stay away to give Tom some time. He found things for Tom to do to help out in sickbay.
Feeling the doctor's eyes on him even when he thought Tom wasn't looking, Tom was careful to do his work accurately and thoroughly. He treated the doctor to none of the wisecracks that had characterized much of his interactions with others while on Voyager. He didn't want the doctor to report negatively about him to the captain. But he had a feeling of walking on eggshells around the doctor who had seen him at his worst. He knew he had to prevent any repeat occurrences of losing control like that. For two days he'd been doing all right and he began to think the episode was an isolated instance due to lack of sleep and the aftereffects of being in a bad crash.
Sorting through trays and thinking about the crash, well not exactly thinking about the crash, he found himself wondering more about the shuttle itself. Curious about what had happened to it, he casually asked the doctor, "Say, Doc. You know what happened to the shuttle?"
"Which shuttle would that be?" the doctor looked up from the computer simulation he was running on nannites.
"The one I crashed."
The holodoc narrowed his gaze on the young man draped so casually on his doorway. "The pieces are in a cargo bay. Why?"
"Just curious," Tom answered easily, his blue eyes wide open. "Thought I'd take a look at it."
"That sounds like an excellent idea for an expedition," the holodoc agreed. "Let's go."
Frowning, Tom said, "I thought I'd go by myself." Under the doctor's scrutiny, he added, "I promise I won't throw anything."
"You haven't left sick bay in almost three days. Now you want to stroll on over to the cargo bay to see the shuttle that crashed? Somehow, my suspicion subroutines have activated themselves. I wonder why." The holodoc let that sink in. "We go together."
"Fine," Tom stated but thought to himself, 'And I suppose you'll have a hypospray in one hand and restraints in the other'. But he realized any such outburst would give the doctor good reason to carry a hypospray. Instead of giving in to sarcasm, he said, "I will be honored to have your company."
As the two walked to the cargo bay, the holodoc watched how Tom handled himself. The man stalked the corridors as if leading a commando raid into hostile territory. His eyes constantly scanned the hallways, his body was tautly ready for any encounters with enemies. However, the few people they passed seemed to be crew that knew Tom only vaguely. He kept away from them and didn't return any greetings. But then he seemed intent on reaching the cargo bay without drawing enemy fire.
Once there, Tom seemed surprised by the stacks of supplies that had been beamed up from earth. "What's all this?"
"Supplies from Earth."
Tom gave careful attention to the stacks and zeroed in on the large cans of coffee. He seemed awed by the number and size of the cans. "How did we get this?"
"Careful about that coffee. I understand the captain has counted every can and that it's summary execution for pilfering." The doctor was pleased to see at least the ghost of a smile visit Tom, however briefly. "The captain made arrangements with the colonel."
He missed the stiffening of Tom's back and the haunted look that came into his eyes at the mention of the colonel. The doctor elaborated on his story. "I believe the captain and Chakotay went shopping."
Softly, Tom said, "I wish I could have been there."
After caressing one of the cans of coffee Tom turned around, disturbed somehow by the great quantity of supplies. One person could live off those supplies for a long time, decades even. He seemed a little pale the holodoc noted, but otherwise was all right. Tom asked, "So. Where's the shuttle?"
The doctor pointed to the mass of blackened and broken pieces on the cargo bay floor. Tom strode over to the area and squatted beside one of the large pieces of debris, a part of the helm control with his blood still smeared on it. He touched the broken helm panel. They had been together through one of the most difficult piloting challenges he'd faced. It had tried to respond to his frantic attempts at control. He had felt its efforts. But ultimately the shuttle and he had been unsuccessful. They had flown together as one, but he was the only one to survive.
The doctor echoed his own thoughts. "It's a miracle you're still alive."
Tom looked at him sharply and muttered something the holodoc wasn't supposed to hear had he been human. "Yeah. Great."
The holodoc heard him but decided he wouldn't confront Tom further just now. And certainly not in a public cargo bay. Since the pilot's emotions seemed in check, maybe too in check, the doctor said, "Well, Lt., was there any other place you'd like to go? The mess hall perhaps?"
The doctor experienced relief. Perhaps he could get the young man back to sick bay without incident. "Did you see what you needed to see here?"
Tom looked back at the shuttle debris. The reality of the broken shuttle and the regret he felt for it and all that happened had taken a lot out of him. Maybe this was enough of an excursion for one day. "Yeah."
But the shuttle pieces called out for answers. He knew he had to respond to its plea for understanding. "Do you need me for awhile? I thought I'd go to the holodeck."
"Socializing sounds good," the doctor replied agreeably.
"I'm not going to get rid of you, am I?" Tom asked with some attempt at humor.
"I should hope not," the doctor sniffed.
Acknowledging defeat, Tom led the doctor to the holodecks, found one that was free and reserved it for an hour. He asked it to play one of his routines. But he surprised the doctor when it wasn't Sandrine's bar. When they walked inside, the doctor wondered what was going on with his patient. In front of them sat a shuttle, the same type as the one that had crashed on earth.
The doctor asked lightly, "Are you going to give me flying lessons?" Tom turned to him, a deathly shade of white. "What is it, Tom?"
"I -- uh -- thought I could do this."
"I thought I could run a simulation of the crash. We did that when Neelix was hurt, when he died." Tom took a shaky breath. "I'm not sure I can."
"Lt., you're talking about a traumatic incident that took place less than a week ago. Of course you're not ready for this."
The doctor watched as Tom stubbornly struggled to bring himself closer to the shuttle. Tom shuddered and took two halting steps toward it. Then, whatever internal discipline he had exerted to get himself that far shattered. He fell to his knees, gagging and finally vomiting.
The doctor told the computer to end the simulation and went to Tom's side. "Tom." Seeing his condition, the doctor told the computer, "Two to beam to sickbay."
"I'll be all right," Tom told him angrily as he wiped at his mouth with his shirt sleeve. But before he could say more, the beam out took effect and he found himself in sickbay. He was still on his knees, gagging now from dry heaves.
The doctor quickly set a hypospray and pressed it to Tom's neck, then helped the pilot to his feet and over to his bed. Tom lay on his side, his eyes glazed, his skin still dead white.
"You'll be all right in a minute."
"What did you give me?" Tom gasped out when he had finally caught his breath. He moaned and held a stomach that still fluttered and threatened a repeat attack.
"Something to settle your stomach and a sedative. I think you need to get some rest."
Before the sedative finally took effect, Tom's imagination showed him violent crashes, the recent shuttle hitting the desolate canyon on earth, the more distant disaster on Caldik Prime. He murmured, "No . . . no."
Watching Tom's struggle, the holodoc knew with certainty that he was out of his league. None of his programming covered dealing with the psychological aftereffects of traumatic events, particularly events that occurred in someone already so vulnerable. He'd improvised, learned from others, and made serious mistakes. At this point, there was no one left to learn from. It was time to tell the captain.
Sam's immersion in experience felt both freeing and constraining at the same time. The freedom was from his body as well as from the limits placed on him from even his remarkable mind and opportunities. Now his mind and emotions felt challenged as never before and he reveled in how alive these made him feel. He revisited old leaps without the gaps in his memory that had plagued his leaping through time and people. He felt the emotions and concerns of those he leaped into. He remembered times when he'd functioned as a counselor whether as a priest or rabbi or even Dr. Ruth. In this leap, if that's what it was, he was drawn to developmental science, to counseling and therapy theory and practice. As Haylene plucked the master sessions out of the ether, or wherever she obtained them, he absorbed it all, loved his own mastery of these domains. Times when he'd been frustrated because he didn't know what to do fell away in front of the clarity of his new found experiences. He felt confident to be able to tackle even the most difficult of cases. The only frustration was that he couldn't absorb all the experiences that his curiosity wanted him to visit.
Simultaneously, Tuvok's experiences drew him to the internal logic of human behavior and relationships. The advances of unknown races taught him important theorems and unexpected problem solving skills that drew from both deep within him as well as from outside forces he could neither label nor fully identify. This mind meld, if indeed that was what it was, was like no other he'd encountered. It opened him up like a flower in the sunlight. He felt a longing to organize and synthesize all that he'd visited in those multiple minds ranged before and beside him.
The captain met with the doctor, Chakotay, Harry, and B'Elanna in the conference room. "Doctor, we're only hours away from the wormhole. Is there any chance that Tom will be able to pilot us through it?"
"No, captain. Not a chance. Tom literally couldn't get within ten feet of a holographic shuttle on the holodeck."
"What's wrong with him?" she asked in frustration.
"That's what I wanted to talk to all of you about. I'm out of ideas. If I keep him sedated he sleeps through the night. If I keep him drugged he can function minimally in sick bay. He has bizarre ideas that reality can't touch. For awhile I asked his friends here to stay away. But once I gave the all clear, he avoids all contact with them. Apart from one disastrous adventure outside of sick bay he won't step outside. I don't know what more I can do for him."
The captain's gaze swept around the table. "Well, people? Ideas?"
Chakotay was the first person on whom her gaze rested. A spark flashed off between them, then he turned his attention to the dilemma before them. "Tom's never had much of a spiritual side so I'm not sure how I can help him. I think he'd resist the idea that he could gain anything from getting in touch with a spirit guide."
"I thought my love for him would be enough," B'Elanna told them in a difficult confession for the young woman. "When the doctor said it was okay, I tried to contact him, but he won't answer. The first thing he did when he got back to the ship was break up with me."
Harry added, "He thinks he's killed me. I've argued with him and tried to prove otherwise, but I can't seem to get through to him."
She thought about their obvious pain. "You know, he's been picking us off one by one. Maybe . . . if we talked to Tom together. Maybe we could get through to him."
The doctor thought they'd better be prepared, "Suppose we do get through to him. What then? What can we offer the Lieutenant that will help? As Lt. Torres just told us, love is not enough."
"But he has to see how much we need him," Harry protested.
"And if he does? Is that going to enable him magically to fly again? I think not," the holodoc sniffed.
B'Elanna ventured, "What about you, Captain? Tom respects you. From what he's told me, he'd lay down his life for you."
"Thank you, B'Elanna," Kathryn said genuinely touched by the engineer's words. "I think I can occasionally help people, maybe because my rank carries weight. But I also know my limitations. Plus my relationship with his father makes me the wrong person for him to talk to if he's feeling vulnerable."
The doctor asked, "So. Where does that leave us?" When all eyes turned to the doctor and regarded him speculatively, he correctly interpreted their intentions. He said, "No."
"Doctor," threatened the captain.
"I have already explained that I am not qualified to help Tom with the problems he's having."
"What about the original idea?" offered Harry. "Maybe Tom needs to know we care about him. How can it hurt?"
The captain asked, "Doctor? What about Harry's question? If we asked Tom to come here and let him know we're interested in his well being, would there be any risk for Tom? And, if so, what are our alternatives?"
The doctor took her question seriously, weighing the possible risks with great caution: Tom could be overwhelmed by the number of people in the room, people he'd been avoiding, such that he might not be willing to hear what they had to say. On the other hand, perhaps Tom needed to hear their words of concern for him, that could be the breakthrough he needed to recover. At length, the holodoc told her, "I don't know. He may be helped, but there are some risks. Tread lightly, people."
"Let's try it," she decided preferring action to inaction. "Our goal is let Tom know the positive feelings and thoughts we have for him."
Tom didn't understand why the doctor had beeped him to come to the conference room. With the exception of an untrained crew member, it left the sickbay uncovered. Plus, the doctor knew he didn't feel very confident about walking the halls. Before he could voice an objection, the doctor suggested that he beam in. Feeling apprehensive, Tom asked for the within ship transport and moments later found himself standing in the conference room. Ranged around the table were only the currently most important people in his life. His apprehension turned to outright fear. Mouth dry, he licked his lips and asked, "What's . . . what's going on?"
"Take a seat, Tom," the captain smiled at him and waved him to an empty chair near her.
As the center of attention, Tom nervously took his place. He darted quick looks around the table. Apart from the fact that they were all looking at him, he couldn't get much of a reading. Some smiles, some neutral expressions. An underlying tension hit him on a level that was just below awareness and set off butterflies in his stomach. His guard went up. Although he knew his fair skin was blushing hotly, he gave them all as neutral a look as he could.
The captain continued to smile at him, but it didn't help as he remained totally unnerved. Only a twitch of his lips responded to her. "Tom," she said. "I want you to know how much I appreciate all you've done for us."
He wondered what she was getting at. Was he being dismissed? Were they here to tell him they were going to leave him behind? It got hard to breathe and he felt a little dizzy. "What?"
"Tom. We only brought you here to tell you we are concerned about you and that you can turn to us for help if you want to."
His head was spinning. They seemed to think he needed help. "Why would I ask you for help?"
He seemed genuinely at a loss. Softly, the captain said, "Because you're hurting."
He didn't understand. What was he hearing? He saw her turn to the others as if she were asking them to jump in at any time. Harry was close enough to him to reach out. When Harry's hand landed on his arm, Tom jumped, his eyes wildly swinging between Janeway and Harry. It was Harry's voice that began to cut through the confusion, " . . . easy, Tom. You just seem to be going through a rough time right now. We're your friends. We want to help."
"But . . . aren't you . . . aren't you saying goodbye?" The words fought their way out past his fear.
Impatiently, B'Elanna spoke up. "Tom. We're saying we care!"
He shook his head, embarrassment still flaming his face crimson. "You you're all talking about me? Behind my back?"
The captain recognized that they weren't getting through to him. Instead, Tom squirmed in his seat like a child called to task for grave misdeeds. He looked so miserable and so uncomfortable. "How can we help you, Tom?"
Had they tried him in his absence? Voted on his situation? Found him guilty? But they said they wanted to help him. Help him to do what? Still worried about being put off the ship, he asked, "Is it the flying? You can't keep me because I can't fly?"
The shock he experienced at thinking and then saying those words must have carried in his voice. They all stared at him. And it was the staring that he found unnerving. "Stop staring at me!"
He knew the captain was in the room. It was the only thing that kept him in his seat. But his breathing turned ragged and it took all of his meager stores of self-control to keep from bolting out of the room. B'Elanna leaned across the table from him. She worked hard to achieve eye contact, but Tom's eyes kept scurrying away from hers, seemingly seeking any way out of the trap.
Monitoring Tom, the holodoc recognized a dangerous level of agitation in the young man. He spoke to Tom, calling up his best bedside manner. "Tom. It's all right. No one is going to hurt you."
During the doctor's little speech Tom briefly glanced at him, but then he pointedly stared at Chakotay. Bitterly, he thought, 'sure, no one's going to hurt me.' Hadn't Chakotay accused him of selling his soul? What had that been about? It had felt like a slap in the face. Chakotay's low opinion of him was probably shared by everyone in the room.
The first officer spoke to him, his tone mild, as if it were just the two of them in the room. "What's wrong, Tom? Are you feeling cornered?" The big guy got that right. "Are you sure that we couldn't possibly care about you? Isn't that what you're thinking? That you're just not worth it?"
The commanders's words were so close to his own thoughts that Tom found himself nodding in agreement. When had he ever been worth caring about? He'd told B'Elanna the truth when he broke up with her. She would come to hate him the more she learned about him. The same went for Harry. They all would.
Chakotay fixed his eyes on the struggling helm officer. "You are wrong, Tom."
'No,' Tom thought, 'I'm not wrong.'
"You're wrong. You are worth caring about." No. "You have proven yourself over and over again to each one of us."
"No," Tom told them. "No. You don't understand."
His control had started to slip when Chakotay had begun to echo his own thinking. But now. . . He turned his chair away from them and called up everything he knew about self-control. But waves of misery broke over the coastline of his suffering. Strong, demanding, unfamiliar emotions drove him to his feet. Eyes brimming with unshed tears, he turned the self-hatred on them. "How dare you talk about me? How could you plot to put me off the ship?"
None was more stunned by his outburst than the captain. "What are you talking about?"
"Isn't . . . isn't that what this was all about? You tell me you care" he threw the word back at them with a sneer, "and then you dump me on the nearest planet? Isn't that what all the extra foodstuffs are all about? I saw them in the cargo bay. There's enough to feed one person for a long time to come. You can leave me wherever you want to and not look back."
Kathryn watched Tom carefully. He was shaking, but he stood there defiantly challenging them to deny the plot he imagined. She took a deep breath. Her voice very quiet, she said, "Yes, Tom, we did talk about you. As Harry said, you seem to be hitting tough times. No one, and certainly not me, has any intention of putting you off this ship. You could be totally unable to perform any function whatsoever but you would still be a member of this crew and you would still be welcome on Voyager. Do you understand me?"
He gulped and tried to calm himself. "I can stay?"
B'Elanna's eyes filled with tears at his forlorn plea.
"Yes, Tom," she told him patiently. Looking at him directly, she said, "Let me make this official. Computer: This is Captain Kathryn Janeway, authorization prior personal codes. This is an executive directive: No one is to put Lt. Tom Paris off of Voyager. Ever. This order is final."
Stunned, Tom wondered, "You mean that."
A short time after their consciousness' return to the rooms Haylene had provided for them, Sam and Tuvok compared notes. Before they could get very far, Haylene appeared in their common room glowing a bright baby blue. "Gentlemen."
"That was incredible," Sam enthused. "What an experience."
Tuvok added, "I am impressed by all that you showed me."
She smiled, her blue skin brightening in intensity. "I have news for you. Your assignment with Tom Paris is here. Voyager is now at the wormhole. I have put the ship in stasis and I am returning you to the holodeck of Voyager. There I have created rooms for you, much like these, and an office. You will have complete privacy until your work is completed."
"The holodeck," Tuvok mused. "And what precisely is our mission?"
"Tom Paris needs your help, help from both of you."
Sam felt her concern and wondered what was wrong. Before he could ask her, she told them, "He is experiencing a great deal of trouble readjusting to life on the ship. He has alienated his friends, isolated himself, has experienced intrusive nightmares, dissociative states, and crippling fears. But I believe that he may be ready to accept help." Her blue hue had warmed to a purplish tint as she spoke.
"Commander Tuvok, there is a meeting in progress around what you call a conference table. It would help if you would explain the situation to the Captain and ask Tom Paris if he wants your help. I am quite certain that he will say yes."
Sam said, "I don't understand."
"Wayward energy patterns," Haylene reminded them.
They felt an inrush of images as they saw and heard Tom's worst moments of the past week. These images flashed by in only seconds but presented them with a serious and full view of Tom's troubles.
In a flash, Sam wasn't sure where he was exactly but thought it must be the holodeck. Then Tuvok found himself in the conference room standing behind Chakotay. The captain saw him first and rose to her feet in welcome surprise. "Tuvok! It is Tuvok and not Sam?"
He noticed that the others sought him out with their eyes and when they recognized him they too got to their feet seemingly simultaneous in their greetings. All except Tom Paris. Tuvok knew the young man recognized him but was too caught up in his own confusion to do much more than glance up. "I am Tuvok and not Sam."
"I'm certainly glad to see you. But where have you been?" The Captain's question cut through all the chatter. "And why are you dressed like that?"
"There is not much time to explain everything. We have been at the wormhole. By we I mean Dr. Beckett Sam and myself."
A murmur went around the room. Chakotay realized how relieved he was that they had found Sam Beckett as well as the commander.
"Where is Sam?" Janeway asked looking around the room.
"He should be on one of the holodecks." Tuvok held up a hand to stop the overlapping questions. "I would like to suggest that we all take our seats and I will explain as much as is necessary."
As Tuvok sat at the table, like others before him, he carefully noted Paris' condition. Physically, the young man seemed to have survived the shuttle crash and delay in receiving adequate medical treatment. Sam would no doubt be pleased to see this. Whether it was the band around his head or the experiences provided for them by Haylene, Tuvok was also able to detect what he thought Haylene would call 'wayward energy patterns'. Tom seemed both tense and sad.
Pulling himself back to the group at large, Tuvok explained how he and Sam were brought to the wormhole by Haylene, a noncorporeal being. He told them that she seemed to believe that he and Sam had a mission to perform which he would get to in a minute. He added that they weren't sure what Haylene wanted, followers, believers, to do good deeds, to meddle, even to stabilize the wormhole. Unfortunately, her motives remained unclear to him.
He told the group that the ship was in stasis at the wormhole. This meant that time would appear to remain still. The ship would stay in stasis until they accomplished their mission or if it became apparent that there was no mission remaining for them. Although Haylene had kept her motives largely to herself, she had provided them with experiences that could have positive benefits. He turned to look directly at Paris. "Lt., we understand you have been experiencing difficulties. She has given us the tools to help you should you wish to work with us."
Swallowing past the lump in his throat, Tom found his anger at the group had vanished. He desperately wanted to flee this room, but he felt rooted to the spot, as if he'd been gutted and laid open on the conference table. In almost a whisper, hating his neediness, he told Tuvok, "I don't know what to do."
"With your permission, we will transport to the holodeck."
Tom felt the heat rising again in his neck and face as they all seemed to be watching him. Tuvok appeared sincere, but Tom wasn't sure what he'd be getting into. He also wasn't sure he wanted to talk about it in front of the others. He caught a look of encouragement from B'Elanna. Nervously, he stared down at his fingers as they tugged at each other. He didn't look up when he spoke, "What are we talking about?"
"Join us on the holodeck. We will work in privacy." Tuvok shot a meaningful glance around the table. "And we will work out a plan to help you. When our work is finished the ship will come out of stasis."
"Why the holodeck?"
"It is the most suitable environment for the work we will do, for recreating experiences, and for being a self-sustaining environment. The replicators there can provide us with meals and other necessities."
Still looking down, upset that he was blushing, Tom asked, "What do I have to do?"
"Tom." Tuvok used his name to get his attention and Tom finally looked up, his expression bleak. Tuvok chose his words very carefully. "Agree to work hard, be honest in your responses, and understand that there will be emotional pain to deal with and to get beyond before you will begin to feel better."
"Gee, great," Tom muttered sarcastically. "I do all this and I won't be thrown off the ship, is that it?"
Janeway opened her mouth to interrupt, but Tuvok stopped her with a glance. He reminded Tom of the executive order the captain had given which Haylene had relayed to him in her review of Tom's week. "You know that you are in no danger whatsoever of being 'thrown off the ship'. The captain has given an order and it will stand no matter what." He paused to let that sink in. Carefully modulating his tone, he told the miserable young man, "Your participation is voluntary, Tom. We are offering you an opportunity. Whether you accept it or not is up to you."
Puzzled, Tom mulled over the commander's words. If he agreed, he understood that he would probably talk about some things he'd spent a lifetime forgetting, or at least that's what it sounded like. "If I don't want to go into something, do I have to?"
"Are you going to find out everything about me?"
"No. Only what you're willing to tell us."
Tom was close to a decision. He risked a glance around the room. Naturally, they were all looking at him. Tuvok seemed calm, as if it really were up to Tom to decide. The captain was leaning forward as if the silent strength of her personality could urge him to do the right thing. Chakotay appeared relieved as did Harry. Finally, he risked another glance at B'Elanna. The pain for him that he saw in her expression made him realize how much he'd lost when he'd broken up with her. He hadn't yet looked at the doctor, but gave in to the need to find out what the hologram thought. Perhaps more than anyone, the doctor knew how badly off he really was. With the doctor he couldn't pretend everything was fine. His eyes appealed to the doctor for some words.
Generally, coming up with words appropriate to the occasion were not a problem for the holodoc. But this time he understood how balanced at a choice point his patient was and how important his words might be. He gazed directly at the undecided young man. "Tom. As you try to figure this out, ask yourself: How long can you keep going on as you have been?"
The doctor's question allowed him to face his fear: that he would just get worse and worse until it was too late. But how bad did he have to feel before he'd ask for help? It felt as if it couldn't really get much worse. Perhaps Tuvok's offer was the best way out. One last question though, "What if I want to stop?"
"Then we stop," Tuvok told him simply.
Maybe there was still another question. "How do I know this is the right thing to do?"
"Perhaps you do not 'know', but I would urge you to believe that I think this is in your best interests. We have mind melded, Tom, and you are aware that Vulcans do not lie."
'That was true,' Tom thought. Still he had his doubts. "What about this guy Sam Beckett?"
"He will provide you with his own answers. I believe you will find him to be of great comfort and support."
Heart pounding from fear and anticipation, Tom said, "Okay."
He and Tuvok dematerialized from the conference room.
With the two gone, Janeway glanced around at the smaller group. "I hope for Tom's sake that this works."
The others nodded, but the holodoc appeared concerned and gave voice to his worries. "I have learned something from this experience. Had not Tuvok intervened when he did, I believe Lt. Paris was on a path toward becoming worse, not better. We did not know what we were doing and could have caused him more harm than good."
"Doctor, you may be right. But Tuvok did appear and Tom now has a chance."
Conceding her point, he said, "If I am not needed, I'll be returning to sickbay."
"Doctor, wait." B'Elanna asked, "Is this going to work?"
"Let's hope so. And I mean that most sincerely."
The group in the conference room dispersed to their stations. Janeway and Chakotay remained briefly behind. His hand touched her hair and she gazed into his dark eyes. She shuddered to think what could have happened earlier. "Chakotay. We didn't know what we were doing in here. We could have lost that boy."
"I know." Chakotay's fingers slid through the silk of her hair. Despite the physical contact with Kathryn he didn't let himself become distracted from her point. "Tom showed a lot of courage, voicing the fears that he had."
She sighed, "But where did they come from? I just hope my executive order was enough to convince him that he can stay on this ship."
"Kathryn, I was watching him when you said that. It seemed to help."
She smiled, "I hope so. Well. Duty calls."
When she and Chakotay went to the bridge, Harry reported that Tom and Tuvok had materialized on the holodeck. "And Sam Beckett is with them."
So, they had found Sam. "Good," she said happily.
Heart still pounding, Tom found himself in a holodeck program he'd never seen before. He turned around in a large room that looked like an office, but one that was unlike any he'd seen in his life. Everything was white, off white, or grey. The only colors in the room were the skin tones, hair, and eye coloring of the occupants. There were two men in the room. One was Tuvok, still dressed in a white tunic and pants. The other looked familiar, but Tom couldn't place him. He wore the same outfit as Tuvok. Strangely, both men had white cloth bands around their heads. Tom looked down at himself and saw he was also dressed in the uniform of the day. Fingering his head, he found that he too wore a headband. He assumed it was white as well.
The men were standing near grey upholstered arm chairs, the familiar stranger smiling at him, the commander gazing at him neutrally.
Tuvok introduced him to the familiar stranger, "This is Dr. Samuel Beckett."
Tom greeted the man with a handshake, "You look familiar, but . . . "
"I'm Sam. I think you saw me on Earth. I know you were pretty sick, but I was at the hospital and at the military base where you were held." Sam waved Tom to a chair and both he and Tuvok took seats as well. He noticed Tom looking around at the strange room and made light of it. "Yeah. I think this is decorating by a wormhole artist."
Tom stopped searching the room, returned a small smile to Sam, and began to finger the band on his head. "What's this?"
"We don't know all of its properties," Tuvok admitted. "It appears to be some kind of communication device. And we have been told that it will facilitate creating holodeck experiences without the necessity of programming them first."
Sam seemed to be radiating sincerity and warmth. "You've been having a lot of hard days lately, haven't you, Tom?"
Tom looked from Sam to Tuvok and back to Sam again. Apprehensively, he answered, "Yes-s."
"What would you like to have happen here?" Sam offered another question.
Tom tried to interpret Sam's question. "You don't mean what I'd like right this very minute, do you? You're talking about the way my life's been going?" Sam nodded and smiled encouragement at him. Tom again felt the man's warmth. Added to it, he felt Tuvok's concern for him.
Sam told him, "If you want to deal with the problems you've been having, we're going to do our best to help you."
Tom challenged them. "What do you know about problems I've been having?"
Sam told him. "I was there when you were having nightmares so bad you broke the cast on your arm and the IV in your hand. Despite sedation, you had terrible dreams all night long. And . . . I know you've had some pretty traumatic events in your past. You've always toughed it out, but things have a way of catching up to people, even tough ones. You reach a point where you can go crazy, kill yourself, or deal with it. Where are you?"
'This guy was psychic,' Tom thought. Worse than Chakotay. Go crazy? Sometimes it certainly seemed like it: coming to in the shower with the doctor looking down at him; getting sick because he was so scared of flying again. Going crazy could be about right. Killing himself? Sometimes thoughts of that option seemed preferable to the alternative of living his life. But the rebelliousness that was second nature to Tom kept him fighting off that dark siren's call. So far he'd managed to avoid getting to that point. Maybe he wasn't being totally honest here, but he was still alive. Unless this is the afterlife. Deal with it, Sam had said. Well. That was a new one. "Deal with it?"
Sam nodded again. He'd seen the conflicting emotions play across the young man's face like clouds scudding across a grey sky. Although Tom appeared fully recovered physically, Sam had to admit that he could pick up on what Haylene had meant about wayward energy patterns. From whatever the source, Sam seemed to have gained the ability to monitor Tom's emotional state. Wayward energy patterns provided one way to describe the younger man's confusion. Sam picked up on strong, but largely unrecognized feelings of victimization, helplessness, and unexpressed rage. Without revealing any of these, Sam told him, "Yeah. Deal with it."
"What . . . what's involved?" Tom checked to see if Sam and Tuvok would tell him the same thing.
"A lot of hard work. It'll probably feel worse before it feels better."
"Great," Tom muttered. They were saying the same things. He thought over Sam's offer. "Will I be able to fly again?"
"Only if you could fly before."
Tom smiled at the other's small joke. Then, defenses up, Tom said angrily. "I used to be a pretty good pilot." Tuvok realized that Tom was showing surprising modesty. Tom added dejectedly, "But now I can't. I just can't."
Sam picked up on Tom's anger as well as his sadness. "Look. I won't make guarantees, Tom. But you're in a lot of emotional pain . . ."
He had that right.
". . . and maybe we can help. Sometimes I'll work with you and Tuvok will act like a monitor or supervisor. He'll be able to pick up on things that I miss because he won't be so close to the work we do. But sometimes he'll do the counseling and at other times we'll do it together."
"This is voluntary?" Again Tom repeated questions he'd asked at the conference table. But he needed to hear Sam's answers as well as Tuvok's. "I mean, I don't have to do this, right?"
"It's voluntary," Sam said and Tuvok nodded in agreement.
"Suppose you want me to do something that I don't want to do?"
"Then you don't do it."
"If I don't want Tuvok to know something . . . ?" The question broached new ground and Tom wasn't sure what they'd say. Tom knew that he would be working with Tuvok everyday, maybe no longer as a pilot, but he felt there were things he wasn't comfortable having a superior officer know about him. So, the answer to his question was important.
"He won't know it." Sam observed Tom unconsciously drumming his fingers on his knee. "It's kind of scary, huh?"
"I'm terrified," Tom admitted with a short laugh. "What happens now?"
Sam and Tuvok nonverbally exchanged thoughts on the subject. Sam's training told him to take a history first. But Tuvok was concerned about the pilot's giving up flying, something that was so important to Tom. He thought the shuttle crash must be at the heart of it. He contended that stabilizing Tom on the present difficulty should go first and then they could go on to Tom's earlier problems. Sam thought the other's arguments made sense and agreed to support him in that choice of direction.
"Tom. I believe it would be helpful if we recreated the shuttle crash."
Of all the things Tuvok could have said, that was something Tom was least expecting to hear. Color draining from his face, he stumbled over the words, "The. . . the shuttle?"
Tuvok leaned forward. "I want to ask you what you remember about piloting the shuttle through the wormhole."
"I crashed it. End of story."
"That's not what I asked."
"I don't follow."
Tuvok set the scene. "You and Harry " Tom winced when he heard his friend's name but Tuvok persisted "-- were in the shuttle. Tell me what happened."
Nervously, Tom touched the headband. He felt challenged. "I'm not sure I remember much."
"Perhaps I can help. I was monitoring the shuttle as it traveled through the wormhole. Based on what I remember and what is in the ship's logs, I can create a holovid which I'll project in front of us." He was assuming that Haylene's promise was true, that the headband would allow him to project a holo experience. "What I would like you to do is tell me what was going on as these images go by. If this proves too disturbing to you at any point, let me know and I will stop the vid." He looked pointedly at Tom to see if the pilot understood.
"What if we get to a part I don't remember real well? How do I know that's what happened?"
'It was a good question,' Tuvok thought. "Between the data available from you, the ship's computer, the shuttlecraft records and --" Tuvok prevented himself from mentioning Harry's name, "other crew, we should be able to reconstruct the event within acceptable parameters." Seeing that Tom was not completely convinced, Tuvok continued. "As I mentioned in the conference room, Vulcans do not lie. Also, as a Vulcan, I do not have the same taboos around death as humans do. If death is involved, I believe it would be better for you to face it sooner rather than later. Going through this now, whatever the outcome, should facilitate the healing process for you."
Tom nodded and Tuvok began to project the holovid from his memory of the instrument readings. Indeed, it was as Haylene promised. He could take experiences and give them form, shape, and action. He began as the shuttle went into the wormhole. The perspective was one from Voyager's point of view at some distance from the stricken shuttle. "Can you tell us what is going on?
At this distance, Tom could handle looking at the shuttle with only minimal butterflies in his stomach. Narrating, Tom pointed out, "Okay. That's when the wormhole sucked us in. I mean we just flipped over. I kept trying to get the nose up, get control of it. There. It hits the wall of the wormhole."
"What was going on inside the shuttle.?"
"We lost gravity control. Yeah. There we're being buffeted all over the place." The vid continued. "I think that's when Harry told me we were going to the Alpha Quadrant."
"Before we get to that, did you not sustain injuries during that journey?"
"It's not important."
"Let me be the judge." Tuvok halted the vid in mid-motion.
Clearly uncomfortable, Tom replied, "I hit my head a couple of times and I remember my arm breaking. The bone was sticking out through my uniform."
"When you say you hit your head, what does that mean? Were you bleeding?"
"Yeah. But I was okay."
"I would like to observe that you piloted a craft through the wormhole quite remarkably and skillfully. And you did it with serious injuries. Indeed, I predicted you had only a 12% chance of making it through successfully."
The compliment took Tom by surprise. He ducked his eyes as if denying the praise was earned or deserved. "I didn't make it, Tuvok. I crashed the shuttle."
"You were in a violent storm."
Tom glared at him, refusing to accept any excuses for the shuttle crash. After steepling his fingers in thought, Tuvok asked, "So, Harry informed you that you were in the Alpha Quadrant. Then what?"
Tom's eyes skidded away and he angrily told the other man, "I got sick. I threw up. Satisfied?"
"My satisfaction is not important, Lt."
"It just took me by surprise: going back to the Alpha Quadrant."
"Was surprise the cause of your vomiting?"
Waiting patiently, Tuvok remained still, his fingers steepled in front of him. He saw Tom's anger wilt as the younger man's expression grew sad. "I was afraid of going back to prison. I mean, within hours I could have gone from Voyager to Auckland."
"I understand your fear, Tom," Sam empathized. Sam radiated support and solicitude and Tom took comfort from the man's sheltering emotions.
Taking a deep breath, Tom said, "Okay. I'm okay now."
"Shall we continue?" The shuttle proceeded into the storm above earth. "Tom, what was going on here?"
"There was lightning and hail and tornadoes all around," Tom narrated in a shaky voice. He stopped talking as he saw the shuttle slew around a tornado, an event he remembered. Then he saw the shuttle sideswiped by a tornado, an event he didn't remember, just before it hit the ground. He looked at Tuvok, questioning, "It was hit by a tornado? I . . . I didn't screw up?"
Then the shuttle broke apart and Tom saw his friend Harry bounce around on his chair and come to rest. "That's . . . that's Harry."
Tuvok zoomed in on the scene so that Tom could see Harry close up. "Describe Ensign Kim."
"He's bleeding, he's got cuts."
"Is he alive?"
"Stop it. Please, stop it," Tom pleaded and sucked in his lips to stop their trembling. Tuvok stopped the recreation as Tom mumbled, "No, no."
"Tom?" Tuvok asked. "What is it?"
Tom struggled with the conflicting emotions that assailed him. Sam's reassurance bathed him in calming waves, but it wasn't enough. Tuvok asked Tom again what was going on with him. Disbelieving, Tom asked, "Harry was alive?"
"Try to describe your feelings, Tom."
"Feelings? What the fuck do you mean? Feelings?"
Sam projected the thought to Tuvok, 'He's using anger to cover up his confusion. Call him on it.'
"You're confused, are you not?"
The holovid had been frozen in the close-up of Harry. Tom kept darting his eyes back to it and then away. "He died. He died! Don't you understand that?"
"Take a good look, Tom. He does not appear to be dead. Face what you see in front of you."
Tom leapt to his feet, struggling to contain the conflict he felt over the evidence before him versus his deeply held belief that he had screwed up one more time and had killed his best friend. But the tornado had crashed the shuttle and Harry was alive. Relief flickered and Sam's emotional support flushed through him, bolstering that flicker. Tears coursed down his cheeks as he turned away from the holovid. "Harry's alive. He's really alive."
Sam half carried the distressed pilot over to his seat and Tom cried against his shoulders. Sam rubbed Tom's back and murmured, "It's okay, kid, it's okay. You didn't screw up."
Waves of relief swept against his guilt, bringing it down to almost manageable size. Face wet, Tom finally looked up at them. Swallowing, he accepted that in this instance he was actually blameless. Something like joy suffused his face and awe infused his tone, "I didn't crash the shuttle. Dear gods, Harry is alive!"